Taking It Day By Day

Hindsight often obscures our understanding of how events unfolded and their results became apparent. Because we know how it went, we lose something of the immediate perspective that both sides had, not to mention the fog of war.

To illustrate what I mean, take a look at this map of U.S. Grant’s advance on Vicksburg in 1863:

Seems neat and precise, right? Perhaps also inevitable?

Now go back and look at the map and imagine it unfolding day to day – the running of the batteries, the movement of the armies, the crossing of the river, then the plunge into Mississippi followed by a thousand daily decisions and considerations as Grant orchestrated this advance. Or look at it from J. C. Pemberton’s Confederate perspective, as this movement unfolds slowly and generates confusion about Grant’s destination and route. Neither commander got all their information at once, or knew exactly how things would progress. Their decisions were made based on their character and experience combined with the best available information. The campaign could have ended myriad ways, but combination of their choices over several weeks produced this exact drama and result.

Military operations (and many other events) unfold day by day – not, as hindsight tries to tell us, all at once. We should keep this in mind as we consider history and the perspectives of the participants.

2 Responses to Taking It Day By Day

  1. Excellent observation. The complexity of these operations is mind-boggling. The same concept applies to the day-by-day unfolding of the political experience as well.

  2. Good advice. Having just returned from Gettysburg, and thus still under its influence, using this day-to-day perspective provides better context to evaluate Ewell’s handling of his “opportunities” at Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill on the late afternoon of July 1.

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