Best of Lincoln's Political Generals?

Best of Lincoln's Political Generals?

  • Benjamin F. Butler

    Votes: 7 31.8%
  • Nathaniel P. Banks

    Votes: 1 4.5%
  • John A. McClernand

    Votes: 12 54.5%
  • Franz Sigel

    Votes: 2 9.1%
  • John C. Fremont

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    22

James N.

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My reading indicates that Franz Sigel was a good artillery officer. In that role he was effective.
His best day came at Pea Ridge where he personally supervised and provided instruction where needed to the green Federal artillery batteries.
 

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General Casey

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Interesting viewpoint. I cannot vote for Butler because I find his errors too grave in their consequences (though he is more competent than Sigel). Good points about Baltimore and contraband, although I remember reading he was somewhat ham-fisted in how he handled those as well. Still, interesting to find a Butler 'supporter' (tongue firmly in cheek when I say that!). I think his failure at Bermuda 100 is monumental - but I may be biased toward the immense positive possibilities of Grant's 1864 three-pronged attack plan, if he'd had two competent assistants on the other prongs. I honestly think it had a very strong change of ending the war that year. Good points.
@Dead Parrott I am a so called Butler "supporter" although I think that he was not the greatest military leader but a capable administrator. His Baltimore actions are important for keeping the city open for Union troops to get to Washington and he was instrumental in getting Massachusetts Militia ready for war, although there is some controversy on how he went about doing that.
 

Bruce Vail

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Williams was one of the best non-military officers that the war produced. It's a shame that he never was promoted to permanent corps command. Plus, he had a wicked moustache and a horse named Plug Ugly. What's not to like?

Ryan
Alpheus Williams is a figure who has intrigued me. I keep meaning to read the book of his wartime letters to his wife/family first published back in 1959, and re-issued in paperback in 2011.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Alpheus Williams is a figure who has intrigued me. I keep meaning to read the book of his wartime letters to his wife/family first published back in 1959, and re-issued in paperback in 2011.
It's well worth reading, one of the best autobiographical books of the war. Except it's not an autobiography, it's letters driven by Williams in the moment.

Some of my personal favorite highlights --

June 2,1862: "The War Department has undertaken the management of the whole war from its bureau in Washington and it has a chronic trepidation that Washington City is in danger of being attacked. If we are not wholly destroyed by its policy, it is because Providence interposes to save us."

September 22, 1862: "My friends think I shall get a major generalship. I should if I was of the regular army; but not being such nor a graduated fool I suppose I shall remain a brigadier."

October 22, 1862: "I have been very busy turning over the command to Maj. Gen. Slocum, who has been assigned to it. He is a New Yorker, a graduate of West Point. Was on the Peninsula, of course. Nobody gets permanent command or promotion, I believe, unless he was on the Peninsula."

January 27,1863: "How long I shall be able to hold out under this oversloughing is very doubtful. Every such promotion over me, as Carl Schurz and the twenty others in the last list, is an insult."

January 2, 1864: "There is much secret history connected with the Gettysburg campaign which will some day be made public. The proceedings of a secret council of the corps commanders held the night before the enemy-crossed the river was at once divulged, and the remarks of Meade, Warren, and Pleasonton published to the world in full. It was for the interest of Meade that this publication should be made, and there is no doubt that publicity was given to it with his consent, if not through his direct instrumentality. There were other councils, however, the proceedings of which were not made public, and which never will be published with the consent of Gen. Meade. On the evening of July 2nd a council was called, and each corps commander was asked his opinion as to the propriety of falling back towards Washington that night. The majority opposed it, and after the vote was taken Meade declared that “Gettysburg was no place to risk a battle,” and there is no doubt that but for the decision of his corps commanders the army on the 3rd of July would have been in full retreat, and the 4th of July, 1863, instead of being a day of rejoicing throughout the North, would have been the darkest day ever known to our country."
 

