Good Union generals or just dealt a winning hand?

major bill

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#1
It would seem that the Western Theater produced some of the best Union Generals, but the worse Confederate Generals. Was this simply a run for good luck for the Union or was there something that influenced this? For example did the terrain make it so difficult for the Confederate commanders that they were not able to properly defend the area? A working theory could be that Confederate commanders in the Western Theater has a near impossible mission and they were better Generals than their records would indicate. The reverse could also be true. the Union Generals in the Western Theater held all the cards and even an average General would appear to be a great leader.
 

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diane

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#2
My problem with the Confederate generals in the Western theater was Davis' arrangement of the departments. He gave almost the whole thing to A S Johnston, a vast territory and not enough troops to handle it. He also insisted on protecting the whole of the Confederate border, despite problems with logistics and manpower. Putting the Mississippi between two or three departments almost insured a difficulty of co-operation. Union generals would certainly take advantage of that any way they could. The Union army had the advantage of being in the home court - they had the original army with all the protocols and officers in order. Once most of the Southerners had left, it had a problem with old timers and people of varying levels of incompetence that couldn't be got rid of easily. Sad but true, attrition solved the problem for quite a few of them and younger men like Grant were able to come forward. The South didn't have that rather grim advantage. When they lost someone like Jackson or Johnston, there was almost no one to replace him. Another problem was no place to dump bad generals who couldn't be dismissed. Lincoln could always send somebody to Oregon or Wisconsin to fight Indians but the South had no places like that and couldn't afford it anyway. And Lincoln had the advantage of having Halleck. Whatever his faults and quirks, he was a good clerk and fielded a lot of difficulty that otherwise would have landed on Lincoln's desk. Davis didn't have such a counterpart.
 
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#3
were the Confederate Generals commanding forces of recruits more loyal to their homes than political and military doctorines? since the 1830's these men had been growing up in the Mormon Wars and such... just a thought before traditional knowledge takes hold
 

ole

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#5
How the west was won is not just a cowboy movie. The Confederacy simply didn't have the manpower to wage a war on two fronts.

When the West collapsed and moved to the East. It was done.
 

Jamieva

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#6
You have to start with Davis constant meddling with how the war in the west was conducted before you describe any confederate general as good or bad. The Army of Tennessee had very competent brigade and division commanders but at its top level it was stuck with guys like Bragg and Polk. That army fought hard it was just so poorly led at the corps and army commander level for most of it's life.
 

E_just_E

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#7
For every Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman, there was a Halleck, a Buell, and a Rosecrans. Plus Benjamin Butler. And the Confederates had some pretty respected, generally speaking, leadership there, like Forrest, Bragg, Cleburne, and Hood. As it was said, too much territory, and too little army was a problem for the confederates, whose number one priority in the war was to defend Richmond first and foremost. Also, what the US Armada did, pretty much uncontested, up and down the river has been, in general, underrated. If the Federals did not have boats, both for supplying at the first parts of the campaign, and for major offensive forces, things would likely had been different. Furthermore, I think that strategically, the Confederates had no business fighting in MO and the Trans-Mississippi territories, after the fall of Corinth. Bring that force east of the river and see what happens. Nobody cared to invade Arkansas and Texas. Interesting to speculate on what Stand Watie's forces could had done, for example, if they were ordered east.
 

E_just_E

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#8
And Lincoln had the advantage of having Halleck. Whatever his faults and quirks, he was a good clerk and fielded a lot of difficulty that otherwise would have landed on Lincoln's desk. Davis didn't have such a counterpart.
I am pretty convinced that if Halleck was not around, Vicksburg would had fallen a few months after Corinth, not 15 months afterwards... Arguably, he was a good bureaucrat, but had no job on the field. His strategy of just holding ground and digging ditches and waiting for the supplies, made them move in slower than a snail's pace. I think it was something ridiculous like 4-5 miles a day.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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#9
I am pretty convinced that if Halleck was not around, Vicksburg would had fallen a few months after Corinth, not 15 months afterwards... Arguably, he was a good bureaucrat, but had no job on the field. His strategy of just holding ground and digging ditches and waiting for the supplies, made them move in slower than a snail's pace. I think it was something ridiculous like 4-5 miles a day.
I've done some reading on Halleck and I think he takes a bit of a bigger knock than he deserves. I'm not going to go as far as to call him a 'misunderstood genius' or other hyperbole, but the Corinth campaign is more interesting when studied in more detail than it's usually presented in (I recommend Timothy B. Smith's Corinth 1862 as a start). The advance was actually pretty rapid for the early part of the campaign, until the Union forces came into close contact with the Confederate forces; and John Pope wasn't playing well with others, so Halleck essentially had to sit on him.

