The Leadership of Jeff Davis

Afghanistan is not the first country that did not support its army. Other countries likewise did not or could not support its army. But, not all of those unsupported armies failed. The Confederate army also suffered from extreme lack of beans and bullets, clothing and more. Yet, up to the very end, the Confederate army performed superbly considering its limitations. Why? What made the Confederate army succeed where the Afghanistan army failed so miserably? One answer is sound leadership.

Robert E. Lee famously tried to lead his troops in a charge himself, not once, but three times. Each time, his own soldiers turned him back. Officers like John Bell Hood excelled at simply taking to his soldiers and listening to them.

Jefferson Davis, the much maligned President of the Confederate States, certainly had his faults. Davis did, however, practice effective leadership. He was a graduate of West Point. His regiment, the Mississippi Rifles performed brilliantly during the Mexican War. He knew how to display leadership.

Battle of Atlanta

After the fall of Atlanta, he showed what he had learned. Within six days of the loss of the city, Pres. Davis was with the Army of Tennessee. It took him six days of train travel, because the Federal troops had captured so much that he had embark on a complicated route. He wrote to a friend just days before he left Richmond that the “first effect of disaster is always to spread a deeper gloom than is due to the occasion.” By Sept. 26, 1864, he there with the army to dispel their gloom. Along his route, he took the time to make speeches to the local citizens. He likely received some not-so-subtle criticisms on these forays, but the undertook them all the same.

He did not come just to buck up the men. He also had to deal with generals with angry egos. But, doubtless, the troops appreciated his visit, all the same. He gave speeches to the soldiers. They held a grand review. With the President came Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris, Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock, Howell Cobb, the Georgia general and former Secretary of the Treasury in the U.S. government, and Robert Toombs, former U.S. Congressman and frequent critic of Jeff Davis. They all gave speeches, which was one of the chief entertainments of the time.

The Big Bugs

The morale of the men likely did perk up. One Tennessee soldier wrote home, “It was all hands round, swing the corner, and balance your partner” [a verse from a popular dance tune]. The same soldier recorded that Pres. Davis shook his hand, saying howdy Captain. Toombs shook his hand, saying howdy Major. “ . . . and every big bug that I shook hands with put another star on my collar and chicken guts on my sleeve.”

The soldiers, as all soldiers in the field do, complained about the lack of food, clothing, shoes and pay. At the outset of the grand review, the soldiers were called on to give a Rebel yell for Davis and Hood. Perhaps hearkening back to better days, they instead chanted, “Johnston! Give us Johnston! Give us our old commander!” Their officers fussed at them. But, the call persisted down the formation.

Speaking from personal experience, troops in the field appreciate visits from the “big bugs” enormously. It is easy to think the folks back home have forgotten about you. But, when presidents and governors come, you know that is not true.  

Source:

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 327-332

Confederate Leadership Principles and the Afghan Army

Armies have trained and studied for centuries on how to develop unit cohesion or esprit d’corps. With proper unit cohesion, an army can accomplish any objective. But, how do we attain unit cohesion? In Afghanistan, we see a complete disintegration of an army. On paper, the Afghan army numbered 300,000 soldiers. But, we know in reality it was much less, perhaps only 50,000. Even so, they have surrendered several times within the last week, sometimes without a shot fired. An entire Afghan Corps headquarters surrendered last week. How big is a Corps staff? In the U.S. army, a corps staff would include upwards of 500 soldiers. However large it was, they surrendered without firing a round. Why?

The New York Times tells us that the Afghan soldiers were not supported by their chain of command. They generally surrendered because they lacked food and ammunition. One Afghan security force was given a box of slimy potatoes as their daily ration. A police officer yelled out, “These french fries are not going to hold these front lines!” just days before surrendering. Not stated is that it is likely the Afghan higher commanders did not visit their troops. Sometimes, we visit the subordinate troops just to “show the flag.” As a commander, you always need first-hand information about the soldiers’ welfare. Historians tell us that one problem with how the U.S. conducted the Viet Nam war was the lack of visits by field grade officers to company level troops. Field grade officers include colonels and majors, the mid-grade levels.

