Better General: Lee or Meade

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#1
Which of these two was better all around? Both had the capacity to listen to others and recognize good ground. Meade was decent on the attack, he broke through Jackson's defenses at the battle of Fredricksburg, south of telegraph road and Marye's heights. Was Lee's success on the attack because of his subordinates? Let me hear your opinion?
 

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Andy Cardinal

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#3
Meade was very competent, and I believe the most competent commander the Army of the Potomac had. While he didn't "beat" Lee between Gettysburg & the spring 1864 offensive, he countered Lee very effectively and in that sense defeated Lee's intentions in the fall of 1863. It is true he missed some opportunities which i believe was the result of a combination of 3 things -- prudence (he was not a risk-taker), poor subordinate commanders, and being handcuffed by Halleck. I think he was only exceeded on the Union side by Grant and Sherman (although in my opinion he was as good and maybe better in some cases tactically), with Thomas in the conversation as well.

With that said, I think Lee was the better general.
 
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#4
I like Meade. Had Hooker listened to him and allowed him to continue on the River Road when the van of his Corps was already in the rear of Jackson on the turnpike there would likely have never been a battle at Chancellorsville. Perhaps that wasn’t risk taking but it sure was recognition of an opening and wanting to take advantage of it. He wasn’t Lee, but he was at least the equal of Grant.
 
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#6
Lee was better. I think Lee recognized earlier than Meade, that an advancing force could not overcome a stationary defender, if the attackers did not have cover. Linear tactics could not work if the defenders could find the range and reload.
The greater range of Civil War artillery also pushed the staging areas so far back from the targets of the attack, that unless covered by darkness or vegatation, the attacker had little chance. The last 200 yards of any advance were deadly. Lee stopped doing it, for the most part, after Gettysburg. Meade did not stop until the siege of Petersberg was well advanced.
 
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#9
Generals Lee and Meade had something in common, both were excellent engineers before the Civil War and I believe that knowledge made them both very skilled in the defensive role and made them appreciate the value of terrain and topography in determining the outcome of a battle. I'd have to grant a slight advantage to General Lee in a offensive role however, he was much quicker in his decision making and better at reading the intentions of his opponents on the battlefield. It would have been interesting to see how General Meade would have handled command of the Army of the Potomac in the later stages of the war without the shadow of Grant hovering over him.
 
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#10
Lee was better. I think Lee recognized earlier than Meade, that an advancing force could not overcome a stationary defender, if the attackers did not have cover. Linear tactics could not work if the defenders could find the range and reload.
The greater range of Civil War artillery also pushed the staging areas so far back from the targets of the attack, that unless covered by darkness or vegatation, the attacker had little chance. The last 200 yards of any advance were deadly. Lee stopped doing it, for the most part, after Gettysburg. Meade did not stop until the siege of Petersberg was well advanced.
Meade had little influence over the Army after Grant was made General of all Armies. Meade was always hesitant to attack, because he hated to send his men to their deaths. He learned this earlier on then Lee, It wasn't his choice at Petersburg. It was Burnside's and Grant's choice. It wasn't his choice at Fredricksburg or Antietam either. The whole reason Grant was put into control was because Lincoln was angry with Meade, due to the fact, again, he wouldn't march his men into certain death voluntarily. Does July 4th, 1863 ring a bell?
Meade's record shows he understood the futility of such tactics. But he executed them to the best of his ability, you can't blame him for that. Lee did to a certain extent, but he occasionally messed up, like at Gettysburg, the whole battle really. Lee's success can largely be attributed to his willingness to listen to the opinions of his subordinates, a trait he shared with Meade. When he ignored them, events like Pickett's charge, or Malvern hill could happen. I came off a bit harsh, but that's my opinion.
 
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#11
There is a tendency to simplify on the internet. At Fredricksburg Meade's command reached the enemy's entrenchments, so he knew it could be done. Same at Spotsylvania, with cover, and some bad weather, the II Corps broke through. It probably surprised them so much that the division commanders did not know how to spread out.
After that the army was much more sluggish, and commanders became reluctant to argue with Meade/Grant.
I think they realized that Warren could not lead an assault, but he could defend a set position. Hancock's entire command was used up. Sedgwick was killed, and Wright was inexperienced. Burnside was just plain incompetent and could not get his division commanders to to anything right.
The army that chased Lee down had Griffin, Humphreys, Wright, and I think Parke, in command. That is evidence that Meade gave up on controlling tactics and started working on command structure.
The history also records that Grant was trying to make the cavalry into an independent strike force, and that Grant and Meade also argued about the intelligence operation.
 
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#12
While Grant and Meade argued at times, in the end Grant sustained Meade, as did Lincoln, as a good way to put a thumb in the eye of the Committee. Even Sheridan at the end personally explained to Meade what they were trying to accomplish and Meade changed the pursuit orders. The tense days of the summer of 1864 produced many lessons that came in handy later.
 
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#14
Lee, by far.

Despite having a numerically superior force on the defensive at Gettysburg Meade still managed to take almost as many casualties as Lee did, while Lee in the aftermath of said engagement managed to escape back to Virginia with a several mile long wagon train full of supplies and wounded unmolested. In the months after, Lee is not only able to detach a Corps under one of his most experienced subordinates for duty in another theater, but he's able to clash with Meade in such a way that Lee is able to seriously threaten moving into Maryland for a third time. Mine Run, at the end of the aforementioned campaign, sees Meade nearly get into a Cold Harbor but with the added bonus that had he waited any longer to pull back, Lee was going to pull a Chancellorsville on his exposed flank.

Other issues, such as the actual Cold Harbor, are obvious.
 

WJC

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#15
Some things to consider:
Lee was the undisputed commander of the most prominent and feared rebel army. Every move on the chessboard of Virginia was his once he succeeded Johnston.
Lee had a free hand that Meade never enjoyed after July 3, 1863.
Although Meade continued as commander of the major army opposing Lee until Appomattox, he was hindered first by Halleck and later by Grant's presence with his army. Grant took most of Meade's cavalry and established the separate command under Sheridan. Although this move brought successes in the Shenandoah Valley, it caused many of the moves against Lee to be executed without proper reconnaissance. In addition, Grant's organization had Burnside reporting directly to him, making coordinated movements difficult. All too often when Meade had the lead in a combined action, he had to go through Grant rather than directly to Burnside.
Lee had better subordinates. One wonders how some of Meade's subordinates retained commands with their bungling and insubordination.
There are some who have suggested that Meade was actually a better general than Grant. Certainly, his 'suggestions' to Grant of moving to the southeast to cut off Richmond's rail connections were rejected by Grant in favor of disastrous frontal assaults. When Grant finally had success, it was because he finally decided to follow Meade's plan.
In the end, though, one has to decide the question not on who might have been better, but on who demonstrated that they were better. Lee made the most of his situation and is justly considered the greatest general of the conflict.
 
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