A Few Notes from Author Frank Varney

On Wednesday, I posted a review of Frank Varney’s General Grant and the Rewriting of History. While I don’t normally pass reviews along to authors, I did in this instance pass the review along to Frank and asked if there was anything he wanted to respond to. Indeed, there were two points he hoped to respond to, and in the interest of good dialogue, I pass along those responses:

The Halleck thing. Lincoln did indeed refer to him as a “first-rate clerk,” and he may well have meant it in a negative sense. But in fact, I’m not completely convinced that he did. Bear in mind that Halleck, for all of his flaws, actually more or less invented the modern position of Chief of Staff. He was not a combat officer, and he knew it. As a field commander he was a disaster waiting to happen. As a pencil-pusher and bean-counter he was competent, I think. Which is not to say that I would enjoy working for him. Lincoln also said “I am General Halleck’s friend because no one else is,” which I think implies that he saw some value in him. Also, of course, we need to consider that Halleck, unlike many other generals who were replaced, wasn’t simply pushed aside. Grant and Lincoln found a use for him in a position more suited to his skill set. It would have been easy to just send him home to await orders which never came. They certainly had no hesitation in doing that with McClellan.

As to Grant’s Overland Campaign. His orders to Meade (and to Sherman and Sheridan) were to “break them up,” that’s absolutely true. But he did sideslip Lee’s army after the Wilderness, after Spotsylvania Courthouse, at the North Anna, and after the failed attack at Cold Harbor (in which I had two ancestors, by the way). And when the campaign settled down to a siege, Grant kept forcing Lee to attenuate his lines by reaching south and west, finally leading to the clash at Five Forks, which is the most important part of volume II. So I think there is room for interpretation here, although I certainly see your point.

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