Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hidden Code on Civil War Diary

Varina Howell Davis
Queens College computer science professor has deciphered the cryptic notes in Confederate officer James Malbone's civil war diary. Professor Kent Boklan found interesting entries nestled among orders and other military information.  Malbone's entries were written in a code he devised himself where symbols, punctuation marks, and dollar signs were used instead of letters of the alphabet.

The entries contain camp gossip and stories about soldier infidelities.  One of the most interesting items is about meeting Mrs. Jefferson Davis and suggesting that from her looks that "she may have been of mixed race."

There doesn't seem to be any indication of what that "mixture of races" might have been. Her image suggests a number of possibilities including Hispanic, Native American, and African American. 

According to Strode Hudson in Jefferson Davis, Volume I: American Patriot:"She tried intermittently to do what was expected of her, but she never convinced people that her heart was in it, and her tenure as First Lady was for the most part a disaster,"as they picked up on her ambivalence. White residents of Richmond freely criticized Varina Davis; and some described her appearance as "a mulatto or an Indian 'squaw'."

Frankly, I could care less about her pedigree. Mrs. Jefferson was a strong and supporting wife who had incredible influence in the Confederate government.  As the war continued and hardships spread to those who demanded secession, disgruntled Southerners attacked both President Davis and his First Lady. 

President and Mrs. Jefferson Davis
On a personal note, I have now returned to the land of the living after spending most of the last three months completing my manuscript on the life of Major General Charles Ferguson Smith. The process of obtaining permissions and drawing maps resulted in long days with virtually no time for other activities. Please excuse my prolonged absence. --- A. Mesch

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Role of Engineers in the Civil War: Dennis H. Mahan Creates a Curriculum

Dennis H. Mahan
Professor David Douglass resigned March 1, 1831, and was succeeded by Professor Dennis. H. Mahan on January 1, 1832. Following his graduation in July 1824, Lieutenant Mahan joined the Corps of Engineers. He was assistant professor of mathematics at the Academy from August 29, 1824 to August 31, 1825. Between 1825 and 1830, Mahan spent four years in Europe studying public works and military institutions. He was a student in the military school of application for engineers and artillerists at Metz, France. When he returned home, he served as acting professor of engineering from September 1, 1830 to January 1, 1832.

After his appointment to professor, Mahan devoted his energies to preparing a suitable set of textbooks for the department. As he developed the textbooks, he delivered lectures from his studies in Europe.

By 1841, the class register included a complete set of books and lithographs on engineering and military science. The list includes instruction on an impressive number of topics:
  • Mahan's Treatise on Field Fortification
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Permanent Fortification
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Attack and Defense
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Mines and other Accessories
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Composition of Armies and Strategy
  • Mahan's Course in Civil Engineering
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Architecture and Stone Cutting
  • Mahan's Lithographic Notes on Machines (for first section only)
These frequently revised books were the basis of the course of engineering during Mahan's time at the Academy. In 1848, he introduced Mahan's Advanced Guard and Outposts; in 1858, Moseley's Mechanics of Engineering, and in 1870 Mahan's Industrial Drawing.

The instruction was presented to the First Class (fourth year) cadets. Around the end of the Civil War, the classes were divided into sections of ten to twelve men each with each section receiving instruction for one and a half hours daily between 8 and 10:30 a.m. Cadets taking the drawing class attended daily from 8 to 11 o'clock. Each section was under the immediate charge of an officer, usually of the Corps of Engineers, as instructor. Professor Mahan visited the sections daily, listened to the recitations, asked questions, and presented additional instruction and remarks as he thought necessary and desirable. This interaction allowed Mahan to judge the instructors abilities, methods of teaching, and grading. He was also able to evaluate the individual Cadets.

Professor Mahan gave very few lectures and most of these were short descriptions of campaigns and battles with criticisms of the tactical positions of the opposing forces. Most of his oral and personal instruction was given to the Cadets during his visits to the section room.

The engineering drawing course included the accurate construction of a number of problems contained in fortification drawing and stereotomy, drawings of a canal lock in plan, section, and elevation, and the plan, section, and elevation of a half front of fortification, Noizet's Method. The canal lock and Noizet's Method were finished as completely as time allowed, and the sections, slopes, etc., were usually tinted in watercolors.

Mahan promoted the development of professionalism in military science. His textbooks were used worldwide from the time they were written until after World War I. Mahan also founded the Napoleon Seminar at West Point, where advanced under-graduates and senior officers studied and discussed the great European wars.

Professor Mahan's lectures and writings about military fortifications and strategy were instrumental in the conduct of the Civil War by the officers on both sides. Most of the Civil War commanders learned about entrenchment, fortifications, and warfare from his classes and books.

On September 16, 1871, the West Point Board of Visitors recommended Mahon be forced to retire from teaching. The distraught Mahan committed suicide by leaping into the paddlewheel of a steamboat on the Hudson River.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Role of Engineers in the Civil War: The Begining of Engineering and Military Science Instruction

Instruction in civil engineering and military science in the US Army began sometime between 1795-1798, while the regiment of Artillerists and Engineers was stationed at West Point. Colonel Rochefontaine and Captain Rivardi, formerly of the French army, constructed a small model of the front of a fortification. Training in military engineering began when Congress established the Military Academy on March 16, 1802. The elements of fortification were taught using Rochefontaine and Rivardi's model. Until 1818, the instruction in military engineering was done by lectures illustrated by the model and through field exercises in practical engineering. The lectures were delivered by the Superintendent until 1808, by the teacher of French, Francis O. Masson, from I808 to 1813, and after that by the professor of engineering. The only textbook used was a small fifty-page pamphlet, translated from the French by Colonel Jonathan Williams, Corps of Engineers, the Academy's first Superintendent.

