Was Sherman a Cautious Commander?

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novushomus

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I am going to disagree with your overall conclusion and highlight the part above. When Sherman was at the division level he conducted action at the primary tactical level and the result was not bad, though the sample is small (Shiloh, the actions during the advance on Corinth, Port Arkansas). At Chickasaw Bayou it wasnt the primary tactics that were the problem -- it was Sherman's mistakes at the operational and strategic level. At Kennessaw he didnt oversee primary tactics and the mistake was his higher level decision to attack instead of maneuver.
While I don't disagree that Sherman's operational and higher order tactics were more responsible for the repulse at Chickasaw Bayou, primary tactics were part of the larger Federal problem. Only a single Federal regiment reached the Confederate line and it was forced back because it was not supported. Sherman's (and Morgan Smith's) primary tactics were unable to overcome the problems posed by terrain and enemy opposition.

As for Kennesaw, I didn't attribute his repulse or his problem as being primary tactics, merely that his operational thinking was flawed in his belief that he could break through the Army of Tennessee's lines and force Johnston into the Chattahoochee. However, I worded that section very poorly and have edited it to reflect my intent. I appreciate your analysis and criticism.
 

NedBaldwin

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It is what I get for generalizing, but what remains is that a smaller Confederate force checked Sherman, who was unable to bring the larger part of his force to bear.
And is that becuase of poor tactics or terrain or the advantage of defense? I guess my point being that this is brought up as an example of his alleged tactical shortcomings and I would like to know why it is an example of this.


And Thomas's was not the main attack. According to the Federal plans, the Army of the Cumberland merely was to seize the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge as a demonstration in favor of Sherman's main attack.
Says who? To cut to the point, what you write is certainly one allegation that I have seen made about the battle but its not what Grant would claim was his plan.
 

István.AT

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I asked myself once, what was the difference between Sherman's cautious and methodical advance during the Atlanta campaign that ended in huge success and McClellan's cautious and lackluster advance during the Peninsula campaign that ended in vain.

There is a proverb in Russia that can be vaguely translated as "One man who took a beating is worth two who did not". By the 1864 Sherman definitely took his share of beating and learned both success and failure, his men were veterans, used to fight hight and earn a victory by it. While early in the war Sherman demonstrated similar traits to McClellan - his (mostly absent) intelligence overestimated the enemy forces and he was hesitant to act. But keeping on through the war he learned to play to his strengths and apply both aggressiveness and caution when needed.
 
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rbasin

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I asked myself once, what was the difference between Sherman's cautious and methodical advance during the Atlanta campaign that ended in huge success and McClellan's cautious and lackluster advance during the Peninsula campaign that ended in vain.

There is a proverb in Russia that can be vaguely translated as "One man who took a beating is worth two who did not". By the 1864 Sherman definitely took his share of beating and learned both success and failure, his men were veterans, used to fight hight and earn a victory by it. While early in the war Sherman demonstrated similar traits to McClellan - his (mostly absent) intelligence overestimated the enemy forces and he was hesitant to act. But keeping on through the war he learned to play to his strengths and apply both aggressiveness and caution when needed.
But early in, alot of Union generals overestimated. Mac, Grant, Buell.
 
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jackt62

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It's hard to use terms like "cautious" in characterizing a general such as Sherman. As time went on, his military dogma became one in which victory was to be achieved by overwhelming enemy military forces and the infrastructure and civilian base that supported them. Particularly after the fall of Vicksburg, Sherman's movements were geared to destroying southern transportation and industrial targets (the Meridian raid, the Seige of Atlanta, the March to the Sea), while methodically maneuvering and flanking the Army of Tennessee out of entrenched positions. Examination of the Dalton-Atlanta campaign beginning in May 1864 shows that (despite setbacks like failure to push through Snake Creek Gap and destroy the AOT behind Resaca, or the frustrating assault at Kennesaw), Sherman's "cautious" flanking strategy succeeded. But whether Sherman was any more cautious than, say Grant, is hard to really know, because although Grant pursued a similar simultaneous strategy in Virginia, Grant sustained higher casualties, in part because he was opposed by a highly aggressive enemy in Robert E. Lee.
 

Ironbar

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"I am a ****ed sight smarter man than Grant. I know more about military history, strategy, and grand tactics than he does. I know more about supply, administration, and everything else than he does. I'll tell you where he beats me though and where he beats the world. He doesn't give a **** about what the enemy does out of his sight, but it scares me like hell."
I always found this to be one of Sherman most insightful comments about himself.
 

