“An unmitigated fraud” – Henry Judah at Resaca

Brig. Gen. Henry M. Judah in 1863

On May 16, 1864, just outside Resaca Georgia, Brig. Gen. Milo S. Hascall quietly relinquished command of the Second Brigade, Second Division, XXIII Corps stepping up to take charge of the division. He replaced Brig. Gen. Henry M. Judah.

Judah wasn’t wounded or otherwise injured in the recent fighting around Resaca. Instead, he was relieved of command (“for cause” to use modern terminology) of the division after a disastrous performance on Saturday, May 14; rushing his division into a reckless assault against a fortified Confederate position. Without attempting to bring up artillery, perform even the most basic reconnaissance, or ensure that his division’s path of advance was clear, Judah peremptorily ordered Hascall and fellow brigade commander Nathaniel McLean forward. When McLean protested that “a part of the Fourteenth Corps was in front of me,” Judah rashly ordered him “to march over them and advance immediately.”

Judah’s assault

The result was a disaster. Judah’s division took roughly 3,200 men into the fight, and suffered 577 killed, wounded and missing. Regiments became intermingled, formation was lost, and the assault became bogged down in the marshy bottomland of Camp Creek. One member of the 118th Ohio in Hascall’s brigade recalled the 118th’s Colonel Thomas Young standing in the creek with “tears running down his cheeks,” overcome by the futility of the effort and the terrible cost imposed.

Brig. Gen. Milo S. Hascall replaced Judah on May 16th

On May 18, two days after Hascall took charge and four days after the slaughter in Camp Creek Valley, Maj. John Schofield took the unusual step of relieving Judah – all the more unusual since Judah was a West Pointer, a classmate of Ulysses S. Grant, graduating 35th out of 39 in the class of 1843. Judah wasn’t cashiered or asked to resign; instead, he was allowed to take sick leave. When he returned from that leave in September he was shifted to administrative duties. At war’s end he reverted to his regular rank of major in the 4th U.S. Infantry, but he would never command troops in battle again.

Judah’s pre-war reputation was mixed. He served alongside Grant in Mexico, where he was brevetted twice. For gallant and meritorious conduct at Moleno Del Ray, and again at the storming of Chapultepec. After the war he was stationed in New York until 1852, when he was transferred to the west coast, serving in California and Washington State. There, however, his worst habits took over: General George Crook, who served under him in Company E of the 4th—nicknamed the “Forty Thieves”—was appalled at Judah’s constant drunkenness and lack of discipline. “There was not the best of terms between us,” Crook later admitted, “for I had seen enough of him to realize fully what an unmitigated fraud he was.” Subsequently, many of the volunteers who served under him came to view him as a martinet, and despised him.

Judah died in January, 1866, while stationed at Plattsburgh Barracks in New York. His obituary damned him with faint praise: “Col. Judah greatly distinguished himself for the unflagging energy he exhibited in the pursuit and capture of John Morgan, and was a division commander in the XXIII Corps. His personal intrepidity on the Battle-field amounted to absolute rashness, and to a certain extent, injured his usefulness as a Division Commander, so eager was his impulse always to pitch at the enemy, even when the odds were greatly against him.” Despite this harsh summation of his martial skills, the obituary writer hastened to add that “Col. Judah was highly esteemed by his brother officers . . . as a brave and energetic soldier, and a man of many fine qualities.” One wonders how many of the men he ordered into action on May 14 would feel about his ”fine qualities.”

Von Moltke said there were four qualities he noted in officers: Clever, Stupid, Industrious, and Lazy. Clever, lazy officers should be discovered, sought after, and made Commanders, because they “make the right things happen in the easiest possible manner.” Clever and  industrious officers should be retained and assigned to the General Staff, because they “direct the right things to happen.” Stupid, lazy officers should be retained, for they could “follow orders and perform the routine tasks that must be performed by an officer.” Stupid, Industrious officers, however, were dangerous. They should be “destroyed,” removed from the service as quickly as possible. They “will make things happen – the wrong things.”

Nailed it.

3 Responses to “An unmitigated fraud” – Henry Judah at Resaca

  1. Getting stationed at Plattsburgh, one of the coldest places in New York, had to be some kind of a punishment.

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