American Generals in the War

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#1
I watched the massively entertaining Burns documentary on the ACW (for the third time) and without doubt my favourite contributor was Shelby Foote. For years I have hung on his description of Abraham Lincoln and Nathan B Forrest as both deserving the accolade of "genius". With the rider that "we are a young country...". But on reflection Forrest as a racist braggart (thirty kills? who counts dead men...apparent from psychopaths or fantasists?). In Europe, even the most decorated soldier (I exclude the fantasists of Special Forces or snipers) will not claim a "kill" except on a one-to-one fight, a life-or-death experience. Lincoln saved lives, Forrest...

The more I read of ACW history the less I feel the term "genius" is applicable. The opponents in many cases knew each other very well, were fighting over familiar continental territory in many cases (No cultural. climactical battles in India, Burma, Indo-China, China, South Africa, Algeria.....etc). Observers yes, with an engagement against Pirates in North Africa, Mexicans or native Americans not withstanding, but without any evidence of the assimilation of application or innovation. Weapons became better without the input of the ACW armies who largely appropriated them without consideration their practical use. Stonewall Jackson and Grant seem to agree running at the enemy screaming while being shot to pieces is an idea/good idea/ plan/ good plan/ strategy...

The fact that Jackson was shot by his own men may have lengthened the war....he would have charged like a loon for several months afterward until...devoid of limbs like a Monty Python Knight fallen from his horse. To the relief of his ragged army. Grant evidently had the plan than hitting someone on the head will eventually produce brain damage - Golly it's brilliant! God only knows what thinking was behind Lee's tactical plan to beat a Federal Army on just patriotism and making a loud noise. After all courage, which they had in abundance, and ignorance....which they had...combined with the ability to shoot a defenceless rodent... The aristocrats of the CSA seem to assume these were skills for the battlefield. The sad thing for the length of the war was that they worked. For a while.

Uniforms were largely those of French design, weapons were those used by European Armies and appropriated without any real imagination. Genius requires original thought and American Generals had to wait until 1943 to see that, and even then casualty figures among G.Is show some callous political judgements. If Montgomery had killed as many people as Clark, Patton, "Lightning Joe" Collins and the rest then he would have be arranging paperclips in Whitehall... thank God for FDR and Churchill as heads of state....and Hitler being a nutcase.....

Discuss :smile:
 

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luinrina

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#2
Keep in mind that the West Pointers were taught Napoleonic warfare and the West Pointers were more or less in charge in both armies. Napoleonic tactics apparently worked well when the weapons were not that accurate in aim unless more or less in point-blank-range. The problem during the Civil War was the fast improvement of weapons and ammunition. Battle tactics were slower in adapting to the improved arms' ranges.

Also, many a man at the beginning of the war thought little of trenches. It wasn't manly/honorable/whatever to hide. A war cannot be won by hiding behind breastwork, can it? Both soldiers and generals would soon find out that entrenchments were the better option. But learning can be slow progress.
 

Jimklag

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#3
I watched the massively entertaining Burns documentary on the ACW (for the third time) and without doubt my favourite contributor was Shelby Foote. For years I have hung on his description of Abraham Lincoln and Nathan B Forrest as both deserving the accolade of "genius". With the rider that "we are a young country...". But on reflection Forrest as a racist braggart (thirty kills? who counts dead men...apparent from psychopaths or fantasists?). In Europe, even the most decorated soldier (I exclude the fantasists of Special Forces or snipers) will not claim a "kill" except on a one-to-one fight, a life-or-death experience. Lincoln saved lives, Forrest...

The more I read of ACW history the less I feel the term "genius" is applicable. The opponents in many cases knew each other very well, were fighting over familiar continental territory in many cases (No cultural. climactical battles in India, Burma, Indo-China, China, South Africa, Algeria.....etc). Observers yes, with an engagement against Pirates in North Africa, Mexicans or native Americans not withstanding, but without any evidence of the assimilation of application or innovation. Weapons became better without the input of the ACW armies who largely appropriated them without consideration their practical use. Stonewall Jackson and Grant seem to agree running at the enemy screaming while being shot to pieces is an idea/good idea/ plan/ good plan/ strategy...

The fact that Jackson was shot by his own men may have lengthened the war....he would have charged like a loon for several months afterward until...devoid of limbs like a Monty Python Knight fallen from his horse. To the relief of his ragged army. Grant evidently had the plan than hitting someone on the head will eventually produce brain damage - Golly it's brilliant! God only knows what thinking was behind Lee's tactical plan to beat a Federal Army on just patriotism and making a loud noise. After all courage, which they had in abundance, and ignorance....which they had...combined with the ability to shoot a defenceless rodent... The aristocrats of the CSA seem to assume these were skills for the battlefield. The sad thing for the length of the war was that they worked. For a while.

