G.F. R. Henderson.

Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War online

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sources of supply, and have overwhelmed the starving garrison? How
came it that Fremont and Banks were no further south than they were
in March? that the Shenandoah Valley still poured its produce into
Richmond? that McDowell had not yet crossed the Rappahannock? What
mysterious power had compelled Lincoln to retain a force larger than
the whole Confederate army "to protect the national capital from
danger and insult?"

It was not hard fighting. The Valley campaign, from Kernstown to Port
Republic, had not cost the Federals more than 7000 men; and, with the
exception of Cross Keys, the battles had been well contested. It was
not the difficulties of supply or movement. It was not absence of
information; for until Jackson vanished from the sight of both friend
and foe on June 17, spies and "contrabands"* (i.e. Fugitive slaves)
had done good work. (* The blacks, however, appear to have been as
unreliable as regards numbers as McClellan's detectives. "If a negro
were asked how many Confederates he had seen at a certain point, his
answer was very likely to be: "I dunno, Massa, but I guess about a
million."" - McClellan's Own Story page 254.) Nor was it want of will
on the part of the Northern Government. None were more anxious than
Lincoln and Stanton to capture Richmond, to disperse the rebels, and
to restore the Union. They had made stupendous efforts to organise a
sufficient army. To equip that army as no army had ever been equipped
before they had spared neither expense nor labour; and it can hardly
be denied that they had created a vast machine, perhaps in part
imperfect, but, considering the weakness of the enemy, not
ill-adapted for the work before it.

There was but one thing they had overlooked, and that was that their
host would require intelligent control. So complete was the
mechanism, so simple a matter it appeared to set the machine in
motion, and to keep it in the right course, that they believed that
their untutored hands, guided by common-sense and sound abilities,
were perfectly capable of guiding it, without mishap, to the
appointed goal. Men who, aware of their ignorance, would probably
have shrunk from assuming charge of a squad of infantry in action,
had no hesitation whatever in attempting to direct a mighty army, a
task which Napoleon has assured us requires profound study, incessant
application, and wide experience.* (* "In consequence of the
excessive growth of armies tactics have lost in weight, and the
strategical design, rather than the detail of the movements, has
become the decisive factor in the issue at a campaign. The
strategical design depends, as a rule, upon the decision of cabinets,
and upon the resources placed at the disposal of the commander.
Consequently, either the leading statesmen should have correct views
of the science of war, or should make up for their ignorance by
giving their entire confidence to the man to whom the supreme command
of the army is entrusted. Otherwise, the germs of defeat and national
ruin may be contained in the first preparations for war." - The
Archduke Charles of Austria.)

They were in fact ignorant - and how many statesmen, and even
soldiers, are in like case? - that strategy, the art of manoeuvring
armies, is an art in itself, an art which none may master by the
light of nature, but to which, if he is to attain success, a man must
serve a long apprenticeship.

The rules of strategy are few and simple. They may be learned in a
week. They may be taught by familiar illustrations or a dozen
diagrams. But such knowledge will no more teach a man to lead an army
like Napoleon than a knowledge of grammar will teach him to write
like Gibbon. Lincoln, when the army he had so zealously toiled to
organise, reeled back in confusion from Virginia, set himself to
learn the art of war. He collected, says his biographer, a great
library of military books; and, if it were not pathetic, it would be
almost ludicrous, to read of the great President, in the midst of his
absorbing labours and his ever-growing anxieties, poring night after
night, when his capital was asleep, over the pages of Jomini and
Clausewitz. And what was the result? In 1864, when Grant was
appointed to the command of the Union armies, he said: "I neither ask
nor desire to know anything of your plans. Take the responsibility
and act, and call on me for assistance." He had learned at last that
no man is a born strategist.

The mistakes of Lincoln and Stanton are not to be condoned by
pointing to McClellan.

