Discussion Stones River VS Gettysburg...Errily The Same.

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Stones River VS Gettysburg... Eerily The Same.
Lee & Bragg, which was the genius, which was the
doofus?
A long time ago, I came to an understanding of what caused the Civil War, what happened during the war & what was the outcome. Since then my interest has been how the war was fought & the many ways commanders dealt with the challenges they faced. As a lifelong entrepreneur, I am all to familiar how very wrong even the most carefully planned actions can go terribly wrong. Recently, instead of participating in living history programs at Stones River NB, I have been taking a deep dive into what various generals knew, when did they know it & what did they do with that information. It is actually very refreshing to shake off 150 years of second guessing. Absent the saccharine goo of Lost Cause-ism, the CSA war effort is a rather sad affair. Anyways, I started to compare various battles in the east & west in an attempt to understand why the outcomes were so very different. By chance, I came upon a line of inquiry that I had not anticipated.

The Battle of Stones River, Dec 31, 1862-Jan 2, 1863 could hardly be any different from the Battle of Gettysburg six months later... or could it? I happened to lay maps on the same scale of both battles next to each other. The differences of time & location are, of course, obvious. Bragg & Rosecrans are very different personalities from Lee & Meade. Leaving aside the obvious, what struck me looking at the maps is how eerily similar the battles were.

Lee advanced 40 miles beyond the Potomac, Rosecrans was about the same distance from the Cumberland. Both battles were meeting engagements. In both cases, the CSA commander was surprised to find the opposing army ten miles away from their position. The opening phase of the battles found the Union army arrayed in a compact line that forced the aggressive CSA commander to spread out into a formation that prohibited mutual support. Initial success on the left fell short of victory. U.S. forces were, in both instances, driven back onto unassailable positions were they held.

Both Wheeler & Stuart rode themselves out of the battle. The doctrine of cavalry raiding proved once again that it produced tactical victories without strategic effect. In both cases, when the outcome of the battle was at its crisis, neither cavalry command delivered the decisive results so desperately needed.

On the morning of the big assaults at both battles, the CSA commander ordered attacks without knowing the opposing army's actual disposition. In both cases, the result was ferrous fighting without decisive results. Once the attacks were underway, neither commander was able to manage the disjointed attacks. On the CSA right at both battles, repeated attacks on the Union left resulted in crushing CSA repulses. Regiments suffered over 50% casualties, effectively relegating them to support roles.

On the last day of the battle, both Lee & Bragg ordered head on attacks that were intended to undo the failures of the previous days. Both sent their last reserve headlong into disaster. In both cases, in a matter of an hour or so, they lost half of the attacking force & had no option but to retreat. In both cases, the victorious U.S. commander failed to follow up & finish off the opposing army. Lee & Bragg fell back unmolested to their bases to await further developments. Both had lost the initiative & could only await inevitable defeat at the hands of the same commander, Grant.

With all the similarities between Stones River & Gettysburg, it is fascinating to me that one is a relatively obscure Union victory & the other is the "High Watermark of the Confederacy." Bragg's loss of a third of his army & humiliating defeat made him the object of derision to this day. The Army of Northern Virginia's defeat has morphed into the great mythical event of the war with a deified Lee hovering overall like a benevolent angle. Bragg, the imp from the depths & Lee the demigod both lost their battles. Both CSA armies lost the flower of their officer corps & soldiers.

The more I compare the battles, the more there are differences without a distinction. Stripped of the Lost Cause tropes, Stones River & Gettysburg are far more similar than they are different. Could the same be said of Bragg & Lee's generalship during those battles? I leave that to you.

The question up to discussion is this: Absent the Lee as demigod tropes & the sneering at Bragg's mismanagement cliches, just how different were Lee's decisions at Gettysburg from Bragg's at Stones River? Think about it & let us know what you conclude.
 
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jackt62

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Location
New York City
Interesting and thoughtful analysis and a lot to think about. The first thing that comes to mind is the similarity in the failed assaults of the final day of each battle. In both cases, the leading commanders objected to their assault orders, believing that any attack against a strong Union position would be "suicidal." In so many words, that's what Breckenridge and Longstreet thought about their respective army commanders' orders to carry the heights across Stones River or the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge, positions that were also defended by strong artillery. Unfortunately, and reluctantly, both officers executed their orders and were repulsed with devastating results. In both cases, while the previous days' results were inconclusive, Bragg and Lee made things worse by ordering those final assaults.
 

Rhea Cole

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Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Interesting and thoughtful analysis and a lot to think about. The first thing that comes to mind is the similarity in the failed assaults of the final day of each battle. In both cases, the leading commanders objected to their assault orders, believing that any attack against a strong Union position would be "suicidal." In so many words, that's what Breckenridge and Longstreet thought about their respective army commanders' orders to carry the heights across Stones River or the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge, positions that were also defended by strong artillery. Unfortunately, and reluctantly, both officers executed their orders and were repulsed with devastating results. In both cases, while the previous days' results were inconclusive, Bragg and Lee made things worse by ordering those final assaults.
That is a good point of similarity that I wish I had thought of myself.
 

jackt62

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New York City
Another thought: The responsible commanders (Breckenridge and Longstreet), were both vilified for their roles, albeit for different reasons. Bragg blamed Breckenridge for his "poor" handling of his Division, an allegation that was almost certainly made to shift responsibility from himself. While Lee did not assert any blame to Longstreet for the PPT repulse, Lee's defenders certainly accused Longstreet and his protege Pickett for half-hearted efforts or for faulty leadership. In the end, Breckenridge's reputation was not harmed, because of Bragg's well known dislike of his Kentucky officer contingent and his own failings. In Longstreet's case, the reverse was true. Lee's halo of "saint hood" was too strong for Longstreet to escape his own unfair allegations of disloyalty, etc.
 

