Everyone Hated John Pope

Few Civil War generals were more reviled by both sides than John Pope.  In posts during the coming days we will see samples of his military incompetence, but plenty of Civil War generals were incompetent without generating a fraction of the dislike that Pope effortlessly created.

Brought by Lincoln from the West, following his victory at Island No 10, to command the newly created Army of Virginia in the wake of the failure of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, Pope wasted no time in alienating the soldiers he would command with this bombastic proclamation of July 14, 1862:

Let us understand each other. I have come to you from the West, where we have always seen the backs of our enemies; from an army whose business it has been to seek the adversary and to beat him when he was found; whose policy has been attack and not defense. In but one instance has the enemy been able to place our Western armies in defensive attitude. I presume that I have been called here to pursue the same system and to lead you against the enemy. It is my purpose to do so, and that speedily. I am sure you long for an opportunity to win the distinction you are capable of achieving. That opportunity I shall endeavor to give you. Meantime I desire you to dismiss from your minds certain phrases, which I am sorry to find so much in vogue amongst you. I hear constantly of “taking strong positions and holding them,” of “lines of retreat,” and of “bases of supplies.” Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear. Let us act on this understanding, and it is safe to predict that your banners shall be inscribed with many a glorious deed and that your names will be dear to your countrymen forever.

I really consider it hard to think of a better way to alienate Union soldiers and officers in the East than to compare them unfavorably with those of the West.  The contempt this proclamation inspired was sealed when it was erroneously claimed in the Richmond Inquirer that Pope had boasted that his headquarters would be in the saddle, with the added fictiom of General Robert E. Lee supposedly  noting that Pope’s headquarters were where his hindquarters should be.

Pope endeared himself to the Confederates by announcing that his men could freely forage on Confederate farms, and that Confederate civilians would be subject to compulsorily loyalty oaths and expulsion if they failed to take such oaths.  If a Confederate male civilian took the oath and later violated it, he was  to be shot.

Lee had known Pope slightly before the War and thought little of him personally or of his military capactiy.  In his orders to Jackson commanding him to take the lead in attacking Pope, Lee referred to Pope as a miscreant, very strong language for Lee, and said that Pope needed to be suppressed.  For the gentlemanly Lee, the order breathes a contempt that both those who wore the blue and who wore the grey shared in regard to General John Pope.

Published in: on August 21, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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  1. Thanks for the post! Pope’s philosophy is echoed by the likes of Patton, another general who despised staying in place during combat. But as you pointed out, what a general does with his momentum can define his reputation and career.

    • Patton and Pope were both bombastic and boastful. Unlike Pope however, Patton’s mouth never issued checks that his military prowess couldn’t cash.

      • Patton was the best man in the world to multiply the impact of numerical and air superiority. His amazing feat of passing seven divisions through the Arromanches bridge in 24 hours, by the simple device of having a man with a clipboard standing at the bridge and saying “you go there… you go there,…” says all that needs saying about his resourceful spirit when attacking. I have a suspcion, though, that he would have been a liability if defending a line with a limited supply of men and means, as Lee did so admirably for so long. And Patton was hated by many of his men. The great cartoonist Jack Kirby, creator of Captain America, who was a PFC and scout in, IIRC, the US Fifth Division till invalided out during the Ardennes offensive, said that he had put something of Patton in his ultimate villain, Darkseid.

  2. He was certainly a master of mobility, which many of his counterparts lacked on the field. But there was no restraining his overbearing and abrasive personality. I wonder how a combat psychologist would analyze this: could generals like Patton wield their ego like a weapon?

  3. […] hundred and fifty years ago today General John Pope was busily engaged in having his Union Army of Virginia thrashed by the Confederate Army of Northern […]

  4. […] hundred and fifty years ago today General John Pope was busily engaged in having his Union Army of Virginia thrashed by the Confederate Army of Northern […]

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