I started my Air Force career as an imagery intelligence analyst (also known as a “1N1X1” or a “squint”). It was my job to examine images taken by any of a plethora of “overhead” military platforms (U2 spy planes, as one example) and determine what was going on in them. American intelligence collection capability is truly amazing, and the origins of airborne intelligence collection were simultaneously humble and revolutionary.
The value of airborne intelligence gathering was pretty well evident in the earliest days of aviation. Only months following the first human’s ascension in a hot air balloon into the sky near Versailles in 1783, the French incorporated a balloon unit into its military. However, despite the notable contributions made during successive European battles, by 1802 the aérostiers were retired.[i] So by the time the US Civil War erupted in 1861, manned balloons had remained almost entirely outside of military operations for the better part of six decades.
At the outset of the conflict, experienced balloonists (called “aeronauts”) like Thaddeus Lowe, John La Mountain, and John Wise petitioned the US government for the opportunity to serve the country with the unique capabilities afforded by their aerial platforms. And while La Mountain was able to establish balloon operations in beleaguered Fort Monroe, Virginia, Lowe distinguished himself from his professional competitors by demonstrating the unique capabilities offered by aerial intelligence directly to President Lincoln. On 16 June, 1861, Lowe ascended in a balloon which was tethered near the White House. He then, using a telegraph machine in the basket, telegraphed what he saw directly to Lincoln’s office.
“This point of observation commands an area near fifty miles in diameter. The city with its girdle of encampments presents a superb scene,” reported Lowe in what could be described, using today’s military concepts, as an exercise intelligence report.[ii] Lincoln was impressed, and appointed Lowe head of the Union’s new Balloon Corps.
From the earliest days of the war through early 1863, the Balloon Corps demonstrated the unique capability afforded by aerial intelligence. An early example of this is actually on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio. Set up in the front of the Early Years Gallery is a hand-drawn map. In April 1861, Union forces at Fort Monroe in Virginia were isolated thanks to Virginia’s secession. John La Mountain managed to get his equipment and a single balloon into the old fort, which was bracing for a possible assault similar to Fort Sumter. Major General Benjamin Butler, in command at Monroe at the time, needed intelligence, and La Mountain was the man to get it for him. On 10 August, La Mountain ascended in his balloon to 3500 feet. From that vantage, he was able to identify troop camps and naval activity. He also provided General Butler with this map, possibly the first example of aerial intelligence mapping.[iii]
The use of these military balloons not only advanced military intelligence collection capabilities, but the Union army was forced to devise new technologies to deploy the assets in the field. Thaddeus Lowe created a mobile hydrogen gas generator, as well as directed the conversion of a Navy vessel into a specialized balloon deployment asset. This vessel, the USS George Washington Parke Custis – a coal barge- was fitted with the special hydrogen generator, and the deck was cleared to allow for balloon inflation. This gave the Union the ability to tow the balloon along the Potomac and adjacent waterways, expanding the range and flexibility of aerial intelligence collection.[iv]
Arguably then, the first military aviation platforms commissioned by the US Army were intelligence collection platforms. Yes, they were used for artillery spotting, but one of the primary drivers for President Lincoln to approve the creation of a Balloon Corps was the promise of real-time intelligence collection and transmission to commanders on the ground. It was not uncommon for an officer (at times, the commander) to ascend with Lowe to get a sense of the land and enemy disposition. The Confederates were vexed by the balloons, and tried to destroy them whenever they were observed rising.
Photographs would not be used with balloons, although some experiments of aerial photography (using kites and balloons) had been conducted by civilians around this time. However, the methodical use of professional intelligence gathering by specially trained aeronauts during the US Civil War is clear milestone (if not the first milestone) in the evolution of American aerial intelligence capabilities. A whole new dimension of warfare was emerging.
[i] I’m not going to pretend that my research into French ballooning goes beyond the reading of a few secondary sources at this point. Charles M. Evans, in War of the Aeronauts, gives a brief overview of the earliest days of ballooning as he lays the ground work for his in-depth telling the use of balloons in the US Civil War. But I found a fascinating and concise article on the subject in All the Year Round, a British periodical and literary journal edited by none other than Charles Dickens. All the Year Round, Volume 1; Volume 21 (27 Feb, 1869) pp297-299.
[ii] Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Thaddeus S. C. Lowe to Abraham Lincoln, Sunday,Telegram from balloon. 1861. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mal1031300/.
[iii] Evans, Charles M, War of the Aeronauts, a History of Ballooning (Stackpole Books, Mechanichsville, PA, 2002), 96-98.
In the summer of 1862, Captain Milton Graham began to recruit men to form a new volunteer cavalry regiment to defend the Commonwealth of Kentucky from rebellion. He set up camp at Harrodsburg, Kentucky shortly before 11 July 1862. Company A was one of the first four companies of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (along with D, C, and F).  Volunteers assigned to Company A enrolled primarily between 18 and 22 August (probably after relocating to Louisville), coming mostly from the surrounding Garrand (30 men) and Madison (36 men) Counties, although a handful from Washington, Lancaster, and Boyle Counties were also assigned to the company.
Approximately 75 men (officers and enlisted) comprised Company A when the regiment was mustered into service on 22 September 1862 in Louisville. Interestingly, an additional 30 men were listed as “Within the enemy lines,” at the outset. What is meant by this is not entirely clear. One possibility is related to the first incursion into Kentucky by Confederate forces, which coincided with the formation of the 11th Kentucky. Then-Colonel John Hunt Morgan led several hundred troops north from Tennessee, and actually set up camp at one point outside of Harrodsburg. It was Morgan’s approach that prompted Graham to relocate to Lexington Kentucky on 22 July. In recounting the activity, historian Lowell Harrison notes that while in the area, Morgan boasted of capturing and paroling some 1,200 Union soldiers. It seems plausible that some of these were volunteers that never made it to officially joining the Union army. Their names were accounted for on the regimental muster rolls, but none of them were present when the regiment was officially mustered into service. Most of these would ultimately be removed from the rolls and some charged with desertion (although a handful eventually joined up with the company).
Captain John G. Pond commanded the company (more on him below), and John Milton Cotton (age 27 from Garrand County) and Reuben F. Scott (age 34, from Madison County) were his lieutenants. The average age of the company was 26.22 years at time of muster, somewhat older than I expected. Captain Pond himself was 50 years old in 1862.
Throughout the war, troops being AWOL was a problem. Of the 145 men who enrolled into Company A from 1862 – 1865, 21% (31 soldiers) would be documented as being AWOL at some point in their service. If we consider only the original 75 or so troops, the rate of AWOL remains about the same percentage (15 soldiers, roughly 20%). The desertion rate was even higher, with 39 (25%) of the total number of soldiers who enrolled in Company A being charged with desertion (14 of these were from the original 75, or 18%). As expected, there is plenty of overlap between those that went AWOL and those that deserted. Some of these soldiers eventually returned to the regiment, and after forfeiting pay and taking on extra duties, the charge was often eventually dropped.
The company suffered significant casualties over the course of the war. Of the 75 men present at the mustering in, at least 19 (25%) would be captured over the following 3 years. Over half of those (12) died in prison. At least 24 men from Company A (15%) in total perished before the war’s end. A good number of these casualties resulted from two significant engagements that occurred as part of General Ambrose Burnside’s East Tennessee expedition in October (Philadelphia, TN) and November (Maryville, TN) 1863.
