George Thomas vs James Longstreet, Battle of Tacticians

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Who was the better tactician of the American Civil War?

  • George Thomas

    Votes: 21 41.2%
  • James Longstreet

    Votes: 30 58.8%

  • Total voters
    51
Joined
Jun 18, 2017
Location
Philadelphia
George Thomas vs James Longstreet, Battle of Tacticians

I was thinking to myself who were the best tacticians of the war for either side. I settled on George Thomas and James Longstreet. Both of these men seemed to excel on the battlefield at the tactical level. Which of the two do you think was better?

Thomas had his victory at Mill Springs, his tough defensive successes at Stones River and Chickmauga, his storming of Missionary Ridge and his destruction of Hood's army at Nashville.

Longstreet had his crushing victory at 2nd Bull Run, defense of Marye's Heights, destruction of Sickles Corps at Gettysburg, breakthrough at Chickamauga and his counter attack at the Wilderness.


As a side question do you agree with my choices? Do you have any other candidates in mind?
 
Last edited:

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
George Thomas vs James Longstreet, Battle of Tacticians

I was thinking to myself who were the best tacticians of the war for either side. I settled on George Thomas and James Longstreet. Both of these men seemed to excel on the battlefield at the tactical level. Which of the two do you think was better?

Thomas had his victory at Mill Springs, his tough defense successes at Stones River and Chickmauga, his storming of Missionary Ridge and his destruction of Hood's army at Nashville.

Longstreet had his crushing victory at 2nd Bull Run, defense of Marye's Heights, destruction of Sickles Corps at Gettysburg, breakthrough at Chickamauga and his powerful counter attack at the Wilderness.


As a side question do you agree with my choices? Do you have any other candidates in mind?
My vote went to Longstreet....
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Jun 18, 2017
Location
Philadelphia
Not to argue against your final choices, but did you consider Lee or Jackson? Both were pretty good tacticians....
Yes I was considering them as well and they both were able tacticians. The reasons I didn't pick them are the following: Lee at times seemed to be a little aloft to tactical matters preferring to let his Corps commanders make the decisions. I also tend to view Lee as somewhat overly aggressive in his ordering of costly assaults at Malvern Hill, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg. For Jackson I think excelled best in the operational realm his Valley campaign being the best example. I have read some criticism of Jackson at the tactical level on this site, voiced by @Scott Bowden, that makes alot of sense to me:
In writing the Robert E Lee at War series (which begins to be released later this year) over the course of the last decade, I provide significant and detailed analysis of subordinates and their performances/development under Lee. With that in mind, please allow me to give a short answer to your question. And in keeping within the parameters of your question, I am addressing Jackson's tactical abilities---because his understanding of operational-level warfare was generally excellent, and second only to Lee's.

Therefore, regarding Jackson's tactical abilities, well, they cannot, under any realistic and reasonable measure known, be considered anything better than barely mediocre---at very best. At worst, he was very, very challenged in the realm of tactical handling of troops. He had many opportunities to improve, and never demonstrated growth in this regard. In essence, his lack of tactical expertise came up time and again. His tactical poor performances included, but were not limited to, Kernstown, Gaines' Mill, White Oak Swamp, Cedar Mountain, Groveton, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and, yes, Chancellorsville. Sometimes, the tenacity of the troops and leadership of subordinate commanders overcame Jackson's shortcomings---both on the offensive and defensive---were many times paid with a steep price. So, bottom line, is that while Jackson grasped the operational-level of warfare extremely well, his shortcomings in the tactical realm were on the other end of the spectrum. All these issues are dealt with in detail in the Robert E. Lee at War series.

You mention Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville. Ok, let's very quickly contrast that to Longstreet's at Second Manassas. Jackson deployed his divisions in brigades abreast, meanaing all the brigades of a division in a single line, perhaps three-quarters to a mile long... one line of divisions behind another, very similar to Beauregard's tactical deployment mess at Shiloh. This specific, poor tactical deployment, known in the military parlance of the time as "colonne de division par batallion,"robbed the division commanders of the opportunity to support their own line, makes a sustained, coordinated advance very, very difficult, and is absolutely counter to sound tactical deployments of the 19th century, as proven many times on European battlefields---and demonstrated again many times in the American Civil War by James Longstreet in his attacks.

