You are green

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Lincoln's famous quote to McDowell about you are green, but they are green also. Do you agree w/ the logic? Was it really a coin flip and probably a risk worth taking? Could it very well have gone the other way with a rout of the Confederate army?

OR

Given that the USA was being asked to go on the offensive, was McDowell right regarding both sides being green NOT a push given the additional challenges of being the attacker?
 

LCYingling3rd

Private
Joined
Apr 25, 2021
I think Lincoln was right. First Manassas was the first major engagement of the war and it could have gone either way. I would argue that a confluence of contingencies led to it being a rout. So many things come into play during battles and I don't think any one thing, like the Union troops being green, led to it's conclusion. It was the first battle in history where reinforcements arrived by train. They arrived at the nick of time and the tide of battle turned due to a variety of circumstances. McClellan's army was extremely well drilled and was certainly not "green" and they were driven back during the Seven Days battles. I think Lincoln was right, you gotta get out there and try...?
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
The critical factor was the presence of Johnston's army, providing a reserve which could react at a point where the battle was starting to turn disasterous for the Confederates. They did the most critical fighting and took most of the casualties.

Of course, Beauregard's deployment and strategy might have been different without Johnston's troops, which were 4 of 12 Confederate brigades in the battle and gave the rebs rough parity with the Yankees.

To put it simply, before the battle each side had two armies, one in northern Virginia and one in the Shenandoah Valley, but the Confederates were able to concentrate their two against one of the Union's. Union General Patterson in the Valley not only failed to keep Johnston pinned down, he allowed Washington and McDowell to think he was doing his job.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Something that is kind of a trend throughout at least the year following First Bull Run is that Lincoln is very much pushing for aggression ASAP - frontal attacks if possible. He recalled pressuring McClellan to advance immediately after Antietam (not actually the case, but it's what he remembered) and at that point a significant chunk of the Union army was very fresh recruits indeed.

On the other hand, the argument for an offensive by McDowell at this time is basically that it is a choice between an offensive now (when the 3 month troops are about to expire) or an offensive pretty much in 1862 (as for the three year levies to reach four months of training will take until November).


It is McDowell's job as a high ranking general to present to Lincoln the facts and choices, and to then attempt to carry out Lincoln's orders to the best of his ability once Lincoln has given him the order. It is Lincoln's job to make the grand strategic decisions (such as that they should make the offensive now rather than in early 1862), but that means that Lincoln must also own the consequences to the extent that the downsides were presented to him (in that if a political leader goes against the advice of his generals then he owns the result). In this case some (though not all) of the downsides were related to the green troops - in order to overcome the Confederates on a defensive river position McDowell committed to a complex manoeuvre scheme, and his green and poorly disciplined troops could not successfully execute the scheme in good time.

There are also problems at the brigade and division level, because even getting in battalion drill was problematic given the short timescale - almost nobody in the entire Union army had experience running a brigade, let alone a division, and this issue shows up a lot. It also shows up for the Confederates but they're on the defensive, while the Union is on the attack, and for green troops the defence is often easier as the management problem is simpler.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
So on a more strategic level, the Union's major misstep in 1861 is their low level of mobilization. I know it's legally limited, but it's something that has to change.

If the Union is limited to mobilizing 75,000 men, which was a number established by the Militia Act of 1795, then it will be mobilizing a number that the Confederacy can easily match (the US population in 1795 was ~4 million, so that should have been obvious by itself, but the 75,000 number is also the Federalized number and basically reflects the size of the force which is in excess to defending individual states under the conditions of the 1795 act). If the Union is limited to mobilizing three-month troops, then it will not have time to train those troops to any kind of qualitative superiority.

The result is that the Union is attempting to win a war while it is limiting itself to a "fair fight"... which is something the larger and richer power shouldn't do if they can possibly avoid it.

