OT… a little: Long buried Spitfires may fly someday

From the Telegraph (UK):

Squadron of ‘lost’ spitfires could be flying again in three years
A lost squadron of Spitfires buried in Burma after the Second World War could be flying again within three years, experts said today.

Archaeologists will begin digging for the historic hoard of at least 36 British fighter planes in January.

A proportion of the aircraft will then be carefully packaged and brought back to the UK next spring, where they will be restored.

David Cundall, a farmer and aviation enthusiast from Scunthorpe, Lincs, has spent 16 years researching the project after being told about the burial by a group of US veterans.
It was his tenacity and perseverance and his “obsession to find and restore an incredible piece of British history” that will finally see a team begin digging in the New Year.

The extraordinary treasure hunt was described as a “story of British determination against all odds”.

Surveys undertaken at one of three sites in Burma have shown that large areas of electrically conductive material are present underground at a depth of around 10 metres.

The location and depth is consistent with eight eye witness reports given to Mr Cundall that the rare Mark XIV Spitfires were buried there in August 1945.

“We put a camera down a boorhole and went into a box and through two inches of Canadian pine,” Mr Cundall disclosed.

“Yes, we did see what we thought was an aeroplane.”

Mr Cundall was first told about the fighters in 1996 and spent two years researching the claims. He found eight people who “told the same story” about the crates being buried and at what depth, all pointing to the same spot.

He has since been to Burma 16 times conducting surveys and negotiating with the authorities.

When sanctions forbidding the movement of military materials in and out of the country were lifted earlier this year, he knew his dream could be realised.

“Hopefully, they will be brought back to the UK and will be flying at air shows,” he said.

(Full story here)

This would be cool to the power of 10.

Not uncommon in any war for equipment to be buried or otherwise discarded in caches like this.  Who knows what Civil War equipment was just packed away in the corners of garrisons and forts.  There was some question about just such artifacts in regard to Fort Monroe.   And there was some question recently about buried cannons at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.   But, in my opinion, we should turn to the archeologists to explore these possibilities.  Often the “treasure” isn’t just the physical artifact but the story it can tell.


150 years ago: Making West Tennessee safe for Union men

Far from the front lines, the Civil War was still very active in northwestern Tennessee 150 years ago:

UNION CITY, November 28, 1862.
 Brigadier-General SULLIVAN:

I have reliable information that three of the most prominent Union citizens of this county were last night captured at or near Troy, in this county, a town noted for the treason of its inhabitants. They were captured by guerrillas, who infest the Obion Bottom, near that town, and are daily carrying off Union citizens and robbing them of their property, especially their horses.

Troy is a hot-bed of traitors; not a Union man living in the town. The 3 men captured have been our main stand-by for five months past, one of whom is Colonel Bradford. I propose, if it meets with your approval, to give the authorities of the town notice that if the 3 men captured are not returned in five days that I will burn up the town. General, as unwell as I am, if you will give me the command at Trenton, which is a central point, I will have this country from the Memphis and Ohio Railroad to the Hatchie cleared of the last guerrilla in it before the return of my papers, as I know every district of the country. This will be a pleasure to me, as I have done so once before.

 Colonel Fifty-fourth Illinois.

Unionism was strong across Tennessee, not just in the eastern Appalachia.  While perhaps not as well-known, and perhaps motivated by different social and political concerns, the unionists in the west part of the state indeed made their presence felt.  Testament to this are the “duplicate” regimental numbers among those units recruited for the Federal army from the state.

Colonel Harris’ report serves as a reminder that destruction of private property was not just some despised action taken by the dreaded “Yankee devils”.  The southern citizenry had to fear equally of both sides.  Hard war or not.

The other part of Harris’ response I find interesting is how it resonates within the modern context of counter-insurgency operations.  I’ve seen dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan which carry similar warnings and recommended solutions.

Georgia’s 150th not drawing the tourists

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Civil War anniversary tourists aren’t invading Georgia

ATLANTA — State officials had hoped the 150th anniversary of the Civil War would find visitors marching to Georgia.

