President Jefferson Davis proclaimed his strategy to be one of “offensive-defensive.” The strategy in fact was one of defending all resources, stockpiling supplies and taking the offensive when the supply situation warranted or the opportunity was provided by the enemy. With the exception of a few notable offensive forays his strategy would evolve into one of passive defense. Whether intentional or not President Davis, with his statement on strategy, acknowledged two of the eminent military theorists of the nineteenth century. There can be no doubt that Prussian General Carl Von  or French General Antoine Jomini would not have endorsed the evolved defensive strategy of the Confederacy. They agreed that a passive defense was doomed to defeat.

Graduates of West Point and V.M.I. in the early and mid-nineteenth century would not have been familiar with Clausewitz’s great work “On War” as it was not translated into English until after the Civil War. Jomini’s works were translated prior to the war and some if not all of the graduates should have been familiar with his theories. Many of the theories of Clausewitz and Jomini originate from the Napoleonic Wars and we know for a fact the graduates were familiar with Napoleon. Jomini is considered the offensive minded of the two theorists though it is definite that he concurs with Clausewitz that offense must emanate from solid defense.

Clausewitz emphasized that military success would be measured by, “the political object of the war.” The South’s political objective was independence. Militarily this goal did not require the total defeat of Union forces or the occupation of large areas of Northern territory. The North’s political goal was the preservation of the Union. This goal did require the total defeat of Confederate forces and the occupation of large areas of the South. At the onset of hostilities Confederate Secretary of War, George Wythe Randolph, wrote, “There is no instance in history of a people as numerous as we inhabiting a country as extensive as ours being subjected if true to themselves.” The North’s ambitious political goal and the vast land area of the South, suggest a defensive strategy of Jomini’s, which has been labeled the space and time defense.

In the space and time strategy the defending forces will execute a retrograde movement drawing the attacking forces with them. The mission of this movement is to continually lengthen the attacking forces lines of communications. In the military sense time means the simultaneous movement or attack of two or more forces in two or more separate locations. The defender will employ simultaneous raids or attacks against the attacker’s line of communications. The initial mission of these raids and attacks would be to disrupt these lines but not to cut them. The goal of the defender is to force the attacker to guard as much of his lines of communications as possible, thereby reducing the man power of the main attacking force. This strategy does not call for large armies such as the Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee. If the defending commander had 40,000 troops, his dispositions could be 25,000 in the main defensive force, with the remainder being allotted to three or even four raiding units.

In order to employ the time and space strategy effectively are there requirements that must be met. The area of operations must be large. With the exception of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the South was the largest field of continuous operations to date. The ground within the area of operations must be defensible. The South’s topography, with its mountain ranges, rivers, wide streams, heavily wooded areas, swamps and marshes, was conducive to defense. The commanders of the raiding units must be intrepid and innovative. The commander of the main defensive force must be well versed in maneuver and defensive tactics. The Confederacy had officers that would have excelled in this strategy. Perhaps the most important and most necessary factor to this strategy lies with the civilian population. The strategy does not call for the active participation of the civilians in the military aspect. Loss of home territory, whether by force or by the strategy employed, can adversely influence the morale on the home front. Resistance to the loss of morale and passive resistance to the attacker are crucial to the success of the space and time strategy. The spirit and determination of the Confederacy’s civilians made up for many military deficiencies that the South suffered. This spirit and determination would have been fully sufficient for the employment of the space and time strategy.

Effective space and time defensive

An example of how effective the space and time defensive strategy could have been during the Civil War is William T. Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. Sherman’s forces were totally dependent on the Western and Atlantic railroad. As General Joseph E. Johnston’s forces retreated towards Atlanta they took or used all the forage and supplies along their line of march, forcing Sherman to be even more dependent on his one railroad. No one was more aware of his precarious lines of communication than General Sherman. At the start of his campaign he had assigned no less than 20,000 troops to defend this single railroad line. On May 5, as the Army of the Tennessee prepared to move through Snake Creek Gap, Sherman stressed to McPherson, “Strike hard as it may save us what we have most reason to apprehend, a slow pursuit, in which he gains strength as we lose it.” Sherman may have been referring to the possible reinforcement of Johnston and the prepared defensive fortifications ahead of which the Confederates would surely make use. The weakening of his own forces could only have come from attrition, as reinforcements were readily available. In any movement that a force undertakes attrition is a natural occurrence. The remedy for this natural attrition is found in the availability of supplies. As he moved toward Atlanta, Sherman knew his line of supply was being stretched, resulting in difficulty supplying his troops at the front.

