Praise for Army of the Potomac: Vol. III
"For the experienced reader of Civil War Studies or a student wishing to learn from one of the masters of in-depth Civil War analysis, Army of the Potomac is a must."
– G. Michael Burns,
"An excellent look at the development of the strategic situation in the Eastern theater on the eve of the great campaigns of the Spring and Summer of 1862."
– Al Nofi, New York Military Affairs Symposium
Revisionism and Falling Waters
Whenever the consensus behind a significant Civil War event has reached the point that the footnotes pertaining to its background in subsequent works merely cite secondary works that only reinforce the consensus, then it is always welcome when some hardy soul attempts a new assessment. These revisionist assessments range from unconvincing (ex. much of Alan Nolan's Lee critique) to eye opening (ex. Russel Beatie and David Detzer on Robert Patterson).
Conventional wisdom states that an aged and overly timid Robert Patterson was ordered to vigorously fix General Johnston's Shendandoah Valley force in place so that it could not escape to reinforce General Beauregard's army at Manassas. Patterson failed to do so and Johnston's reinforcements played a crucial role in the subsequent Confederate victory. Most historians place the lion's share of the blame for this squarely on the doorstep of poor old Robert Patterson. However, most recently, David Detzer's Donnybrook and Russel Beatie's Army of the Potomac: Birth of Command have convincingly made the case that the greatest blame should rather be attached to General Winfield Scott, whose orders to Patterson and constant declawing of Patterson's army simply did not allow for the aggressive advance that historians so vehemently criticize Patterson for not undertaking.
Coming back to the present, the current Fall 2005 issue of Blue and Gray Magazine just so happens to feature this campaign and the Battle of Falling Waters. I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, but it will be interesting to see what tack author Gary Gimbel takes.
Important New Multi-Volume Work on the AotP
This is the second volume in Beatie's potentially monumental multi-volume effort attempting to cover the command decisions in the higher levels of the Union's most famous Army. Volume 2 picks up where Volume 1 left off. George B. McClellan had been appointed to command the Army of the Potomac after McDowell's less than stellar showing at First Bull Run. Throughout this book, Beatie attempts to explain how McClellan, his subordinates, the politicians, and everyone else involved created an Army out of the ashes of the Manassas defeat. Beatie argues that there was an unfair prejudice against West Pointers and that political appointees many times were in over their heads at various levels of command. He also details the events that led to McClellan outmaneuvering the venerable Gen. Scott into a not-so-early retirement and the interference of politicians in the day-to-day workings of the Army of the Potomac, especially with regards to the notorious Committee on the Conduct of the War, led by Radical Republican Benjamin Wade, and late in the book when Edwin Stanton became the Secretary of War, and McClellan's immediate enemy. But to me, the most important contribution Beatie makes is his painstaking recreation of the relationship between McClellan as General-in-Chief and Lincoln as Commander-In-Chief. Beatie seems to be more tolerant of McClellan's peculiarities and less impressed with Lincoln's understanding of military affairs than the average writer. I do not mind this at all because Beatie has done such an enormous amount of research and has dug into so many manuscripts that we may be seeing for the first time a fair and unbiased opinion on a very controversial time in the Army's history. 636 pp., 21 maps
Brett R. Schulte "Civil War Buff",
Essential history of the Army of the Potomac
Lawyer-historian Russel H. Beatie's second volume on the history of the Army of the Potomac is a welcome addition to my vast Civil War Library. Like most Civil War buffs my shelves teem with big volumes on the Army of Northern Virginia but lack good histories of the Army of the Potomac!
Beatie's series is sure to be come the sine qua non for anyone wanting an in depth study of this much maligned but eventually magnificent sword of Lincoln.
Beatie's is a writer more interested in the political and strategical thinking of war leaders in Washington than he is in blow by blow descriptions of battle. In this second volumen in the series he does discuss in depth the battle of Ball's Bluff fought on on Oct. 21, 1861 in which Lincoln's old law partner the inept Edward Baker died. Beatie explores the impact of this small battle on the competency of Union leaders; how it helped foment the call for a Committee on the Conduct of the War led by Radical Republicans such as Benjamin Franklin Wade to control the strategy of the War. Beatie explores how the pool of military commanders was drawn from professional soldiers who graduated from West Point; political generals and those who came from the ranks of volunteer companies mustered in by individaul state governors. He also explores how foreign born leaders came to leadership roles in the army.
Beatie's pen is adept at drawing incisive portraits of Northern leaders such as Winfield Scott; Fitzjohn Porter; Joe Hooker and the star of this book William McClellan. McClellan took the commanding position of union forces following the retirement of old, crusty Winfield Scott. McClellan could train and equip an army to fight but was slow in launching an assault agains the rebels. His thoughts about launching the Urbanna water assault on Richmond, the Occoquan plan and the Penisular Campaign strategy are explored in depth! Beatie writes in an adequate style but he lacks the skill of writers such as Foote, Freeman and Catton to entrance the reader with the magic of words.
C. M Mills "Michael Mills",
Excellent Book on the Army of the Potomac!
The book concludes with the evolution of McClellan’s plans to defeat the South, which were hampered by his conciliatory views of the enemy. What impresses me most about the book is the vast resources Beatie used. In accessing rarely used manuscripts, he paints a fresh picture of this seminal period. I also like the way the book begins - with a gallery of photographs and biographies of the men who will play major roles during this period. The maps are numerous and well-done, and I like having footnotes rather than endnotes. This book can be easily digested without first reading Beatie’s first volume. This will be a monumental series when completed.
"Army of the Potomac, Volume III is a captivating, solid, and seminal contribution to civil war military history shelves."
- Midwest Book Review