(That said, Halleck does not appear to have been particularly gifted tactically. He was born to be a headquarters staffer, not a battle commander.)
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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#10
You have to start with Davis constant meddling with how the war in the west was conducted before you describe any confederate general as good or bad.
The part I've never been able to understand about Davis's thinking is his appearing to treat the Mississippi like a boundary instead of a highway. One would think that, with his riverside plantation undoubtedly depending on the Mississippi for its communications and supply, that he'd be far more alert to that aspect.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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#11
In any case, RE the OP: The Union's record in areas where it could take advantage of amphibious movement and naval gunfire support, while not unblemished, is instructive. In all theaters, it was repeatedly shown that combined (or "joint," to use the more modern term) arms win; this is further reinforced by Confederate successes in the relatively rare instances when they managed it (prime example Plymouth NC). Much of "the West" was dominated by the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which the Union turned into a competitive advantage through its naval and amphibious efforts.
 

E_just_E

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#12
I've done some reading on Halleck and I think he takes a bit of a bigger knock than he deserves. I'm not going to go as far as to call him a 'misunderstood genius' or other hyperbole, but the Corinth campaign is more interesting when studied in more detail than it's usually presented in (I recommend Timothy B. Smith's Corinth 1862 as a start). The advance was actually pretty rapid for the early part of the campaign, until the Union forces came into close contact with the Confederate forces; and John Pope wasn't playing well with others, so Halleck essentially had to sit on him.

(That said, Halleck does not appear to have been particularly gifted tactically. He was born to be a headquarters staffer, not a battle commander.)
I am drawing my conclusions on Halleck based on both Grant's and Sherman's memoirs, primarily. Also, he was somewhat of a scholar and a politician. His big thing was engineering and fortifications. Before the Civil War he did not really see battle that much. He served in CA to... make forts and then settled there becoming the Secretary of State and a building mogul. And then the War happened.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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#13
Grant's memoirs are much more hostile to Halleck than his actual wartime relations with his then-superior, for one. Sherman, as well, had a late falling-out with Halleck (over Johnston's first surrender IIRC), though they seem to have had a reconciliation later in life; I don't recall if that was before or after he wrote his memoirs. (Unfortunately, Halleck did not feel compelled to write his own memoirs, so we're lacking the competing perspective.)
 

diane

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#14
I've done some reading on Halleck and I think he takes a bit of a bigger knock than he deserves. I'm not going to go as far as to call him a 'misunderstood genius' or other hyperbole, but the Corinth campaign is more interesting when studied in more detail than it's usually presented in (I recommend Timothy B. Smith's Corinth 1862 as a start). The advance was actually pretty rapid for the early part of the campaign, until the Union forces came into close contact with the Confederate forces; and John Pope wasn't playing well with others, so Halleck essentially had to sit on him.

(That said, Halleck does not appear to have been particularly gifted tactically. He was born to be a headquarters staffer, not a battle commander.)
I've come to the dark side, too! :D Another poster helped me out about Halleck - quite misunderstood. His Confederate counterpart was Samuel Cooper, a friend of Davis' and a relative by marriage of R E Lee's. He never held a field command and his last real military decision in the US army was canning Twiggs for giving up Texas, then resigning his own post. He, too, was a better bureaucrat than a field commander, and was too old for it anyway. (He was born in 1798.) Because he didn't fight any battles except with organization and administration, nobody remembers him but he was the highest ranking general in the Confederate army.
 
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#15
Being dealt a strong hand, does not mean a player can, or, more importantly, will play it correctly, in ref. to his opponents at the same table. for a win.
Having an advantage, is only part of the story, you also have to know how to use those advantages to gain your goals.
 

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#16
It would seem that the Western Theater produced some of the best Union Generals, but the worse Confederate Generals. Was this simply a run for good luck for the Union or was there something that influenced this? For example did the terrain make it so difficult for the Confederate commanders that they were not able to properly defend the area? A working theory could be that Confederate commanders in the Western Theater has a near impossible mission and they were better Generals than their records would indicate. The reverse could also be true. the Union Generals in the Western Theater held all the cards and even an average General would appear to be a great leader.
Well, two generals from the East came west--Ambrose Burnside and James Longstreet--and they met at Knoxville where Burnside got the best of the deal. Lee's most capable subordinate couldn't beat the bumbling Burnside. Perhaps that indicates the confederates really had only one good general.

