For the holidays, lets each rehabilitate some Civil War general… I call Schimmelfennig!

This being the season of giving, I ask what have we given back to the Civil War field of study?  We all “take” from our studies – reading primary and secondary sources, walking the battlefields, and receiving knowledge all around.   But what do we give back in return?  How this season we “clean up” some corner of Civil War study that need be straightened or otherwise put in order?

Consider… Throughout the Sesquicentennial discussions we heard about some major figures from the Civil War being “rehabilitated” by historians.  Most notable is George B. McClellan.  We even heard mention of Joe Hooker.  Though I still lean towards strict twelve step process for Little Mac… someone skipped a few steps with McClellan in my opinion.  This is not a new notion for historians.  During the Centennial, US Grant was “rehabilitated” to some degree, mostly by that magical prose from Bruce Catton.  William T. Sherman was moved but a few shades to the good side of Lucifer himself.  Though we really should recognize the work of British admirers decades earlier, who sort of threw a mirror in our American faces.  However of late Grant is being “un-rehabilitated” back to a mere mortal.

What I have in mind is straight forward and altruistic – pick a figure due “historical rehabilitation.”  Name any figure from the Civil War – general, politician, or other.  Pick a poor figure.  Someone you think has not gotten a fair shake through the historians’ collective pens. Then offer up a few paragraphs explaining why this figure is worth a second look.  Think about it… are there any persons who are completely nonredeemable?  Totally incompetent? Without any merit?  Well… maybe there are some.  But I’d submit that to be a small number within the larger sample set.  Besides, even H. Judson Kilpatrick, Alfred Pleasonton, and Franz Sigel had good days to speak of!

I’ll make the first offering.  This is my target for rehabilitation:

Alexander Schimmelfennig.  Like most, my introduction to Schimmelfennig was the butt end of many jokes about “hiding with the hogs” at Gettysburg.  Schimmelfennig’s stay at the Henry Garlach house has come to epitomize the failings and faults of the Eleventh Corps in the battle.

Over the years, I’ve learned not to add an extra n, making his name an active present tense verb, to Schimmelfennig. Though you might find more than a few cases where I’ve slipped and not corrected.  Furthermore, I’ve come to recognize my characterization of Schimmelfennig’s actions were but one of many collective misunderstandings (being kind… maybe collective ignorance?) about the actions at Gettysburg.  Indeed, our myopic view of that battle has caused no short list of misconceptions.  Schimmelfennig is one of many receiving short treatment, and outright insult, due to the intellectual white elephant, named Gettysburg, stuck to history’s charge.

Let us first be fair about Schimmelfennig at Gettysburg.  Certainly his July 1, 1863 on the field is not fodder for any great story about military prowess and proficiency.  Though it was not an example of bumbling incompetence.  Why was he in the Garlach back yard to start with?  Well it was because, unlike many of his peers and superiors, he was not emulating General Gates’ flight from Camden in search of “high ground” south of town.

And in the two years that followed that stay in the shed, Schimmelfennig demonstrated he was indeed a very capable field commander… in the oft overlooked Department of the South.  I’ve chronicled those activities during the Sesquicentennial… and will mention a few key points here.   Schimmelfennig first went to the department as part of Brigadier-General George Gordon’s 1st Division, Eleventh Corps, sent as reinforcements in late July 1863. The Brigadier-General led a successful demonstration in February 1864 on John’s Island; assumed responsibility for the front against Charleston through the spring and early summer 1864, directing several bombardments of Fort Sumter, and mounting demonstrations to aid the main operations elsewhere;  And played an important role in Foster’s July 1864 “demonstration” that nearly broke through to Charleston.   After returning from leave (recovering from malaria), Schimmelfennig was in command of the forces that captured Charleston on February 18, 1865.

Schimmelfennig readily adapted to situations and was innovative.  He successfully used of Hales rockets in an assault role and urged the troops to use rudimentary camouflage to disguise their activities.  To the many USCT regiments in his command, he offered fair and complementary leadership, advocating for pay equality.  The naval officers working with him, particularly Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, considered Schimmelfennig the better of the Army generals to work with at Charleston.