So far, however, any tourist boom has been about as silent as the spiked cannon on the Ken­nesaw Mountain Battlefield.

Georgia, the site of more Civil War battles than any state except Virginia, had an opportunity to capitalize on its assets, officials said, but for various reasons the opportunity isn’t being fully exploited.

“The state, I think, had larger plans at one point before the cuts came,” said Rebecca Rogers of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, referring to a lingering budget shortfall.

Augusta offers canal tours to the site of the Confederate Powder Works, where only the chimney remains. A plaza with interpretive signs is planned around the chimney, and the community has occasional lectures there.

“Augusta isn’t one that springs immediately to mind for the average person,” Rogers said.

Other state sites are better known. Georgia is the birthplace and resting place of generals and other Confederate leaders, including its vice president, Alexander Stephens. Its president, Jefferson Davis, was captured here. Even fictional works – most famously Gone With the Wind – celebrate Georgia’s role.

The state has made modest efforts to raise awareness. For example, the Georgia Department of Economic Development highlighted the Great Locomotive Chase of April 12, 1862, in which Union soldiers in civilian clothes made off with a Confederate train engine, leading to a dramatic railroad chase.

Promotions yielded some results. Quick-response codes in ads and posters led 133 smartphone users to scan for more information, including a special advertising section in Trains magazine.

A video was played 537 times and an audio file 158 times, helping to swell the crowd at events commemorating the raid.

But aside from specialized publications, Georgia hasn’t really launched a major campaign focused on the Civil War.

It doesn’t do any television advertising, other than sponsoring Georgia Traveler on Georgia Public Broadcasting. The print, online and billboard advertising it does focuses on working mothers seeking vacations that offer family activities such as fishing, stargazing, hiking and kayaking, which are not unique to Georgia.

However, the department does feature Civil War commemorations in a newsletter e-mailed to about 2,000 subscribers, and it is scripting driving tours. Plans also call for an online video, welcome-center brochures, and familiarization trips for tour operators and travel writers next year, all related to the war, but no mass marketing, according to Stefanie Paupeck, a specialist on the department’s marketing and communications staff.

“We’ve been very limited with the budget we have,” she said. “We’re trying to do things that would benefit all travelers, not just the history buffs.”

Attracting travelers is important. Tourism is a potent economic engine because it doesn’t require the lead time of factory construction, doesn’t have spewing smokestacks and is more labor-intensive than manufacturing. As a source of foreign revenue, it is growing this year at double the rate of average U.S. exports.

“America’s economic recovery is being driven largely by the travel industry,” said Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Each international visitor we welcome to the U.S. helps to support local communities and small businesses across our country. This is a tremendous opportunity.”

(Original article)

I would offer a few more reasons for the lack of sesquicentennial tourism in Georgia.  Aside from Fort Pulaski, the big cannon blasts in Georgia took place from September 1863 through December 1864. And once those dates roll up, there are far too many “lost sites” around Atlanta and across Georgia – making “anchoring” observances cumbersome.  Add to that a negative connotation left from the long running “flag” debate in the state.

At the same time, there is some inflated expectation that sesquicentenial events directly translate to money falling from the sky.  Not saying that is the case here.  Just that I’ve seen a lot of seemingly contradictory reports – well attended events, but not a lot of dollars thrown about.  Maybe we sesqui-types are just penny-pinchers.

Preserve what you can: Five Mile Fork earthworks

On Saturday, while returning from a terrific hike out on the Fredericksburg battlefield, I drove down the “Plank Road,” better known as Virginia Highway 3 now days. As the city began to turn into suburb, I made a stop in the Five Mile Fork area at the Harrison Crossing shopping complex… for what else? Markers.

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We’ve had these markers in HMDB for some time. And I’ve visited the location before. But I always like to check on the markers and any look for any new interpretation on site.

