Editor and Street Corner Generals

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Sergeant Major
Apr 1, 2016
Atlanta, Georgia
“We made a sad mistake in the beginning of this campaign, which may yet prove fatal to us. In the beginning all the worst generals were appointed to command our armies and all our best generals to edit the newspapers. As you know, I have planned some campaigns and fought quite a few battles. I have given the work all the thought I could, and sometimes when my plans were completed, so far as I could see, they seemed perfect. But when I have fought them through, I have discovered defects and occasionally wondered I did not see some of the faults in advance. When it was all over I found, just by the simple process of reading a newspaper, that those ‘best editor’ generals saw all the defects plainly from the start. Unfortunately, they did not communicate their knowledge to me until it was too late to correct my ignorance. Accordingly, I’m readily willing to yield my command to these editor generals, and I’ll, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials — after the fact.”

— Robert E. Lee, 1863

February 16, 1865
Editorial on Street-Corner Generals”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch printed a satirical editorial on the “street-corner” generals offering criticism of those in the field; this is further evidence of the South’s downfall, as even successful military leaders were being questioned by some citizens.
The Confederacy is blessed with a great number of “Street-Corner Generals.” They plan a campaign with sagacity, elaborate the various combinations with care and patience, and conduct it invariably to a successful, and even brilliant, conclusion. Their extensive military information, strong reasoning faculties, and decision and energy of tone and manner, never fail to cheer us with the hope that our country has yet in reserve an amount of military genius which, in the last extremity, will prove her salvation. We never fail to derive information and advantage from the criticisms of these Generals in Reserve on the other Generals now in the field. We always like to hear men talking on any subject which their previous education has not prepared them to comprehend. It shows original genius and vigor of understanding to grasp and master in instant science which other men have only been able to subjugate by long years of study. Even Bonaparte did not disdain to develop and make efficient his natural genius for war by a thorough course of training at the military schools of France. We have reason to be proud of citizens who, with no such preparation, intuitively seize all the strong points of military science, and can tell us off-hand how a battle ought to be fought, a town defended, a fortress besieged, or a campaign conducted. If the cause is lost, it will be because the counsels of these wonderful strategists are not regarded, and General Lee fails to commence a correspondence with them and ascertain their views. The criticisms, at the street corners, of the various military leaders, are highly instructive and edifying. Lee, Beauregard, and Johnson are not aware of that skillful and thorough analysis of their respective and relative claims to popular favor which may be any day heard at the lamp posts. A Directory, self-constituted it is true, but none the less modest and intelligent on that account holds its daily sessions at the street corners of the Capital and settles the merit and the fate of every General of the Republic. The Directory at Paris used to take off the heads of unsuccessful officers. The Directory at Richmond simply takes off their reputation, passes a vote of want of confidence, and gracefully adjourns to dinner. This is humane and generous, but significant and important. Every military leader of delicate susceptibilities, who is subjected to censure from such a source, must feel like throwing up - his commission. We long for the time when the merits of the Street-Corner Generals will be properly appreciated by their Government, and our armies are placed under their direct supervision and control. We have had too much of West Point in this war. It is high time that the volunteer genius of the country should burst the cords that hold it to the earth, and, with three armies and a hopeful nation on its back, soar aloft.


Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Jul 8, 2015
Sort of funny, in an ironic way, that Lee complains about press criticism in 1863.

We know now, these many years later, that he had botched the Confederacy's only real chance for military success. Lee apparently felt this harsh reality in his bones, even then....
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