McClellan designed the plan for the invasion of Virginia, and the
plan failed. But this is not to say that the plan was in itself a bad
one. Nine times out of ten it would have succeeded. In many respects
it was admirable. It did away with a long line of land
communications, passing through a hostile country. It brought the
naval power of the Federals into combination with the military. It
secured two great waterways, the York and the James, by which the
army could be easily supplied, which required no guards, and by which
heavy ordnance could be brought up to bombard the fortifications of
Richmond. But it had one flaw. It left Washington, in the opinion of
the President and of the nation, insecure; and this flaw, which would
have escaped the notice of an ordinary enemy, was at once detected by
Lee and Jackson. Moreover, had McClellan been left in control of the
whole theatre of war, Jackson's manoeuvres would probably have failed
to produce so decisive an effect. The fight at Kernstown would not
have induced McClellan to strike 40,000 men off the strength of the
invading army. He had not been deceived when Jackson threatened
Harper's Ferry at the end of May. The reinforcements sent from
Richmond after Port Republic had not blinded him, nor did he for a
moment believe that Washington was in actual danger. There is this,
however, to be said: had McClellan been in sole command, public
opinion, alarmed for Washington, would have possibly compelled him to
do exactly what Lincoln did, and to retain nearly half the army on
the Potomac.

So much for the leading of civilians. On the other hand, the failure
of the Federals to concentrate more than 105,000 men at the decisive
point, and even to establish those 105,000 in a favourable position,
was mainly due to the superior strategy of the Confederates. Those
were indeed skilful manoeuvres which prevented McDowell from marching
to the Chickahominy; and, at the critical moment, when Lee was on the
point of attacking McClellan, which drew McDowell, Banks, and Fremont
on a wild-goose chase towards Charlottesville. The weak joint in the
enemy's armour, the national anxiety for Washington, was early
recognised. Kernstown induced Lincoln, departing from the original
scheme of operations, to form four independent armies, each acting on
a different line. Two months later, when McClellan was near Richmond
it was of essential importance that the move of these armies should
be combined, Jackson once more intervened; Banks was driven across
the Potomac, and again the Federal concentration was postponed.
Lastly, the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, followed by the
dispatch of Whiting and Lawton to the Valley, led the Northern
President to commit his worst mistake. For the second time the plan
of campaign was changed, and McClellan was left isolated at the
moment he most needed help.

The brains of two great leaders had done more for the Confederacy
than 200,000 soldiers had done for the Union. Without quitting his
desk, and leaving the execution of his plans to Jackson, Lee had
relieved Richmond of the pressure of 70,000 Federals, and had lured
the remainder into the position he most wished to find them. The
Confederacy, notwithstanding the enormous disparity of force, had
once more gained the upper hand; and from this instance, as from a
score of others, it may be deduced that Providence is more inclined
to side with the big brains than with the big battalions.

It was not mere natural ability that had triumphed. Lee, in this
respect, was assuredly not more highly gifted than Lincoln, or
Jackson than McClellan. But, whether by accident or design, Davis had
selected for command of the Confederate army, and had retained in the
Valley, two past masters in the art of strategy. If it was accident
he was singularly favoured by fortune. He might have selected many
soldiers of high rank and long service, who would have been as
innocent of strategical skill as Lincoln himself. His choice might
have fallen on the most dashing leader, the strictest disciplinarian,
the best drill, in the Confederate army; and yet the man who united
all these qualities might have been altogether ignorant of the higher
art of war. Mr. Davis himself had been a soldier. He was a graduate
of West Point, and in the Mexican campaign he had commanded a
volunteer regiment with much distinction. But as a director of
military operations he was a greater marplot than even Stanton. It by
no means follows that because a man has lived his life in camp and
barrack, has long experience of command, and even long experience of
war, that he can apply the rules of strategy before the enemy. In the
first place he may lack the character, the inflexible resolution, the
broad grasp, the vivid imagination, the power of patient thought, the
cool head, and, above all, the moral courage. In the second place,
there are few schools where strategy may be learned, and, in any
case, a long and laborious course of study is the only means of
acquiring the capacity to handle armies and outwit an equal
adversary. The light of common-sense alone is insufficient; nor will
a few months' reading give more than a smattering of knowledge.

"Read and RE-READ," said Napoleon, "the eighty-eight campaigns of
Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugene, and
Frederick. Take them as your models, for it is the only means of
becoming a great leader, and of mastering the secrets of the art of
war. Your intelligence, enlightened by such study, will then reject
methods contrary to those adopted by these great men."

