Seeking input

Moe Daoust

Private
Joined
Jun 11, 2018
The following is from something I'm working on regarding Burnside at Antietam. I'd greatly appreciate any insights or other input other members may have on the subject.

It is a commonly known fact that Burnside and McClellan were at odds since the Battle of South Mountain. Even as recently as the morning of the 17th, McClellan had officially chastised his long-time friend for his repeated failure to comply with various orders. On the 15th, their relationship was further strained when McClellan issued the following directive, “The operation of the Special Orders of yesterday's date, assigning General Burnside to the command of the right wing, owing to the necessary separation of the Third [First] Corps, is temporarily suspended. General Hooker will report direct to these headquarters.”

The Ninth Corps had only just officially been formed on July 22nd, with Burnside at its head. Throughout the course of the next couple of months, the new Corps commander would be tasked with a series of temporary assignments, including that of commander of the right wing at the outset of the Antietam Campaign. Consequently, it became necessary to appoint Jesse Reno and then, following the latter’s death, Jacob Cox to the temporary command of the Ninth. It stands to reason that upon receipt of McClellan’s order suspending the wing, Burnside’s responsibilities should have automatically reverted to that of commander of the Ninth Corps.

As it was, Burnside had shown little initiative over recent days but he would show even less on the morning of the 17th. Apparently convinced that taking personal charge of his Ninth Corps would be tantamount to accepting a perceived slight from McClellan, Burnside insisted that Cox remain in temporary command. In a petulant display, he resorted to following McClellan’s orders to the letter, doing no more or arbitrarily forwarding them on to Cox. Already uncomfortable in his interim role and having no latitude, Cox could do little but execute the various orders reaching him from Burnside, or from McClellan via Burnside.

“It was an awkward diffusion of command responsibility, made all the worse by McClellan’s failure to smooth his old friend’s ruffled feathers or to clarify just what was expected of him in the coming fight,” writes Stephen W. Sears. At such an exceedingly critical juncture in the Maryland Campaign, it’s certain that McClellan would have had more important things to do than spend his time smoothing Burnside’s or any one else’s ruffled feathers. These were not children that McClellan was dealing with. They were responsible military men who were about to enter into one of the greatest battles of the entire war, on whose result the fate of the nation hinged.

It must also be wondered what it was that needed clarifying. As already mentioned above, upon the suspension of the right wing, Burnside’s function should have automatically reverted to that of commander of the Ninth Corp. This should have gone without saying (Cox even urged him to do so.) As such McClellan would have expected his "old friend" to perform his duties as corps commander to the best of his abilities and to follow any and all orders as were sent to him. What else was there to clarify? If Burnside had any concerns regarding his role, following the temporary suspension of the wing, he should have communicated these to McClellan. He did not.

It’s difficult to imagine how McClellan can, in any way, be blamed for the “awkward diffusion of command responsibility” that existed on the 17th. Burnside had created it and Burnside alone was responsible.
 
Last edited:

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
The following is from something I'm working on regarding Burnside at Antietam. I'd greatly appreciate any insights or other input other members may have on the subject.

It is a commonly known fact that Burnside and McClellan were at odds since the Battle of South Mountain. Even as recently as the morning of the 17th, McClellan had officially chastised his long-time friend for his repeated failure to comply with various orders. On the 15th, their relationship was further strained when McClellan issued the following directive, “The operation of the Special Orders of yesterday's date, assigning General Burnside to the command of the right wing, owing to the necessary separation of the Third [First] Corps, is temporarily suspended. General Hooker will report direct to these headquarters.”

The Ninth Corps had only just officially been formed on July 22nd, with Burnside at its head. Throughout the course of the next couple of months, the new Corps commander would be tasked with a series of temporary assignments, including that of commander of the right wing at the outset of the Antietam Campaign. Consequently, it became necessary to appoint Jesse Reno and then, following the latter’s death, Jacob Cox to the temporary command of the Ninth. It stands to reason that upon receipt of McClellan’s order suspending the wing, Burnside’s responsibilities should have automatically reverted to that of commander of the Ninth Corps.

As it was, Burnside had shown little initiative over recent days but he would show even less on the morning of the 17th. Apparently convinced that taking personal charge of his Ninth Corps would be tantamount to accepting a perceived slight from McClellan, Burnside insisted that Cox remain in temporary command. In a petulant display, he resorted to following McClellan’s orders to the letter, doing no more or arbitrarily forwarding them on to Cox. Already uncomfortable in his interim role and having no latitude, Cox could do little but execute the various orders reaching him from Burnside, or from McClellan via Burnside.