Uniforms were largely those of French design, weapons were those used by European Armies and appropriated without any real imagination. Genius requires original thought and American Generals had to wait until 1943 to see that, and even then casualty figures among G.Is show some callous political judgements. If Montgomery had killed as many people as Clark, Patton, "Lightning Joe" Collins and the rest then he would have be arranging paperclips in Whitehall... thank God for FDR and Churchill as heads of state....and Hitler being a nutcase.....

Discuss :smile:
Another voice from the UK intent on bashing Americans. With that post as the starting point, there is nothing to discuss.
 

rbasin

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#4
I'd maybe frame it as genius born of necessity. Lincoln the politician and Forrest the horseman. Neither was otherwise a genius. Just my two cents worth.
 

Cavalry Charger

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#5
I think you will find that General Nathan Bedford Forrest pulled off the most spectacular move of any war to date - that of 'double envelopment' - which continued to be studied throughout wars across the world after the Civil War. It was a move apparently Napolean was even loathe to try. The genius here is obviously greater than your own in trying to disparage men who fought valiantly for their cause on either side.

Your assessment of Grant doesn't bear comment on ... it is so far from the truth that I think you may need to read a little more here, or elsewhere, before passing judgement. What you also find in Grant is a magnanimity which followed the surrender of three enemy armies. I'm not sure anyone else achieved the same in any other war to date.

Perhaps come back to us when you decide you actually want to learn something rather than just pass judgement.
 
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thomas aagaard

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#6
Keep in mind that the West Pointers were taught Napoleonic warfare and the West Pointers were more or less in charge in both armies. Napoleonic tactics apparently worked well when the weapons were not that accurate in aim unless more or less in point-blank-range. The problem during the Civil War was the fast improvement of weapons and ammunition. Battle tactics were slower in adapting to the improved arms' ranges.
Anyone claiming that civil war armies used Napoleonic tactics have no clue about how armies fought at the start of the century.
 

luinrina

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#8
Anyone claiming that civil war armies used Napoleonic tactics have no clue about how armies fought at the start of the century.
I'm no expert regarding warfare and apparently, wrongly, concluded they were using Napoleonic tactics after what I read in books and posts here.

So what tactics were they taught and used if not Napoleonic?
 

thomas aagaard

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#9
I'm no expert regarding warfare and apparently, wrongly, concluded they were using Napoleonic tactics after what I read in books and posts here.

So what tactics were they taught and used if not Napoleonic?
So did I... it is a claim that is made all over the place. But if one actually study how Napoleons soldiers fought you will realize that it bear little resemble to the civil war. (when we talk battlefield tactics)

First of all, what was taught was not used.

  • Large swarms of skirmishers - No
    (20% of a battalion should be used as skirmish all the time.)
  • cavalry fighting mounted against infantry - No
    (with a few exceptions)
  • Offensive use of (horse) artillery - No
  • Combined arms - No
  • Use of columns for both maneuver and attack - No
    (battalions usually marched by the flank and then deployed into line and stayed in line)

All of it are core part of Napoleonic battlefield tactics and none of it was done to any large extent during the civil war.

Lack of officers who was trained for it, lack of real battlefield cavalry, armies made up of quickly trained civilians, and the terrain made the civil war an infantry war.

Tactically this was closer to how wars was fought in the mid 18th century in Europe.
In lines and with limited use of skirmishers and little combined arms.

And that is not meant as a criticism, but both sides used what they had. And that was plenty of infantry with limited training.

And over the course of the war we do see the armies become a lot better and there are some developments in tactics, some coming from above and some from below.
 

David Moore

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#10
I watched the massively entertaining Burns documentary on the ACW (for the third time) and without doubt my favourite contributor was Shelby Foote. For years I have hung on his description of Abraham Lincoln and Nathan B Forrest as both deserving the accolade of "genius". With the rider that "we are a young country...". But on reflection Forrest as a racist braggart (thirty kills? who counts dead men...apparent from psychopaths or fantasists?). In Europe, even the most decorated soldier (I exclude the fantasists of Special Forces or snipers) will not claim a "kill" except on a one-to-one fight, a life-or-death experience. Lincoln saved lives, Forrest...

