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27 August 2010


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Awesome! What a timely thing to share ...people in similar roles (Petraeus, et. al.) should be held to similar stds. and be expected to seize opptys. to end this war...



Were the many colossal blunders in the Civil War (North and South) typical of war? Or was there truly a level of recklessness unique to the Civil War? In my recent reading on the Civil War, I have been impressed at how haphazardly units were arranged and how political stature determined officer rank in the early years . . ..


Lee? The level of his recklessness is hard to express. Incredible.

Sir, a partial answer can be found in Nolan’s devil’s advocate approach: “Lee Considered” Here’s a link: http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/book_detail?title_id=99.

Another partial answer, without encroaching on your junior senator’s territory, is the Southern soldiers’ and commanders’ willingness to pursue for audacious even reckless offensive tactics. I’m also certain that your regular correspondents know far more than I and I look forward to the ‘comments’.

Patrick Lang


Yes to all that but he was still reckless to a point beyond reason. What he risked repeatedly could not be replaced. The Confederacy's only war aim consisted of the pursuit of independence. To achieve that required the destruction of Northern will to continue what was essentially a war of invasion and occupation. What was called for was a war for the attrition of will by frustrating Northern plans. In that context, the Maryland and Pennsylvania campaigns make no sense. pl



I spent a part of the day at Antietam. The Confederates had all of the high ground. I don’t know how the Union troops attacked up those hills. They did and in the end Lee had to retreat.

Looking at the hills from Burnside’s Bridge all I could think of was; “Spread Out” and “Fix and Encircle”.

A Century later in 1967, the 2/503 attacked an entrenched enemy on Hill 875, all over again, but this time for no good reason.

Robert E Lee could no more recognize the need for entrenchment and a defensive war than Frederick Kagan can recognize the futility of fighting corruption in Afghanistan when his family's paychecks come directly from companies dependent on fighting a never ending war there.

In old age, I am convinced we never learn, and the young never listen. War is never ending. What is good for Halliburton is good for America.


Of all the unit monuments at Antietam, the one that stands out the most is the one in rose - colored marble erected by a Texas brigade. If memory serves, the monument states that 80% of the brigade's soldiers were KIA/WIA at Antietam, the single largest loss sustained by any American combat unit of that size ever.


As a confirmed Irish Yankee who, when I reflect on Civil War soldiers, thinks first of the slain in "The Irish Brigade" at Fredericksburg, and of Midwestern stalwarts like "The Iron Brigade" at Gettysburg, it is a shame that Lee was not crushed at "Sharpsburg" when "The Young Napoleon" had a perfect chance to do it.

So many lives would have been saved if the Army of Northern Virginia had been decisively defeated then and there.

My preferred book about Antietam is Landscape Turned Red by Thomas W. Sears. A great read that "puts you there." I only visited the battlefield once: walking those fields is an unforgettable experience.

Re "Bobby" Lee's recklessness, I used to think that the Turner movie "Gettysburg" grossly miscast Martin Sheen as the General. Now I feel that the slightly manic edge Sheen gave Lee, especially in dialogue where Lee refers to "those people," isn't that far off the mark. He sure sent enough of his own people to their deaths trying to defeat them.

Robert Murray

Thank you Col. Lang,
We have a mutual friend who said he has been fortunate to have to visited Civil War battlefields with you and said they literally "came alive" in your company. Our friend is a fortunate man, indeed. I believe I mentioned to you a few years ago that Gen. Tommy Franks' actions in Afghanistan reminded me of McClellan. Again, thank you for your remarkable insight and those of your contributors.


Patrick Lang


Lee called them "those people" because it wounded him to call them the enemy. I think that your description of him is insulting to his memory. BTW, political comments about that war will not be posted here. They are futile and pointless. pl

scott s.

"Landscape Turned Red" I guess is sort of a standard, but I think it is important to realize Sears has his biases which come through strongly. For comparison, you might check out Ethan Rafuse's "McClellan's War" and Joe Harsh's "Taken At The Flood".

