How Bad Was John Pope?

samgrant

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Help! on Gordon Rhea Books.

I am the type of reader who thinks that a battle as confused as the Wilderness was to the soldiers themselves, cannot possibly easily digested by a person like me. I am more comfortable with the broader views of the war and bios and memoirs of the principles.

So I usually get confused by the movements of troops, etc. in these individual battles, and that takes away from the bigger picture.

I also am more a fan of the Foote/Catton type narrative than the more prosaic, less lyrical type (Allan Nevins, for instance) treatment.

But I did much enjoy Sears' 'Gettysburg'.

So, help me here (i'm serious).

Will I enjoy Rhea, or flounder in the detail which I suspect might defeat me in these books?

A true question. I am clueless about which regiments, brigades, companies, are which and it's not particulary important to me. I like the flow of the story and the characters most.

So if you you tell me these books are not for me I will believe you Rhea fans. I have a mountain of books to get thru and can use any discouragement I can find not to buy more and add to the mountain. Tell me.

But if you are not definite about it, please suggest the most interesting of these Rhea Grant 'end-it' campaign series. And I'll try one.

Thanks.
 
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I found Hennessey's book to be dry at times. I don't consider it to be the definitive work on Second Manassas because he virtually skips over Cedar Mountain and Chantilly.
 

nbforrest

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Bob Krick's book on Cedar Mountain is superb, although he could have shifted some of the focus away from Jackson to Banks.

Respectfully
 
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Will I enjoy Rhea, or flounder in the detail which I suspect might defeat me in these books?

A true question. I am clueless about which regiments, brigades, companies, are which and it's not particulary important to me. I like the flow of the story and the characters most.

I agree with you Sam. I prefer knowing about the leaders and their personalities, leadership styles, battlefield accomplishments, and personal lives. I don't like the dry tedious tactical detail that so many do. My interest in certain brigades or corps always depends on who was leading them.

But to answer your question about Rhea he is probably one of the better writers out there. He writing style is simple and fluid and his books always have plenty of maps. However, Rhea does go into the tactical detail so you may be better off with something like Trudeau's book on the Overland. I really liked Rhea's Wilderness book but his one on Spotsylvania did get monontonous.

I have always felt that to enjoy a detailed tactical study of a campaign you first must be attracted to the campaign. If the Overland battles don't interest you that much then don't read Rhea's books. I know the basic story of the two Valley campaigns but they have never interested me much so I have never read any detailed studies.

Only by reading a book will you know if you like the author or not. I have read two of Cozzens' books but I didn't really enjoy either of them because I didn't like his dry nit picky writing style. Since you are wading into unknown waters I would suggest a library copy before you spend $25 on a paperback edition.
 

nbforrest

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You know me, Porter...I love the tactical details. I would actually like to see more detail in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. I think that any book on those battles would have to be two volumes each to be truly detailed. I think Priest has a two volume study of the Wilderness, but I haven't heard that many good things about Priest.

If you like the command type stuff, have you read any of the Gallagher series? I think they are pretty good. Although I'm not sure if there are any similar essay collections for the Western theater.

Respectfully
 

FSPowers

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Pope may not have been a bad general IMHO. But he was fighting Jackson on one hand, and the Army bureaucracy on the other. Having some of his troops being pulled to join McClellan did not help.

The exile to the West may have been a way to remove Pope from the theater, but not lose a valuable officer, they still needed troops and officers out West.
 

samgrant

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FSPowers said:
Pope may not have been a bad general IMHO. But he was fighting Jackson on one hand, and the Army bureaucracy on the other. Having some of his troops being pulled to join McClellan did not help.

The exile to the West may have been a way to remove Pope from the theater, but not lose a valuable officer, they still needed troops and officers out West.

He wan't 'needed' much in Minnesota, where he was sent to fight Indians. He might have made a contribution in the West if put under Grant or Buell.

I think Pope has been unjustly denigrated for 'losing' at 2nd Mannassas. He was handicapped by a lot of bad 'intellegence' and by MacClellan's withholding of troops who could have made the difference. He fought and did not give up till ordered to, unlike Mac who never saw a battle he wouldn't quit on.

Pope was exiled largely for political reasons. Whether he was a good soldier who fought and obeyed orders was less important than the fact that he lost a battle.

