Civil War Talks on the Life of Jacob Cox, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Franklin, and the War in West Virginia

Political Generals’ Revenge: McPherson’s Death, Sherman’s Decision, and Logan’s Angst

On July 22, 1864, at the Battle of Atlanta, Union Army of the Tennessee commander General James McPherson was killed.  That was the root cause of a series of events which would over time reduce the size and effectiveness of the postwar army.

Union army commander W.T. Sherman now had the opportunity to replace McPherson with XVth corps commander (and “political general”) General John T. (Black Jack) Logan, the next highest in rank in that army and a proven, fierce fighter popular with his men.  He chose instead to name General O. O. Howard to the post., despite the fact that Howard, a West Point graduate, had performed poorly at Chancellorsville and at Gettysburg.

Sherman’s reasoning?  He wrote later that it was because Logan was a political general and politicians “were mistrusted by regular officers like Generals Schofield, Thomas, and myself.”  Sherman admitted that Logan “had some reason to believe that we intended to monopolize the higher honors of the war for regular officers;” but that he believed volunteers “looked to personal fame and glory as auxiliary and secondary to political ambition and not as professional soldiers.”

Logan took the decision very hard, writing to his wife, “West Point must have all under Sherman, who is an infernal brute.” He likely wasn’t mollified when, after Howard was made the head of the Freedman’s Bureau, Sherman named Logan as commander of the Army of the Tennessee just in time for the May 1865 Grand Review in Washington.

Logan’s postwar return to politics included helping to manage the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson; strenuously resisting attempts to overturn the conviction of Fitz-John Porter; and running as James G. Blaine’s vice-presidential candidate in the election of 1884.   He also was one of the founders of the volunteer military group, Grand Army of the Republic, and a creator of Decoration Day (later Memorial Day).

Logan also wrote a book, published posthumously in 1887, “The Volunteer Soldier in America,” which was a paean of praise for volunteers and a dirge of attacks on regular army professionals.  The book echoed his activities while in the House of Representatives and Senate until his death in 1886 to block and deter any efforts by Sherman, then commander of the U.S. Army, to enhance the size and influence of the army.

During 1880-81, while he was writing his book “Atlanta,” as part of Scribner’s Great Campaigns of the Civil War series, Jacob Cox consulted with many of the commanders in the campaign.  Sherman, who had offered Cox a brigadier generalship in the regular army at war’s end, told Cox that because of his decision about Logan, he had had “to stand the brunt of Logan’s anger and hatred” ever since.  Cox, who rarely criticized Sherman, wrote in his review of Sherman’s Memoirs, “Sherman was wrong in failing to give civilian generals top commands because they are activated by political ambition.”

Below are images of McPherson, Logan, Logan’s Book, and Cox’s book.

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Shooting the “Gap” — Pope’s Blunder

Driving home this afternoon I noticed these two placards regarding Thoroughfare Gap, the road through the Bull Run Mountains through which Lee and Longstreet advanced on an unready and unbelieving John Pope before the Battle of Second Bull Run/Manassas.  Despite being told several times by senior officers that he was going to be outflanked on his left, Pope bullheadedly focused solely on Jackson on his right.  The inevitable result was a rout which only hard work by John Reynolds, among others, prevented a total collapse of Pope’s Army of Virginia.

I recently re-read John Hennessy’s “Return to Bull Run” about that battle, and it is superb.  Unlike all too many Civil War books with details of the fighting, Hennessy is always crisp and to the point, without adding too much detail.  Excellent maps help too.

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Hood Replaces Johnston on the Atlanta Campaign; The Clash of Military Tactics

https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com

On July 17, 1864, as W.T. Sherman’s army moved steadily south toward Atlanta, with some of his forces just ten miles from that city, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, displeased with commander Joseph Johston’s defensive-oriented tactics, replaced him with corps commander John Bell Hood, then just 33 years old.  In his message, Davis said Johnston “had failed to arrest the advance of the enemy…and expressed no confidence that “he could “defeat or repel” the Union.

