Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/June/General D. H. Maury's Review of Van Horne's "Army of the Cumberland"

Southern Historical Society Papers, June 1876

History of the Army of the Cumberland.

By Chaplain Van Horne.


Review by General D. H. Maury.

The History of the Army of the Cumberland follows hard upon Sherman's Memoirs of his own life and campaigns, and differs from that work as widely as the character and nature of the commander of the Army of the Cumberland differed from that of "the General of the Army."

The publication of General Sherman is not without its value of a procreative sort. It may be likened to that stimulating fertilizer, from the Chinco Islands, for, unsavory in itself, and yielding no fruit to the toiler after historical truth, yet it draws from all the land rich stores of facts for the future historians of the great struggle for power between the States of the South and the States of the North.

The very vain glory and self conceit which breathe from every line of Sherman's remarkable narrative are eminently provocative of the rejoinders which clever and dignified writers are now preparing and publishing.

Men who bore the brunt of the fierce conflicts, General Sherman so flippantly discusses and so often avoided, are not satisfied that he shall be the historian or the critic of their brave endeavor. They will write now, though they could never be brought to do so until "the General of the Army" assumed to be their historiographer. They cannot keep silent after reading their record from his reckless pen.

As a military history, nothing can be more unreliable or less valuable than Sherman's book. It is almost as entertaining as the works of Mark Twain, and reminds us by its vanity of the autobiography of Beneveunto Cellini. But it is a public contribution to the history of his times.

As an attempt to place his own claims to military conduct on a high ground, nothing could have been more futile and inactive, and the only consolation General Sherman should ever derive from his effort at history is, that which he seems to have attained—viz: that he has written a history which will cause other people to write the truth. And the self-complacency with which he claims this merit and readjusts his ruffled plumage, after his soaring flight among the fierce broils of war, is eminently characteristic of the man.

As those who are familiar with Sherman read his character in every line of his book, so will the admirers of General Thomas find in this history of the Army of the Cumberland, a reflex of the sturdy, steadfast, staunch soldier, who never shrank from personal exposure, and who on more than one disastrous day checked the course of a victorious enemy, and even snatched victory from defeat.

General Thomas, like General Sherman, was indecisive as to the course he would pursue on the breaking out of the war. It was only after discussion and consideration that these distinguished soldiers determined to draw their swords on the side of the Union.

Had Sherman continued in the service of Louisiana, or adhered to the resolution he announced to his Louisiana friends and patrons that he would never fight against her—

He would not have been put into so much personal peril and alarm, as he tells us he was, by the Federal soldiers in St. Louis, after they had captured the Confederates in Camp Jackson.

Nor have had to gallop away from his shattered brigade to save himself, as he tells us he did, at the First Manassas.

Nor have been surprised and routed at Shiloh.

Nor defeated at Chickasaw Bluff by one-tenth of his force.

Nor have been repulsed by Hardee at Missionary Ridge.

Nor have been driven out of the Deer Creek country.

Nor have fled from Enterprise to Vicksburg on the defeat of his expedition against Mobile and Selma.

Nor have made his march to the sea.

Nor have said in his official reports and in his testimony before the claims commission that General Wade Hampton burned Columbia, when he knew he did not.

Nor have written and published his story of all these things.

The Southern army lost nothing when Sherman decided to fight against Louisiana.

Had General Thomas followed his natural inclinations and adhered to his allegiance to Virginia, and accepted the commission of Colonel, which he had procured from Governor Letcher, his native State would have been the better off by one more able and brave Virginian fighting in defence of principles cherished throughout his life, and for his home and for his kindred.

Of all those native-born Virginians who turned their swords against Virginia, there is but one who added strength to the opposing section.

Thomas, alone, of them all, was able and efficient in the armies of those to whom he transferred his allegiance.

And while Virginia holds up to the emulation of her youth the examples of Lee, of Jackson, and of Johnston, she will ever deplore that a son so brave and so able as Thomas was did not fight by their side.

