Was George Meade the best man to command the Army of the Potomac?


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OldReliable1862

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While we're throwing around alternate commanders, how about Charles Ferguson Smith? It's difficult to make any judgments on his skill as died so early, but what we do have seems quite positive. I suspect C. F. Smith would have been aggressive, but not to the point of recklessness as with Pope or Kearny.
 

James N.

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While we're throwing around alternate commanders, how about Charles Ferguson Smith? It's difficult to make any judgments on his skill as died so early, but what we do have seems quite positive. I suspect C. F. Smith would have been aggressive, but not to the point of recklessness as with Pope or Kearny.
He died so early in the war it's rather difficult to evaluate him. It would have been interesting if he had been alive and healthy at Shiloh.
Grant seems to have thought highly of him and not resented - as he probably did with George Thomas in a similar situation - that for a time before Shiloh he was supplanted by Smith at the head of the Department/Army of the Tennessee. Had Smith been alive and healthy at Shiloh it would've been HIM in command there and not Grant - interesting, indeed!
 

KianGaf

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ens of thousands of casualties to look after, never mind the Army of Northern Virginia's entrenched and nearly impregnable position against the Potomac River in Maryland. Good luck with that, armchair Generals.
Does this refer to Falling Waters ?
 

Noonanda

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My understanding is Hooker did well at Chancellorsville but for two major events ;
1. Despite reliable reports that Jackson was going to strike XXI Corps General Howard did nothing yet mysteriously still retained his rank has a general.
2.Somehow Hooker was not relieved of his command when he suffered a severe concussion.
Leftyhunter
Heooker retreated from open favorable ground on day one(May 1st) and went into a defensive position, giving up the initiative to Lee. Would the May 2nd Flank attack have happened if Hooker had not pulled back? Possibly but It could have gone bad for Lee if Hooker had attacked him with the on hand strength of the AOTP as well.
 

RochesterBill

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Hancock told his wife that he was not interested in being the commander of the Army of the Potomac under any circumstances. (pages 94 and 95 of "Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock" by his wife) Hancock states in that book that he was approached several times to become commander of the army but refused because he "did not belong to that class of generals whom the Republicans care to bolster up. I should be sacrificed." On June 2, 1863, General Reynolds was summoned to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Lincoln about the commander's job. He also refused because he wanted full autonomy from the auspices of Halleck, Stanton and Lincoln himself. Lincoln told Reynolds that his conditions were not acceptable. As a result, Reynolds highly recommended to Lincoln that he should give a lot of consideration in appointing General Meade as Commander of the Army of the Potomac which he ultimately did on June 28, 1863. David.
My impression has always been somewhat different.

All the talk amongst the McClellanite faction of the officer corps was a recitation of Little Mac's complaints about how absolutely nothing was ever his fault, laying everything at the feet of Lincoln and Stanton "interfering" with his genius level plans.

From things that Reynolds is known to have said, I've always gotten the impression that he was convinced, by McClellan and his sycophants, which were legion, that Lincoln wanted a puppet general who let Washington run strategy and tactics, and Reynolds didn't want anything to do with it, understandably.

But in fact of course we know that this is just another McClellan lie. No one in America was more pleased than Lincoln when Grant took over and starting operating on his own initiative. Abe didn't enjoy having to kick Mac into motion three time a week, but he knew the Union couldn't survive inaction.

It was McClellans excuse-making that gave Reynolds and the rest of the officer corps the idea that Lincoln was trying to run the Army. I strongly suspect that if Reynolds hadn't listened to Mac and his cronies and actually taken the job (if in fact it was offered) and then taken the fight to Lee, as Grant later did, then Lincoln would have given him his way in nearly everything, as he did a year later for Grant.
 

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My impression has always been somewhat different.

All the talk amongst the McClellanite faction of the officer corps was a recitation of Little Mac's complaints about how absolutely nothing was ever his fault, laying everything at the feet of Lincoln and Stanton "interfering" with his genius level plans.

