West Point VS Politically Appointed Generals


     With a war that increased the Federal Armies upon the continent far beyond what the country ever imagined before, those who having the silver tongue secured leadership roles among themselves by convincing so many of their solemn duty. Having the gift of oratory however, does not necessarily turn the politician into a god of thunder smiting his enemies before him.

     There were numbers as well in their younger days having secured congressional appointment to gain their education among the military leaders of West Point and Annapolis. In rare instances would one leave the world of politics and make a name for himself above those pre-educated in the art of militarized warfare. Likewise those professional soldiers and sailors would share among themselves the disappointment of watching so many die at the command of an amateur.
     One such instance occurred in the wake of disaster known as the Red River Campaign. When Major General Nathaniel Banks' army was defeated at Sabine Crossroads, and Admiral David Dixon Porter's fleet found themselves beached upon the river due to exceedingly low tides, and tempers flared in writing.

     General Richard Taylor had walloped Major General Nathaniel Banks' army with a force of five thousand armed mostly with borrowed and stolen muskets. The admiral had reported his army commander became unglued before his staff after his severe thrashing. He sarcastically stated that generals who go about attempting to proclaim victories don't normally go backwards. Frustrated he noted to his friend William Tecumseh Sherman that the tail was too long to go into great detail, but one day he shall hear of it.
     The fleet commander was a professional sailor and had a very poor opinion of political officers. He called it a crying sin that thousands of lives are placed into the hands of such men. Although Sherman had asked for the command of Brigadier General A. J. Smith to be returned to him from Louisiana, the admiral was thankful that Sherman was not so insistent as to get him back at that time. To the naval commander, General Smith's command was all that hadn't been demoralized during the recent fiasco.

     Although Admiral Porter had already lost a small number of vessels, he was scared that if left to support Banks' further operations that man would sacrifice his entire fleet if he could. He had wished there came a time where Washington would understand and put a stop to placing these types of men in command.
A.J. Smith
     In closing, he states to Sherman: "I only wish, dear general, that you had taken charge of this Red River business. I am sure it would have had a different termination."

     It was a common rift between the professional and amateur among the killing fields, an irreconcilable mismanagement which flustered the trained eye on the battlefield, prolonging the bloody affair further. In Porter's examination an educated soldier is certainly cool and pleasant in the time of victory, but is best known during his hour of defeat. Nathaniel Banks failed the test, and his army suffered for it as a result.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2001

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