Month:

July, 2013

J. D. Petruzzi filmed a joint interview with Tom Carhart as part of the PCN coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg this past July 3. J.D. and Carhart debated the merits of Carhart’s nonsensical theory about the fighting on East Cavalry Field – prior to the interview, J.D. and Carhart agreed that the conversation would remain civil, which it did. Each time that J.D. raised the issue that the evidence did not support his theory, Carhart’s response was to the effect of “I’m a trained soldier, and I know that this is how it was.” At one point, Carhart got so frustrated by J.D.’s insistence that the evidence does not support his theory, he held up his book Lost Triumph to the camera and stated that he was just there to promote his book. After the end of the interview, Carhart took J.D. aside and told him (quoting Carhart according to J.D.) “The reason guys like you and Wittenberg don’t know what you’re talking about is because you never served in the military.”

Ummm….no. While I may not have the formal military training, like Carhart does, I have a license to practice law, and I know and understand evidence, weighing that evidence, and evaluating its credibility. And I know an intellectual fraud when I see one.

I give J.D. a great deal of credit for being civil to this poseur and for not doing a “Jane, you ignorant slut” with him like the old Saturday Night Live bit. I’m not at all persuaded that I would have been able to show the same level of restraint. I would have found it all but impossible not to describe his book as the festering pile of turds that it is. And I would have found it all but impossible not to tell him to his face that he and his book are nothing but an intellectual fraud. Kudos go to J.D. for not doing so. In fact, after viewing that interview, many mutual friends later told J.D. that Carhart looked pathetic, frustrated, nonsensical, and that J.D. must have had infinite patience in dealing with Carhart’s silliness. The interviewer was also obviously increasingly frustrated with Carhart and kept signaling J.D. to move the discussion along as Carhart kept trying to dominate the conversation.

I had a chance to discuss all of this with J.D. at the Williamsport event last weekend, and yesterday, while driving, I had a sudden realization.

The gist of Carhart’s theory is that Stuart’s presence on East Cavalry Field was a coordinated thrust with Pickett’s Charge (one “prong” in a supposed “two “prong” attack), and that it represented a major component of Robert E. Lee’s plan for the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve already dealt with the bulk of this stupidity in Appendix C to the new edition of Protecting the Flank. But last night, I had an epiphany about it.

Let’s assume, just for the sake of discussion, that Carhart’s theory is correct (we need to first, of course, throw out all of the definitive evidence that refutes Carhart’s theory). If that’s the case, wouldn’t Stuart have committed all of his troopers to an all-out attack on East Cavalry Field? And would he have just called it a day after the repulse of one large-scale attack, as he did that day, if his orders were to make a coordinated attack with Pickett’s Charge? If he truly was to take the offensive, after that charge was repulsed, wouldn’t he have committed his entire command and tried again? The uncontroverted fact is that he did not do so. Instead, Stuart called it a day after the repulse of the charge of Hampton’s and Fitz Lee’s brigades at the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry Field.

The evidence shows that when he was on the offensive, Stuart was quite aggressive and quite persistent. A study of Stuart’s taking the offensive to the Union cavalry during the retreat from Gettysburg and keeping it tied up for days at a time by constantly attacking it demonstrates this beyond a doubt. Just take a good look at the battle of Boonsboro (July 8, 1863) and the battle of Funkstown (July 10, 1863) for examples of what I mean here. By taking the fight to the Union cavalry and being unrelenting about it, Stuart kept two full divisions of cavalry tied up and away from the defensive position being built by the Army of Northern Virginia. In short, Stuart’s aggressiveness bought Lee the time he needed to forge a largely impregnable defensive position along the banks of the Potomac River at Williamsport. Stuart committed his entire force on each occasion, and launched attack after attack in the process.