From things that Reynolds is known to have said, I've always gotten the impression that he was convinced, by McClellan and his sycophants, which were legion, that Lincoln wanted a puppet general who let Washington run strategy and tactics, and Reynolds didn't want anything to do with it, understandably.

But in fact of course we know that this is just another McClellan lie. No one in America was more pleased than Lincoln when Grant took over and starting operating on his own initiative. Abe didn't enjoy having to kick Mac into motion three time a week, but he knew the Union couldn't survive inaction.

It was McClellans excuse-making that gave Reynolds and the rest of the officer corps the idea that Lincoln was trying to run the Army. I strongly suspect that if Reynolds hadn't listened to Mac and his cronies and actually taken the job (if in fact it was offered) and then taken the fight to Lee, as Grant later did, then Lincoln would have given him his way in nearly everything, as he did a year later for Grant.
What primary source evidence do you have that could lead you to your conclusions. First of all, Lincoln was the Commander in Chief of all the Union Armed Forces and constitutionally could appoint anyone he wanted and further direct the military strategy and tactics any way he desired. Lincoln became a brilliant military leader and strategist. McClellan, a Southern Democrat, failed as a commander because he could not play the political game between the military in the field and the Radical Republican politicians in Washington, D.C. Grant was a master of this chess game. In all of my serious research the last four years, I have never seen any primary source evidence that McClellan had any influence whatsoever on Reynolds or Hancock. I explain pretty well the sources that I have found regarding the command ship of the Army of the Potomac and the offer made to Reynolds on June 2, 1863. On the other hand, in spite of the statements made in his reminiscences, to my knowledge the position was never offered to Hancock, who had no previous corps command experience prior to Gettysburg. I would love to know what "things" you are referring to regarding what Reynolds has said about McClellan and his influence. David.
 

Andy Cardinal

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Among the top commanders in the Army of the Potomac, Reynolds, Couch, Sedgwick & Slocum all indicated that they were not interested in the position. It is notable that they

1. All outranked Meade (he was next in seniority)
2. All recommended Meade
3. All stated they would be willing to serve under Meade.
4. All were Democrats (Reynolds's biggest political patron was James Buchanan, for example) -- Meade by contrast was a Whig and was for the most part apolitical, though certainly not a Republican
5. All were extremely loyal to McClellan -- Meade admired McClellan and probably owed his original apppintment to brigade command to him, but never expressed a desire for his return to command.

More importantly, Meade had developed a reputation as a fighter and was well kbown as someone who would obey orders.
 

James N.