These are part of a set of five which interpret a string of trenches attributed to the Confederates in the opening phases of the Chancellorsville campaign. The works crown a spot of high ground just north of the highway. The works are inside the tall trees in the far center of this view:

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The trenches are access from a short hairpin trail up the rise in the left center of view. The earthworks themselves are not impressive. The sort of trenches constructed in haste, and often eroding rapidly with time.

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But they are there today, perhaps a figment of what was built in anticipation of a clash of arms. These would be easy to overlook, if you didn’t know to look for them.

While there, I turned around to look back down the trail towards the highway.

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I started thinking again about the back-and-forth between preservation and development. Some might substitute “progress” for development. But we can take that in several directions. Preservation is progress from one – my – perspective. From that of others, development is progress. Progress is subjective, so let’s opt for a neutral description.

I don’t know the full story of how this all worked out at Five Mile Fork’s Harrison Crossing shopping complex. But I can guess at the story line. With attention drawn to the earthworks at the site, a developer opted to set aside a portion of land – an easement – to preserve the works. Maybe the preservation was in the face of some pressure from preservationists. Or maybe the developer was simply sympathetic to the notion of preserving the works (UPDATE: Which was the case.  See John Hennessy’s comment below). Or maybe there were incentives, such as tax breaks, offered. Result is the same. A ribbon of ground left undeveloped with some interpretation and the ubiquitous snake rail fence.

But the ground around ends up disturbed. The lay of the land is cut through with the need to level out parking areas and building foundations.

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What artifacts not found by the metal detector armed “diggers” have long since departed for some fill pit. One wonders what earthwork remains might have extended beyond, either across what is now parking lot or to the other side on the grounds of Riverbend High School.

What happened at this site in 1863? If the interpretation is correct (no “if” involved – see comment below), Confederate troops constructed hasty works and then sat waiting for a fight. That fight would not occur here, but rather a few miles west. The big story line did not play out here, but rather there.

So what happened on this site in 2006 (guessing when the development took place)? Someone opted to set aside a small section of ground upon which a small, somewhat boring, portion of the Civil War occurred. The site was marked with interpretation to engage and educate visitors.

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A section, if not the whole, of the works are there for consideration. Few visitors to the nearby stores will venture up to the trenches. But how many would visit if there were no hard-packed trail, parking spots, and interpretive signage? How many of those are then drawn to consider the bigger story just a few miles down the road?

Can we call this a “preserve what you can” solution?

Six groove sawtooth rifling: The rifles of A.B. Reading and Brother

Mentioned earlier, this piece on the Five Forks battlefield is interesting for several reasons.

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3-inch A.B.Reading Rifle #24 at Five Forks

Before the normal “walk around,” a bit about A.B. Reading & Brother. Vicksburg, Mississippi plantation and businessman Abram Breech Reading operated a foundry and machine works near the river along with his brother C.A. Reading. As one might expect, the firm turned out products supporting steamboats and light industry. Shortly after the start of the war, the firm turned to military products. But later that year, the firm leased out much of its equipment to the Atlanta Arsenal and ceased cannon production themselves. Yet, between December 1861 and May 1862, receipts credit A.B. Reading & Brother with delivery of 45 cannons. All were bronze field pieces – 6-pdr guns, 12-pdr howitzers, and 3-inch rifles. It is the 3-inch rifles this post will focus upon.

Reading delivered at least fourteen 3-inch rifles. But there were some variations in the production lots. Compare the values provided on a receipt issued in January 1862 –

… with another in June 1862 –

Hard to read? Here’s the summary:

  • December 14, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
  • December 31, 1861 – one 6-pdr weighing 844 pounds.
  • December 31, 1861 – one “6-pdr rifle” weighing 957 pounds.
  • January 6, 1862 – three 6pdrs averaging 844 pounds.
  • January 6, 1862 – three “6-pdr rifles” weighing 956, 659, and 955.
  • March 25, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 808 pounds.
  • March 25, 1862 – three 3-inch rifles averaging 875 pounds.
  • April 12, 1862 – three 6-pdrs averaging 809 pounds.

