Friday, September 26, 2008

Return to Bull Run - John Hennessy

This is probably the best book on the Battle of Second bull Run.

The battle which occurred in late August 1862 is mostly forgotten, sandwiched in between the Seven Days battle and Antietam which occurred 2 weeks later. G.F.R Henderson's has written the definitive account from the Confederate side, but no one has told the entire story in one book. Hennessy corrects the deficiency and focuses on the Union side and John Pope.

The first part of the book ( 125 pages) begins on August 10, 1862 and ends August 27, 1862. Hennessy describes the retreat of Pope to the Rappahannock line, the maneuvering of the armies, and Jackson's march to, and capture of, Manassas Junction. The remaining 330 pages cover the battle itself, Pope's retreat to Washington,. and relief on September 4th. The Bull Run campaign is analyzed in a 17 page epilogue.

I think his analysis is sound, except for the excessive criticism of every one's favorite Civil War punching bag - George McClellan. Echoing the Radical Republicans who wished his destruction Hennessy states McClellan must share with Halleck and Pope primary responsibility for the defeat. Hennessy accuses McClellan of:

  • A plodding retreat from Harrison Landing thereby allowing Lee extra days to operate against Pope;
  • Using every pretext and excuse not to give Pope aid while at Alexandria;
  • Writing Vile things (about Pope) that put him a poor light;
  • using invective that not only doomed Porter but led politicians to mistrust the AOP; and
  • creating in the AOP a culture of conservatism, risk avoidance, and plodding reliability that hobbled the AOP for years.
Finally, to top it off, he calls McClellan's performance "one of the sorriest chapter in the history of war" and quotes Lincoln's quote to Chase on Sept 2, 1862, that "McClellan has behaved badly in this affair but we must use the tools we have".

The problem is that neither the ORR nor the book narrative supports this. In fact, McClellan played only a tiny role in the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. Until August 23rd he was on the Peninsula arranging the AOP's evacuation. From August 24-26 he at Aquia Creek doing nothing per orders. From August 27th -August 30th he was under Halleck's command at Alexandria both arranging the defenses and sending out troops. Finally, from 1 PM August 30, 1862 to September 4th he was merely in command of the Washington defenses.

The primary responsibility for the defeat lies first with Pope and secondarily with Halleck. Pope and Halleck made the same basic error - they tried to fight a battle with part of the army in transit and without adequate calvary or supplies. Both men underestimated Lee and were determined to show they were bold fighters - unlike McClellan. Sadly, the only thing worse then a overly cautious general is an bold reckless one.

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