Robert E. Lee as Grand Strategist

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leftyhunter

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The overall 1862 Confederate Strategy had extensive rewards. Two major Federal Army commanders were sacked, a third one was sidelined. Both theaters of Union advances were beaten back against the Ohio and across the Potomac. How much credit should General Lee be given for responding the the crisis? How much toward General Bragg? Someone within the Confederate hierarchy saw the opportunity to strike a 'one-two blow' against the North. I cannot believe these two northern invasions were matters of happenstance, but a concerted effort directed by Davis or one of his Cabinet, or the supporting generals.
Lubliner.
[/QUOTE
The overall Confederate Strategy in 1862 was more of a disaster then success. The Confederacy lost their most important port New Orleans plus key cuties such has Nashville,Memphis and Corinth.
Cotton exports were severely curtailed and the Confederate economy was on a downward spiral. The Confederacy failed to win any border state and all their offensive operations on Union states failed.
Conventional warfare is a zero sum game the winner either seized and holds enemy territory or it looses.
Foreign recognition was a distant fantasy.
No matter how many generals get sacked the AoP is always a threat and will always pun down the AnV.
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leftyhunter

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Robert E. Lee as Grand Strategist

View attachment 319864

(Wikipedia)

Spillover from my Joseph Johnston thread, where many of the posters have been debating the merits of Lee as a grand strategist. No one doubts Lee's tactical ability as demonstrated at 2nd Bull Run and Chancellorsville however how good of a grand strategist was he?

Alan Nolan's in his work Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History takes the viewpoint that Lee's grand strategy of the offense was ultimately too costly for the Confederacy. Additionally, Richard McMurry in his works concludes that the AoT lost in large part because it did not receive the same resources as AoNV. Pre Joseph Harsh Lee had 112,000 men, the largest Confederate army ever fielded, under his command on June 26th, 1862. With this army, he pushed the Union back from Richmond but failed to destroy the AoP and lost some 20,000 men. The invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania thereafter were costly ventures.

Was Lee's grand strategy of the offense too costly for the Confederacy? Should the AoT have gotten more resources? Did Lee focus too much on Virginia and ignore the crisis situation in the West? Should he have dispatched manpower to the West instead of attempting the Maryland and Pennsylvania campaigns? How did Lee expect to win the Maryland campaign? Would a victory at Gettysburg have even brought the war to an end? What was his overall grand strategic vision? Was he as good a strategist as McClellan and Grant?

(Note not my views just what has been floating around, I'm not an anti-Lee partisan or anything.:help:)
I would agree with the others that Lee's strategy was the least bad option to win Confederate Independence. If a conventional army can't outnumber their opponents by at least two to one plus adequate logistical support then it is unlikely to win at least in the pre Airpower era.
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And further on the East Coast was Nags Head, New Berne, and the Islands further down. The Yankees had a huge success at the beginning of 1862, and the double hammer blows by Lee and Bragg stunned and immobilized their forces for a time. It hurt the south terribly but it gave everyone time to consider what was to be done next. One reason I admire Lincoln was his persistence in saving the Union at any cost. Thanks Lefty.
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Rick Richter

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Convince the northerners it would be better for them to let the south go was the hope and prayer with Lee and Davis. Also the hope the British and French would condemn the north for provoking such hostility.
Lubliner.
This is the point Harsh makes, and convincingly. Lincoln was close to losing the 1864 election, and the Federals may very well have sued for peace, until Atlanta fell to Sherman and turned the Union war effort around.
 

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And further on the East Coast was Nags Head, New Berne, and the Islands further down. The Yankees had a huge success at the beginning of 1862, and the double hammer blows by Lee and Bragg stunned and immobilized their forces for a time. It hurt the south terribly but it gave everyone time to consider what was to be done next. One reason I admire Lincoln was his persistence in saving the Union at any cost. Thanks Lefty.
Lubliner.
Arguably the Confederacy did have a bit of a respite but by December 1862 the Confederacy lost the battle of Prairie Grove and at the very end of 1862 there is the battle of Stone River which one can argue is a Union defat or victory. Even if Stone River was a Union defeat , Rosecrans is definitely in a position to threaten to take all if Tennessee and then enter another Confederate state. Led has to be concerned that eventually Rosecrans could slowly make his way towards Virginia.
Quite right about Lincoln. Lincoln was able to preserve Union morale at least well enough to stay in the war.
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leftyhunter

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This is the point Harsh makes, and convincingly. Lincoln was close to losing the 1864 election, and the Federals may very well have sued for peace, until Atlanta fell to Sherman and turned the Union war effort around.
The problem with Harsh's theory is scientific polling is eighty years away. We can't know what the Northern electorate thought of Lincoln other then the actual results of the November 1864 election.
McCellen very much stated in his acceptance letter has the Democratic Party nominee for President that in no way would he allow an independent Confederate natio
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Dead Parrott

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I would agree with the others that Lee's strategy was the least bad option to win Confederate Independence. If a conventional army can't outnumber their opponents by at least two to one plus adequate logistical support then it is unlikely to win at least in the pre Airpower era.
Leftyhunter
I go back and forth on this one a little. Starting from the position that there is no given\known 'winning' strategy for the CSA, I look to the three elements necessary for a CSA victory (they are not all required or all mutually exclusive):

1. the Border States join the CSA
2. European recognition\intervention
3. USA tires of war effort.