Noting these variations, the writers of Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War speculated there were at least two different casting patterns in use. The early batches of 6-pdrs is about forty pounds lighter than a US regulation Model 1841 6-pdr, but within tolerances. One surviving Reading 6-pdr is a trophy at West Point and conforms generally to the Model 1841 pattern. The heavier weight listed for the “6-pdr rifle” are within the range expected for a 6-pdr bored out as a 3-inch rifle. The weights are just twenty pounds or so heavier than that recorded for early Tredegar Bronze 3-inch rifles using the Model 1841 envelope. Given those weight figures, Reading likely used the Model 1841 casting pattern for both 6-pdrs and 3-inch rifles.

But for the later batch, those weights are much lower than expected for Model 1841 or derivatives. And that might easily be explained by a reduction in length, either to simplify the casting or a reduction in precious bronze. The Model 1841 guns were 65.6 inches long, while that piece pictured above at Five Forks is only 63.5 inches overall (61 inches without the knob). The shorter length and reduced profile accounts for some of the 75 pound difference, if not all, in both the 6-pdr smoothbore and 3-inch rifles from the later batches. Enough circumstantial evidence to argue Reading used two different casting patterns.

All four surviving Reading 3-inch rifles match the later pattern. All but one have an erratic set of stampings on the right trunnion.

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Right Trunnion of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The stampings are in two different sizes. The top line, curved with the trunnion edge, reads “A.B.R. and Bro.” Early “cannon hunters” failed to see the period after the “R” and interpreted that as “A.B. Rand Bro.” and thus could not correctly identify the firm. The second line notes the firm’s location in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In a smaller font is the year of manufacture “1862” and below that is the gun’s foundry number – 24.

The left trunnion displays three letters – “COL.” This appears to be a post-delivery stamp and might be post-war. Notice the trunnion face is a bit recessed from the carriage cheeks. And the trunnions require a spacer to fit properly on the carriage. The Reading Rifle’s trunnions are slightly smaller than those of the Quinby & Robinson Rifles of the same caliber.

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Left Trunnion of Reading #24

The breech profile matches that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifles at Petersburg – well-rounded knob, thick fillet, rounded breech face, and a base ring. Notice the vent is bouched.

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Breech Profile of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The base ring is about 1 1/8 inches wide. The stamping to the right of the ruler is an Army depot tracking number.

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Base ring of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The trunnions and rimbases also match that of the Quinby & Robinson 3-inch rifle.

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Rimbases and Trunnions of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The muzzle is straight, lacking any swell. The front sight post sat directly on top, where a tapped hole is now.

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Muzzle profile of Reading 3-inch rifle

The bore diameter is, as advertized, 3-inches.

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Bore measure of Reading 3-inch Rifle

But look a little closer at that rifling, particularly at the edges on the muzzle face. Those are “sawtooth” grooves, often used by Confederate cannon makers.

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Rifling of Reading 3-inch Rifle

The grooves are left-handed. This particular gun has a bit more bore wear than the Quinby & Robinson gun.

The rifling pattern is the only significant difference between the guns produced by Quinby & Robinson and A.B. Reading & Brother. These are “cousins” in most other respects. As seen with the James series, bronze was not the best metal for rifled field pieces. The bronze rifles compared dis-favorably to 3-inch Ordnance Rifles encountered on the battlefield. No doubt some of the 3-inch rifles were melted down by the Confederates for casting into more useful 12-pdr Napoleons.

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Reading Rifle guarding Five Forks

One that did survive the war and post-war scrapings is A.B. Reading & Brother’s number 24. Today that rifle sits a long way from its place of origin, guarding Five Forks – an obscure gun guarding a famous crossroads.

150 years ago: Arms buildup for Vicksburg

The string of tactical defeats and strategic withdrawals for the Confederates in the Western Theater through 1862 not only conceded territory to the Federals but also translated to lost war material.  At the Iron Buffs of Columbus, Island No.10, Fort Pillow, and Memphis, the Confederates shed much needed heavy ordnance and material.  Likewise, the rebels left many small arms on the field at Fort Donelson and Shiloh.  Not to mention the loss of production facilities in Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis.  All of which was sorely lacking at the next bastion under pressure – Vicksburg.  During the fall of 1862, as the center of gravity in the west shifted towards that particular bend of the Mississippi River, Confederates shipped large quantities of equipment to Vicksburg.