John G. Pond: As mentioned above, the company was organized by Captain Pond, who is arguably the most prominent personality to have served in the company, and possibly the entire regiment. A preacher from Round Hill, in Madison County, he was 50 years old when he joined the 11th Kentucky Cavalry. Described as “eccentric” after the war, he was evidently a staunch abolitionist who was fiercely opposed to the Confederacy. “[M]y greatest difference with the administration is that it is too lenient with Rebels, especially in KY,” he wrote in 1864. Despite his age, he was not one to avoid combat. In July 1863, the 11th KY Cavalry was one of the many that took part in the pursuit of Confederate John Hunt Morgan as he raced across Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Upon reaching Cincinnati, General Judah was forced to leave the bulk of the 11th behind due to a lack of fresh horses. Enough steeds were pulled together, however, to outfit a single company-sized element. This element was led by Captain Pond. Morgan was ultimately captured, and the 11th was there when it happened.
Eventually, his age bedeviled him toward the end of his service with the regiment. In his resignation letter, Pond stated “I am in my fifty second year and from a fever last fall that fell on my muscles I feel that I am gradually declining.” Interestingly, although Pond resigned from the 11th Kentucky Cavalry, he wasn’t finished with the war. Pond would quickly help found and lead the 117th Kentucky Colored Regiment Infantry as a Lieutenant Colonel in July 1864. Once the war concluded, he not only resumed preaching, but reportedly strove against the Ku Klux Klan in Madison County. He died in 1899, in Boyle County. Clearly, John Pond deserves more scholarly attention.
Solomon Calhoun: This solider caught my attention both because of his colorful name and because his records hint that he may have been either an adventurer or a patriot with a taste for action, or some blending of the two. A 27 year old farmer born in Pulaski County, Kentucky, he enlisted with the 11th Kentucky Cavalry late in the war, during a recruiting push in Louisville in February 1865. The blue eyed, fair-skinned soldier enrolled as a private, and was quickly promoted to corporal. However, the soldier’s status became mired in some controversy, as he was discovered to have previously deserted from the 3rd Kentucky Infantry. In that unit, he started in September 1861 with the rank of sergeant, although he was dinged for losing his musket. His presence with the regiment is unclear until 11 August 1862, when he was given “recruiting duty,” something that lasted several months (at least into December 1862) and was certainly something of a break from combat operations. Evidently he wasn’t quick to report back, as by 1 January 1863 he was listed as AWOL, which was changed to “deserted” status on 31 July 1863. Interestingly, a note on his deserter’s form states that he was “probably to be found in 1st Ky. Cav. Supposed to be in KY.” Another note, dated 20 February 1864, clarifies “Probably to be found with Wolfords Cav.” In other words, he was suspected of abandoning his infantry unit so he could fight with a cavalry unit (this alone begs for some additional research). He was dropped from the 3rd Kentucky Infantry’s rolls 1 November 1863. It was at this point that Sergeant Calhoun was demoted and listed as “Private Calhoun.” Inexplicably, he returned in August of 1864 and was allowed to rejoin his unit, with forfeiture of pay.  On 13 October, 1864, he was mustered out of the regiment. Within four months, he would be with the 11th Kentucky Cavalry.
William P. Pierce: This 20-year old from Garrand County managed to secure the rank of sergeant at the outset, but he wouldn’t remain enlisted for long. Evidently resourceful, he became the acting adjunct for the company within weeks of the regiment mustering into service. This meant he was acting in the capacity of a first lieutenant, which wasn’t officially recognized until May 1865 (backdated to 1 October 1862). On 14 November 1863, he was one of 8 others of the company captured at Marysville, TN, but he was paroled 30 April 1864. After a few weeks of leave, he accepted a promotion to Captain on 6 August, to fill the vacancy created by Captain Pond’s resignation.
The above only scratches the surface of the preceding soldiers, and there are so many others I’d love to highlight. I’ve marked a few more for additional research. I’m trying to block off time this month (September) to visit the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Military History Museum in Frankfort. They have some research materials there that I hope will provide further insights into the shaping of this regiment, and perhaps into the men who fought within it
This is the first part of a company-by-company look at the Union’s 11th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment. These should be considered works in progress, to which much will be added over the coming months (plus, I need to clean up my footnotes, as some aren’t in proper CMS format). Once we’ve had a chance to look at each company, we’ll roll it all up together to see what we can learn of the regiment as a whole, from the individual soldier on up. We’re kicking off this study with, appropriately enough, Company A.
Methodology: I queried the National Park Service’s (NPS) Civil War Soldiers and Sailors data to extract all soldiers identified as serving under the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (this is how I have this data), then copied the data into a spreadsheet. To make sure I had as complete a roster as possible, I then compared the names in the database query to the roster listing published in The Union Regiments of Kentucky. This helped to clean up the data, as the NPS database contains some duplicate entries and plenty of spelling errors (e.g. one solider was represented 4 times as his name was spelled 4 different ways). The raw NPS data provided great information on each soldier, such as “first name,” “last name,” “Rank in,” “Rank Out,” etc. Then, stepping soldier by soldier through Fold3, I added additional columns to capture data points not contained in the NPS database. This was a mix of demographic data (e.g. age, where the soldier entered service, whether they were part of the original regiment mustered into service, were they captured and/or killed). I’ve posted the combined data into a spreadsheet here. Note on the Fold3 data: you’ll either need an account with them (they charge a fee) or you’ll need to go through a library or university if you want to follow the Fold3 addresses where I pulled the info.
After pulling what insights I could from the NPS and Fold3 databases, I switched gears into old-fashioned historical research, pulling together what I could find for the regiment in general and Company A in particular from the Official Records as well as additional primary and secondary sources. The articles that follow will be updated continuously, as additional primary source research will almost certainly provide expanded insights. Each article will present the statistics gleaned from the database information, then conclude with a few soldier vignettes, where I introduce you to these soldiers mostly obscured by time. My ultimate goal is to produce a scholarly regimental history that captures the stories of as many of the individual soldiers as possible.
 Thomas Speed, R.M. Kelly, and Alfred Pirtle, The Union Regiments of Kentucky, Volume 1 (Louisville: Courier-Journal Job Printing Company, 1887), 224
 County of origin determined by review of Company A member muster rolls.
As a lead-in to a more analytical article I plan on posting here toward the end of the month (hopefully), I thought it’d be useful to highlight this wonderful tool. The National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database (CWSS) is a thing of beauty. With a little info on a relative or subject of interest (say, a surname, a state, and on what side the subject fought), one can find service data on anyone who fought in the US Civil War. This includes what regiment they fought with, what company assigned to, rank in, and rank out. For me, it probably helped that “Greenberry Shanks” is a fairly unique name, because the CWSS immediately gave me the right data.
Then, to add context to this service, one can follow the link to the regiment. This leads to a fantastic summary of major engagements, such as this for the 11th Kentucky Cavalry.
You’ll note that many of these engagements are themselves hyperlinked to even more detail. I selected the first conflict at Saltsville:
The other kind of cool functionality that has one massively frustrating limitation, at least for researchers interested in unit data, is the link under the regiment’s history, View Battle Unit’s Soldiers. This brings you to a page where soldiers are listed alphabetically. That’s okay, if you’re unsure of how a name was spelled and need to page through 20 soldiers at a time.
