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November 6, 2011
A Slight Demonstration (7)By Greyhawk
Sunday, October 20, 1861: Major General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, had a pile of paper requiring his attention. Such was the price paid for spending time in the field. But here among the more urgent documents was a September issue of Harper's Weekly - one of his favorites. He'd already seen it, of course, but whoever had included it in this stack - doubtless for review at his leisure after reducing the rest of the pile - didn't know that. It was probably sent by one of his many admirers.
"What do you think I received as a present yesterday?" He'd written his wife Ellen (Nell, he called her) the previous week. "Some poor woman away up in the middle of New York sent me half a dozen pair of woollen socks--I beg pardon, I see it is from Pennsylvania, not New York. I enclose the note." From Pennsylvania to New York and beyond, America loved him... he picked up the issue of Harper's to see if it contained a note from a sender tucked somewhere in the pages. It did not.
Here on an early page, though, was one of his orders printed for all the world to see, under the headline "GENERAL McCLELLAN ON THE SABBATH."
He, of course, would not need the Lord's forgiveness for working on this Sabbath - the Lord had chosen him for this task in the first place. He would give thanks that this particular Special Order had seen print somewhere it was likely to do some good. The public needed to know their General was looking out for their boys.
And he was busy enough this Sabbath that he didn't have time for further review of Harper's Weekly. The question of the day was Leesburg - specifically, should he take it or not? Or could he take it or not? How many of Beauregard's 170,000 (at least!) troops were there?
It began with a message from Stone a few days before.
Yesterday - the 19th - he'd sent McCall on his survey mission to Dranesville - and he himself had ridden out to join that division in the field. (There was a fine example of the sorts of troubles confronting McClellan as he tried to build an army from whatever components might be available. Old McCall had pitched camp two or three miles beyond Dranesville, and had to be recalled to the proper location by McClellan himself... and McCall was one of his most experienced division commanders!) The people in Dranesville had also claimed the rebel army had abandoned Leesburg. Their information was questionable, of course - it could be what Beauregard wanted him to believe, but while he was out with McCall another report had come from Stone.
It all sounded plausible, but on the other hand the entire thing might be a load of pickled pork. Information McClellan had just received from another valued source indicated 11,000 rebel soldiers remained in place at Leesburg...
Here was another pleasing story in Harper's - a look at the effort underway at the Springfield Armory to manufacture rifled muskets. "The army rifle, which is known as the Springfield pattern, is now used by the bulk of our volunteers, many regiments having been supplied from the armory since the war began."
"It is very similar in its principles and construction to the long Enfield rifle, which is considered the best piece in existence by British riflemen."
Numerous reports - public and otherwise - indicated the "Confederates" were well-equipped with Enfields. Soon enough the men of McClellan's Army of the Potomac would recognize the Springfield as more desirable. Regardless of which might be the "better" weapon - and they were close in that regard - the superiority of the Springfield would be established beyond all argument by the availability of spare parts. The real weapon was what one might call American know-how, and now Americans could read all about it - complete with illustrations (the production and delivery of such illustrated news being yet another modern technological wonder) - with American pride. (Down South, of course, they could read all about it with entirely different emotions...)
It consists of forty-seven separate pieces, all put together with the aid of screws and springs ; in the manufacture of these forty-seven pieces no less than 396 separate operations are performed by different workmen. The welding, boring, smoothing, rifling, stocking, proving, etc., will all be best understood from the illustrations. Each operation is conducted by experienced men, under the general direction of the commanding officer ; the system of individual responsibility is so thoroughly carried out that every workman accounts to the Government for the value of each piece of work which may prove to be defective through his carelessness or unskillfulness. Thus, one out of every sixty gun-barrels is said to burst when proved. The bursted barrel is instantly examined, the cause of the accident detected by the nature of the rent, and the cost of the barrel charged to the man who had charge of that part of the work.
It really was an advanced process they were using there, resulting in manufacture of unprecedented quantities at an unprecedented pace. Besides facilitating such mass production, in the end any rifle could operate with parts from any other rifle - "Interchangeable Parts" they called it, meaning that if any part of any rifle failed later it could be replaced easily enough. Loyal Americans would appreciate learning of this, and would appreciate this point even more: "So many rifles and bayonets are now being turned out of the Springfield Armory, that if our armies lost theirs in every battle they could be replaced in a very short time."
Nothing was too good for our boys - and that extended well beyond weapons. Clothing, food, gear, and transportation to the front for all of it - Northern industry was hard at work supplying George McClellan's Army of the Potomac; the world's largest army would also be its best-equipped. Soon enough - and to the glory of the nation capable of raising and equipping such a force - it would be unbeatable. Its commander would reap the benefit of that...
For now such thoughts must be banished. There was other business immediately at hand. He turned his attention to a map.
McCall was out even now, with 10,000-odd soldiers spending their Sunday on what amounted to practice movement - but also to gather information that would lead to better maps. Some of Smith's troops were out on a similar mission, but closer to their current flag pole. Across the Potomac, Generals Banks and Stone had another 20,000 or so troops practically in sight (or at least a few hours march) of Leesburg.
But where was the enemy?
(Part eight is here...)
Posted by Greyhawk / November 6, 2011 1:31 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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