ISIS–Who Are the Players, and Where Do They Stand?

By Jay Holmes

This week, ISIS remains a major news item. For the sake of continuity, we will continue referring to them as ISIS, but be aware that, in recent weeks, they have acquired more aliases than the average Brooklyn mob goon.

 

ISIS logo public domain, wikimedia commons

ISIS logo
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Since their defeat at the hands of the lightly armed but well organized Kurds of northern Iraq, ISIS has focused on training, recruiting, and re-establishing their local dominance in Syria. Even if ISIS were forced to retreat from all of Iraq, that would be of secondary importance to them as compared to maintaining their strongholds in Syria.

Where does Iraq stand?

The success of the Iraqi Kurds, with assistance from U.S. air support, was no surprise to anyone who knows or has studied the Kurds. It remains to be seen how well the Iraqi National Army will capitalize on the U.S. and allied airstrikes to recapture ISIS-held areas in their country. With Maliki no longer in charge in Iraq, and with so many Shia Iraqis rediscovering their long forgotten love of U.S. firepower, the ISIS offensive in Iraq is stalled for the moment.

If the new Iraqi government can deliver a closer approximation of “functioning government” than Maliki did, then Iraq should be able to eventually push ISIS forces out of their country. However, no amount of U.S. or anti-ISIS coalition airstrikes will push ISIS out of Iraq completely unless Iraqis take some responsibility for saving themselves by fielding a credible army and establishing and maintaining a functioning administration.

 

F/A-18E Super Hornet on Deck of U.S.S. George H.W. Bush image by U.S. Navy, public domain

F/A-18E Super Hornet on Deck of U.S.S. George H.W. Bush
image by U.S. Navy, public domain

 

More recently, the U.A.E., Jordon, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar joined in coordinated airstrikes against ISIS bases and assets in their Syrian strongholds. Aircraft from Belgium and Denmark also joined in strikes in Iraq. Simultaneously, the U.S. stepped up aid to non-ISIS anti-Assad rebels in Syria. The trick is—and long has been—to assist the legitimate indigenous freedom fighters of Syria without accidentally funding and equipping ISIS or any “Ali come lately” ISIS wannabes.

What does ISIS mean to the Gulf States?

Fortunately, the Gulf States are now exercising more discretion in how they fund and arm anti-Assad groups in Syria. For most Gulf Sates, enemies of the Shia Iranians are their natural friends. In the case of ISIS, the supposed “friends” have become an even greater danger to their former benefactors in the Gulf than the danger presented by the Shia theocracy in Iran.

Even if all outside financing of ISIS were halted, and it pretty well has been, ISIS would not be bankrupt. For the last few months, they have skillfully built a strong economy based on violent tax collection, bank robbery, and oil sales. Note that the recent coalition airstrikes against ISIS included oil refineries as priority targets. Destroying ISIS oil export operations has the added advantage of making the Gulf States happy to participate in the air campaign. Anything that drives up oil prices is good news for the Gulf States.

 

Map of coalition airstrikes on Syrian oil refineries September 24, 2014 image by Department of Defense, public domain

Map of coalition airstrikes on Syrian oil refineries
September 24, 2014
image by Department of Defense, public domain

 

How do the airstrikes benefit the coalition members?

While ISIS bases are being destroyed, ISIS is less able to plan and conduct effective terrorist strikes against its enemies. In the ISIS reality, its enemies, real or imagined, can be roughly defined as the non-ISIS segment of the human population. If nothing else, we can appreciate that ISIS is consistent and predictable. If it lives, and it is not ISIS, they want it dead.

Where is France in all of this?

During the last week, France made a moderate effort at conducting independent airstrikes against ISIS. It is not in the nature of French politicians to place their troops, ships, or planes under foreign control, so French efforts might remain independent and somewhat uncoordinated with US-led airstrikes. It’s possible that the French Air Force and Navy are quietly receiving refueling support, reconnaissance, and intelligence from U.S. forces. If that is so, it’s best that it happen quietly so that French voters can view French airstrikes as being a strictly French affair. Call it “Operation Les Belles Artes” if you like. As long as the bombs drop on suitable ISIS targets, it doesn’t much matter who dropped them or which national anthem they were humming at the time.

What are our allies in the U.K. doing?