I think it can be agreed that McClellan wasn't particularly well-served by his Corps commanders though I suppose that can be seen as excuse-making. Certainly the decision not to commit VI Corps is McClellan's alone and of course in hindsight the "correct" decision is obvious.

Patrick Lang


McClellan should never have been given field command of anything. As an organizer he was superb. He should have been in charge of a reserve army that trained replacements, created new units, wrote doctrine and procured better equipment, or they could have sent Halleck off somewhere and made him Chief of Staff. On the equipment front, repeating rifles with fixed ammunition and breech loading cannon were easily attainable for a country with an ever growing industrial base. pl


Colonel Lang,
How did "Lee also knew that McClellan had a copy of one of Lee's orders, an order that described how spread out Lee's forces really were. Some fool had lost this document and it had been found wrapped around two cigars."
Amazing intel, and even more amazing that he went ahead.

Patrick Lang


Anyone remember when "The Bavarian" was a restaurant in downtown Washington and not a strange institution in Shepherdstown, W.Va.? I had lunch in the place yesterday. The restaurant was a great place. I particularly remember one blond waitress in a dirndl (?). Ah... And then there was the jagerschnitzel... Ahhh... pl

Patrick Lang


Ah. I was informed by my friend yesterday that according to the author of "The Gleam of Bayonets," McClellan had a meeting near Middletown, Maryland with a group of local civilian victualing contractors in which he told them that he had a copy of "Special Order Number 191." The story goes that one of them sought out Lee to tell him this. pl


Wasn't the Bavarian in the neighborhood between Woodies and Hecht's? What I remember is a German restaurant in that area in the late 1950s. Also Harrigans in Southwest.

Patrick Lang


The very place. I was here in Spanish language school. and was an habitué of the place. "Harrigans?" pl

frank durkee

I remember going to both and enjoying them.


Thanks for relating that about how Lee knew about McCellan's awareness about his plans.

Regarding the largest losses of a unit, at Gettysburg, on July 2, the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment lost about 85% in only ten minutes charging an overwhelming Confederate force that outnumbered them 5-1. They stopped the charge of the Alabama and Mississippi and regiments and allowed the Union forces to reform and win the day. They are considered to have sustained the most casulties of an American combat unit--and it was all in about ten minutes. It is an inspiring story.

Medicine Man

Is it possible that Lee was looking for a quick, decisive conclusion to the war, similar to the one that McClellan failed to pursue? Or would it be completely absurd for a person in Lee's shoes to think that such an outcome would be possible?

I ask because in hindsight it seems that the North's superior manpower and industrial base would steadily run the odds against the South the longer the war were to go on. I must be missing something... perhaps several somethings.

Larry Kart

The author of "Landscape Turned Red" and a number of other books about the Civil War/War Between the States is Stephen W. Sears, not Thomas W. Sears.

Patrick Lang


Lee was a man of honor. pl


I wonder if a crushing defeat for Lee would have ended the war at that point. In the fall of 1862, the Confederacy still held most of the Mississippi, it's territory was largely intact. Would the loss of Lee's army have caused them to give up on the cause of independence at that point?

The Union would have had a huge advantage, but it also would have been stuck with McClellan, as removing him after a victory such as that would be politically tricky to say the least. How long would a Confederacy forced into a defensive posture, and low on manpower been able to hold? Well, Gettysburg was July 1963, and Jefferson Davis Surrendered on May 10th 1965 so, a while at least.

Patrick Lang


Davis never surrendered. Lee did and then Joe Johnston and the others in the Trans-Mississippi. Technically the Confederacy is still at war with the US as is the pretender (whomever he is) to the throne of Jerusalem. None of these men were ever tried for anything.

Let us not forget that Lee's army fought on with great effectiveness for a long time.

He would not have done that to his friends and neighbors if he were not committed to the cause of Southern independence.

I think they could have won. pl

Medicine Man

I'm not disputing General Lee's honor, Col. Lang. I'm just trying to understand your appraisal of him as reckless. What I'm asking, specifically, is if perhaps Lee sought out a decisive battle because he felt a quick resolution of the war in the South's favor was both possible and preferable?

Patrick Lang


Of course he sought as quick a resolution as possible, pl

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