was Albert Sidney Johnston a better general than Robert Edward Lee?

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chucksr

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No way to know--we have only one battle to judge Johnston on and it was a defeat--after his death. Whether his leadership could have prevailed at Shiloh will never be known. You might want to look at the choice Johnston made in appointing commanding officers in the West and compare it to appointments Lee made as a way to judge who was better but we simply don't have examples of how Johnston handled an army in combat.
 

Rebel Gray

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Because Albert Sidney Johnston doesn't seem to be as famous as General Lee. Even though Albert Sidney Johnston was a four star general(like Lee) which was the highest rank at the time. Also Jefferson Davis said that the loss of Albert Sidney Johnston "was the turning point of our fate." And Jefferson Davis also said "If Sidney Johnston is not a general, we had better give up the war, for we have no general." Johnston was also very experienced as a general because he went to USMA and he was a general in the U.S.A. a general in the Republic of Texas and a general in the C.S.A.
 
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AndyHall

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As others have said, there's simply no way to judge Johnston's abilities as a general. Certainly great things were expected of him, but history books are full of footnotes about officers who showed great promise, but for various reasons did not live up to their expectations. (I'm lookin' at you, Little Mac.) In some ways, Johnston's reputation was enhanced by his early death at Shiloh, because he avoided being saddled with the defeats that any active general would over time. Instead of being (as most were, including Lee) a successful general with notable failures, Johnston will always be remembered for what might have been had he lived. It's more nostalgia than history.
 
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István.AT

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Also Jefferson Davis said that the loss of Albert Sidney Johnston "was the turning point of our fate." And Jefferson Davis also said "If Sidney Johnston is not a general, we had better give up the war, for we have no general."
Jeff Davis was a true friend and strong admirer of A.S. Johnston, so his assessment is hardly an unbiased evidence.

Johnston was also very experienced as a general because he went to USMA and he was a general in the U.S.A. a general in the Republic of Texas and a general in the C.S.A.
Which of this positions (save the last one) involved handling masses of troops close to the Army of Mississippi?
One general is not equal to another. One can show a true tactical masterpiece on a battlefield, another can be qualified only to command his desk. So "experienced as a general" sounds a bit hollow.

I'm a pro-AS Johnston myself and think that his early death was most unfortunate turn of events for Confederacy in the West. But OP question isn't full of sense either.
What could we have said about R.E. Lee's generalship if he would've been killed in the middle of Gaines Mill?
 
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chucksr

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"What could we have said about R.E. Lee's generalship if he would've been killed in the middle of Gaines Mill?"

That we know--prior to taking the leadership of the ANV, Lee was called both "Granny Lee" and "The King of Spades" for his caution on the field and use of defenses early in the war.
 

civilken

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I have always going Johnson got a bad reputation for doing a pretty good job so it pains me to say as good as he was he was no lee. It always bothers me the way people praise Robert E lee : I for one do not believe he was capable of walking on water but as generals go he was a very good one if not one of the best..
 
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From what little we got to see of A.S. Johnston he showed promise. He behaved like Alexander leading his men from the front and personally maintaining the advance. As a strategist he knew how marshal his forces for a concentrated strike and was able to recognize when his opponent was vulnerable. His style of leadership however took away from his ability to effectively organize his attacks as can be seen at Shiloh. I think of him as similar to Reynolds a good eye for strategy and an aggressive tactician. Its not really the job of an army commander to go charging in. I think he would have been a great Corps commander but as far as commanding an army I have more faith in Lee's skill and steady leadership.
 

WJC

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was Albert Sidney Johnston a better general than Robert Edward Lee?
Johnston is not unlike the great athlete who suffers a career-ending injury in his/her first competition. Though interesting to speculate, it is a question whose answer is impossible to ever know.
We can only consider what both were able to accomplish during their careers. It is difficult to argue with Lee's record.
 
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diane

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As others have said, he didn't have the chance to prove whether he was good, bad or indifferent. However, he was saddled with a major handicap right out of the gate - Jefferson Davis idolized him. He had shown good promise with his previous career - the Mormon War, the Mexican War, Indian scuffles and scrapes, he was commander of the Pacific district which had a lot of difficulties. There was good reason to place future hopes in him.