Having settled the critical question of Scottish secession, the U.K. government turned some attention back toward ISIS. David Cameron called for the U.K. to join in airstrikes against the group, and it has done so to a minimal degree.

How is Syria’s largest neighbor, Turkey, reacting to the “ISIS crisis”?

The Turkish position is somewhat complex. Turkish President Recep Erdogan can see both potential opportunities and potential disasters in the ISIS crisis, and Erdogan is highly skilled at envisioning potential disasters.

The potential benefit of ISIS to Turkey comes from the fact that ISIS hates Iran. The group has destabilized the already-pretty-unstable pro-Iranian Iraqi government.

 

Map of U.S. airstrike areas in Iraq image by JhonsJoe, CC3.0

Map of airstrike areas in Iraq
image by JhonsJoe, CC3.0

 

One of the potential disasters is already manifesting itself in the form of hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into Turkey. Some of those refugees are Syrian Kurds, and Erdogan’s secret target number of Kurds in Turkey is zero. Rather than having more Kurds moving into Turkey, Erdogan would prefer to get rid of the independence-minded Kurds that are already there. And yet, these refugees are close cousins of the Iraqi Kurds that are willing to export oil to and through Turkey.

ISIS captured over forty Turkish diplomats during its summer blitzkrieg in Iraq. On most days in the ISIS universe, Turks are “filthy western lapdogs.” Yet, rather than staging the usual “ISIS entertainment hour” publicly broadcasted beheadings of their Turkish prisoners, ISIS released them. Why? Western observers are asking what deal Erdogan might have made with the devil to secure the safe return of his diplomats. My suspicion is that any deal was likely brokered through Erdogan’s friends in Qatar and might have involved oil. However, in truth, Turkey needs ISIS to be defeated nearly as urgently as Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria do.

The view from my kitchen window here in the U.S. is different from the view from Turkey. I cannot see ISIS from my house. Erdogan, on the other hand, sees ISIS standing right past his border crossings with Syria. He needs the Sunni fundamentalists vanquished far more than we do, but when we decide that ISIS has been suppressed enough for our liking, we will stop bombing them, and they will still be across the border from Turkey.

Given the basic ISIS tenet that everyone outside of their direct control is their mortal enemy, it’s likely that any deals that Erdogan might have made with the devil will be null and void once the bombs stop falling on ISIS heads. As he so often does, Erdogan missed the easy play. ISIS will never be a friend to Turkey. In the long run, Erdogan further damaged Turkey’s relationship with its supposed NATO allies without obtaining any long-term benefit for his country.

 

U.S. Marines constructing Kurdish refugee camp image by Department of Defense, public domain

U.S. Marines constructing Kurdish refugee camp
image by Department of Defense, public domain

 

What is the Syrian point of view?

The Assad regime is grateful for the tactical windfall being delivered by its distant enemies against the closer and more immediately threatening ISIS forces in Syria and Lebanon. However, Assad and his gang cannot express any happiness with the U.S. or its allies. From the Syrian point of view, while ISIS is a threat to the Assad regime, once ISIS is substantially defeated, the Assad gang would be the next obvious target.

So what can we see in the crystal ball?

My best guess is that Gulf States will remain willing to cooperate just long enough to save themselves from ISIS. As the casualties mount for ISIS, the ISIS leaders will try to understand why their We Will Kill You All publicity campaign has failed them. If their current gangster-in-chief and/or enough of his closest pals are killed, ISIS might transform itself into a more publicity-friendly criminal enterprise and survive under some new name with a slightly less visible agenda of hate and destruction. When the dust from the bombs settles, the region will still be a hellish mess, but we in the West might succeed in avoiding or blunting major terrorist strikes by ISIS. If we can do so without investing more ground forces in the region, then we can declare a victory before moving on to the next “catastrophe du jour.”

Antietam – Where Habitual Bad Intelligence Defeated an Intelligence Windfall

By Jay Holmes

Last week we looked at the habitual bad intelligence that paved the road to the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War in Paved with Bad Intelligence–The Road to Antietam. This week, we see how it was enough to negate an intelligence windfall.