“It was an awkward diffusion of command responsibility, made all the worse by McClellan’s failure to smooth his old friend’s ruffled feathers or to clarify just what was expected of him in the coming fight,” writes Stephen W. Sears. At such an exceedingly critical juncture in the Maryland Campaign, it’s certain that McClellan would have had more important things to do than spend his time smoothing Burnside’s or any one else’s ruffled feathers. These were not children that McClellan was dealing with. They were responsible military men who were about to enter into one of the greatest battles of the entire war and on whose results the fate of the nation hinged.

It must also be wondered what it was that needed clarifying regarding what was expected of Burnside in the coming fight. As already mentioned above, upon the suspension of the right wing, Burnside’s function should have automatically reverted to that of commander of the Ninth Corp. This should have gone without saying (Cox even urged him to do so.) As such McClellan would have expected his "old friend" to perform his duties as corps commander to the best of his abilities and to follow any and all orders as were sent to him. What else was there to clarify? If Burnside had any concerns regarding his role, following the temporary suspension of the wing, he should have communicated these to McClellan. He did not.

It’s difficult to imagine how McClellan can, in any way, be blamed for the “awkward diffusion of command responsibility” that existed on the 17th. Burnside had created it and Burnside alone was responsible.
Regarding Burnside's status as a wing commander, it is clear that he was assigned to that role by McClellan in the September 14 order and that he was removed from it by McClellan in the September 15 orders - both well within McClellan's authority as Burnside's superior officer, meaning that Burnside reverted to his corps command that he held before the September 14 order. If Burnside refused to surrender his status as a wing commander or refused to exercise his role as corps commander, he was subject to the doctrine of "relief for cause" by McClellan as his superior officer with authority to issue those orders. The doctrine was in existence at the time and is still recognized by all US branches today. One of the most famous exercises of the doctrine was on Saipan in 1944, when Howlin' Mad Smith of the USMC relieved Ralph Smith, commander of the Army's 27th Corps for failure to attack a position, A review board (all Army) later agreed that Smith had this authority but that in the specific case he had not understood the circumstances that prevented the attack from occurring when ordered.
 

Moe Daoust

Private
Joined
Jun 11, 2018
Regarding Burnside's status as a wing commander, it is clear that he was assigned to that role by McClellan in the September 14 order and that he was removed from it by McClellan in the September 15 orders - both well within McClellan's authority as Burnside's superior officer, meaning that Burnside reverted to his corps command that he held before the September 14 order. If Burnside refused to surrender his status as a wing commander or refused to exercise his role as corps commander, he was subject to the doctrine of "relief for cause" by McClellan as his superior officer with authority to issue those orders. The doctrine was in existence at the time and is still recognized by all US branches today. One of the most famous exercises of the doctrine was on Saipan in 1944, when Howlin' Mad Smith of the USMC relieved Ralph Smith, commander of the Army's 27th Corps for failure to attack a position, A review board (all Army) later agreed that Smith had this authority but that in the specific case he had not understood the circumstances that prevented the attack from occurring when ordered.
Thanks so much for that very valuable insight Belfoured! I will incorporate this into the chapter. Do you have a source for this "relief for cause" doctrine? This is precisely why I felt it might be worthwhile posting this. Having said that, if anyone has any counter arguments, I'd welcome these as well.
 

Moe Daoust

Private
Joined
Jun 11, 2018
Regarding Burnside's status as a wing commander, it is clear that he was assigned to that role by McClellan in the September 14 order and that he was removed from it by McClellan in the September 15 orders - both well within McClellan's authority as Burnside's superior officer, meaning that Burnside reverted to his corps command that he held before the September 14 order. If Burnside refused to surrender his status as a wing commander or refused to exercise his role as corps commander, he was subject to the doctrine of "relief for cause" by McClellan as his superior officer with authority to issue those orders. The doctrine was in existence at the time and is still recognized by all US branches today. One of the most famous exercises of the doctrine was on Saipan in 1944, when Howlin' Mad Smith of the USMC relieved Ralph Smith, commander of the Army's 27th Corps for failure to attack a position, A review board (all Army) later agreed that Smith had this authority but that in the specific case he had not understood the circumstances that prevented the attack from occurring when ordered.
I assume this is what you are referring to Belfoured? Which category do you believe McClellan could have used. I'm hedging on Willful Neglect. Do you agree? http://asktop.net/articles/relief-for-cause-report-definitions-article-2-of-2/#
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Burnside had always commanded using a Prussian/Austrian style system. He might be in formal command, but he made the senior division commander or his chief-of-staff the executive, and issued orders through him.