Confederate Leadership

The Confederate soldiers endured this and worse. Many times, they would have been happy to have slimly potatoes as their daily ration. The Confederate army made their own shoes from rawhide. It was common for soldiers to wear trousers with only one leg. 300 members of the Texas Brigade returned from furlough in the Spring of 1864, knowing food and clothing would be scarce. See my prior post about the Texas Brigade here. In 1863, the Rebels were receiving only one-quarter pound of meat per day. During one two week period, one company received only one-quarter pound of flour, one-quarter pound bacon, three ounces of sugar.  Tents and blankets were rare for an army that always slept outdoors. See my prior post here.

In 1864, the adjutant to Confederate Lt-Gen. William Hardee reported at the close of the Battle of Atlanta that his uniform included the following: a hat with no crown, socks with no feet, trousers with one large white patch on the seat, boots with no soles. This was W.L. Trask’s sole clothing for the prior four months. If that was what an officer wore, we can imagine what the enlisted men were wearing.

Yet, the Confederates did not disintegrate like today’s Afghan army. The Texas Brigade suffered from a 6% desertion rate, much lower than other Confederate units. But, the Texas Brigade also did not suffer from the sort of home problems other Confederate army units endured. The Yankee soldiers did not pillage and burn Texas homes as they did in other Southern states.

John Bell Hood Leadership

So, what did the Confederates do that the Afghan army did not? We find some clues in the experience of John Bell Hood. Then Col. Hood succeeded to command of the Texas Brigade after others had tried and failed. He succeeded because he talked to the enlisted men. He explained the “why” of an order. He respected them for their pre-war jobs, many of which were very respectable. When he imposed a rule, such as lights out by 10 p.m., he explained that keeping lanterns lighted would keep other men awake. He insisted that subordinate officers explain the necessity of particular rules.

We know that Gen. Lee practiced the same sort of leadership principles. Even though he was the most senior general in the army, Lee wore a modest uniform, without all the required marks of his rank. He did not erect the largest tent. In fact, Lee’s tent was no larger than any other officer’s tent. Lee rarely slept in a house. He almost always slept in a tent, just like his men. And, of course, we know that Gen. Lee three times tried to lead a charge himself and three times, his men turned him back. There is no better example than to assume the most dangerous position in an attack.

Jefferson Davis was roundly criticized throughout the war by Southerners and Southern newspapers. But, he often visited various communities and the troops. He heard their complaints. The president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has rarely left the high blast walls of the presidential palace in Kabul. The Confederates simply practices excellent leadership. Of course, we call this “Confederate” leadership. But, they were actually practicing what they learned at West Point and in the U.S. Army.  It takes work to lead men. It requires a leader to listen to his men. The Confederates practiced those principles of good leadership. It appears the Afghans did not.

Sources:

Emory E. Thomas, “Robert E. Lee (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995), p. 226, 275, 330

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 296, 351-352

New York Times, Aug. 14, 2021, p. 1, col. 6

The Irish Voting Block

The early Irish hooked themselves to the Democratic party. The alternative was the Whig party. But, American Whigs were not a real option. They generally held nativist sentiment. And, of course, back home in Ireland, the Whigs were the landlords. Later, during the Famine, the Whig party was the British party that took little to no action in response to the famine. So, when the Irish arrived in the US, the Democrats welcomed the Irish immigrants. Unlike the German immigrants, the Irish spoke English. They could negotiate the electoral process.

Only naturalized citizens could vote. The Irish were willing to become naturalized, so they could vote. And, the Irish voters tended to vote in a bloc. They understood how to navigate the democratic system. In the old country, the rural Irish had a strong tradition of organizing quietly, secretly. In the 1840’s, an immigrant could become a naturalized citizen after residing in the U.S. for a number of years. Theirs was a minority bloc, but it was one that could tip an election. In 1853, they helped the Democrats elect the mayor in New Orleans. A few Irish candidates were elected across the South, but mostly it was the Irish voting bloc that made a difference. The Irish workers then often received public jobs and contracts.