Rhea Cole

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Joined
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Another thought: The responsible commanders (Breckenridge and Longstreet), were both vilified for their roles, albeit for different reasons. Bragg blamed Breckenridge for his "poor" handling of his Division, an allegation that was almost certainly made to shift responsibility from himself. While Lee did not assert any blame to Longstreet for the PPT repulse, Lee's defenders certainly accused Longstreet and his protege Pickett for half-hearted efforts or for faulty leadership. In the end, Breckenridge's reputation was not harmed, because of Bragg's well known dislike of his Kentucky officer contingent and his own failings. In Longstreet's case, the reverse was true. Lee's halo of "saint hood" was too strong for Longstreet to escape his own unfair allegations of disloyalty, etc.
That is true, there wasn't a post war cottage industry out to prove that Breckenridge had lost the Battle of Stones River.
 

Rhea Cole

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Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
This will be interesting to me. I came to this forum due to letters from a relative- Perryville and Stones River being my primary interest, but to a newbie everything does seem to be Gettysburg, Gettysburg, Gettysburg... ;-)
I live in Murfreesboro TN & have volunteered at Stones River for over 20 years. The Army of the Cumberland & Army of Tennessee saga is ever so much more interesting than the Eastern war that is the focus of many of the posts on this forum. I am looking forward to some thoughtful responses to the question I have posed.
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
It seem to me that Bragg's battles, more so than Lee's, ended up being "meeting engagements." In addition to Stones River, Bragg seemed to have collided with enemy forces at Perryville and Chickamauga, engagements which were not necessarily planned with any great foresight. The same might be said of Lee at Antietam; but otherwise Lee's aggressive tactics were more typical of his engagements such as the Seven Days, 2nd Manassas or his counterattacks at Chancellorsville and the Wilderness.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
It seem to me that Bragg's battles, more so than Lee's, ended up being "meeting engagements." In addition to Stones River, Bragg seemed to have collided with enemy forces at Perryville and Chickamauga, engagements which were not necessarily planned with any great foresight. The same might be said of Lee at Antietam; but otherwise Lee's aggressive tactics were more typical of his engagements such as the Seven Days, 2nd Manassas or his counterattacks at Chancellorsville and the Wilderness.
I think that Chancellorsville is also a meeting engagement. That is not the question, how did Lee & Bragg’s performance compare at Stones River & Gettysburg?
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
Bragg probably got off to a better start at Stones River by initiating Hardee's wheeling assault on the Union left flank that drove McCook towards the Nashville Pike and which almost succeeded in cutting off Rosecrans' communications. In contrast, while the ANV also drove the I and XI Corps line encircling Gettysburg inward, I'm not sure whether that had more to do with insufficient Union manpower than to any particular decisions on the part of Lee's generalship. As far as Day 2 is concerned, Lee's decision making was beset by faulty intelligence on the actual whereabouts of the Union line in the environs of the Emmitsburg Road and the strength of the Union position. As previously noted, both Bragg and Lee were equally wanting in commencing futile assaults on their respective last battle days. In general, Lee underperformed at Gettysburg in comparison to his other engagements, whereas I would say that Bragg's performance at Stones River, in contrast to his other engagements, was more effective.
 

J C J Barefoot

Private
Joined
Sep 10, 2019
Rea-
This is a brilliant, thoughtful, and meaningful review. I'm blown away by it and have to ponder the implications. It is as thought there was a hand of Providence sending out a message. Thank you. By the way---it's application to business is perfect.
 

Sgt. Tyree

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Wyoming Territory
In both cases, the victorious U.S. commander failed to follow up & finish off the opposing army. Lee & Bragg fell back unmolested to their bases to await further developments.​
Was there not vigorous pursuit at Gettysburg?

Cavalry historian Eric Whittenberg writes of “One Continuous Fight” for 10 days with Stuart in his element and displaying his talents to the fullest in a classic rear guard action.

Excellent OP though. Most of it beyond my knowledge.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Was there not vigorous pursuit at Gettysburg?

Cavalry historian Eric Whittenberg writes of “One Continuous Fight” for 10 days with Stuart in his element and displaying his talents to the fullest in a classic rear guard action.

Excellent OP though. Most of it beyond my knowledge.
No, as usual, the Army of the Potomac had the slows. Lincoln was driven to the edge of despair when Meade made it clear that he wasn't going after Lee to finish him off. Grant & Sheridan would have gone after Lee's retreating columns like rat terriers.
 

RobertP

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Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
No, as usual, the Army of the Potomac had the slows. Lincoln was driven to the edge of despair when Meade made it clear that he wasn't going after Lee to finish him off. Grant & Sheridan would have gone after Lee's retreating columns like rat terriers.
Right. Just like he did after Shiloh and Chattanooga.
 

jackt62

Captain
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Location
New York City
No, as usual, the Army of the Potomac had the slows. Lincoln was driven to the edge of despair when Meade made it clear that he wasn't going after Lee to finish him off. Grant & Sheridan would have gone after Lee's retreating columns like rat terriers.
Has anyone considered what if any effect, Meade's abruptly taking command of the AotP on June 28th, just 3 days before fighting breaks out at Gettysburg, may have had on his mindset and depth of understanding of the logistics and capabilities of his army in undertaking a pursuit of the ANV? Have been wondering about that.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
Has anyone considered what if any effect, Meade's abruptly taking command of the AotP on June 28th, just 3 days before fighting breaks out at Gettysburg, may have had on his mindset and depth of understanding of the logistics and capabilities of his army in undertaking a pursuit of the ANV? Have been wondering about that.
A good question.
 
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