Bermuda Hundred Learning about Bermuda Hundred

Mark F. Jenkins

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If there's one characteristic I'd assign to Ben Butler, it wouldn't be "tentative." But that's sort of how he's coming across in Schiller's The Bermuda Hundred Campaign. He comes across as sort of rear-echelon support staff to William Farrar Smith and Quincy A. Gillmore, neither of whom are showing themselves as military superstars (I'm up to Beauregard's counterattack south of Drewry's Bluff, and Smith and Gillmore are both suggesting a retreat to the Bermuda Hundred fortified lines). Is it possible that Mr. Ego could have been intimidated by the military "professionals" under him?

As a direct contrast, Beauregard is showing himself at his best-- scraping up a force out of virtually nothing, directly contradicting President Davis when the latter's orders don't suit him (and, even drawing forth understanding from Davis that the contradictions were necessary).

Because Schiller pretty much confines himself to a descriptive narrative of events, I'm developing more questions than answers... if Kautz had been pulled right from the cavalry bureau, why does he seem to know so little about employing cavalry? Does Gillmore really think entrenching is the way to advance? And why does Smith spend more time criticizing others' troop dispositions than he seems to do attending to his own?

Hoping Longacre's Army of Amateurs answers some of these questions...
 

Frederick14Va

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Much of the campaign was a confusing hodge-podge of mistakes, blunders, failures and miscommunication.... and no shortage of ego flexing.... particularly amongst the Federal command.... same has occurred in many other campaigns as well.... Personally I don't think Butler was intimidated by his subordinates... Gilmore and Smith were constantly at each others throats and spatting which to many was the cause of so many lost opportunities that were at hand... It continued well into the beginning of the later Petersburg campaign also.... Kinda like the Floyd-Wise conflicts of 1861 in western va....

Another publication on this is Back Door to Richmond, The Bermuda Hundred Campaign , by Wm Glenn Robertson
 

John Hartwell

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I've read both Backdoor to Richmond and Army of Amateurs ... I find the latter much superior. It was a very bewildering campaign. Butler's plans were good, but he was utterly unable to get Quincy Gilmore and "Baldy" Smith to carry them out. They both always had "better ideas" that sadly contradicted eachothers'.
 

1SGDan

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Beauregard's break out from the Drewry's Bluff fortifications is one of the great military operations of the war. If not for failure on Whiting's part may have been even more spectacular.
I highly recommend Back Door to Richmond.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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So, basically, you have Beauregard in top form (despite coming off an illness) against Union second- or third-stringers...

Another aspect I find interesting is that, at least from what I've read so far, it wasn't expected that the Army of the James would be alone for that long; Grant expected the Army of the Potomac to make more headway against the Army of Northern Virginia than it actually did. Some of Butler's actions make a bit more sense when placed in the context of "I'm here; where are you, Sam?" "Still trying to get there, Ben..."
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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As far as the missed opportunities at the beginning of the campaign... I'm reminded of Churchill's famous quote about Anzio, "I had hoped that we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale." Might apply even more to Bermuda Hundred than to Anzio, as a matter of fact... If just one of Butler's subordinates had been more of a "keep-up-the-skeer" kind of opportunist, things could have turned out very differently. But all three (Gillmore, Smith, and Kautz) seem to have been anything but opportunists (at least when facing an enemy on a battlefield). (Matter of fact, that same judgment may apply to Rear Admiral S. Phillips Lee, as well. He'd shown his share of dash on the Mississippi, but he appears to have been more of an organizer and strategist than he was a fighting captain...)
 
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KeyserSoze

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Naah... Butler wasn't stupid. He was perhaps more clever than he was intelligent, and he could have used a lot more of the military traditional knowledge that he affected to turn up his nose at... but not stupid.

He was certainly in over his head when it came to being a combat commander.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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He was certainly in over his head when it came to being a combat commander.

That I'll agree with. Gideon Welles said as much in his diary... something along the lines that Butler's talents were more those of "a police magistrate" than a military leader. If he'd had a good number-two man (one that he listened to), it could have gone a lot better... as well as a bit less competency from his opponent.
 

1SGDan

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Early on either Smith or Gillmore recommended that they bridge the Appomattox and move on Petersburg. Butler vetoed the idea. Apparently there was some misconception about exactly his objective was. He thought it was Richmond. Grant later had to admit that he probably had told him that. Butler was unable to think outside the box and ignored the opportunity to seize Petersburg.
 
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NedBaldwin

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Early on either Smith or Gillmore recommended that they bridge the Appomattox and move on Petersburg. Butler vetoed the idea. Apparently there was some misconception about exactly his objective was. He thought it was Richmond. Grant later had to admit that he probably had told him that. Butler was unable to think outside the box and ignored the opportunity to seize Petersburg.

Grant didnt just tell him that Richmond was the objective; he explicitly declared it to be so in written orders.
It is interesting how obeying Grant's orders has become grounds for criticism against Butler.
 

Carronade

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I posed this once before, but there didn't seem to be much of a good answer - why was it so bleeping impossible not to give these political generals important combat commands? What were they going to do, sabotage the war effort? Run home and tell their friends to vote for McClellan? (so to speak, he had not yet been nominated) I could understand the desire to employ them in some reasonably significant post, plus as noted people like Butler did have some talents; but do you have to give someone a front line command just because he wants it?
 

1SGDan

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Grant didnt just tell him that Richmond was the objective; he explicitly declared it to be so in written orders.
It is interesting how obeying Grant's orders has become grounds for criticism against Butler.


From my piece on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign:


Butler’s troops never got a sniff of the capital. Early in the campaign Butler could have had either Richmond or Petersburg had he dedicated himself to one or the other and powered his way through the available defenses. Instead indecisiveness and disagreement among the Federal leaders led to half hearted attempts at each. Each effort met with disaster. There seems there was confusion about the primary objective of the campaign. Butler believed that he was to secure City Point as a base of future operations, although his remark here may be colored by the eventual result of the campaign. Grant would do little to clarify the situation when he wrote that he "pointed out the apparent importance of getting possession of Petersburg" but admitted that he specifically designated Richmond as Butler's objective. This type confusion could do little to help the decision making process of the commanders involved. The poor communication failed to properly establish the commander's intent for the campaign and went a long way to explaining the poor result. Butler and his two chief subordinates did little to exercise any command initiative and let a golden opportunity pass.
 
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NedBaldwin

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... Butler believed that he was to secure City Point as a base of future operations, although his remark here may be colored by the eventual result of the campaign.
Grant had explicitly ordered him to secure City Point. Petersburg was not mentioned in the written orders.
 

NedBaldwin

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I posed this once before, but there didn't seem to be much of a good answer - why was it so bleeping impossible not to give these political generals important combat commands?
It wasnt impossible to do so. There generally needed to be a reason to remove a general.
 
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