Monday, February 4, 2019

I Think The Civil War Was Run By Idiots

Compiled from Twitter:

So I'm reading a history of the Civil War, and... Y'all, I knew it was a huge, long, sometimes-bloody mess, but I hadn't realized the full scope of what a comedy of errors the whole thing was. I mean, some of that was down to the limits of intelligence-gathering and communications at the time, and some of it comes from trying to lurch from a functional peacetime economy to a state of total war with absolutely no preparation. But it sure doesn't help that activities on both sides - both military and political - seem to have largely been directed by idiots.

You want an example?

Well, all right: the one that prompted this post was the expedition of Henry H. Sibley, who offered his services to Jefferson Davis in the form of a plan to raise troops in Texas, then advance up the Rio Grand through New Mexico to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Once there, he'd drive out the federalists and turn west, eventually extending the Confederacy all the way to California (and picking up some gold and silver mines to help replenish the Confederate treasury along the way).

So he recruits his brigades and heads north from El Paso. And... well, the situation is really messy, but he basically is able to march north all the way to Albuquerque with only minimal resistance (from Fort Craig) but also with minimal supplies, in some very harsh desert. He then arrives in Albuquerque to find that that the Union garrison has set fire to their supply depots and fallen back to Santa Fe, so he takes what supplies he can find and moves on to Santa Fe, with the same result: no enemy soldiers, but no supplies to be taken.

At this point, Sibley is *shocked* to discover that the local population isn't going to greet him with cheering, parades, and floods of volunteers eager to swell his ranks. In fact, they're not very friendly at all, and they certainly aren't eager to let Sibley & Co. buy supplies with Confederate currency, which they regard as completely worthless.

Meanwhile, all the troops that have been retreating as he advanced have gathered at Fort Union. Sibley decides to attack, and... well, again, it's messy, but he meets the Union troops in Apache Canyon in a sort of horrible battle-by-attrition at Glorietta Pass. Except one unit of Union troops slips completely around the battle and torches his entire supply train. Sibley retreats to Santa Fe, and the main body of the Union Forces cautiously decides to hold Fort Union rather than risking a pursuit.

Meanwhile, the guy from Fort Craig - which Sibley had disdained to finish off after defeating its troops fairly decisively in one battle - comes north to Albuquerque, exchanges fire with Sibley's troops there, and calls for the Fort Union troops to come reinforce him.

So this should have been the set-up for a final, decisive battle to drive the confederates back down into Texas. Only Sibley has finally figured out his troops can't live off the countryside, the locals aren't going to help him, and he has no supply lines. His artillery is nearly out of ammunition, and his wagon train is gone. So he just... leaves. Heads back the way he came. Through the desert. With no supply train.

The Union forces at this point are basically just pacing him - like, they're not so much attacking as just escorting him out. This goes on for several days, until finally the Union forces wake up one morning to find that they're camped across the river from an empty camp.

Sebley has decided to make a hundred mile detour to the west, to avoid Fort Craig. Through the desert. With no road, no guide, dense brush, and only five days' worth of supplies for something like a ten day trip.

By the time he gets back to Texas he's lost something like 1700 of his troops, of which less than 500 were lost in battle. A lot the rest were lost in that last 100 miles of marching.

Sibley survives, but his idiot certainty that naturally he was the hero and the people of New Mexico would rise up to support his glorious arrival does not. His follow-up report is basically a long essay on what a horrible place New Mexico really is.

"I cannot speak encouragingly for the future, my troops having manifested a dogged , irreconcilable detestation of the country and the people."

Because, you know, invading armies and occupying foreign forces should really expect to receive *better* from the local populace. They deserve it for being so gosh-darned noble and heroic, don't you know?

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