Lincoln adroitly avoids #1 (initially) and perseveres against #3. He and his diplomatic corps handle the negotiations\Trent Affair and temporarily stave off #2. (and pretty much bury it after the EP). So the CSA isn't getting any help for USA errors toward achieving any of the 3 elements.

As others have pointed out the CSA really needs to win a shorter war rather than a longer one. That makes #3 less likely short-term - unless a truly stunning defeat occurs.

So what can the CSA try to do?

Classic Davis\Lee strategy assumes that a crushing blow in USA territory will be enough to tip #2 & #3. How big does that blow have to be? Is it even achievable (how likely were pipe dreams of the destruction of the AoP and\or the capture of Washington, realistically)? and what are the huge risks if it fails?

I think it was worth the gamble, but it was always a longshot, and obviously it failed historically, with a disastrous consequence for the CSA (the EP).

What if Lee plays for a draw only in the East, and resources are thrown into swinging the western Border States? Could it have worked? We know Lee failed in West Virginia, and met with hostility in Maryland, so perhaps 'turning' the western Border States was only a pipe dream as well.

I guess the test is - if the CSA makes efforts in the West, and no Antietam campaign occurs, therefore no battlefield setback, therefore no doubts about CSA military ability, therefore no EP - does element #2 happen (with a chance for #1)? Is that a fair way to measure against the Davis\Lee strategy?

No axe to grind here. Just trying to think through other options that Davis\Lee might have considered.

- K.
 

leftyhunter

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I go back and forth on this one a little. Starting from the position that there is no given\known 'winning' strategy for the CSA, I look to the three elements necessary for a CSA victory (they are not all required or all mutually exclusive):

1. the Border States join the CSA
2. European recognition\intervention
3. USA tires of war effort.

Lincoln adroitly avoids #1 (initially) and perseveres against #3. He and his diplomatic corps handle the negotiations\Trent Affair and temporarily stave off #2. (and pretty much bury it after the EP). So the CSA isn't getting any help for USA errors toward achieving any of the 3 elements.

As others have pointed out the CSA really needs to win a shorter war rather than a longer one. That makes #3 less likely short-term - unless a truly stunning defeat occurs.

So what can the CSA try to do?

Classic Davis\Lee strategy assumes that a crushing blow in USA territory will be enough to tip #2 & #3. How big does that blow have to be? Is it even achievable (how likely were pipe dreams of the destruction of the AoP and\or the capture of Washington, realistically)? and what are the huge risks if it fails?

I think it was worth the gamble, but it was always a longshot, and obviously it failed historically, with a disastrous consequence for the CSA (the EP).

What if Lee plays for a draw only in the East, and resources are thrown into swinging the western Border States? Could it have worked? We know Lee failed in West Virginia, and met with hostility in Maryland, so perhaps 'turning' the western Border States was only a pipe dream as well.

I guess the test is - if the CSA makes efforts in the West, and no Antietam campaign occurs, therefore no battlefield setback, therefore no doubts about CSA military ability, therefore no EP - does element #2 happen (with a chance for #1)? Is that a fair way to measure against the Davis\Lee strategy?

No axe to grind here. Just trying to think through other options that Davis\Lee might have considered.

- K.
I definitely agree with your analysis.Absolutely a shorter war is better but of course the secessionists were grossly over confident in their predictions of success.
I can't see how Lee had any choice but to invade Maryland. The AnV had just come off two major victories in the Peninsula Campaign and 2nd Bull Run. Lee had momentum and has you point out there is no Confederate victory with out winning in the border states. Lee had to strike when the iron was hot . Unfortunately for the Confederacy things didn't work out as planned at Antietam.
Leftyhunter
 
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American87

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Robert E. Lee as Grand Strategist

View attachment 319864

(Wikipedia)

Spillover from my Joseph Johnston thread, where many of the posters have been debating the merits of Lee as a grand strategist. No one doubts Lee's tactical ability as demonstrated at 2nd Bull Run and Chancellorsville however how good of a grand strategist was he?