But, because Davis thought he was a literal superman, he gave him a huge command that was overwhelming in its scope, critical in its defense and almost impossible to properly maintain. His forces were stretched very thin. Davis also gave him subordinates that were anything but subordinate - Polk and Bragg did a Brutus on him by sashaying into neutral Kentucky without even being subtle about it like the Union was trying to be. They pretty much lost that state to the Confederacy, and it was a critical one. Johnston had a good plan and was shocked to say the least at what had happened, but he soldiered on and did his best to pull his bacon out of the fire. Not only was he undercut by Polk but Pillow, Floyd and Buckner did him in at Ft Donelson. After Tilghman's capture at Ft Henry, there wasn't much choice about command, Bowling Green had to be evacuated to shore up Donelson but that ended up adding to Grant's victory. Johnston knew he didn't have the best at that place but he sure didn't think they'd surrender without a fight, especially since Forrest's 3rd Tennessee cavalry had arrived.

Myself, I don't think Shiloh would have been lost by the Confederates if they hadn't lost Johnston right off the bat. Forrest, who seemed to be one of the few who knew what his job was and was doing it, would have been able to find this general and tell him Buell had arrived - Johnston would have taken this information much differently than did Beauregard...who never knew it because he couldn't be found.

Better than Lee is impossible to assess, but better than the commanders who followed him is easier. Except for the other Johnston, none of them did the western theater much good!
 

István.AT

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Davis also gave him subordinates that were anything but subordinate - Polk and Bragg did a Brutus on him by sashaying into neutral Kentucky without even being subtle about it like the Union was trying to be.
Bragg, really? He was chilling out at Pensacola at the time. You did mean Pillow, maybe?

I think also that ASJ tended to overtrust his subordinates that were not always good. Unlike ANV in mid-1862 that were more like "dream team".
This resulted in overcomplicated march orders on a way to Shiloh and a rather bizarre corps placement for the attack at Shiloh. But nobody were perfect at the beginning of the war and it is in human nature to learn and improve. The question is, would be there time and space to learn with such great responsibility like that of ASJ and such little margin for error as that of Confederacy.
 
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diane

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Bragg, really? He was chilling out at Pensacola at the time. You did mean Pillow, maybe?

I think also that ASJ tended to overtrust his subordinates that were not always good. Unlike ANV in mid-1862 that were more like "dream team".
This resulted in an overcomplicated march orders on a way to Shiloh and a rather bizarre corps placement for the attack at Shiloh. But nobody were perfect at the beginning of the war and it is in human nature to learn and improve. The question is, would be there time and space to learn with such great responsibility like that of ASJ and such little margin for error as that of Confederacy.
Bragg was indeed in Pensacola but he was transferred to Johnston's command very late in '61 - think December.

I think you're right about 'getting your sea legs' as it were. Grant, for instance, when starting out he sure didn't look like the guy who would eventually win the whole war! Davis really gave Johnston a mouthful to chew but he tried.
 
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István.AT

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Bragg was indeed in Pensacola but he was transferred to Johnston's command very late in '61 - think December.
I think it were more like February 1862.
Checking: "He left Mobile on February 27 and arrived at Jackson on March 2". From Earl Hess' "Most hated man of the Confederacy".
That exonerates him from any guilt for Kentucky-1861 invasion. When was it, in September?

I just mean, there are lots of reasons to bludgeon good ol' Bragg and there is no need in adding new ones to this list :smile:
 

diane

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I think it were more like February 1862.
Checking: "He left Mobile on February 27 and arrived at Jackson on March 2". From Earl Hess' "Most hated man of the Confederacy".
That exonerates him from any guilt for Kentucky-1861 invasion. When was it, in September?

I just mean, there are lots of reasons to bludgeon good ol' Bragg and there is no need in adding new ones to this list :smile:
Yes, I think you're right! Bragg does have enough lumps on his head without adding more... :D I've had to evacuate due to a forest fire so I don't have much in the way of material to consult except ye olde noggin - and it ain't what it used to be!
 
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War Horse

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Yes, I think you're right! Bragg does have enough lumps on his head without adding more... :D I've had to evacuate due to a forest fire so I don't have much in the way of material to consult except ye olde noggin - and it ain't what it used to be!
It's better than most :smile:
 
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