I first discovered the CWSS through a blog post from another Civil War blog (Dead Confederates). In his post, which was published a couple of years ago, he highlighted another fantastic capability: there was an export button that allowed you to download an excel spreadsheet of the entire regiment. This was very exciting to me, since I’m currently taking a close look at the people who made up the regiment that my ancestor belonged to. So it was pretty aggravating when I went to the CWSS last year and discovered that this feature had been removed for some reason. I searched everywhere, and even emailed the site administrators and the NPS, but unfortunately never heard back.
Well, I was determined to get this data one way or another. I started scouring the National Archives and the farthest reaches of my search engines for anyone who may have stored it somewhere. All I found were broken links. On May 4 of this year, however, I had a breakthrough. After searching the corners of the Google-verse, I eventually turned up the data files used by the CWSS. The search was maddening, at least for me, as it was quite hard to find. I don’t even remember how I finally found it. I just tried to find it again, and the only way I could was to go back into my browser history and locate the download address. Here it is, if you’re interested:
Keep in mind, this is the raw data, over 800 MB of historical goodness, but not anything that is quickly used. Fortunately, I have a little background in SQL and excel, so I converted the data into a SQL table, and now I’m able to query the data in a number of ways. I’m trying to figure out how I can make this data available on my website, but I’m not sure this blog is the right medium. Until I crack that nut, feel free to ask for regimental soldier queries, as I’d be happy to help.
Speaking of which, my next article will be on Company A of the 11the Kentucky Cavalry. I’m using the CWSS data as a starting point to give me the name and rank of each member of the company, and then cross referencing those names in Fold3. Using that, I’m adding additional data to the names: their ages, the county where they’re from, occupations (if known), casualty data, and a few more data points.
This will allow me to get a feel for the men who made up the company, as well as how they fared throughout the conflict. I’m almost a third of the way through the Company A roster (I’m trying to finish one company per month), and I’ve been fascinated with what I’ve learned so far. I look forward to sharing it with you.
On December 7, 1862, in the early morning hours, Confederate forces led by General John Hunt Morgan launched a surprise attack on approximately 2,000 Union soldiers situated at Hartsville, Tennessee. The Union soliders, which included Company E of the 11th
Kentucky Cavalry (the rest of the regiment evidently remained at Gallatin, some 15 miles east) were charged with guarding the Cumberland River where Confederate Cavalry crossed to harass Federal forces. The occupied position was assessed as quite strong, and was only 9 miles from Castalian Springs where 2 Union brigades were located. At approximately 6:45 AM, battle commenced. The bewildered Union force, led by Colonel Absalom Moore (who had only taken command 5 days prior) attempted to organize a defense, but to little avail. Though many of his troops fought nobly, at least one regiment panicked and fled, exposing the Union center which forced Moore to at first attempt to regroup, but then to ultimately surrender. The fight was over in less than two hours, with just over 2000 Union soldiers captured, wounded, or killed. The Confederate casualties were about 125.
The US Army was furious at the humiliating defeat. General Halleck pointedly asked, “What officer or officers are chargeable with the surprise at Hartsville and deserve punishment?” Most blamed Colonel Moore (Halleck certainly did), who would ultimately resign rather than be dismissed from service. Moore gave several reasons for his defeat: the scurrilous use of Union uniforms by the rebels to sneak up on vedettes, a massive enemy force (he estimated Morgan’s strength at about 5,000-6000. The Confederates reported having 1,200 men), the “shameful” retreat of one of his regiments, and popular support from the Tennessee locals. However, one additional reason was of particular interest to me: in his report on the battle (submitted after being paroled by the CSA), Moore states that his force was greatly reduced by sickness. The day before the battle, Moore said that he had sent about 200 men back to Gallatin to escort a provisions train. Between losing those men and “a great many[men] being sick in hospital at the time of the attack, left me but the small force of about 1,200 men to contend with 5,000 of the rebels…”
One of those sick was quite possibly my great-great-great grandfather, who, according to a note on one of his muster rolls, was left in a hospital at Gallatin when the 11th KY Cav departed that town on 26 December, 19 days following the defeat at Hartsville. I’ve come to find that some form of chronic illness bedeviled my ancestor throughout the war, and may have crippled him in the years after. The nature of this sickness has become one of my top research questions in regards to the life and service of Greenberry Shanks.
Making good on the plan I mentioned in the first article of this series, I took to the road in search of more details on the life of Private Greenberry Shanks of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry (Company D). Focusing my search in the part of the state where he had been raised seemed like a good move (although it’s unclear if he was born there). Before leaving, I located the main public libraries that seemed most likely to help me find records not currently available online, namely the Bourbon County and Clark County libraries in Eastern Kentucky. On February 24th, I jumped in my car and drove the 3 hours or so from my home in south-central Ohio, through surprisingly green farmlands (it had been a warm winter) set among the meandering hills of the Bluegrass State, to Paris, Kentucky (the location of the Bourbon-Paris Library). My brother, who is as determined as I am to get to know Greenberry, met me there.
To make a half-day story short, we turned up no new documents around Greenberry or his wife Serilda. Although both libraries were quite impressive, we never located birth or death certificates for either, and no marriage certificate. We poured over local documents and collections of cemetery data, marriage records on microfiche (although in this matter, I realized I had overlooked a clue in the documentation on hand as to the date he and Serlida were married) and family trees donated to the libraries. The only documents to mention Greenberry were the published census documents I had already found online.
But the trip was still enlightening. It was a pleasure to work with the genealogy librarians at both locations, who were knowledgeable and helpful. The librarian working in the Paris-Bourbon library immediately recognized the Shanks name, thanks to an infamous “Shanks family massacre” that occurred in the area in the late 1700s, when Shanks pioneers were attacked by native Indians. I couldn’t find any documentation to connect the survivors to my family, but I’ve got that tucked away for additional research later. In addition, the librarians provided tips on other places (the local courthouse, and a private genealogy library only open during the spring and summer months) that I could research when I return at some point.
Despite the frustrating lack of the aforementioned vital documents, thanks to the online research (fleshed out somewhat by what we learned in the libraries) Greenberry’s life is coming more into focus, and it’s an exciting thing. He lived more than half of his life in Bourbon and Clark counties (it’s possible he never actually moved, as the county lines were evidently being disputed around this time). He worked as a laborer on a farm owned by one Hezekiah Owens, where he likely met Sarilida Owens. Sometime around 1850 or 1851, they married. It’s unclear where exactly the two lived after being married, but prior to 1860, he moved his family west, to Washington County. It was from there that Greenberry would travel to Harrodsburg in 1862 to join the cavalry in defense of the Commonwealth and the Union.
In my last article, I stated that he left behind a one year old son, James, when he went off to war. The evidence now suggests he had five children by 1862: three daughters (Martha, Mary, and Amanda) and two sons (Samuel and James). He would father one more daughter (Annie) before dying sometime before 1880.
He had assumed several different vocations over the course of his life: laborer, stonecutter, school teacher, and soldier. In my research at the Clark County library, there were evidently one or two Shanks enclaves in that area that were classified as stonecutters/masons in the census. The marriage certificate of his youngest daughter, Annie, also indicates her father was a stone mason.
His various professions, large family, movement to Washington County, and his enlistment into the army as a private suggest that Greenberry was not a wealthy man. So far, I haven’t found much in the way of probate records for any Shanks in the region where he was raised, suggesting that that the Shanks were not a family with property. The fact that he was listed on the census as a laborer on another family’s property in 1850 supports this. Of course, I still need to check out the genealogy resources in Washington County where (presumably) he died, to determine if he had any estate.
