Magnus Force

I sit down to write today at two PM with the knowledge that 178 years ago at this time what has become known as “Pickett’s Charge” began at this hour. Although Maj. Gen. George Pickett was one of three Confederate generals who led the assault under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, with Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, and Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble being the other commanding Generals, Pickett has been the one who “took one for the team.” Because of books like the excellent, “Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg–and Why It Failed,” by Tom Carhart, we know no that the major reason for the defeat of the Confederate forces was due to the heroic action taken by General George Armstrong Custer.
The author posits that General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy had a plan which included a cavalry force commanded by General J.E.B. Stuart to hit the Union forces from behind. “The reason this didn’t happen is attributable to the actions of two generals whose clash at Gettysburg changed everything, one Confederate and the other Union: James Ewell Brown (J.E.B., or Jeb) Stuart and George Armstrong Custer. Remembered in modern times only for one day in 1876 when he and his entire unit of more than two hundred men were killed by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians, Custer was one of the brightest stars in the Civil War, a fact that has been obscured by his death on the high plains. While Custer has been roundly condemned by generations of Americans who learned only that he cruelly punished innocent Native Americans, there is another Custer whose record at Gettysburg should at least be noted, for as I will show, it wa his raw personal courage alone that prevented a Confederate victory at Gettysburg and thus truly preserved the Union.”
What was at stake is best illustrated by this paragraph by Carhart:
“This would have meant the return of peace, for the basis of an armistice would have been the Confederacy’s freedom to exist as a separate state, a fact the Union would have been forced to recognize. And that-a triumphant victory over the Army of the Potomac that would have shattered it as the fighting force protecting the Union capital in Washington and an event that would have forced the Union to recognize and accept the Confederacy.”
When Custer met Stuart he was outnumbered by two to one, 2,000 to 6,000. General George Armstrong Custer refused to let Stuart come through him, and without a diversionary force in the rear of the Union battle line…the rest is history.
Of all the officers in the Union army, George Custer would have seemed to have been the least likely to have become a hero. He finished near the bottom in his class at West Point and may still hold the record for demerits given during his time at the institution. Yet when the battle raged, and when extraordinary fortitude was required, Custer had it in abundance. By allowing his much larger force to be thwarted by Custer, when what he needed to do was “pull his goalie,” JEB Stuart settled for a draw. It was obviously not JEB’s finest day.
What is the quality that allowed an officer considered mediocre by most to “rise to the occasion”? In the “Star Wars” movies one hears, “May the force be with you.” What, exactly, is this “force”?
While reading the essay, “Uncovering the Mysteries of the Knuckleball,” in the outstanding book, “The Hardball Times Annual 2014 (Volume 10)” by Dave Studenmund and Paul Swydan, I read, “For normal pitches, which are spinning rapidly, the aerodynamic force causing the movement is called the Magnus force. The strength of the Magnus force increases as the spin rate increases. The direction of the Magnus force is such as to deflect the ball in the direction that the front edge of the ball is turning, as seen by the batter.”
Being a chess player, after reading the above my thoughts turned to the World Human Champion of chess, Magnus Carlsen. He is, unquestionably the best human player, towering over the few contenders, who may now be thought of as “pretenders.” What is the ineffable quality that has brought Magnus to the top of the chess pyramid? I think of it as the “Magnus Force.”
The Nashville Strangler, FM Jerry Wheeler, related a story concerning IM Ron Burnett, who has two GM norms. When Ron was first beginning his chess career he had to face the strong player Richard Carpenter. Ron obviously relished his opportunity to battle his opponent, so the Strangler said, “You cannot beat Richard. He is too strong.” Ron beat Richard. Jerry said he knew then that Ron would be a titled player. Like Lenny Dykstra (see previous post), Ron could not wait for his chance.
What is it that allows a player of any game to rise above his competition? I believe it has a lot to do with the “will to win.” Magnus Carlsen obviously has a tremendous will to win. What seems to separate the best from the pretenders is a resolute “force” that will not allow them to “settle” for a drawn game, unless a full fight has been engaged.
Union General George McClellan has the reputation of a General reluctant to fight. From the book, “The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War” by Donald Stoker, one of the best books I have ever read on the War For Southern Independence, one finds, “McClellan’s friends and detractors have long searched for a key to deciphering his actions. Clausewitz offers one in his essay “On Military Genius.” “Intelligence alone is not courage; we often see that the most intelligent people are irresolute,” he wrote. “In short”, he continued, “we believe that determination proceeds from a special type of mind, from a strong rather than a brilliant one. We can give further proof of this interpretation by pointing to many examples of men who show great determination as junior officers, but lose it as they rise in rank. Conscious of the need to be decisive, they also recognize the risks entailed by a wrong decision; since they are unfamiliar with the problems now facing them, their mind loses its former incisiveness.” (from: Carl von Clausewitz, “On War”)


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