Overland Corps Commander performance in the Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

Jamieva

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@MichaelWinicki asked for it, let's do it.

This thread will be to discuss the performance of only the Army of the Potomac corps commanders from the start of the campaign. through the initial assault on Petersburg. We can include Baldy Smith's time once he joins the army at Cold Harbor through that initial assault on Petersburg.

On face value, it's hard to argue against Hancock's overall performance being the best in my estimatation. As I posted in the other thread, my opinion of Burnside throughout this campaign is very poor. The more meaty part of the discussion may very well be Sedgwick, up unto his death, Warren, and Wright. Warren as we know loves to question direct orders and then suggest something better. Wright I always felt like gets totally overlooked, and it's hard for me coming from a southern perspective to really evaluate his performance once he takes over.

So let's jump in. Hancock, Warren, Wright, Sedgwick, Burnside and Baldy Smith. The good, the bad and the ugly of their performances. Additionally, if Grant had made moves to replace them due to performance in this time period, who are the most obvious or most deserving to be in put into their spots?
 

trice

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Grant from his Memoirs:

General Burnside was an officer who was generally liked and respected. He was not, however, fitted to command an army. No one knew this better than himself. He always admitted his blunders, and extenuated those of officers under him beyond what they were entitled to. It was hardly his fault that he was ever assigned to a separate command.
 

trice

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May 2, 2006
Grant from his Memoirs:

Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance. Tall, well-formed and, at the time of which I now write, young and fresh-looking, he presented an appearance that would attract the attention of an army as he passed. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.
 

trice

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Grant from his Memoirs:

Sedgwick was killed at Spottsylvania before I had an opportunity of forming an estimate of his qualifications as a soldier from personal observation. I had known him in Mexico when both of us were lieutenants, and when our service gave no indication that either of us would ever be equal to the command of a brigade. He stood very high in the army, however, as an officer and a man. He was brave and conscientious. His ambition was not great, and he seemed to dread responsibility. He was willing to do any amount of battling, but always wanted some one else to direct. He declined the command of the Army of the Potomac once, if not oftener.
 

trice

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May 2, 2006
Grant from his Memoirs:

I was so much dissatisfied with Warren’s dilatory movements in the battle of White Oak Road and in his failure to reach Sheridan in time, that I was very much afraid that at the last moment he would fail Sheridan. He was a man of fine intelligence, great earnestness, quick perception, and could make his dispositions as quickly as any officer, under difficulties where he was forced to act. But I had before discovered a defect which was beyond his control, that was very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies like the one just before us. He could see every danger at a glance before he had encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.
I had sent a staff officer to General Sheridan to call his attention to these defects, and to say that as much as I liked General Warren, now was not a time when we could let our personal feelings for any one stand in the way of success; and if his removal was necessary to success, not to hesitate. It was upon that authorization that Sheridan removed Warren. I was very sorry that it had been done, and regretted still more that I had not long before taken occasion to assign him to another field of duty.
 

trice

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May 2, 2006
Grant from his Memoirs:

Griffin, Humphreys, and Mackenzie were good corps commanders, but came into that position so near to the close of the war as not to attract public attention. All three served as such, in the last campaign of the armies of the Potomac and the James, which culminated at Appomattox Court House, on the 9th of April, 1865. The sudden collapse of the rebellion monopolized attention to the exclusion of almost everything else. I regarded Mackenzie as the most promising young officer in the army. Graduating at West Point, as he did, during the second year of the war, he had won his way up to the command of a corps before its close. This he did upon his own merit and without influence.
 

MichaelWinicki

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Jul 23, 2020
Hancock... I'm a big fan, but looking over what the II Corps accomplished during the Overland Campaign, there are a couple rough spots.

I often go back and review of Hancock's-led assault in the Wilderness on the morning of May the 6th...

25,000 (approx) vs. 9,000 (approx) with Union having a nice flanking advantage with the 5th Corps division attached to attack and I'm left with the impression there was a lot of "meat left on the bone" when the assault finally burned itself out.

Yes, some of the divisional and brigade command was left wanting during the assualt.

But still if the sides were switched and it was the ANV that had that kind of number and position advantage I'm betting they would have accomplished much more than what Hancock's assault did.
 

MichaelWinicki

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I'm not down on Warren's corps leadership during the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. I get that he was cautious. It seems clear the AOTP did not have a good handle on the tactical situation of May the 5th.
 

Bryce

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Also, there’s a valuable fresh look at the army corps commanders in a book which came out last year by Wilson Greene, campaign of giants
 

Jamieva

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Also, there’s a valuable fresh look at the army corps commanders in a book which came out last year by Wilson Greene, campaign of giants

Understood but I think we want to try to keep it looking at the Overland, because once we bring Petersburg into the discussion you get more commanders to discuss and Hancock is missing for large stretches of it. But I will leave that up to the posters to decide how they want to cater the conversation.
 

Jamieva

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I'm not down on Warren's corps leadership during the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. I get that he was cautious. It seems clear the AOTP did not have a good handle on the tactical situation of May the 5th.

Warren is always a tough one for me. On the one hand, I get that the subordinate has to look at the order given and make sure it fits the the tactical scenario on the ground in front of him. However, when that subordinate commander does it almost every time, then we have a problem. And that is where Warren ran afoul of Meade. Meade got sick and tired of the constant questioning of every order, and that dates back to the Mine Run planned attack.
 

Bryce

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Both Mike Mccarthy and John Horn have valuable things to say about Warren’s generalship during and before the overland campaign. Also, Jeff Hunt gives a good analysis of Warren’s generalship in his new book on the Bristow station campaign and in his forthcoming on mine run
 

Bryce

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I’m not trying to divert your attention from the overnight campaign. I simply believe that if you’re analyzing generalship you have to look at a general during more than one campaign
 

Jamieva

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I’m not trying to divert your attention from the overnight campaign. I simply believe that if you’re analyzing generalship you have to look at a general during more than one campaign

We can do that in a seperate thread if need be. A poster had specifically asked for a discussion focused on the Overland, and frankly I found it interesting as well. I wanted to learn more from what other posters new of the details and my pre conceptions. If you want to have a thread talking about Union corps commanders over more than 1 campaign or over the entirety of the war, I would encourage you to start it here in the Eastern Theater forum and I will gladly participate and try to get others to jump in.
 

67th Tigers

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Nov 10, 2006
I'm searching for anything postive to say about Burnside and his leadership during "Overland".

The sad thing is that Burnside actually "won" Spotsylvania Court House, and Grant refused to believe him. He had effectively severed the Brock road and was about to occupy the courthouse proper when Grant ordered a withdrawal. Burnside dutifully obeyed.

In "what-ifs" this was probably the best chance to annihilate Lee's army in the campaign.
 

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