In contrast, and from a purely tactical standpoint, Longstreet totally 'got it.' His attacks, formed in depth whereby divisions are deployed in multiple lines so that the rear brigade/line(s) can be brought up to support the front brigade/line(s), allows the division commander the flexibility needed to meet and answer most developing tactical situations. In the military parlance of the time, this was known as "colonne de bataillon par division." (Yes, these guys used the French terminology, and Lee frequently expressed his battlefield objectives using Napoleonic phraseology.) Longstreet demonstrated this understanding/expertise to launch his attacks in proper, supporting formations with his excellent/superb attack-in-depth deployments at Frayser's Farm, Second Manassas and Chickamauga. Thus, Longstreet's attack at Second Manassas, formed correctly using his divisions and in-depth, was able to sustain a drive deep into Pope's rear areas, despite the constantly growing number of Federals thrown in his path. Undoubtedly, Longstreet's would have succeeded in cutting off most of the Federal army from its retreat route if---if---Jackson had promptly obeyed Lee's two direct orders to advance in support of Longstreet's steamroller.
What's your opinion on those two?
 

WJC

Major General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Yes I was considering them as well and they both were able tacticians. The reasons I didn't pick them are the following: Lee at times seemed to be a little aloft to tactical matters preferring to let his Corps commanders make the decisions. I also tend to view Lee as somewhat overly aggressive in his ordering of costly assaults at Malvern Hill, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg. For Jackson I think excelled best in the operational realm his Valley campaign being the best example. I have read some criticism of Jackson at the tactical level on this site, voiced by @Scott Bowden, that makes alot of sense to me:
What's your opinion on those two?
Thanks for your response.
Many far more qualified than me consider Lee the greatest tactician of the war. And Jackson, at his best, wasn't far behind.
In terms of a great discussion, I think you made a good choice. After all, we have had lots of discussions about Lee and Jackson.
As to my opinion, I believe Lee was the greatest tactician of the war, at least partly because of the strength of his subordinates- primarily Longstreet and Jackson.
I believe nothing more important than aggressiveness in a top military leader. I have difficulty with the term 'over-aggressive'. But I also believe success depends on both aggressiveness and preparation, preparation that requires a strict attention to detail.
Lee sometimes seems to have not been in control of important details. At Gettysburg, for example, he seems not to have known how badly decimated some of his regiments were that were to participate in Longstreet's assault.
But a key attribute of leadership is getting the most out of one's subordinates and Lee certainly did that.
Jackson (my favorite Civil War general) was most always aggressive and when he was, he was hugely successful. I'm not alone in viewing his Valley Campaign as classic. When he was part of the larger operation directly under Lee, he was less dependable. Sadly, his life was cut short and we only have an abbreviated service by which to judge him compared to these others.
Let's see what others think....
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Mar 3, 2017
Location
Chicagoland
George Thomas vs James Longstreet, Battle of Tacticians

I was thinking to myself who were the best tacticians of the war for either side. I settled on George Thomas and James Longstreet. Both of these men seemed to excel on the battlefield at the tactical level. Which of the two do you think was better?

Thomas had his victory at Mill Springs, his tough defense successes at Stones River and Chickmauga, his storming of Missionary Ridge and his destruction of Hood's army at Nashville.

Longstreet had his crushing victory at 2nd Bull Run, defense of Marye's Heights, destruction of Sickles Corps at Gettysburg, breakthrough at Chickamauga and his powerful counter attack at the Wilderness.