And we should remember, as if a name like Schimmelfennig would allow us to forget, that the general was not American-born.  Thus he faced much of the institutional bias within the Federal officer corps.  Schimmelfennig, a Prussian, was a veteran of the revolutions and wars of 1848.  Pulling on our historian sensibilities, Schimmelfennig was a bit of a military historian himself, providing context to the conflicts between Russia and Turkey in the years leading up to the Crimean War.

Oh, and I should add, Schimmelfennig “pioneered” the use of petrochemicals to ward off mosquitoes…. Um… by smearing kerosene over his exposed skin while on duty at Folly and Morris Islands.  Not exactly DEET, but you know.  Fine… he was a bit far short of a renaissance man.

At any rate, you get my point – Schimmelfennig’s service is done a dis-service by overly emphasizing those three days in July 1863… or even after weighing in his (and the Eleventh Corps) performance at Chancellorsville months before.  Maybe he was not among Grant’s Generals depicted in Balling’s painting, but Schimmelfennig served with distinction during the war.  He is at least deserving of more consideration than “a brigade commander at Gettysburg.”

That’s my proposed target for rehabilitation.  What’s yours?  And why?

Sherman’s Lieutenants on the March to the Sea

As mentioned earlier, my intent is to do “something” here on the blog with a focus on Major-General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in relation to the 150th events.  For starters, it’s a 150th that, due to several factors, may not get much attention on the ground.  Dropping some of the baggage aside, the March is spread across half a state and several weeks, without any major battles (as with, say, the Overland Campaign).  But the Savannah Campaign… er… March… stands as one of the most important events of the Civil War.  It deserves some attention, to say the least.

To kick things off, let me offer a “resource post” today.  I’ve found over the years that most folks will know Sherman in relation to the march, but are not as familiar with the subordinates who executed his plans.  That said, let me walk through the organization that made the March.  We might call it “Sherman’s Army” but it was technically a detachment of the Military Division of the Mississippi.  The detachment consisted of two field armies – The Army of the Tennessee (the Right Wing) and The Army of Georgia (Left Wing).  Each of those Armies contained two army corps.  And Sherman’s force included a cavalry division.

Starting with the Army of the Tennessee, the commander of this storied formation was Major-General Oliver O. Howard.

Let us set aside, for the moment, the particulars for why Howard succeeded Major-General James McPherson in command of the army.  Sherman conducted a major reorganization during the early fall of 1864.  And several parts of the force used to capture Atlanta were sent north.  He retained Howard.  I think that was because of a simple understanding between Sherman and Howard – Howard always did as instructed.  Beyond that, Howard was a “tested” commander… a known quantity.

The Army of the Tennessee consisted of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps.  The Fifteenth, “40 rounds!”, stands tall in the history as originally Sherman’s then Maj0r-General John Logan’s command through the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta Campaigns.  But in November 1864, Logan was north working the election.  In his place, Major-General Peter Osterhaus, one of the best foreign-born union officers of the war, lead the corps.

Osterhaus had four divisions:

  • First Division, Brigadier-General Charles Woods, with three brigades.
  • Second Division, Brigadier-General William B. Hazen, with three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General John E. Smith, with two brigades.
  • Forth Division, Brigadier-General John M. Corse, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Charles Stolbrand with four batteries.

Major-General Frank P. Blair, Jr. commanded the Seventeenth Corps.  And to match with Osterhaus, Blair was one of the more competent politician-generals of the war.

Blair had three (somewhat small) divisions:

  • First Division, Major-General Joseph Mower (just returned from an assignment in Missouri).   Three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General Mortimer Leggett.  Two brigades.
  • Fourth Division, Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith. Two brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Allen C. Waterhouse with three batteries.

The Left Wing, as the Army of Georgia was know, fell under Major-General Henry Slocum.