Alden Partridge
Congress established the department of engineering on April 29, 1812. "That the Military Academy shall consist of the Corps of Engineers and the following professors ... one professor of the art of engineering in all its branches ... and each of the foregoing professors shall have an assistant professor, taken from the most prominent characters of the officers or Cadets." Captain Alden Partridge, Corps of Engineers, was appointed professor of engineering on September 1, 1813. Partridge graduated from the Military Academy on October 30, 1806, and was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. He served at the Academy as assistant professor of mathematics from November 4, 1806, to June 5, 1811; as principal assistant professor of mathematics from April 29, 1812, to September 1, 1813; and as professor of engineering from September 1, 1813, to December 31, 1816. Much of the time, while he was professor of engineering he was also Superintendent of the Academy, and therefore gave little attention to the work of his department.
During the early 1800s engineering instruction was given less emphasis than either French or drawing. Most of the graduating cadets were only taught the definitions in William's primer. Many Cadets did not know the difference between the ditch and the glacis of a fort except by the conventional colors used in drawings. Two Cadets, who graduated in 1815 into the Engineer Corps, had only studied basic trigonometry.
Claudius Crozet
On March 16, 1817, Professor Claude Crozet succeeded Superintendent Partridge. Professor Crozet was born in France and was educated at the Polytechnic School. He had served as assistant professor of engineering since October 1, 1816. Crozet introduced descriptive geometry as a prerequisite for studying engineering, employed the blackboard in demonstrations, and applied some of the methods used by the Polytechnic School in developing and teaching engineering. The work of all the departments in the Academy was greatly aided by the reforms instituted by the new Superintendent, Major Sylvanus Thayer.
A Treatise on the Science
of War and Fortification
A Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification by Colonel de Vernon, professor of fortification at the Polytechnic School, France was translated by Captain John M. O'Connor, US Artillery, and introduced in 1818. The first volume of the two-volume text presented a general review of the science of war and a discussion of field fortifications and the second volume presented the fundamentals of permanent fortifications. The appendix contained a summary of the principles and guidelines of grand tactics and operations. Other French military fortification books were used in the course as supplemental texts for lectures or as references.
The Cadets studied the textbook according to the following procedures:  
  1. The Fourth Class Cadets were divided into two sections for the military course instruction.   
  2. The first section was instructed in the entire course of engineering, military science, and grand tactics using A Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification. Cadets were required to execute a series of drawings and plans connected with these subjects. The course began on September 1 of each year and ended on March 20.
  3. The second section was only taught field engineering using volume I and the appendix of A Treatise on the Science of War and Fortification. 
 The 1821 regulations indicate that the professor of engineering taught some of the sections himself. Instruction was divided among the professor of engineering and his assistants. The professor of engineering would occasionally instruct the sections entrusted to his assistants. This was done "to ascertain the proficiency of the sections entrusted immediately to the assistants and the manner in which they have performed their duty." 
In 1823, Professor David B. Douglass succeeded Professor Crozet, who resigned on April 28, 1823. Professor Douglass was appointed 2nd lieutenant, Corps of Engineers on August 1, 1813. He was assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy from June 1, 1815, to August 29, 1820; as professor of mathematics from August 29, 1820 to May 1, 1823, and as professor of engineering from May 1, 1823, to March 1, 1831. During his tenure "the instruction in civil engineering was much improved."
Next: Professor Dennis H. Mahan's Tenure

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Civil War: From the Origins to Reconstruction

On August 23 The Dallas Morning News presented Professor Louis Masur's three-hour class on the origins of the Civil War.  The class covered the roots of the the discontent that led to the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861.  Masur explained how the questions of states rights and federal power, slavery and freedom collided for decades before culminating in secession and war. The event was held at the historic Scottish Rite Library and Museum in downtown Dallas.

Professor Masur traced the changes that occurred in the Nation from the American Revolution to the War of Rebellion.  He cited the Nullification crisis and other threats of secession as examples of the national fight over federal and state rights.  Following the invention of the cotton gin, southerners changed their arguments to justify slavery. It became a necessary evil that produced a positive good. Political cartoons contrast the "benign" American slavery with England's wage system's "industrial slavery."  He spoke of the role of the media, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, in changing public opinion.

He mentioned the industrial advantage the north had during the war and the southern belief that their soldiers were far superior to their northern counterparts. Masur described how the war changed from a limited war to restore the southern states to the Union to a total war involving citizens with the goal to end slavery.  In spite of the goals of their leaders, the opposing soldiers had difficulty hating each other and enjoyed fraternizing with each other in the intermissions between killing each other.

Dr. Masur said that the south believed the north's mobilization and supplies caused them to lose the war. Northerners attributed the victory to the Union's industrialized strength.  Similar answers to the same question.  Ultimately, the south may have lost because its soldiers refused to defend and die for an economic system that only benefited the wealthy. The pleas to return home from their families resulted in widespread desertion as the men put their families first.

The Reconstruction era began with hope in the black community and ended with despair as, in my opinion, physical slavery became industrial slavery. The Republican north lost the will to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments on a south that pursued a course of de-facto slavery through economic and political means. Ultimately, America emerged as an industrialized, capitalist, democratic nation. However, the issues faced by our ancestors in this bloody conflict remain with us today: federal vs. state control of government and individual rights vs. government restrictions and regulations.

Much of Professor Masur's commentary is contained in his book: The Civil War: A Concise History.  

Please see Books by Louis Masur for other titles.