The Civil War in America

THIS handsome book1 comprises the fifth and sixth volumes of the French edition, without abridgment. It is edited with care by Lieutenant-Colonel John P. Nicholson, a gentleman well known as a careful student of the war of the rebellion. Its typographical execution is very good. We wish it had been possible to reproduce more of the excellent maps which illustrate the original edition.

In this volume the author treats of perhaps the most interesting and important incidents of the war. He gives us a narrative of the operations in Virginia for the entire year 1863, embracing Hooker’s miserable failure at Chancellorsville and Meade’s great victory at Gettysburg. He describes Grant’s masterly campaign against Vicksburg and Banks’s siege of Port Hudson. All these operations are treated of with great fullness of detail, and in a fresh and natural manner. The count’s style is animated, and the most involved military movements are never allowed to weary the reader.

The arrangement of the topics is, however, in our judgment, in some respects objectionable. The count has given to each chapter a name, as if the chapter related solely or mainly to the matters summarized in that name. Some of them, however, contain a great deal that is altogether foreign to the name. And as the count has rejected the aid of a running title and of marginal notes, it is sometimes very difficult to find what one is in search of. Thus, in the chapter headed Suffolk, not only do we have the operations near that town detailed at rather unnecessary

length, but we have to look here for all that the count has to say about the naval attacks upon Charleston, about the capture of the Atlanta, about the doings of the Alabama, about the destruction of the Hatteras. Finally, at the end of this same chapter, we are taken up, as it were in a balloon, from the ocean, and carried to West Virginia, to witness the capture of Philippi by General Jones ! In like manner, it is in the chapter entitled Port Gibson, a name which is identified with the Vicksburg campaign, and with that only, that we are to look for an account of Rosecrans’s operations in Tennessee, Marmaduke’s in Arkansas and Missouri, and Banks’s in Louisiana. To say that this is confusing is certainly to keep within bounds. It may, of course, be impossible to give an adequate description of campaigns like Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, or Vicksburg in a single chapter, and we are not disposed to criticise the count for giving, as he does, different names to the chapters which contain the continuous narrative of these campaigns. We ourselves think that it is hardly worth while to call one chapter Dowdall’s Tavern, and the next chapter Chancellorsville; to call one Oak Hilly,2 and the next Gettysburg. But this is immaterial. What we complain of is this : that in those chapters where more than one subject is treated of, sufficient information of their contents is not given to the reader. The book has no index. It has, to be sure, a full table of contents ; yet this is not printed (as it should be) with a reference after each topic to the page where it is treated of, as in the histories of Hallam, Lord Mahon, Macaulay, and others, but all the subjects are grouped en masse, the only reference to the page being to that on which the chapter begins. This is not enough. A history, especially a military history, is eminently a book of reference, and no pains should be spared in the way of tables of contents, indices, running titles, marginal notes, or anything else, to render the contents easily available to the student.

The count has not preserved in his narrative of the Western campaigns that continuity of treatment which renders his narrative of the campaigns of the army of the Potomac so interesting and so valuable. The operations against Vicksburg were simply successive attempts to solve the same military and naval problem ; and they should have been, in our judgment, given in a connected narrative. Instead of this, we find the story interrupted by accounts of the doings of Rosecrans and Forrest and others in Kentucky and Tennessee ; so that there is an interval of seventy-four pages between Grant’s arrival at Hard Times on the 28th of April (page 217) and his crossing the Mississippi on the 30th (page 291). It would have been better, as it seems to us, to have refrained religiously from interrupting a narrative so striking and dramatic as that of Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg, and to have relegated the accounts of the cavalry operations and of the operations in other departments to some other portions of the book.

Making all due allowances, however, this third volume of the count’s history is a very interesting and useful work, He has tried to he impartial as between the two contesting parties; and, in our judgment, he has succeeded. A more difficult thing by far — the due apportionment of praise and blame among the different officers — the count has no doubt also honestly tried to do. Here, of course, there is room for infinite difference of opinion. We may, nevertheless, point out a few characteristics of the count’s method in arriving at an estimate of the characters and capacities of the actors in his history.

