Discussion Lincoln's political generals

MikeyB

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Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
 

leftyhunter

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Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
I have a book on counter insurgency that makes an argument that Butler was an excellent civil commander in New Orleans and helped prevent a major Confederate insurgency. I am not home now so the reference will have to wait. We have some prior Butler threads which discuss the importance of Butler's role in civil affairs. A general can play an important role in warfare without necessarily being a combat commander.
Siegel helped greatly in recruiting German immigrants to the Union Army.
Let us not overlook one of the first Republican Congressman Samual Curtis who graduated from West Point in 1831 but resigned a year latter. Curtis did rejoin the US Army during the Mexican American War and he led Union troops to victory at the important battle of Pea Ridge and then seized Helena , Arkansas. Curtis not Sherman was the first Union General to March a large body of men without a logistical supply line and his men from Pea Ridge to Helena lived of the land. Curtis was the commander of the District of Missouri but was removed by Lincoln. Curtis also led Union troops to victory at the battle of Westport.
Leftyhunter
 
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James N.

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Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
This may appear to be contradictory, but Butler was considered SO important politically that it wasn't until after Linccoln won reelection in November, 1864 that Grant felt at last free to replace him. However, as @leftyhunter has pointed out, Butler was considered an able administrator, at least until following his removal from command by Grant in early 1865 his corrupt peccadilloes were uncovered!
 

wausaubob

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Benjamin Butler was extremely good at administering army commands. He also got along well with loyalist southerners and had was very effective with USCT.
He was extremely risk adverse. Which was OK, until he left the field of operations during the Fort Fisher expedition. That was an unforgivable error.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Dec 16, 2018
Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
As a matter of fairness, Fremont and Hunter were professional soldiers.
 

NedBaldwin

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Such a loaded question.

At the start of the war, Hunter was an US Army Major stationed in kanasas. He graduated from West Point in the 1820s and never left the army. Never held political office. So not sure how he was a political general. He was more of a professional soldier than Grant.

Was Sigel political or professional? He graduated from a military academy in germany, served in the army there, even commanded troops during the 1848 revolution, had a good military reputation after battle of Pea Ridge, went down hill from there.

How do we define these "non-military" contributions? Is it the homefront/recruiting effect ("I fights mit Sigel") or the Congressional effect (Washburne's fondness for Grant or the influence of Logan and Garfield in the House)?



Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
 

major bill

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Such a loaded question.

At the start of the war, Hunter was an US Army Major stationed in kanasas. He graduated from West Point in the 1820s and never left the army. Never held political office. So not sure how he was a political general. He was more of a professional soldier than Grant.

Was Sigel political or professional? He graduated from a military academy in germany, served in the army there, even commanded troops during the 1848 revolution, had a good military reputation after battle of Pea Ridge, went down hill from there.

How do we define these "non-military" contributions? Is it the homefront/recruiting effect ("I fights mit Sigel") or the Congressional effect (Washburne's fondness for Grant or the influence of Logan and Garfield in the House)?

All wars have a military side and a political side. It takes both military actions and political actions to win a war. As stated above, Butler good at some things and he was need to win the war, he did need to be assigned where his talents most added to the war effort.

Many of the generals we consider political generals had about as much military training and experience as some generals we consider military generals. Some of whom we would consider military generals early in the war, proved to be poor generals. Some political generals became rather good generals.
 

MikeyB

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Such a loaded question.

At the start of the war, Hunter was an US Army Major stationed in kanasas. He graduated from West Point in the 1820s and never left the army. Never held political office. So not sure how he was a political general. He was more of a professional soldier than Grant.

Was Sigel political or professional? He graduated from a military academy in germany, served in the army there, even commanded troops during the 1848 revolution, had a good military reputation after battle of Pea Ridge, went down hill from there.

How do we define these "non-military" contributions? Is it the homefront/recruiting effect ("I fights mit Sigel") or the Congressional effect (Washburne's fondness for Grant or the influence of Logan and Garfield in the House)?

