"Days of Glory" by Larry J. Daniel

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"Days of Glory" by Larry J. Daniel
A review by Don Plezia (24 May 2004)
In this book, Reverend Daniel contrives to shed light on the history of "Army of the Cumberland" claiming history writers have neglected it. He then wipes the "The Army of the Cumberland," a two-volume history by Thomas Budd Van Horne, off the list as biased reporting.
His rationale is that it does not engage in the gossipy, snickering and backbiting of the officers’ corps because they were not "fraternal or solidified." Or, it is not great reading and the real reason it is not acceptable is that it is an apologia for Major General George H. Thomas.
In the second paragraph of his Preface, he lets us know that all efforts before his were attempts to ‘vindicate’ Thomas. Therefore in the third paragraph he decided that Thomas ". . . is a flawed character who does not mature until late 1863."
Jeez! A guy who early in the war defeats "Stonewall" Jackson, saves his army not once, but twice, was undefeated in battle, destroys two Confederate armies, is flawed and requires “vindication?” That sounds like something applicable to “crazy” or “drunken” generals.
He criticizes Thomas Van Horne, Thomas’s biographer, as an advocate of Thomas. If being an advocate is wrong, we must take all writings by Catton, Simon, Porter, Wilson, et al, not to mention Grant and Sherman’s "Memoirs," as pure "hogwash." The Reverend infers that only those who dislike or disapprove or are in some fashion alienated against the subject are the only ones qualified to write about them.
Reverend Daniel immediately dismisses all material about Thomas before his, as "grounded in postwar writings that cannot be proven by contemporary evidence." Let’s see, according to the good Reverend, every historian and would-be historian since 1865 is wrong about Thomas including Castel, McKinney and Buell all of whom he quotes extensively? I don’t understand what "contemporary evidence" is either. Is that evidence not extant until the Reverend finds it? What is wrong with the sources quoted in Castel, Wilbur Thomas, McKinney or Buell? They are all immaterial according to the Reverend. He apparently dismisses all the material that Thomas gave to Van Horne for inclusion in his history. "Contemporary evidence" does not support them, but they were contemporary evidence as reported by Van Horne. Much of Van Horne’s work is taken from Thomas’s personal papers, which Mrs. Thomas reportedly destroyed after the Generals death, and the O. R.’s. The Reverend claims since they do not now exist that they are also all irrelevant eg. "No contemporary evidence." I wonder how he explains the Bible to his flock?
He disposes of "contemporary history" writers by claiming they did not have the heart to dive into the National Archives because of the "sheer volume." Nevertheless, the good Reverend has waded through this miasma of dust-covered material, no doubt turning himself brown in the process, to glean nuggets he claimed were hidden there. I failed to find little others have not uncovered.
He then states that Thomas, along with Buell and Rosecrans, has “solid” biographies which reverses what he claimed and dismissed (Van Horne and Cist) earlier in his Preface.
The Reverend claims he has ". . . stayed clear of battle minutiae that can easily be found in other works. . . ." However he has overly substituted the minutiae of the individual soldier, whose overall comprehension of the action swirling around him is limited to his immediate front. A private’s overall knowledge of the tactics, strategy or battle plan, or of the ebb and flow of the battle is extremely limited to what he can see in his front. He usually never knows the Strategy involved, indeed how can he? As to social problems, he can only add one vote, yea or nay to the generally acknowledged existing racism. Morale is a nebulous perception, not necessarily shared universally. If the Reverend served any time in the military he would have found that men griped about everything and they do not all share the same opinion. I’m sure it was the same during the Civil War. However, Reverend Daniel treats these comments as though they flowed from the lips of Aristotle, Jefferson, Napoleon or Clauswitz. This adds nothing to the understanding or analysis. As any good statistician knows, a sample size of one (1) defining a situation, morale, conscription, or emancipation, is not worth the powder to blow it to. . . . Heck. Probably it just adds more to the price they pay the good Reverend for the book. Too many historians today think that this adds authenticity to their work. To me, it seems similar to "Polls” taken today about politics, morals and whatever other item seems worthy of exploring with the public. They achieve no real understanding, but it fills space and sometimes it’s fun to read, which today may be what history writers and publishers are all about.
