Scores of Civil War roundtables meet monthly across the United States and abroad to refight America's greatest conflict. Issues of strategy, key battles, and generalship are often debated as passionately as if the outcome of the war remained in doubt. Contention about the most incompetent general in the Civil War rarely ends without reference to Major General John Pope, who was decisively defeated in the battle of Second Bull Run. Participants readily concede that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson outgeneraled Pope. Pope's contribution to the debacle remains open to discussion.
In 1990, Wallace J. Schutz and Walter J. Trenerry published the first formal biography of Pope, "the only commanding general of a major Union army in the Civil War not to have had one." After years of research on a man who kept no diary and whose surviving personal letters were scarce, Schutz and Trenerry had located only one reminiscent article by Pope. Paucity of sources proved a blessing to these ardent advocates, who found in Pope a victim of political machinations who was "abandoned by Lincoln," as the title of their book stridently asserted. Many observers concluded that their defense of Pope often effectively proved the case against him.
At long last, Peter Cozzens discovered that Pope had indeed told his own story in a lengthy series of articles that appeared in the National Tribune. Overlooked for more than a century, these articles shed light on many aspects of Pope's antebellum and wartime service. The rediscovery of such rich source material, now reprinted in full and with helpful annotations, provides valuable insight into the career of an important soldier.
These recollections reflect surprising generosity when discussing men and measures of the Civil War. This aspect is especially surprising because the strongest indictment against Pope, beyond his defeat at Second Bun Run, is the single-mindedness with which he pursued his subordinate, Union general Fitz John Porter, who he believed had withheld support during the battle out of loyalty to General George B. McClellan. Pope instigated the wartime court- martial of Porter, who was found guilty and cashiered. Pope invariably opposed Porter's long battle for vindication.
This struggle assumed partisan characteristics. Stalwart Republicans sup