The Union's total population is about 2.5 times that of the Confederacy, depending on how you define the two sides. (The white population ratio is more extreme but non-white Southern manpower can free up white Southern manpower for the fighting front.) This means the Union's mobilization goal should be, essentially, two and a half times whatever the Confederate one is. (In practice this means "as large as possible" under the assumption the Confederates will be doing the same thing.)
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
On the one hand, Lincoln's quip about "green" troops was obviously very true given that the previous time that the United States had fielded a significant combat force was during the Mexican War. What might be of greater importance than the greenness of the enlistees might be the similarly low lack of experience among the officer corps. Even for those regular army officers who had fought in Mexico or subsequently on the western frontier, the level of command responsibility was more likely at the company level, and their knowledge and experience with drill formations was low. McDowell himself had finally attained the rank of major before the war, and had no notable experience in large scale troop movements. And that's to say nothing about the volunteer officers, most of whom had no worthwhile military experience whatsoever. The ability to effectively march, deploy, and coordinate infantry and artillery units, which was a large part of 1st Manassas, became a teaching moment for those officers, both north and south.
 

Zack

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Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Can I ask a follow-up question? I have seen this quote attributed to Lincoln and believed it came from him. But in The First Battle of Manassas: An End to Innocence, July 18-21, 1861 historian John J Hennessey attributes the quote to Winfield Scott. I was reading the google books preview so do not have access to the Notes sadly.

The Encyclopedia of Virginia gives the quote to Scott as well.
https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/mcdowell-irvin-1818-1885/

So who said it? Lincoln? Or Scott?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Here's the source of the line:

1623837466361.png

McDowell calls it "the answer". This seems to be part of a conversation* between McDowell and Scott, which would mean it was Scott.

*
"I told the general I was not ready to go", then "said I to him" and a quote about "so far as transportation is concerned", then the bit about "the answer was". No indication of changing the person who was being talked to.
 

Zack

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Here's the source of the line:

View attachment 404873
McDowell calls it "the answer". This seems to be part of a conversation* between McDowell and Scott, which would mean it was Scott.

*
"I told the general I was not ready to go", then "said I to him" and a quote about "so far as transportation is concerned", then the bit about "the answer was". No indication of changing the person who was being talked to.

thank you! That seems pretty clear that it was Scott. Wonder how it wound up getting attributed to Lincoln.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
thank you! That seems pretty clear that it was Scott. Wonder how it wound up getting attributed to Lincoln.
I think it's because Lincoln is known as the quipster of the Civil War (and not without reason, as he did have a reputation even at the time for the pithy turn of phrase - though not always positively). Some of the ones attributed to him are outright made up.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
I think it's because Lincoln is known as the quipster of the Civil War (and not without reason, as he did have a reputation even at the time for the pithy turn of phrase - though not always positively). Some of the ones attributed to him are outright made up.
I'm rereading lincoln and his generals. Just as an FYI, Williams quotes it as Lincoln and cites in his footnote "ccw reports, Townsend, anecdotes of the Civil war"
Although this was described as a meeting where Scott was present.

Not having investigated his footnote, I will gladly accept the source cited above as superior and accurate
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I'm rereading lincoln and his generals. Just as an FYI, Williams quotes it as Lincoln and cites in his footnote "ccw reports, Townsend, anecdotes of the Civil war"
That's two citations - Townsend's anecdotes (which I've searched through and found no mention of the All Green Alike quote) and the Committee on the Conduct of the War reports (which my above citation is).
I suspect Williams' source for the quote is the above passage, but that he was reading it with the (perhaps unconscious) expectation that it was a Lincoln quote and he only needed to find where it had come from.
 

MikeyB

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
That's two citations - Townsend's anecdotes (which I've searched through and found no mention of the All Green Alike quote) and the Committee on the Conduct of the War reports (which my above citation is).
I suspect Williams' source for the quote is the above passage, but that he was reading it with the (perhaps unconscious) expectation that it was a Lincoln quote and he only needed to find where it had come from.
Really makes you wonder how many other quotes are misattributed and I'd say this is a fairly well known one.
 
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