While I’m eager to unearth any aspect of Greenberry and Sarilda’s lives I’m particularly interested in his wartime service (to include the reasons why a 43 year old man would enlist for war and leave behind a large family). Although a relatively simple exercise, I previously never took the time to assemble Greenberry’s muster rolls into chronological order. I suppose I thought, with the limited information on them, that it wouldn’t yield much information. I was very wrong on that. After lining up his recorded service alongside some of the 11th KY Cavalry’s wartime operations, the scope of Greenberry’s health issues (or, possibly his malingering) became evident:
Three things stand out from the above that will help guide my research now: first, sickness of some sort colored the majority of his service during the war, taking him down at first in Tennessee not four months after the 11th KY Cav mustered in. I’d like to find out if the nature of this ailment was ever recorded in any surviving records in the hospitals in Louisville or Gallatin. Second, although he evidently saw only about a year of active service (plus several months in various hospitals), there’s a reasonable chance Greenberry participated in one of the 11th KY Cav’s most notorious operations, the pursuit and ultimate capture of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan during his raid of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio in July 1863. I’ve read the Official Reports for the Union pursuit of Morgan, and the 11th was engaged throughout the arduous chase. I’d like to delve into any letters, reports, or diaries of the 11th’s leadership and men to get more intimate details of their involvement. And third, Greenberry was reported away without leave (AWOL) for 10 months (1 Sep 1864 – 3 Jul 1865). Whatever the story is behind that, Greenberry evidently wasn’t punished, as he was allowed to rejoin the unit and collect the remainder of money still owed to him by the US government. Nevertheless, I would really like to know the story behind the AWOL (I assume it has to do with his apparent chronic illness).
My next move will be to visit the library in Washington County, and possibly the main branch of the Jefferson County library in Louisville, Kentucky. Plus, there are medical records that may not be online stored at the National Archives, copies of which are available at a government facility in Chicago. If so, that may give me some insight into what affliction Greenberry struggled with throughout the war. So a trip to the Windy City may be in order later this summer as well.
More to come!
 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume XX Part 1 Reports (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 43-66.
“Some people say you achieve immortality through your children,” said the minstrel.
“Yeah?” said Cohen. “Name one of your great-granddads, then.”
The Last Hero, by Terry Pratchett.
In the early summer of 1862, 10 days before the first anniversary of the savage battle of
Bull Run during the opening days of the Civil War, Captain Milton Graham worked to assemble a new cavalry regiment to help defend Kentucky against the secessionists. Just outside the town of Harrodsburg, men from Washington, Madison, and Mercer counties flowed in, and Graham quickly organized four companies for the new 11th Kentucky Cavalry: A, D, C, and F.
Walking among the men who answered the call was 43 year-old Greenberry Shanks. Leaving behind his wife, Sarilda, and one year old son James, Private Shanks prepared with the others for a sudden move to the capital of Frankfort, a response to Confederate invasion of the Commonwealth. Move he did, part of Company D, arriving in Frankfort on 22 July. Another company, Company B, was recruited there, and then the men were on the march again, this time to Louisville, Kentucky. The remaining companies were recruited over the following weeks, and on 22 September the regiment was officially mustered into service.[i]
Over the next three years, the 11th Kentucky Cavalry served gallantly and participated in several notable campaigns, including the pursuit and eventual capture of the notorious Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in July of 1863.[ii] But Greenberry, like that of many who fought during this pivotal time of our nation, has largely been swallowed up by history. His military records are sparse, and indicate a service record frequently interrupted by sickness and, once, being absent without leave. He survived the war, and was mustered out with much of the rest of the 11th Kentucky Cavalry on 13 July 1865. Whatever ailment that dogged Greenberry over the course of the conflict evidently continued to plague him, as evidenced by a pension request in 1867 indicating his classification as an “invalid.” By 1880, he had passed away.
After a significant writing and research hiatus, I’ve decided to rekindle my Civil War studies in as personal a way as one can: I’m trying to piece together the experiences of a distant relative (my great-great-great grandfather) who fought on the side of the Union. The above paragraphs are a simple abstract of what I’ve come to know of him. I started with nothing more than an archaic name: Greenberry Shanks. My mother was given some old military paperwork by an aunt. This paperwork found its way to one of my brothers, who told me about it. He had started researching Greenberry on his own at one point, so I decided to help take up the mission.
The papers my brother possessed turned out to be Union Muster Rolls. Greenberry, at the age of 43, joined the 11th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, Company D, as a private. With that information, I sent a request to the National Archives to send me whatever records they had on hand. I was excited several weeks later to receive a CD in the mail, but disappointed to find that it contained the exact same records that my mother and brother possessed: the muster rolls.
Still, I had my primary documents. Next I wanted to make sure that Greenberry was in fact a relative, and if so, how I was related to him. For this kind of work, genealogy services are fantastic tools. I chose Ancestry.com. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found enough to prove to me that Greenberry is, in fact, my direct relative, and that he is the same man named in the muster rolls. But I’ve reached a point where I’m confident I’ve exhausted primary and secondary sources that are available online, and there’s still so much to learn.
I’m missing two very important documents: a birth certificate and a death certificate. So setting aside the possibility that Greenberry is an immortal and still walks among us (there can only be one!), it seems likely that either these vital records are stuffed in some musty storage somewhere (if I’m lucky), or destroyed. I really hope it’s the former. I’m also missing a proper marriage certificate. I’ve found reference to one that seems like a contender, but I’m not positive. There are actually two leads that indicate his wife was born either the same time as he (circa 1820), or significantly later (1834).
So where do I go from here? I’m going to reach out to the public library system and possibly county historical societies to see if there are records or microfiche available in Kentucky that haven’t been digitized. If I get a reasonably solid lead, I’ll plan a trip to see what turns up. In the meantime, I have some additional research to do on the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in general, and Company D in particular.
Nothing lasts long in this world. Our history books are crammed with names and personalities great and small throughout time. But the number of our ancestors lost to obscurity is exponentially greater. Men like Greenberry shouldered an immensely grave responsibility, leaving the comforts of home to preserve the Union at the risk of life and limb. I feel it an honor to try and revive the memory of his life and sacrifice.
More to follow.
[i] Thomas Speed, R.M. Kelly, and Alfred Pirtle, The Union Regiments of Kentucky, Volume 1 (Louisville: Courier-Journal Job Printing Company, 1887), 224-229.
[ii] United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume XVI (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 668-696
I’ve spent part of this month visiting Civil War sites that are off the beaten path, or at least not as well known as the major battlefields. One of these sites, Fort Duffield, is perched on a hill in West Point, Kentucky, about 30 miles southwest of Louisville. Hastily built over the late-fall and early-winter of 1861-62 at the mouth of the Salt River where it springs out from the Ohio, the purpose of the fort was to defend Louisville and to protect Union supply lines vital to securing the Commonwealth as well as operations in Tennessee.
