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Old 06-24-2010, 03:55 PM
 
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One only has to look at the Vicksburg campaign to see Grant's strategic talents. I would never use the term mediocre to describe his abilities, nor would I say he was a napoleonic genius, but he was a damn good general. He, simply enough, was the first general that knew what it would take to win the war - and that was not by using sheer brute strentgh, although that was a component of it, but by using all the modern conveyances (of that time) and logistic abilities that the north had, and a national strategy. He was the right man for the job at the right time.

If needed, he could outmaneuver, outflank, and outfight his opponents, and he used those talents in tactical operations in the west. By the time he came east, people must realize, he had the entire union army east and west under his command and his desicions were strategic. Meade remained the commanding general of the AOP. The tightening noose - in Georgia, in the Carolina's, in the Shenendoah Valley, and finally against Lee were his decisions. The victory, against the confederate army, was his doing.
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Old 06-24-2010, 04:02 PM
 
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Any one have any opinions on the pompous idiot Lloyd Fredendall?

Also if we any one wants to weigh in on Patton, a might need a separate thread for all of his various firings.
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Old 06-24-2010, 04:02 PM
 
Location: Metairie, La.
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Originally Posted by Dd714 View Post
I am not sure what is studied at West Point, but I would not say he was reckless. He did take risks indeed, but he did that because it was his only choice. It was because he knew he had a limited amount of men and resources, compared to the north, that he had to take gambles and take chances. He could easily dig into a point (and often did) but he knew he could not win a war like that, a war of attrition, even one in which his butchers bills was 1 to the unions 3, in the long run. The north would win. Thus he was always trying to not win the field, but to destroy the Union's army.
He came close a few times - Chancellersville is a perfect example.

Indeed, interior lines is what helped many of his battles. When he didn't have it (Gettysburg) things went disasterous. When he did have it, he was able to divide his forces and hit the union peacemeal, and then turn around to the other front. I don't see how he "violated the maxim", unless you are talking about the long sweeping offenses that he might have sent a corp on to outflank the union. I would say these were all calculated risks.

Pickett's charge would, I say, be his moment of hubris. Only he could say what he was thinking, but from what I have read he did indeed beleive the union would give at that point and it would win the field. It was a gravely miscalculated moment.
Interior lines was the Napoleonic maxim (which governed CW generals on both sides) in which lines would be placed in a semi-circular fashion so that reinforcements could be rushed to any vulnerable point in the line--during Gettysburg, the AOP quickly established this principle while Lee's generals faltered. They faltered based on vague field orders, i.e. A.P., "take that hill if the opportunity presents itself," from Lee. What does that mean? Either take the hill or not. Regardless, the ANV did not have interior lines, yet Lee doggedly continued to prosecute the offensive as if he had interior lines. He should have wheeled. Longstreet later took him to task for this fact, but probably during the battle he deferred to his superior because Lee had not lost to that point.

Interior lines was only one maxim ignored by Lee during the CW. He oftentimes split his forces in the face of a superior number of forces--considered a no-no by standards at the time. He ordered attacks without having a mass of force to effectively carry out the attack. At Chancellorsville this was suprisingly successful, even surprised Lee himself, who then believed his army was invincible. He never took into account that the Union general on the other side might have made a blunder that led to the ANV's success.

Like generals on both sides (as well as subordinate commanders) Lee steadfastly adhered to lessons he learned in the Mexican War regarding mass of fire. Had Lee been truly the god that he's built up to be, then he'd have realized the accuracy of the minie bullet changed the rules of the game and would have adapted to the upgrade in technology.

I appreciate the give and take on this thread, and it's very informing. I've been corrected on a few issues. Yet I have to add that the comparisons to CW generals and Revolutionary War generals is like comparing oil spills to hurricanes--the disasters are not at all similar.

Washington fought under entirely different military orthodoxy since it was long before Napoleonic tactics. Furthermore, Washington's overarching strategy was to run away--avoid the British main forces at all costs in hopes of holding out for foreign intervention and/or the tiring of British resolve--and it worked. His best victory was at Trenton when his troops attacked drunken Prussian mercenaries. Otherwise, present-day military tacticians claim there's little to learn from Washington and many a military historian consider him the worst field commander ever. As for overall generalship, he's commended for the discipline and maintaining a somewhat "professional" army despite the lack of experience from the Continentals--similar to Lee's godlike status among his ANV soldiers. Moreover, the predominant southern strategy of the offensive-defense or cordon-defense was simply unrealistic. Some southern general should have had the werewithal to consider Washington's example--wait out the enemy's resolve--and it might have worked considering the rise of Copperhead sentiments in '64. Good generals understand the political picture as well as the tactical one. Lee may have realized some of the Yankee political realities, yet despite a lack of materiel, men, etc. continued to prosecute the offensive-defense until lack of these things forced him to dig in. A more capable general would have understood these things at the outset--especially in terms of sheer population differences. Nonetheless, Lee recklessly attacked despite the extreme casualty rates, which he later commented on in letters to Davis, fearing that the Confederacy would soon run out of men.