As a side question do you agree with my choices? Do you have any other candidates in mind?
Thomas's double envelopment at Nashville is one of the war's tactical masterpieces and resulted in the only occurrence of the losing force totally disintegrating. I voted for the Nashvill Hammer, George Henry Thomas.
 

contestedground

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 16, 2016
Thomas's double envelopment at Nashville is one of the war's tactical masterpieces and resulted in the only occurrence of the losing force totally disintegrating. I voted for the Nashvill Hammer, George Henry Thomas.
Really? Hood destroys his own army at Franklin, and elements of the "totally" disintegrated army appear in Mississippi and North Carolina.

Most halfway competent general could have won against Hood at Nashville. Thomas's greatness lies elsewhere.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Sep 29, 2009
Location
Marfa, Texas
Hi, Gen'l Butterfield, et al,

With a choice of either Thomas or Longstreet, my vote goes to James Longstreet.

After his poor showing at Seven Pines under a weak commanding general in "Retreatin' Joe" Johnston, Longstreet does many things to impress. Once Lee ascended to command, he found that Lonsgtreet was the only major-general in the principal Confederate army to have the good military sense to be conducting division-sized drills in order to give himself, his brigadiers, his colonels and "his men the feel for what it took to operate on future battlefields." His careful deployment in depth and skillful diversion at Gaines' Mill directly contributed to Lee's first victory. Three days later, his hard-hitting attack in depth delivered at Frayser's Farm would have undoubtedly cut the Federal line of retreat to the James River which have spelled incalcuable trouble for multiple corps of McClellan's retreating army if other subordinates (namely Jackson and Huger) had just carried out their orders that day. Longstreet's powerful attack at Second Manassas on August 30, 1862---the largest coordinated infantry assault ever delivered on the North American continent---would have undoubtedly cut through the vitals of John Pope's reinforced Army of Virginia and resulted in the virtual destruction of the legions under the Hero of the West had Jackson competently obeyed two direct orders from Lee to get his wing of the army moving in support of Lonsgtreet's attacking divisions. Denied Jackson's flank protecting support as ordered by Lee (incredibly, it was the exact scenario that Lee had the foresight to go over with Jackson earlier that day), Longstreet's attack was denied its chance to achieve an annihilating victory. At Sharpsburg the following month and again at Fredericksburg in December 1862, Longstreet demonstrates his considerable tactical defensive abilities. Longstreet's ability to hit hard on the offensive is again on display during the second day at Gettysburg after Lee modifies the attack to en echelon and Longstreet perfectly times the advance of select brigades that caused significant damage to the Federal left wing far in excess of the numbers of attacking Confederates under Longstreet's command. Longstreet's attack in depth at Chickamauga---aided greatly by Federal redeployments---hits hard and breaks the Federal line. Longstreet's assault at the Wilderness adds to his legacy.

Of course he made mistakes, as all officers did. But his record as a corps commander is, while under the direction of Lee and in my humble opinion, the finest the war produced.

Regards,


Scott Bowden

P.S.---Don't forget that at Malvern Hill, it was "Prince John" Magruder, his mind numbed by drugs and sleep deprivation, who usurped the army's chain of command that caused the Confederates attacks to begin. It was a harebrained act that caused General Lee to go in search of Magruder following the battle, waking him up and asking: "General Magruder, why did you attack?" When the answer came back that was total fiction, Lee had had enough of "Prince John." He was out of the army within 48 hours.-SB
 

War Horse

Captain
Member of the Year
Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017
Joined
Sep 4, 2014
Location
Lexington, SC
I think Thomas is a great choice. Of course Lee could easily be added. Leaving Jackson off is understandable. His brilliance shined in the Valley Campaign and of course Chancellorsville. However in joint operations he at times was less than reliable.

