Discussion Contingency Planning and Proactive vs Reactivate Generals

Joshism

Sergeant Major
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Messages
2,025
Location
Jupiter, FL
#1
Something I have noticed from reading about George Meade is that he seems not to have understood the idea of a contingency plan. He would order reconnaissance without seemingly any plan of what to do with the results. He would seek permission to conduct an offensive with planning one while awaiting that permission. He makes a move and, when Lee doesn't respond as hoped, doesn't know what to do next. It seems to have been his great weakness as a general.

But it occurs to me that perhaps this problem was widespread in the Civil War, not only because of a lack of experience by the generals but also a shortage of staff officers that would be helpful, perhaps crucial, in developing such plans. Were any ACW generals known for developing contingency plans regularly? I am thinking maybe Sherman, who admitted to being prone to fretting about the enemy's possible actions.

The generals who seemed most successful, like Grant and Lee, seem to have avoided the issue by being proactive. They sought to take the initiative and force the opponent to react. When checked, they quickly and decisively shifted to a new proactive approach. They avoided the need for contingency. Not all proactive generals were successful; Hood is probably the best example of being proactive to a fault.

Thoughts?
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Joined
May 27, 2011
Messages
16,583
Location
los angeles ca
#3
In the immortal words of Mike Tyson....

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Mike Tyson
Along the same lines but much earlier stated General Von Moltke has been quoted as saying depending on the German to English translation " no plan survives contact with the enemy" or " no plan survives the first shot".
Every Army in history has various amounts of victory vs defeat. The ACW is not an exception to this rule.
Leftyhunter
 
Joined
Oct 15, 2018
Messages
862
Location
Heaven
#4
Something I have noticed from reading about George Meade is that he seems not to have understood the idea of a contingency plan. ?
He had a contingency plan for retreat at Gettysburg, and he later got crucified for it by Dan Butterfield, Dan Sickles, et. al.
 
Joined
May 10, 2019
Messages
21
#7
1st, I think you are putting too much value in a contingency plan. That would tell me that you have no confidence in your plan, intelligence, and/or ability as a commander. You have to be flexible in war but decisive at the same time.
2nd, I also think that we tend to forget what any commanders perspective would actually be on the battlefield. This is especially true of the 1860's. You have poorly drawn maps, intelligence that requires a line of sight, and orders are carried by courier to the next commanding general in line who could misunderstand what the order is.
3rd, I think Meade was a very good general in his own right. If you look at what the expectations of him were he did a great job.
1. Protect Washington at all costs.
2. Win victories where practicable, avoid defeat when necessary.
 

Joshism

Sergeant Major
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Messages
2,025
Location
Jupiter, FL
#8
Consider the end of September 1863. Meade conducts a reconnaissance of the Rapidan and Madison County. He has no offensive plan with options A, B, and C to act upon based on the results of that intelligence. He dithers afterwards trying to come up with a plan to attack or flank Lee's Rapidan line. He frets that even if he gets Lee off the Rapidan the ANV will just fall back to another good defensive position.

Soon after, Lee gets word of XI and XII Corps departure. He quickly puts together a plan to swing around Meade's flank and executes it.

I'm really coming around to the idea that Grant was the only Union general decisive enough to defeat Lee.
 
Joined
Jun 10, 2011
Messages
626
#9
Something I have noticed from reading about George Meade is that he seems not to have understood the idea of a contingency plan. He would order reconnaissance without seemingly any plan of what to do with the results. He would seek permission to conduct an offensive with planning one while awaiting that permission. He makes a move and, when Lee doesn't respond as hoped, doesn't know what to do next. It seems to have been his great weakness as a general.

But it occurs to me that perhaps this problem was widespread in the Civil War, not only because of a lack of experience by the generals but also a shortage of staff officers that would be helpful, perhaps crucial, in developing such plans. Were any ACW generals known for developing contingency plans regularly? I am thinking maybe Sherman, who admitted to being prone to fretting about the enemy's possible actions.

The generals who seemed most successful, like Grant and Lee, seem to have avoided the issue by being proactive. They sought to take the initiative and force the opponent to react. When checked, they quickly and decisively shifted to a new proactive approach. They avoided the need for contingency. Not all proactive generals were successful; Hood is probably the best example of being proactive to a fault.

Thoughts?
A good example of a reactive general is Braxton Bragg...

"When [Bragg] has formed his own opinions of what he proposes to do, no advice of all his officers put together can shake him; but when he meets the unexpected, it overwhelms him because he has not been able to foresee, and then he will lean upon the advice of a drummer boy." - Simon B. Buckner
 
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
Messages
9,970
#10
Lee beat one of Meade’s corps and then went on the defensive behind Mine Run. There was no way he could attack that position in full force. Mine Run was a Citadel. Plus there was 6” of ice on the ground and he wasn’t able to move his cannon or his men. One huge weather condition.
General Meade did the right thing.
 

Similar threads




(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top