It's difficult to briefly explain all of my reasons for making the claim that Lee was not that great considering all of the evidence I've seen, but my main planks for support have been listed on this thread.

Lastly, the claim some one here has made (not you Dd) that the South had the better generals doesn't correspond to the evidence. Davis allowed for way many more political appointments, who lacked any military experience, than did Lincoln. the South had fewer generals with Mexican War experience (which arguably could have been a encumbrance) and even fewer had trained at West Point.
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Old 06-24-2010, 05:55 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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While there isn't a question of its justice, the most dramatic firing of a general during the Revolutionary War remains a mystery in some areas. Was Charles Lee's conduct at the Battle of Monmouth a matter of treachery, cowardness, or incompetence?

Washington's army had been shadowing the British as they evacuated Philadelphia in June of 1778. Catching up to the rear guard near Monmouth, Washington gave command of the most forward Continental troops to Lee and ordered him to attack, with Washington bringing the rest of the army into the battle as it developed.

Instead, Lee made a half hearted advance, settled in for some long range sniping when the Brits under Cornwallis turned to meet them, and then ordered a full retreat for no truly apparent reason. Cornwallis saw an opportunity and ordered a full scale attack, turning the retreat into a rout. The fleeing troops ran smack into Washington himself, who stopped Lee and furiously demanded an explanation. Instead he was presented with a lecture from Lee on how to show proper respect for subordinates, and did so in a tone which Washington took for contempt. He relieved Lee on the spot and then rallied his force to stop Cornwallis' attack.

Lee was court martialed and convicted for disobeying orders, and sentenced to a year's suspension from his commission. Lee devoted the year to serial public attacks on Washington's character, which backfired on him and made him less popular than ever. He went too far and was challenged to a duel by one of Washington's aids, Colonel John Laurens. Lee missed with his shot, and in turn was wounded in the side by Laurens. This was all the excuse Congress needed to get rid of him entirely and they dismissed him from the army as medically incapacitated. Lee retired to Philadelphia where he died two years later.

Eight decades after the events, a plan for a British camapign against the Continental Army, written in Charles Lee's handwriting, was found among the archived papers of General William Howe. It had to have been written during the time that Lee was a prisoner of war and is certainly evidence of his treacherous intentions at the time. However, Lee was a British citizen and subject to being tried for treason by them when he was captured, so it is not hard to speculate that he was negotiating with his life and the betrayal was part of a deal which got him spared.

That does not establish that he was working for the British at the time of Monmouth, but it does establish that such a thing was not outside his moral code.

Lee was an extremely eccentric man and it is hard to get a handle on his true motivations and loyalties, although you could always rely on him to champion the cause of Charles Lee in all situations.
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Old 06-25-2010, 10:36 AM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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DiogenesofJackson

Quote:
It's difficult to briefly explain all of my reasons for making the claim that Lee was not that great considering all of the evidence I've seen, but my main planks for support have been listed on this thread.
I follow your explanation and agree with it in part. It might help to clarify matters if we get a bit more specific. Rather than arguing "Was Lee great or not?", we may confine ourselves to recognizing those things where he was superior, and those things where he was ordinary.

Lee was unmatched by anyone in the war for battle tactics. There is no commander with a battle accomplishment to equal what Lee pulled off at Chanselorsville. An army more than twice the size of his own had stolen a march on him, gotten in his rear and forced him to divide his already outnumbered command. From this hideously disadvantageous position, Lee extracted a brillaint victory, one where he not only drove the superior force back across the river, but inflicted many more casualties than he sustained.

Lee's Second Manassas campaign is rivaled only by Grant's Vicksburg operations in terms of outfoxing and outfighting the opponent at every step.

And when forced to go over to the defensive only, Lee was once again brilliant in the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, at the North Anna River and in preventing Grant from capturing Petersburg in a sudden surprise coup.

If fault is to be found with Lee, it is in the area of overall war strategy. While his offensives were brilliant and successful, they were also more costly in blood than the South could afford to lose. Lee also seemed slow to grasp that the age of One Big Battle Decides All had passed and he wasted much in the way of lives while attempting to not just defeat, but to destroy the enemy army. Malvern Hill and Pickett's charge were the most glaring examples of this drive to try and end the war in a single assault.

Lee was also jealous of his own theater of operations, declining to go west himself to try and repair the deteriorating war fortunes of the South there, and also consenting just once to dispatching troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to shore up the western armies. Lee opposed arming slaves until the final months of the war.

If your goal is winning a Civil War battle, you would definitely want Lee as your general. If your goal is winning a war, well, maybe not Lee.