The more I read of ACW history the less I feel the term "genius" is applicable. The opponents in many cases knew each other very well, were fighting over familiar continental territory in many cases (No cultural. climactical battles in India, Burma, Indo-China, China, South Africa, Algeria.....etc). Observers yes, with an engagement against Pirates in North Africa, Mexicans or native Americans not withstanding, but without any evidence of the assimilation of application or innovation. Weapons became better without the input of the ACW armies who largely appropriated them without consideration their practical use. Stonewall Jackson and Grant seem to agree running at the enemy screaming while being shot to pieces is an idea/good idea/ plan/ good plan/ strategy...

The fact that Jackson was shot by his own men may have lengthened the war....he would have charged like a loon for several months afterward until...devoid of limbs like a Monty Python Knight fallen from his horse. To the relief of his ragged army. Grant evidently had the plan than hitting someone on the head will eventually produce brain damage - Golly it's brilliant! God only knows what thinking was behind Lee's tactical plan to beat a Federal Army on just patriotism and making a loud noise. After all courage, which they had in abundance, and ignorance....which they had...combined with the ability to shoot a defenceless rodent... The aristocrats of the CSA seem to assume these were skills for the battlefield. The sad thing for the length of the war was that they worked. For a while.

Uniforms were largely those of French design, weapons were those used by European Armies and appropriated without any real imagination. Genius requires original thought and American Generals had to wait until 1943 to see that, and even then casualty figures among G.Is show some callous political judgements. If Montgomery had killed as many people as Clark, Patton, "Lightning Joe" Collins and the rest then he would have be arranging paperclips in Whitehall... thank God for FDR and Churchill as heads of state....and Hitler being a nutcase.....

Discuss :smile:
There is a general whom many considered the greatest strategist of ACW, who conducted what some saw as the most brilliant campaign of the War and has been called by one late 20th century historian “perhaps the only true genius to command a Union army.”
This General is all but unknown to the American people. He is barely mentioned in the Ken Burns series. The mention of his name brings out rancor and vitriol of the bitterest type on this site. Because of that I won’t mention his name but an internet search of the “genius” quote above will reveal it to you.
As to your larger point I think it should be realized that the ACW was supposed to be a quick affair fought -in the north - by 90 day volunteers. It spiraled out of control and as generals “learned on the job” with improved (more deadly) weaponry became an American holocaust.
It should also be remembered that there was a political dimension to the War. The political party (Republican) most zealous in prosecuting the War had few generals (the party was less than 10 years old in 1861.). It had to create a winning general who probably would become president and that general was Grant who was considered by many who fought with him a drunken incompetent in 1862.
Finally realize the ACW like almost all history is used today by people to support their current political or cultural views. Because history has judged the Confederacy to be on the wrong side of history it must be stripped of anything that might cause people to admire it. The winning Union generals in turn must be extolled and labeled geniuses- a term that would have surprised many in the 19th century.
Be prepared for the attacks on these thoughts that may follow them. Comments made by people whose shadows have never darkened a research library and who boast about the books they haven’t read. Books that of course challenge their views.
I watched the massively entertaining Burns documentary on the ACW (for the third time) and without doubt my favourite contributor was Shelby Foote. For years I have hung on his description of Abraham Lincoln and Nathan B Forrest as both deserving the accolade of "genius". With the rider that "we are a young country...". But on reflection Forrest as a racist braggart (thirty kills? who counts dead men...apparent from psychopaths or fantasists?). In Europe, even the most decorated soldier (I exclude the fantasists of Special Forces or snipers) will not claim a "kill" except on a one-to-one fight, a life-or-death experience. Lincoln saved lives, Forrest...

The more I read of ACW history the less I feel the term "genius" is applicable. The opponents in many cases knew each other very well, were fighting over familiar continental territory in many cases (No cultural. climactical battles in India, Burma, Indo-China, China, South Africa, Algeria.....etc). Observers yes, with an engagement against Pirates in North Africa, Mexicans or native Americans not withstanding, but without any evidence of the assimilation of application or innovation. Weapons became better without the input of the ACW armies who largely appropriated them without consideration their practical use. Stonewall Jackson and Grant seem to agree running at the enemy screaming while being shot to pieces is an idea/good idea/ plan/ good plan/ strategy...