So, in some ways, the Irish in the South fared better than their brothers and sisters in the North. Joe Gleeson was an ex-policeman in Charleston. He invited his father in the North to come down to Charleston, instead of “perishing” in the North. Joe assured his father that he, Joe could return to his job as policeman after his father assumes Joe’s current job. Joe could get a job as a policeman “any time,” he assured his father.

Perhaps because of the Democratic party support for slavery, the Native American Association (not American Indian) found little support in the South. In Boston and Philadelphia, the nativists openly attacked the Irish community. No such large scale attacks occurred in the South. In 1844, anti-Irish riots lasted three days in Philadelphia before the militia was called in to restore order. Evangelical preachers had claimed, incorrectly, that the Irish were seeking to ban the Bible from public schools. St. Augustine’s Catholic Church was burned to the ground. No such large scale attacks occurred in Southern cities.

See more about the anti-Irish riots of 1844 here.

A Young Jefferson Davis was newly elected Democratic Congressman from Mississippi in 1845. Assuming office, he promptly castigated the nativists in Congress for their “sordid character [and] arrogant assumptions.” He argued that instead of restricting naturalization, laws should be passed making naturalization easier. And, in general, many Southern newspapers were sympathetic to Ireland’s cause.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 100-102.

A New Congressman Castigated Anti-Immigration Forces

In 1861, the Democratic party had wide support across the South. Even today, some people believe erroneously that the Democratic party alone supported slavery. But, certainly, the Democrats largely supported the extension of slavery. Yet, the Democrats also generally embraced the Irish and German immigrants in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In the decades prior to the Civil War, the German and especially the Irish immigrants were seen as repugnant by many native Anglo Americans. A young Congressman, Jefferson Davis, was friends with prominent Irish immigrants in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His plantation was near Vicksburg.

The future president of the Confederate States of America earned a measure of fame among immigrants everywhere when he attacked the nativist members of Congress and their attempt to restrict immigration. As a freshman Representative in 1844-1845, he castigated the nativist members for their “sordid character [and] their arrogant assumption.” Those nativists were invariably Whigs – the future Republicans. He argued that instead of restricting immigration, Congress should make becoming a citizen easier. It was one of the ironies of American history that a well-known supporter of immigrants was also a large slave owner.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 102.

John Mitchel, Twice a Rebel

One of the remarkable persons in Irish history was John Mitchel. He was born in northern Ireland in 1815, son of Unitarian clergyman. His father had been a United Irishman, meaning he supported the rebellion in 1798. John attended Trinity University in Dublin. He practiced as a solicitor until he became editor of the Nation, a newspaper in Dublin. He supported the repeal movement, which advocated repealing the union between Ireland and Britain. He became one of those young men who surrounded the Great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell. Mr. O’Connell’s overarching goal was to repeal the union, so Ireland would once again have its own parliament.

In 1846, Mitchel, Thomas Meagher, and others, separated themselves from Mr. O’Connell, believing his more peaceful methods were too slow.  They formed the Irish Confederation. Soon, Mitchel withdrew from that group, as well. He started a new newspaper, the United Irishmen. Issuing flaming rhetoric, he advocated violent change in Ireland. He called for a holy war to wipe the English name from the Irish isle. Within weeks, he was arrested. He was sentenced to 14 years transportation – meaning he would be exiled to the Australian colony.

