Saturday, May 5, 2012

Brig. Gen. Thomas Fenwick Drayton

Much of my time lately has been taken up with research and analysis for a series of scenarios. The focus has been on various units and formations involved in the Second Manassas-Antietam campaign of 1862. As usual, my concerns have been strengths, casualties, characterization of leaders, and indices of combat effectiveness. I've returned to these questions time and again over the years. One of the formations that has intrigued me over time has been the brigade General Drayton, which, under the apparently feckless leadership of its commander (depicted above, with his brother, whom he faced in battle at Port Royal) was virtually destroyed in its sojourn of less than a month with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Fenwick Drayton (1808-1891) was a classmate of Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis at West Point, and the two were friends. A South Carolinian, he had led Confederate land forces in the unsuccessful defense of Port Royal Sound (Nov. 7, 1861). His brother, Capt. Percival Drayton, commanded a gunboat in the attacking Union squadron. At the end of July 1862, Drayton’s Brigade, together with that of “Shanks” Evans, moved north from the Department of South Carolina and Georgia to reinforce Lee’s army in Virginia. In the Army of Northern Virginia, Drayton led his brigade at Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Antietam. The brigade found little employment in the Second Manassas campaign but was nearly wrecked at South Mountain. How much of this was Drayton’s fault is debatable. At Antietam, the remnants of the brigade resisted Burnside’s advance briefly before breaking for the rear. Documentation of Drayton’s command performance is scarce. It seems he was considered “inefficient” by superiors. In addition, he was criticized in press reports that originated among stringers in his brigade. Following the Antietam campaign, he was relieved, his brigade was broken-up, and he was shunted off to administrative duties and minor commands in backwater districts. In truth, he was probably better suited to desk work than field command.

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