The fact that Jackson was shot by his own men may have lengthened the war....he would have charged like a loon for several months afterward until...devoid of limbs like a Monty Python Knight fallen from his horse. To the relief of his ragged army. Grant evidently had the plan than hitting someone on the head will eventually produce brain damage - Golly it's brilliant! God only knows what thinking was behind Lee's tactical plan to beat a Federal Army on just patriotism and making a loud noise. After all courage, which they had in abundance, and ignorance....which they had...combined with the ability to shoot a defenceless rodent... The aristocrats of the CSA seem to assume these were skills for the battlefield. The sad thing for the length of the war was that they worked. For a while.

Uniforms were largely those of French design, weapons were those used by European Armies and appropriated without any real imagination. Genius requires original thought and American Generals had to wait until 1943 to see that, and even then casualty figures among G.Is show some callous political judgements. If Montgomery had killed as many people as Clark, Patton, "Lightning Joe" Collins and the rest then he would have be arranging paperclips in Whitehall... thank God for FDR and Churchill as heads of state....and Hitler being a nutcase.....

Discuss :smile:
 
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#14
He’s probably talking about...oh, what’s his name... Rosencrantz.
To be fair Rosecrans did accomplish quite a bit during the Tullohmah Campaign. The problem with Rosecrans is that there is the little matter of Chickumungua. On the other hand Grant had a bad day at Cold Harbor and Lee at Malvern Hill. Antietam and Gettysburg plus of course Appomattox.
Generals have good days and bad days like anyone else with the caveat if a general has a bad day then everyone else in his army will have a bad day.
Leftyhunter
 
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#15
I watched the massively entertaining Burns documentary on the ACW (for the third time) and without doubt my favourite contributor was Shelby Foote. For years I have hung on his description of Abraham Lincoln and Nathan B Forrest as both deserving the accolade of "genius". With the rider that "we are a young country...". But on reflection Forrest as a racist braggart (thirty kills? who counts dead men...apparent from psychopaths or fantasists?). In Europe, even the most decorated soldier (I exclude the fantasists of Special Forces or snipers) will not claim a "kill" except on a one-to-one fight, a life-or-death experience. Lincoln saved lives, Forrest...

The more I read of ACW history the less I feel the term "genius" is applicable. The opponents in many cases knew each other very well, were fighting over familiar continental territory in many cases (No cultural. climactical battles in India, Burma, Indo-China, China, South Africa, Algeria.....etc). Observers yes, with an engagement against Pirates in North Africa, Mexicans or native Americans not withstanding, but without any evidence of the assimilation of application or innovation. Weapons became better without the input of the ACW armies who largely appropriated them without consideration their practical use. Stonewall Jackson and Grant seem to agree running at the enemy screaming while being shot to pieces is an idea/good idea/ plan/ good plan/ strategy...

The fact that Jackson was shot by his own men may have lengthened the war....he would have charged like a loon for several months afterward until...devoid of limbs like a Monty Python Knight fallen from his horse. To the relief of his ragged army. Grant evidently had the plan than hitting someone on the head will eventually produce brain damage - Golly it's brilliant! God only knows what thinking was behind Lee's tactical plan to beat a Federal Army on just patriotism and making a loud noise. After all courage, which they had in abundance, and ignorance....which they had...combined with the ability to shoot a defenceless rodent... The aristocrats of the CSA seem to assume these were skills for the battlefield. The sad thing for the length of the war was that they worked. For a while.

Uniforms were largely those of French design, weapons were those used by European Armies and appropriated without any real imagination. Genius requires original thought and American Generals had to wait until 1943 to see that, and even then casualty figures among G.Is show some callous political judgements. If Montgomery had killed as many people as Clark, Patton, "Lightning Joe" Collins and the rest then he would have be arranging paperclips in Whitehall... thank God for FDR and Churchill as heads of state....and Hitler being a nutcase.....

Discuss :smile:
Jackson was not killed by his own men in the sense he was deliberately killed as occurred to US Army officers in a some what recent conflict.
A very fatigued and nervous soldier in very poor light shoot at what he legitimately thought was Union Cavalry. In war friendly fire is not uncommon.
Leftyhunter
 
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#16
I watched the massively entertaining Burns documentary on the ACW (for the third time) and without doubt my favourite contributor was Shelby Foote. For years I have hung on his description of Abraham Lincoln and Nathan B Forrest as both deserving the accolade of "genius". With the rider that "we are a young country...". But on reflection Forrest as a racist braggart (thirty kills? who counts dead men...apparent from psychopaths or fantasists?). In Europe, even the most decorated soldier (I exclude the fantasists of Special Forces or snipers) will not claim a "kill" except on a one-to-one fight, a life-or-death experience. Lincoln saved lives, Forrest...

