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 Posted: Sun Sep 24th, 2006 01:33 am
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James Longstreet
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Hey everyone.  Here's a question that will probably spur a good discussion.  Who were the greatest Civil War commanders- -Union and Confederate?



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 Posted: Thu Dec 7th, 2006 12:05 am
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Johnny Huma
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In my opinion good Old Marse Robert Lee had to be the best Civil war leader of all North and South...Let's face it Lee did no lose the war to Grant or any other Union General..Lee lost the war for lack of supplies and food to feed his army..Half dying and starving these men followed him into the grips of hell. He outsmarted and out manuvered the Union with forces of half their size and most of the time came out on top of it or at least a stalemate. No other commander could have fought that war so hard and so well given the same circumstances Lee faced. He was brilliant. Grant won the war because he had numbers and realized all you had to do is wait them out or starve them out no matter what the cost. He could afford to lose men..And he did and a lot of them just trying to stop a war tattered army who was still giving him resistance. Grant was a good match for Lee and the Best Lincoln could have picked but he was still Lee's subordinate when it came to manuvering an army with odds stacked against it so high.  In the Confederate army if one said anything against Bobby it may have been the last thing they said at all for all his men highly respected him as their leader. Even after his death anyone who dared speak against him was shunned by the Southern people..Just take a look at what happened to Longstreet.

As a real close first to Bobby I would have to pick Tommy Jackson. Now here was a guy who I believe may have been a little insane and also fearless of battle and I think he may have even enjoyed the fighting. Lee knew how to control him and get the best out of him which made the Model Partnership. Had Tommy slipped the bullet that took his arm and the pnemonia that took his life who knows the American Flag may have had a similar resemblance to the Bars and Stars...

Huma

 



 Posted: Thu Dec 7th, 2006 12:33 am
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Doc C
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My next post will be who was better the Yankees of the 30's, 50's or the 90's.  Seems that's what we're getting into when we attempt to decide who was the better commander, general, etc. or who "outdid" the other.  Seems to me they all had their highs and lows, even Grant, Lee, Jackson.  Instead, as "historians" shouldn't we attempt to stick to pertinent facts as to what each individual did during this campaign or that and the results thereof.  However, as a major baseball fan, Yanks of course, would welcome discussing the only real roundball there is.  On the other hand, I do enjoy seeing lists.

Doc C

 



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 12:10 am
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Widow
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Well, Johnny, this time I disagree with you.

Jackson was an excellent tactician, in that he was good at getting his men to march fast and hard.  For example, 56 miles in 36 hours from the Rapidan River to the plains of Manassas in Aug 1862.  They weren't called Jackson's Foot Cavalry for nothing!  But Jackson left his subordinates completely in the dark. They didn't even know where he was going, or what they were supposed to do when they got there.  It's kind of hard to do your job when your boss refuses to tell you what the work is.  Of course Ol' Blue Light was security conscious, but failure to keep his team informed was not the mark of a great commander, in my opinion.

Joe Johnston has my admiration.  Always he was given the most impossible assignments, as Davis didn't like him.  Johnston was forced to retreat in order to keep his army intact.  Lee did too.  Lee was admired, and Johnston was blamed for the same thing.  Johnston's retreats toward Atlanta, holding off Sherman and waiting for him to make a mistake, were models of careful use of resources that gave Sherman big headaches.

On the blue side, I go for Grant first.  His Vicksburg campaign was the strategic victory that was the beginning of the end.  When he was appointed General-in-Chief, responsible for about a million men spread out over half the continent, he got the job done.  His innovative plan was to put the big squeeze on the Confederacy to the point where it couldn't or wouldn't fight any more.  That meant coordinating the movements of many armies in several directions.  And it worked.  By the way, Grant never took any courses in project management or the running of big operations.  He just saw what had to be done, and did it.

Second, Sherman, from 1864 to the end.  He too had a hard job, Johnston and Hood gave him some very tough fighting in front of Atlanta.  The March to the Sea was a brilliant tactic as part of Grant's overall plan, beautifully executed, although there wasn't much resistance.  Sherman's operating style was to tell his commanders the goal, and his general idea of how to do it, then to give them the authority to go with the delegated responsibility.  That's smart management.  His idea to cut loose from his supply lines flummoxed Hood completely.

My favorite general, hands down, is John Buford.  Why? 'Cuz he was the handsomest hunk on both sides.  Besides, I think cavalry uniforms are cuter.

double chin-grim ---> ((:

Patty



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 05:13 am
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ole
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There were lots of relative unknowns who did great things; and most of the greats had their bonehead moments.

I notice no one nominated Thomas. He was, in fact, a rock. He did as much for the Union cause as Longstreet did for the Confederacy's. I'm not contending that he was great, but he certainly deserves to be in on the discussion.

