Question of the Week 10/26 – 11/1


This week’s Question of the Week comes from Ryan Quint who asks:

Who is a person from the war who has a reputation (either ill or good) that you think they don’t deserve?

18 Responses to Question of the Week 10/26 – 11/1

  1. Longstreet! The Lost Causers put the blame on him for Gettysberg….but Lee and Stuart deserve a higher % of blame. Ewell should a fair portion as well.

  2. Pretty much everyone who could write well and lived long enough after the war to write about it ended up with an outsized reputation. Joshua Chamberlain is a prime example. Good guy, but his importance is far out of proportion to his record because he wrote well enough to serve as a source for Michael Shaara and Ken Burns.

  3. Grant. As William C. Davis and H.W Brands have noted in recent biographies, he ended the war as the hero of the war and the most popular man in the country. Due, in large part, to the lost cause narrative, he has been thought of since as a drunkard and his campaigns as being unoriginal and lacking in strategic brilliance, which, in my opinion, could not be further from the truth. Fortunately, works by Davis, Brands, and Bonekemper have aided in resurrecting Grant’s reputation

      1. Ryan, Grant is not only seemingly unassailable, but when I’ve criticized his character and generalship, I’ve gotten assailed for lèse majesté. The record, when closely analyzed, demonstrates that he did not earn his current reputation. Much of it is based on the inaccurate writings of his friendly officers, reporters, biographers, and historians, as well as his own flawed Memoirs.

      2. Some, I believe have contributed works that have potentially gone in that direction. Bonekemper comes to mind. However, I find that Brands and Davis were far more even handed. They acknowledged the surprises at Belmont, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, noting in the first and last that Grant attempted spin to make it appear as if he was not surprised in either circumstance. What these authors also did was highlight Grant’s decisiveness. Even if inflated at this time, I personally believe this to be closer to reality than the state his reputation was previously in. The armies led by Grant were successful at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, succeeded in the Vicksburg Campaign, broke the siege of Chattanooga, and won a strategic victory in the Overland Campaign (I acknowledge that Grant was not a particularly gifted tactical commander, but I also believe that to be irrelevant). While Grant had his shortcomings, I believe that these successes must have had something to do with their commander.

  4. John F. Reynolds. Gets “left behind” by his men at Gaines’s Mill (who leaves the commanding general behind?), pedestrian record commanding a division at Second Manassas, misses Antietam, promoted to corps command due to political connections, atrocious performance at Fredericksburg playing battery commander while his corps is in action, indifferent at Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg is playing brigade commander while senior officer on the field and in command of one-third of the Army of the Potomac. Stops a bullet in his home state and thus becomes famous.

    1. I’m glad someone said this. Reynolds certainly was capable at points, but it baffles me when he’s included among the best corps commanders of the Army of the Potomac.

  5. Perhaps only a few of us feel a warmth in our hearts for the much-maligned General Irvin McDowell. Poor guy! He had never commanded an army, came up with a great plan that fell apart in the hands of inexperienced corps commanders, and got raked over the coals for doing his best. Then he got demoted. McDowell did not leave in a huff–he stayed with the A of P throughout the war, and always gave his best. After the war was over, he was sent to California to serve at the Presidio, in San Francisco. He designed the lovely flower gardens that are still in existence.

    Poor guy–he is buried here in CA, but his lousy luck followed him to the grave, literally. His name is misspelled as “Irwin McDowell” on his tombstone. I love General McDowell.

    1. He also is buried under a standard government issue headstone — no fancy GAR inspired monument.

      1. Since McDowell is in a National Cemetery, a new headstone, no matter what the cost, isn’t going to happen; policy doesn’t allow for it.

  6. Thomas Francis Meagher…….his bravery is undermined by his alleged weakness for the bottle.
    Read his life story and you will discover with the courage of his convictions beginning with his political involvement with the Young Irelanders!

  7. Lew Wallace. I really got sympathy for the guy. He was criticized so sharply at Shiloh that many people forget his excellent delaying action in the battle of Monocacy, which allowed Washington to bolster its defenses.

    1. I would certainly agree with that. Wallace performed well in West Virginia, saved the day at Fort Donelson, was the victim of bad management at Shiloh (although he also had some failings of his own on the 6th) and he fought well April 7th, and as you stated he was excellent at the Monocacy (helping to save the capital and Grant’s reputation).

  8. Charles P. Stone, was the scapegoat for the poor performance at Ball’s Bluff because the commander of the Union forces was Edwin Baker who was killed and a personal friend of Lincoln

  9. Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont. As commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, he won himself an outsized reputation during the war for his success at Port Royal, SC in 1861. He lost it all, as far as the Lincoln Administration and public were concerned, over his resistance to an all-Navy attack on Charleston, SC and its eventual failure in April, 1863. (Navy professionals still admired him, but Lincoln and Welles had taken to comparing him with McClellan.) Historians have since rehabilitated him, finding his arguments against the attack valid and viewing him as the scapegoat/sacrificial lamb for failed administration policies. IMHO, the judgment has swung too far again in Du Pont’s favor. His reluctance to attack Charleston was based on his assessment of the strengths of the defenses and the weaknesses of the ironclads with which he attacked. He was right about those; the Navy Department was wrong. But, the Navy Department came up with a concept of operations that tried to address Du Pont’s concerns, while Du Pont failed to forthrightly object to the attack. Instead, he ordered up the exact kind of operation he had cautioned against.

    He was a good admiral. No more. No less.

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