Soon, Thomas Meagher and other members of Young Ireland were also sentenced to Australia. They were allowed to live in the community on parole. Meagher, Mitchel and the other Young Irelanders became fast friends. With help from a friend from New York, Mitchel escaped and came to the U.S. He arrived in New York to a hero’s welcome. Bands played, crowds cheered, the Napper Tandy Light Artillery gave him a 31-gun salute. Within weeks, however, Mr. Mitchel offended his hosts. Mr. Mitchel never shrunk from controversy. He alienated the Irish born Archbishop, John Hughes for his support of the papacy’s temporal powers. He grievously offended abolitionists with his open support of slavery. Abolitionists tended to be Evangelical and puritan, which was antithetical to his Presbyterian views. And, many Abolitionists tended to be nativists who disliked the Irish. A friend suggested he be more judicious with his public pronouncements. He responded, “they might as well whistle jigs to a milestone.” Milestones were (and still are) those stones on English and Irish roadways marking the distance traveled.

Mr. Mitchel visited the South. He found their views on slavery consistent with his. He settled in Tennessee in 1855 and bought a farm. By 1857, he and his family were living in Knoxville, where Mitchel started a newspaper and earned money giving lectures. Mitchel’s views on slavery strengthened. He believed the Negro race was inferior, as did many so-called learned men of the day. He believed slavery was good for the slaves, as much for society in general. He started a newspaper advocating slavery and seeking to re-open the African slave trade. Even in the South at the time, most educated Southerners opposed the African slave trade on moral grounds. Some Southern newspapers denounced him and his views. They believed he was playing into the hands of the northern abolitionists. Mitchel believed the North was trying to impose its views on the South, just as England imposed its views on the Irish.

Mitchel went to Europe in 1859, thinking a breach between England and France might help Ireland. That hope did not materialize. He stayed in Paris. As the states began to secede in 1861, he approved. When war broke out in May, 1861, his two oldest sons enlisted. Mitchel returned to American in 1862 with his youngest son, Willie. Willie also wanted to join the Confederate cause.

They crossed over near Baltimore, evading Federal patrol boats. Willie immediately joined the First Virginia Infantry with one of his brothers, James. Mr. Mitchel himself tried to enlist, but was turned away due to near-sightedness. He did serve with an ambulance unit and performed occasional guard duty. John Mitchel then became the editor of the Richmond Daily Enquirer. He wrote scathing editorials of the Emancipation Proclamation and about Lincoln. He believed the proclamation would incite slaves to rebel, which would get them killed. He denounced Lincoln as the common enemy of “both black and white.”

When some generals, such as Robert E. Lee and Patrick Cleburne (another native of Ireland) supported making slaves soldiers in return for their freedom, Mitchel opposed the move. He noted, ironically we would say today, that if blacks could serve as soldiers, then Southern society had been wrong about slavery from the start. “Duh,” we might add today.

Mitchel’s old friend, Thomas Francis Meagher, became commander of the famed New York 69th Regiment, the Irish Brigade. At the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, the Federal 69th Regiment faced off against the 1st Virginia Regiment with Willie and his brother, James. John Mitchel visited his sons and cursed his inability to participate. The Irish Brigade advanced over and over, lead often by Meagher himself, and were mown down. The 1st Virginia fell under Gen. Pickett. Pickett wrote his wife that as he watched their green flag advance again and again, “his heart almost stood still as he watched those sons of Erin . . . My darling, we forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up along our lines.” Meagher watched as some 90% of his brigade was killed or wounded.

In subsequent battles, Willie Mitchel was killed. The 1st Virginia under Gen. Pickett was there at the Battle of Gettysburg and suffered its own horrendous charge. Willie died bravely, seizing the colors as its bearer was about to fall. Although wounded, he carried the Regimental flag forward until he was cut down himself. John Mitchel wrote that Willie died in honorable company and could have asked for no more an enviable fate. Upon learning that a son of John Mitchel had fallen, Irish soldiers on the Union side made particular effort to look for his body, but did not locate it.

As the war dragged on, Mitchel became increasingly disillusioned with Jefferson Davis’ leadership, as did many Southerners. Moving to a second newspaper in 1863, Mitchel became a regular critic of Jeff Davis. He also wrote for some Irish newspapers. In a letter to the Nation in Dublin, he applauded the bravery of Irish soldiers fighting for the Union army. But, he added, they were dupes, fooled by false promises of land in the South and said they were fighting for a government that despised them.

