First Bull Run McDowell, was he the Scapegoat?

Was General McDowell the Lincoln's administration's Scapegoat to the for the loss at 1st Manassas?

  • Yes

    Votes: 6 60.0%
  • No

    Votes: 3 30.0%
  • Maybe

    Votes: 1 10.0%

  • Total voters
    10
  • Poll closed .

W. Richardson

Captain
Joined
Jun 29, 2011
Location
Mt. Gilead, North Carolina
As showed in a prior post, https://civilwartalk.com/threads/lincoln-dodges-responsibility-for-the-loss-at-1st-manassas.163739/, that Lincoln attempted to dodge blame for the loss of 1st Manassas, did Lincoln then use General Irvin McDowell as the Scapegoat?

Lincoln, under pressure, public, and politically rushed the army and General Irvin McDowell into a battle. The "green United States soldiers" were defeated by the "green Confederate States soldiers". Both McDowell and General Winfield Scott had asked for more time to prepare, but was denied...........


Respectfully,
William
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
Wow! Let me see if this very interesting thread that's on life support can be revived. I would have voted that Patterson was made the scapegoat, and quickly. While he does deserve some responsibility for not preventing Johnston from re-enforcing Beauregard, Patterson was given conflicting and confusing orders by Scott. By July 12th Scott appeared unconcerned about Johnston moving to Manassas. When one of Scott's staffers reminded Scott that McDowell expected Johnston be kept at Winchester Scott sent the following disingenuous order to Patterson on the 13th: see Williams, Lincoln Finds A General, p. 81

"I telegraphed to you yesterday, if not strong enough to beat the enemy early next week, make demonstrations so as to detain him in the valley of Winchester; but if retreats in force towards Manassas, and it be too hazardous to follow him, then consider the route via key's Ferry, Leesburg, etc."

Here's an order than contains three if's; thus violating the age old principle of military orders: Keep it simple. This order was also a fine example of Moltke's axiom "If an order can be misunderstood, it will be misunderstood." Besides the lack of simplicity it was also a bad order. By following Johnston through Leesburg, Johnston would have arrived at Manassas three or four days earlier than Patterson, as Johnston had the use of the railroad from Strasburg, while Patterson could not use the railroad from Leesburg to Alexandria as the rail line had been torn up and rolling stock destroyed.

Scott's order should have been specific. If he wanted Johnston to remain at Winchester, he should have said so and annulled all previous orders to Patterson, except for the one permitting Patterson to change his base of operations to Harpers Ferry. The fact that Patterson was a nobody, and Scott was a very big somebody, the potential of loosing Scott at this juncture in time was too big a risk, McDowell was the only general with experience in commanding large number of troops, so Patterson was the logical sacrifice.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Any federal commander would most likely have suffered the same fate as McDowell for the Bull Run fiasco. Notwithstanding Scott's lack of clarity in instructions, Patterson could not keep Johnston occupied in the Valley (thereby tipping the scales in favor of a Confederate victory). McDowell's battle plan was well thought out by an attack on the Confederate left flank and diversions elsewhere. But carrying out a classic flanking maneuver requiring coordination with untried troops was asking too much. McDowell had pleaded with Lincoln to no avail, for more time to train the undisciplined troops. But the public was insistent on a rapid move to Richmond to end the war. As army commander, McDowell of course had to take the rap for the defeat.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
Any federal commander would most likely have suffered the same fate as McDowell for the Bull Run fiasco. Notwithstanding Scott's lack of clarity in instructions, Patterson could not keep Johnston occupied in the Valley (thereby tipping the scales in favor of a Confederate victory). McDowell's battle plan was well thought out by an attack on the Confederate left flank and diversions elsewhere. But carrying out a classic flanking maneuver requiring coordination with untried troops was asking too much. McDowell had pleaded with Lincoln to no avail, for more time to train the undisciplined troops. But the public was insistent on a rapid move to Richmond to end the war. As army commander, McDowell of course had to take the rap for the defeat.
Agree mostly -- a commander must make a plan his men, intelligence, logistics, etc can support. As simple as his plan was, McDowell's plan was too hard for his army and should have been modified to reflect that.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Agree mostly -- a commander must make a plan his men, intelligence, logistics, etc can support. As simple as his plan was, McDowell's plan was too hard for his army and should have been modified to reflect that.

In defense of McDowell, he was a product of the Old Army, which instilled means and methods of warfare that were applicable when dealing with regular troops. The massive buildup of a volunteer army was of a scale that had not been seen before in American history. So although McDowell understood the limitations of the volunteers, his mindset was constrained by his education and experience.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
In defense of McDowell, he was a product of the Old Army, which instilled means and methods of warfare that were applicable when dealing with regular troops. The massive buildup of a volunteer army was of a scale that had not been seen before in American history. So although McDowell understood the limitations of the volunteers, his mindset was constrained by his education and experience.
But if he is able to see a new situation, and does not react correctly to it, he qualifies as a commander who should be replaced with someone who can deal with the new situation.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
But if he is able to see a new situation, and does not react correctly to it, he qualifies as a commander who should be replaced with someone who can deal with the new situation.

That is true and I am no defender of McDowell (just trying to be objective). However, he was under strict time limitations from the Lincoln Administration and the expiration of 90 day enlistments. In any case, he was replaced by McClellan afterwards but I'm not sure if any Union commander would have had the wherewithal to mount an effective fight at Bull Run.
 
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