Initially the executive officer was Reno. For a short period it was Cox, and then Willcox and Parke depending on who was senior.

This does not mean he'd abrogated his command. It was, and is, a legitimate and common way of organising command functions.

At Antietam, Burnside remained at the Corps HQ, at the Rohrbach House. He issued his orders to the division commanders, and had Reno move with a forward command post with the advancing divisions.

Burnside was commanding 9th Corps, but in the way he'd always commanded...
 

Moe Daoust

Private
Joined
Jun 11, 2018
Burnside had always commanded using a Prussian/Austrian style system. He might be in formal command, but he made the senior division commander or his chief-of-staff the executive, and issued orders through him.

Initially the executive officer was Reno. For a short period it was Cox, and then Willcox and Parke depending on who was senior.

This does not mean he'd abrogated his command. It was, and is, a legitimate and common way of organising command functions.

At Antietam, Burnside remained at the Corps HQ, at the Rohrbach House. He issued his orders to the division commanders, and had Reno move with a forward command post with the advancing divisions.

Burnside was commanding 9th Corps, but in the way he'd always commanded...
This is not the impression Cox gives. Per his B&L article, Burnside refused to take command, insisting that Cox retain it.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
I assume this is what you are referring to Belfoured? Which category do you believe McClellan could have used. I'm hedging on Willful Neglect. Do you agree? http://asktop.net/articles/relief-for-cause-report-definitions-article-2-of-2/#
That's the modern doctrine as it's been modified and is subject to certain procedural constraints/requirements (including "counseling" if feasible).

Those are largely post-WWII and resulted from a number of controversies, including "Black Jack" Pershing and his subordinates using it freely in the AEF during WWI (in part due to the British and French complaining about untrained generals out of the National Guard not being aggressive enough), as well as a few incidents in WWII - including the one involving the Smiths which became "inter-service" political - note that HM Smith was USMC, Ralph Smith was Army, and the review board was all from the Army. While the board had to concede HM's authority and that he could relieve R Smith for not promptly following an attack order, it found an "explanation" that was premised on HM not knowing "all the facts."

According to an article I've seen (forget which journal for the moment), it was used 32 times during the Civil War by other than the President. It's a doctrine that reflects the authority a commanding officer must have over subordinates even where the subordinate's actions may not be such as result in a court-martial. The issue here would be whether Burnside in fact was disregarding McClellan's order removing him from wing command by not acquiescing in reversion to corps command or by interfering with the execution of McClellan's orders to attack by "going through the motions" of reverting to corps command.

Under today's doctrine, I think it could either be non-UCMJ "misconduct" or "willful neglect", depending on the specifics. Obviously, those would be essential.
 

Moe Daoust

Private
Joined
Jun 11, 2018
That's the modern doctrine as it's been modified and is subject to certain procedural constraints/requirements (including "counseling" if feasible).

Those are largely post-WWII and resulted from a number of controversies, including "Black Jack" Pershing and his subordinates using it freely in the AEF during WWI (in part due to the British and French complaining about untrained generals out of the National Guard not being aggressive enough), as well as a few incidents in WWII - including the one involving the Smiths which became "inter-service" political - note that HM Smith was USMC, Ralph Smith was Army, and the review board was all from the Army. While the board had to concede HM's authority and that he could relieve R Smith for not promptly following an attack order, it found an "explanation" that was premised on HM not knowing "all the facts."

According to an article I've seen (forget which journal for the moment), it was used 32 times during the Civil War by other than the President. It's a doctrine that reflects the authority a commanding officer must have over subordinates even where the subordinate's actions may not be such as result in a court-martial. The issue here would be whether Burnside in fact was disregarding McClellan's order removing him from wing command by not acquiescing in reversion to corps command or by interfering with the execution of McClellan's orders to attack by "going through the motions" of reverting to corps command.

