Was Lee a Poor Strategic Thinker?

OldReliable1862

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 2, 2017
Location
Georgia
Beginning in the 1970s with Alan Nolan and Thomas Lawrence Connelly, the view of Lee as the unassailable, perfect general has started to be thoroughly taken to task. One of the most charges against Lee's supposed mastery of war was that he allegedly failed to grasp war above the operational, or "grand tactical" level. Lee had strategic "tunnel vision," unable to see the war outside of the Virginia theater of operations.

On the face of it, this seems somewhat substantiated when looking at how pessimistic he was of Longstreet's desire to use his troops in the West.
 
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Cavalier

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
Was it ever possible for the Confederacy to defeat the Union in the Western theater? It doesn't seem so to me, and I think Lee felt the same way. However I am just a amateur so I hope to hear from those who are much more knowledgeable than myself.

John
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Was it ever possible for the Confederacy to defeat the Union in the Western theater? It doesn't seem so to me, and I think Lee felt the same way. However I am just a amateur so I hope to hear from those who are much more knowledgeable than myself.

John
I think it's possible, or rather not actively impossible, but you'd need to start early. Specifically the destruction of Grant's army at Shiloh would be a good kick off, though probably insufficient by itself.

Of course, in a Trent war it all becomes much easier, but that's because suddenly it's the Union which is taking dozens of regiments out of the fighting front to defend their coastline etc.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Was it ever possible for the Confederacy to defeat the Union in the Western theater? It doesn't seem so to me, and I think Lee felt the same way. However I am just a amateur so I hope to hear from those who are much more knowledgeable than myself.

John
The more open and the deeper the campaigning becomes, the worse for the Confederacy.

Potentially, the best scenario needed to start with the control of the Mississippi River. The Confederacy needed to:
  1. Keep control of New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi River.
  2. Keep control of the other end of the Mississippi as far north as possible.
    • Polk/Beauregard tried to do this by moving to Columbus, KY. That was not far enough to justify the invasion of KY.
    • The Rebels really needed to control the Mississippi at Paducah, KY -- because that would control the mouth of the Tennessee River and that controls access to the Cumberland River from the Tennessee River.
  3. Control access to Nashville from the RR north of the city to Louisville.
If they can do those things, the Confederacy can defend on a very narrow front and avoid the Yankees penetrations along the river valleys while safeguarding the East-West communications in their country. Doing this also safeguards their largest city (New Orleans) and two of their three war production centers (Nashville and New Orleans).

Instead, the Confederates lost control of most of the Mississippi River, allowed the Union gunboats access to the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, and lost both New Orleans and Nashville by the Spring of 1862.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
On the "What was Lee thinking?" aspect of Pickett's Charge:

There are lots of reasons, strong reasons, why Pickett's Charge failed and should not have been attempted. Lee was clearly over-optimistic in his view of the situation. Criticisms about the attack are many and most of them are valid. But if you want to evaluate Lee's thinking, you need to look at what he saw, not all the many problems that have been re-hashed so many times.

So, what would have happened if Pickett's Charge had worked? What was Lee seeing that led him to take this risk?

To start, we know that Lee believed the AoP could not possibly be all up to Gettysburg. The "Fishhook" position concealed Meade's rear areas from Confederate observation behind the Round Tops-Cemetery Ridge-Cemetery Hill-Culp's Hill position. Meade's flanks were secured by a cavalry division at each end and Lee has little cavalry available; even worse, Stuart himself does not arrive until Noon on July 2nd, and to Lee "cavalry" means "Stuart", because Stuart handled the recon, analysis and interrogation functions for the ANV. Lee thinks some large part of the AoP is not there yet (say V Corps and a good part of the Artillery Reserve for an example); Lee may think the AoP will also be short on artillery ammo. Given that, Lee may think that the AoP defense will be like an eggshell, that he will find the inside soft and gooey if he can crack the shell.

Next, we know that Lee has dispatched Stuart and his cavalry eastwards, to get behind the Union right flank. IRL, they are unable to do much, with Gregg and Custer doing a good job of holding them off. We see lots of speculation about why they were there and what Lee wanted them to do, often with the thought that Stuart was supposed to charge from that direction as Pickett hit the Union center. But that would be a bizarre thought for Lee, who never seems to have done anything like that (mass cavalry charge against infantry and artillery) with cavalry anywhere else. So why is Stuart out there?