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What primary source evidence do you have that could lead you to your conclusions. First of all, Lincoln was the Commander in Chief of all the Union Armed Forces and constitutionally could appoint anyone he wanted and further direct the military strategy and tactics any way he desired. Lincoln became a brilliant military leader and strategist. McClellan, a Southern Democrat, failed as a commander because he could not play the political game between the military in the field and the Radical Republican politicians in Washington, D.C. Grant was a master of this chess game. In all of my serious research the last four years, I have never seen any primary source evidence that McClellan had any influence whatsoever on Reynolds or Hancock. I explain pretty well the sources that I have found regarding the command ship of the Army of the Potomac and the offer made to Reynolds on June 2, 1863. On the other hand, in spite of the statements made in his reminiscences, to my knowledge the position was never offered to Hancock, who had no previous corps command experience prior to Gettysburg. I would love to know what "things" you are referring to regarding what Reynolds has said about McClellan and his influence. David.
Doubtful and extremely questionable - Lincoln and Stanton did a terrible botch job trying to trap Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley that contributed to McClellan's failure on the Peninsula. Their overriding aim was to "protect" Washington by keeping it garrisoned with a force almost equal in number to Lee's entire army, thereby tying up far too many troops needed elsewhere. Most of their "strategic" war aims were in fact political, as the obsession with freeing the Unionists in East Tennessee, and later in 1864 invading Western Louisiana as a deterrent to the French in Mexico. These weren't necessarily bad ideas in and of themselves, but they put a strain on the war effort in the West that possibly lengthened the war. What Lincoln finally realized to his credit was that the war should be left to professionals like Grant and Sherman though some of his political desires impacted them as well.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Doubtful and extremely questionable - Lincoln and Stanton did a terrible botch job trying to trap Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley that contributed to McClellan's failure on the Peninsula. Their overriding aim was to "protect" Washington by keeping it garrisoned with a force almost equal in number to Lee's entire army, thereby tying up far too many troops needed elsewhere. Most of their "strategic" war aims were in fact political, as the obsession with freeing the Unionists in East Tennessee, and later in 1864 invading Western Louisiana as a deterrent to the French in Mexico. These weren't necessary bad ideas in and of themselves, but they put a strain on the war effort in the West that possibly lengthened the war. What Lincoln finally realized to his credit was that the war should be left to professionals like Grant and Sherman though some of his political desires impacted them as well.
Doubtful and extremely questionable - Lincoln and Stanton did a terrible botch job trying to trap Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley that contributed to McClellan's failure on the Peninsula. Their overriding aim was to "protect" Washington by keeping it garrisoned with a force almost equal in number to Lee's entire army, thereby tying up far too many troops needed elsewhere. Most of their "strategic" war aims were in fact political, as the obsession with freeing the Unionists in East Tennessee, and later in 1864 invading Western Louisiana as a deterrent to the French in Mexico. These weren't necessarily bad ideas in and of themselves, but they put a strain on the war effort in the West that possibly lengthened the war. What Lincoln finally realized to his credit was that the war should be left to professionals like Grant and Sherman though some of his political desires impacted them as well.
I agree for the most part, and would add Halleck to the list. I have never been sure whether Halleck was following Lincoln's lead or if they were in agreement.

Regarding Meade's tenire in command before Grant came east, Halkeck's orders (and presumably Lincoln's) at times restrained his options and I believe negatively impacted the war.
 

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Doubtful and extremely questionable - Lincoln and Stanton did a terrible botch job trying to trap Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley that contributed to McClellan's failure on the Peninsula. Their overriding aim was to "protect" Washington by keeping it garrisoned with a force almost equal in number to Lee's entire army, thereby tying up far too many troops needed elsewhere. Most of their "strategic" war aims were in fact political, as the obsession with freeing the Unionists in East Tennessee, and later in 1864 invading Western Louisiana as a deterrent to the French in Mexico. These weren't necessarily bad ideas in and of themselves, but they put a strain on the war effort in the West that possibly lengthened the war. What Lincoln finally realized to his credit was that the war should be left to professionals like Grant and Sherman though some of his political desires impacted them as well.
In my opinion, the war in the West was over once the Union Army controlled the Mississippi River which split the Confederacy in two. Lincoln understood this rather simple strategic fact. Nevertheless, there are several very good articles that have been written over the years by great military historians who believed that Lincoln was a very good Commander in Chief. For example, Herman Hattaway wrote an exceptional article in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association entitled: "Lincoln's Presidential Example in Dealing with the Military." Hattaway argues convincingly in this article that Lincoln at first was a rank amateur in military affairs but learned the craft rather quickly realizing "that it was crucial that he learn such things." According to Hattaway, "Lincoln mastered conventional 19th century military strategy. He came to understand, and learned how to interact with the better thinking of West Point trained officers." "He was a keen student, and with the early aid of George B. McClellan and other officers. Lincoln became fully at home with his generals' military conceptions. The military sophistication which Lincoln acquired in less than a year and a half extended to a clear understanding of the significance of battles and appreciation of the limited degree to which the Confederates actually were achieving positive results, even while it appeared otherwise to the more nescient." The other outstanding article was written by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones in Civil War History. Volume 26. No. 4. December 1980 entitled: "Lincoln as Military Strategist." David.
 

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In my opinion, the war in the West was over once the Union Army controlled the Mississippi River which split the Confederacy in two. Lincoln understood this rather simple strategic fact. Nevertheless, there are several very good articles that have been written over the years by great military historians who believed that Lincoln was a very good Commander in Chief... David.
I don't dispute that, only that there's a difference between the purely administrative side, at which he was arguably much better than Jefferson Davis, and "a brilliant military leader and strategist" which to my mind at least is more the sphere of Lee and Grant.
 