In the first place, the count is always polite, — nay, more, he is always considerate. He dislikes to blame any one, and rarely does so in express terms.

Secondly, while he is, of course, obliged here and there to censure officers, he is always willing to praise them, if on other occasions they may deserve it.

Thirdly, he rarely, if ever, indulges in the elaborate summings-up of character, which have generally furnished such an irresistible attraction to historians.

Accordingly, the reader will find it no easy work to get at the count’s real notion of the persons of his drama. He will find many statements apparently inconsistent with each other, and no attempt at reconciling them. For instance, on page 4, he will find General Stoneman spoken of as “ this excellent officer,” and on page 19 he will find him described as “ an experienced leader,” as “always master of himself, although very zealous, endowed with a clear and discriminating mind, prompt and just in his decisions ; ” so that he will be surprised at learning on page 27 that “ Stoneman aggravated the blunder of his chief by giving to his operations the character of a guerrilla expedition, and by scattering his forces, instead of concentrating them, in order to destroy the communications of the enemy.” So, again, we learn on page 456 that “ Hooker no longer inspired the army with the same confidence as before Chancellorsville ; ” 3 so that we are not prepared to find on page 522 that “ the confidence with which he inspired the soldiers was of itself a power for his army.” These are specimens of the count’s method; and while, no doubt, some of these discrepant estimates are caused by accidental oversight, and others are capable of being reconciled, it still remains that we are without those careful summaries of capacity and character which would add greatly to the value of the count’s work.

In the same way, the count speaks of many matters in respect to which it would seem that we were entitled to have his deliberate opinion. His words are generally carefully chosen, but they seem often to be chosen with the intention of avoiding an explicit decision. For instance, speaking of the appointment of General Meade to the command of the army, he says, —

“ For the second time within the space of a year President Lincoln had selected the worst possible moment for making a change in the chief command of this army. This change might have been reasonable on the day following the battle of Chancellorsville; it was singularly inopportune at present, when the two armies were about to be engaged in a decisive conflict.

“Far from justifying it, the manner in which Hooker had handled his army for the last fortnight deserved nothing but praise,” etc.

That it was extremely unwise to defer the supersession of Hooker till the 28th of June maybe readily admitted. But it having been deferred till then, wars it unwise to remove 4 him then ? To this question the count would seem at first sight to give an affirmative answer. But we are inclined to think that he means merely to express his opinion of the folly of deferring the change so long, and at the same time to give General Hooker the credit he is entitled to for his manæuvres during the preceding fortnight. We do not believe that the count would maintain that it would have been prudent, or even safe, for the government to have allowed the army to fight another great battle under General Hooker. And these are our reasons : — General Hooker had lost in the early part of the preceding month the battle of Chancellorsville. In this battle he had an immense superiority of numbers, he had a most favorable start, he had a perfectly plain course to pursue. He completely threw away his advantages by deliberately renouncing the initiative, and by intrenching his army in a tangled wilderness. When disaster came, he lost all heart. Beyond personally exerting himself from time to time to restore order, which he certainly courageously did, he did nothing, He seems to have relied on Sedgwick to help him, with 75,00.0 men, fight Lee, with 45,000 men. In fact he did not even engage the whole of his army. Two corps were never put in. Nothing but the weakness of the enemy saved our army, under the command of this helpless and pusillanimous chief, from a most disastrous defeat. What would have happened to us at Gettysburg if Hooker had been our leader; if it had devolved upon him instead of upon Meade to decide whether to concentrate the army upon Gettysburg, when the First and Eleventh corps had been routed, and the Fifth and Sixth corps were many miles away, or to risk the demoralization attending on a retreat following immediately upon the severe losses of the 1st of July, let those answer who recall the insistence of Hooker upon a retreat across the Rappahannock, when our army was still largely superior to that of Lee, when we had plenty of fresh troops to oppose to his exhausted and decimated battalions, and when every instinct of a resolute man bade us fight it out. What would have been the result if it had been for Hooker to restore the left of our line at Gettysburg, on the afternoon of July 2d, when the enemy, taking advantage of the false position which Sickles had assumed, came in like a flood, and threatened to carry everything before them, let those say who recollect how this same Sickles had exhausted in vain, on the 3d of May, every means to obtain from Hooker ammunition and reinforcements, and had gallantly maintained his position till lack of the ample supplies and reserves which were within Hooker’s reach compelled its abandonment.