Clearly Lee over-estimated the effect his bombardment would have. His artillery was not up to this task, for several reasons. Colonel Alexander was a bit sheepish about the performance, thinking of how his old instructors on the Union side would evaluate it. Confederate munitions/training/etc. were not good enough. Long range ammo was running short. Command structure for the artillery was being improvised and was disjointed. Despite that, Lee clearly expected a better performance. I doubt what he wanted was realistic in hindsight, but the ANV artillery should have done a bit better.

Lee seems to have been unaware of just how badly A. P. Hill's men had suffered in the first two days until he rode through them on the 3rd. This attack needed more strength and more support, but Lee may have thought his attack would be a bit larger than it was, and expected better support. Let's say he thought the attack would be stronger by another 1500 men than it was. He over-estimated what his men could do, and he may have over-estimated how many of them there were at this point.

So we have Lee believing that Meade would only get stronger, thinking that a delay worked against the ANV, and frustrated by the disjointed performances of July 1 and 2 with all their lost opportunities. He knows the AoP has been hit hard. He feels a hard knock might break them. Whatever else, the massive bombardment that precedes the attack is the greatest artillery preparation of the war, paving the way for a very strong attack.

So, given all that, what was Lee thinking? What did Lee see that made him push this risky attack? If did Lee think he could break them, what did he see would happen after Pickett pierced their center?

Here is what I think.

Lee saw the weakness of the "Fishhook" and the Union forward position at Gettysburg. His attack was aimed at exploiting that weakness. If he had -- somehow -- made it work, Meade and the AoP would have been in deep trouble.

To see that, you need to look at what would happen if Pickett had -- somehow -- broken through and thrown the Union center into chaos. If Meade cannot re-establish the center of the line, what does he do?

There are only two ways for the AoP to retreat from the "Fishhook" position.. One is down the Baltimore Pike; the other is down the Taneytown Road. These two roads diverge from each other, so the parts of the AoP will get farther and farther apart as they move down them. This creates the opportunity for Lee to concentrate against one or the other in pursuit, to defeat them in detail..

If Pickett breaks through, the Taneytown road will be immediately cut by his advance. The Baltimore Pike is not much further and might be cut as well by Pickett. All Union troops on Culp's Hill-Cemetery Hill and the northern end of Cemetery Ridge have just been cut off from the rest of the AoP and are about to be surrounded.

If this happens, Stuart's position to the East suddenly makes a lot of sense. He can strike at the Baltimore Pike out by Rock Creek. Confederate cavalry can turn the Pike into a chaotic traffic jam (this is where the ambulances and supply wagons are travelling). Baltimore Pike will become unusable.

This is the moment when Lee would have to wave his entire army in. He must support Pickett with everything he can. He must hit the Culps Hill-Cemetery Hill position with everything he can bring to bear. He must threaten and tie up the Union troops on the "Fishhook" to keep them from sending reinforcements to seal Pickett's breakthrough. The greatest milling maelstrom of fighting troops in the Civil War would be surging back and forth on the northern end of the "Fishhook", fighting for the salvation or annihilation of the AoP.

Even if Meade can somehow fight his way out, it will have to be by splitting the AoP and retreating in two different directions. The right will have to retreat through Stuart's cavalry on the Baltimore Pike with Confederates hitting his rear-guard and flank. The Union left will have to withdraw down the Taneytown Road under pressure. If this somehow worked out, it would be by far the worst Union defeat of the war.

I don't think Lee could have pulled this off. I do think this is what he saw, what he was thinking of when he attacked.
I could never really make any sense of Picket‘s charge and admittedly saw for a in great measure just desperation behind it - but looking at it THAT way it suddenly makes some sense...
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Beginning in the 1970s with Alan Nolan and Thomas Lawrence Connelly, the view of Lee as the unassailable, perfect general has started to be thoroughly taken to task. One of the most charges against Lee's supposed mastery of war was that he allegedly failed to grasp war above the operational, or "grand tactical" level. Lee had strategic "tunnel vision," unable to see the war outside of the Virginia theater of operations.

