Discussion Created a Union Corps Commander Tier List

Tigerdovefan34

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Joined
Jan 28, 2020
https://tiermaker.com/create/union-corps-commanders-1054813 so I've created a Corps Commander Tier List for the Union, from the first commander of the I Corps to the last commander of the XXV, in alphabetical order, all 98 of them, it seems. Feel free to make your own rankings and post them. I might do a Youtube Stream tomorrow for these rankings and another topic that I'll bring up if messaged. If anyone would be interested in helping me make a tier list, just dm me and I'll set up the stream for tomorrow.
 

Tigerdovefan34

Private
Joined
Jan 28, 2020
Would be interested in seeing the stream and your explanations.
Well, I'd need someone to help me rank each of the Commanders, so if you're interested in helping me, feel free to hit me up in a private message. Same goes for anyone else interested, since these are a ton of generals and It'll be difficult to rank all of them on my lonesome with limited knowledge.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I don't have a sense for all of them, but I would generally consider the most important points in command to be:

Correctly functioning as a corps commander
- Does this general have the right span of command, and is he acting in the appropriate role?
That means that the general is fighting their whole corps, rather than getting too focused in on a smaller scale problem.
- Is this general in a position where they can command their whole corps?
This means the general is in position to recieve messages from the rest of the corps and act accordingly.
- Is this general exposing themselves to unwarranted personal danger?
A corps commander is important enough and senior enough that they should not be riding at or even very near the head of their corps.

Command skills
- Is this general obeying orders given the situation they are in?
Pretty simple. A general who does not obey orders without a good reason is a problematic general at best.
- Does this general exercise initiative when necessary?
The other side of the coin. A corps commander is senior enough and has a large enough command that they should be at least aware of situations where they may need to be creative in exercising their orders.
- Does this general make the correct command decisions given the information they have?
This isn't necessarily the same as making the correct decisions. If a commander is in a situation where they should have done X rather than Y for an ideal outcome, but this is predicated on information they did not have or could not trust at the time, then they shouldn't be marked down for it.
- Does this general competently do what they are trying to do?
It's not much good making the correct decision to do something if you then royally stuff it up with preventable mistakes.


A few case studies where I consider myself familiar with the details.

Reynolds at Fredericksburg.
Reynolds is over-focused on running his artillery and is not in a position where his command staff know where to contact him. This has an impact on the actual fighting in that when Meade sends for reinforcements the man whose job it is to commit them (Reynolds, his CC and the man in charge of the attacking corps) is nowhere to be found.
This is pretty much just a failure of Reynolds doing the corps commander job.

McDowell before Second Bull Run
McDowell diverts a division from his command to hold Thoroughfare Gap. This is vital terrain in the campaign, and while McDowell's orders do not strictly allow for him to do what he's doing his diversion of a division is a good call. There is a question about how he could have done better, which is largely focused on the tradeoff between following orders and exercising initiative - by more fully going against his orders he could have covered the gap better.

Reynolds at Gettysburg.
Reynolds was too far forward and got shot. (This assessment also applies for Reno and Mansfield when they got shot, to name but two.)

Burnside and Cox at Antietam
The exact responsibility for the failing here is probably Burnside, but Cox bears some of the responsibility. There are two main problems.
The first is that Burnside doesn't make the appropriate preparations to take the Rohrbach (Lower/Burnside) Bridge before he gets the "go" order. This is a failure to operate his corps as a corps (that is, a failure to realize that his corps is a large formation and can have different divisions assigned to different tasks simultaneously while it takes a long time to move around) and is effectively a failure of command which leads to a delay of hours at the bridge.
The second is that either Burnside does not pass on the warning about AP Hill having crossed the Potomac, or Cox does not take the appropriate precautions.

Porter at Gaines Mill
Porter does not correctly assess the scale of the threat approaching his defensive position, and initially neglects to send correct information up the chain to McClellan about whether he needs reinforcements (he does). This is an example of a commander making an incorrect judgement, though he corrects that later in the day.

