Wednesday, 27 March 2019

A Short Civil War What If

I should make no secret that I have been a fan of studying the American Civil War since I was very young. I blame my uncle for this as when I was younger he was also a big American Civil War buff, to such extent that for my 5th birthday my brother and I were taken to Gettysburg to watch a reenactment in 1997. Suffice to say I remember very little of this, but I am told my brother and I were weirdly knowledgeable for five year olds. I do fondly recall however, growing up seeing my uncles civil war memorabilia around and often playing with the figures he collected.

My dual interest in alternate history has led me to speculate often on 'what might have been' if different actions had happened. And so, I present to you a brief speculation for your consideration.

As history tells it, on November 7th 1862, George B, McClellan, who had commanded the Army of Potomac for 16 months, was dismissed by President Lincoln. In his 1864 The Army of the Potomac, General McClellan's Report of its Operations While Under His Command McClellan relates that he was preparing to deliver a great blow to Lee with his army in November. He had moved over 120,000 men in roughly two weeks towards Lee’s army in Virginia and by his own accounts was preparing to force a battle upon Lee. In his Report he relates that “I cannot doubt that the result would have been a brilliant victory for our army.”[1] 

Let us, for a moment, indulge McClellan and assume that, for whatever reason, Lincoln decides not to dismiss the general on November 5th, and instead allows him to continue in his tenure as commander of the Army of the Potomac. What then, might have been the result of McClellan’s cool belief in victory in 1864?

McClellan’s 1864 Report paints a far different picture from his personal correspondence in 1862. He told his wife on the 25th of October 1862 that he did not expect Lee to fight before Richmond[2]. He seemed to set his own objective as Culpeper Court House, and from there we have no clear idea of what he intended despite his later prediction of a great victory.

However, Longstreet beat McClellan to Culpeper comfortably, moving in half the time it took him to make the same march. Lee had nearly divined McClellan’s intentions by the 6th of November[3]. He wrote that if the enemy continued to advance he would unite Longstreet and Jackson’s corps through Swift Run Gap, joining at Madison through Gordonsville. From there he anticipated the ability to menace McClellan’s right flank. McClellan had fears regarding his army's ability to use the Orange and Alexandria RR and viewed its capacity as overrated[4], so he would most likely then have directed his army to Fredericksburg. In his forward movement however, he abandoned Ashby and Snicker’s Gap, this allowed Jackson to send men across the Blue Ridge Mountains on the 13th and harass the armies’ rear columns historically.

Jackson suggested advancing his corps to threaten McClellan’s flank and rear, which Lee agreed with should it be feasible. Should the enemy further advance, Lee directed him to be pulled back. In this instance, with McClellan’s slow advance still pushing forward, but leaving his rear open. Jackson most likely mounts an embarrassing attack on McClellan’s rear which gives him pause, and allows Jackson time to regroup with Lee. However, if McClellan’s forward momentum continued positively on the 10th and 11th, Lee might recall Jackson and continue to implement his planned withdrawal to Madison. It should be noted that in his Report McClellan believed Jackson was at Chester and Thorton’s Gaps, when in reality he was closer to Snickers and Ashby Gaps[5], some 18 miles north, and so his rear is actually exposed rather than covered. He had in fact, left his rear uncovered[6].

Delayed communications may allow Jackson’s raid on McClellan’s supplies to go forward, but this will most likely halt McClellan’s advance as he turns to meet this threat. Should Jackson receive Lee’s orders to withdraw on the 13th as he did historically, he would immediately make for the rendezvous with Lee. The timing of that can only be speculated, but we should not assume he tarries long, and unites with Lee at Madison.

In the face of a unified army, and an increasing supply line. McClellan’s most likely option is to move his force to Fredericksburg, which will make an advance of 35 miles. This movement would take at best, four or five days, and at worst weeks. This would allow Lee to discover the change of base, and either relocate himself for a defence on the North Anna or to attack isolated portions of McClellan’s command. Most likely, he does as he had done historically and moves to intercept McClellan at Fredericksburg.