 

Pry Farm at Antietam McClellan's Headquarters image by US Army, public domain

Pry Farm at Antietam
McClellan’s Headquarters
image by US Army, public domain

 

Lee knew that McClellan was highly intelligent and skilled, but that he was also cautious by nature. Lee was also still hoping to inspire an uprising against the Union in Maryland, and he operated with the assumption that he could defeat McClellan by maneuvering more quickly than the Union Army. Then, for uncertain reasons, Lee violated a major rule of warfare. He divided his forces in the face of a superior enemy and sent Stonewall Jackson’s troops to capture weapons and supplies at Harper’s Ferry.

 

On the morning of September 13, Union troops of the 27th Indiana Infantry rested in a meadow outside of Frederick, Maryland. They serendipitously took their break at a site that had previously been the location of the General Lee’s headquarters.

 

At that site, Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton Mitchell found a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars. Known as Lee’s “Lost Orders,” the paper was a message containing Lee’s detailed plan of battle, addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill. The men quickly handed it over to their commander. The Indiana Division’s adjutant general, Samuel Pittman, recognized the handwriting in the message as belonging to his prewar friend Robert Chilton, now the adjutant general to Robert E. Lee.

 

Lee's "Lost Orders," Order 191 image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

Lee’s “Lost Orders,” Order 191
image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

 

Pittman delivered the message straightaway to General McClellan. McClellan boasted that, with the information he now had, he would gladly be willing to go home if he could not defeat Lee. This “boast” was in fact a hedged bet. If, with the intelligence windfall he had in hand, he could not produce a resounding victory, he should have gone somewhere less pleasant than “home.”

 

The new information wiped out Pinkerton’s terrible intelligence assessment. McClellan now knew that Lee’s army was dangerously divided into five sections and stretched out over a 35-mile area that was split by the Potomac River. McClellan was twelve miles from the nearest Confederate unit at South Mountain. He was in a position that all commanders dream of in their wildest drunken moments. In their sober moments, they never dare to hope for such generosity from the capricious gods of war.

 

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan image Library of Congress, public domain

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan
image Library of Congress, public domain

 

McClellan, poised to become the great Napoleon-like general that he always knew he could be, did what Napoleon never would have done. He waited. Then he waited some more. His division commanders grew restless. Then they grew anguished. Elation fermented into quiet disgust. Finally, after eighteen hours, McClellan gave the order to move.

 

By now, much of Lee’s army was concentrated in favorable high ground near Antietam Creek. Lee had used the time granted him to send forces to plug the pass at South Mountain. His troops had set up defensive positions there and slowed McClellan’s advance.

 

Antietam Battle Map image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

Antietam Battle Map
image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The Union Army finally approached Lee’s Confederate Army on September 16. Stonewall Jackson’s troops had still not returned from Harper’s Ferry to Lee’s position, and Lee had less than 40,000 men, their backs to the Potomac.

 

McClellan’s 75,000 well-rested troops could have conducted a successful flanking maneuver against the Confederates. If McClellan had fallen off his horse or gotten drunk, they likely would have. Instead, McClellan allowed his uncertainty about the intelligence to confuse a clear and reasonable battle plan. McClellan delayed the attack until the following morning.

 

On the morning of September 17, Union Army General Joseph Hooker led the assault against the now well-entrenched Confederate forces. Rather than concentrating a reasonable portion of his forces against a single point of the Confederate line, McClellan allowed the battle plan to devolve into consecutive piecemeal attacks.

 

Confederate General Jackson and his troops finally arrived in time for Jackson to earn the nickname “Stonewall” for his defense of the Confederate flank. By the end of the day, both armies had suffered terrible casualties. The dead, wounded, or missing numbered 12,000 on the Union side and 10,000 on the Confederate side.

 

The balance of losses left McClellan with an even greater numerical advantage, in that a larger percentage of his army was still capable of battle. Over 25,000 of his army were fresh troops that had not yet been engaged.

 

McClellan's undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

McClellan’s undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House
image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

 

Lee, on the other hand, had no fresh troops remaining. The Confederate lines had held, but they were overall in worse condition than the Union troops. McClellan could still have captured or killed Lee and his army.

 

With victory staring him in the face, rather than pressing his advantage, McClellan agreed to a truce for both sides to recover their wounded and bury their dead. When night fell, Lee thanked God and withdrew from the field as quickly and quietly as he and his army could. He salvaged enough of his forces to return to defend Virginia, preventing McClellan from having a straight shot through to Richmond. George McClellan had squandered a golden opportunity to deal a crippling blow to the Confederacy.