He has now gone to his account. What motives, what influences decided his course, God alone knows. But he was a loss to the Southern army, and a tower of strength to the army of the North.

They had none like that Virginian Thomas.

He was sedate, reflective, calm, self-reliant, resolute.

There was in his demeanor, in the massive proportions of his person, in his clear blue eye, in the kindliness of his countenance and of his manly voice, all that impresses men with that personal magnetism so potent in the crisis of a battle, and when we remember that his whole life does not furnish one act or word of wrong or insult to woman, or one instance of intentional untruth, the personal contrast between General Thomas and "the General of the Army" is completed.

The History of the Army of the Cumberland is certainly worthy of the superficial compliment bestowed upon it by "the General of the Army" "on the handsome style in which this book is printed and bound."

The discussion of the principles which underlay the revolution with which the author opens his subject might have been judiciously omitted, for Chaplain Van Horne does not seem to know that in the South the leaders were behind the people in their purposes and feelings. The vote for secession was carried throughout the South by the greatest popular majority that ever endorsed any national policy. In Virginia, the "leaders" of the people had been opposed to the secession of the State; but when April 14, 1861, Mr. Lincoln called for troops to coerce the seceded States, the Virginia Convention, on the 17th of April, unanimously passed the ordinance of secession, and when it was referred back to the people it was ratified by a majority of 131,000 votes! Less than 1,000 votes were cast against it.

The book is an excellent compilation of the documents within reach of the author. He has bestowed upon it the time and care such a work demands, and has been aided and sustained by the cordial co-operation of many who could efficiently contribute to his success.

The tribute to General Buell (pages 82 to 87) is well expressed and well merited by the illustrious soldier, who was so much undervalued by the politicians of his country.

The fairness of the author's discussion of the capture of Fort Donelson and his vindication of General Albert Sidney Johnston, show a purpose so far as in him lay to "write nothing but the truth."

He discusses the Battle of Shiloh in a frankness conformable with the general spirit of his book. But he is mistaken in thinking General Bragg's lines were repulsed late in the day of the 6th, "when it was only necessary to press back Grant's left flank one-eighth of a mile."

His own record shows that after a day of unchecked success the Confederate army, having surprised and routed Sherman at 7 o'clock in the morning, had constantly pressed on towards Pittsburg landing until three P. M., when "the masses of fugitives huddled in terror under the river's bank, spoke plainly of broken lines and general demoralization." Then Sidney Johnston fell, in the very crisis of the great victory he had planned and almost won, and the disconcertment and arrest of plan and execution usual on such a calamity befell the Confederate army as it did when Jackson fell more than two years afterwards.[1]

Our lines were not repulsed, as Mr. Van Horne thinks, but they did not administer the coup de grace to the beaten army of the Union as they might have that evening, and thereby opportunity was afforded Buell to retrieve the disaster of the day and establish the Federal lines in the positions from which they had been driven.

The author pays a handsome and deserved compliment to General Beauregard for his conduct of the battle after General Buell had reinforced General Grant. But he falls into some mistakes as to the conduct of the Confederate army after the Battle of Shiloh. April 7, General Beauregard took position at Corinth, and threw up earth works about the place. During the month of May he moved his army three times out of its works, and offered battle to Halleck, who declined it every time. On one of these occasions we struck a force under General Pope, at Farmington, which withdrew without giving serious battle.

On May 30, Beauregard completed in a masterly manner his evacuation of Corinth. We marched always ready for battle, but were never attacked nor closely followed. We marched about twelve miles per day 'till we reached Tupelo, where Beauregard halted the army in order of battle, and remained unmolested 'till August, when Bragg moved his army to Chattanooga, and Price, in September, moved the Army of the West to Iuka.

The author overestimates the Confederate army at Chickamauga. General Bragg stated his loss in killed and wounded at 18,000 men, and as two-fifths of his whole army, which was less than 50,000 of all arms. Bragg had no reserves, but fought his whole army, including Forest's cavalry, which, to the number of about 6,000, fought on foot. The battle of Chickamauga was the fiercest of the war.