On the face of it, this seems somewhat substantiated when looking at how pessimistic he was of Longstreet's desire to use his troops in the West.
But there are NO such unassailable generals at all.

I cannot believe that anybody should be still of such an opinion (are there still people out there to believe that Lee was „unassailable“?)

On the other hand it‘s also wrong to fall into another extreme - and to minimize Lee‘s capabilities or importance.

Lee was really competent as far as I can see it - but of course he had shortcomings - just like every other general....
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
I could never really make any sense of Picket‘s charge and admittedly saw for a in great measure just desperation behind it - but looking at it THAT way it suddenly makes some sense...
Yes, I think so. I have walked that field, crossed it with a descendant of a man who was wounded there, but lived. I cannot see doing it, but after a long time I think I finally understand why Lee thought he should try it. If Meade doesn't have a strong reserve and you can crack that line, the position has no depth. Break through the shell and suddenly all that was strong becomes a weakness, strength and security becomes isolation and weakness. The problem is making it work, not the prospects if you succeed -- but making it work looks like it requires a lot of good fortune.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It makes sense in the context of the moment, and it makes a lot more sense if Lee is thinking strategically - not just about this battle, but about the wider context in which it sits.

In the past, Lee has fought Union armies on several occasions. Of those times:

- the Seven Days saw him break half a Union army, at sundown, but it was able to retreat to safety over a river. The army then manoeuvred by wings and avoided being caught in a sufficiently vulnerable state that he could really go for the kill. This was a costly victory which was justified for strategic reasons.
- Second Bull Run saw him launch a devastating blow on the flank with Longstreet, but he didn't have the men available to really follow up, and the Union army was able to recover itself somewhat before falling back over the Bull Run. This battle saw Lee fighting at a major disadvantage in manpower.
- Antietam saw Lee being the one on the defensive and having trouble parrying attacks.
- Fredericksburg saw Lee mostly on the defensive again, and the fighting went on until the evening. He could have then launched a counterstroke, but the enemy has the Rappahannock to retire over (and the town of Fredericksburg itself to cover that retirement).
- Chancellorsville saw Lee managing to turn the tables on, and attack, a Union army that was twice the size. But it was too big to really finish off in one go, and was able to retire behind the Rappahannock again (and he had to pause to concentrate on Sedgwick at Fredericksburg).


Lee's army is getting weaker over time, because the Confederacy (correctly) front loaded their mobilization. The Union army has the potential to get stronger over time, because they haven't yet mobilized to the same extent, but at Gettysburg they haven't yet (and indeed they seem to be struggling for manpower in the East).
At Gettysburg, on Day Three, there's a Union army which has suffered badly in manoeuvre warfare on days one and two. Lee's attack sequences have come a cropper in some cases due to extremely bad luck on his part (good on the Union's part), like division commanders going down, but he's still got a situation where he knows he's done a lot of damage to the Union army; he has no guarantees whatsoever that he will ever have it in such a vulnerable position again. In particular there is no convenient large river to retire behind, and he's launching his attack in the early afternoon of a summer's day.



To put it another way, either Lee can next fight the Union at a time and place when the Union army feels it is ready to fight him, and on ground where (while it may well be likely to lose) it can retire and all that means is a failed offensive, or Lee can fight the Union now at a time and place where they have been scrambling to respond and where - if he succeeds - he's crippled or killed the Army of the Potomac, plus inflicted massive humiliation on the Union. It advances all three possible avenues for the Confederacy to win the war at once (outlast, internal peace movement, external intervention).
 

OldReliable1862

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 2, 2017
Location
Georgia
Second Bull Run saw him launch a devastating blow on the flank with Longstreet, but he didn't have the men available to really follow up, and the Union army was able to recover itself somewhat before falling back over the Bull Run. This battle saw Lee fighting at a major disadvantage in manpower.
It would be fascinating to speculate on what Second Manassas would have looked like if Lee had been allowed to take D. H. Hill's and McLaws' divisions.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It would be fascinating to speculate on what Second Manassas would have looked like if Lee had been allowed to take D. H. Hill's and McLaws' divisions.
There's kind of a time and motion study involved, I think.

