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Civil War on Two Fronts

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

Lee’s Lieutenants, A Study in Command, Manassas to Malvern Hill. By Douglas Southall Freeman. Charles Scribner’s Sons. $5.00. The Hidden Civil War: The Story of the Copperheads. By Wood Gray. The Viking Press. $3.75.

Douglas southall freeman has undertaken in his “Lee’s Lieutenants,” a restudy of the Army of Northern Virginia through the medium of the subordinate commanders, which involves an examination of the creation and maintenance of these commands. The author studies each commander as he comes to the forefront in action, and drops him when he is relieved or sent to other fronts. Mr. Freeman’s interest is, therefore, fixed as much upon the command as upon the commander. The result is that the more general reader has an adequate history of the campaigns in Virginia while the military expert has, in addition, a full and satisfying analysis and criticism of the tactics and strategy of the commanding officer.

Freeman’s military judgments in most cases seem inescapable after an examination of his factual matter and the argument based upon it. In the case of both Beauregard and Joe Johnston, however, he has probably permitted his disapproval of them as men to influence his judgment of their generalship. Both had the prima donna complex, Beauregard in particular was a great egoist. Perhaps Johnston was more sensitive than egotistic. Both men committed serious errors of military judgment in the first year of the war; but Beauregard was really never given a chance after 1862 to show the extent of his ability, and Johnston was given only a brief chance after 1862. However, his masterful withdrawal from Chattanooga to Atlanta before Sherman’s greatly superior force can no longer be taken lightly in the face of the Russian strategy of retreat, for the purpose of keeping the army intact and reducing the enemy’s striking power by lengthening his lines of supply.

Freeman quite properly devotes more space in this first volume to Stonewall Jackson than to any other of Lee’s lieutenants. He considers that Stonewall’s tactics was mediocre in the Valley Campaign, and attributes as reasons the latter’s inexperience, Ashby’s undisciplined cavalry, the mediocrity of George H. Stewart as a cavalry commander, and the inexperience of his artillery officers. But the campaign was a brilliant strategic success, for Jackson defeated three armies and prevented a fourth under McDowell from reinforcing McClellan before Richmond, while he marched to Lee’s aid and helped drive McClellan back to Harrison’s Landing. The reasons for Jackson’s poor performance in the Seven Days Campaign have not been as yet explained to Freeman’s satisfaction. One reason, at least, was obvious: Jackson’s complete physical exhaustion resulting from the Valley Campaign and his march to Richmond. Another is obvious to the reviewer: lack of maps in a strange country which was a veritable jungle. Indeed, while McClellan had the most detailed maps based upon the United States Coast survey, the survey of the State of Virginia and the work of the topographical engineers under Humphreys, Lee and his lieutenants had nothing but rough and inaccurate sketches. (See the Atlas of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, plates 14-20 for McClellan’s maps.)

Jackson’s great strategic ability, as demonstrated in the Valley Campaign and later, consisted of five elements, which, says Freeman, are “the marks of a great captain.” These were: (1) an unerring estimate of the military value of terrain once he had mastered the geography of an area; (2) an understanding of the importance of surprise, which explains his extreme secretiveness; (3) belief in the necessity of using superior force at the point of attack though his over-all strength was less than that of his opponents; (4) “the employment of the initiative in such a fashion as to strip his adversary of alternatives” so that he would have to fight Jackson at the time and place and under the conditions of the latter’s choosing; (5) and finally, sound logistics or the ability to move troops and supplies to the right point at the desired time, the science that implements the other elements of strategy.

The other commanders come in for brief but satisfactory examination during the first year of the war. J. B. Ma-gruder and G. W. Smith do not display first class qualities as division or corps commanders, but have qualifications for small semi-independent commands. Huger proves himself unqualified as a field officer, Holmes is given a relatively quiet independent command. James Longstreet proves an exceedingly able “lieutenant,” prompt, a good administrator, good tactician, and possessed of a sense of strategy. His ego that finally dimmed his greatness is not yet in evidence.

John B. Hood shows up as a great fighting man and a great subordinate commander. Both D. H. and A. P. Hill appear to be better generals than has been thought. J. E. B. Stuart, though boisterous and swashbuckling, reveals himself as the master “intelligence” officer who seldom fails to obtain the information that Lee desires and never makes a serious mistake in interpreting it. Wade Hampton, sportsman and planter, without military experience, discloses exceptional military talents. John B. Gordon, young lawyer without military experience, shows military gifts of a high order in the Seven Days Campaign.

One year of war weeded out most of the misfits and brought to the fore men of great ability—many of whom, indeed most of whom, had never had military training. This is encouraging for us in our present struggle.


Wood Gray’s “The Hidden Civil War” is in reality the story of the Copperheads in the Old Northwest; but there is little reason to suppose that the Copperhead principles were different in the East. The Copperheads were those Democrats whose opposition to the war to coerce the Southern States into Union with the North ranged from passive disapproval to physical resistance. From beginning to end they contended that the coercion of a state was unconstitutional and that the South could be conciliated by reasonable compromise and retained or brought back into the union as willing partners. They believed with all too much evidence that the war had been launched upon the South not to save the Union but to save the Republican Party and fasten its control upon the country. Nothing that the Republican Party did during the war and the tragic era of reconstruction served to weaken this conviction. The arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, without trial or even without the preferment of charges, of members of state legislatures, Congressmen, and thousands of highly respected and prominent men—all Democrats—the use of troops to carry the election in Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and even in the Northwest, the draft act with its genius for selecting Democrats, the Emancipation Proclamation which changed the declared war aims from restoration of the Union to the creation of a new Union and the emancipation of the slaves of the South, were to the Copperheads mere details in the revolutionary struggle of the Republican Party to impose its power and will upon the country, North and South. Further proof of the revolutionary design of the radical Republicans was the higher law doctrine of that party, which proposed to substitute conscience for the law and the constitution.

Perhaps the most fundamental principle upon which the Copperheads based their opposition was the Democratic conception of union as a desire of a people to live together under the same government. While the Republican concept of the creation and preservation of nationalism was virtually the Bismarckian “blood and iron” dogma, the Copperheads affirmed that in a union founded upon the democratic process the consent of the governed must be the test of the desire for union. The Copperheads believed that the use of force to maintain union violated both the desire and consent of those upon whom it was used; and that it would destroy the possible future desire of the South to rejoin the Union.

“The Hidden Civil War” and some other recent studies have about convinced me that the entire Democratic Party with individual exceptions was Copperhead in belief. Mr. Gray seems to imply this. He considers that the Copperheads were traitors, which is probably true; but since there were almost as many Democrats in the North as Republicans, it mounts up to this: that about half the Northern people and practically all the Southern people were traitors, which in itself would make treason respectable under the democratic process. They were in revolt against the radical Republican Party, which was using revolutionary methods to maintain itself in power and impose a new order upon America.

Mr. Gray’s book is the result of careful and widespread research. Unfortunately, it is too dependent upon the private and public papers of the leading Republicans. His search for private papers of the Copperheads was almost futile: having committed treason or near treason, they burned their papers or hid them where students have been unable to locate them. Despite being heavily weighted against the Copperheads as a result of the source material upon which the author was forced to rely and as a result of the author’s acceptance without criticism of the radical Republican principles concerning nationalism and free government, “The Hidden Civil War” is an interesting and valuable work.


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