As the Union started to actively unravel in April 1861, the fate of the slave owning Border States was of particular concern to Washington. Kentucky harbored both passionate Confederate and Union sentiments, and so defense of key cities such as Louisville was as important as it was problematic. A number of fortifications were constructed in and around the city, eventually including a site on Pearman Hill, which provided good over-watch of the Ohio and Salt Rivers. In the relative quiet following the first battle at Bull Run, however, there appeared to be disagreement on the severity of the Confederate threat. By 26 Sept, 1861, when Brigadier General O.M. Mitchell arrived in Louisville, he wrote that the city was in a state of excitement as rumor of attack by Confederate General Buckner had just reached them. Days later, the Daily Democrat ran an article indicating that rebel forces were rumored to the south of West Point, but proclaimed confidence in the growing Union presence in the vicinity of where Fort Duffield would soon be built. And while General Sherman also believed Buckner could target some area near the mouth of Salt River, General Buell soon dismissed the need for it, informing General McClellan that he was not at all worried about threats to Louisville, although the “little work at the mouth of the Salt River…does no harm.”
Later, in 1862, Buell may have rued those comments as the Confederate army under Braxton Bragg maneuvered through Kentucky and appeared to threaten Louisville. Although Bragg instead moved to Bardstown, Buell was compelled to rush to Louisville’s defense. Nevertheless, by the end of that year, Fort Duffield would be effectively abandoned.
No major battles were fought at Fort Duffield, although it may have helped shape how the war in the west played out, as its placement and soldiers (about a regiment in strength) certainly would have been taken into consideration by any potential rebel action. But the story of Fort Duffield is important, as it reveals the human cost of the rapid militarization that the states underwent in the first days of the conflict. To the west of the fort is an area that is believed to have been a parade ground used by the forces garrisoned there. Today, this patch of ground is a memorial to the 30+ soldiers from the 9th Michigan Infantry Regiment who died erecting Duffield. (Note that the official web site and early publications state that over 60 men perished. This number is evidently overstated, and updates are being worked into the official documentation). Disease and a harsh winter took a devastating toll. A look at the headstones there show the men dying between late October 1861 and February 1862, when the fort was completed.
It’s believed that most of fallen were removed and buried in their home towns. The headstones remain as a memorial.
I had the privilege of speaking with the man who has been tending to the site for 20 years. I’m omitting his name, since I forgot to ask permission to share it. But I was struck with the love he clearly had for maintaining this small corner of American history. I told him how impressive his work was, how pleasant the memorial for those who died building the fort. He simply said the most important thing is that “they aren’t forgotten.”
 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1 Volume IV (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 275.
 United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1 Volume IV (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880 -1891), 336.
Tensions ran high in Virginia in the last week of May, 1861. After the heady rush of victory that electrified the South following
the surrender of Fort Sumter and the seizing of Harper’s Ferry, anticipation of the next clash with the North grew. It was no secret that new recruits were pouring into Washington, and on the 24th, Union forces swept unopposed into Alexandria. Was this how Union General Irvin McDowell would strike the Old Dominion? Or would General Patterson try to leap from Maryland in an attempt to crush General Johnston on the way to Richmond? Or would the Northerners, as then-Colonel John Magruder anxiously wondered, invade via the coast, using the still Northern-held Fort Monroe on the tip of Hampton, VA to stage operations?
On the same day the US Army raised the Federal flag over Alexandria, Magruder received an alarming message from a man “said to be reliable” who had just arrived at West Point, Virginia. Hampton, he said, had been overrun by some 2500 Union troops. Magruder’s next steps demonstrated a levelheadedness in regards to military intelligence that many lacked, both Northern and Southern, in these early days of war. First, he asked that two small craft be dispatched to Jamestown Island, which juts into the James River some 30 miles northwest of Newport News and Hampton, in order to establish communication between the mainland and the area supposedly under Union control. He then also requested that cavalry forces be sent to him at once. “No reliable information can be attained without them,” Magruder wrote.
Within hours of sending this dispatch, additional intelligence revealed that the “reliable” man was actually quite mistaken. In a dispatch that sounded much less frenzied than the first, Magruder relayed that less than half the number of Union troops (1000) had landed at Hampton, and then only briefly. In addition, a small scouting party had been dispatched to Newport News. Only one company of enemy cavalry was noted. Magruder’s quick correction revealed two things: first, his awareness of the need to rapidly convey intelligence up to leadership in Richmond, and second, that he wasn’t letting his ego interfere with the execution of this responsibility. This is in contrast to Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Taylor in Alexandria, who earlier that month took nearly 4 days to communicate the intelligence that prompted his rapid retreat from Alexandria.
The Union withdrawal would be short-lived, however. Days later on the 27th of May, Major General Benjamin Butler lead US troops back into Newport News. Two weeks later, North and South clashed in what would be dubbed the Battle at Big Bethel. Here too, as we will see, Magruder and his subordinate commanders would demonstrate quickly maturing operational and tactical intelligence capabilities that helped blunt Union advantages in troop strength and materiel.
In the South, the evidence is perhaps greater that a more cohesive strategy was followed based on an established understanding of Jominian precepts. Jefferson Davis has long been considered the author of the South’s so-called “Offensive-Defensive strategy.” This strategy, variously defined by numerous scholars, essentially states that the South assumed a defensive posture and awaited Union advances while seeking opportunities to initiate offensive action. The very name of this strategy was seemingly borrowed directly from Jomini when describing a nation forced into a defensive position. In Article XXXI “Offensive Battles, and Different Orders of Battle,” Jomini writes “An army reduced to the strategic defensive often takes the offensive by making an attack, and an army receiving an attack may, during the progress of the battle, take the offensive and obtain the advantages incident to it.”
A number of scholars, however, dispute the existence of a coordinated strategy in general, and a strategic model based on Jominian influence in particular. Donald Stoker, one of the most outspoken of such critics, asserts that historians have been inclined to confuse strategic concepts with operational and tactical ones, much as Jomini himself had been known to do. Stoker argues that this long-held belief is founded on the misinterpretation of the meaning behind President Davis’s comments on how he intended to defend Richmond, which is more appropriately placed in the operational, or even tactical, levels of war. Stephen Badsey and Joseph Dawson III, both of whom rebut Stoker’s claims, firmly believe that in the context described by Jomini, Davis’ plans were arguably strategic. While Donald Stoker disputes the Jominian-inspired strategy, there is evidence to support the notion that Confederate leaders executed a loose strategy based on precepts of maneuver and attacking fractions of an enemy while they protected their own “lines of operation,” all of which are Jominian ideas that were plausibly learned at West Point.
It is instructive to note that one of the more flamboyant of the South’s military leaders demonstrated an academic inspiration from Jomini. In 1863, P.G.T. Beauregard published his Principles and Maxims of the Art of War. A much more abbreviated work than D.H. Mahan’s Outpost, it nonetheless contains significant similarities with Jomini’s The Art of War. Of Beauregard’s three principles upon which “[e]very true maxim of war can be deduced,” two of them appear be borrowed directly from Jomini. Principle number one instructs the leader “To place masses of your army in contact with fractions of your enemy.” This is nearly identical to Jomini’s second maxim of his Fundamental Principle of War – “to maneuver to engage fractions of the hostile army with the bulk of one’s forces.” Beauregard’s principle number two reads “To operate as much as possible on the communications of your enemy without exposing your own,” which also sound similar to Jomini’s more wordy first maxim, “To throw by strategic movements the mass of an army, successfully, upon the decisive points of a theater of war, and also upon the communications of the enemy as much as possible without compromising one’s own.” With these principles established, Beauregard then launched into a series of 34 maxims, many of which echo Jomini.
