Friday, July 23, 2010

The Ever-Changing Leaders and Organization of the Army of the Potomac

The Ever-Changing Leaders and Organization of the Army of the Potomac by George S. Maharay

I made a previous post about this book, the author had emailed me trying to sell a copy and made the claim that there were 6 changes in army command and the 8 changes in general-in-chief. He made a big point in the email (and on the back of the book) about saying how many changes there were among the leaders and the organization of the army. The back of the book proclaims 149 changes in leadership and 94 changes in organization.

I thought he was overreaching on both points. Even if we consider McDowell a commander of the Army of the Potomac (he technically wasn't because it wasn't the Army of the Potomac yet but many authors will credit him as the first commander because his army is the basis for the Army of the Potomac) that leaves us with five; McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker and Meade. And those are truthfully only four changes. But Maharay claims Pope as a commander of the Army of the Potomac, giving him a tenure of "six days or less" as commander. This is obviously wrong. Not to belabor a point but McClellan was not relieved of command in late August 1862, he had many of his men temporarily transferred to Pope's command. And if Pope had won the battle of Second Manassas I'm sure those transfers would have become permanent and McClellan would have been sent home. But he retained command of the army until November 1862. And Pope was never given command of the Army of the Potomac, just over many of its men. There is also the possibility that if the two armies were combined under a victorious Pope that the new army would be called the Army of Virginia (the name of Pope's army, who would the victors choose the name of the army that had been defeated in all of its major battles?)

His logic for the general in chief post is even more convoluted, he claims times when Lincoln was general in chief and times when Lincoln and Halleck held the post jointly. Both are false. There definitely were times when Lincoln did Halleck's job but he was never officially general in chief. I thought his email might have been mostly exaggerated to sell books but he actually says in the text that Lincoln was general in chief.

I think this book had the chance to be great, and some of it is worthwhile. Partly it is his interpretations of things that weaken the book. In the chapter discussing Grant becoming general in chief and electing to keep his headquarters near the Army of the Potomac instead of at a desk in Washington Maharay does a good job of explaining the situation and the decision. Then near the end of the book when recapping all the commanders of the army he writes this one sentence paragraph to close the chapter, "US Grant took to the field with the Army of the Potomac and from March 1864 until the end of the war, the army had two commanders." There were times Meade felt that he wasn't really commanding the army but on paper he was still the commander, his commanding officer just happened to always be very close by. Maharay did a good job explaining that setup the first time it appeared and then made an error the second time around.

The author is really devoted to numbering the changes, closing each chapter with a list of the changes and numbering them. I'm not so sure that his figures of 149 changes in leadership and 94 changes in organization are correct. For example when Burnside replaces McClellan as commander of the army this is counted as two changes, McClellan being relieved and Burnside replacing him. Same thing when McClellan replaces Scott as general in chief, Maharay counts it as two, Scott retiring and McClellan replacing him. This would make me believe that the number of changes is more likely half or two-thirds of the 149 and 94 Maharay claims. The actual number is not something I care about but when the author makes a big deal about numbering them then I feel he should be accurate.

I would have liked to see Maharay expand the book down to the divisional level. The book only focuses on the changes at the corps level and beyond. That's another reason the 149 and 94 changes claim seems way too high. That is a ton of changes for the corps and beyond level. At the most there were eight corps in the army at one moment. I made a chart from Maharay's info and it has 38 men making 49 command changes. This ignores the times that wings were used but those would not add more than a dozen command changes.

The book is self published. I've seen more of these in recent years and being self published doesn't necessarily make it a bad book. What seems to be lacking in them is the extensive review process many other presses put their books through. I know the University of Tennessee Press uses two peer reviewers who only worry about content and not grammar. A self published book could plenty of peer review as well as copy editing, instead though they seem to lack this. This book is a prime example.

A peer reviewer would have seen the issues I listed above and while they might not have been fixed they most likely would have been addressed more. Instead of a one sentence paragraph claiming Grant and Meade were both army commanders, 50 pages after a well reasoned section on the structure, the peer reviewer would have likely pressed Maharay to change that sentence or to enlarge the paragraph and explain why in his opinion Grant can be classified an army commander. I doubt that this book as is would have been published by a university press or one of the other good presses around the country. They might have eventually published the book but it would have looked different than it does now.

I'm glad I got this book through the library and did not spend my own $28 on it. I would not recommend anyone using their own money on this book.

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