…, Defense of Ft. McHenry Bicentennial, Fall of Atlanta Sesquicentennial, …
(what a difference 50 years can make)
Fifty years prior to the War of 1812, our so-called “French & Indian War” settled the trade dispute between New France and New England in North America where the European ebb and flow of empire simply had more territory in the mix. Following their newly established trade dominance in the region, England slowly increased mercantilist policies to favour specific business interests over promoting competition and the general welfare of her subjects. The stage for our First War for Independence was set as the British Navigation, Quebec, Stamp, etc. Acts fomented revolution. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the traditional Yankees won independence from the British Empire; championing freedom and competition over tyranny and politically determined wealth redistribution. The Crown settled for peace with each sovereign geo-political unit, no longer colonies under the hegemony of Britain’s United Kingdom able to determine their own course and destiny.
The War of 1812 shown our nation of sovereign States (former colonial units) at a high watermark of righteousness as the Spirit of traditional Yankees (think Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, et al) devoted blood and treasure to hold onto the blessings of their hard won independence for themselves and their posterity. We’ve slowly lost the wisdom provided in Coretta Scott King’s (1927-2006) quote, “Freedom is never really won; you earn and win it every generation.” What a difference fifty years proffered as traditional Yankees morphed into modern Yankees replacing the British mercantilists they previously seceded from and reviled. Sadly the Ft. McHenry bicentennial where Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) penned our national anthem has enjoyed little veneration and September is upon us. Avid readers know I hold this event in our nation’s history dear and a past column (April 2011) includes all 4 stanzas of Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” which more collectively affirmed trust in the power of God as our ultimate sovereign; not the power of government(s) and flawed arbitrary rules of man.
As is true with most political comprise - it makes for more profound damage later instead of addressing short-run cost and trepidation as they arise. The Compromise of 1790 determines the locale for the seat of our newly formed federal government (not to exceed a ten mile square) just south of the Mason-Dixon Line between Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac. This places Baltimore ‘front and center’ in the War of 1812 due to the city’s proximity to Washington, DC. Historian Bart Rhett Talbert wrote little military action of note takes place on Maryland soil during the Revolutionary War in her successful break with England although she did send her sons to fight well in seceding; some say most notably in the Carolinas at King’s Mountain and Cowpens. DC’s placement plays a huge role in the military actions during the War of 1812 and then War Between the States fifty years later.
There’s much to applaud about our nation’s conduct in the War of 1812. It was declared by Congress via sound majority and many private efforts (including Baltimoreans in defense of Ft. McHenry and North Point) were exerted to remain independent of British mercantilist hegemony. British blockade of ports had a devastating impact on federal revenue as expenditures to finance the war effort mounted. This prompted the first proposed federal income tax where Congress (who took their oath of office seriously at that time) saw no authorization for this sort of direct taxation thus never acted on this unconstitutional source of revenue. The heavy war debt was addressed in the Tariff of 1816 and set the course well to return to peacetime normalcy by 1819. As excessive tariff rates were to decrease as this debt dissolved, it was co-opted by the protectionist wing of the Whig Party which morphed into the Republican Party of Lincoln, militarily asserting corporate welfare/wealth transfers (i.e., imposing excessive tariffs followed by the first federal income tax, federal gun laws, conscription acts, fiat currency, etc.) when his political efforts failed.
Cooler heads prevailed when the Tariff of 1828 (a.k.a. Abominations) set the stage for war between the States triggering the Nullification Crisis; perhaps fresh memories of horrific warfare a dozen years prior attenuated enthusiasm for warfare. The newly formed Republican Party (of Lincoln, et al) platform to return tariffs to 1828 levels (corporate welfare recipients were angered by Democrats’ successful reduction of excessive taxation in the 1846 Walker Tariff and Tariff of 1857) foreshadowed another trade war in North American likely to digress into military action and dysfunction. Since the federal seat of government did not remain in the more populous northeast, Baltimore would again be ‘front and center’ at the outset of war between the States when the 6th Massachusetts explicitly commits (Art. 3, Sec. 3) treason effusing ‘first blood’ April 19, 1861. Patriots Day if you have a penchant for irony. The same April date for the ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ where colonist citizen soldiers in Massachusetts defend against British hegemony is the same April date an army from Massachusetts commits acts of war upon another State still in the federal union at the time.
Obviously, if DC had not been placed south of the Mason-Dixon Line many of the mid-Atlantic States would have remained neutral increasing the likelihood cooler heads would once again prevail as those in the federal coalition would suffer consequences of a 47% tax rate while those in the newly formed coalition operate under a 10% tax rate. Had the seat of the 1861 Confederacy remained in Montgomery, it would’ve been much more difficult to accomplish the political end of taking the capitol of the central government along with the economic and military objectives of Richmond and Atlanta. Arguably, Alabama would have suffered even more as a target if the Confederate capitol remained on her soil.
