Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Civil War Leadership: Military Leadership on the Battlefield, Executing Policy and Navigating Bureaucracy
Abstract: The American Civil War (1861-65) taxed leaders on both sides of the conflicts in ways that previous U. S. military leadership scarcely imagined. The nation never experienced war on such a scale before, and it forced military officers to respond to situations with creative and inspired leadership or fail. The three papers on this proposed panel discuss the ways that American military leadership responded to challenges during the Civil War.
Dr. Terry Beckenbaugh's paper, "Walking the Tightrope: Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis' creative contraband policy" examines the difficulties Federal commanders faced prior to the Emancipation Proclamation when runaway slaves flocked to U.S. lines to escape servitude. Federal officers searched for ways to deny the slaves' to the rebellion. Not all succeeded, but Federal Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis used his experience as a lawyer to formulate policy that walked the tightrope of confiscation of slaves, without taking civilian leadership prerogatives in that area.
Dr. Jennifer Murray's paper, "'Your Golden Opportunity Is Gone': George Gordon Meade's Quest for Decisive Battle" focuses on the victor of Gettysburg's fall from grace after winning the largest battle of the war. Lincoln's open frustration with Meade's inability to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia, calling it a squandered "golden opportunity" to end the war, opens a door to study civilian-military relations and whether Meade really had an opportunity to destroy the Confederates.
Tracy Barnett's paper, "Caught between Friendly Foes: The Confederacy's Mismanagement of State Militia Forces" discusses the challenges James Z. George faced as commander of the Mississippi militia. George's excitement faded as he found himself caught between the conflicting needs of the Richmond government, the Mississippi state government in Jackson and the Confederate military. The inability of George and others in his position to fix the problems were emblematic of the Confederate government's inefficiency.
Terry Beckenbaugh, Air Command and Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: Walking the Tightrope: Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis' Creative Contraband Policy
Participant's Paper Abstract: President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on 1 January 1863, but slaves ran to Federal lines well before the Emancipation Proclamation's announcement the previous September. Federal policy regarding runaway slaves shifted frequently and left a tremendous amount of leeway in the hands of Union officers on the scene. Unsurprisingly, navigating the fine line between making policy and executing policy confounded more than one Federal officer. The Federal government needed to make policy regarding "contrabands," and it was up to the military to execute said policy. Thus, the matter of runaway slaves proved not just to be a property, and thus Constitutional issue, it also was a civilian-military issue.
Federal officers navigated these stormy seas with mixed results. Major Generals Benjamin Butler, John C. Fremont and David Hunter tried to implement policies that tended toward emancipation of the runaway slaves. Lincoln forced all of the above to heavily amend their policies because they infringed upon the government's policy-making prerogative. However, at least one Federal general successfully walked this tightrope.
Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis commanded the Union Army of the Southwest, victors of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on 7-8 March 1862. After the battle, the Federals' epic march through southern Missouri and Arkansas culminated with the army's arrival at Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River in mid-July 1862. Throughout the campaign, slaves ran to Federal lines, forcing Curtis to craft a policy that denied the Rebels these valuable assets, but did not infringe upon the government's power to direct policy. Curtis did not challenge civilian policy, but used creative interpretations of existing law to deny contrabands to the CSA.
Jennifer Murray, University of Virginia
Participant's Paper Title: 'Your Golden Opportunity Is Gone': George Gordon Meade's Quest for Decisive Battle
Participant's Paper Abstract: When George Gordon Meade assumed command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, he assumed command of a fractured and beleaguered Federal army. By the afternoon of July 3rd, Union forces claimed victory at Gettysburg in the army's most significant victory to date. Word of the Federal success spread quickly; northern civilians and newspapers rejoiced, extolling Meade's decisive leadership. The commanding general's decline in prominence, however, came as rapidly as his assent to command.

As the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia recrossed the Potomac River on July 14, Meade quickly found himself admonished for not destroying the Confederate army. President Abraham Lincoln penned stern criticism to his general, summarizing that Meade's "golden opportunity" had disappeared. Meade's leadership during the Gettysburg Campaign, and particularly in the pursuit of the Confederates offer a window to explore questions of the expectations of decisive battle and the dynamic of civil-military relations. At the confluence of these questions stood General Meade, whose performance during the campaign endures as one of the most controversial of the war. To be sure, disappointment in Meade's inability to destroy, not merely defeat, the southern forces spread throughout the North and quickly defined the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. Placing the Gettysburg Campaign, and specifically Meade's leadership, within a wider military lens reveals Meade's unobtainable objective. Critics expected Meade to accomplish a rate military feat: decisive battle.
Tracy Barnett, University of Georgia
Participant's Paper Title: Caught between Friendly Foes: The Confederacy's Mismanagement of State Militia Forces
Participant's Paper Abstract: In October 1862, James Z. George offered his resignation to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Accepting a new state-level position with the Mississippi militia, George immediately threw himself into his official duties. His initial optimism soon faded as he found himself caught between state leaders in the Mississippi governor's office, Richmond politicians, and Confederate field commanders. Receiving conflicting orders from all corners of the Confederacy and becoming increasingly frustrated with the militia system's inefficiency, George complained to Pettus, "I am mortified and disgusted at the present state of affairs in the militia. . . . I feel almost certain that my self respect will compel me to abandon all connection with an organization which produces such fruits." George remained in militia service for a few more months, but ultimately reentered Confederate service in November 1863.
In most instances, state officials and militia officers sought a cooperative policy with Confederate field commanders and high-level politicians in Richmond, but southern states, unaccustomed to managing a military force, could not transform mismanaged militiamen into an effective fighting force. Instead of developing a coordinated war effort, this paper argues that Confederate commanders and state leaders developed a multi-level bureaucratic militia structure that directly hindered the Confederate war effort. State governors' correspondences, legislative records, local newspapers, and official military papers reveal contradictory militia policies, conflicting conscription laws, and unceasing quarrels between Confederate commanders and their subordinate militia officers. By maintaining state militias that operated separately from the Confederate army, Southern states diverted manpower from national armies and added another level of bureaucracy to the already complex Confederate departmental command system.
Ethan Rafuse, US Army Command and General Staff College
Lisa Beckenbaugh, Air Command and Staff College

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