January 3, 2020 Subject:
Snapshot of June 1862
This is an odd little fragment that reads like breaking news. It is pure propaganda, full of gushing praise for two Union generals who were far from faultless, and who are not immediately connected together in the public mind.
Henry Halleck had been promoted commander of the western theatre, taking much of the credit for the work of his then-unknown subordinate U.S. Grant. His move on the important enemy-held rail junction of Corinth was so slow that it was jokingly called a siege. Commanding his left wing was John Pope who had unexpectedly liberated all of the Mississippi above Memphis.
The next few weeks would transform both their careers dramatically, though the book would already have appeared by that time. In July, Halleck was appointed General-in-Chief of all the Union armies. And in August, Pope suffered one of the war’s most devastating defeats at the hands of Robert E. Lee, effectively ending his career.
Almost a third of the book is taken up with preparations for a meeting at West Point, where Pope was invited to join the President and the retired General-in-Chief, Winfield Scott. At that point, nothing was known of the issues discussed, but they must have been pretty important to drag Lincoln out of Washington. It is reasonable to guess that Scott’s original war-plan was being re-considered. At the outbreak, when both sides expected a quick, bloodless victory, this plan had been dismissed as far too slow - nicknamed the Anaconda (steadily constricting the life out of the Confederacy). But that was the plan that would be put into effect now.
The author, G.W. Richards, Counsellor at Law, is an unknown, presumably working for the government. A literary stylist he is not. He feels it necessary to open with a truly purple passage, comparing the war to the epics of ancient Greece, and then dramatizing Halleck’s mix of English and German blood - not exactly unusual in New York State, as he admits himself.
Pope has gone down in history as an empty braggart (as known in advance by Lee, who adapted his tactics accordingly). Halleck is the one whose unwritten memoirs I would love to have read, though nothing says they would have been truthful. His talent for deflecting blame is matched only by Grant’s, as discovered quite recently by diligent research.