The common assumption is that the Founders… disliked popular politics because they were elitists, even aristocratic. Many Americans grow old believing that the Founding generation opposed popular voting because it didn’t trust working people; going so far as to consider the masses as under-educated sheep. This overly-simplistic analysis makes for spirited dinner conversation, but couldn’t be further from the truth. As with most interpretations in history, the true story is more complicated.
The Enlightenment ideal of the “disinterested gentleman”… has since been misinterpreted as elitism. According to enlightened principles, the ideal political leader has removed himself from the intrigues of financial dealings- “disinterested” himself from wage earning to achieve an impartial state of mind. The Founders were worried that a government controlled by men still worried about acquiring fortune could be used to that end. Entry into public service was almost always accompanied by a retirement from business, this was considered by the Founders as the proper code of conduct. Typically, this was accomplished by men who could afford such a radical change. It was not always attainable, but it was a standard the Founders strove to reach.
The Return of the White House
Shortly after Dolley Madison “rescued” the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington (the oldest possession) in 1814, British soldiers torched the White House, as well as other buildings in Washington. The Madisons never lived there again. The house required extensive repair. Between the fire damage, the smoke damage, and the water damage (from the providential hurricane that extinguished the flames) the mansion was not fit to live in for nearly three years.
In 1816, James Monroe was elected 5th President. He duly took the oath of office on March 4, 1817, but did not move into the president’s house till fall. By that time, the sandstone building, still bearing the scars of its trauma, was painted
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How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.
Joseph Addison, Cato (1712)
Death at 21 is always a tragedy, but Nathan Hale’s heroic death 243 years ago today ensured him Earthly immortality. A schoolmaster before the Revolution, he was a Captain in the 7th Connecticut when he volunteered to take on the immensely dangerous task of being a spy, at the request of General Washington, behind enemy lines in New York City. He was soon captured by the British, perhaps betrayed by his Tory cousin Samuel Hale. Interviewed by General Howe, his fate was a foregone conclusion: spies were always to be executed.
The night before he died he requested a Bible and a member of the clergy. Both requests were denied. According to British officer Frederick MacKensie, who was present, Hale…
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William S. Rosecrans fought nearly perfect campaign forcing his Confederate opponent out of Tennessee. When the newly reinforced Confederates finally turned to fight Southeast of Chattanooga, he and his subordinates were unprepared for the strategic implications.
- George H. Thomas, “The Rock of Chickamauga,” is justly praised for his dogged defense of Horseshoe Ridge on September 20. But, his earlier failure to grasp tactical realities on his front, his near compulsion with protecting his left flank, clouded the decision making of the man who most trusted his judgment, Rosecrans. Thomas’s tunnel vision weakened the rest of the Union position.
- Recent scholarship on the battle inexplicably gives Thomas Wood a pass for his discreditable decision making on September 20. This in large part is due to his service record(and favorable mentions in Grant’s memoirs) after the battle. Handed a discretionary order, he made the unfathomable choice to exercise no discretion at all. He had an axe to grind with his commander and blindly obeying this order, with all its pettiness, doomed the Army of the Cumberland.
- Rosecrans was a trusting soul, often loyal to a fault. James A. Garfield joined the Army at the outset of the campaign accepted the offer to become Rosecrans’s Chief of Staff. Rosecrans took a liking to the ambitious brigadier, but Garfield was only partially up to the task. During the heat of battle, Garfield was preoccupied with writing orders, losing track of the many moving parts of headquarters- confusion ruled the day under his watch. His insistence that Rosecrans push on to Chattanooga and not join Thomas at Horseshoe Ridge was most fortuitous for his career.
- Secretary of War Edwin Stanton did not trust Rosecrans leading an army- going as far as dispatching a spy, Charles Dana, to inform on all Rosecrans’s decisions. The War Department knew of Longstreet’s movement west within days of it beginning. Rosecrans was not notified of the movement until after crossing the Tennessee river into Georgia. There would be no time to counter the deployment with any other Union troops.
- Months of campaigning had taken a toll on Rosecrans. Notorious for endless banter and insomnia, the Union commander was haggard and his nerves frazzled when the Army of Tennessee stopped running to turn and fight. His compromised personal state, combined with the other actors in play, provided the perfect recipe for defeat along the banks of the Chickamauga creek.
The bloodiest two days in the Civil War were an unnecessary battle. Braxton Bragg’s tactical victory rang hollow throughout the Confederacy.
- Bragg failed to achieve his two primary strategic goals; capturing Chattanooga and destroying the Army of the Cumberland. On September 21, Rosecrans and his army were in firm possession of the city.
- Bragg’s casualties were horrendous when weighed against the empty result of controlling the battlefield. The Army of Tennessee suffered over 18,000 men killed, wounded, or captured. These were losses the Confederacy could not endure.
- Bragg’s ineffectual command structure suffered even more following the battle- 7 general officers were lost in the two days of fighting.
- Bragg squandered the numerical superiority afforded him by the inter-department transfer of Longstreet’s troops to the West. Such an effort was becoming increasingly difficult with the transportation network squeezed by Federal occupation.
- The failure to exploit the battlefield gains was a major detriment to the morale of the men. D. H. Hill described it best…. “But after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair and without the enthusiasm of hope. That barren victory sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.”
Braxton Bragg was a beaten man in the summer of 1863.
For months he sad idly by while his opponent, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, reformed, resupplied, and refitted the Army of the Cumberland. Bragg did little to interfere with Rosecrans’s efforts.
Near the end of June, Rosecrans began maneuvering around Bragg… carrying out one of the great campaigns of the Civil War.
In just 11 days, Rosecrans had outmaneuvered, outflanked, and out-generaled Bragg completely out of Eastern Tennessee – losing only 560 soldiers in the process.
It was not one of the large scale blood baths that drew showy headlines- but it did accomplish one of Lincoln’s principal goals- liberate the strongly pro-union Eastern Tennessee.
Sadly, people do remember the horrendously bloody battle which followed Rosecrans’s strategic masterstroke.
The Chaplain of Bragg’s army summarized the mood best when he addressed his commander, “My dear general, I am afraid you are thoroughly outdone.”
Bragg could only agree.