In America, as elsewhere, it had not been recognised before the Civil
War, even by the military authorities, that if armies are to be
handled with success they must be directed by trained strategists. No
Kriegsakademie or its equivalent existed in the United States, and
the officers whom common-sense induced to follow the advice of
Napoleon had to pursue their studies by themselves. To these the
campaigns of the great Emperor offered an epitome of all that had
gone before; the campaigns of Washington explained how the principles
of the art might be best applied to their own country, and Mexico had
supplied them with practical experience. Of the West Point graduates
there were many who had acquired from these sources a wide knowledge
of the art of generalship, and among them were no more earnest
students than the three Virginians, Lee, Jackson, and Johnston.

When Jackson accepted an appointment for the Military Institute, it
was with the avowed intention of training his intellect for war. In
his retirement at Lexington he had kept before his eyes the
possibility that he might some day be recalled to the Army. He had
already acquired such practical knowledge of his profession as the
United States service could afford. He had become familiar with the
characteristics of the regular soldier. He knew how to command, to
maintain discipline, and the regulations were at his fingers' ends. A
few years had been sufficient to teach him all that could be learned
from the routine of a regiment, as they had been sufficient to teach
Napoleon, Frederick, and Lee. But there remained over and above the
intellectual part of war, and with characteristic thoroughness he had
set himself to master it. His reward came quickly. The Valley
campaign practically saved Richmond. In a few short months the quiet
gentleman of Lexington became, in the estimation of both friend and
foe, a very thunderbolt of war; and his name, which a year previous
had hardly been known beyond the Valley, was already famous.

It is, perhaps, true that Johnston and Lee had a larger share in
Jackson's success than has been generally recognised. It was due to
Johnston that Jackson was retained in the Valley when McClellan moved
to the Peninsula; and his, too, was the fundamental idea of the
campaign, that the Federals in the Valley were to be prevented from
reinforcing the army which threatened Richmond. To Lee belongs still
further credit. From the moment he assumed command we find the
Confederate operations directed on a definite and well-considered
plan; a defensive attitude round Richmond, a vigorous offensive in
the Valley, leading to the dispersion of the enemy, and a Confederate
concentration on the Chickahominy. His operations were very bold.
When McClellan, with far superior numbers, was already within twenty
miles of Richmond, he had permitted Jackson to retain Ewell's 8000 in
the Valley, and he would have given him the brigades of Branch and
Mahone. From Lee, too, came the suggestion that a blow should be
struck at Banks, that he should be driven back to the Potomac, and
that the North should be threatened with invasion. From him, too, at
a moment when McClellan's breastworks could be actually seen from
Richmond, came the 7000 men under Whiting and Lawton, the news of
whose arrival in the Valley had spread such consternation amongst the
Federals. But it is to be remembered that Jackson viewed the
situation in exactly the same light as his superiors. The
instructions he received were exactly the instructions he would have
given had he been in command at Richmond; and it may be questioned
whether even he would have carried them out with such whole-hearted
vigour if he had not thoroughly agreed with every detail.