Alan Nolan's in his work Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History takes the viewpoint that Lee's grand strategy of the offense was ultimately too costly for the Confederacy. Additionally, Richard McMurry in his works concludes that the AoT lost in large part because it did not receive the same resources as AoNV. Pre Joseph Harsh Lee had 112,000 men, the largest Confederate army ever fielded, under his command on June 26th, 1862. With this army, he pushed the Union back from Richmond but failed to destroy the AoP and lost some 20,000 men. The invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania thereafter were costly ventures.

Was Lee's grand strategy of the offense too costly for the Confederacy? Should the AoT have gotten more resources? Did Lee focus too much on Virginia and ignore the crisis situation in the West? Should he have dispatched manpower to the West instead of attempting the Maryland and Pennsylvania campaigns? How did Lee expect to win the Maryland campaign? Would a victory at Gettysburg have even brought the war to an end? What was his overall grand strategic vision? Was he as good a strategist as McClellan and Grant?

(Note not my views just what has been floating around, I'm not an anti-Lee partisan or anything.:help:)
Some of your criticisms need to be contextualized. First, the Seven Days. Lee had to go on the offensive. McClellan already outnumered him and was expecting McDowell any day. Lee had to send Jackson off on the Valley Campaign, to detain McDowell, then take the offensive against McClellan while the odds were at their highest. The bloodletting of that campaign is due to many reasons, including Lee's relatively complicated plan. For example, the staff was still green, and several of Lee's division commanders were Johnson holdovers who didn't fare too well. Magruder, Huger, and Holmes were all sacked after Malvern Hill. Lee divided the army up between Jackson and Longstreet, and we know how things went from there.

At Antietam, McClellan attacked because he discovered the lost order. We can speculate on how succesful Lee would have been otherwise, but his predicament on the Antietam was the result of a costly misplacing of paper on D.H. Hill's part.

Would Gettysburg have ended the war? No one can say. It may have compelled Lincoln to call in troops from the west, thereby affecting the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. This is just speculation though. We will never know.

Lee was focused on Virginia, but that was his job. He was commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. He shouldn't be expected to pause these responsibilities and direct the affairs of the western armies. All that being said, he did write a letter of suggetions to Davis in the fall of 1863. This is when the western armies were hard pressed, and it was as good a time as any for Lee to volunteer his suggestions to the commander-in-chief. Lee also hoped to force troops away from Vicksburg by an invasion into Pennsylvania, so he was thinking of the west there. Finally, he suggested that Johnson be put in command out west in 1864. Overall, given that he was just an army commander, he seems to have had more than his fair share in western strategy. It wasn't until he took command of all CSA forces in 1865 that he had any right to tell the other armies what to do.
 

James N.

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… At Antietam, McClellan attacked because he discovered the lost order. We can speculate on how succesful Lee would have been otherwise, but his predicament on the Antietam was the result of a costly misplacing of paper on D.H. Hill's part...
Probably not - Hill received his copy from Jackson, and that was the only one he knew about until well after the fact. The real culprit was likely Col. Robert Chilton of Lee's staff who prepared a copy for Hill but either never sent it, or if he did was never appraised that his courier had never delivered it, something he should've either known or found out as a matter of efficient routine staff work. Unfortunately, this failure could even be attributed back to Lee himself, since Chilton was his immediate subordinate.
 

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I am in some doubt about how much the Lost Order placed Lee in his predicament, for two reasons.

First, McClellan was already in Frederick when the order was found. Lee's army was divided and could not be brought quickly together. Even if the order had not been lost, Lee's army was still in serious trouble.

Second, and more importantly, Lee was at Sharpsburg because he wanted to be there. He had planned to withdraw from Maryland after South Mountain on September 14th, but changed his mind. The battle of Antietam was fought because he wanted to fight it. He could have (should have?) retreated across Potomac on the 15th or the 16th and avoided the battle altogether.
 
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wausaubob

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Yes, it was the best option to win. Lee focused on attacking the war support in the north. The only realistic option the south had was a fairly quick end to the war. The longer the war went on the more the south would be ground down and stangled.

Lee came as close to dividing the US as any one person could. He pushed the mighty US to the brink. No one else could have done that.

A guerilla style war would never had worked in the south and was not realistic.

In summation, strategy seems to favor the big battalions. What Lee did with what he had was amazing.
General Lee had to win a big enough victory to change political calculations. He had to fight that battle with conventional land forces, away from any river that was navigable to union armed vessels. He was always at a disadvantage with respect to guns, training and munitions, in the artillery arm. Given that, he achieved results that kept the Confederacy on its feet. The unfortunate consequence was that the war was prolonged, slavery abolished, and Virginia ruined. Unintended consequences indeed.
 