As General Johnston retreated he was executing part of the equation of the space and time strategy, albeit unknowingly. The strategy does not dictate if the retrograde movement is forced or planned. It does stress that the defender does not allow the attacker to draw them into a major engagement. General Johnston was successful in this. In his memoirs he wrote that, on June 13, he requested President Jefferson Davis to have all available cavalry not assigned to his army, placed under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest’s mission would be to fall on Sherman’s one line of communication disrupting and if possible destroying it. Johnston maintained that he wrote six letters to Davis on the subject. Two letters were sent directly and four routed through General Braxton Bragg. Richmond turned a deaf ear to Johnston even though his plan was endorsed by Polk and Hardee, Johnston’s corps commanders. At a later date General Robert E. Lee urged the implementation of the plan but Richmond still did not act. Did Richmond’s indifference to this plan cost the Confederacy Atlanta and subsequently the war?

Had Forrest been ordered to execute Johnston’s plan, the second part of the space and time defense equation would have been met. To finish the equation, Forrest would have to attack the railroad at more than one location simultaneously. Forrest had made use of this tactic in previous raids. Sherman’s greatest apprehension for the success of his campaign was Forrest receiving the very orders that Johnston’s request had asked to be issued. General Forrest’s record shows that he was successful in these types of operations and there is no reason to believe he could not carry this mission to success. If Sherman’s lines of communication, his one railroad, had been consistently disrupted or even destroyed what options could Sherman entertain?

Jomini’s theory of the space and time strategy allows for three possible courses of action open to the attacker in response to his threatened lines of communication. General Jomini believed that these three courses were inclusive of all variations. The first, likely the least viable for Sherman, is the drawing of reinforcements from areas outside the immediate theater of operations. This response requires time to concentrate and organize a new force to defend or open the lines. Sherman had over 100,000 men and 35,000 animals in his force. He wrote home in June, “I wish we could make an accumulation of stores somewhere near, but the railroad is taxed to its utmost to supply our daily wants.” The disruption of Sherman’s railroad would not have to have been of long duration for his forces to be in jeopardy. There would not have been time enough for the first response to be employed. The second option allows for the attacker to draw troops from his main attacking force in an attempt to defend or reopen his lines. This course weakens the main attacking force and subjects the second force to consistent attacks by the defender. The third course of action, the most desirable for the defender, is the retreat of the attacking force along its lines of communication. This virtually guarantees the reopening of the attackers lines but at the least delays his attainment of his primary goal. It is quite possible, through the defender going on the offensive, that the attacker’s campaign could be altered or even negated. The offensive tactics available to the defender, when the attacker opts for the second or third response, are material for another article.

Had the Confederacy employed the space and time defense against General Sherman’s invasion, it is quite probable that the fall of Atlanta would have at the very least been delayed. It is even possible that Atlanta’s capture could have been prevented. Many credit the fall of Atlanta for the re-election of President Lincoln in 1864. How many “what ifs” exist if McClellan had won the election?

The Confederacy had no coordinated defensive strategy. Given the tremendous handicap in manpower and resources that faced the South, I believe this lack of any such strategy was a fatal flaw. The “offensive-defensive” strategy of Davis was in fact one of dispersed defense. By attempting to defend widely dispersed areas, Davis weakened the overall defensive ability of the Confederacy. General Jomini’s space and time defensive strategy was seemingly tailored for the Confederacy. The strategy does not require large armies, a benefit to the manpower-short South. The defensive typically does not require the resources of the offensive, an aid to the South’s supply situation. The ground of the South, being extremely advantageous to the defense, would have been utilized fully for that purpose. With their lack of a coordinated defensive strategy, any such strategy would have been an advantage to the Confederacy. Though there may be other defensive strategies that the South could have employed, I submit that Jomini’s space and time defensive strategy is the best of these alternatives. I will not state unequivocally that Jomini’s strategy would have changed the fortunes of the Confederacy in the war. I will, however, say that if the strategy had been employed from the beginning the possibility exists.