He frets that "Thomas supporters" will think him too hard on Thomas. Well, by the end of the book there are included 132 (my count) derogatory or backhanded comments about one individual (Thomas), he certainly has reason to worry. One must wonder why all the negativity about one man? In the large picture, the Reverend’s portrait of Thomas does not stand up to the generally held perception. This man at the beginning of the war made a soul wrenching choice to support a government and it’s policy against his native state. Is not that commendable? He was never defeated in battle. Is that not praiseworthy? He gave the Union its first victory in battle at Mill Springs. Is that not estimable? He saved the Union Amy of the Cumberland at Chickamauga. Is not that laudable? He defeated the Confederates at Missionary Ridge with a victory described by others as "miraculous." Is that not of value? Despite the indecision of Sherman, he helped defeat the Army of Tennessee in Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign. Cannot that be recognized? He destroyed the Army of Tennessee at Nashville, again despite Sherman’s and Grant’s interference, and ended the war in the West. Is that not meritorious? Despite Grant’s diminution of his efforts and the dispersion of his forces at Nashville, he outfitted and sent a cavalry force that he built over Grant’s objections and led by James Harrison Wilson, to conquer and destroy the industrial sites at Selma and Montgomery in Alabama. Besides meeting and destroying the mythical Nathan Bedford Forrest, Wilson also captured Jefferson Davis in Georgia. Is that not praiseworthy? His efforts at reconciliation after the war brought Tennessee back into the Union before any other officers’ efforts in any other departments. Was he not a great man? Not in the Reverend’s opinion!
I’m not sure how Daniel reached the tortured rationale that the IV Corps was the heart of the Army of the Cumberland, but he erred again. The XIV Corps, Thomas’s old Corps was its heart. So good that after Sherman, denigrated its performance from Resaca to Jonesboro in secret letters to Grant, he had to take it to protect him on his vacation from the war in Savannah.
Well so much for the "Preface."
This is not a history of the "Army of the Cumberland."
It is a shallow review of the early history and some of its battles. Its primary focus is to denigrate George H. Thomas as an ineffective, slow, spiteful, and insubordinate officer. In four hundred and thirty-four pages there are roughly one hundred and thirty-two demeaning references regarding Thomas.
As others have done (See Creveld below), the Reverend leaps at the opportunity to repeat the Grant/Sherman aspersion about Thomas being "slow." He repeats the slander that Grant/Sherman initiated to degrade Thomas’s military performances. He repeats the untrue story that they called Thomas "Slow Trott [sic]" because of his performance. "Slow Trot" is a Cavalry Command and Thomas used it when he taught cavalry tactics at West Point. Due to the natural instincts of the young officers to be, their first inclination in formation to was to gallop which was dangerous for inexperienced riders riding old horses, and even more dangerous when the exercises were carried out in the small riding hall at their disposition. Thomas thus ordered "Slow Trot" protected horse and rider alike. His pupils, including many who would fight for and against him in the future, cheated of their fun, reluctantly obeyed and ever afterward they called Thomas "Slow Trot." The full derivation of the nickname is presented on the AOTC.net website (http://aotc.net/article3.htm), as are other nicknames associated with Thomas none of them derogatory.
To quote historian Martin van Creveld, much of what historians give us to believe is based on . . . "a sad testimonial to the readiness of many historians to copy each other's words without giving the slightest thought to the evidence on which they are based"
The Reverend also adopts the silly argument (previously presented by others) that the Army of the Cumberland was slow because of its size. Now, with about 65,000 men, the AOTC was about 10,000 men smaller than the Army of Northern Virginia. That Army has never been accused of being slow. If size is some criteria of speed than the Army of the Potomac’s must have been as a snail. No, size is not measure of an Armies speed or effectiveness. It’s what the army’s generals do with them that count. With two different armies, Thomas destroyed two separate rebel forces. With less than half an army he fought the Army of Tennessee, numbering 75,000, to a standstill.
Why is Daniel so negative about Thomas? The disapproval extends to a negative comment or statement or quote on about every third page. Is this a trick to create discussion where none exists? Is this a subterfuge to create a controversy to increase sales? Is this derogation of Thomas to prepare the way for another overblown apotheosis of Grant? This certainly isn’t history.
The Reverend’s negativity does not confine itself to Thomas alone. No officer in the book seemed to have escaped his criticism. I’m surprised that these quarrelsome, egotistical, inept, envious, and covetous people won any battles.
Well, we’ll have to wait a while for a real history of the Army of the Cumberland to appear. We’ll have to make do with Van Horne’s and McKinney’s flawed versions, despite their disposition toward Thomas.
There are continuous deprecations of Thomas and his ‘slowness’ for no apparent reason other than to state the words. On p. 315, he claims that " . . . the XIV Corps began its march north. Long halts were taken in order for skirmishers to scour the woods to the front and right. At the pace of a quarter-mile an hour, could Thomas, never known for his speed, be in position by dawn?"