McClellan is now faced with a prospect similar to that of Burnside in December of 1862. The question then is, what does McClellan decide to do? Does he cross in the face of what he believes to be superior numbers? Or does he sit and wait, planning a new campaign?

In the face of an entrenched enemy, it is likely the armies merely return to winter quarters. The upside may be that there is no disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, as McClellan's dismissal and the obvious disposition of Lee's army make imminent action unlikely. From there though, it is anyone's guess as to how the campaign's play out in 1863. Does Burnside refuse the command and Hooker take over? None can say for sure.

In summation, I hope this lays out my reasoning behind my belief that even had McClellan been allowed to continue in his tenure of command, he would not have held it long. An extra month will not save him.


As a note, the letters referenced (unless otherwise specified) come from the War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Civil War, Serial 28, available online through the Ohio State University.

[1] Report, pg. 652

[2] George McCllelan, The Young Napoleon, Stephen B. Sears, pg. 337

[3]Lee to Davis, Nov. 6th, 1862 (pg. 698): "General Jackson's corps is in the valley, his advance being at Front Royal. I do not think they will advance very far while he is in position to threaten their flank. Should they, however, continue their forward movement, General Jackson is directed to ascend the valley, and should they cross the Rappahannock, General Longstreet's corps will retire through Madison, where forage can be obtained, and the two corps unite through Swift Run Gap. No opposition has yet been offered to their advance, except the resistance of our cavalry and pickets. I have not yet been able to ascertain the strength of the enemy, but presume it is the whole of McClellan's army, as I learn that his whole force from Harper's Ferry, to Hagerstown has been withdrawn from Maryland, leaving only pickets at the fords, and but few troops at Harper's Ferry." See also, Lee to Stuart, Nov. 7th, 1862, pg. 703.

[4] George to Mary McClellan, Nov. 7th, 1862, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, pg. 520

[5] Report, pg. 652

[6] Report, pg. 651. See also, Lee to Stuart Nov. 9th, 1862, pg. 706-707

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

A Short Mueller Postscript

While the news has been on fire for the past three days regarding the conclusion of the Mueller probe, and Donald Trump and his supporters loudly proclaim he has been 'exonerated'. We of course, should take none of this conclusion at face value.

The report, form what Attorney General Barr said, exonerates Trump and his campaign of collusion. However, Trump is still under multiple investigations, ranging from hush money paid to porn stars to improper use of finances in his electoral committee. At the state and federal level Trump remains under a cloud of suspicion. While the Mueller report was the most troubling cloud by far, the fact that no one will be satisfied until the full report is released means it hasn't completely been cleared.

Even though it exonerates Trump and his campaign from collusion, it does not exonerate his associates and unofficial advisers like Roger Stone from that crime. Whether this could in any way be tied back to the Trump family is an open question, and one people would do well to remember. This little graphic should help you with the particulars for the moment.

Most damning however, is the revelation that the investigation does not clear Trump of the impeachable offense of obstruction of justice. Considering that was potentially the most damning charge, and that it remains an open question which could be approached through many of the dozen or so ongoing investigations, Trump and his supporters would be well served to reign in their exultation.

Congress is continuing its own inquiries, alongside the other investigations. There's much more in the woodwork Trump and his associates might be liable for. For now he can crow about 'no collusion' but he would do well to think in terms of 'obstruction' and 'finance violations' which may come back to haunt him far more thoroughly than any charge of collusion ever could.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Waking Fire

This month has been a month of high fantasy for me. However, I have indulged myself by not just limiting myself to the regular fare of swords and sorcerer's, but have gone into the world of magic and flintlocks as well. However, recently I was able to read a book which has been catching my eye for some time now, and I took my first step into steampunk fantasy!

That book of course, was The Waking Fire, by Anthony Ryan.

Welcome to a world of rifles, steam power, electricity, and dragons. The Ironship Trading Syndicate, the largest and most successful company of the Corporate world, runs on drake blood. Controlling the largest sphere of influence on the foreboding continent of Arradsia, they hunt and capture drakes to fuel their society. From ships to long range communications the blood of drakes is a necessity for keeping the world going.