Longstreet had an amazing ability to see the battlefield as the battle developed. He moved his enormous Corps with ease under fire. As Scott points out, delivered a number of crushing assaults. None more impressive than his nick of time assault at the Wilderness. After all. He just arrived on the battlefield well after the action had comensed and immediately swung his troops into action, placing them in position to strike a devastating blow to Hancock. One would have thought he had been there the entire time and developed an impressive battle plan. We know his plan was hatched, deployed and comensed in a very short time. It was really amazing if you think about it.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Jun 18, 2017
Location
Philadelphia
Hi, Gen'l Butterfield, et al,
With a choice of either Thomas or Longstreet, my vote goes to James Longstreet.
Regards,
Scott Bowden
I think Thomas is a great choice. Of course Lee could easily be added. Leaving Jackson off is understandable. His brilliance shined in the Valley Campaign and of cours Chancellorsville. However in joint operations he at times was less than reliable.

Longstreet had an amazing ability to see the battlefield as the battle developed. He moved his enormous Corps with ease under fire. As Scott points out, delivered a number of crushing assaults. None more impressive than his nick of time assault at the Wilderness. After all. He just arrived on the battlefield well after the action had comensed and immediately swung his troops into action, placing them in position to strike a devastating blow to Hancock. One would have thought he had been there the entire time and developed an impressive battle plan. We know his plan was hatched, deployed and comensed in a very short time. It was really amazing if you think about it.
Much thanks for the posts both of you, excellent points.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
Worthy choices @General Butterfield ! My vote goes to Longstreet!
Hahaa, guess to whom my vote went ...

I think Thomas is a great choice. Of course Lee could easily be added. Leaving Jackson off is understandable. His brilliance shined in the Valley Campaign and of course Chancellorsville. However in joint operations he at times was less than reliable.

Longstreet had an amazing ability to see the battlefield as the battle developed. He moved his enormous Corps with ease under fire. As Scott points out, delivered a number of crushing assaults. None more impressive than his nick of time assault at the Wilderness. After all. He just arrived on the battlefield well after the action had comensed and immediately swung his troops into action, placing them in position to strike a devastating blow to Hancock. One would have thought he had been there the entire time and developed an impressive battle plan. We know his plan was hatched, deployed and comensed in a very short time. It was really amazing if you think about it.
Sooo .... may I hope that after a heart stopping first sentence your vote went to Longstreet also? :wink:
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

MHB1862

Corporal
Joined
Oct 26, 2016
Location
Virginia
Between the two Longsteet gets my vote when he was operating under the ANV. His performance in TN was not characterized with what had come to be expected of his tactical abilities.
To me, one of his best moments was at Sharpsburg when he ordered the 27th NC and 3rd AK against The Union right flank at the Sunken Road. There was never any hope that 2 regiments could have dramatic success against two II Corps divisions, but the assault was ordered at precisely the right time to slow down the fighting the Lane and take pressure off of the defenders. That attack gave French and Richardson something to think about and to deal with before committing fully to taking the Lane. It bought much needed time to create a gun line along the Haberstown Turnpike needed to blunt Richardson's push.
IMHO, these 2 regiments on that day accomplished far more than expected and shine as an example of some of the best small unit fighting of the war. The cost was high, but the tactical result was impressive.
 

War Horse

Captain
Member of the Year
Regtl. Quartermaster Gettysburg 2017
Joined
Sep 4, 2014
Location
Lexington, SC
Between the two Longsteet gets my vote when he was operating under the ANV. His performance in TN was not characterized with what had come to be expected of his tactical abilities.
To me, one of his best moments was at Sharpsburg when he ordered the 27th NC and 3rd AK against The Union right flank at the Sunken Road. There was never any hope that 2 regiments could have dramatic success against two II Corps divisions, but the assault was ordered at precisely the right time to slow down the fighting the Lane and take pressure off of the defenders. That attack gave French and Richardson something to think about and to deal with before committing fully to taking the Lane. It bought much needed time to create a gun line along the Haberstown Turnpike needed to blunt Richardson's push.
IMHO, these 2 regiments on that day accomplished far more than expected and shine as an example of some of the best small unit fighting of the war. The cost was high, but the tactical result was impressive.
TN presented obsticals never anticipated. Obsticals that any general would have great difficulty overcoming. We will discuss the entire Tennessee caimpaign at length in the Longstreet Fourm in the coming months. I hope to see you there.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top