Bruce Vail

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@Dead Parrott I am a so called Butler "supporter" although I think that he was not the greatest military leader but a capable administrator. His Baltimore actions are important for keeping the city open for Union troops to get to Washington and he was instrumental in getting Massachusetts Militia ready for war, although there is some controversy on how he went about doing that.
Yes, I think it is possible to be a supporter without going overboard in trying to explain away mistakes, which are made by all generals at one time or another.

He also had a very interesting post-war career as a congressman (he was the chief prosecutor at Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial) and as governor of Masachusetts. He was sort of a left-winger in his day....
 

Bruce Vail

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Interesting viewpoint. I cannot vote for Butler because I find his errors too grave in their consequences (though he is more competent than Sigel). Good points about Baltimore and contraband, although I remember reading he was somewhat ham-fisted in how he handled those as well. Still, interesting to find a Butler 'supporter' (tongue firmly in cheek when I say that!). I think his failure at Bermuda 100 is monumental - but I may be biased toward the immense positive possibilities of Grant's 1864 three-pronged attack plan, if he'd had two competent assistants on the other prongs. I honestly think it had a very strong change of ending the war that year. Good points.
Butler was pretty much 'ham-fisted' in everything he did. He opposed the war, but when war arrived he did not dither.
 

Dead Parrott

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I voted McClernand, largely based on military performance and ability. The others all had clear fiascos in side theatres of the war (or not-so-side-theatres, depending on your viewpoint). McClernand was competent - but he was also an absolute poison pariah politically. I agree that's bad, and he should be 'dinged' because of it. But from a military and ability and performance perspective, I think of him as the least bad of a bad lot.

But I love the input\ideas provided on this site that help me reconsider my biases, gaps and inaccuracies!

- K.
 

OldReliable1862

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I'd probably have chosen John A. Logan, but as it as, I'll go with McClernand. Whatever else you might say, he did well at Arkansas Post.
 

James N.

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… October 22, 1862: "I have been very busy turning over the command to Maj. Gen. Slocum, who has been assigned to it. He is a New Yorker, a graduate of West Point. Was on the Peninsula, of course. Nobody gets permanent command or promotion, I believe, unless he was on the Peninsula."
How true this is, at least as long as McClellan and his supporters remained in command, and it also extends to the units others led that didn't serve there. Prime examples of this are McDowell's/Hooker's First Corps; Burnside's/Cox's Ninth Corps; Fremont's/Sigel's/Howard's Eleventh Corps; and Banks'/Slocum's Twelfth Corps. The Ninth or "traveling' Corps spent more time away from the Army of the Potomac than it did with it and seems to have never really been accepted as a part of it. When it became necessary for Meade to provide reinforcements for Rosecrans following Chickamauga it was a good excuse to rid the army of the Eleventh "Dutch" Corps and the Twelfth, which along with the First had been part of Pope's Army of Virginia. Even the vaunted First Corps of the First Day at Gettysburg under Reynolds/Doubleday was more or less an "outsider" from having served under the despised McDowell and Pope and in the Spring, 1864 reduction it was abolished, the pitiful remnant becoming a division in, I believe, the Fifth Corps.
 

rpkennedy

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How true this is, at least as long as McClellan and his supporters remained in command, and it also extends to the units others led that didn't serve there. Prime examples of this are McDowell's/Hooker's First Corps; Burnside's/Cox's Ninth Corps; Fremont's/Sigel's/Howard's Eleventh Corps; and Banks'/Slocum's Twelfth Corps. The Ninth or "traveling' Corps spent more time away from the Army of the Potomac than it did with it and seems to have never really been accepted as a part of it. When it became necessary for Meade to provide reinforcements for Rosecrans following Chickamauga it was a good excuse to rid the army of the Eleventh "Dutch" Corps and the Twelfth, which along with the First had been part of Pope's Army of Virginia. Even the vaunted First Corps of the First Day at Gettysburg under Reynolds/Doubleday was more or less an "outsider" from having served under the despised McDowell and Pope and in the Spring, 1864 reduction it was abolished, the pitiful remnant becoming a division in, I believe, the Fifth Corps.
Two divisions in the Fifth Corps were from the First Corps. The First Division was a conglomeration of the First and Second Divisions, Fifth Corps commanded by Charles Griffin; Second Division was the Second Division, First Corps (with a third brigade attached) under John Robinson; Third Division was the Pennsylvania Reserves under Samuel Crawford; Fourth Division was the First and Third Divisions, First Corps under James Wadsworth. There was a reorganization during the Overland Campaign when the Pennsylvania Reserves were sent back to Washington but they were back to four divisions by Cold Harbor.