As with Howard, Slocum did not have a great track record up to this point in the war, having been “exiled” from the Army of the Potomac the previous winter.  But Slocum was a regular line officer who would follow orders.  That’s what Sherman wanted for a movement in which no major combat actions were expected.  Slocum’s army consisted of the Fourteenth and Twentieth Army Corps.

Major-General Jefferson C. Davis (as opposed to the guy with an “F” as a middle initial!) had the Fourteenth Corps.

Davis’ commission was only a brevet, in part due to lingering effects of the killing of Major-General William Nelson in 1862. Davis was capable and dependable in the field.  His corps consisted of three divisions:

  • First Division, Brigadier-General William Carlin, with three brigades.
  • Second division, Brigadier-General James Morgan, with three brigades.
  • Third Division, Brigadier-General Absalom Baird, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major Charles Houghtaling, with four batteries.

The Twentieth Corps, what was left of the old Eleventh and Twelfth Corps from the Army of the Potomac, fell under Brigadier-General Alpheus S. Williams.

William had in his charge three divisions supported by artillery:

  • First Division under Brigadier-General Nathaniel J. Jackson, with three brigades.
  • Second Division under Brigadier-General John Geary, with three brigades.
  • Third Division under Brigadier-General William Ward, with three brigades.
  • Artillery under Major John A. Reynolds, with four batteries.

Rounding out the major elements of Sherman’s army was a division of cavalry, technically the Third Division of the Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, under Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick.

Considering Kilpatrick, and Sherman’s decision to put him in charge of an important part of the formation marching to Savannah, we have to keep in mind how much of the “cavalry talent” within the Federal army was in the Shenandoah, for good reason, at that time.  In other words, who else was around?  I have described the selection of Kilpatrick as that to a race-car team going with an aggressive driver – Kilpatrick might not be the idea choice, but on occasion he could make a situation within a void of opportunities.  Maybe I’m being kind there.  But there is from time to time a call for a reckless type to make something happen.  Perhaps Major-General George Stoneman was too much a “by the book” commander to match with a “throw out the book” military campaign.  And perhaps Sherman simply enjoyed hearing the wild tales Kilpatrick concocted for his after-action reports!

I’ve only named-names down to the division level for brevity here.  What is lost with that is a true understanding of the veteran make-up of this army that marched across Georgia.  From the top to the bottom, these were commanders and regiments that had seen hard campaigning and major battles.  And not just “western” battles.  Consider the commander of Second Brigade, First Division, Twentieth Corps – Colonel Ezra A. Carmen.  There was a man who’d seen Antietam, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, and the Atlanta Campaign.  In his brigade were the 2nd Massachusetts, 13th New Jersey, 107th and 150th New York, and 3rd Wisconsin. All units with scores of battle honors to brag about.  If we took all such battle honors from across Sherman’s army and listed them, I dare say only the battles of from the 1864 campaigns in the east would be missing.

Sherman’s army marching through Georgia was indeed a veteran legion.

Grant and his Generals

How many of the generals in this painting can you name, without using references?*

NPG 6 Apr 12 067

The painting hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. The photo does not do the work justice. But the location, hanging over one of the stairways, allows visitors perspective from several good angles. Artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling put motion in this painting, implying if not imparting progress towards the end of a long, bloody war.

When I view the painting, an observation offered by a former commander comes to mind. “Battles, campaigns, and wars,” he would say, “are not won by a single man, even he be a commander. Rather they are won by a team unified by a leader.”

* According to the interpretation offered with the painting, the generals are, from left to right: Thomas C. Devin, George A. Custer, Hugh J. Kilpatrick, William H. Emory, Philip H. Sheridan, James B. McPherson, George Crook, Wesley Merritt, George H. Thomas, Gouverneur K. Warren, George G. Meade, John G. Parke, William T. Sherman, John A. Logan, Ulysses S. Grant, Ambrose E. Burnside, Joseph Hooker, Winfield Scott Hancock, John A. Rawlins, Edward O.C. Ord, Francis Preston Blair, Alfred H. Terry, Henry W. Slocum, Jefferson C. Davis, Oliver O. Howard, John M. Schofield, Joseph A. Mower.