30 August 2006
This post properly belongs as a comment on Dimitri Rotov’s blog, which doesn’t offer that facility.
I’ve been following Dimitri’s series on the appointments of McClellan’s Corps commanders. Intriguing material, though I confess I’m not sure what most of it means. Probably because I lack the background in the more subtle political machinations within the Lincoln Administration. I’m learning.
Yesterday, I read his related piece called Sumner, McClellan, Johnston, and Davis which deals with the relationship(s) between George McClellan and Edwin Sumner.
At the time of the Crimean War, Edwin V. Sumner was the commander of the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment. Joe Johnston was his lieutenant colonel and George McClellan one of his captains (i.e. squadron commanders).
Dimitri notes that Johnston thought very little of Sumner, and was convinced the old fool had it all wrong when it came to the new Cavalry arm and managing his Regiment. So Johnston suggests McClellan–then on the Commission to the Crimean War–work up doctrine for how US Cavalry should be run, and feed it to the War Department. McClellan having the ear of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.
Someone must save the Cavalry from Sumner, but McClellan and Johnston are disappointed in their quest.
Davis, says Dimitri,
… foreshadowing the typology of stubborness that has become an ACW cliche, refused to be moved by McClellan’s overtures. Sumner would remain undisturbed by new thinking.
… Odd to think that Sumner was, in his way, the root cause of McClellan’s resignation.
So there you have it. Sumner the mismanaging, bumbling old man; Davis too stubborn to recognize the Future; Johnston the instigator; and McClellan, Army visionary, becomes the victim, after trying to do the right thing.
As I read Dimitri’s post, though, quite a different image jumped to my mind.
still from the Caine Mutiny, 1954
Yes, I know it’s only a movie.
In it, USS Caine’s commanding officer Lt. Commander Philip Queeg is seen by his officers and crew as incompetent, cowardly, eventually crazy. Goaded for months by a brother officer Lt. Keefer, the XO, Lt Maryk, relieves the Captain during a typhoon believing him to be no longer fit to command and a danger to the safety of the ship.
Maryk is charged with mutiny, but acquitted after the court sees Queeg behave irrationally on the witness stand.
The defense lawyer (Lt Greenwald), however, believes the officers were wrong from the beginning for failing to support the Captain and “military integrity”. In a film high point he rants
Greenwald: When I was studying law, and Mr. Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton, who was standing guard over this fat, dumb, happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh, no! We knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys, tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg.
Keith: But no matter what, Captain Queeg endangered the ship and the lives of the men.
Greenwald: He didn’t endanger anybody’s life! You did! All of you! You’re a fine bunch of officers …
Greenwald: Tell me, Steve, after the Yellowstain business, Queeg came to you guys for help and you turned him down, didn’t you?
Maryk: Yes, we did.
Greenwald: You didn’t approve of his conduct as an officer. He wasn’t worthy of your loyalty. So you turned on him. You ragged him. You made up songs about him. If you’d given Queeg the loyalty he needed, do you suppose the whole issue would have come up in the typhoon?
OK, so the Sumner-Johnston-McClellan situation Dimitri describes probably wasn’t as dramatic as Queeg-Keefer-Maryk, but it does raise some of the same questions.
Even if we accept the premise that Colonel Sumner was a doddering incompetent, what was Captain McClellan’s responsibility to his commanding officer? To the First Cavalry, and his chain of command?
Dimitri isn’t clear how hard either Johnston or McClellan tried to work with Sumner to see their views become policy or effect change. Perhaps Johnston had given up from the beginning, but where does this put McClellan?
No doubt the old Regular Army was in many ways hidebound and insensitive to some clever young officers, but under what circumstances, then or now, is the kind of end-around Dimitri describes acceptable in a professional military organization?
The arrogance of Johnston and McClellan as painted is almost overwhelming, and supports the general impression I think many people have of one or both of them today. I’m a long way from seeing Davis and Sumner as the ‘bad guys’ here.