 

During the Antebellum years the US constitution was used to provide justification for both the abolition and expansion of slavery. The South found justification and a means of preservation for their long established “peculiar institution” by interpreting the constitution in favor of slavery. Radical abolitionists made several of their own constitutional interpretations that not only supported but also provided a means for abolition. This powerful document was not just subjected to various interpretations but also was used as a proverbial club for both Northern and Southern politicians to beat each other with.

Yeoman and plantation lords alike were confident that their juries and legislators had their best interests at heart and would do all perceivable to uphold their rights of mastery over slaves and legitimize their interpretations of the constitution.[1] When anti-slavery propaganda began to flood into the South a presidential ban was implemented on such mailings. Out of fear that this would promote a federal police power capable of also putting a ban on slavery Southern legislators called for its repeal as it was unconstitutional. Through this action one can clearly see the importance of, and respect for, constitutional limitations.[2] While sacrificing censorship, even in their favor, legislatures were affirming the authority of the constitution throughout the union, and now would seek to use it to their advantage. In 1850 when an act was passed guarantying the return of lost or stolen property, slaves, the south now believed that they had a precedent for constitutional recognition of their beloved institution.[3] The enactment of any law protecting the individual’s rights of investment was seen as the constitutional responsibilities of the federal government. Now that the south had achieved recognition of their constitutional right to own slaves the roots began to sink in deep. In screaming for the, what was then, broad issue of individual rights guaranteed in the constitution the south was trying to silence the Northern critics and guarantee their mastery over a lesser race.[4]

Many radicals, such as Stephen Douglas, interpreted that the constitution established the Union to preserve and provide freedom for all Americans, and the foundation for this ideology was based in their own interpretation of the constitution.[5] While there was a general consensus that slavery was “a great wrong” there was, without radical interpretation, a sense of hopelessness in finding a way to abolish it.[6] With Slavery being linked with polygamy E.R. Hoar demanded that the federal government abolish slavery throughout the Union.[7] The federal government was bound to the limitations set forth by the founding fathers. Abolitionist interpreters began to discover ways to abolish slavery through constitutional means.

The first step was a form of political “Prima Nocte.” By putting pressure on the South, through favoring political appointments of non slave holders, the north hoped to impregnate the federal government with like minded interpreters of their hallowed document.[8] Another strategy came through Fredrick Douglas’s turning the same sections claimed to support slavery into abolitionist support through his own interpretation, cutting the ties of slavery to the hallowed document. It was article IV section 4 that required the federal government to protect the states against invasion and domestic violence, to include the soon to come civil war. Douglas claimed that the government could achieve this task, quite efficiently so, by proclaiming emancipation.[9] In the unlikely event that a revolt was to arise the government did poses the power to halt the spread of slavery to its new federal territories. The belief was that in order for slavery to survive it must be allowed to spread, like a true cancer.[10]

Approaches to interpretations of the Constitution

Yet there existed another approach provided by northern constitutional interpretation. Due to a political understanding, anti-slavery literature was allowed to sit in southern post offices, never to be delivered. Northerners screamed at the injustices of this as it was an obvious violation of the individual’s rights guaranteed by the founding fathers. With the election of Lincoln the Chicago Democrat declared that the Southern censorship could no longer be tolerated. In a sense the North could then sway the Southerners towards their interpretation of the constitution through the constitution itself. By clinging to the idea of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness the north was attempting to use the constitution as leverage to bring the south in line with their own values and ideology.[11]