By contrast, on East Cavalry Field, Stuart tried once, and then with only a portion of his command. The charge by the brigades of Lee and Hampton that was the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry was only by a portion of his command. Stuart watched and saw his command was repulsed by a vastly outnumbered force scraped together from the brigades of McIntosh and Custer and he called it a day after that. If Stuart’s orders were to reach the Union rear at all costs, would he really have just quit after committing only a portion of his force? And wouldn’t Stuart have known the repercussions of withdrawing from further attempts, if his “offensive” action were indeed a vitally important prong of a “two prong” attack coordinated with the infantry assault? If, as Carhart and others have posited, Stuart was so embarrassed by his performance during the week of June 25 – July 2, and was chastised by Robert E. Lee for it, why would he run the risk of further chastisement and disappointment by Lee by not making an all-out attempt to fulfill his “coordinated mission”?

Knowing Stuart’s tenacity and aggressiveness as well as I do, the fact that Stuart did not press the issue indicates the following to me:

1. He knew his command was in wretched shape from its ordeal on the way to Gettysburg and that his mounts probably could not stand more hard fighting.

2. His orders truly were to guard the flank against what he knew was the presence of two full divisions of cavalry—four of the Army of the Potomac’s eight brigades of cavalry—from the attacks of July 2, and were not to execute some grand, coordinated assault as part of the Pickett’s Charge scenario. This protection of the ANV left flank is, of course, all that Robert E. Lee claimed himself as Stuart’s mission on July 3 in his own official report of the campaign. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. The single mounted charge represented Stuart at his opportunistic best—given the opportunity to break through and make some mischief in the Union rear, he would have done so. He was probing to see whether he could get through, and the repulse persuaded him that he should simply be content with guarding the flank effectually, as he did, and as he was ordered to do.

These observations are the only ones that make any sense. Any other interpretation of these events is neither logical nor supported by the evidence.

But, then again, Carhart’s comments to J.D. demonstrate quite plainly that this man is not one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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Time for a good afternoon chuckle.

Famed Columbus humorist James Thurber wrote a whimsical article lampooning so-called “alternative history” (I call it fiction, but that’s just me) in 1930 that was published in Scribner’s Magazine. This little gem is titled “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox”. Enjoy!

IF GRANT HAD BEEN DRINKING AT APPOMATTOX -James Thurber

The morning of the ninth of April, 1865, dawned beautifully. General Meade was up with the first streaks of crimson in the sky. General Hooker and General Burnside were up and had breakfasted, by a quarter after eight. The day continued beautiful. It drew on. toward eleven o’clock. General Ulysses S. Grant was still not up. He was asleep in his famous old navy hammock, swung high above the floor of his headquarters’ bedroom. Headquarters was distressingly disarranged: papers were strewn on the floor; confidential notes from spies scurried here and there in the breeze from an open window; the dregs of an overturned bottle of wine flowed pinkly across an important military map.

Corporal Shultz, of the Sixty-fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, aide to General Grant, came into the outer room, looked around him, and sighed. He entered the bedroom and shook the General’s hammock roughly. General Ulysses S. Grant opened one eye.

“Pardon, sir,” said Corporal Shultz, “but this is the day of surrender. You ought to be up, sir.”

“Don’t swing me,” said Grant, sharply, for his aide was making the hammock sway gently. “I feel terrible,” he added, and he turned over and closed his eye again.

“General Lee will be here any minute now,” said the Corporal firmly, swinging the hammock again.

“Will you cut that out?” roared Grant. “D’ya want to make me sick, or what?” Shultz clicked his heels and saluted. “What’s he coming here for?” asked the General.

“This is the day of surrender, sir,” said Shultz. Grant grunted bitterly.

“Three hundred and fifty generals in the Northern armies,” said Grant, “and he has to come to me about this. What time is it?”. “You’re the Commander-in-Chief, that’s why,” said Corporal Shultz. “It’s eleven twenty, sir.”