 

Union Army burial crew at Antietam image US Army, public domain

Union Army burial crew at Antietam
image US Army, public domain

 

Lincoln was disappointed in McClellan’s performance, but, unlike McClellan, he knew how to seize an opportunity. The victory at Antietam Creek gave him public relations momentum. On September 22, Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation.

 

The Proclamation would not take effect until January 1, 1863, and then, it was conditional. Only slaves in Confederate territory were freed. Slaves in the four Union slave states still remained in bondage. Since the Confederate States were not inclined to obey any Union proclamations, only around 40,000 slaves in captured territory were actually freed at the time of the Proclamation. However, the real impact of the bloodiest day in US history was that Lincoln was able to score a monumental diplomatic victory. After the victory at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, no European nation was willing to support the Confederacy in a war to defend the institution of slavery.

 

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead
image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

 

Due to poor intelligence and the mishandling of intelligence, Lee miscalculated the sentiments of Maryland, and McClellan dawdled away a windfall opportunity. Lee allowed himself to anticipate a States’ Rights event in Maryland, and the false analysis that men would throw themselves in for the Confederates. His failed intelligence caused him to launch a campaign that he had little chance of winning. McClellan’s refusal to accept and act on the best intelligence kept him from completely crushing Lee’s army and marching on Richmond. Nearly three more years of bloody war remained to be fought, but the fate of the Confederacy was sealed. It was a case when a perfect intelligence windfall was defeated by habitual misuse of intelligence.

 

Antietam National Cemetary image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam National Cemetary
image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam – Where Habitual Bad Intelligence Defeated an Intelligence Windfall

By Jay Holmes

Last week we looked at the habitual bad intelligence that paved the road to the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War in Paved with Bad Intelligence–The Road to Antietam. This week, we see how it was enough to negate an intelligence windfall.

 

Pry Farm at Antietam McClellan's Headquarters image by US Army, public domain

Pry Farm at Antietam
McClellan’s Headquarters
image by US Army, public domain

 

Lee knew that McClellan was highly intelligent and skilled, but that he was also cautious by nature. Lee was also still hoping to inspire an uprising against the Union in Maryland, and he operated with the assumption that he could defeat McClellan by maneuvering more quickly than the Union Army. Then, for uncertain reasons, Lee violated a major rule of warfare. He divided his forces in the face of a superior enemy and sent Stonewall Jackson’s troops to capture weapons and supplies at Harper’s Ferry.

 

On the morning of September 13, Union troops of the 27th Indiana Infantry rested in a meadow outside of Frederick, Maryland. They serendipitously took their break at a site that had previously been the location of the General Lee’s headquarters.

 

At that site, Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton Mitchell found a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars. Known as Lee’s “Lost Orders,” the paper was a message containing Lee’s detailed plan of battle, addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill. The men quickly handed it over to their commander. The Indiana Division’s adjutant general, Samuel Pittman, recognized the handwriting in the message as belonging to his prewar friend Robert Chilton, now the adjutant general to Robert E. Lee.

 

Lee's "Lost Orders," Order 191 image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

Lee’s “Lost Orders,” Order 191
image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

 

Pittman delivered the message straightaway to General McClellan. McClellan boasted that, with the information he now had, he would gladly be willing to go home if he could not defeat Lee. This “boast” was in fact a hedged bet. If, with the intelligence windfall he had in hand, he could not produce a resounding victory, he should have gone somewhere less pleasant than “home.”

 

The new information wiped out Pinkerton’s terrible intelligence assessment. McClellan now knew that Lee’s army was dangerously divided into five sections and stretched out over a 35-mile area that was split by the Potomac River. McClellan was twelve miles from the nearest Confederate unit at South Mountain. He was in a position that all commanders dream of in their wildest drunken moments. In their sober moments, they never dare to hope for such generosity from the capricious gods of war.

 

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan image Library of Congress, public domain

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan
image Library of Congress, public domain

 

McClellan, poised to become the great Napoleon-like general that he always knew he could be, did what Napoleon never would have done. He waited. Then he waited some more. His division commanders grew restless. Then they grew anguished. Elation fermented into quiet disgust. Finally, after eighteen hours, McClellan gave the order to move.