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Cavalier

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Hoping this is not to far off topic. It has been my impression that Lee was an ardent student of warfare throughout his entire career. That's just one reason I have become such an admirer of his.

Because of Lee's interest and study I believe he had a better handle on things, both tactical and strategic, than most of his contemporaries, at least his Confederate contemporaries.

Are there any other Confederate generals as well versed on these military matters as Lee?

I ask this is because what knowledge I have of Confederate leadership is limited to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Thanks in advance to anyone who may care to render an insight or opinion!

John
 

MBuehner

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I am in some doubt about how much the Lost Order placed Lee in his predicament, for two reasons.

First, McClellan was already in Frederick when the order was found. Lee's army was divided and could not be brought quickly together. Even if the order had not been lost, Lee's army was still in serious trouble.

Second, and more importantly, Lee was at Sharpsburg because he wanted to be there. He had planned to withdraw from Maryland after South Mountain on September 14th, but changed his mind. The battle of Antietam was fought because he wanted to fight it. He could have (should have?) retreated across Potomac on the 15th or the 16th and avoided the battle altogether.
I tend to agree that the impact of the Lost Orders is overstated- McClellan was indeed already moving with uncharacteristic speed and had seemed to almost magically reformed a well organized army out of the mess he inherited after 2nd Manassas. The net he cast to catch Lee even before the lost orders was thoughtful and effective.

In my opinion, JEB Stuart has largely escaped scrutiny for his many failures in Maryland. It is unthinkable that Lee didnt have any idea McClellan was even on the march until he reached Frederick on September 13th. Records indicate Stuart and his staff were having a grand time entertaining the ladies of Maryland while elements of his command were being steadily pushed across the state. Confederate command had no idea how rapidly their prospects were deteriorating, not just because they werent getting reports, but because in the absence of reports they naturally assumed everything was fine (JEB, you had ONE JOB). By my count thats TWO invasions of the North Stuart managed to largely screw up with his shenanigans.

As far as Lee's desire to fight at Sharpsburg, he made a stand there to prevent McClellan from concentrating his entire force on McLaws force trapped in Pleasant Valley. After Harpers Ferry fell and McLaws escaped, Lee immediately attempted to slip away north towards Hagarstown (he seems to have had plans for the Hagarstown area as he mentioned it often earlier in the campaign as a place to draw the AotP) where he could rejoin with Jacksons command at Williamsport, ideally not under Union guns. That opportunity was lost when Hookers command crossed the creek on Lee's left. In other words, it seems Lee was willing to fight at Sharpsburg, but it wasn't his first choice, and certainly not with his command so divided.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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I tend to agree that the impact of the Lost Orders is overstated- McClellan was indeed already moving with uncharacteristic speed and had seemed to almost magically reformed a well organized army out of the mess he inherited after 2nd Manassas. The net he cast to catch Lee even before the lost orders was thoughtful and effective.

In my opinion, JEB Stuart has largely escaped scrutiny for his many failures in Maryland. It is unthinkable that Lee didnt have any idea McClellan was even on the march until he reached Frederick on September 13th. Records indicate Stuart and his staff were having a grand time entertaining the ladies of Maryland while elements of his command were being steadily pushed across the state. Confederate command had no idea how rapidly their prospects were deteriorating, not just because they werent getting reports, but because in the absence of reports they naturally assumed everything was fine (JEB, you had ONE JOB). By my count thats TWO invasions of the North Stuart managed to largely screw up with his shenanigans.

As far as Lee's desire to fight at Sharpsburg, he made a stand there to prevent McClellan from concentrating his entire force on McLaws force trapped in Pleasant Valley. After Harpers Ferry fell and McLaws escaped, Lee immediately attempted to slip away north towards Hagarstown (he seems to have had plans for the Hagarstown area as he mentioned it often earlier in the campaign as a place to draw the AotP) where he could rejoin with Jacksons command at Williamsport, ideally not under Union guns. That opportunity was lost when Hookers command crossed the creek on Lee's left. In other words, it seems Lee was willing to fight at Sharpsburg, but it wasn't his first choice, and certainly not with his command so divided.
Agree completely about Stuart -- Lee was apparently caught completely off guard with the Union presence in and beyond Frederick on September 13.

Your point about Lee remaining to protect McLaws was only true until Harper's Ferry surrendered. By the end of the day of the 15th, those conditions no longer applied. Lee could have withdrawn to Virginia overnight on the 15th or on the 16th, so I still believe the battle of the 17th was by his choice.

I believe Lee hoped Jackson would join him at Sharpsburg via Shepherdstown and then once reunited the army would march north to Hagerstown. The Williamsport option came in after the retreat to Virginia on September 18/19. My own believe is that this might have been a better option September 16/17 than standing to fight and then trying it afterward.
 
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