Instead another loser who did not fight and did not follow orders was restored to command.
 

elektratig

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Sam Grant,

I've already had my say on Pope's competence in battle and won't repeat myself at length. I don't deny that he lacked competent support and was in an extremely awkward command situation, but I think the fact remains that he was over his head.

I am really writing, however, concerning your assertion that he wasn't needed in Minnesota. It so happens that Minnesota was then in the midst of an Indian uprising and the locals were going bonkers and accusing the federal government of ignoring their plight. Lincoln in fact needed to send someone like Pope out there to show that he was paying attention. I'm not saying that that is why Pope was selected, just that someone senior was needed. As it turned out, he was an excellent choice, as his subsequent army career demonstrated.

I don't mean to disparage Pope. If you look back, I've said some very nice things about him, and he had some highly admirable qualities. I just don't think that high battlefield command was suited to him.
 

nbforrest

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I think Pope has been unjustly denigrated for 'losing' at 2nd Mannassas. He was handicapped by a lot of bad 'intellegence' and by MacClellan's withholding of troops who could have made the difference. He fought and did not give up till ordered to, unlike Mac who never saw a battle he wouldn't quit on.

While I agree that Pope was not put into the greatest situation, I still don't think that his handling of the Army of Virginia could be described any more generously than incompetent. He allowed Banks to get cut up at Cedar Mountain without support and then blindly stuck along the Rappahannock and left his left wide open through Thoroughfare Gap. Leaving only Ricketts in a position to shift to the gap guranteed a successful Confederate flank movement. His piecemeal attacks at 2nd Manassas are inexcusable. Even if he can be forgiven for thinking that the Confederates were retreating (a very odd conclusion after Hatch's clash with Hood on the evening of the 29th and even more bizarre through the morning of the 30th). Shifting Reynolds away from the flank was courting disaster. He was lucky that McLean, Tower, Sykes, and some others put up a fight.

Respectfully


 

SpartanGSG

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ole said:
electratig:

excellent point. Demotion was not in the political cards. Exile was the only alternative to sacking an otherwise valuable, minor general.

And, have you considered why all the best generals saw the elephant in the western theater? Meade excepted, but he was only good enough and not (personally) considered among the "best." Is it that all the winning was done in the west and therefore captured the attention of history? Given the competion, was winning in the west easier than in the east? Food for thought.

Pope makes Burnside look respectable, at least AB had the strength of character to know his limitations and to admit he was overmatched for the job to command an entire army.
 

SpartanGSG

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nbforrest said:
Bob Krick's book on Cedar Mountain is superb, although he could have shifted some of the focus away from Jackson to Banks.

Respectfully

Agree completely on Krick's work on Cedar Mountain nb. Though BAnks did get short shrift in the story telling I think it was by design to emphasize JAckson's deployment throughout the day, those individuals and units who distinguished themselves and who did not so distinguish themselves, etc.
I did feel very badly for the undermanned right wing of Federals(Crawford)who came within a whisker of carrying the field if properly supported only to get cut up badly upon Hill's and others' arrival to bail out Ronald and Taliaferro. This goes back to supporting nb's position on the incompetence of Pope, as it was a serious blunder to allow Banks to get carved up the way he was(Banks needed no assistance in these matters).
Pope's days began to be numbered from there on IMO.
 

nbforrest

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Agree on Krick's book. After all it was called Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain, so I expected him to be the focus. But still a bit more on the Union command's decisions would have been informative.

Pope just couldn't handle an army. His actions at Cedar Mountain, along the Rappahannock, Thouroughfare Gap, 2nd Manassas...just not good at all. Too much pride in himself too.

Respectfully
 

ole

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If we set aside the fact that Pope immediately alienated the entire Army of the Potomac, he was not ready for army command. He might well have made an excellent corps or division commander, however.

We'll never know.
Ole
 

nbforrest

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What was the perception of Pope's actions in Minnesota against the Sioux, both past and present? It's not something I know much about. Is the consensus that he handled his troops well or poorly? I'd be interested to see if he did demonstrate his talent in some manner.

His attitude in Virginia is interesting. Someone like Sheridan or Grant brought a quiet confidence east that seemed to inspire their men. Pope brought a very obnoxious confidence east that irked his men. Interesting view into how a general should act.