 

By now, much of Lee’s army was concentrated in favorable high ground near Antietam Creek. Lee had used the time granted him to send forces to plug the pass at South Mountain. His troops had set up defensive positions there and slowed McClellan’s advance.

 

Antietam Battle Map image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

Antietam Battle Map
image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The Union Army finally approached Lee’s Confederate Army on September 16. Stonewall Jackson’s troops had still not returned from Harper’s Ferry to Lee’s position, and Lee had less than 40,000 men, their backs to the Potomac.

 

McClellan’s 75,000 well-rested troops could have conducted a successful flanking maneuver against the Confederates. If McClellan had fallen off his horse or gotten drunk, they likely would have. Instead, McClellan allowed his uncertainty about the intelligence to confuse a clear and reasonable battle plan. McClellan delayed the attack until the following morning.

 

On the morning of September 17, Union Army General Joseph Hooker led the assault against the now well-entrenched Confederate forces. Rather than concentrating a reasonable portion of his forces against a single point of the Confederate line, McClellan allowed the battle plan to devolve into consecutive piecemeal attacks.

 

Confederate General Jackson and his troops finally arrived in time for Jackson to earn the nickname “Stonewall” for his defense of the Confederate flank. By the end of the day, both armies had suffered terrible casualties. The dead, wounded, or missing numbered 12,000 on the Union side and 10,000 on the Confederate side.

 

The balance of losses left McClellan with an even greater numerical advantage, in that a larger percentage of his army was still capable of battle. Over 25,000 of his army were fresh troops that had not yet been engaged.

 

McClellan's undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

McClellan’s undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House
image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

 

Lee, on the other hand, had no fresh troops remaining. The Confederate lines had held, but they were overall in worse condition than the Union troops. McClellan could still have captured or killed Lee and his army.

 

With victory staring him in the face, rather than pressing his advantage, McClellan agreed to a truce for both sides to recover their wounded and bury their dead. When night fell, Lee thanked God and withdrew from the field as quickly and quietly as he and his army could. He salvaged enough of his forces to return to defend Virginia, preventing McClellan from having a straight shot through to Richmond. George McClellan had squandered a golden opportunity to deal a crippling blow to the Confederacy.

 

Union Army burial crew at Antietam image US Army, public domain

Union Army burial crew at Antietam
image US Army, public domain

 

Lincoln was disappointed in McClellan’s performance, but, unlike McClellan, he knew how to seize an opportunity. The victory at Antietam Creek gave him public relations momentum. On September 22, Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation.

 

The Proclamation would not take effect until January 1, 1863, and then, it was conditional. Only slaves in Confederate territory were freed. Slaves in the four Union slave states still remained in bondage. Since the Confederate States were not inclined to obey any Union proclamations, only around 40,000 slaves in captured territory were actually freed at the time of the Proclamation. However, the real impact of the bloodiest day in US history was that Lincoln was able to score a monumental diplomatic victory. After the victory at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, no European nation was willing to support the Confederacy in a war to defend the institution of slavery.

 

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead
image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

 

Due to poor intelligence and the mishandling of intelligence, Lee miscalculated the sentiments of Maryland, and McClellan dawdled away a windfall opportunity. Lee allowed himself to anticipate a States’ Rights event in Maryland, and the false analysis that men would throw themselves in for the Confederates. His failed intelligence caused him to launch a campaign that he had little chance of winning. McClellan’s refusal to accept and act on the best intelligence kept him from completely crushing Lee’s army and marching on Richmond. Nearly three more years of bloody war remained to be fought, but the fate of the Confederacy was sealed. It was a case when a perfect intelligence windfall was defeated by habitual misuse of intelligence.

 

Antietam National Cemetary image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam National Cemetary
image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

The Bison Bomb

By Piper Bayard

American bison public domain, wikimedia commons

American bison
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

It began as an innocent, good willed attempt at providing supper for my family. Ground bison. Presumably completely dead and with no ill intentions toward me, my hair, or my kitchen.

I cooked it up around 1:00 p.m. and pushed the pot to the back burner. Little did I know that this simple act would trigger a chain of events that would lead to a Facebook status, a blog post, and an hour of kitchen rehabilitation.

