Major General William Mahone
I was recently doing what I do best and that was studying information on Confederate generals. I came across an article that would have made me laugh if it wasn't for the fact that most people will read what this woman has written and believe it. The lady's name is Jane Dailey, an associate professor of history at the University of Chicago (of course). She begins her article mentioning attending a conference in Charleston, South Carolina. She had gone to an old marketplace to browse the shops for a souvenir for her son. She complained that all she could find was "Confederate memorabilia." That was when she noticed a painting (one of which I have hanging in my living room at this moment) called "Lee and His Generals."
Allow me to quote her directly here. "Inspecting it, I saw that something-or rather, someone-was missing. I was looking for a tiny, bearded, Major General, a divisional commander who was with Lee at Appomattox and who shared in the decision to surrender that April day in 1865. I was looking for General William Mahone of Virginia, and I did not find him because he was not there.....How did such a high-ranking Confederate commander wind up missing in action in a Charleston gift shop? Not, I think, by accident."
She then proceeds to say that Mahone has been erased from Confederate history because of his association with African Americans following the war. Now, one would think a professor of history would be able to study this painting and figure out why Billy Mahone isn't in it. It has absolutely nothing to do with what he did following the war or for any reason that Jane Dailey has come up with.
Lee and His Generals
Allow me to introduce the painting to you. "Lee and His Generals" was painted by G.B. Matthews and was copyrighted in 1907. Jane Dailey is correct, you will not find William Mahone in the picture. Would you like to know the real reason why? Any historian worth their salt will quickly figure the answer out without writing a dishonest article to fit what they want history to read like. Let's see why Major General Mahone isn't in the picture. From left to right are the top commanders in the Confederacy. In the Confederate Army, General's commanded army's, Lieutenant General's commanded corps, Major General's commanded divisions, and Brigadier General's commanded brigades. From left to right in the painting are General John Bell Hood (commander of the Army of Tennessee in 1864), Lieutenant General Richard Stoddard Ewell (commanded a corps in Lee's Army), General Braxton Bragg (commanded the Army of Tennessee from 1862-1863), General Albert Sidney Johnston (commanded the Army of Mississippi from 1861 to 1862), Lieutenant General Wade Hampton (commanded Lee's Cavalry Corps late in the war), General Edmund Kirby Smith (commanded all forces west of the Mississippi), Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early (commanded a corps under Lee in 1864), Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell Hill (commanded a corps under Lee from 1863 until his death in 1865), Lieutenant General Richard Heron Anderson (commanded a corps in Lee's army in 1864 and ironically Mr. Matthew's painted the wrong general here, he accidentally painted Virginia Brigadier General Joseph Anderson), Major General John Brown Gordon (commanded a corps in Lee's army at the end of the war), Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes (commanded a corps in Arkansas), Lieutenant General William J. Hardee (commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee), General Joseph E. Johnston (commanded the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee), Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner (commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee), Lieutenant General James Longstreet (commanded a corps in Lee's army), Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk (commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee until his death in 1864), General Robert E. Lee (commanded the Army of Northern Virginia and in 1865 became commander of all Confederate armed forces), Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest (commanded a cavalry corps in Tennessee), General P.G.T. Beauregard (commanded the Army of Tennessee), Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (commanded a corps in Lee's army), General Samuel Cooper (the highest ranked general in the Confederacy), Major General Jeb Stuart (commanded the cavalry corps of Lee's army until his death in 1864), Lieutenant General Richard Taylor (commanded a corp in Louisiana), Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton (commanded the army at Vicksburg), and Lieutenant General D.H. Hill (commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee).
I'm sorry the list is so long, but any true historian will readily notice why William Mahone is not in the picture. Each commander above commanded at least a corps or an army. Division commanders are not pictured at all. William Mahone was not ranked high enough to warrant his picture being in the painting because he never commanded more than a division. There are two major generals pictured above. Major General Jeb Stuart who commanded Lee's cavalry corps and would have eventually been promoted lieutenant general had he not been killed in the spring of 1864. The other is Major General John B. Gordon who also commanded a corps in Lee's Army in 1865. Had the war lasted longer, he no doubt would have been promoted. He actually claimed to have been promoted to lieutenant general in his memoirs, but he signed his parole at Appomattox as major general. There are other major general's who commanded corps for brief and long stretches during the war who did not get their pictures in the painting. Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee for over six months, yet he didn't get his picture in the painting and he deserves his image there more than Mahone. Major General Patrick Cleburne (one of the Confederacy's top generals also commanded a corps briefly, yet he is not in the painting. You would think a historian would understand this, but it doesn't help sell her story to admit the truth.
There is another sly falsehood that she slips into the story and figures it will not be noticed. Allow me to quote her again. "After the war, Robert E. Lee recalled that, when contemplating a successor, he thought that Mahone 'had developed the highest qualities for organization and command.'" Now General Lee did make the above statement about General Mahone's ability as a commander, but did he seriously contemplate making Mahone his successor? This was written by General Mahone and he quoted Lee after the war as making this statement to Lieutenant General Wade Hampton in which he overheard the remark.
I'm not calling General Mahone a liar, it is quite possible that General Lee made this statement as a compliment to General Mahone's leadership abilities. General Lee was a product of the old army. He better than anyone understood that a division commander does not have near the responsibility as a corps or army commander. I find it hard to believe that Lee would have wanted to promote a division commander to command of the army above all his corps commanders. We also know that General Lee thought highly of the ability of James Longstreet, who was ranked just behind Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia. There is more information about who Lee wanted to succeed him should he fall. Late in the war, after assigning Major General John B. Gordon to corps command, Lee came to respect his ability at such responsibility. Lee respected Gordon so much, that on his last two offensives (Fort Stedman and Appomattox), Lee entrusted these important attacks to his new corps commander. Lee went so far as to tell Confederate President Jefferson Davis that if he were to be killed that he thought it best for the Confederacy and the army for John B. Gordon to be given command. He didn't mention General Mahone at all during the war as a likely successor. There was nothing General Mahone had ever done to warrant jumping two grades to army command.
Furthermore, at Gettysburg, the attack was made en echelon from right to left. This means that one division would advance and strike the enemy and hopefully when the Federal army shifted reinforcements from one sector to assist in the defense, the next division would advance into a gap in the line, thus breaking the Federal army. The assault began with Hood's division, then McLaws's division, followed by Richard Anderson's division. Pender's division was slated to advance following Anderson's, yet this never occurred. A brigade commander in Anderson's division dropped the ball. This man seemed to lose his nerve and never advanced, causing the en echelon attack to stall. Pender's division never entered the battle because of one man and that man was General William Mahone. Jane Dailey fails to mention this failure in her article of pure praise for General Mahone.
I am in no way downplaying General Mahone's ability as a commander. No one knows why he lost his nerve at Gettysburg, but as a division commander fighting around his home town of Petersburg, he was excellent. He understood the ground there because of his work with the railroad before the war. Mahone understood how to use every defile to move his troops into a position to catch the Federal's unexpectedly. General Mahone was a fine combat commander. I will go into more on Jane Dailey, Kevin Levine, and William Mahone in part 2 of this blog.