On checking, McClellan broke camp on the 14th and DH Hill's units didn't come north until the 19th/24th (they shifted to Hanover Ct House on the 19th and marched from there until the 24th, so there's up to ten days of acceleration available depending solely on Confederate decisions; with that in mind and given that DH Hill nearly made it in time to participate in 2BR there's definite potential.

You could effectively accelerate DH Hill's arrival with Lee by three to six days (i.e. they march to Hanover Ct House on the 17th and leave from there on the 19th?). Historically they reached Lee on September 2 near Chantilly, which means that if they were 5 days quicker to leave Hanover Ct House then they'd be reaching Chantilly on the 28th. While this is obviously impossible because of the Union army in the way of their reaching Chantilly, it means the reinforcing column could definitely reach the Bull Run battlefield in time to participate in the fighting on the 29th/30th.

The trick is making sure it doesn't "run up the back" of Pope, though if they "keep pace with" Pope's rear a day or so behind them then they'd be turning up on the 29th or 30th along the Bristoe road. If they'd avoided notice by Pope's cavalry (not difficult honestly) then they could perhaps hit Banks (guarding the trains at Bristoe).
For maximum serendipity this would be going in at about 3PM, meaning that they'd have just smashed Banks (unlikely to have a different outcome given strength ratios) when the main CS attack goes in, assuming parallelism otherwise. Marching from there along the line of the O&A to Manassas Junction, and thence to Bull Run Bridge, might well avoid the "Chantilly Fumble".


More than that I think it'd need to be analyzed more carefully, and the problem with the analysis is that you need to include Pope's delusion without making it a "he'd never do anything reasonable".
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It's also worth considering I think that the attack Lee wanted to launch (and ordered launched) is not the same as the attack which actually happened, at Gettysburg. This is not strategical or even operational but tactical, but it affects our perception of the risk/reward for the attack.

That's because of the rate of the bombardment (the guns kept firing until they were pretty much out of ammunition, and IIRC slower than Lee wanted), and especially the second wave that was meant to be sent in but didn't actually go (the attack was meant to be 18 bdes, it was actually 9). Both of these would materially have affected the outcome.
 

Dead Parrott

Sergeant
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Jul 30, 2019
It's also worth considering I think that the attack Lee wanted to launch (and ordered launched) is not the same as the attack which actually happened, at Gettysburg. This is not strategical or even operational but tactical, but it affects our perception of the risk/reward for the attack.

That's because of the rate of the bombardment (the guns kept firing until they were pretty much out of ammunition, and IIRC slower than Lee wanted), and especially the second wave that was meant to be sent in but didn't actually go (the attack was meant to be 18 bdes, it was actually 9). Both of these would materially have affected the outcome.

True. Things never go exactly the way generals want them to go - sometimes to greater extents than they had ever imagined. Generalship then devolves on best playing the hand you are dealt. I think Lee was usually very good at this. But no general wins every hand.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
The choice is not "take TN and possibly KY" versus "go forty miles into PA", though.

The short term choice is to campaign against Rosecrans (either to destroy his army or to force him back from Murfreesboro) instead of launching the Gettysburg campaign. Trying to destroy Rosecrans would fit with the "score military victories" route to Confederate victory, but forcing him back (which is easier) would not to the same extent.
This is pretty much a comparison of where you can get the better deal - is it easier to get a militarily and politically significant victory in PA versus around Murfreesboro.

The long term choice is to commit a large chunk of what would otherwise have been Lee's army to campaigning in TN and KY, versus using it to defend Richmond and threaten Washington. If you're planning to retake TN (and possibly KY) then you're planning on that portion of the army that has moved west staying west for a long time, possibly into 1864.
This of course means defending Virginia with a smaller force than would otherwise be the case.
I ask, again, upon what historical fact do you use that would reinforce your obvious doubts that Lee could not hold Northern Va. against anything the Union War Dept. would send against him. Especially in light of a disaster in Tn and K?

The question is not strategic theory, but historical reality. To it has to has to be qualified the extent that Lee's strategic thinking can be qualified as 'good' in comparison with other Civil War commanders and in that comparison I find the qualification that it was 'good' problematic.


