Thursday, March 31, 2011

Krugman Blogs Appomattox: This Rebel Might Have Agreed

Krugman begins:

...I’ve long had a special fascination, not with how the war began, but with its end. And on this day in 1865 Phil Sheridan began the flanking movement that culminated, just 11 days later, in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Why do I find this final campaign so fascinating? Partly because the battles of the Five Forks campaign ended up involving some of the very same players who famously fought at Gettysburg: heroic action, once again, by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and the Confederate force destroyed at Five Forks was led by none other than George Pickett.

But mainly, I think, it’s because of the symbolism of that final surrender: Lee the patrician, in his dress uniform, surrendering to the not at all patrician U.S. Grant, still muddy and disheveled from hard riding. It was, in a very real sense, the victory of modern America — of a democratic nation, in manners as well as politics — over an aristocratic ideal.

I doubt that Henry would have admitted this last part, but as an engineer, he would have appreciated the rest:

And the way modern America won was characteristic. Southerners were better warriors — man for man, they almost always outperformed Union armies, although the gap narrowed over time. But the North excelled at the arts of peace — that is, in industry and ability to get things done. The North couldn’t stop Bedford Forrest from raiding supply lines; but it could repair track incredibly fast. And it was that Northern superiority in logistics, in production, that eventually proved decisive.

Krugman continues to develop this theme here:

Shortly before the battle of Five Forks, Captain Henry Brown Richardson, CSA Engineers had seen proof of Union logistic superiority first hand at the huge Union Army supply base at City Point, Virginia, where he and other "rebels" were released to the Confederacy. In terms of shipping volume, City Point was then the largest and most active port in the United States. Henry was eager to get back into the fight, after being held for a year and a half as a Union prisoner on Johnson's Island, Ohio.

I arrived in Richmond on the 22nd of March and rec’d a leave of absence “for thirty days unless sooner exchanged.” Stopped in Richmond, at Gen’l Ewell’s house for ten days, and on the first of April went to Bedford Co., Va. (west of Lynchburg) where I remained till the first of May. Then over the mountains to Botetourt Co. and spent a week, and on the eighth started on horseback for this side of the Mississippi, or wherever I could get to anything like a Confederacy.

Henry was obliged to stand by and watch the final Confederate agony. He had been paroled, that is, released on his word of honor as an officer that he would not resume active duty until he was officially exchanged, that is, that the Confederacy had released to the Union army a prisoner of equivalent rank, or several enlisted men in exchange for him. Then on April 1,1865, his former commanding officer, General Richard Ewell must have advised him to leave Richmond, where the city’s defenses were on the verge of collapse. Thus our reluctant noncombatant left Richmond only one day before Lee’s army withdrew from the sector, and preceded them along many of the same roads to Bedford, VA. There he continued to wait helplessly through the Lee’s final battles, and the signing 40 miles to the east at Appomattox on April 9th.

Henry Brown Richardson was not quite ready to admit that the war was over. But you will have to wait for the book to find out about that.

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