Grant was the reverse. Only in his Vicksburg campaign did he display mastery of the battlefield. His forces were surprised at Ft. Donelson, caught off guard at Shiloh, his first Vicksburg campaign ruined by CSA cavalry raids, his victory at Chattanooga a serendipitous one unrelated to his plans..and his final campaign against Lee was an unsubtle slugging match won more by shere weight than martial artistry.

But...Grant knew how to win a war. Unlike the Northern generals who came before him, Grant knew how to use the resources at his disposal in the most effective possible way. Grant produced a war winning strategy even if his battle tactics often left much to be desired.
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Old 06-25-2010, 12:08 PM
 
Location: Metairie, La.
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Yes, Grand. The way you put it, it's hard to find a bone of contention. Very well stated indeed.

Being in the South, I just get sick of the Lee worship.
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Old 06-25-2010, 05:54 PM
 
Location: New York City
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I'm not a Lee worshiper (in fact the Civil War is not my forte) but allow me to make a case. Lee's options were very limited both by politics and by geographic realities. He was always forced to fight on unequal terms. Any chance of using some kind of Fabian strategy was precluded both by politics and the importance of the Upper South (esp Virginia) to the Confederate war effort. In that situation playing it safe and fighting defensive battles might have saved his troops longer and frustrated the North more but in the long run it wouldn't change the outcome of the war. At the same time a bold move might be risky but it could secure a decisive victory which potentially could end the war. "Offense is the best defense is not just a cliche". And faith in "One Big Battle" wasn't exactly wrong - in fact that's how Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars were decided.

I think the problem is that while Lee's victories were impressive, they were not decisive enough. Had he been able to to completely destroy or force a surrender of an entire Union army (as say the Prussians forced the surrender of the French at Sedan) he could have potentially exploited it by capturing Washington, Baltimore, Philly and possibly more. But that, it seems, it was not to be.

So Lee's strategy might have been the least bad out of terrible options. A purely defensive strategy would have probably lead to him being pinned down defending Richmond in a war of attrition he could not win.
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Old 06-25-2010, 06:23 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Originally Posted by MrMarbles View Post
And faith in "One Big Battle" wasn't exactly wrong - in fact that's how Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars were decided.

.
It was not a viable option in the American Civil War. The one big battle scenario worked in Europe because it was typically a small geographic war with limited war aims. If your goal was to force your neighbor to crown Monarch A rather than Monarch B, a quick invasion, a rout of the enemy army. a threat to occupy the capitol...that was enough to achieve the goal.

None of that applied to the American Civil War where the war theaters were immense in size, and the war aims were total subjugation vs complete independence.

In Lee's most lopsided victory of the war, Fredericksburg, he inflcited 12,653 casualties on the Army of the Potomac while sustaining 5,377. However, those 12,653 losses for the Union represented just a ten percent loss of their force. At the end of the battle they still has 108,000 uninjured soldiers ready to resume the fight.

There were no battles to extermination during the Civil War. The closest it got to such a scenario was when Hood lost 6,250 at Franklin and followed that up with by losing another 6000 at Nashville. This represented a 40 % loss of the force with him when he entered Tennessee. Despite being reduced to less than 20,000 effectives, the Army of Tennessee did not go out of business, and indeed was still in the field when Lee surrendered at Appomatox.

The huge geography involved, the enormous numbers of soldiers, the multiple theaters divided by a mountain chain...all of this meant that this was not a war which could be won by a single engagement, no matter how one sided the outcome may have been.
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Old 06-25-2010, 07:44 PM
 
Location: New York City
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Hmm, I think you are trivializing European affairs a bit. The Franco-Prussian war and the unification of Germany fundamentally shifted the balances of power in Europe and had ramifications for the next 60 years.

And while it is true that the war aims during the Civil War were different, still the resolve to continue fighting, especially on the Union side, was not unlimited. And for the South the question of how best to break that resolve was most important. Psychologically, a decisive victory, especially they could then capture Washington or another big city, would probably have the most effect, even if a military victory was beyond reach. It would raise the morale of the troops and citizens, cause confusion among the enemy and send a bold message to third parties on the sidelines. The Vietnamese were able to accomplish most of that with a defeat during the Tet Offensive.

Again, I'm not saying that this plan guaranteed victory - I'm saying it was the least bad option.
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Old 06-25-2010, 08:40 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Originally Posted by MrMarbles View Post
Hmm, I think you are trivializing European affairs a bit. The Franco-Prussian war and the unification of Germany fundamentally shifted the balances of power in Europe and had ramifications for the next 60 years.

.
You have selected a poor example for your purposes because:

A) The Franco-Prussian War was not an example of a conflict settled by one big battle, there were a series of engagements ending with the siege of Paris.

and worse..

B) Even if it had been a one battle war, it took place in 1870, five years after the conclusion of the Civil War. So I'm going to guess that it was not a big influence on Lee's thinking about one big battle scenarios.
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