P.S. Again, you avoid my question, what is your cost benefit theory on Longstreet's presence in Tn rather than Pa.?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I ask, again, upon what historical fact do you use that would reinforce your obvious doubts that Lee could not hold Northern Va. against anything the Union War Dept. would send against him. Especially in light of a disaster in Tn and K?
If Lee has a guarantee that:
- The Union will only launch overland attacks, not restart the peninsular route
and
- The Union will launch those attacks in such a way that Lee can block them before they establish supply south of the Rapidan

Then Lee would be able to hold Northern VA against anything the Union could send against him, without Longstreet (in 1863), assuming he gets lucky and Hooker errs in the historical ways at Chancellorsville.
But he doesn't have those guarantees.

P.S. Again, you avoid my question, what is your cost benefit theory on Longstreet's presence in Tn rather than Pa.?

Are you thinking in terms of Longstreet being used to turn Rosecrans out of Murfreesboro or in terms of Longstreet being used to force a battle with Rosecrans at bad odds for Rosecrans?

The former is quite possible (that is to say, it is doable) but it does not really solve any problems for the Confederates. It has regained Murfreesboro, but there isn't really anything preventing the Union from simply retaking Murfreesboro again once Longstreet leaves. The benefit is thus small.
The cost is the inability to launch an invasion of the North which offers the prospect of defeating the Army of the Potomac in the field on northern soil (thus advancing all three possible routes for Confederate independence, as previously noted).

The latter is much more difficult. In order to force a battle with Rosecrans you need to either "trap him" (get him in a situation where he cannot evade without fighting) or "pin him" (create a situation where he must act to defend whatever it is you are attacking).

I don't think there's anything important enough in that area to pin him, and the terrain around Murfreesboro makes it difficult for me to see how he can be trapped. This means that I can't see how there can be a large benefit.


There are of course two other options.
Option three is for Longstreet to be involved with preventing the success of Rosecrans' offensive (the Tullahoma movement), but this doesn't really create the disaster you reference as being needed in TN. So the benefit is small.


Option four is for a sustained Confederate offensive campaign in TN. I don't really know enough about how you envisage this option - for example, what is the vital objective?
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
If Lee has a guarantee that:
- The Union will only launch overland attacks, not restart the peninsular route
and
- The Union will launch those attacks in such a way that Lee can block them before they establish supply south of the Rapidan

Then Lee would be able to hold Northern VA against anything the Union could send against him, without Longstreet (in 1863), assuming he gets lucky and Hooker errs in the historical ways at Chancellorsville.
But he doesn't have those guarantees.



Are you thinking in terms of Longstreet being used to turn Rosecrans out of Murfreesboro or in terms of Longstreet being used to force a battle with Rosecrans at bad odds for Rosecrans?

The former is quite possible (that is to say, it is doable) but it does not really solve any problems for the Confederates. It has regained Murfreesboro, but there isn't really anything preventing the Union from simply retaking Murfreesboro again once Longstreet leaves. The benefit is thus small.
The cost is the inability to launch an invasion of the North which offers the prospect of defeating the Army of the Potomac in the field on northern soil (thus advancing all three possible routes for Confederate independence, as previously noted).

The latter is much more difficult. In order to force a battle with Rosecrans you need to either "trap him" (get him in a situation where he cannot evade without fighting) or "pin him" (create a situation where he must act to defend whatever it is you are attacking).

I don't think there's anything important enough in that area to pin him, and the terrain around Murfreesboro makes it difficult for me to see how he can be trapped. This means that I can't see how there can be a large benefit.


There are of course two other options.
Option three is for Longstreet to be involved with preventing the success of Rosecrans' offensive (the Tullahoma movement), but this doesn't really create the disaster you reference as being needed in TN. So the benefit is small.


Option four is for a sustained Confederate offensive campaign in TN. I don't really know enough about how you envisage this option - for example, what is the vital objective?
Most generals cannot wait until their opponents 'guarantee' them anything, much less their attack plans. But, there is nothing in past events, and that is all one can use to judge the future, why, if Lee is competent, at all, would he assume the AoP would not attack overland, strategically it is the only way the North can attack and cover Washington . It is the main reason Lincoln did not favor McClellan's Peninsula Campaign and why he refused Hooker's suggestion to advance on Richmond, while Lee advanced into Pa. and why Grant was not allowed to attack Richmond from the South. Surely even a mediocre strategic thinkers would see that, even at the time.