Beauregard is an excellent example to demonstrate a Southern adherence to both a Jominian Offensive-Defensive strategy and operational concepts. For the South, the success in taking Fort Sumter in 1861 came with the recognition that a Union counterattack was not only likely, but further action toward the strategic Manassas Junction would follow. After Davis and General Lee consulted with Beauregard, he was dispatched to prepare for the defense at the previously discussed town of Manassas. Thus, the Confederate national leadership and military leadership concurred on the nature of the war, the first thing that must occur in executing strategy, according the Jomini. The theater of war was selected, and Manassas Junction was determined as a decisive point in the theater, as it was a veritable highway from northern Virginia into the heart of the Confederacy. This was not only due to the geography – Manassas Junction was the connecting point for the major rail lines on which Virginia relied to defend itself. Not only did the Confederacy need this for its own defense, but to allow it to fall to the Federal Army opened up two major routes for Federal invasion.
Beauregard was dispatched to Bull Run in July, where he was joined by General Joseph Johnston to prepare the defenses and establish the fixed base (Bull Run) and zone of operations. In this case, this was the territory surrounding Bull Run where Beauregard divided his eight brigades. Of note, General Johnston recounts that Beauregard proposed “instead of remaining in the defensive positions then occupied, to assume the offensive, and attack the enemy” before the advancing Union forces could be joined. This operational planning reflects the non-strategic aspect of Jomini’s “Offensive-Defensive” discussion as highlighted by Stoker. However, this doesn’t take away from the strategic context that Beauregard and Johnston established their plan. The preparations undertaken by the Southern generals arguably reflect Jominian influence.
Evidence of an Offensive-Defense strategy can also be seen in General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862. Following the victory at Bull Run, the Union failed to make any significant inroads into the South for the rest of the year. In March of 1862, General Johnston withdrew his forces south toward Richmond as McClellan prepared his Peninsula Campaign. Over the ensuing months, Jackson commanded a unit of 5,000 troops to strike the larger forces of Union General Banks (with approximately 20,000 men), and successfully prevented the Union from concentrating as McClellan moved toward Richmond. His small force engaged the Union armies attempting to converge on the Confederate capital. General Lee needed the Federals to remain separated, and so Jackson continued to move throughout the Valley, striking offensively to keep Union forces off balance.
Jackson’s Valley campaign allowed his elite soldiers to concentrate on fractions of the Union army. He never possessed the ability to annihilate the numerically superior Federal armies moving through the area. But by rapid movement and a clear appreciation for lines of operation within the Shenandoah Valley, his actions helped to prevent the Union armies from effectively leveraging their advantages of men and materiel. This was crucial to the survival of the Confederacy, and served in the defense of Richmond and the Confederate heartland by way of offensive operations. Therefore, although the actions of Jackson were operational in nature, they served the strategic plan outlined by Davis and Lee.
Perhaps the most significant examples of the offensive nature of the “Offensive-Defensive” strategy are Lee’s invasions of the north, which culminated in the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Here, Stoker admits that the foray into Pennsylvania comes closest to conforming to a strategic action in support of a hypothetical Offensive-Defensive strategy. However, Lee’s objectives were unclear. Ultimately, Stoker argues that the action was a defensive strategic act through a singular offensive action, and does not prove the existence of a larger offensive-defensive strategy.
Yet, the raid into Pennsylvania seems to be the very definition of the strategy, which dictated that the South would hold a defensive posture while seeking for opportunities to take the offense. Arguably, there was no better time than the summer of 1863 for such a move. For the majority of the war, General Lee and his men had accumulated success after success. The disaster that was the First Bull Run was a stunning defeat for the Union, and a vindication that both strategy and God were on the side of the Confederates. “We recognize the hand of the Most High God, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, in the glorious victory with which He crowned our armies at Manassas,” wrote Stephen Elliot in the prelude to his sermon commemorating the Confederate win. Over the ensuing years, Lee came to expect victory. The Confederate army was so confident of its superiority over their Northern brethren that there was little effort to conceal their plans to take the fight to Pennsylvania or New York. In addition, the action would serve to move the conflict out of Virginia, where it had largely been centered, to the North. This would also likely stoke President Lincoln’s fears of an attack on Washington, and throw the Northern war effort into disarray.
Part of Lee’s objectives were fulfilled before the catastrophic defeat at Gettysburg. His forces did harass Northern towns which had previously been sheltered from the war. In addition, his army acquired critically needed supplies. But the hoped for payoff of the attack, which conceivably might have forced the Union to negotiate a peace, clearly never came to fruition. This does not make the attack any less indicative of being an offensive expression of an offensive-defensive strategy; it simply means the attempt failed. With the perceived potential to force a quick end to the war, the attack clearly served a strategic purpose.
Of course, not all historians accept that the South followed such a conscious strategy. Donald Stoker, after his critique of the Offensive-Defensive strategy, concludes that the South started the war with a “modified cordon,” and simply engaged in offensive and defensive operations as situations developed. T. Harry Williams reaches a similar conclusion, writing that the Confederacy’s entire strategy was almost entirely defensive (as opposed to “offensive-defensive”).
In conclusion, the Union North did not adhere to any coherent strategy theory throughout the course of the Civil War. Political restrictions and military timidity combined to make any attempt at such practically impossible during the early years of the conflict. While at the operational level Jominian precepts may have been applied, this was not apparent at the national/strategic level. It is important to note, however, that the lack of any cohesive Jomianian strategy by the North is not an indictment on the political leadership of the Union. In spite of the Union army’s struggles for more than half of the war, T. Harry Williams concludes that the North’s overall strategy and eventual unification of command was still superior to Confederate strategic leadership. In fact, by surrounding the Southern States, and eventually attacking from the east and the west, Lincoln and his generals overwhelmed their enemy in spite of violating Jominian notions of concentration. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that Ulysses Grant once said “If men make war in slavish observation of rules, they will fail.” Such sentiment more closely echoes Jomini’s rival Carl von Clausewitz, whose ideas D.H. Mahan, the shared mentor of the students of West Point, avoided most purposefully.
For the South, the evidence supports a more cohesive strategy based on Jominian theory. In 1864, Union General T. Seymore wrote an article entitled “Military Education: A Vindication of West Point and the Regular Army.” In it, he argues that the North squandered the talents of West Point graduates by subsuming many of them to political appointees, while Jefferson Davis took care to place his Academy graduates carefully for maximum effect. “[T]he best possible vindication of the Military Academy is to be found in the history of the Confederacy…” The successful first years of the rebellion supports this assertion. D.H. Mahan’s students, one of which was the Confederate President, were able to operate within a more cohesive theoretical framework than their Northern counterparts. But again, somewhat conversely with the North, the South’s more authentic adherence to Jominian military theory clearly did not translate into ultimate victory. In fact, David Donald believes this adherence to tired theory was responsible for the South’s ultimate defeat. Bull Run, Chancellorville, and other victories, says Donald, were executed with only minor deviation from Jominain principles. But while the North was willing to experiment, the South remained locked into inflexible maxims. This inflexibility lead to final defeat.
 Donald Stoker, “There was no Offensive-Defensive Confederate Strategy.” Journal Of Military History 73, no. 2 (April 2009), 574.
 Donald Stoker, “There was no Offensive-Defensive Confederate Strategy,” 581-582.