As both sides struggled to impose their own views of the constitution upon their masses, many northern politicians found ways to spite the south through their own radical understandings. Sour feelings developed after the Kansas-Nebraska act, which allowed for an extension of slavery. In response to the act, just one week after it was passed, Wisconsin repealed the “disgraceful”, “Slave catching act of 1850.”Following the lead of Wisconsin the six New England states approved an act to protect the life and liberties of America’s people. Through this sudden and rapid interpretation, fueled by spite, the “Slave catching act” was deemed unconstitutional.[12] As the North kept chipping away at the South’s right to slavery the South took on a rather ironic switch. In response to the New England’s states repeal of the fugitive slave act the south claimed that state governments were assuming authority that it didn’t poses, it was a federal matter. In another ironic twist the North claimed support for states right to make its own polices. When considering the events soon to come this is an almost comical scenario.[13]

In the Antebellum years both pro and anti-slavery advocates seemed to, almost, be shopping for answers. Southern property rights were assured by their political interpretations, Northern “fire breathers” were assuring their masses that it was their constitutional interpretations that would prevail. While batting each other about with acts and repeals, all based on different interpretations of the same text, the nation was slowly being steered towards disaster. There is again a great irony to be found in this struggle; it seems that the very same document that created our great nation also nearly destroyed it.

 


[1] Clinton & Silber, Divided, 36.
[2] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 302.
[3] Fehrenbacher, Fugitive, 231.
[4] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 322.
[5] Fonner, Free, 139.
[6] Ibid., 115.
[7] Ibid., 130.
[8] Ibid., 117.
[9] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 299.
[10] Fonner, Free, 116-118.
[11] Ibid., 122-123.
[12] Fehrenbacher, Fugitive, 235-238.
[13] Ibid., 241.

 

Bibliography

Clinton, Catherine. Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

To persons living east of the Mississippi River during the Civil War, Kansas was “that new state out west,” where land cost little and men’s lives even less. For one intrepid young settler from Illinois, his new home became the source of inspiration for a revealing collection of diaries and artwork that comprise a treasure trove for Civil War historians.

Samuel J. Reader, of Indianola, Kan., was born in Illinois in 1836. He trekked to the new territory with his aunt and her husband in 1855, and kept a running chronicle of the events in “Bleeding Kansas” in a series of annual diaries. Along with written comments about that turbulent time, Reader also included some paintings. In one of his diaries, he painted himself staking his own Kansas claim. During the Civil War, Reader carried his diary while serving as a member of the local militia. His words and art, discovered after his death in 1914, became a unique record of the war.

Shortly after his arrival at Indianola, Reader wrote that the town would never amount to much. In 1862, he complained to his family back in Illinois that “instead of laying it out on the prairie the Mo. [Missouri] proprietors laid it out mostly in timber and bushes.”

The Kansas town–named after Indianola, Texas, by its Southern-sympathizing founders–was the subject of many Reader paintings. He depicted all the usual frontier establishments–a sawmill, a blacksmith, two or three stores, two hotels and a couple of billiard saloons or “whiskey dens.” At the height of the town’s prosperity, lots sold for $250 or $300, with one going as high as $500. Reader commented that “intemperance is the special vice of this neighborhood” and dubbed Indianola “Whiskeytown.” He also associated the town’s saloons with the secessionist movement, all of them being owned by pro-slavery sympathizers.

Young Sam’s opinion of supporters of slavery developed after he settled in Kansas Territory. He wrote: “Rich cheap farm land was the principal incentive that lured me on from my Illinois home. I had heard and read much concerning the political troubles in the territory; but the question of a free or a slave state was a secondary consideration with me at the time. In fact, I had given little thought to the subject; viewing the ‘Peculiar Institution’ as a great wrong, but leaving its adjustment to older and wiser heads.”

The largely Southern population of Indianola inevitably brought the town into conflict with its Free State neighbors. Recalling a raid by Topeka pioneers, Reader wrote: “Our neighborhood was badly stirred up. … A party of Free-State men … took from the most rabid pro-slavery citizens, their arms and military stores; together with Sundry articles, claimed to be contraband of war. The whiskey was emptied in the street. I had no hand in it; and whether the act was justifiable or not, is not for me to say. It was called a reprisal; but two wrongs do not always make one right! … But it was reported that our ruthless enemies [Missouri border ruffians] did far worse. Besides plundering, they added, ‘fire and sword’ and numberless outrages, on Free-State men!”  