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What primary source evidence do you have that could lead you to your conclusions. First of all, Lincoln was the Commander in Chief of all the Union Armed Forces and constitutionally could appoint anyone he wanted and further direct the military strategy and tactics any way he desired. Lincoln became a brilliant military leader and strategist. McClellan, a Southern Democrat, failed as a commander because he could not play the political game between the military in the field and the Radical Republican politicians in Washington, D.C. Grant was a master of this chess game. In all of my serious research the last four years, I have never seen any primary source evidence that McClellan had any influence whatsoever on Reynolds or Hancock. I explain pretty well the sources that I have found regarding the command ship of the Army of the Potomac and the offer made to Reynolds on June 2, 1863. On the other hand, in spite of the statements made in his reminiscences, to my knowledge the position was never offered to Hancock, who had no previous corps command experience prior to Gettysburg. I would love to know what "things" you are referring to regarding what Reynolds has said about McClellan and his influence. David.
Had your tone been a bit less confrontational and accusatory, I would have been delighted to discuss these things with you. Debate and open exchange of thoughts and experiences are the very lifeblood of this website.

But you sound a lot like you're looking for a fight and, regrettably perhaps, homey don't play that.
 

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Had your tone been a bit less confrontational and accusatory, I would have been delighted to discuss these things with you. Debate and open exchange of thoughts and experiences are the very lifeblood of this website.

But you sound a lot like you're looking for a fight and, regrettably perhaps, homey don't play that.
I certainly am not trying to be confrontational and picking a fight. That is not my style. From my experience, if you are going to debate on this website, you had better be ready to produce the evidence in order to prove your point of view. I simply ask you for the evidence that would lead you or anyone else to come to the conclusions you have expressed in your earlier post. Since you have to resort to a personal attack on someone you know nothing about, I can only conclude that you have no credible evidence to share therefore I will not be wasting anymore of my precious time exchanging posts with you. David.
 

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Smart man, John Reynolds, to turn down the job and have to constantly hear from Lincoln, Stanton aand Halleck. Although in turning down the job it meant he remained in the field, not behind the lines. Sad for the North and him that he was shot and killed on day 1 of Gettysburg. As for Meade, he was fortunate at Gettysburg - very fortunate. All he had to do was "stay on "defense" and do his best to deflect Lee and what we now know as too many disjointed and uncoordinated attacks. But for anyone to say Meade was the equal or even better than Lee, REALLY?
 

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Winfield Scott Hancock was a brilliant soldier, very loyal but as a Democrat in a Republican administration, he was very much out of favor. I wonder how many readers of this site and forum would have been Republicans in that era?
 

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Warren might be an interesting choice as I recall he was briefly considered as a replacement for Meade. Main issue though is he wouldn't have gotten along with Grant. It would need to be a what if scenario where Grant never comes East and Warren leads the AoP in 1864. In my opinion Warren he would have been adverse to bashing his way south to Richmond so maybe he would have attempted a neo Peninsula Campaign?
 

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From my readings Meade was most widely criticized for not pursuing Lee during his retreat at Gettysburg. He never ever lived this down and the war was always said to have been lengthened by this fact. In Meade’s defense the weather was crappy and he had lost many men. Ironically he is buried in the same cemetery as CSA General Pemberton in Philadelphia. Both were criticized heavily. Meade was victorious and Pemberton failed to defend Vicksburg. But what good is criticism. They both ended up in the same place. Literally. RIP
 

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From my readings Meade was most widely criticized for not pursuing Lee during his retreat at Gettysburg. He never ever lived this down and the war was always said to have been lengthened by this fact. In Meade’s defense the weather was crappy and he had lost many men. Ironically he is buried in the same cemetery as CSA General Pemberton in Philadelphia. Both were criticized heavily. Meade was victorious and Pemberton failed to defend Vicksburg. But what good is criticism. They both ended up in the same place. Literally.
 

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