Well, Thomas had been marching that day to unite with the rest of Rosecrans army and had to march to his new position on the left flank of Rosecrans army during the night. Crittenden had failed to warn Rosecrans of any activity on his left or northern flank so Thomas knew nothing of the Rebels position or activity. Now where I come from a night march could be a real adventure. Never know when you’ll walk into a tree, over a cliff, fall into water or run into a Rebel Division. Lots of things can happen at night. I’m not sure how rapidly the good Reverend thinks moving an entire Corps, four divisions and something like 20,000 men, not mentioning artillery batteries and Corps trains, several miles through dusty woods over unknown territory should take. In his scorn, is he suggesting that Thomas should have double-timed his men? Perhaps he can count on divine intervention. Thomas couldn’t.
Daniel snidely reports on p. 353 that on "Monday morning, October 19, Rosecrans rode out for his daily inspection tour, leaving Granger in charge, an odd selection given that Thomas ranked him by five months."
Well, if the Commanding Officer (C. O.) is absent from his post for any length of time, or tied up on other duties, normally another officer is designated as an “Officer of the Day” (O. D.) whose duty is to attend to the protocols and operational duties of the army that would normally fall in the C. O.’s domain. Perhaps Reverend Daniel has not had the privilege of serving in the armed forces and is unaware of military procedures. If this is the case, should it have been left unsaid?
On page 139, Daniel claims that by October 1862, "The Virginian (Thomas), though an excellent officer, lacked experience in his present assignment . . ." By that time Thomas had been a division commander and second in command of the AotC. Since Reverend Daniel did not know about Officers of the Day, how can he make judgements on any Generals abilities? Does he have “contemporary evidence?”
On page 325, note 28, the Reverend claims Thomas withheld 18 regiments in reserve. Claiming that ". . . This amounted to more than 50 percent of his force . . . "Then he listed the regiments in the "Orders of Battle" for the Chickamauga campaign as 54 regiments, including the brigades of Grose and Willich. This left him two third’s of his force or 36 regiments to man his battle line. A Corps commander who puts a third of his force in reserve, to take care of any unexpected emergency is acting within accepted military protocol. I’m sure his experience helped him devise this ratio. Nevertheless, of course according to the Reverend, Thomas really hadn’t gained from any of this valuable experience - yet. According to the Reverend, "he had not matured."
According to Daniel, Thomas also caused the Union defeat at the battle of Chickamauga (p. 332 and footnote 49). His persistent calls for reinforcements caused Rosecrans, the overall commander of that army, to over-commit his forces to Thomas’s flank. This gives no credibility to Rosecrans’s ability as commander, who Daniel claims lost control of his army. Daniel fails to explain that Thomas’s Corps was put on the left flank to control the roads leading back to Chattanooga which was the main objective of both forces. Rosecrans, Thomas, and Bragg all realized the importance of those roads. Rebels already were in Thomas’s flank and rear and he needed help for that sector. As commander, Rosecrans knew the ramifications of these decisions. Daniel also claims Thomas was responsible for the Confederate breakthrough in the center. This was caused by Rosecrans’s poorly written order to Wood and, I believe, McCook’s failure to cover Wood as he said he would. Thomas didn’t care whom he got to send help as long he got it. Thomas’s third mistake, according to Daniel, was his failure to use his reinforcements effectively. I am not sure how many Corps Daniel and Cozzens have commanded but, as I understand it, reinforcements are not used to extend your battle and skirmisher lines, but to repair incursions made by the enemy, which happened when Breckenridge broke into Kelly Field, or to follow up breakouts that might occur. You also use reserves to replace troops in the battle line to re-supply and re-arm the men when they run out. If he used his reinforcements to extend his line of battle, then I would be the first to agree he was derelict. Not only did he protect the army’s retreat, he conducted the escape of his forces, and what trains were left, without loss except for a couple of Ohio regiments left behind by mistake.
Daniel repeated the often quoted tale of Thomas’s inhospitable behavior to Grant at his arrival at Chattanooga on the night of October 22, 1863 on page 363 and his footnote three. He quotes Major James H. Wilson, a Grant aide who writes that he came into "army headquarters to find Grant on one side of the room and Thomas on the other, both looking glum and ill at ease" Wilson, a life-long critic of Grant by the way, supposedly prompted Thomas to make Grant more comfortable, but Grant refused. This story has only Wilson’s word to back it up. Horace Porter, a life-long supporter of Grant, reported the same incident but interpreted it entirely differently, stating that Grant wanted to immediately be brought up to date, and Thomas only complied. So, contrary to the Reverend’s dismissal of Thomas Buell’s dismissal of Wilson’s report, we must dismiss the Reverend’s dismissal. If this incident did occur, we have no "contemporary evidence" which mentions this unnecessary report and therefore can certainly be dismissed.
There are many more incidents of these contortions of the truth or poor research by the Reverend Daniel. They are too many to refute individually, so I’ll leave it to the reader to question the need for this attempt to revise history.
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