The Military Memoirs of John Pope

ed. by Peter Cozzens and Robert I Girardi, Foreword by John Simon, Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1998

Meet John Pope, charming raconteur. These are his newspaper articles, written after the war, gathered together in one volume as if they were actually memoirs. Pope knows how to entertain general readers and does it well. Here is Pope on the subject of Braxton Bragg:

I do not think he could ever have had warm friends. Indeed, he seemed even to detest himself, if one might judge from the dissatisfied expression which continuoually sat enthroned on his face and yet the South produced no more capable general than he.

And on Irvin McDowell:

Most of this injury, to the embitterment of his life and the destruction of his military career, was due largely to the impatience of his temper and the arrogance and severity of his language and manner. One can learn from McDowell's fate how much more valuable to human success is that intangible thing called deportment than character and ability.

So Bragg is brought down by scheming subordinates and McDowell by his own poor deportment. These odd constructs indicate the kind of reading experience in store.

John Pope, related to Mrs. Lincoln, accompanied Mr. Lincoln on the train to Washington from Illinois. He was one politically wired general, a radical Republican with a solid record of achievement when Lincoln brought him East in 1862. Having come East, Pope began to do very bad things, in particular, he used social, private and public forums to attack a man he never met and a strategy he never knew (McClellan and the Peninsula campaign). The attacks were bitter and oddly personal to the extent that even his modern defenders (the authors of Abandoned by Lincoln) were appalled by them.

Pope was, in one of his own favorite terms, the "heir apparent" to McClellan's old command and his influence and counsels far exceeded those of his nominal boss, Henry Halleck. The speed of Pope's decline and his deportment during the process remind us, more effectively than McDowell's example, of the tangibles and intangibles of failure. Pope never found that public advocate who would rehabilitate his reputation and these articles were filed for that purpose.

The book is interesting and filled with anecdotes. It is a good read. Yes there is axe grinding and it is ugly. It is noisy and hot and sheds no new light on Second Manassas, Pope's major defeat. There are endless potshots at McClellan and Porter. But in between, there is fun too. The surprise is that the editors, who claim to have become Pope admirers, have provided views of Pope at his spontaneous worst in the form of correspondence with Fremont, Halleck and with the Comte de Paris. Look for the temper, arrogance, and severity that could bring down even two McDowells -- or just one John Pope.


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(c) 1999 The McClellan Society