Once, again, I am suggesting that instead of planning on a campaign in Pa. Lee had sent Longstreet West with the intent that its sojourn there would be more than a few weeks, that the next major push for the Confederacy would be to turn the war around in the West rather than the East.

I am suggesting that strategically speaking Bragg affected the course of the War by his invasion of Ky than Lee did in Pa. It was not his fault he got no help from Lee or Davis to help maintain what success he did. It is only one of several strategic plans that Lee suffers in comparison with,

I am suggesting that Bragg had more of a strategic affect on the war with his invasion of Ky then Lee did in Pa.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Most generals cannot wait until their opponents 'guarantee' them anything, much less their attack plans. But, there is nothing in past events, and that is all one can use to judge the future, why, if Lee is competent, at all, would he assume the AoP would not attack overland, strategically it is the only way the North can attack and cover Washington . It is the main reason Lincoln did not favor McClellan's Peninsula Campaign and why he refused Hooker's suggestion to advance on Richmond, while Lee advanced into Pa. and why Grant was not allowed to attack Richmond from the South. Surely even a mediocre strategic thinkers would see that, even at the time.
I mean, what Lee saw was that when the Union had attacked on the Peninsula route it took Lee mustering over 100,000 PFD to force McClellan away from Richmond, and that at a time when the Union army defending Washington was (thanks to Lee's successful diversion operations) much larger than it needed to be.

Lee no longer has the ability to muster that large an army.

In the Seven Days, the Union force around Richmond was 116,326 Aggregate Present, with the forces in the Dept. of Virginia numbering another 10,101. This force is enough that Lee had to pull out all the stops to force them away from Richmond, and if the Union could put this into action again in equal strength he cannot repeat the feat - certainly not without Longstreet.

The Union also needs about 50,000 AP to hold Washington safe in the absence of their main army (this covers fort garrisons and a covering force).

On April 30 1863:

The Dept. of Virginia had 36,600 AP.
The Army of the Potomac had 157,990 AP.
The Dept. of Washington had 44,200 AP.
And the Middle Department had 39,500 AP.

So let's say that the Dept. of Virginia contributes only 10,000 AP to the force actively threatening Richmond. The Army of the Potomac contributes 110,000, meaning the force threatening Richmond is 120,000 AP (stronger than the historical).
What does that leave defending Washington?

Discounting the Middle Department entirely, it's
47,990 (remains of AoP)
+ 44,200 (Dept. Washington)
And totals over 90,000 AP, which incidentally is stronger than Pope's army was on June 30 1862.


The Union absolutely has the werewithal to repeat the Peninsular campaign in early 1863.

This is the fundamental reason behind my point about guarantees. Without those (impossible) guarantees, then Lee hoping to be able to defend Richmond long-term without Longstreet is a risk - and the cost if that risk turns sour is major.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Once, again, I am suggesting that instead of planning on a campaign in Pa. Lee had sent Longstreet West with the intent that its sojourn there would be more than a few weeks, that the next major push for the Confederacy would be to turn the war around in the West rather than the East.

I am suggesting that strategically speaking Bragg affected the course of the War by his invasion of Ky than Lee did in Pa. It was not his fault he got no help from Lee or Davis to help maintain what success he did. It is only one of several strategic plans that Lee suffers in comparison with,

I am suggesting that Bragg had more of a strategic affect on the war with his invasion of Ky then Lee did in Pa.
I think the fundamental question here then is what the projected end-state of the campaign is. Is the end-state of the campaign that the Confederacy has re-established control of large chunks of Kentucky and Tennessee, and is expecting to be able to defend them long term? Is that with Longstreet still west (as part of the defence) or not?

Does the campaign goal include the destruction or mauling of a major Union army? If so then that makes the defence aspect easier but means the campaign itself is a larger ask.

Which of the possible routes to Confederate independence does it advance?
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
I read a bit more now regarding strategical planning North and South and must say the whole thing is quite complicated. The crucial time to look at is maybe 1863 where Lee did a lot of string-pulling to prevent the transfer of Virginian troops to Bragg. I became less sure now that his attitude was solely strategically motivated - I must say that not all of his arguments seem really convincing to me.