“Don’t be crazy,” said Grant. “Lincoln is the Commander-in-Chief. Nobody in the history of the world ever surrendered before lunch. Doesn’t he know that an army surrenders on its stomach?” He pulled a blanket up over his head and settled himself again.

“The generals of the Confederacy will be here any minute now,” said the Corporal. “You really ought to be up, sir.” Grant stretched his arms above his head and yawned. “All right, all right,” he said. He rose to a sitting position and stared about the room. “This place looks awful,” he growled. “You must have had quite a time of it last night, sir,” ventured Shultz. “Yeh,” said General Grant, looking around for his clothes. “I was wrassling some general. Some general with a beard.”

Shultz helped the commander of the Northern armies in the field to find his clothes. “Where’s my other sock?” demanded Grant. Shultz began to look around for it. The General walked uncertainly to a table and poured a drink from a bottle. “I don’t think it wise to drink, sir,” said Shultz. Nev’ mind about me,” said Grant, helping himself to a second, “I can take it or let it alone. Didn’ ya ever hear the story about the fella went to. Lincoln to complain about me drinking too much? ‘So-and-So says Grant drinks too much,’ this fella said. ‘So-and-So is a fool,’ said Lincoln. So this fella went to What’s-His-Name and told him what Lincoln said and he came roarin’ to Lincoln about it. ‘Did you tell So-and-So was a fool?’ he said. ‘No,’ said Lincoln, ‘I thought he knew it.'” The’General smiled, reminiscently, and had another drink. “”That’s how I stand with Lincoln,” he said, proudly,

The soft thudding sound of horses’ hooves came through the open window. Shultz hurriedly walked over and looked out. “Hoof steps,” said Grant, with a curious chortle. “It is General Lee and his staff,” said Shultz. “Show him in,” said the General, taking another drink. “And see what the boys in the back room will have.” Shultz walked smartly over to the door, opened it, saluted, and stood aside.

General Lee, dignified against the blue of the April sky, magnificent in his dress uniform, stood for a moment framed in the doorway. He walked in, followed by his staff. They bowed, and stood silent. General Grant stared at them. He only had one boot on and his jacket was unbuttoned.

“I know who you are,” said Grant.’You’re Robert Browning, the poet.” “This is General Robert E. Lee,” said one of his staff, coldly. “Oh,” said Grant. “I thought he was Robert Browning. He certainly looks like Robert Browning. There was a poet for you. Lee: Browning. Did ya ever read ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’? ‘Up Derek, to saddle, up Derek, away; up Dunder, up Blitzen, up, Prancer, up Dancer, up Bouncer, up Vixen, up -‘”.

“Shall we proceed at once to the matter in hand?” asked General Lee, his eyes disdainfully taking in the disordered room. “Some of the boys was wrassling here last night,” explained Grant. “I threw Sherman, or some general a whole lot like Sherman. It was pretty dark.” He handed a bottle of Scotch to the commanding officer of the Southern armies, who stood holding it, in amazement and discomfiture. “Get a glass, somebody,” said Grant, .looking straight at General Longstreet. “Didn’t I meet you at Cold Harbor?” he asked. General Longstreet did not answer.

“I should like to have this over with as soon as possible,” said Lee. Grant looked vaguely at Shultz, who walked up close to him , frowning. “The surrender, sir, the surrender,” said Corporal Shultz in a whisper. “Oh sure, sure,” said Grant. He took another drink. “All right,” he said. “Here we go.” Slowly, sadly, he unbuckled his sword. Then he handed it to the astonished Lee. “There you are. General,” said Grant. “We dam’ near licked you. If I’d been feeling better we would of licked you.”

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For those of you who find Sherman’s 1865 Carolinas Campaign as fascinating as I do, please check out this excellent program at Bentonville on September 14-15, 2013. There are some really good speakers, and a bus tour with Mark Bradley and Ed Bearss. How can you possibly go wrong?

Ticket sales are brisk, so please sign up if you’re at all interested in attending. I hope to see some of you there.

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