As U.S. Grant assumed control of the Federal army, casualties mounted. John Mitchel’s ambulance unit saw carnage and horror. He observed the horror, but noted that he never saw cowardice and found delight as people were roused in this way, determined to meet their fate. He denounced Grant as a butcher willing to sacrifice four Federal soldiers to kill one Confederate.

In 1864, John Mitchel learned that his eldest son, John, was killed at Ft. Sumter. James was now the only son still alive and he had lost an arm. Probably to spare the family further grief, James was transferred to a staff post in Richmond.

After the war, James moved to New York and become a city fire marshal. His son, James Purroy Mitchel will be elected mayor of New York in 1913.

When Lee surrenders, Mitchel will be one of those die-hards who refuse to admit the war is over. He evacuates to Danville, Georgia with some members of the Confederate government. After the last Confederate force surrendered in May, 1864, Mitchel returned to New York, where he thought he could earn a living. Many New Yorkers insisted John Mitchel be arrested. Some claimed Mitchel had advocated mis-treatment of Union prisoners. Mitchel responded by denouncing the harsh conditions in which Jeff Davis was then being kept. He was arrested in June for an allegedly seditious article he had written.

His prison cell was damp, which made his asthma much worse. The food was not edible and he could not exercise. He could not write. The prison doctor warned that Mitchel’s prison conditions were not improved, he would die. The authorities relented and let him walk, have materials with which to write, and gave him better food. Mitchel was now stooped, haggard and looked much older than his 50 years. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis praised him as a gallant gentlemen. Many leading Irish-Americans and Fenian veterans from the Union army complained about his treatment. He was released in October, 1865. His lawyers told him that he if said anything offensive, he would likely be arrested, again. They recommended that he move to Europe until passions cooled in the U.S. John Mitchel responded that he had now been imprisoned for expressing his views by the two states in the western world that most prided themselves on progressive and liberal ideals. “They are both in the wrong; but then, if I am able to put them in the wrong, they are able to put me in the dungeon.”

To get him out of the U.S., the Fenians made him their financial agent in Paris. In the remaining ten years of his life, he was more subdued and contemplative. He acknowledged that his support of the Confederacy, while a good cause, had cost him two sons, for a country that was not theirs. Like many Irish rebels, he gave the best part of his life to the cause of another country. Shortly before his death in 1875, he was elected to Parliament from his old home town in northern Ireland, without opposition.

Today, John Mitchel is often the forgotten revolutionary. His views lead directly to the Fenian movement, which in turn lead to the IRA in 1916. But, his views on slavery have become hard to swallow in a country, where the Irish Catholics themselves were enslaved at times. See here for a biography of John Mitchel.

Source: “Southern Citizen: John Mitchel, the Confederacy and slavery,History Ireland, Vol. 15, Issue 3, May/June 2007.

 

Rep. Davis Castigates Anti-Immigrant Fervor

In 1861, the Democratic party had wide support across the South. Even today, some people believe erroneously that the Democratic party alone supported slavery. But, certainly, the Democrats largely supported the extension of slavery. Yet, The Democrats also generally embraced the Irish and German immigrants in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In the decades of the ante-bellum era, the German and especially the Irish immigrants were seen as repugnant by many native Anglo Americans. A young Congressman, Jefferson Davis, was friends with prominent Irish immigrants in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His plantation was near Vicksburg.

The future president of the Confederate States of America earned a measure of fame among immigrants everywhere when he attacked the nativist members of Congress and their attempt to restrict immigration. As a freshman Representative in 1844-1845, he castigated the nativist members for their “sordid character [and] their arrogant assumption.” He argued that instead of restricting immigration, Congress should make becoming a citizen easier. It was one of the ironies of American history that a well-known supporter of immigrants was also a large slave owner. No one said ante-bellum politics were simple.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 102.