The Generalship of Robert E. Lee, Part Seven

jgoodguy

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#1
The Generalship of Robert E. Lee, Part Seven

7th in an informative series. This one I like because it emphasis Lee's understanding of the political dimension of War. In a nutshell, the South can lose a lot of things, but not hope of victory.

In concluding his essay, Professor Gallagher tells us, “Contrary to what critics such as John Keegan say, Lee was not a man of ‘limited imagination’ whose ‘essentially conventional outlook’ helped undo the Confederacy. He formulated a national strategy predicated on the probability of success in Virginia and the value of battlefield victories. The ultimate failure of his strategy neither proves that it was wrongheaded nor diminishes Lee’s pivotal part in keeping Confederate resistance alive through four brutally destructive years. That continued resistance held the key to potential victory–Southern armies almost certainly lacked the capacity to defeat decisively their Northern counterparts, but a protracted conflict marked by periodic Confederate successes on the battlefield more than once threatened to destroy the North’s will ton continue the war. Indeed, the greatest single obstacle to Northern victory after June 1862 was R. E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.. Without Lee and that famous field command, the Confederate experiment in rebellion almost certainly would have ended much sooner.” [p. 286] For sure, if given a choice between John Keegan and Gary Gallagher, I’ll go with Gary Gallagher’s view of Civil War history every time.​
 
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jackt62

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#3
I agree. Lee's offensive/defensive strategy may not have been successful in the end, but in 1862 it could have been a viable strategy for the confederacy to ensure its independence. Lee's planning encompassed a political understanding that took into account the fact that the confederacy's best chance for success was to bring the war north and essentially dilute the northern population's will to carry on the struggle.
 

jgoodguy

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#4
I agree. Lee's offensive/defensive strategy may not have been successful in the end, but in 1862 it could have been a viable strategy for the confederacy to ensure its independence. Lee's planning encompassed a political understanding that took into account the fact that the confederacy's best chance for success was to bring the war north and essentially dilute the northern population's will to carry on the struggle.
First IMHO is to keep CSA morale up, without morale/hope all is lost.
 
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#6
Thanks for posting this interesting information regarding Lee. Perhaps Keegan's European perspective clouded his judgment of the American Civil War? David.
 

Irishtom29

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#7
Thanks for posting this interesting information regarding Lee. Perhaps Keegan's European perspective clouded his judgment of the American Civil War? David.
Keegan's book is so full of errors of fact, not interpretation, that I think he was perhaps in pretty bad shape and beclouded in general.
 

cash

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#10
I'm not familiar with Keegan's critique of Lee. Can somebody provide a concise description for my benefit?
This is the passage to which Professor Gallagher referred: "For all their operational expertise, Lee and Jackson proved men of limited imagination. Neither found means of forcing the North to fight on their terms, as they might have done had they tempted the Northern armies to enter the vast spaces of the South and manoeuvre [sic] out of touch with their railroad and river lines of supply. Both thought in terms of defending the South's frontiers rather than exhausting the enemy. The defeat of the Confederacy was in part the consequence of their essentially conventional outlook." [John Keegan, The Mask of Command, p. 197]

I have a number of problems with everything Keegan wrote about the American Civil War.
 

jgoodguy

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#12
out of touch with their railroad and river lines of supply.
Were not Sherman in the march to the sea and Grant at Vicksburg northern forces out of touch with both river and rail support. Then there is the problem of what was tempting for the North not on a river or railway. Finally the North built railways where needed.
 
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#13
Were not Sherman in the march to the sea and Grant at Vicksburg northern forces out of touch with both river and rail support. Then there is the problem of what was tempting for the North not on a river or railway. Finally the North built railways where needed.
In the memoirs of Evan Fletcher "Rebel front and rear" Fletcher who was captured by Sherman's men was surprised with how efficiently the rail road was able to keep up with Sherman.
Leftyhunter
 
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Irishtom29

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#14
In the memoirs of Evan Fletcher "Rebel front and rear" Fletcher who was captured by Sherman's men wassurprised with how efficiently the rail road was,able to keep up with Sherman.
Leftyhunter
Nobody works harder than Midwesterners. I think we got that largely from the New Englanders and upstate New Yorkers who came after the Erie Canal opened.
 
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#15
The Generalship of Robert E. Lee, Part Seven

7th in an informative series. This one I like because it emphasis Lee's understanding of the political dimension of War. In a nutshell, the South can lose a lot of things, but not hope of victory.