The rivers in the west certainly favored the Federals. They were an invasion route into confederate territory. Rivers in the east were obstacles.

Joe Johnston had a nearly perfect position at Rocky Face Ridge in Northern Georgia, yet he gave it up instead of cutting off Snake Creek Gap. I think that argues against the hypothesis.

Braxton Bragg made it into Kentucky but was forced to retreat, and Union terrain advantages don't appear to have played much of a role there.

While it's undeniable that the Union held some major advantages, especially in the orientation of the rivers, it still takes skill to translate those advantages to victory. McClellan was dealt a winning hand on the Peninsula and he eventually folded.
 

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#17
In any case, RE the OP: The Union's record in areas where it could take advantage of amphibious movement and naval gunfire support, while not unblemished, is instructive. In all theaters, it was repeatedly shown that combined (or "joint," to use the more modern term) arms win; this is further reinforced by Confederate successes in the relatively rare instances when they managed it (prime example Plymouth NC). Much of "the West" was dominated by the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which the Union turned into a competitive advantage through its naval and amphibious efforts.
I credit Grant and his ability to get along with Porter for a lot of that. Porter didn't much like West Pointers, but Grant charmed him and the two made a great team.
 
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#18
My problem with the Confederate generals in the Western theater was Davis' arrangement of the departments. He gave almost the whole thing to A S Johnston, a vast territory and not enough troops to handle it. He also insisted on protecting the whole of the Confederate border, despite problems with logistics and manpower. Putting the Mississippi between two or three departments almost insured a difficulty of co-operation. Union generals would certainly take advantage of that any way they could. The Union army had the advantage of being in the home court - they had the original army with all the protocols and officers in order. Once most of the Southerners had left, it had a problem with old timers and people of varying levels of incompetence that couldn't be got rid of easily. Sad but true, attrition solved the problem for quite a few of them and younger men like Grant were able to come forward. The South didn't have that rather grim advantage. When they lost someone like Jackson or Johnston, there was almost no one to replace him. Another problem was no place to dump bad generals who couldn't be dismissed. Lincoln could always send somebody to Oregon or Wisconsin to fight Indians but the South had no places like that and couldn't afford it anyway. And Lincoln had the advantage of having Halleck. Whatever his faults and quirks, he was a good clerk and fielded a lot of difficulty that otherwise would have landed on Lincoln's desk. Davis didn't have such a counterpart.
In the battle of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove Union forces out numbered and on the offensive won and not that close to their supply lines. Overall though I agree there where not enough CSA troops in general and where at a 2,5 to disadvantage in manpower to begin with.
Leftyhunter
 
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#19
For every Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman, there was a Halleck, a Buell, and a Rosecrans. Plus Benjamin Butler. And the Confederates had some pretty respected, generally speaking, leadership there, like Forrest, Bragg, Cleburne, and Hood. As it was said, too much territory, and too little army was a problem for the confederates, whose number one priority in the war was to defend Richmond first and foremost. Also, what the US Armada did, pretty much uncontested, up and down the river has been, in general, underrated. If the Federals did not have boats, both for supplying at the first parts of the campaign, and for major offensive forces, things would likely had been different. Furthermore, I think that strategically, the Confederates had no business fighting in MO and the Trans-Mississippi territories, after the fall of Corinth. Bring that force east of the river and see what happens. Nobody cared to invade Arkansas and Texas. Interesting to speculate on what Stand Watie's forces could had done, for example, if they were ordered east.
If Stan Waite's force moved east of the Indian Territories they would have been wiped out. Guerrillas do best if they can blend into the population. Its one thing to mount long range raids but to maintain guerrilla operation one must be to quote a somewhat modern political figure "be a fish that swims among the seas of people."
Leftyhunter
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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#20
I credit Grant and his ability to get along with Porter for a lot of that. Porter didn't much like West Pointers, but Grant charmed him and the two made a great team.
Porter's 180-degree turnaround on the West Point issue is notable; Grant and Sherman were the cause. (And having had to deal with McClernand seems to have helped.)
 


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