 Stephen Badsey, Donald Stoker, and Joseph G. Dawson III, “FORUM II: Confederate Military Strategy in the U.S. Civil War Revisited.” Journal Of Military History 73, no. 4 (October 2009): 1273 – 1287.
 P.T.G. Beauregard, Principles and Maxims of the Art of War: Outpost Service, General Instructions for Battles, Review (Charleston: Steam Power Press of Evans and Cogswell, 1863), 3.
 Such as Maxims 1 – 4, which stress lines of operation and communication. Ibid, 4-5.
In the first days of May, 1861, with the echoes of Fort Sumter scarcely faded, Confederate forces stationed at Alexandria, Virgina, directly across the river from the Union capital, waited nervously for the next move. Flush with zealous patriotism, the new nation’s leadership in Richmond was adamant that not an inch of sacred Southern soil be yielded without a heavy price in blood. It was easier said than done.
Leading the Confederate soldiers in Alexandria was Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Taylor. With orders to stand ground “unless pressed by overwhelming and irresistible numbers”, he conducted a sober accounting of his fighting strength as compared to the swelling army across the Potomac. Two companies of “raw Irish recruits” armed with “altered flint-lock muskets of 1818, and without cartridges or caps…”; a company with 86 musket-armed troops; an additional 52 men in various states of armament (including 15 with no weapons at all); two companies of about 160 men armed with minie rifles, but only from five to nine cartridges each; and two companies of cavalry, one with 40 troops armed with carbines but “limited” ammunition, and one with no weapons except Colt revolvers. So with less than 400 soldiers, Taylor was tasked with holding or delaying the inevitable Federal invasion.
Probably about the same time as he received his orders, which had been delivered on 5 May, Taylor received intelligence from one Mister J.D. Hutton, who until recently worked as a cartographer for the War Department. From Mr. Hutton, Taylor was dismayed (but certainly not surprised) to learn that the Yankees intended to occupy Alexandria within days, either the 7th or the 8th of May (in fact, it would be a few more weeks before Union troops organized enough to even venture across the river). With forces arriving almost daily around Washington, and two steamers only a few miles downriver seemingly ready to move troops, the colonel decided the threshold for “overwhelming and irresistible numbers” had been met. He quickly gathered up his small command, and retreated to Springfield, 10 miles west of Alexandria.
The commanding general of the Potomac Department, General Philip St. George Cocke, was furious that Taylor had not
only retreated, but was in such a hurry that he didn’t bother to communicate his intentions. It’s this break down in command and control, as well as in the convoluted handling of intelligence, that is highlighted here. Taylor received credible intelligence from a trustworthy source, but his first instinct was not to disseminate this up the chain of command in order to coordinate a response or seek reinforcements. Cocke’s order to remain in place was clear that this should be done: “keep up your communications with the various parts in your rear, so as to call every resource to your aid and support in making a gallant and fighting retreat, should you be forced to it, and can stand at all without danger of uselessly sacrificing your command.” It wasn’t until 7 May that Cocke located Taylor, and up to this point he was still completely ignorant of why Alexandria had been abandoned. Late on the 6th, in a dispatch to Richmond, Cocke wrote that he had not “been able, from any other source, except that furnished me by the arrival of Mr. Skinner, direct from Alexandria…to learn the cause of that movement; and, so far as I am informed up to this moment, there was no proper or justifiable cause whatsoever for any such movement. After waiting for further intelligence and receiving none, and duly considering and weighing all the circumstances and bearing of that movement with the information before me, I have ordered the return of the troops, as communicated by telegram, a duplicate of which has just been transmitted to the general-in-chief.” Cocke even requested permission to arrest Taylor, but was talked out of it by Robert E. Lee, who instead asked for a reason the forces evacuated.
By the 9th, Taylor had explained his reasons, and this seemed to placate Cocke. On 13 May he forwarded Taylor’s written statement to Richmond. The request to arrest him was absent from this communication. But the lesson here is that, although strategic intelligence around the overall disposition and intent of the US military was becoming clear, operational intelligence operations were off to a rough start, at least in the northeast corner of Virginia. Unfortunately for the Union, more competent leadership would soon arrive, and intelligence preparations were to be put in place over the next three months that proved critical to the Confederate victory at Bull Run.
First, let’s look at the evidence as it relates to the Union to determine whether there was any adherence to a guiding military theory, Jominian or otherwise. In With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other, Carol Reardon casts doubts on whether Jomini’s ideas had any significant influence over the decisions of Lincoln’s military leaders. When rebellion appeared inevitable, she traces a hypothetical search of Jomini’s types of wars by Lincoln’s first general-in-chief. The conflict before General Winfield Scott did not neatly fall into any of Jomini’s definitions. As Reardon observes, Jomini does briefly address “civil wars,” in which he states that a government “may find it necessary to use force against its own subjects in order to crush out factions which would weaken the authority of the throne and the national strength.” But even had Scott, or McClellan, or even Lincoln looked to Jomini, they would have found his advice in such matters to be nearly nonexistent. In addition, the United States military did not possess the kind of general staff that Jomini – and much of Europe – prescribed. Once the Union army was finally set in motion, the public and even her soldiers were often unable to discern any strategy over the subsequent years. Perhaps telling of the general opaqueness of Northern strategy, the 22 June 1864 edition of The Soldier’s Journal printed an explanation of a commonly heard tactic often confusingly used in strategic discussions: “The rank and file have a pretty good appreciation of the strategy of the campaign. They understand that it has been a series of splendid flank movements, and flanking ‘became the current Joke with which to account for everything from a night march to the capture of a sheep or pig. A poor fellow, terribly wounded, yesterday, said he saw the shell coming, ‘but hadn’t time to flank it.'”
The greatest indication of whether the Union followed Jominian, or any other, theory should come from an analysis of the actual strategy followed throughout the war. If Davis Donald’s assertion is valid, then something of Jomini’s ideas should be reflected in the Union’s operations. What guided Lincoln and his line of Generals to act as they did between 1861 and 1865? Did their operations conform to an overall strategy that reflected a coherent military theory?
From the outset, President Lincoln was sensitive to the fragile neutrality declared by the Border States – Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. This political situation complicated war planning from the beginning. In Maryland, riots broke out on April 18, 1861, as pro-secessionists protested the movement of troops into Washington D.C. In response, President Lincoln and General Winfield Scott, despite their concerns of a potential uprising in the capital or an invasion from the South, ordered that troops should march around Baltimore instead of traveling through the city. In Kentucky, Lincoln initially hesitated to deploy Federal forces because of the fear such action would stoke sympathies with the South. In July 1861, he drafted a letter to the Inspector General of the Kentucky State Guard, assuring him that he had no intention of sending troops to his home state at that time. It wasn’t until after state elections in August, which demonstrated that Kentucky retained significant Union support, that Lincoln authorized a force be sent to the state, despite the objections from the governor.
This sensitive environment had a direct effect on the North’s ability to coordinate any kind of cohesive strategy that emphasized the quick massing of forces to concentrate on the enemy’s “fractions.” Lincoln understood this, and pressed his generals to find a way to be aggressive while minding the political realities the Union faced. With a clear superiority of men and materiel, the Union soon determined to use its navy to gain control of the Mississippi River, which would split the Confederacy, the Atlantic coastline of the Eastern states, and New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. Firmly encircled, Lincoln thought to push all around the South’s periphery until the Southern army was exhausted. Eventually dubbed “Scott’s Anaconda Plan” (in spite of the fact that General Scott actually opposed the idea), this strategy required patience, and flew in the face of the popular understanding of Jominian and European warfare.