Ryan
 

Saphroneth

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Dix was a political general as well, and seems to have been broadly unoffensive. (Both in terms of not making any major mistakes, and in not making any major offensives, ho ho)

Siegel's often also viewed as a political general, as he was promoted to gain support from the German contingent, but if that applies then Meagher probably does as well.
 

67th Tigers

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There was a reorganization during the Overland Campaign when the Pennsylvania Reserves were sent back to Washington but they were back to four divisions by Cold Harbor.
The Pennsylvania Reserves weren't sent back and had very few who didn't re-enlist., and so instead reorganised into a brigade. Each of the two old brigades became a veteran regiment (190th and 191st Pennsylvania Veteran Infantry), and they were brigaded together. The brigade had 1,429 men. There was then a huge shuffle to account for the changes in early June, with a division disbanded and then reconsitituted.
 

Saphroneth

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Of course, the natural question in a topic like this is "define political general".

John Pope was a prewar friend of Abraham Lincoln; does he count?
John C. Fremont was a major during the Mexican-American War, which is a higher rank than people like McClellan and Lee held in that war; does he count?
George Meade was recommended by the governor of Pennsylvania and had the considerable natural advantage of not being inarguably eligible for the Presidency*; does he count?


*he was born in Cadiz, Spain
 

Belfoured

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Banks, while not quite as incompetent as sometimes portrayed, was mediocre at best in Louisiana, after having been outmaneuvered in the Valley by Stonewall... he probably would have looked a little less incompetent in the Valley if it had been someone other than Stonewall on the opposing side, methinks. Mediocre is really only sufficient if you're up against a similar level of mediocrity. 😄
There's little question that Banks' performance in the Red River Campaign was poor - although he was probably handed a strategic turd when he was given that mission. As for the '62 Valley Campaign, he comes off better in Cozzens' campaign study than the "conventional wisdom" holds. And he actually outfought the vaunted Stonewall at Cedar Mountain despite a significant numerical diadvantage. On the whole he may have been near the top of this crew - and while it's a pretty low bar, other posters have pointed out that most of them exhibited some attributes which undermine the broad brush with which they've been painted. Sigel, for example, did well at Pea Ridge and in Dave Powell's recent book about the May 1864 campaign in the Valley Sigel is portrayed in a more sympathetic light. Most of these guys also brought some non-military advantages for the administration.
 

Belfoured

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Of course, the natural question in a topic like this is "define political general".

John Pope was a prewar friend of Abraham Lincoln; does he count?
John C. Fremont was a major during the Mexican-American War, which is a higher rank than people like McClellan and Lee held in that war; does he count?
George Meade was recommended by the governor of Pennsylvania and had the considerable natural advantage of not being inarguably eligible for the Presidency*; does he count?


*he was born in Cadiz, Spain
Sherman's brother and in-laws were highly influential. Depends on how far you want to take this. A good starting point might be to use an arbitrary filter, including attendance at West Point.
 

Saphroneth

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Sherman's brother and in-laws were highly influential. Depends on how far you want to take this. A good starting point might be to use an arbitrary filter, including attendance at West Point.
True, though it's going to end up somewhat woolly anyway (not Wool-y because he was a career soldier) because it's hard to measure influence - as well as whether a given elevation was for a mix of reasons. Fremont didn't go to West Point but he had a military career behind him already; Sigel didn't go to West Point but that was because he was German and had in fact gone to Karlsruhe instead.
 
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