Around 7:00 p.m., I returned to the scene. I noticed the innocuous-looking, room-temperature bison in the pan and decided to finish the spaghetti for the next day. I put the pan on the front burner and turned the heat to medium-low.

Five minutes later, I was cutting up red bell pepper and watching Criminal Minds over the kitchen bar. On the show, the unsub snuck into a man’s house, pointed a gun at him, and forced him onto the floor. The man was pleading for his life, the .40 Smith & Wesson mere inches from his head. Suddenly, BOOM! My bison exploded right on cue.

A hot air bubble? A build up of hydrogen sulfide? A Satanic connection to TV reruns? We will never know. But it rocketed ground up grazing undulate from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Bison on the bread box, bison on the microwave, bison in the water pitcher, bison on the appliances, even bison on the ceiling and light fixtures. We won’t discuss the bison in my hair. Total revenge of the bison.

The incident brought to mind the Al-Qaeda attempt at online media that they made a few years back with an article called, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” So here you go all you Wannabe Jihadis. Take this advice from a mom. Get yourself some bison, follow the instructions above, and be sure to put your faces down into the pans where you’ve got a good view so that you can let us know exactly how these explosions happen.

What do you say, folks? Why do you think my bison explode?

Happy cooking!

Paved with Bad Intelligence–The Road to Antietam

By Jay Holmes

September 17, 1862, is remembered by US military history students as the bloodiest day in US history. It should also be remembered as a critical lesson to all members of the US intelligence community and the US military. Even a perfect intelligence windfall can be defeated by habitual bad intelligence.

 

Antietam National Cemetary image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam National Cemetary
image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

 

On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina state government voted to secede from the Union, beginning the American Civil War with a bloodless political act.

Many Southern politicians guessed that their states, too, could happily secede and slip away from the Union without suffering much loss. Wealthy Southern plantation owners thought that by seceding, they could continue to use slavery as their primary economic tool. Most Southerners did not own slaves or plantations, so the secession concept was marketed to them under the banner of “States’ Rights.” By May 1861, eleven Southern states had voted to secede and had formed the Confederate States of America.

President Lincoln, like a majority of Northerners, was opposed to slavery, but he thought that he was not in a position to declare an end to the practice. Slavery was still legal in the Union border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, and Lincoln did not want those four states to secede and join the Confederacy.

On May 24, 1862, the US government signaled its determination to reverse the secession of the Southern states by sending an army across the Potomac River.

With the capture of Alexandria, Virginia, the US Army improved the security of nearby Washington D.C. and established a valuable base for operations against the Confederacy.

For the Confederacy, it was critical to prevent a Union capture of its capital, Richmond, Virginia, and the surrounding area, including the agriculturally rich Shenandoah Valley. In July, when the Union army moved south from Alexandria, the Confederacy concentrated all the forces it could muster for a counterattack.

On July 21, 1861, at Manassas Junction, the Confederates soundly defeated an overconfident and poorly organized Union Army and sent it into retreat to Alexandria. The battle is commonly referred to as the Battle of Bull Run.

 

Manassas National Battlefield Park image by ARSNL, public domain

Manassas National Battlefield Park
image by ARSNL, public domain

 

The Union defeat at Manassas shocked the overconfident Northerners. For the general public in the South, the victory proved the superiority of Southern military abilities and indicated certain victory and independence for the Confederate States.

The Confederacy was hoping for foreign assistance from cotton-consuming countries such as France and England and from neighboring Mexico. The victory at Manassas helped their diplomatic efforts.

While the general public in the South loudly celebrated the victory at Manassas, most of the South’s senior military leaders were not quite so willing to underestimate the North’s military abilities or political determination to retake the Confederacy. With each passing month, more Confederate leaders realized that time was not on their side, and that the Union would eventually organize itself sufficiently to use its vastly superior resources in manpower and industry to win the war.

The Confederate leadership thought that their best strategy was to keep the Union busy on as many fronts as possible in order to ward off a major Union invasion of the South. They reasoned that, if the Confederacy lasted long enough, it would eventually receive enough foreign assistance to ensure its long-term independence. The single greatest diplomatic obstacle for the South in receiving foreign assistance was that they were seeking recognition and aid from nations that had already outlawed slavery. Those nations took a dim view of slavery in the Confederacy.