Lee's strategy was indeed remarkable. He knew McClellan and he knew
Lincoln. He knew that the former was over-cautious; he knew that the
latter was over-anxious. No sudden assault on the Richmond lines,
weak as they were, was to be apprehended, and a threat against
Washington was certain to have great results. Hence the audacity
which, at a moment apparently most critical, sent 17,000 of the best
troops in the Confederacy as far northward as Harper's Ferry, and, a
fortnight later, weakened the garrison of Richmond by 7000 infantry.
He was surely a great leader who, in the face of an overwhelming
enemy, dared assume so vast a responsibility. But it is to be
remembered that Lee made no suggestion whatever as to the manner in
which his ideas were to be worked out. Everything was left to
Jackson. The swift manoeuvres which surprised in succession his
various enemies emanated from himself alone. It was his brain that
conceived the march by Mechum's Station to M'Dowell, the march that
surprised Fremont and bewildered Banks. It was his brain that
conceived the rapid transfer of the Valley army from the one side of
the Massanuttons to the other, the march that surprised Kenly and
drove Banks in panic to the Potomac. It was his brain that conceived
the double victory of Cross Keys and Port Republic; and if Lee's
strategy was brilliant, that displayed by Jackson on the minor
theatre of war was no less masterly. The instructions he received at
the end of April, before he moved against Milroy, were simply to the
effect that a successful blow at Banks might have the happiest
results. But such a blow was not easy. Banks was strongly posted and
numerically superior to Jackson, while Fremont, in equal strength,
was threatening Staunton. Taking instant advantage of the separation
of the hostile columns, Jackson struck at Milroy, and having checked
Fremont, returned to the Valley to find Banks retreating. At this
moment he received orders from Lee to threaten Washington. Without an
instant's hesitation he marched northward. By May 28, had the
Federals received warning of his advance, they might have
concentrated 80,000 men at Strasburg and Front Royal; or, while Banks
was reinforced, McDowell might have moved on Gordonsville, cutting
Jackson's line of retreat on Richmond.

But Jackson took as little count of numbers as did Cromwell.
Concealing his march with his usual skill he dashed with his 16,000
men into the midst of his enemies. Driving Banks before him, and well
aware that Fremont and McDowell were converging in his rear, he
advanced boldly on Harper's Ferry, routed Saxton's outposts, and
remained for two days on the Potomac, with 62,000 Federals within a
few days' march. Then, retreating rapidly up the Valley, beneath the
southern peaks of the Massanuttons he turned fiercely at bay; and the
pursuing columns, mustering together nearly twice his numbers, were
thrust back with heavy loss at the very moment they were combining to
crush him.* (* "An operation which stamps him as a military genius of
the highest order." Lord Wolseley, North American Review volume 149
No. 2 page 166.) A week later he had vanished, and when he appeared
on the Chickahominy, Banks, Fremont, and McDowell were still guarding
the roads to Washington, and McClellan was waiting for McDowell.
175,000 men absolutely paralysed by 16,000! Only Napoleon's campaign
of 1814 affords a parallel to this extraordinary spectacle.* (* "These
brilliant successes appear to me models of their kind, both in
conception and execution. They should be closely studied by all
officers who wish to learn the art and science of war." - Ibid.)

Jackson's task was undoubtedly facilitated by the ignorance of
Lincoln and the incapacity of his political generals. But in
estimating his achievements, this ignorance and incapacity are only
of secondary importance. The historians do not dwell upon the
mistakes of Colli, Beaulieu, and Wurmser in 1796, but on the
brilliant resolution with which Napoleon took advantage of them; and
the salient features, both of the Valley Campaign and of that of
1796, are the untiring vigilance with which opportunities were looked
for, the skill with which they were detected, and the daring rapidity
with which they were seized.

History often unconsciously injures the reputation of great soldiers.
The more detailed the narrative, the less brilliant seems success,
the less excusable defeat. When we are made fully acquainted with the
dispositions of both sides, the correct solution of the problem,
strategical or tactical, is generally so plain that we may easily be
led to believe that it must needs have spontaneously suggested itself
to the victorious leader; and, as a natural corollary, that success
is due rather to force of will than to force of intellect; to
vigilance, energy, and audacity, rather than to insight and
calculation. It is asserted, for instance, by superficial critics
that both Wellington and Napoleon, in the campaign of 1815, committed
unpardonable errors. Undoubtedly, at first sight, it is inconceivable
that the one should have disregarded the probability of the French
invading Belgium by the Charleroi road, or that the other, on the
morning of the great battle, should never have suspected that Blucher
was close at hand. But the critic's knowledge of the situation is far
more ample and accurate than that of either commander. Had either
Wellington before Quatre Bras, or Napoleon on the fateful June 18
known what we know now, matters would have turned out very
differently. "If," said Frederick the Great, "we had exact
information of our enemy's dispositions, we should beat him every
time;" but exact information is never forthcoming. A general in the
field literally walks in darkness, and his success will be in
proportion to the facility with which his mental vision can pierce
the veil. His manoeuvres, to a greater or less degree, must always be
based on probabilities, for his most recent reports almost invariably
relate to events which, at best, are several hours old; and,
meanwhile, what has the enemy been doing? This it is the most
essential part of his business to discover, and it is a matter of
hard thinking and sound judgment. From the indications furnished by
his reports, and from the consideration of many circumstances, with
some of which he is only imperfectly acquainted, he must divine the
intentions of his opponent. It is not pretended that even the widest
experience and the finest intellect confer infallibility. But
clearness of perception and the power of deduction, together with the
strength of purpose which they create, are the fount and origin of
great achievements; and when we find a campaign in which they played
a predominant part, we may fairly rate it as a masterpiece of war. It
can hardly be disputed that these qualities played such a part on the
Shenandoah. For instance; when Jackson left the Valley to march
against Milroy, many things might have happened which would have
brought about disaster: -