Albeit he (correctly) expressed concern about a Union western concentration quite early. Later he seems to have changed his mind suddenly and went to any lengths to keep his troops together.
But on the other hand the North really called off his planned concentration in the West and ordered Hooker to attack in Virginia....(but I could not find out if Lee actually knew it as a reason to change his mind - I am suspecting he didn‘t...)

As far as I can say there seems to have been much uneasiness on both sides about where to concentrate the main effort...and Lee was no exception. But maybe it‘s not the worst idea to keep at least one‘s own powder dry if the focus point of the enemy cannot be detected with sureness?

More and more I get the impression that the campaigns of both sides in 63 unfolded more as reactions to the movements of the enemy (or his perceived or rumoured movements).
Maybe better to think about the whole strategical planning-thing like a kind of soccer or football game: your trainer may have (or may have not) a clever concept for the game - in the end it‘s on the green where the moves are to be done and they have to be done fast.

Does this make any sense?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I think generally speaking a general has to deal with probabilities - likely enemy intentions, and so on.

I also think it's plausible that Lee saw himself as the army commander who could win or lose the war in a very short space of time, probably correctly.

There's an argument to be made that in terms of resource allocation the Confederacy is getting more out of the same number of men on a tactical scale if they're with Lee than if they're with another general, simply because Lee is the one who can get the best performance out of them. He won more than one victory while outnumbered.


Were it not for Fredericksburg I'd wonder if maybe augmenting the forces for Stones River would be an easy decision, but with Fredericksburg in mind I think it'd be right on the edge of possible to get a significant Confederate reinforcement from there to Murfreesboro in time for Stones River. That's probably too tightly coordinated to be practical (as the operational timing was dictated by th Union)
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I mean, what Lee saw was that when the Union had attacked on the Peninsula route it took Lee mustering over 100,000 PFD to force McClellan away from Richmond, and that at a time when the Union army defending Washington was (thanks to Lee's successful diversion operations) much larger than it needed to be.

Lee no longer has the ability to muster that large an army.

In the Seven Days, the Union force around Richmond was 116,326 Aggregate Present, with the forces in the Dept. of Virginia numbering another 10,101. This force is enough that Lee had to pull out all the stops to force them away from Richmond, and if the Union could put this into action again in equal strength he cannot repeat the feat - certainly not without Longstreet.

The Union also needs about 50,000 AP to hold Washington safe in the absence of their main army (this covers fort garrisons and a covering force).

On April 30 1863:

The Dept. of Virginia had 36,600 AP.
The Army of the Potomac had 157,990 AP.
The Dept. of Washington had 44,200 AP.
And the Middle Department had 39,500 AP.

So let's say that the Dept. of Virginia contributes only 10,000 AP to the force actively threatening Richmond. The Army of the Potomac contributes 110,000, meaning the force threatening Richmond is 120,000 AP (stronger than the historical).
What does that leave defending Washington?

Discounting the Middle Department entirely, it's
47,990 (remains of AoP)
+ 44,200 (Dept. Washington)
And totals over 90,000 AP, which incidentally is stronger than Pope's army was on June 30 1862.


The Union absolutely has the werewithal to repeat the Peninsular campaign in early 1863.

This is the fundamental reason behind my point about guarantees. Without those (impossible) guarantees, then Lee hoping to be able to defend Richmond long-term without Longstreet is a risk - and the cost if that risk turns sour is major.
All very text book, and, irrelevant to the discussion at hand, much less the question of the OP.

We were discussing the prospects of reinforcing the Western Theatre from the ANV in 1863, not you are talking about McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in 1862. Most of your information is either suspect or wrong., as for instance, a great debate between McClellan, Lincoln and the War Dept. raged all during and after the campaign ended. concerning exactly how many men were in the AoP at any point in time and from the history off events at the time, it seems likely that if Lee had any thing like 100,000 men in the ranks he would have beaten little mac more soundly than he did in real life.

But, my main point is that in 1863, Lee had a chance to experiment in large scale strategic planning, to turn the war around in the West and from the historical evidence, not only was Lee reluctant, he was actively opposed to it. Which, I think, is an indication of how good Lee's strategic thinking wa(on the assumption that Lee did really want the Confederacy to win its Independence)..
 
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