 

General Robert E. Lee public domain, Library of Congress

General Robert E. Lee
public domain, Library of Congress

 

By the summer of 1862, the South’s need for foreign aid was becoming more urgent. Confederate General Robert E. Lee thought that defensive victories on Southern ground would never be enough to gain the image of legitimacy that the Confederacy needed to acquire that aid. With the agreement of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, Lee devised a plan to invade Union territory in Maryland and West Virginia. They hoped that Maryland would respond to a Confederate invasion by joining the Confederacy, bringing much-needed conscripts and material wealth.

On September 2, 1862, Lee’s confident Army marched happily into Maryland. They might have been less cheerful if they had known that Lee’s plans were based on an extremely bad intelligence assessment of the conditions in that state. Although most Marylanders did not actively oppose Lee’s Army, they did not lend assistance or join his forces. The “liberation” of Maryland was not going as planned.

President Lincoln recognized Lee’s invasion as a serious problem, but he also recognized a great opportunity. The Union’s Army of the Potomac now had 75,000 well-equipped soldiers. That Army was well trained by its popular commander, General George McClellan. McClellan loved that Army, and they loved him. Morale was high, and the troops were ready and willing to face Lee’s soldiers.

 

General George McClellan public domain

General George McClellan
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

While Lee moved his army forward on a foundation of faulty intelligence, the Union forces had their own intelligence issues. In 1862, there was nothing like a “CIA,” or even a fledgling “OSS.” McClellan relied on Alan Pinkerton and his informal intelligence service. Pinkerton efficiently spied for McClelland.

Although Pinkerton’s men were able to gain access to Confederate information, Pinkerton lacked any basic ability to reasonably assess that information. He repeatedly overestimated the size of Lee’s forces. President Lincoln and the Union War Department never believed Pinkerton’s information, but McClellan did, and he operated accordingly. When McClellan maneuvered his army to oppose Lee, he did so under the assumption that he was facing a Confederate army numbering over 100,000 troops, when, in fact, Lee had 54,000. And so it was that two well-trained armies, both equipped with terribly inaccurate intelligence estimates, marched to battle.

Next week, we will look at the Battle of Antietam and how a perfect intelligence windfall was defeated by habitual intelligence mishandling.

And Boys Become Men

By Piper Bayard

Thirteen years ago today, a generation of little boys and girls learned that there are evil people in this world whose only desire is to kill everyone they cannot control. Even as children, it ignited a passion in them to protect the innocents. Those boys and girls are becoming men and women.

Tonight, my son’s friend is coming to dinner. He ships out to boot camp at the end of the month. He is only one of many.

Today, I not only remember the souls and the innocence we lost on 9/11, I also salute those who are still responding by dedicating their lives to keeping that relentless evil in check. And with all I am, I wish I had something more to give to those young men and women than steak, potatoes, peach pie, and a mother’s prayers.

Never forget.

Becoming Josephine — From Carefree Creole to Empress of France

By Piper Bayard

In BECOMING JOSEPHINE, Heather Webb eloquently traces the transformation of Rose Tascher, carefree Caribbean island girl, to Empress Josephine, wife of the most powerful man of her century—Napoléon Bonaparte.

 

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

 

Rose Tascher is a daydreaming Creole in Martinique who fantasizes of adventures in Paris and a grand life at the French court. When her beloved sister dies, Rose is sent in her place to marry Alexandre, an aristocrat and soldier. Before long, the stage of fancy dresses and glitzy balls devolves into a harrowing era of political witch hunts, when no one’s neck is safe from the guillotine. After narrowly escaping death in the infamous Les Carmes prison, Rose once more climbs her way up the social ladder. With her youth fading, along with her options for independence, her courtship with General Bonaparte ensues, and their rise to ultimate power begins.

Webb paints history with linguistic finesse, depicting characters and events with colorful, active palettes of expression. She draws her readers into the fear, uncertainty, and upheaval of revolutionary France through her vivid portrayal of Josephine Bonaparte as a passionate, imperfect, determined survivor. BECOMING JOSEPHINE is not only a refreshing perspective on the Napoleonic Era, it’s a great story.

Highly recommended.