Porter at Second Bull Run (on the 29th)
Porter is in a situation where the orders he initially had (to cut in behind Jackson with much of McDowell's Corps) are no longer valid - McDowell has taken his corps off to rejoin the main force - and the assumption under which they had been sent is no longer valid (as Longstreet's corps has substantially arrived on the field). Porter endeavours to find out if he can gainfully connect with the main force, but aside from that he deploys his troops to mask his strength and keeps the enemy under observation. This offers the prospect of taking Longstreet in the flank if Longstreet ignores him, while if Longstreet does not ignore him (as happened) then he has effectively neutralized much of Longstreet's corps. This is a good example of a commander exercising his initiative in an unclear situation.

Burnside at the Crater
Burnside was denied the use of his specially trained division to fight the Crater battle, and instead he picked at random. This division made a significant error during the battle.
This is a failure if you think Burnside could have known that there was a better division than the one he picked; otherwise, he just doesn't have the information for it.

Hancock at Spotsylvania
Hancock did not have a good sense of where the target enemy was, owing to circumstances beyond his control. He delayed his assault until there was enough light to see.
This seems to be a good call because of the immense risk in a nighttime assault without a good sense of where the enemy is. The guides the previous evening had gotten lost and led the recce group into Burnside's corps positions, so without this delay (an example of exercising appropriate initiative) 2nd Corps might have launched an all-up assault on 9th Corps...

Sickles at Gettysburg
Sickles at Gettysburg is a tricky one, because it rests exactly on the initiative versus following orders issue. Sickles had an assessment of the situation which was that he was in vulnerable ground, and repeatedly tried to warn Meade about this (which Meade ignored - Meade had a tendency to demonstrate at Gettysburg that his span of command was still corps-sized) but Meade refused to listen either to Sickles or to Hunt (after sending Hunt to reassure Sickles, but Hunt ended up siding with Sickles on this one).
Eventually Sickles acts on his own initiative.
Given that both Sickles and Hunt agreed about the vulnerability of the ground, and Meade never looked at it in the first place, it's quite likely that Sickles was right and Meade was wrong. The question would then turn on whether it is an appropriate use of a CC's initiative to take up a line that is superior (in your judgement) rather than stick with one you have been assigned but which the army commander has not actually seen to confirm it.



I'd consider Porter better than average as far as Union corps commanders go, though only really "standard" as far as corps commanders should go in a wider context - it's the background he's against. Especially in the first year or so of the war he was better than his peers, though.
Conversely I would consider Reynolds to be a pretty bad corps commander. At Fredericksburg he is actively not doing his job.

For someone who I know less about, my impression of Sherman is that he was not actually a very good corps commander, and that weirdly enough he blossomed only in army command rather than corps command; Thomas meanwhile is a solid executive general who lacked the self-confidence to work in army command unless effectively forced.

I'd consider Sigel and Banks somewhat unfairly maligned, as I think people judge them without looking at the force ratios to some extent. That's not the same as calling them good, though...
Burnside is sometimes capable, but inconsistent (I suspect he may have not had a chance to develop into the "corps commander" scale of combat until after Fredericksburg).
Franklin, Sumner and Heintzelman all screw up as CCs (to a greater extent than Porter, mentioned above) within a short period of time during the Seven Days; Keyes wasn't allowed enough latitude to do so during the same period (McClellan considered Keyes the weakest of his initial CCs).
McDowell does well in the manoeuvre section of Second Bull Run, but then does poorly on the 29th and 30th, with things like failing to pass on important intel to his army commander.
Mansfield and Reno both get themselves shot, as mentioned; Cox doesn't operate 9th Corps well after South Mountain. (It's slow moving, though some of the blame here may be Burnside's).
Hooker is questionable, among other things he also got himself shot (though survived it).


I think the average Union corps commander is generally making the right (if uninspired) decisions, but somewhat inconsistent and with the occasional fairly major error. There are those who are better than that on average (Porter, Hancock) and those who are worse (it feels like McDowell was more inconsistent, to me at least).
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
@Saphroneth what about General Hunter? Thanks,
Lubliner.
About the main impression I have of Hunter is that he screwed up commanding his division at First Bull Run (Andrew Porter took it over and got it into shape, I believe).

Looking at his performance later in the war, he does seem to do okay at times, which means that I would probably consider him a fairly typical Union corps commander; that said, the only examples to go off there are examples where he's in semi-independent command. There isn't enough information to know if he's a "mediocre independent commander who would go to pieces when part of a larger army" or a "mediocre independent commander who would shine when part of a larger army".
 
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