It also gives the Corporate world an advantage over their one great rival, the powerful but fading Corvantine Empire, which seeks to control this precious resource for itself.

Enter Lizzane Lethridge, granddaughter and daughter of famous inventors, and an extremely effective spy and assassin. She is being sent to Arradsia by the Syndicate to take matters in hand as war looms between the Empire and her company. All in pursuit of a mysterious device which may turn the tide.

Then you have Claydon Torcreek, a petty thief who dreams of nothing more than getting out of the slums of the great colony city of Carvenport. He just wants to make enough money to flee his past and bring his friends to safety far away from the ferocious continent of drakes and the grim tribes of Spoiled who inhabit the Interior. Little does he know that destiny has greater plans for him.

Finally, we have Second Lieutenant Corrick Hilemore of the Ironship Protectorate Vessel Viable Opportunity which patrols the worlds oceans to make them safe for commerce. Sent to hunt down pirates, he finds himself caught up in a conspiracy well beyond his pay grade.

Honestly, this book was awesome. It mixes the best parts of Brandon Sanderson and the Mistborn series, with all the things David Weber does right in his many series, and notably Safehold. But, for those slim similarities, it holds its own with a unique style, magic system, and unquestionably epic action and adventure. From high seas hijinks, spy vs. spy action worthy of James Bond, to amazing adventures in the Interior worthy of Indiana Jones or Crocodile Dundee. Honestly, its a blend of never let up action which will keep you engaged and subject to a new series of awesome adventures in each chapter.

The world is, quite frankly, one of the most unique in terms of world building I have come across since Brandon Sanderson. Forget the true and rightful king, it's one nation under copyright. The world our main characters hail from is one which knows no democracy, little true political freedom, and is one where contracts are as binding as oaths. Corporations run and own everything, but the most powerful of course has the most say. Shareholder is a rank of privilege, and the managerial class are as close to nobility as you get. Everyone else is a worker whose trying to scrape their way up the corporate ladder.

Then of course you have the Empire. Backwards, corrupt and decadent, but for all that still the most powerful and potent force not in the Corporate sphere.

With this little cold war going on, the magic system plays a big role. Though yes the powers are color coded for your convenience, you find it nice and simple to keep track of. Each user is not limited to one color of drake blood, and may use all of them. However, many become adept at one or the other, few can master all of them easily. It causes some fascinating action scenes as blood users square off against one another.

Of course, the author doesn't skimp on guns and ships either. The knowledge of weapons and warships reads well, and you can really believe that the people know their stuff, with rifles and pistols being the order of the day, while on the cannons blaze away at armored ships which run off blood burning power, giving them incredible speed. These are all thought out logically and given true advantages and weaknesses, which keeps things constant and quite exciting as you try and figure out who can win in what situations.

In this world though, you do get an idea that things really are shrinking. Though the Interior is vast and dangerous, you get the sense you are seeing the end of an era. Drakes are becoming harder to find and harvest in numbers, and are virtually extinct near the coast. One is brought to mind of the death of the buffalo on the Great Plains as they were hunted to extinction.

For the plot, I really can't say much for risking spoilers. It honestly goes at such a break neck pace with revelation after revelation that you'll be on the edge of your seat as the story progresses. As it goes on you realize nothing is as it seems, and many of the things our characters discover are downright unsettling. Heck, many of the finds later on seem like something straight out of H.P. Lovecraft!

None of the characters gets a short shift in these stories. Each has a good arc which they run with. Lizzane with her secret mission infiltrating Corvantine territory and Clayton with his run into the desolate and dangerous Interior with a crew of Contractors out for the ultimate prize. Perhaps only Corrick doesn't get as fleshed out as he deserves to be, but that's what we have sequels for of course!

If I had to say anything bad, maybe some of the revelations lacked proper foreshadowing, and one or two events were unceremoniously dumped on us, but with nary a slow scene and constant action paving the way forward, how can I complain?

A solid start to what promises to be an overall solid series. It shouldn't be missed!