In concluding his essay, Professor Gallagher tells us, “Contrary to what critics such as John Keegan say, Lee was not a man of ‘limited imagination’ whose ‘essentially conventional outlook’ helped undo the Confederacy. He formulated a national strategy predicated on the probability of success in Virginia and the value of battlefield victories. The ultimate failure of his strategy neither proves that it was wrongheaded nor diminishes Lee’s pivotal part in keeping Confederate resistance alive through four brutally destructive years. That continued resistance held the key to potential victory–Southern armies almost certainly lacked the capacity to defeat decisively their Northern counterparts, but a protracted conflict marked by periodic Confederate successes on the battlefield more than once threatened to destroy the North’s will ton continue the war. Indeed, the greatest single obstacle to Northern victory after June 1862 was R. E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.. Without Lee and that famous field command, the Confederate experiment in rebellion almost certainly would have ended much sooner.” [p. 286] For sure, if given a choice between John Keegan and Gary Gallagher, I’ll go with Gary Gallagher’s view of Civil War history every time.​
That's the fundamental problem for the Confederacy. Union morale never quite broke. The Confederacy had from 1862 onward a serious morale problem as well that only got worse i.e. food riots, escaped slaves, desertion ( a subject that Gallagher address in his book "General Lee's Army"
and of course Unionist guerrillas.
The Confederacy is dependent on foreign trade so winning battles in Virginia is great but it doesn't protect Confederate ports.
Lee's army can't do much about breaking the blockade. Lee's army can't protect Willmington which would lead to the collapse of Lee's army.
Lee's army can't protect the West which eventually leads to Sherman's March .
In short war is a team effort Lee failed because the whole Confederacy failed.
Is prolonging the war something to celebrate?
Leftyhunter
 

jgoodguy

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#16
That's the fundamental problem for the Confederacy. Union morale never quite broke. The Confederacy had from 1862 onward a serious morale problem as well that only got worse i.e. food riots, escaped slaves, desertion ( a subject that Gallagher address in his book "General Lee's Army"
and of course Unionist guerrillas.
The Confederacy is dependent on foreign trade so winning battles in Virginia is great but it doesn't protect Confederate ports.
Lee's army can't do much about breaking the blockade. Lee's army can't protect Willmington which would lead to the collapse of Lee's army.
Lee's army can't protect the West which eventually leads to Sherman's March .
In short war is a team effort Lee failed because the whole Confederacy failed.
Is prolonging the war something to celebrate?
Leftyhunter
Agree, but prolonging a war is a good strategy to keep from losing.
 

Lost Cause

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#17
Lee's army can't protect the West which eventually leads to Sherman's March .
In short war is a team effort Lee failed because the whole Confederacy failed.
Is prolonging the war something to celebrate?
Leftyhunter
Lee and his army remained in Virginia during the period you spoke of (which was his job). He could only transfer so many forces without compromising the ANV with the AOP in front of him. The troops under Longstreet’s Corps who transferred West were transferred under command of Bragg. Furthermore, Lee did not become general in chief of the Confederate forces until Jan 31, 1865.

You consistently criticize the Confederate rebellion as short term as opposed to other civil wars throughout history. Now you criticize Lee for prolonging the war. The goal of war is to fight for victory, rather than capitulate during adversity.
 
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Bruce Vail

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#18
This is the passage to which Professor Gallagher referred: "For all their operational expertise, Lee and Jackson proved men of limited imagination. Neither found means of forcing the North to fight on their terms, as they might have done had they tempted the Northern armies to enter the vast spaces of the South and manoeuvre [sic] out of touch with their railroad and river lines of supply. Both thought in terms of defending the South's frontiers rather than exhausting the enemy. The defeat of the Confederacy was in part the consequence of their essentially conventional outlook." [John Keegan, The Mask of Command, p. 197]

I have a number of problems with everything Keegan wrote about the American Civil War.
This does seem rather facile. The Union armies (and navy) of course did enter the vast spaces of the South. That didn't make them any easier to defeat.
 
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#19
In General Lee's position the best operational situation is that the battles occur in Virginia, where the Confederates have roads, railroads, some industrial capacity, and a committed white population. Getting Lincoln to fight near Richmond is a great strategy.
What General Lee does not want is the loss of enslaved labor and to be cut off from North Carolina and the rest the Confederacy. He also did not like that the war was gradually turning Virginia into a weed patch.
Lee turned Richmond into a defensive equivalent of Verdun and Grant's response was OK, I will destroy the rest of the Confederacy and he did it.
 

jackt62

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#20
In General Lee's position the best operational situation is that the battles occur in Virginia, where the Confederates have roads, railroads, some industrial capacity, and a committed white population. Getting Lincoln to fight near Richmond is a great strategy.
What General Lee does not want is the loss of enslaved labor and to be cut off from North Carolina and the rest the Confederacy. He also did not like that the war was gradually turning Virginia into a weed patch.
Lee turned Richmond into a defensive equivalent of Verdun and Grant's response was OK, I will destroy the rest of the Confederacy and he did it.
But why then did Lee need to at least twice carry the war out of Virginia or at least maintain a defensive position in northern Virginia along the Rappahanock/Rapidan river lines? Granted, by 1864 once Grant busted those lines Lee had no choice but to try to contain the AOTP on its inevitable grind towards Richmond.
 



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