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.
 
Last edited:

Lost Cause

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
I’d agree that both efforts by Lee were a gamble and neither of them paid off... gambling and sound strategy don’t mix.
Generals have gambled throughout history, especially when outnumbered. Lee split his forces quite frequently to the dismay of his opponents. The alternative was to sit back or retreat. Not much breathing room to the Confederate capital.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I'm not sure if Lee was actually expecting that Maryland would or could be brought into the Confederacy, although he certainly hoped to raise new regiments there while damaging Northern civilian spirit. But in regard to moving Union (or ostensibly loyal) states into the southern column, there was some sort of loose understanding among southern leaders to attempt as much. Which explains the initial fervor of southern commanders in 1861-62 to mount campaigns in Missouri, Kentucky, and New Mexico territory.
True enough, and as I reread some of my posts I realize I have overstated what I believe about Lee's strategy in Md. My description of the results of Lee's invasion being successful, was what could reasonably be expected , Not what Lee necessarily planned or expected.

As you, et. al., have noted Lee himself seems only interested in giving Marylanders a chance to decide for themselves if they wanted to join the confederacy, or not. It seems to me that he foresaw or planned little beyond defending Md. if it chose the confederacy. If that is so, then I believe it is an indicator of the limitations of Lee's strategic mind.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
True enough, and as I reread some of my posts I realize I have overstated what I believe about Lee's strategy in Md. My description of the results of Lee's invasion being successful, was what could reasonably be expected , Not what Lee necessarily planned or expected.

As you, et. al., have noted Lee himself seems only interested in giving Marylanders a chance to decide for themselves if they wanted to join the confederacy, or not. It seems to me that he foresaw or planned little beyond defending Md. if it chose the confederacy. If that is so, then I believe it is an indicator of the limitations of Lee's strategic mind.
I would argue in order to implement a winning conventional war strategy it's more or less impossible without outnumbering the opposing side at least two to one with excellent logistics and ideally technical superiority in weaponry.
Guerrlla warfare is not a substitute for the Confedracy because guerrllas can not safeguard slaves. Yes the Confedracy used guerrillas but they weren't going to win the war on their own.
The other part of the strategic coun and one well outside Lee's control is the naval war. The Confedracy is highly dependent on overseas trade and there is simply no way the CSN can defeat the USN blockade.
Leftyhunter
 

Stone in the wall

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Month
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
If Maryland was going to side with the Confederacy it would have had to make that move when Virginia did. Once Lincoln had several Maryland Politicans locked up that wasn't going to happen. Lee is correctly thinking there is a lot of southern support and is looking for recruits. It just doesn't happen, Marylander's see hungry, dirty, ragged, and shoeless soldiers.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
I think Lee understood the South couldn't win a long war
While on first glance that appears to be conventional thinking, there might be a more complex calculation. Granted that the northern advantage in manpower, resources, and infrastructure would certainly work against the south as the war dragged on, and quick evidence of successful southern arms might shore up the fledgling Confederacy and enlist foreign support. On the other hand, a lengthy war could shatter northern civilian morale, arouse the simmering Democratic opposition to the war, and enable the south to bolster its case for independence. And both scenarios actually played out to some extent. Lee's early victories and aggressive moves might have secured recognition or arbitration by 1862, while the attrition like struggle that almost defeated Lincoln in the summer of 1864 was probably the Confederacy's last great hope. Of course, this is a simplistic analysis; there are too many other factors in the mix to make a blanket case for whether the south could or could not win a long war.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
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.
My wife’s g-g-grandfather of the 3rd GA was pinned down behind the famous fence along the road in front of the copse of trees… the day before Pickett’s Charge. What was left of the regiment were in reserve watching Pickett’s men cross the same ground where they had lost so many friends the day before.

Folks who study Pickett’s charge often say that the “success” private Benjamin Lester’s comrades made played a major part in Lee’s decision to order Pickett’s Charge. Lee had the report of what had happened to the 3rd & came to the conclusion that a larger force could prevail crossing the same ground.

You are welcome to consider where the 40% loss suffered by the 3rd figured into Lee’s decision to recross the same ground. Did, as sometimes happened, officers sanitize their returns? Did Lee have a full picture of what had occurred to base his decision on? That is unknowable, or so I am told. At any case, Pickett’s Charge was the second attack to suffer the same fate covering the same ground. Make of that what you will.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
My wife’s g-g-grandfather of the 3rd GA was pinned down behind the famous fence along the road in front of the copse of trees… the day before Pickett’s Charge. What was left of the regiment were in reserve watching Pickett’s men cross the same ground where they had lost so many friends the day before.