But it has to be Grant. He knew how to pick his team and how to marshall available resources and put them to good use. Out of all the obscure misfits in the US, choosing him had to be an act of providence. I take points away from Lee for his fixation on Virginia when the west was collapsing.

So. It's Grant.

Ole



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 05:22 am
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ole
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My favorite general, hands down, is John Buford.  Why? 'Cuz he was the handsomest hunk on both sides.  Besides, I think cavalry uniforms are cuter. That's hardly fair! If I were to value handsome, there'd be much wink-winking and nudge-nudging goin' on. Do we really need a pheromone vote in this discussion?:D

Ole



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 07:30 am
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Widow
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Ole,

Yes, Lee concentrated on Virginia, but I don't think that was a flaw.  That's like faulting Eisenhower for concentrating on the European Theater while there was also a war in the Pacific during World War II.

Jefferson Davis was the one who fixated on Virginia, you know, the Sacred Soil.  He ignored the importance of the Mississippi, and completely bungled the effective use of his limited resources.  Result: Tennessee was taken, Missouri was held, New Orleans was captured.

Good for you, to mention the Rock of Chickamauga.  They also called Thomas "Old Slow-Trot."  Grant trusted him and Thomas did his job, held Tennessee for the rest of the war, which was an essential part of the squeeze-em strategy.

May I mention Admiral Andrew Hull Foote?  He and Grant were the first to innovate joint army-navy amphibious operations.  Not just using ships to transport soldiers, but to use the brown-water navy in strategic offensives.  The taking of Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862, as well as Vicksburg and Port Hudson in 1863, are good examples.  Foote was enthusiastic about the new concept, and was willing to take the risks necessary.  The two men respected each other and conferred frequently.  There didn't seem to be the rivalry of giant egos that so often hampered other generals.

There's another who was superb in getting the job done: US Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs.  Without his imaginative and energetic management, the whole Union war effort would have collapsed.  I know little about the man, but time and again I've read about the work he did and how he kept the supplies moving.  He had to deal with civilian contractors, the establishment of the US Military Railroad, the financial supervision of all the logistical problems, and devise a management structure that kept functioning in all theaters.  There were no manuals or training classes, he had to start from scratch and learn on the job.  Plus, being in Washington, he was right under the scrutiny of the Secretary of War and the Committee on the Conduct of the War.  Meigs must have felt lots of pressure to accept contracts as favors granted by one politician or another. 

So far in this discussion, the leaders we've mentioned were men who willingly used the latest in technological developments.  Of course the use of railroads and telegraphs are the two most obvious examples.  Ironclads and monitors, photographic reproduction of maps, carbon paper and tinfoil, electric storage batteries and "torpedoes" (mines).  Aerial reconnaissance and submarines.  In other words, they looked ahead, not backward.  Even Lee, the old-school gentleman, took advantage of every technical advance that was available.

That adaptive flexibility carried over into the way they planned and executed their military operations.  None of their West Point training covered any of that.  They all had to learn on the job, by trial and error, and to be willing to change with the circumstances.  Those who couldn't learn and wouldn't adapt were far less effective and most of them sank out of sight.  Burnside was unimaginative and inflexible.  Nice guy, but limited in his thinking.  And not very successful as a military commander.

This is such an excellent topic.  I'd like to hear from you folks about the commanders in the Western Theater.  Sterling Price, Kirby Smith, Bedford Forrest, John Bell Hood, for example.  Hood was admired for his aggressiveness.  But Lee once remarked about Hood, "All lion and no fox."  The useless slaughter at Spring Hill and Franklin comes to mind.

Patty



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 03:54 pm
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ole
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Good of you to acknowledge Thomas' inclusion -- and for bringing in Meigs and Foote. We often overlook the contributions of the navies brown- and deep water. It is doubtful that Grant would have been so successful if hadn't been for the complementary efforts of Foote

"Old Slow-Trot" was a name given him long before the war for his habit of never galloping his mount. I've read that the only time anyone saw him gallop was in the excitement after Hood's defeat at Nashville. His style was deliberate -- he is not known to have made any kind of military move without having all the details in order. This amused his superiors and often exasperated them. Grant and Sherman were known to be prepared but they were usually of the act-fast-fix-it-later school.

Thanks.

Ole:D

Last edited on Sat Dec 9th, 2006 03:55 pm by ole



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 05:07 pm
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calcav
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One version of where Thomas's nickname came from:

"Used by General Grant as a put-down during the Civil War but actually has its origin when Thomas was the cavalry instructor at West Point. The horses available at the Point in 1852 were very old and to keep the enthusiastic cadets from killing them, Thomas would shout 'Slow Trot, Slow Trot' to them during riding drill. Later when Robert E. Lee became Superintendent, Thomas was able to get better horses." http://home.att.net/~dmercado/answer.htm

I must agree with those that have advanced the name of U.S. Grant. Hands down the most successful commander during the war. I simply refuse to buy into the lost cause sentiment that Lee lost because of lack of men and materiel rather than Grant's actions in the field. Baloney. From the Wilderness to the end of the war Robert E. Lee was moving backwards and Grant was advancing. The lack of men and materiel in the Confederacy were a direct result of Grant's actions as commander in chief. Preventing your enemy from reenforcing or rearming is the single most successful tactic in the history of warfare.



