The Union Army in the Civil War Was Nearly Commanded by an Italian

Had Abraham Lincoln Been Able to Offer his Emancipation Proclamation a Year Earlier, This Italian Military Hero May Have Been An American Military Hero As Well

Winfield Scott Lives up to his "Old Fuss and Feathers" moniker and the notion that he was a tired old man at 75

On This Date in History:  It has been well documented and reviewed that Abraham Lincoln had a difficult time finding a general to lead the Union Army at the outset of the Civil War and in the years to come.  The carousel of commanders ultimately ended with the elevation of General Ulysses S. Grant to the position of Lt. General of the Armies in 1864 following his victory at Vicksburg in 1863.  When the war began, Lincoln had a true military hero in General Winfield Scott who had gained accolades for his efforts in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.  But “Old Fuss and Feathers,” as Scott was called, was 75 years old and in declining health when hostilities began in 1861.  After Scott had set forth his “Anaconda Plan” to strangle the South with a naval blockade, he retired from military service.

Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee Could Not Turn His Back on Virginia

Before the war broke out. Scott had approached Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee about taking command of the Union armies in the field.  Scott pleaded with Lee not to join the Confederacy.  Lee, however, felt great loyalty to his state of Virginia as its history had in some measure been shaped by his ancestors, including American Revolution hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s father.  When Virginia voted to secede from the Union and Lee informed Scott of his decision, the aging general said, “Lee, you have made the greatest mistake of your life;  but I feared it would be so.”    Virginia officially proposed secession on April 17, 1861 and Robert E. Lee resigned from the US Army 3 days later.  Three days thereafter, Lee was named commander of the armed forces of Virginia.

McClellan's Deliberate Approach Was Good For Railroad Building But Not So Good For Waging War; Posing Like Napoleon Didn't Make Him Napoleon

From that point, it was all downhill for the Union.  President Lincoln turned to General George B. McClellan who was a West Point Graduate but had spent the most recent years with the railroads, most significantly plotting the course of the Northern Pacific Railroad across the Cascades.  He was gifted at organization and literally built the US Army from scratch.  But, McClellan envisioned himself as an American Napoleon and had a strained relationship with the president as exemplified by his reference to the Commander in Chief as an “idiot” or “the original gorilla.”  McClellan had been a good student at West Point and thus followed the doctrine taught at the academy which  was based on the ideas of Antoine Henri de Jomini.  In general, the military strategy involved maintaining supply and communications lines and securing key locations.  True to his organizational strengths, McClellan and other Union generals tended to take their time in preparation and tended to make deliberate, rather than decisive, moves.  Lincoln accused McClellan of having a case of “the slows.” 

Famous Alexander Gardner Photo of Dead Soldiers at Antietam

In September 1862, Lee invaded Maryland and split his army, which was unconventional, in order for him to follow the Jomini doctrine of securing his supply routes.  McClellan is said to have received advanced intelligence that informed him of Lee’s plans.  A Union soldier in Frederick, Maryland had found a pack of 3 cigars in the street and when he picked it up, he found the cigars were wrapped in Lee’s orders to his field commanders which outlined the strategy which were known as Lee’s Special Orders  no. 191.  McClellan was brimming with confidence that his much larger army could surprise and overcome the divided forces of the Army of Northern Virginia and achieve a great victory.  Alas,  in spite of the information, McClellan moved so slowly and with such deliberate care that Lee was able to regroup his army at Antietam.  The Battle of Antietam, which was fought near Antietam Creek  on September 17, 1862, was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War.  McClellan said it was a great victory but, in fact, his army with a two to one advantage in numbers missed an opportunity to destroy Lee’s army and perhaps end the war.  Lee escaped with his forces intact and McClellan failed to follow up with a pursuit.

Garibaldi Refused Command of Union Army Due To Lincoln's Reluctance to Commit to Free American Slaves

As it turns out, the name of George B. McClellan might be lost to history had Abraham Lincoln been successful a year before the Battle of Antietam.  You see, on this date in 1861, the president attempted to enlist the services of Italian Revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi to lead the Union Army.  Garibaldi had become famous in his own country in his successful operation to unify Italy.  Robert E. Lee did not join the Confederacy because he supported slavery, but instead out of loyalty to Virginia.  Garibaldi had no such loyalty issues and had fought against slavery in South America.  However, a sticking point in the attempt to gain the skills of Garibaldi was the Italian’s insistence that Lincoln promise that American slaves would be freed.  At that point, Lincoln’s objective was to preserve the Union and he doubted he could reach his objective and make such a commitment. 

Ever Heard of Don Carlos Buell?

Of course, 5 days after Antietam, President Lincoln announced his intention of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 that would free all slaves in areas in insurrection.  Lincoln said it was a military measure to help limit the South’s ability to make war.   However, it effectively freed the slaves since it would be incomprehensible to free those in bondage only to put them back in their former state once the war was over.  Had Lincoln felt as if he was in a position to make such a commitment in September 1862, then George B. McClellan might have been relegated as a footnote of history, like General Don Carlos Buell or even, in some measure, Winfield Scott. 

Light Italian Aircraft Carrier Named For Garibaldi

As it stands, it was Giuseppe Garibaldi who has been lost to American history.  Ultimately, victory was acheived under the command of Ulysses S. Grant, who was not a very good student at West Point and therefore had not been indoctrinated in the Jomini philosophy.  He developed a strategy that involved the “theatre of war” as well as using his overwhelming superiority in stregnth to simply attack and overwhelm the enemy.  The tactics involved are known as “Grantonian Tactics” and were later used by the likes of Erwin Rommel and Bernhard Montgomery.  The philsophy continues to this day and is described by historian Russell F. Weigley as The American Way of War.  The media has given some of those tactics the moniker, “Shock and Awe.”  As for Garibaldi, while he was never named as commander of the Union Army, the Italians did name an aircraft carrier in his honor.

Weather Bottom Line:  I saw someone on TV on Tuesday night say that the track of what is left over of Tropical Storm Hernine would determine if our rain chances go up at the end of the week.  What a crock.  A tropical cyclone is a very large feature and this storm remained well defined even as far north as San Antonio.  Its flow opens up the Gulf and the storm will track into the plains states.  The flow is so broad that most certainly, the moisture drawn up to the east of the center of the low will over run the cold front that came through on Tuesday.  The question will be whether or not the moisture will overcome the dry air and when it does, not the track of the system.  Look for a coolish night in the upper 50’s, a warm afternoon on Thursday with low humidity and high clouds on Thursday afternoon and then thickening clouds as the day progresses on Friday.  The dry air will limit the rain chances for awhile but by late Friday, into Friday night, its likely that our atmosphere will be saturated enough to give us a decent shot at some much needed rain.   The system will lift the front north as a warm front on Friday night or Saturday morning and that will be the best chance.  Saturday may be a shade warm and humid in advance of a cold front which may not only provide decent rain chances Saturday evening, but also, I would think, a risk of some trouble-making t’storms.


One Response

  1. Nice post. I’ve never heard of Garibaldi!

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