That the Comte de Paris is perfectly cognizant of Hooker’s wretched failure at Chancellorsville is plain. He speaks of Hooker’s having “ doomed himself,” by going back into the forest, “ to powerless immobility ; ” thereby permitting Lee “ to venture upon a manæuvre which it would have been impossible to execute in any other locality,” namely, the flank march of Jackson so as to attack our right. No doubt the count entertains for General Hooker the respect and admiration which he deserved as an excellent brigade, division, and corps commander; but none the less does he consider him to have made an absolute failure as an army commander. Speaking of the battle of Sunday morning, he says (page 87), “The Confederates have not a battalion left that is available; they have not a man who has not been in action. Is Hooker similarly situated ? . . . Without counting the Eleventh corps, which has not yet fully recovered from its disaster, he has the First and Fifth corps under his control, that is to say, nearly thirty-five thousand men, who have not yet fired a shot, with not a single enemy in front of them.” But there is no need that we should quote further. Nowhere is the battle of Chancellorsville better described, and the causes of our miserable failure analyzed, than in the pages of the volume before us.

Why then do we find that doubtful utterance about the inopportuneness of relieving Hooker, to which we have just called attention ? Partly because the count wishes to dismiss Hooker with a word of praise for his recent manæuvres ; and partly, we suspect, and we regret to say so, because the count has fallen under influences hostile to General Meade. We surmise this partly from certain indications, such as the very high terms in which certain officers, of whose dislike of General Meade we have abundant evidence in their testimony before the committee on the conduct of the war and in their published writings, are uniformly spoken of ; and partly from the very measured terms in which the count intimates his approval of those acts and doings of General Meade’s of which he does approve. We may, perhaps, be mistaken as to this ; still, we think that we cannot be wrong in saying that the reader will find that, for some reason or other, Hooker has, and Meade has not, the sympathy of the author ; and that, while the grievous faults of the one are made as little of as justice will permit, the imagination of the reader is encouraged to frame an hypothetical test of Meade’s conduct by dwelling on what Meade might, or rather on what some people thought that he might, have accomplished, had he done on certain well-known occasions something else than what he did do.

The inconsistency of human nature is surely never more clearly and more painfully exhibited than in such a disposition as this. Let it be granted that the army of the Potomac ought to have attacked the enemy, if possible, after the repulse of Pickett’s division : that is only the first step in arriving at a conclusion that General Meade was to blame for not ordering such an attack. The army had been weakened enormously by two or three days of hard fighting; several of its best and bravest generals, Reynolds, Hancock, Sickles, and others, had been killed or wounded ; three of our corps had been very severely handled, many of our best officers placed hors de combat. We are not going to argue the matter one way or the other; we simply say that it was by no means a plain question, and that the decision arrived at on the spot by the general who, taking command of the army on Sunday, has by Friday afternoon won such a protracted, obstinate, and terrible battle as Gettysburg ought not be lightly complained of. It may, of course, be reexamined, but only with great care, and with every disposition to do justice to the man who has had the responsibility of the decision.