Reader, Free-Staters and the Grim Chieftan

When Reader learned that Southern-sympathizing border ruffians were about to attack the town of Grasshopper Falls–present-day Valley Falls–in the next county to the east, he joined other Free Staters under Colonel James H. Lane as they rushed to confront the raiders at a place called Hickory Point. Lane’s ragtag militia crossed the Kansas River by ferry on Friday morning, September 12, 1856. The date was recorded forever in a watercolor depiction of the momentous crossing in Reader’s diary.

After an early morning skirmish that Sunday, Reader dashed off some lines in his diary, noting that the Free Staters had arrived at Hickory Point, a short distance east of Grasshopper Falls, at about 11 in the morning. “Fired some,” and then “retreated to O[zawkie],” he noted in his diary. Reader also claimed that his side had only lost three horses and one man wounded, compared to “Several B.Rs. [border ruffians] killed.” Actually, only one Southern sympathizer died in the skirmish. With that brief triumph behind them, young Reader and his companions in the Free State company ate some watermelons and in the evening started home, “sleepy and tired but full of glory.”

But there was little glory to be found in Kansas in 1856. This was the period of “Bleeding Kansas,” which featured the fanaticism of John Brown and the death and destruction sowed by contending bands of pro-slave and Free State partisans. During that one year in Reader’s Kansas county, three houses were ruined, 46 horses were stolen, and 67 head of cattle were rustled. But the federal government, from whom the people sought relief, never compensated the victims of either side, Reader recorded, and the claims passed into history and myth.

A number of Lane’s Free State militiamen involved in the raids were arrested that fall and imprisoned in the territorial capital, Lecompton, and the small neighboring town of Tecumseh–both Southern strongholds. Most were acquitted. At one time the jail in Tecumseh housed some 47 prisoners. About 10 o’clock on the night of November 21, 1856, about 30 of them escaped “by pegging a hole in the wall and crawling out like rats,” recounted the proSouth publication Lecompton Union on December 11. Officers caught one fellow halfway out and towed him back in. His excuse, “I am following the rest.”

Shortly after Kansas Territory became a state, its citizens experienced the myriad trials of civil war. The war, which broke out at Fort Sumter, S.C., three months after Kansas entered the Union, took a heavy toll on Union-loving volunteers. Reader wrote that “a great many farms are not cultivated in this section for want of working men.” Such a severe shortage of manpower existed in the entire state by the middle of the war that Governor Thomas Carney felt it necessary to caution recruiting officers to go more slowly in their efforts.  

Reader himself did not immediately enlist in one of the Kansas volunteer regiments. Instead, he served in the Union militia, which had formed during the territorial period, and subsequently took part in the bloodless “Battle of Indianola” and another confrontation at Hickory Point.

On the home front, Reader became an astute social observer in his letters and diaries. For example, in a letter dated January 19, 1862, he wrote to his brother that he had recently been in Topeka, where he “saw quite a number of negroes employed by its citizens. They looked intelligent and happy. I believe they have 15 or 20 there but none have come over on this side of the [Kansas] river, yet, that is.”

His social observations were sometimes tinged with martial language: One day, when a prostitute quarreled with the more respectable ladies of Indianola, the outraged reaction provided Reader with the opportunity to exercise his wit in his diary. The “fancy lady, to use no harsher term … established her headquarters in Billy P[russeit]’s shoemaker shop,” he observed. Five of the town’s womenfolk, “after holding a council of war determined on a vigorous policy, and forth-with set out for little Bill’s house. … The attacking force filed through the gate and by a skillful maneuver gained possession of the backdoor without the loss of a man (or woman rather).”

Immediately following the sack of Lawrence by William Clarke Quantrill, the citizens of many Kansas towns understandably feared a similar fate, and they organized Union militia companies to protect themselves. Elizabeth Reader, a resident of Indianola and relative of Samuel, wrote that the militia members continued to meet and drill until the fall of 1864. In that “Secesh” town, even some of the former pro-slavery men joined with the Unionist militiamen to make up Company D of the Shawnee County regiment.