Folks who study Pickett’s charge often say that the “success” private Benjamin Lester’s comrades made played a major part in Lee’s decision to order Pickett’s Charge. Lee had the report of what had happened to the 3rd & came to the conclusion that a larger force could prevail crossing the same ground.

You are welcome to consider where the 40% loss suffered by the 3rd figured into Lee’s decision to recross the same ground. Did, as sometimes happened, officers sanitize their returns? Did Lee have a full picture of what had occurred to base his decision on? That is unknowable, or so I am told. At any case, Pickett’s Charge was the second attack to suffer the same fate covering the same ground. Make of that what you will.
Yes. Things like that are hard to understand.
 

Stone in the wall

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Month
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
Even a blind squirrel sometimes...

Tee-hee, your thumbs down don't bother me @CowCavalry .
One would think Union Generals would have little trouble defeating a blind squirrel. Lee again split his army sending Jackson to capture Harpers Ferry. Total Union losses same as Sharpsburg without the goody's. Jackson with a loss of 39 killed, 247 wounded captured;

12,419 officers and men
44 killed
173 wounded
13,000 small arms
200 wagons
73 guns
 

shooter too

Private
Joined
Mar 4, 2021
One would think Union Generals would have little trouble defeating a blind squirrel. Lee again split his army sending Jackson to capture Harpers Ferry. Total Union losses same as Sharpsburg without the goody's. Jackson with a loss of 39 killed, 247 wounded captured;

12,419 officers and men
44 killed
173 wounded
13,000 small arms
200 wagons
73 guns


Edited by moderator

https://digitalcommons.lasalle.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1104&context=the_histories
 
Last edited by a moderator:

edfranksphd

Private
Joined
Aug 30, 2019
A PhD once told me that an ad homonym attack is an indication of lack of evidence to support an argument. This only confirms that bit of wisdom. It is obvious you haven’t read David Powell’s body of work. It needs no defense from me. Just some of the books I have read on this subject are in my review posted at the head of this thread.
It's obvious you don't care what the credentials of your source are. The lack of credentials is not an ad hominem attack, it is simply a fact, and a very relevant one. And, btw, he doesn't own the trucking company (Powell), he apparently is an employee. So he's a hobbyist. Great. But a hobbyist does not a reliable scholar make. If he hasn't done a PhD, then he hasn't been vetted with respect to his methodology for doing research as well as his ability to draw reasonable inferences from the data. Has he come up with new data, that no one has considered before, or is he putting a new spin on the same data that's been evaluated before by dozens of other trained historians?! This is my only concern. Hardly seems unreasonable. But, whatdoIknow.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I think we're going around in circles . Name me one secessionist movement that won without massive foreign intervention. No that would not be the American Revolutionary War because there was extensive forigen military intervention on behalf of the Colonial Rebels.
I can't think of an example if I am missing one let me know.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I think we're going around in circles . Name me one secessionist movement that won without massive foreign intervention. No that would not be the American Revolutionary War because there was extensive forigen military intervention on behalf of the Colonial Rebels.
I can't think of an example if I am missing one let me know.
@leftyhunter Would the Irish revolution qualify? Just wondering.

John
Interesting, yes it would. The IRA did receive forigen support in the form of money and weapons from American Irish Catholics. In terms of military foreign intervention yes a few U- boats during WWI did supply some rifles to the IRA. More importantly the UK lost a lot of manpower during WWI so they recruited a paramilitary police force nick named " the Black and Tans". So I would argue that WWI was an indirect form of military intervention that worked on behalf of the IRA. Of course the IRA victory wasn't complete because Northern Ireland remained part of the UK .
It's an interesting example no doubt.
Leftyhunter
 
Last edited:

Lost Cause

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
One would think Union Generals would have little trouble defeating a blind squirrel. Lee again split his army sending Jackson to capture Harpers Ferry. Total Union losses same as Sharpsburg without the goody's. Jackson with a loss of 39 killed, 247 wounded captured;

12,419 officers and men
44 killed
173 wounded
13,000 small arms
200 wagons
73 guns
I’m sure even Lincoln would agree considering he spent the first three years of the war sifting through the nuts looking for the right general to contain Lee.
 
Top