Short Takes

If you missed Gary Joiner’s interview on C-SPAN on his book One Damn Blunder From Beginning To End: The Red River Campaign of 1864  you can catch it on the web. The book’s on my list to read, based on good reviews and the interview.

This campaign ought to get more attention than it does for showing how politics affected the war. The campaign was Lincoln’s baby from beginning to end. He selected the objective over the objections of his generals (both Grant & Sherman wanted to move against Mobile) and chose the commander, Nathanial Banks. Why? In part, for political reasons he wanted to occupy some part of Texas (the only Confederate state that he did not control some part of) and, as Joiner makes clear, he thought the Federals would be welcomed. This goes back to something I argued when discussing the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid—that Lincoln persisted in his delusion that there was a “loyal majority” in the South who would throw off the shackles of the Confederacy if given half the chance. In Texas as at Richmond, he was wrong.

Also of interest is a post on the excellent Lawfare blog by legal scholar Haridimos V. Thravalos about the prosecution of conspiracies to violate the laws of war. The article in dry, lengthy and intricate, but interesting to the Civil War scholar in its discussion of Judge Advocate records and how they were filed for military commissions.

Under the record-keeping practices that prevailed during the Civil War, each opinion of the Judge Advocate General of the Army was made in duplicate. The original opinion, which was prepared in longhand and signed by the Judge Advocate General, was sent to its intended recipient (usually the Secretary of War or the President of the United States). Thereafter, a “record copy” of the original opinion was transcribed by clerks into the JAG Record Books, to be used as office precedents. These JAG Record Books were also separately indexed, so as to ensure the orderly location of these office precedents.

He discusses the case of one William Murphy, who was tried and found guilty of

(1) “Conspiracy to burn and destroy steamboats and other property belonging to or in the service of the United States of America, or available for such service, with intent to aid the rebellion against the United States” and (2) violating the law of war by a military commission convened at Saint Louis, Missouri during September 1865-five months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox court-house. The Judge Advocate General of the Army, Joseph Holt, held, on March 21, 1866, that Murphy’s trial was lawful. President Andrew Johnson personally passed upon and approved Murphy’s conviction on March 30, 1866, a mere three days before the President proclaimed the Civil War to be at an end.

No word as to Murphy’s sentence and punishment, unfortunately.


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