Sherman, who learned of the change a few days later, asked his subordinates, several of whom knew Hood from West Point days, for their appraisal of the new rebel leader.  The comment by Army of the Ohio commander John Schofield, Hood’s classmate at West Point, who said he was bold even to rashness and courageous in the extreme,” was echoed by the others.  O.O. Howard made the most cutting analysis, writing his wife, “he is a stupid fellow but a hard fighter — does some very unexpected things.”

Sherman, presuming that Hood would discard Johnston’s effective tactics and go on the offensive, told his commanders, “This was just what we wanted, viz. to fight on open ground, on anything like equal terms instead of being forced to run up against prepared intrenchments.   Schofield’s deputy, General Jacob Cox, wrote later, “The change of commanders undoubtedly precipitated the ruin of the Confederate cause…We regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us…The action of the Confederate government was a confession that Sherman’s methods had brought about the very result he aimed at.”

On July 25, after his first two offensives at Peachtree Creek and Bald Hill/Atlanta were thwarted, Hood issued a general field order encapsulating his philosophy of battle.  It read in part: “SOLDIERS: Experience has proved to you that safety in time of battle consists in getting into close quarters with your enemy.”  Recall that he wrote this at a time in the war when defensive tactics and the effective use of entrenchments were becoming the keys to military success.

Three days after this order was issued, Hood launched a new offensive at the Battle of Ezra Church.  Jacob Cox wrote later that this attack also failed because Hood’s “troops were losing their stomach for assaulting intrenchments.”  He noted that as “the Union breastworks grew as if by magic, the gray columns were beaten back.”  Some Confederate troops, recognizing the futility of their situation, “stolidly refused to continue the assaults.”  Despite their officers waving swords to encourage them, Cox wrote, “they remained motionless and silent, refusing to budge.”

Four months later, at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, the clash of the two approaches, massive offensive charge against entrenched defensive forces, would lead to the final destruction of Hood’s Army of Tennessee

 

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Hood Replaces Johnston on the Atlanta Campaign; The Clash of Military Tactics

https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com

On July 17, 1864, as W.T. Sherman’s army moved steadily south toward Atlanta, with some of his forces just ten miles from that city, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, displeased with commander Joseph Johston’s defensive-oriented tactics, replaced him with corps commander John Bell Hood, then just 33 years old.  In his message, Davis said Johnston “had failed to arrest the advance of the enemy…and expressed no confidence that “he could “defeat or repel” the Union.

Sherman, who learned of the change a few days later, asked his subordinates, several of whom knew Hood from West Point days, for their appraisal of the new rebel leader.  The comment by Army of the Ohio commander John Schofield, Hood’s classmate at West Point, who said he was bold even to rashness and courageous in the extreme,” was echoed by the others.  O.O. Howard made the most cutting analysis, writing his wife, “he is a stupid fellow but a hard fighter — does some very unexpected things.”

Sherman, presuming that Hood would discard Johnston’s effective tactics and go on the offensive, told his commanders, “This was just what we wanted, viz. to fight on open ground, on anything like equal terms instead of being forced to run up against prepared intrenchments.   Schofield’s deputy, General Jacob Cox, wrote later, “The change of commanders undoubtedly precipitated the ruin of the Confederate cause…We regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us…The action of the Confederate government was a confession that Sherman’s methods had brought about the very result he aimed at.”

On July 25, after his first two offensives at Peachtree Creek and Bald Hill/Atlanta were thwarted, Hood issued a general field order encapsulating his philosophy of battle.  It read in part: “SOLDIERS: Experience has proved to you that safety in time of battle consists in getting into close quarters with your enemy.”  Recall that he wrote this at a time in the war when defensive tactics and the effective use of entrenchments were becoming the keys to military success.

