Saturday, December 22, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Dec. 21, 1861

Bodyguard of Lies

Louisville, Kentucky, is a beehive of Union activity. "Several thousand” Louisville women, reduced to poverty by the war, have been hired as seamstresses for government contractors to turn out blue uniforms. Other Louisville women, serving as volunteers, have in the past two weeks produced 2,370 articles of clothing, 1,630 articles of bedding, 95 “army bags,” 62 bottles of wine, and many other items for the soldiers.

The headquarters of the Army of the Ohio is busy as well. It has been under the direction of Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell since last month, when an emotionally exhausted Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman gave up command here and was ordered to St. Louis. Orders and reports flow in and out of Buell’s headquarters as he reorganizes his forces. Occasionally he sends a note to Washington for the Union army’s general-in-chief, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, whom he addresses as “my dear friend.”

Buell and Sherman, both Ohio-born, are two very different men. Sherman is imaginative, lively, emotive and changeable, a man of big ideas and strong opinions; Buell is quiet, aloof, rigid, a master of details and a bureaucrat by temperament. There is one other difference: while Sherman blurted out that he needed 200,000 men to do the job in Kentucky, Buell carefully says he does not “need” more men, but he could use more to go on the offensive. Instead of Sherman’s blunt demands, Buell hints at what he could do if he only had the men. A master of the inter-office memorandum, Buell is not seriously planning the massive drive south rumored by the newspapers and desired by Washington.

And something else: in today’s The New York Times, the paper’s correspondent in Louisville reports that Buell has 110,000 men and soon will have 120,000. Not so. Within two days, Buell will quietly report to Washington that he has 70,000, of which only 50,000 could be called “efficient.” Most of Buell's troops are from Ohio and Indiana.

It looks as if Buell is hoping to keep the enemy at bay with some bluffing. It’s a time-honored military technique, and in the 21st century we call it “disinformation.”

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