But “shipped to” does not necessarily mean “received at” when one balances the books.  In the last days of November, those in Vicksburg complained of delays.  A message sent on November 30, 1862 complained of receiving only 1,700 small arms.  In response, on December 2 Colonel Joshia Gorgas reported in detail the support offered to that point by the Confederate Ordnance Department:

  • October 29, Richmond: One thousand seven hundred small-arms.
  • October 29, Richmond: Four 4.62 rifled and banded guns, with carriages and ammunition complete; four 12-pounder bronze guns; four 24-pounder howitzers, with carriages, caissons, and ammunition complete.
  • November 9, Richmond: Four thousand rounds ammunition for 6-pounder gun and 12-pounder howitzer (three-fifths gun and two-fifths howitzer); 80 rounds 20-pounder Parrott ammunition; 200 rounds 3-pounder Parrott ammunition.
  • November 10, Charleston: Eight hundred arms to General Smith, Vicksburg.
  • November 10, Atlanta: Five hundred 3-inch rifle shot and shell.
  • November 11, Richmond: Seventy rounds 20-pounder ammunition.
  • November 18, Richmond and Lynchburg: One thousand five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 18, Knoxville: One thousand five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 18, Atlanta: Five hundred arms and ammunition.
  • November 24, Richmond: Three 10-inch columbiads.

In short about 6000 small arms forwarded from depots in Richmond, Charleston (South Carolina), Atlanta, and Knoxville to Vicksburg.  But of course the majority of those (save the first 1,700) didn’t get on a train until November and thus were likely still on the rails when Gorgas responded. (*)

But that was just the muskets and such.  The “fun” stuff we discuss on this blog is the artillery, right?  Four 4.62-inch rifled and banded guns, four 12-pdr guns (likely Napoleons), four 24-pdr howitzers, and three 10-inch Columbiads.  At least one of the 4.62-inch rifles ended up at Port Hudson and another ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Because of that scattering, its hard to say for sure all three 10-inch Columbiads served at Vicksburg.  The river defenses contained at least two weapons of that caliber before hand, so mention in action reports is not proof of presence of these big triplets.

But there is a good line on when the guns left Richmond.  Tredegar often filed claims for hauling equipment and stores for the Confederacy.  A tally of the “hauling account” for November lists an entry for November 22:

On the 15th, Tredegar unloaded three 10-inch Columbiads shipped downriver from Bellona Foundry, from the wording “boat in basin,” likely using the James River Canal.  The entry also indicates one of the Columbiads went to the proving grounds.  Tredegar also loaded up two 4.62 inch rifles for shipment to Danville at that time – which may or many not be part of the set Gorgas ordered shipped on November 9.  The going rate to unload a gun from a canal boat was $5.  The rate to haul a gun to the range was $10.  Loading two guns on the railcars cost $15.

On November 22, Tredegar loaded three 10-inch Columbiads  on cars heading to Danville, and from there points west.  Since the entry mentions handling one Columbiad from the proving grounds and the other two from the basin to the depot, that covers the weapons mentioned on the 15th.  Tredegar also loaded three carriages for the Columbiads.

Notice the costs of the labor for the 22nd.  Just as on the 15th, $10 a gun to transport to the depot (either from the basin or proving range).  Counting gun and carriage, Columbiads cost $7.50 per gun to load onto rail cars.  The 4.62-inch rifles loaded on the 15th were mounted on siege carriages, so handling costs were fifty cents left.   Again, let me highlight the rather tight bookkeeping done for the Confederate government.