Onto the more important sesquicentennial of what in fact happened instead of “what ifs.” The September 2, 1864 surrender of Atlanta is dominated by discussion of military end results, leaving most unaware of the political accomplishment. Lincoln himself admits if Atlanta doesn’t fall by the November 8 election he’ll not be re-elected. Attempts for peace would be negotiated by Democrat Gen. George B. McClelland (former US commander of the Army of the Potomac) and the spirit of British hegemony to accomplish mercantilist corporate welfare may again be thwarted in the fight to keep independence and decentralized sovereignty in North America.
Prelude to the Atlanta Campaign begins May 4, 1864 with a hundred mile “Red Clay Minuet” from Chattanooga to Atlanta well chronicled and explained by historian Shelby Foote. Movements of Schofield’s, Thomas’ and McPherson’s Corps combined to a force of approximately 100,000 troops under Sherman’s command who were opposed by Hardee’s, Hood’s and Polk’s Corps of about 60,000 soldiers under Johnston. Between the ‘jump-off’ from Chattanooga to Atlanta is a series of mountain passes to ‘run the clock’ before Johnston will dug-in for the defense of the city. These mountain passes may seem an array of invulnerable defensive positions for Johnston to stave off Sherman’s advances. Not so. Instead they’re much harder to defend than they appear to the untrained military eye. The oft coveted advantage of mountainous area (looking down on the enemy) was what also made them defensive liabilities; Sherman just maneuvered around them. Johnston couldn’t easily jump from one mountain to another in response to fluid flanking movements of Sherman’s numerically superior army. Johnston was an accomplished chess master of the minuet, a tactical wizard stalling Sherman. It would be mid-July before breeching the Chattahoochee, as Johnston engaged in another turning movement, Jefferson Davis appointed Hood to replace Johnston. This would be the defining moment to pave the way for Lincoln’s re-election and end hope for peace and independence.
Many find the removal of Johnston as commander hard to explain given his army in those Georgia mountains endured very poor defensive positions while effectively prolonging the stalemate with minimal losses. Once in Atlanta Johnston’s tactics would have enjoyed the benefit of interior lines where he could move troops easily from spot to spot wherever required to repulse Sherman’s forces. These interior lines would increase the effectiveness (force multiplier) of his army to combat Sherman’s numerically superior army. This is how Lee fought Grant to a standstill in Richmond for many months and Johnston was clearly capable enough to do the same in Atlanta until the November election. The stage was set and Jefferson Davis could see for himself first hand how well this type of defensive maneuvering worked. This stage, so carefully built by Johnston, crumbled to the demands of Georgia Gov. Brown for Davis to replace Johnston with Hood.
Johnston was prepared to defend the City of Atlanta, not retreat from it, using the classic defensive position of interior lines, which he did not have in the mountains. He was never given the chance. Hood took over, a poor tactician in comparison and his reckless use of soldiers further decayed war weary morale. Hood foolishly threw his smaller army at Sherman’s entrenched larger army. The result was not just a defeat, but a slaughter and expedited fall of Atlanta. Without Johnston, the Confederacy squandered the ability to stalemate Sherman in the trenches around Atlanta until the election. For Johnston to hold another couple months is not farfetched. The Petersburg siege began about the same time and lasted through winter, well after the presidential election.
Just as in the first War for Independence, when a smaller nation of States goes to war against a larger nation united in hegemony, the margin for error is very small. Prior to sealing Atlanta’s fate installing Hood, the Confederacy had done well keeping victory within reach to again retain their independence. They simply had to do what Lee was doing in Virginia to stalemate Lincoln and Republicans till November 8th. Johnston was capable, had about the same size (comparatively) army as Lee and the terrain. In closing, the loss of our independence would reverberate back to Europe observing our experiment in decentralized sovereignty and freedom. As the Europeans saw our failure at the hands of Lincoln and the Republicans, it gave the green light for the continued cycles of empire building and bloodshed where we will tip the balance in World War I fifty years later. The WWI centennial is fodder for another column as it sets the stage for more accelerated and larger scale destruction with deaths in the millions…
POSTCRIPT: many thanks to Jeffrey W. Bennitt, JD for input on the Johnston/Hood transition prior to Atlanta’s 1864 surrender; the usual caveat applies - i.e., all errors are mine. Furthermore, I’d like to thank all for corrective and oft entertaining comments on my mistyping Sen. Cam NEWTON (sic) in my last column. Forgive the occupational hazard of far too many years as an instructor at AU… seems only natural for Newton to follow Cam. Indeed Mr. Newton has NOT been elected to the Alabama Senate. I pray Senator Ward may also be forgiving and understanding as I’m even more prayerful Alabama may give the more important matter of competition in political outcomes over fleeting sports results the serious consideration it deserves and support Cam Ward’s efforts to improve our State.