Even as this plan took shape, pressure grew in the North to take action, particularly with an enemy force literally in sight of Washington. Yet due to the sensitive situation in Maryland, it took three months after the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861 to put together a 35,000-strong army to march south to try and seize the strategic Manassas Junction near Bull Run. Ideally, the Union force would have been much larger, but pressure from a public hungry for action eventually forced Scott’s hand. In addition, President Lincoln’s concern over the Border States and a potential attack on the capital sapped manpower from the army to be led by General Irvin McDowell (West Point Class of 1938).
General McDowell proposed an approach to Bull Run that circled around the entrenched Confederate forces, which targeted the rail system that connected Manassas with Richmond. His intent was to threaten the Confederates, led by P.G.T. Beauregard, with isolation from Richmond. The plan was complicated, but McDowell’s peers and superiors approved it. In Jominian terms, the decisive points had been determined within the theater of war. McDowell’s base of operations could be said to have stretched from Washington DC, or possibly immediately across the river at Alexandria, which the Union secured upon departing for Manassas.
Despite competent planning and a respectable initial execution, McDowell’s operations eventually broke down under the weight of the fog and friction of war. The Union general faced the unexpected combination of Beauregard’s and Joe Johnston’s forces, and so his ability to ascertain decisive points suffered greatly. Instead of flanking the main Confederate force and striking a fraction of the enemy with the mass of his own, his forces wound up engaging a concentrated foe. As the bloody conflict shifted to Henry Hill, the Union forces started to break down. The commander of a Union light artillery battery described how after almost a full day of combat, a mass of several thousand men without distinguishing colors rapidly closed in. At first, the troops were thought to be Union soldiers. Suddenly, the battery found itself under fire. “We had been surprised, and the enemy was close upon us in large numbers.” By the early evening, Union forces were forced to fall back.
McDowell’s forces retreated back to Washington in a disorganized mess. Certainly, the Union general had to deal with challenges that Jomini and other famed European theorists famously ignored, such as the quality of troops. In the rush “on to Richmond” McDowell had been outfitted with raw recruits and had little time to train them. What might he had done with a more seasoned force is a matter of conjecture. The Federal action at Bull Run does arguably demonstrate the exercise of Jominian theory at the operational level. In addition, since Winfield Scott anticipated a victory that would open the way for a march on the Confederate capital at Richmond, the operation was planned to serve a strategic purpose that is arguably a reflection of Jominian theory. However, the route at Bull Run stumped the leadership in Washington, and whether by design or accident, the following years saw little in the way of a cohesive strategy.
Lincoln now had to contend with an emboldened rebellion, and not just in the South. Concerns arose that secessionists in the Border States might rally to the victorious Confederate cause. “We have just heard of the reverses our arms have sustained in Virginia and we anticipate a large increase of courage if not numbers in the rebels,” wrote an officer of the Missouri volunteer forces just days after Bull Run. ”North Missouri is throroughly [sic] indoctrinated with sublimated political themes at war with all government and now while the popular pride is aroused, may be easily set in flames.” Lincoln had to move, but in a way that brought victory as quickly as possible without eroding the loyalty of the Border States.
General George McClellan stepped into the role of general-in-chief after General Scott retired on November 1, 1861. His
first plan of action was to attempt to concentrate forces for an attack on Virginia. In order to successfully execute Lincoln’s objectives, he needed the entire military apparatus to be unified into a single whole, and not operated piecemeal as even Lincoln recognized the case to be at the time. This concept can certainly be traced to Jomini. But McClellan’s plans ran into the political snares Lincoln had been struggling with since the start of the war. The forces McClellan intended to draw to Washington were stationed in and around the Border States. Pro-Union politicians complained that moving these forces exposed their states to threats, and eventually McClellan had to alter his plans. Interestingly, this consisted of pressuring the South from all directions, which sounds quite a bit like “Scott’s Anaconda Plan.” Against his better judgment, it seemed, McClellan was forces to operate outside of a Jominian paradigm.
General McClellan’s most notorious action was his conduct of the Peninsula Campaign, wherein he attempted a feint of sorts against Richmond. He planned to attack the Confederate capital by an amphibious operation rather than approach overland. When McClellan finally began his movement in April 2012, his actions displayed little evidence that he incorporated any military theory at all, much less any Jominian influence. McClellan’s penchant for delay and exaggeration were both on display. After arriving at Yorktown on 3 April, Union forces seized positions outside the town. By 5 April they traded artillery fire with the Confederates. But rather than continue his advance, the general opted to fortify his position by building earthworks. This move surprised Confederate Major General J. Bankhead Magruder, who had expected the Northerners to press forward with their superior numbers. The delay allowed for Confederate reinforcements to arrive, which fueled McClellan’s belief that he was outnumbered, although even by 12 April he continued to maintain a 3 to 1 advantage over the rebels. Blaming poor weather and a lack of wagons, his further delay continued to cost him, as by 17 April General Joseph Johnston arrived, bringing the defender’s numbers to 53,000 (compared to the roughly 100,000 strong Union Army). 
On 3 May, exactly one month after arriving at Yorktown, Confederate forces fell back toward Richmond rather than face bombardment from McClellan’s siege. McClellan ordered a pursuit, but it was slow. Although his approach and the arrival of Union gunboats outside of Richmond caused a partial evacuation of the city, the Federal naval forces were forced to turn away by the prepared Confederate defenses. From 25 June – 1 July, 1862, Union and Confederate forces slugged it out in what became known as the Seven Days. Within days of what was to be the final great battle of the Civil War, McClellan turned his forces back toward the James River and retreated.
The failure of the Peninsula Campaign demonstrated that the Union’s one time general-in-chief (he had been removed from that post only four months after stepping into it), who was hailed early on in the conflict as a master of the art of war, was unable to put anything resembling theory into practice. From the beginning, McClellan was at odds with Lincoln on how to prosecute the campaign. Although Richmond may have been the desired target of both the president and McClellan, there was little beyond that on which they agreed. The theater of war had been selected (Jomini’s first point of strategy), but McClellan seemed incapable of identifying the decisive points favorable to his operations (point 2). The general’s selected zone of operations could scarcely have been worse: when his forces approached Norfolk, he learned that the city had emptied and the river forsaken, which offered the ability to close on Richmond via the river instead of crossing over the swamplands of the Chickahominy. Bafflingly, McClellan refused, and this may have contributed to the inability of Union forces to take Richmond since the Navy was not able to coordinate their attack with McCleallan’s ground forces. McClellan’s failures as wartime commander, brilliant in academics and planning but ineffective on the battlefield, did little to advance a competent Northern strategy, Jominian or otherwise.
 Antoine Jomini, The Art of War, trans. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1879), 23.
 Carol Reardon, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other : The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 19.
 “Flanking,” The Soldiers’ Journal (Richmond, VA), 22 June 1864.
 George W. Brown and Thomas H. Hicks to Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, April 18, 1861, The Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.
 Lincoln To Thomas H. Hicks and George W. Brown, April 20. 1861, Collection IV.
 Abraham Lincoln to Simon B. Buckner, Wednesday, July 10, 1861 (Kentucky Neutrality), The Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.
 Abraham Lincoln to Beriah Magoffin, Saturday, August 24, 1861 (Reply to Magoffin’s letter of August 19), The Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.