The more I read of ACW history the less I feel the term "genius" is applicable. The opponents in many cases knew each other very well, were fighting over familiar continental territory in many cases (No cultural. climactical battles in India, Burma, Indo-China, China, South Africa, Algeria.....etc). Observers yes, with an engagement against Pirates in North Africa, Mexicans or native Americans not withstanding, but without any evidence of the assimilation of application or innovation. Weapons became better without the input of the ACW armies who largely appropriated them without consideration their practical use. Stonewall Jackson and Grant seem to agree running at the enemy screaming while being shot to pieces is an idea/good idea/ plan/ good plan/ strategy...

The fact that Jackson was shot by his own men may have lengthened the war....he would have charged like a loon for several months afterward until...devoid of limbs like a Monty Python Knight fallen from his horse. To the relief of his ragged army. Grant evidently had the plan than hitting someone on the head will eventually produce brain damage - Golly it's brilliant! God only knows what thinking was behind Lee's tactical plan to beat a Federal Army on just patriotism and making a loud noise. After all courage, which they had in abundance, and ignorance....which they had...combined with the ability to shoot a defenceless rodent... The aristocrats of the CSA seem to assume these were skills for the battlefield. The sad thing for the length of the war was that they worked. For a while.

Uniforms were largely those of French design, weapons were those used by European Armies and appropriated without any real imagination. Genius requires original thought and American Generals had to wait until 1943 to see that, and even then casualty figures among G.Is show some callous political judgements. If Montgomery had killed as many people as Clark, Patton, "Lightning Joe" Collins and the rest then he would have be arranging paperclips in Whitehall... thank God for FDR and Churchill as heads of state....and Hitler being a nutcase.....

Discuss :smile:
You might want to read a good biography of Forrest such has the one by Jack Hurst. Yes Forrest was a racist but he definitely and with a great deal of controversy came out publicly for black people to have equal political rights very late in his life. No that does not make Forrest a candidate for sainthood.
General Sherman is quoted as saying killing Forrest was worth 10 thousand men.
Leftyhunter
 
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#17
He might be. It may have been about Rosecrans. I have a great memory - it's just not very long. :D If so, he and Cozzens were wrong.
The Tullohmah Campaign was brilliant. Chickumungua not so much. On the other hand Rosecrans did a good job in Missouri anticipating General Price's invasion and ensuring adequate resources to counter Price.
Leftyhunter
 

rbasin

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#18
The Tullohmah Campaign was brilliant. Chickumungua not so much. On the other hand Rosecrans did a good job in Missouri anticipating General Price's invasion and ensuring adequate resources to counter Price.
Leftyhunter
had Bragg been a bit more aggressive, he would have wrecked Rosecrans during the Tullahoma campaign.
 
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JeffBrooks

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#19
I believe that is a Peter Cozzens quote. George Thomas was a great general and a major contributor to the US victory, but I'm not sure I would use the term genius to describe him.
I wouldn't be surprised if I am the biggest fan of George Thomas on this website. I consider him the greatest general of the war on either side and the greatest hero among the major figures of the conflict.

But I wouldn't use the term "genius" to describe him. Genius is a very overused word, for true genius is extremely, extremely rare. Of the major military figures in history, I would probably only rank Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte as true geniuses.
 

David Moore

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#20
To be fair Rosecrans did accomplish quite a bit during the Tullohmah Campaign. The problem with Rosecrans is that there is the little matter of Chickumungua. On the other hand Grant had a bad day at Cold Harbor and Lee at Malvern Hill. Antietam and Gettysburg plus of course Appomattox.
Generals have good days and bad days like anyone else with the caveat if a general has a bad day then everyone else in his army will have a bad day.
Leftyhunter
No mention of Iuka and Corinth? Oh that’s right Grant doesn’t actually need to be in a battle to be declared the winner of the battle. And of Course just because he was at a battle that went badly doesn’t mean he was responsible. This is not a mere general he’s a Roman god. :smile:
I wouldn't be surprised if I am the biggest fan of George Thomas on this website. I consider him the greatest general of the war on either side and the greatest hero among the major figures of the conflict.

But I wouldn't use the term "genius" to describe him. Genius is a very overused word, for true genius is extremely, extremely rare. Of the major military figures in history, I would probably only rank Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte as true geniuses.
There is a quote ascribed to Thomas in which he calls Rosecrans “ a better general.” Thomas and Rosecrans weren’t rivals. It could be argued that both were targets or victims of Grant (really in Garfield’s words political leaders in Washington)
 
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