Respectfully
 

ole

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Not much is written about Pope in Minnesota. He did not lead the troops that ultimately caught the Renegades near Dead Buffalo Lake, Dakota Territory (Now North Dakota). I suspect he was most involved with pacifying the situation and getting army affairs in order.
Ole
 

elektratig

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nbforrest and ole,

Peter Cozzens's biography of Pope (see my post #13 above) describes Pope's post-Civil War career. As ole says, Pope didn't lead or direct troops in battle after Second Manassas. During times of uprisings, he planned and coordinated campaigns but delegated to others the task of excuting them. For the most part he acted as an administrator, pleading (usually unsuccessfully) for more resources and allocating the meagre resources he was given efficiently and effectively across large geographic areas. His sympathetic knowledge of Indian affairs came to be appreciated by Sherman, Grant and others in Washington.

Although Pope could be somewhat irascible at times, he mellowed with age (except whenever the name of Fitz John Porter came up) and served well out West for twenty years after the War. Our tendency to fixate on the Civil War shouldn't lead us to judge and condemn participants based solely on what they did in what were very short portions -- in Pope's case, we're talking about a matter of weeks -- of often long careers.
 

SpartanGSG

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elektratig said:
I've just finished John Hennessy's "Return to Bull Run", which I heartily recommend. Basically, Hennessy finds Pope not all that guilty of being arrogant and boastful (although his "attack and not defend" comment, which you quote, was incredibly stupid). However, he does condemn Pope without qualification on strictly military terms -- letting Jackson get around him, ignoring all the indications that Longstreet was sitting for over a day on his left, sending Porter an order that was incomprehensible, stubbornly clinging to the illusion that the Confederates were "retreating", etc.

McClellan was an absolute jerk, and I have no sympathy for Fitz John Porter (although the charges against him seem to have been unjustified), but the debacle at Second Manassas was John Pope's fault, no one else's, and no rational commander in chief would have left Pope in charge after the debacle at Second Manassas. Although Pope attempted to deflect blame on others, one gets the impression that in his heart even John Pope knew this.

Just dipping my toes in the water on Hennessey's study of the battle so will revisit this after I'am done. I have nothing but disdain for Pope, compounded by the b.s. contained in his after action report. That said, though I agree the cretin Porter's charges were properly addressed when revisited in the 1870's, I found his lack of vigor to aid Pope as a member of the McClellan cabal dispicable. With some exceptions at the division level, the fine soldiers of the Army of Virginia and those brought up from the AOP were dealt a bad hand by bad leadership on those hot August days of 1862. Of course team Lee had something to do with this debacle too didn't they?
 

ole

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History, as written in textbooks and many studies has a way of going to extremes -- an individual is either all bad or all good. I suspect none of the leading players were either. For example, Pope. What do we know of him from popular history? He said something like "I come from where we are accustumed to looking at the enemy's heels." Arrogant. What else do we know about him? Really know? He did a creditable enough job in the west to be called to the east to head up an army as an alternative to McClellan's. Was he over his head? Was he stupid Was the government at fault for selecting him? We know he was arrogant and failed miserably. Is that him and is that what happened?

Porter. We know he was late in getting to Manassas. We are told that it was due to his duplicity and devotion to McClellan. Is that strictly factual? Was his eventual exoneration an act of generosity or justice

I guess I'm overreacting as well to such modifiers as despiccable, stupid, great, distain, irresponsible and other such superlatives. As I get deeper into the study of that time, I find ever fewer genuine villains or heroes. The verdict, however, is still out on Kilpatrick.

Ole
 

SpartanGSG

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ole said:
I guess I'm overreacting as well to such modifiers as despiccable, stupid, great, distain, irresponsible and other such superlatives. As I get deeper into the study of that time, I find ever fewer genuine villains or heroes. The verdict, however, is still out on Kilpatrick.

As with anyone taking the time and making the effort to research as much varied source material on people and events(in this case the ACW) as possible, I find it quite acceptable for the reader to form an opinion based on the preponderance of evidence put out by writers and historians who have taken the time and made the effort to research that evidence. As such, I feel quite comfortable expressing in superlatives my disdain for Pope and the dispicable nature and background of the plodding advance of Porter's V Corps advance to support Pope at Second Bull Run - again based on the preponderance of evidence offered as fact presented me.
P.S. Pope was no hero or villain, just a tad over his head in wrestling with the ANV of 1862.

Now Kilpatrick, thats another issue for another day.

With regards, Spartan.
 
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