Under today's doctrine, I think it could either be non-UCMJ "misconduct" or "willful neglect", depending on the specifics. Obviously, those would be essential.
Thanks again Belfoured!
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Thanks again Belfoured!
There are a few articles out there on Pershing's use of this. Here's a link to one:

https://history.army.mil/armyhistory/AH61newOCR.pdf

You will note that "officer efficiency boards" were created in 1917 to avoid unfairness (given the expansion of the officer pool) and a personnel system to divert those relieved from combat assignments to suitable positions rather than discharge.
 

Belfoured

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
This is not the impression Cox gives. Per his B&L article, Burnside refused to take command, insisting that Cox retain it.
By the way, I had meant to add that Cox also addresses this "arrangement" in his Reminiscences (1900) and, more importantly, in a letter to his wife 10 days after the battle on September 27, 1862 (it's cited and quoted in Schmiel's 2014 biography of Cox). He clearly thought the arrangement was unusual and inefficient, for what it's worth. Marvel's biography of Burnside glosses over the whole issue. Carman credits Cox and in his annotations Clemens appears to accept that aspect of Cox's recollections.
 

Moe Daoust

Private
Joined
Jun 11, 2018
By the way, I had meant to add that Cox also addresses this "arrangement" in his Reminiscences (1900) and, more importantly, in a letter to his wife 10 days after the battle on September 27, 1862 (it's cited and quoted in Schmiel's 2014 biography of Cox). He clearly thought the arrangement was unusual and inefficient, for what it's worth. Marvel's biography of Burnside glosses over the whole issue. Carman credits Cox and in his annotations Clemens appears to accept that aspect of Cox's recollections.
Thanks yet again Belfoured! I was aware of Cox's B&L reference but not the letter to his wife. I'll see if I can did it up.
 

Andy Cardinal

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Location
Ohio
Regardless of Burnside's culpability or non-culpability in this issue (and not to stray from @Moe Daoust's purpose in posting), this whole episode has always illustrated to me the real tragedy of Jesse Reno's death three day's earlier. Whatever may be said of Burnside's command arrangements (I agree it was awkward and inefficient), Burnside and Reno were close and had worked together effectively for almost a year. Burnside relied in Reno's judgment and ability. Burnside and Cox hardly knew each other at all -- they had met I believe for the first time -- just two weeks earlier. Even if Burnside's command arrangement was valid, as @Saphroneth suggests, it was bound not to work at Antietam due to Burnside's and Cox's unfamiliarity with each other.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I suspect the biggest downside of the structure that resulted on the 17th was that there was the opposite of double hatting going on.


There'd already been an incident post-South-Mountain where McClellan had ordered 9th Corps forwards in pursuit and they hadn't moved in a timely fashion, either due to Burnside not passing on the order or Cox not executing it.


Burnside's correspondence from as early as 9th September is from "headquarters, right wing", though this may have been an ad-hoc arrangement or simply a statement of the truth (that is, he was on the right wing of the army as it was oriented on that date) rather than his being in command of a formally constituted organization called the Right Wing.

Positions on the night of the 9th September
Night_of_9th.jpg


This means that Burnside had had several days in which he was at least thinking of the combination of 9th and 1st Corps as the "right wing". In this light I suspect it's at least possible that the orders of the 14th were intended to clarify the whole of the command arrangement, rather than creating one where none had previously existed (that is, the two commands it refers to, the Right Wing and Sumner's command, may have existed de facto but not de jure).

On the 15th, the Right Wing is "suspended", though not dissolved. In a technical sense the actual language implies that the Right Wing still exists but has nobody in command of it (it's Burnside's appointment which is "suspended" not the right wing itself), but I think this is just an issue of wording and that the intent is that the Right Wing is in abeyance with Burnside to return to command of it once that's possible.


Burnside's actual command structure of the 9th Corps has as the largest single problem not that there's nobody to do a certain job but that there's two people with overlapping responsibilities and neither of them is inclined to assume they're the one who needs to do something. That is, either neither of them is proactive enough to do a "to-do" job or at least one of them is simply failing to notice that that job needs to be done (in this case the pre-attack preparatory movements for the attack on the Lower Bridge, while at South Mountain it would be passing on the pursuit order).

Given what the historiography says about Reno, it's plausible to me that Reno was the sort who would "fill in the gaps" and that when Cox wasn't it created a disconnect.
 
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