Three days after this order was issued, Hood launched a new offensive at the Battle of Ezra Church.  Jacob Cox wrote later that this attack also failed because Hood’s “troops were losing their stomach for assaulting intrenchments.”  He noted that as “the Union breastworks grew as if by magic, the gray columns were beaten back.”  Some Confederate troops, recognizing the futility of their situation, “stolidly refused to continue the assaults.”  Despite their officers waving swords to encourage them, Cox wrote, “they remained motionless and silent, refusing to budge.”

Four months later, at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, the clash of the two approaches, massive offensive charge against entrenched defensive forces, would lead to the final destruction of Hood’s Army of Tennessee

 

atlanta_campaign_map51lN2tJQqqL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Shooting the “Gap” — Pope’s Blunder

Driving home this afternoon I noticed these two placards regarding Thoroughfare Gap, the road through the Bull Run Mountains through which Lee and Longstreet advanced on an unready and unbelieving John Pope before the Battle of Second Bull Run/Manassas.  Despite being told several times by senior officers that he was going to be outflanked on his left, Pope bullheadedly focused solely on Jackson on his right.  The inevitable result was a rout which only hard work by John Reynolds, among others, prevented a total collapse of Pope’s Army of Virginia.

I recently re-read John Hennessy’s “Return to Bull Run” about that battle, and it is superb.  Unlike all too many Civil War books with details of the fighting, Hennessy is always crisp and to the point, without adding too much detail.  Excellent maps help too.

20180701_16164120180701_161713

9780806131870

Civil War Pets — Sacred by the Law of the Camp

In his memoirs Jacob Cox dealt with a wide variety of issues relating to the war, from strategy and tactics to the death of one of his children and the rivalries between West Pointers and Political Generals.  He also wrote about diversions from the tensions of fighting, including pets in the army and how they were treated.  Here is his story about his own pet and how it met a most unexpected end.

He wrote that many men in the ranks had pets, mostly dogs.  During the Atlanta campaign Cox acquired his own pet, a small “green and gold lizard,” which he found one day “residing” in his field desk.  (A picture of the desk, now placed in the Carter House at the Battle of Franklin facilities thanks to a Cox family gift, is below).  He did his best not to scare the lizard, and eventually he tamed it.  He wrote, “the little thing seemed to become fond of me, running about on my papers, clinging to my arm.”  Whenever Cox rode, the lizard sat on his hat rim, “like a most gorgeous aigrette.”  Cox joked that his men called the beast “an attache’ of the staff.”  One day when Cox was consulting with a colleague from another corps, however, one of the latter’s staff, seeing the lizard on Cox’s shoulder, knocked it off and killed it, thinking he had saved Cox’s life.  When Cox’s staff told the man that he had “killed the general’s pet,” he “slunk away, the picture of shame and remorse.”  Cox concluded, “Pets were sacred by the law of the camp, and he felt and looked as if he were a murderer.”  014

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Fear and the Longing to be Home; a typical letter

On June 24, 1864, soon after the “Atlanta Campaign” had begun, General Jacob Cox of the 23rd corps wrote home about his experiences in narrowly escaping death during the war in a way which likely echoed that of many men during this war.  In it he told his wife Helen that he had had many narrow escapes from death, but hadn’t told her about them because he didn’t want her to be worried.  Looking ahead, he assured her that he would recount all of those events at home “by the fireside” when the war was over.  In fact, Cox would also recount them in his four histories of the war, which today are still seen as objective analyses of every aspect of this conflict.  His “Military Reminiscences” are considered among the best memoirs of the participants.

He wrote, “I did not tell you that I was stunned by the explosion of a shell at Resaca [Georgia, during the Battle of Resaca], because it was not true…i ws simply deafened for a few seconds.  it was a providential escape…The bystanders thought we were all killed, &it was for a time so reported.  If I told you all the narrow escapes you would be kept uneasy all the time, & it is much better that you should only reflect upon the fact that so far  am unhurt, & the escapes will do to talk about at home, when the war is over, & I can fight my battles over again by the fireside.”

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