The Shawnee County unit was designated the 2nd Regiment, Kansas State Militia, with Colonel George W. Veale commanding. The 2nd Kansas was brigaded later with the Lawrence unit, men who had suffered at the hands of Rebel guerrillas. A log stockade was erected in the center of Topeka as a refuge to which Shawnee County residents might flee if guerrillas appeared. And since Topeka had become the state capital, the city’s residents were sure it was a prime bushwhacker target.

Sterling Price’s Great Raid of 1864

Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price invaded Missouri in September 1864. As he led three divisions of cavalry across the state where he had once been governor, Kansans watched anxiously to see if he would turn east toward St. Louis and the Mississippi River or west to capture Fort Leavenworth and plunder Kansas.  

Reader continued making entries into his diary that month as Governor Carney called out the militia. A lieutenant and quartermaster of the regiment, Reader reported on equipping the 2nd Kansas. Reader’s unit was ordered to assemble at Olathe on the Kansas-Missouri border, along with 10 other militia regiments. Each outfit had to provide its own transportation and rations. Members of each regiment were supplied with “two blankets, a tin cup, knife and fork, and a haversack,” Reader noted. In addition, Reader participated in the distribution of new Enfield rifles in place of the old and nearly worthless carbines that had been issued directly following the Lawrence raid.

Two days after the militia was called out, martial law was declared and every man between the ages of 18 and 60 was ordered to arms. On the morning of October 12, the 2nd Kansas moved out for Missouri. Reader took his diary along on the march, illustrating much of the campaign with charcoal and pencils–sketches he would later flesh out with watercolors. One such painting was called 2nd K.S.M. Invading Missouri. Many of the untrained, inexperienced militiamen refused to cross the state border to meet the Confederate invasion. The Shawnee County regiment was one of the exceptions, and the men from Topeka and vicinity proved their worth during the ensuing Battle of Westport.

Another painting, Night Before Battle, depicts the campsite of Kansans on October 21, 1864, the evening before the second day of fighting at Westport. The next day, the 2nd Kansas saw combat. The regiment waited at a shallow crossing of the Big Blue River through most of the day. Late in the afternoon, Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby’s “Iron Brigade” of Missouri cavalry broke through Union lines while attempting a flanking movement. Shelby’s Missourians ran headlong into the 2nd Kansas. The regiment held its ground without aid against vastly superior numbers for nearly an hour in what became known as the Battle of the Blue.

Reader fought among the embattled Kansans and later would commemorate in words and pictures the brave stand that repulsed the Confederate advance into Kansas. The 2nd Kansas counted 24 killed, 20 wounded and 88 taken prisoner.

Further confrontations along the border sent Price scurrying back toward the safety of Arkansas with a cache of captured arms and prisoners. Reader was one of the captured Federals. After a three-day forced march through southern Missouri, which he illustrated with a drawing he called Double-Quick, You Yankee, the 28-year-old Reader managed to escape and found shelter with a Kansas farmer. He eventually turned himself over to a company of Federal cavalry, using his diary to prove his identity. He was one of the fortunate ones–many of his fellow prisoners died of exposure and pneumonia. Years later, Reader spent time honing his artistic talent. Although he is best known as a diarist, he was also a natural artist whose work illustrated his words. In addition to the diaries he kept faithfully from age 13 until his death, he also wrote and illustrated his autobiography. The watercolors in the latter work are now considered a valuable record of the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri.

Reader used pigment ground in gum and applied with brush and water to produce some of the best Kansas art depicting the war. Most of his work was primitive, but his action scenes of the Battle of the Blue at Westport, now held by the Kansas State Historical Society, are the equal of any combat painting of the Civil War.

Reader’s reminiscences, eternized with both pen and brush, have only been partially tapped. His story of the border warfare in the state, in both pictures and words, is an invaluable glimpse into Kansas’ Civil War heritage.