Rosecranz fought stubbornly, as he always did, and Thomas no where more signally evinced his best qualities on the battle-field than he did on the close of that disastrous day. There was no especial advantage to either army in the "lay of the ground," and it was throughout a fair stand up fight, at the conclusion of which the Confederate army was completely victorious, but having fought every company in his army, and having 18,000 of his men lying dead or wounded (he lost no prisoners), General Bragg was in no condition to press the beaten army, especially when Thomas still presented a stubborn front and covered the escape of the routed Federals into Chattanooga.

While our author claims abundant glories for his own people, he accords high praise to the valor, constancy and ability of his antagonists. He highly esteems General Joseph Johnston, and makes a fair and strong exposition of his conduct and efficiency.

The crowning success of the book is the contrast presented by the narrative between the characters and conduct of Sherman and Thomas after Johnston's removal from the command of the Army of Tennessee.

When Hood withdrew his army from Sherman's front and turned towards Tennessee, the great raider debated whether to follow Hood or pursue his raid through Georgia and the Carolinas, thus left open to him. He did not long debate, but selecting such corps and divisions as would make up a well organized army of 65,000 men, he sent the debris to Thomas. He even dismounted Wilson's cavalry to furnish the cavalry reserved with his own wing with a better remount, and sent Wilson with his men dismounted to help Thomas to beat Hood, while he marched on his way to the sea with none to make him afraid.

General Lee once said of Sherman's march to the sea: "There was nothing to oppose him, and the only military problem to be solved was a simple calculation as to whether his army could live on the country by taking all the people had."

It was well for Sherman and for his government that the general with whom he dealt so hardly was not of a temper to be apalled by the dangers of the position in which Sherman had thus placed him.

It is charitable to believe that in making these dispositions for his own movements and for the defence of Nashville, Sherman must have estimated the personal resources of General Thomas very highly; the result amply justified such an estimate. The army with which Thomas gained his great victory was largely made up of forces detached for the occasion from other armies, of new levies and of dismounted cavalry, some of whom were remounted in the presence of the enemy, and was therefore ill-fitted to cope with the veteran army of Hood.

So impatient was the Federal Government of the delay of Thomas in attacking Hood, that on the 9th of December he was ordered to be relieved from the command of the army.

The order was, fortunately for Halleck, suspended. Thomas would not attack 'till he was ready. His victory was decisive. But even after that the Washington city generalissimo, Halleck, complained that Thomas did not press Hood's army.

I have never heard anybody who was in Hood's army at that time justify Halleck's complaints on this score. Thomas' own letter, replying to these indiscreet strictures, shows the stuff of which the writer was made.

In calm review of these operations it is but fair to say that in the whole course of the war there was no finer illustration of generalship exhibited by any Federal commander than General Thomas' defence of Nashville.

We note with pleasure the dignified rebuke with which Mr. Van Horne censures the devastation of South Carolina by General Sherman.

There is a wide difference between the sympathies of Chaplain Van Horne and our own regarding the war and its leading actors, and it will be excused in us to feel that he is sometimes too pronounced in his admiration of his heroes, and that occasionally, as in the cases of Mr. Davis and of General Polk, he shows too strongly his partisan feelings.

But he has brought to the work he has so well accomplished an earnest purpose to write history from the most authentic documents attainable.

He is generally fair in his statements of forces, though he does much overstate ours in the Battle of Chickamauga.

He has adopted the plan throughout the work of having an appendix to every chapter, made up of official letters, orders and dispatches in support of the narrative contained in the chapter, and he generally adopts the statement of our generals as correct regarding the numbers of their forces.

On the whole we heartily approve and commend this book, and if all the generals had historians like Chaplain Van Horne it would be better for their fame, and greatly facilitate the labors of the future historian of the war.

Dabney H. Maury,
Major-General late Confederate Army.

  1. Presuming this to be Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, he died in May, 1863, slightly more than ONE year afterwards, not two. (Wikisource contributor note)