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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Petersburg and Atlanta, Castel and McMurry, Part 1

My quest for regimental statistics comparable to those of the 12th Virginia, Mahone's Brigade, Anderson's Division, Army of Northern Virginia, has led me west.  My studies of western regiments and their statistics has reminded me that the eastern and western campaigns of 1864 require comparison.  This set me to rereading Castel's Decision in the West and McMurry's Atlanta 1864:  Last Chance for the Confederacy.

I like both books very much.  I keep my copy of Castel at home and would keep my copy of McMurry there except I've lent it to a friend.  Though I like them very much, I disagree with them strongly in some respects.

First, Castel and McMurry explain President Jefferson Davis' decision to put General Joseph E. Johnston in command of the Army of Tennessee at the beginning of the campaign, without really commenting on it pro or con.  I strongly disagree with Davis' decision, with an asterisk.

The record shows that General Pierre Gustave "Gus" Toutant Beauregard was the better choice for command of the Army of Tennessee.  In 1863, while Johnston was failing to mount a defense of Vicksburg, Beauregard was successfully defending Charleston, South Carolina.  In 1864, while Johnston rarely mounted a counterattack of any kind against his opponent, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Beauregard successfully attacked his opponent, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler, and bottled him up in Bermuda Hundred, then successfully defended Petersburg against the overwhelmingly strong forces of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.  In August 1864, Beauregard fought more effectively than General Robert E. Lee, inflicting disproportionate losses on August 18 and 19 while Lee, insisting on a set piece attack, was bloodily repulsed on August 21.

Davis detested Beauregard and Johnston equally.  The president could not know the futeure, but he ought  to have looked at the 1863 outcomes and decided on the facts.  Furthermore, Beauregard had commanded the Army of Tennessee in 1862 and thus was more familiar with its officers than Johnston, who had merely exercised regional command over the Army of Tennessee and the Army of Mississippi.

The asterisk?  If Davis had put Beauregard in charge of the Army of Tennessee, he would almost certainly have had to put Johnston in command of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia--the defense of Petersburg.  With Johnston defending the Cockade City, little chance existed of him bottling up Butler though he might have withstood Grant.  Johnston was always hoping that Sherman would attack him in some impregnable position, and Grant would have obliged.