Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 21, 1863 (Saturday): "As stupid a thing as ever occurred."

General Darius N. Couch

Falmouth, Va., February 21, 1863.

Brigadier-General WILLIAMS:
     DEAR SIR: I telegraphed you last evening that the pickets had reported that sixteen pieces of artillery and eleven pontoons were seen passing through Fredericksburg down the river. The information did not get to me until twenty-four hours or more after the movement was observed-as stupid a thing as ever occurred in military history. It is but a specimen of how military duties are done by a great many officers in my corps. Higher officers spend their time in reading newspapers or books, playing cards or the politician, drinking whisky, and grumbling. Of course, this charge does not include all by a long way, for it contains some of the finest that ever drew sword, from major-general down.
     Upon a personal investigation, I find that the movement of pontoons and artillery was seen by so many that nobody reported the facet. The general officer of the day was Colonel Frank, one of our most sterling officers.
     I am, sir, very respectfully,

    D. N. COUCH,
    Major-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I. Vol. 25, Part 2, Page 93.

In a later missive to Halleck Couch pointed out he was not asking higher levels of command to discipline his officers, just relating to information regarding pontoons and artillery as information.  He also clarified that although there was certainty with regard to the artillery which was seen, it was not 100% certain that pontoons had been seen.  The Confederates did have pontoons at different times during the war, but in nowhere near the number the Union did.  It seems unlikely there were any in the area covered in this report.

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