Hey everyone, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I have a good memory for faces, and as a result I always enjoy it when I’m able to identify random actors when they appear in roles across a variety of movies or TV shows.
150 years ago today, the Union army in the eastern theatre was once again advancing on the Confederate capitol. However, it was not General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac that was moving out: it was the Army of Virginia, commanded by General John Pope. The Army of Virginia was a newly formed army of around 50,000 men, created largely out of the soldiers who had been beaten by General Jackson in the Valley Campaign earlier that year. President Lincoln hoped that Pope would be just the man to fight General Lee, since Pope had a reputation as an extremely aggressive commander. Pope had earned that reputation in a small but relatively well fought campaign in the western theatre, and with any luck he would be on to Richmond in no time. The problem was that Pope’s merits on paper were very different from Pope’s merits in real life. He was a very aggressive and arrogant man who lauded his own victories in the press, and did not care much for his men or his superior officers.
In the western theatre, General Pope first caught the public eye when he captured 1,200 men near Blackwater, Missouri on December 18th, 1861. This was a very minor accomplishment, but since General Pope was a braggart he did everything he could to showboat himself in the press. As a result, he got enough name recognition to be given command of a larger force – this time, the 25,000 men of the Army of Mississippi. Pope took command on February 23rd, and immediately marched his army towards the Mississippi river on the Missouri/Tennessee border. A Confederate fort there, called Island Number Ten, was blocking all Union shipping from progressing further down the river. Pope put the Confederate fort to siege, and forced its surrender with almost no casualties being incurred on either side.
Although his victory at Island Number Ten was important and well handled, it fed Pope’s ego and padded his over-abundant confidence far more than it should have. After the victory, Pope took his men and participated in General Halleck’s siege of Corinth. It was during that time that Pope was brought east and given command of the new Army of Virginia. One of Pope’s new subordinates in Virginia was General Fremont, who used to be Pope’s superior officer in Missouri when the war first started. While in Missouri, Pope had done his best to undermine Fremont’s command and get him removed – treacherous actions in any army. When combined with the fact that Pope had played up his victories and extolled himself in the meantime, Pope’s appointment seemed like a gigantic slap in the face to Fremont. Fremont resigned rather than serve under Pope, who celebrated his prestigious new command by insulting all the soldiers in his army.
Yes, you read that correctly – remember, Pope was an arrogant man. When he assumed command, he dispatched a message to the troops that said (in layman’s terms) “Let’s get something straight. I’m from the west, where we attack our enemies and defeat them gloriously. You easterners only wait to get attacked, and get defeated. I’m here to show you what it’s like to win. Stop being cowards, and let’s attack the enemy! Maybe you can redeem your shame, and be proud of yourselves for once!” For the original, full text, click HERE (it’s about halfway down the page). And with that, I’ll leave you with this though: General McClellan made his men love him by taking great care of them and showering them with praise. How do you think Pope will fare in the eyes of his men if the very first thing he does is call them all cowards and question their resolve? Tune in next time, and maybe we can find out!