 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 05:47 pm
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Widow
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ole,

Grant and Sherman were known to be prepared but they were usually of the act-fast-fix-it-later school.

I love it!

Yes, and they didn't learn it at West Point, either.  At the same time, they were looking ahead to the next major objective.  Grant pondered his seven experiments to take Vicksburg for some time before actually putting them in effect.  That's why all the whittling and cigar smoking.  Neither one was afraid to take losses, and weren't deterred after setbacks.  Remember what Grant said after the near-disaster of the first day's battle at Shiloh:  "Lick 'em tomorrow."

Speaking of preparedness, most commanders on both sides sent out scouts, either cavalry or plainclothes spies, to get the lay of the land and dispositions of the enemy.  But it seems that so often, they disbelieved or ignored the incoming reports. 

Or, in McClellan's case, he was entirely too willing to believe Pinkerton's fabrications.  Yes, not just miscalculations, but outright lies.  Pinkerton's operatives were supposed to go out and count the enemy.  But, ooh, that's scary, so they just counted campfires from a distance or hung around in a tavern and picked up local gossip.  So much for intelligence collection.  Then Pinkerton took their raw intel and used some made-up formula to produce his numbers.  Figures like 100,000 men in the ANV!  For pete's sake, McClellan was a professional soldier and he knew, or should have known, the general population and industrial base of the seceded states.  I guess it suited his character to believe he was vastly outnumbered.  But then, Little Mac was afraid of failure, risk-averse, as we say today.  He was a proud man, and hated it that someone might find a flaw in him.  Not a good quality in a military commander.

Joe Hooker, on the other hand, established an honest-to-god bureau for intelligence collection and analysis.  And, for the first time, the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac had a clear idea of his enemy's numbers, dispositions, and intentions.  With that certainty, his plan to flank Lee at Chancellorsville was brilliantly conceived and executed, until Hooker lost his nerve and the initiative.  That wasn't an intelligence failure, but a personality failure.  Hooker was another who, like Jackson, kept his commanders in the dark.  Executing that complex move up the Rappahannock and across to flank the ANV required careful coordination and timing.  But Meade, Couch, Reynolds, Sickles, Sedgwick, and the others were frustrated because they didn't know what they were supposed to do.

I'm a retired intelligence officer from the CIA, so I scrutinize those aspects.

Patty

P.S.  Speaking of McClellan and his bad ideas, he modified a European saddle for use in the army, called to this day the McClellan saddle.  The saddle didn't have the familiar curved seat with an unbroken surface.  Instead, the seat had a center slot about two inches wide running from front to back.  Presumably it was to be more comfortable for a man's tender area.  But even though the edges of the slot were padded, they still grated on the thigh and crotch.

I guess Little Mac once got saddle sores and decided to do something about it.  But he wasn't IN the saddle on Dan Webster, he was in a posh house in Washington.  Dad bought one as Army surplus when the cavalry was abolished in 1939.  I remarked to Shotgun, "It wasn't very comfortable for a nine-year-old girl."  To which he replied in his quiet growl, "It wasn't very comfortable for a forty-year-old man, either."



 Posted: Sun Dec 10th, 2006 03:14 am
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ole
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"Used by General Grant as a put-down during the Civil War but actually has its origin when Thomas was the cavalry instructor at West Point. The horses available at the Point in 1852 were very old and to keep the enthusiastic cadets from killing them, Thomas would shout 'Slow Trot, Slow Trot' to them during riding drill.

Thanks, calcav. I had thought it was from West Point but couldn't quickly verify so I weaseled out. Now. Was the appelation actually used by Grant? Is there anywhere a record that says Grant said "Slow Trot"? I know Grant and Sherman often thought him a bit sluggish, but they ever say "Slow Trot"?

Preciate it.

Ole



 Posted: Sun Dec 10th, 2006 03:30 am
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ole
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As a real close first to Bobby I would have to pick Tommy Jackson. Now here was a guy who I believe may have been a little insane and also fearless of battle and I think he may have even enjoyed the fighting. Lee knew how to control him and get the best out of him which made the Model Partnership. Had Tommy slipped the bullet that took his arm and the pnemonia that took his life who knows the American Flag may have had a similar resemblance to the Bars and Stars...


Must disagree, Johnny. The prevalence of the Union was never in doubt, it was simply a question of when. Jackson, alive, would have been present at the surrender, wherever it would have been. And he'd have had to offer his sword just like the rest of them. He might have been effective, but at the first gun at Sumter, it was, in fact, a lost cause.