And this brings us to another remark on the count’s history, which is this: that he does not, like Napier in his Peninsular War, or Chesney in his Waterloo Lectures, devote a certain space in each of his chapters, well marked off, to the criticising of men and operations, but he throws his remarks in anywhere. This has the merit of avoiding anything like a lecture, and it takes the reader, as it were, into the author’s confidence; for it is extremely difficult to resist the force of conclusions which are arrived at and stated in the course of the count’s charming and animated narrative. But it has its disadvantages, nevertheless. It masks the force of certain arguments, and enhances the force of others. It enables the writer to make a great many suggestions about the course of conduct he is describing, every one of which may have some weight; and, as he does not give himself the trouble of summing up these suggestions and arriving at and enunciating his conclusion, it is quite possible for him to avoid the charge of having expressed an opinion on the question; while, at the same time, the suggestions thrown out by him on the side of the question on which his sympathies lie would naturally and almost inevitably outweigh those on the other. The result is that the reader’s mind is unconsciously impressed by the preponderating weight of the suggestions on that side of the question which the author would like to favor. And yet, it is perfectly possible that, were the writer to impose upon himself the duty of weighing the evidence and arguments, he would be forced to adopt an opinion entirely contrary to this, and so to instruct his readers. The propriety of the removal of Hooker from the command of the army, of which we have already spoken, is an instance in point. The wisdom of General Meade’s decision not to take the offensive at Gettysburg, and of that not to attack the enemy at Williamsport, are others. These questions we should like to have seen discussed in a more systematic manner, and the facts and arguments on both sides carefully weighed.

The appendix contains, besides rosters of both armies, President Lincoln’s most characteristic note to General Hooker (page 851), on placing him at the head of the army. It is not generally known, and it is one of the wisest and best letters that Mr. Lincoln ever wrote.

There is also (page 911) a very valuable itinerary of the different corps of the army of the Potomac in June and July, 1863, compiled, under the direction of Adjutant - General Drum, by J. W. Kirkley, Esq., of that office.

The count has also given us some additions and corrections to his former volumes, of which the most important begins on page 859, and relates to the second battle of Bull Run and the case of General Porter. We would call attention to a misprint on page 860, line two from the bottom, where “ His,” the first word in the line, should be “ Kemper’s.” The new matter contains a retractation of any opinions unfavorable to Porter expressed in the previous volume. The count, in his statement of the events of the 29th of August, falls into a very unnecessary error, though not a very material one. He states that on the morning of that day McDowell, with King’s division of his corps, was with Porter’s column, “ while Ricketts, at the head of the second division of McDowell’s corps, had borne more to the right, and was to strike the turnpike north of Groveton ” [sic] ; that McDowell “ sought to deploy ” King’s division to the right of Porter “ in order to assist Ricketts, and thus form a continuous front of attack ; ” but “ the impenetrable thickets which covered the ground on that side rendered such deployment impossible, and McDowell . . . determined to bring King back to the rear, in order to overtake Ricketts and operate with his whole corps in a less eccentric fashion against Jackson’s right wing.” We are sorry to say that this explanation of McDowell’s course is incorrect, inasmuch as Ricketts’s division, which had on the morning of the 29th arrived at Bristoe at the same time that King’s division had reached Manassas Junction, remained in rear of it throughout the day. King’s division led in the march up the Sudley Springs road in the afternoon of the 29th, and this division only was engaged on that day. General McDowell expressly states in his report that “ Ricketts’s division, coming on in the rear of King’s, was taken up the Sudley Springs road,” — that is, was not turned into the Warrenton turnpike, as King’s had been, — “ north of the Warrenton pike, and held as a reserve for the time, in front.”

  1. History of the Civil War in America. By the COMTE DE PARIS. Published by special arrangement with the author. Volume III. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates.
  2. Curiously enough, the American draughtsman has omitted to print the words “ Oak Hill ” on the map which faces the title-page. By referring to the French map these words will be found just east of the Mummasburg road, between the houses of Hoffmann and Forney.
  3. This statement is certainly within bounds !
  4. Strictly speaking, General Hooker was not removed, but he was virtually forced into resigning’ by General Halleck’s course in regard to Harper’s Ferry.