I think I'm wrong about Hunter. Not sure why I had in my head he was a political appointee.
 

MikeyB

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Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?

Perhaps I can ask a different question. Of all of Lincoln's political generals, who do you think was most essential to the war effort, off the battlefield?
 

leftyhunter

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Perhaps I can ask a different question. Of all of Lincoln's political generals, who do you think was most essential to the war effort, off the battlefield?
Butler would be on the top 5 list . Butler got the Emancipation Proclamation ball rolling by granting slaves freedom at Ft.Monroe.
Nobody mentioned Senator Lane of Kansas who recruited Kansas troops . Lane was not beloved by Missourians because his boys played rough.
Leftyhunter
 

jackt62

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I don't think its really practical to rate political generals against each other since each one had specific skill sets they brought to the table that were important to the northern war effort. As has already been pointed out, some were able to rally or enlist their particular constituencies (e.g., McClernand, Sigel, Sickles) or were chosen by the Lincoln administration to shore up support from the Democratic Party (e.g., Banks, Butler). Francis Blair Jr. was part of the insider Blair dynasty, who was instrumental in keeping Missouri in the Union. And some turned out to be pretty good military commanders like John Logan and Alpheus Williams.
 

jackt62

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Butler got the Emancipation Proclamation ball rolling by granting slaves freedom at Ft.Monroe.

Which actually occurred earlier on when he commanded at Fort Monroe in 1861. Butler famously coined the term "contraband of war" when referring to liberated slaves. When requested by a southern plantation owner to return fugitive slaves in accordance with the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, Butler opined that since those owners resided in states that seceded from the Union, that Law was no longer applicable to them.
 

leftyhunter

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Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
I don't have time now but definitely read up on Senator James Lane of Kansas a very controversial Union General to say the least!
Leftyhunter
 

jackt62

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I don't have time now but definitely read up on Senator James Lane of Kansas a very controversial Union General to say the least!
Leftyhunter

Definitely! He skirted the line between conventional military activities and his involvement in "Jayhawker" guerrilla activities in Kansas and Missouri.
 

leftyhunter

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los angeles ca
Having the benefit of hindsight, were any of Lincoln's political generals that important to the war effort from a political point of view? Many if not most of his political generals were subpar commanders, so looking back on what happened historically, was any of their political support so necessary and powerful to outweigh appointing a professional soldier in their place?

Some quick names that come to mind include Butler, Fremont, Banks, Sigel and Hunter.

Perhaps asked another way, looking back, would the Union cause have been just fine without the political contributions of these generals, or does history understate just how important their non-military contributions were to the effort?
It was Brig.General Henry Lane who recruited the first African American troops the First Kansas Coloured Infantry who were state not federal troops and fought in the very first battle fought by African Americans the battle of Island Mound , Missouri.
Major General Hallack wrote that Senator Lane and
Congressmen (?) Jennesion through their harsh actions in Missouri caused many Unionists to support the Confederacy. Lane is certainly interesting.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

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Definitely! He skirted the line between conventional military activities and his involvement in "Jayhawker" guerrilla activities in Kansas and Missouri.
I would argue that Lane's men were not guerrillas but more like Marauder's. Guerrillas by definition are indigenous to the region and do not wear uniforms and are not supplied by outside forces or least not on a regular basis. Lane's men we're regular enlisted and uniformed US Volunteers. However they followed their own rules or made them up as they went along.
Leftyhunter
 

NedBaldwin

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... were chosen by the Lincoln administration to shore up support from the Democratic Party (e.g., Banks, Butler) ...
Banks was a Republican. He’d left the Democrats in the mid 50s over the Kansas-Nebraska business and was one of the founding leaders of the Republican Party. There is no evidence I’m aware of that he was chosen to shore up support from a party, especially the Dems
 
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