1. Banks, who was reported to have 21,000 men at Harrisonburg, might
have moved on Staunton, joined hands with Milroy, and crushed Edward

2. Banks might have attacked Ewell's 8000 with superior numbers.

3. Fremont, if he got warning of Jackson's purpose, might have
reinforced Milroy, occupied a strong position, and requested Banks to
threaten or attack the Confederates in rear.

4. Fremont might have withdrawn his advanced brigade, and have
reinforced Banks from Moorefield.

5. Banks might have been reinforced by Blenker, of whose whereabouts
Jackson was uncertain.

6. Banks might have marched to join McDowell at Fredericksburg.

7. McClellan might have pressed Johnston so closely that a decisive
battle could not have been long delayed.

8. McDowell might have marched on Richmond, intervening between the
Valley army and the capital.

Such an array of possibilities would have justified a passive
attitude on Elk Run. A calculation of the chances, however, showed
Jackson that the dangers of action were illusory. "Never take counsel
of your fears," was a maxim often on his lips. Unlike many others, he
first made up his mind what he wanted to do, and then, and not till
then, did he consider what his opponents might do to thwart him. To
seize the initiative was his chief preoccupation, and in this case it
did not seem difficult to do so. He knew that Banks was
unenterprising. It was improbable that McDowell would advance until
McClellan was near Richmond, and McClellan was very slow. To prevent
Fremont getting an inkling of his design in time to cross it was not
impossible, and Lincoln's anxiety for Washington might be relied on
to keep Banks in the Valley.

It is true that Jackson's force was very small. But the manifestation
of military genius is not affected by numbers. The handling of masses
is a mechanical art, of which knowledge and experience are the key;
but it is the manner in which the grand principles of war are applied
which marks the great leader, and these principles may be applied as
resolutely and effectively with 10,000 men as with 100,000.

"In meditation," says Bacon, "all dangers should be seen; in
execution none, unless they are very formidable." It was on this
precept that Jackson acted. Not a single one of his manoeuvres but
was based on a close and judicial survey of the situation. Every risk
was weighed. Nothing was left to chance. "There was never a
commander," says his chief of the staff, "whose foresight was more
complete. Nothing emerged which had not been considered before in his
mind; no possibility was overlooked; he was never surprised."* (*
Dabney volume 1 page 76.) The character of his opponent, the morale
of the hostile troops, the nature of the ground, and the manner in
which physical features could be turned to account, were all matters
of the most careful consideration. He was a constant student of the
map, and his topographical engineer was one of the most important
officers on his staff. "It could readily be seen," writes Major
Hotchkiss, "that in the preparations he made for securing success he
had fully in mind what Napoleon had done under similar circumstances;
resembling Napoleon especially in this, that he was very particular
in securing maps, and in acquiring topographical information. He
furnished me with every facility that I desired for securing
topographical information and for making maps, allowing me a complete
transportation outfit for my exclusive use and sending men into the
enemy's country to procure copies of local maps when I expressed a
desire to have them. I do not think he had an accurate knowledge of
the Valley previous to the war. When I first reported to him for
duty, at the beginning of March 1862, he told me that he wanted "a

Online LibraryG.F. R. HendersonStonewall Jackson and the American Civil War → online text (page 37 of 85)