Ole



 Posted: Sun Dec 10th, 2006 03:58 am
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ole
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I simply refuse to buy into the lost cause sentiment that Lee lost because of lack of men and materiel rather than Grant's actions in the field. Baloney. From the Wilderness to the end of the war Robert E. Lee was moving backwards and Grant was advancing.

Well, calcav, Lee did suffer greatly from the lack of resources. From Grant's point of view, that was a weakness to exploit. If you have a beef with another, and you're long on will but short on size and strength, you might think that over. "It wasn't fair," comes a bit late and a few dollars short. If you're going to taunt the big guy, don't complain to me that it wasn't a fair fight.

Lee was in it because he believed he had to be. He was proved wrong in the end, but that doesn't detract from his efort.

Ole

Last edited on Sun Dec 10th, 2006 04:03 am by ole



 Posted: Sun Dec 10th, 2006 05:23 pm
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susansweet
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Nobody has mentioned David Farragutt .  I just read an article about the Battle of Mobile Bay.  Yes he was a Wooden ship type man but he learned there the value of his ironclads and used them.  He amazes me .  The first Admiral in the US Navy. 

I agree with the mention of Meigs and Thomas .  They did their jobs and did them well. 

Don't forget ole Nathan Bedford Forrest .  With no military training his natural abilites are amazing to read about. 



 Posted: Sun Dec 10th, 2006 05:23 pm
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susansweet
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Nobody has mentioned David Farragutt .  I just read an article about the Battle of Mobile Bay.  Yes he was a Wooden ship type man but he learned there the value of his ironclads and used them.  He amazes me .  The first Admiral in the US Navy. 

I agree with the mention of Meigs and Thomas .  They did their jobs and did them well. 

Don't forget ole Nathan Bedford Forrest .  With no military training his natural abilites are amazing to read about. 



 Posted: Mon Dec 11th, 2006 02:10 am
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Johnny Huma
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Well Ole we will never really know of things that could or could not have been had Jackson remaind a fighting force in Lee's Army. Lincoln may have still been assasinated and it was no secret that the Northern people had all they wanted of the war because casualties were bearing in the high numbers and they wanted an end to it all either way. A victory at Gettysburg for the South may have been the straw that broke the camels back and the will of the Northern people to want to continue a fight that most of them saw as no gain for them. Other than the abolishonist most northerners could care less if the South had slaves or not and so is one of the reasons the Union Army at start had a low elan. They did not want to fight against or for slavery so the issue changed to fighting for the Preservation of the Union for these men although the Slavery issure was still at hand. It is true that the fight may have started as a lost cause anyway predicting that numbers alone in men and arms for the South would not be able to keep up with the north unless an outside power were to become involved. Lee knew he could not win the war on the battlefield alone because he was a smart enough General to see the big picture and thats why he took the fight to Pa. hoping to crack the back and will of the Northern people and hopefully gain a treaty with Washington to end the war. So as it may be

one man alone could change the course of the war. If no one agrees with that well then take a look at Grant and go into the what if's again. What if Lincoln had chosen

a different General to lead the Union instead of Grant..Well we could go on and on..

Hmmm. Talking about lost causes anybody been to Iraq lately?

Huma

 



 Posted: Wed Dec 13th, 2006 03:19 pm
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I'll throw in two Confederate commanders for consideration. No, they weren't the absolute GREATEST, but they were among the very great.  Patrick Cleburne and cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest. I realize Forrest does carry some controversial baggage because of the notorious and lamentable Port Pillow Massacre and his later affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan. But he did make significant contributions as a cavalry commander for the Confederacy.

 



 Posted: Wed Apr 4th, 2007 02:04 am
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texas ranger
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I agree with u, Cleburne Fan. There's no telling what Cleburne could have done if he was commander in the West instead of that blockhead Bragg. Or for that matter, if he had been in the East with Lee. However, I don't agree with u about the KKK. It (the first one) saved the South after the war from carpet baggers that were making life inpossible.

Who do yall think was the better cavalry general-- John Hunt Morgan or Mosby?



 Posted: Wed Apr 4th, 2007 03:16 am
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calcav
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Who do yall think was the better cavalry general-- John Hunt Morgan or Mosby?

Mosby was a Lieutenant Colonel not a General. Comparing the two men is like comparing apples and oranges. John H. Morgan, often engaged in raids against the enemy's supply and communications lines, was more of a traditional cavalrymen and filled that roll in the Army of Tennessee. By the end of 1862 he was commanding a division. Mosby commanded a battalion of partisan rangers and very rarely operated in concert with the Army of Northern Virginia. Both men were higly effective leaders, but their duties and responsibilities were so disimilar it is impossible to comare them.



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