A look further down on the “hauling” tally indicates Tredegar handled five more of the 10-inch Columbiads a few days later:

On the 29th, Tredegar’s workers loaded three of five 10-inch Columbiads handled that day onto rail cars.  The tally does not indicate where those were sent.  Either date (the 22nd or the 29th) would fit for the day those Columbiads rolled out bound for Vicksburg.  I’m inclined to go with the 22nd since the name of the connecting destination was provided.  And again look at the handling costs – $10 to move a gun, $5 to load a gun on a railcar, and $7.50 to haul and load a carriage.

But before leaving the tally sheet, consider this entry made between the two clipped above:

Anyone care to venture a guess about those pieces and where they were used?  I’ll give you a hint.

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In late November 1862, the Confederacy rushed guns to several threatened points.


* For Gorgas’ report and the original inquiry from Vicksburg, see OR, Series I, Volume 17, Part II, Serial 25, pages 775-6.

The receipt for hauling is located in the Confederate Citizens Files for J.R. Anderson & Company.

150 years ago: J.E. Johnston sent west

On this day (November 24) in 1862, paragraph 3 of Special Orders No. 275 from Confederate Army Headquarters detailed a new assignment for General Joseph E. Johnston:

General J. E. Johnston, C. S. Army, is hereby assigned to the following geographical command, to wit: Commencing with the Blue Ridge range of mountains running through the western part of North Carolina, and following the line of said mountains through the northern part of Georgia to the railroad south from Chattanooga; thence by that road to West Point, and down the west or right bank of the Chattahoochee River to the boundary of Alabama and Florida; following that boundary west to the Choctawhatchee River, and down that river to Choctawhatchee Bay (including the waters of that bay) to the Gulf of Mexico.

All that portion of country west of said line to the Mississippi River is included in the above command.

General Johnston will, for the purpose of correspondence and reports, establish his headquarters at Chattanooga, or such other place as in his judgment will best secure facilities for ready communication with the troops within the limits of his command, and will repair in person to any part of said command whenever his presence may for the time be necessary or desirable.

This was the second time the Confederates had unified the Western Theater under one commander named Johnston (no relations, BTW).  The first time, while certainly not successful, at least had a moment on the morning of April 6, 1862 before ending tragically for General Albert S. Johnston.  In the aftermath, the Confederate command structure in the west operated more by the strength of suggestions for coordination from distant Richmond.

The late summer/early fall offensive into Kentucky strained the western command structure.  By early November, nobody wanted to work with General Braxton Bragg… and Bragg was none to happy to work with them either!  The solution offered from Richmond was J.E. Johnston, conveniently recovered from his wounds suffered in June.

And how did Johnston respond to this call?

… If I have been correctly informed the forces which it places under my command are greatly inferior in number to those of the enemy opposed to them, while in the Trans-Mississippi Department our army is very much larger than that of the United States. Our two armies on this side of the Mississippi have the further disadvantage of being separated by the Tennessee River, and a Federal army (that of Major-General Grant) larger probably than either of them. Under such circumstances it seems to me that our best course would be to fall upon Major-General Grant with the troops of Lieutenant-Generals Holmes and Pemberton, united for the purpose, those of General Bragg co-operating if practicable.

The defeat of Major-General Grant would enable us to hold the Mississippi and permit Lieutenant-General Holmes to move into Missouri.  As our troops are now distributed Vicksburg is in danger.

Not exactly a tone of confidence.  But in all fairness, Johnston at least summed up the strategic situation as best one could from a thousand mile distance.  But wait a minute… that plan sounds like Seven Pines on a grand scale, doesn’t it?   And there’s that word again – “practicable.” Probably the last word to include in any orders going to Bragg, if you ask me. More importantly, the tone of Johnston’s response is very much indicative of the way he approached command – before and after this appointment.

Perhaps a portent of things to come, Johnston’s arrival in Chattanooga was delayed until the first week of December due to three railroad accidents which impeded his transit.   When he arrived at his new headquarters, he found the situation going from bad to worse, with Pemberton withdrawing in the face of Grant’s force.  A crisis of command from the first day in the office.

So thus began Joseph E. Johnston’s affiliation with the Western Theater.  Say what you will about his generalship, the troops liked him.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 17, Part II, Serial 25, pages 757-8.)