Krieger

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It's hard to use terms like "cautious" in characterizing a general such as Sherman. As time went on, his military dogma became one in which victory was to be achieved by overwhelming enemy military forces and the infrastructure and civilian base that supported them. Particularly after the fall of Vicksburg, Sherman's movements were geared to destroying southern transportation and industrial targets (the Meridian raid, the Seige of Atlanta, the March to the Sea), while methodically maneuvering and flanking the Army of Tennessee out of entrenched positions. Examination of the Dalton-Atlanta campaign beginning in May 1864 shows that (despite setbacks like failure to push through Snake Creek Gap and destroy the AOT behind Resaca, or the frustrating assault at Kennesaw), Sherman's "cautious" flanking strategy succeeded. But whether Sherman was any more cautious than, say Grant, is hard to really know, because although Grant pursued a similar simultaneous strategy in Virginia, Grant sustained higher casualties, in part because he was opposed by a highly aggressive enemy in Robert E. Lee.
Grant and Sherman were very similar in a lot of ways, particularly in the 1864 campaigns which really isn't surprising. Both recognized that the enemy's logistical network was their primary target, without which the Confederate armies would essentially crumble under their own weight. Neither of them wanted tremendous bloodshed and "glorious victories". Sherman repeatedly allowed Confederate forces to flee before his advancing army, forces which nonetheless surrendered in April 1865, without needing to destroy them or lose more of his own men.
 
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Jamieva

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Read Richard McMurry's book on the Atlanta campaign. He points out several times that Sherman had a chance to deliver devestating attacks to the AoT but did not. McMurry contends the campaign could've been over much sooner
 

jackt62

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Read Richard McMurry's book on the Atlanta campaign. He points out several times that Sherman had a chance to deliver devestating attacks to the AoT but did not. McMurry contends the campaign could've been over much sooner
Excellent book! The best example that comes to mind is when Sherman chose not to use Thomas' Army of the Cumberland to outflank Johnston's Army of Tennessee through Snake Creek Gap and take Resaca even though it was Thomas' plan and he had the larger force. Instead, Sherman relied on McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, which never went all the way, an act that Sherman considered timid, and ended the possibility of a decisive victory.
 

Jamieva

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Excellent book! The best example that comes to mind is when Sherman chose not to use Thomas' Army of the Cumberland to outflank Johnston's Army of Tennessee through Snake Creek Gap and take Resaca even though it was Thomas' plan and he had the larger force. Instead, Sherman relied on McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, which never went all the way, an act that Sherman considered timid, and ended the possibility of a decisive victory.
I believe he also pointed out that he had a very ripe position to individually wipe out each of Hoods corps when they spread out around Atlanta and could not support each other, but he did not
 
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I really don't get the concern over Sherman's timidity or aggressiveness. For me the better question is his basic competence. At Shiloh his IN competence came close to allowing Albert Sidney to shatter US Grant and of course preventing him from ever becoming supreme commander.

Then for all her perambulaltions around Vicksburg a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

At Chattanooga, he's assigned a flank attack which is to be the decisive blow and can't even find the right hill. Thank God Thomas and his troops lucked out (or rather profited from Bragg's incompetence in having a career artilleryman failing to properly site his artillery) and carried the day at Missionary Ridge.

I will give him credit for the early stages of the Atlanta campaign. What a novel concept, feinting with the left and flanking to the right. Unfortunately he never seemed to be able to successfully carry it out. Johnston is always between him and Atlanta. Do I even have to mention the absurdity of Kennesaw Mt.

Answer me this who gets the credit for the fall of Atlanta--Sherman or Jeff Davis. When Davis relieved Johnston with Hood. Hood is presented ON A PLATTER an opportunity to crush an entire wing of Sherman's army isolated on one side of a river barrier and can't even be bothered to be present to oversee the assault in person. Say what you will about Johnston he would never have conducted such an incompetent attempt.

So to for the rest of the Atlanta campaign. Attacking for the sake of attacking. Frontally. Against a numerically superior opponent. Wow!!

Finally the march to the sea and north. Scorched earth--who'd a thunk it. Bet Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, and all the various commanders who ravaged the peasants of Germany during the Thirty Years War could have benefited from his counsel. And what army did he oppose. NONE. NADA. ZIP. BUBKAS. Once that fool Hood went galavanting off to Tennessee were there even 15000 Confederate soldiers in the entire state of GA. Given that his entire army was on the verge of starvation when they reached the outskirts of Savannah, suppose Hardee had not evacuated the city without resupply how many of his men might have starved.

Finally instead of investing and taking Charleston a goal from day one of the war. An achievement which every single citizen of the North would have enthusiastically applauded he goes to Columbia. And guess what another fire.

And then Jonesboro. Having overwhelming numerical superiority he comes close to allowing Johnston to crush an entire wing of his army. Having allowed that how great might the consequences have been to the final war effort. Oh, not changing the inevitable outcome but delaying it and precipitating how many more casualties in the process.

Let's just call him sloppy Billy.
 
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Joshism

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No one would describe the the Atlanta campaign or the March to the Sea as even remotely cautious.
It was logistically risky, but carefully planned and executed.

Given that his entire army was on the verge of starvation when they reached the outskirts of Savannah, suppose Hardee had not evacuated the city without resupply
Taking Fort McAllister ensured resupply. Savannah just made it easier.

Finally instead of investing and taking Charleston a goal from day one of the war. An achievement which every single citizen of the North would have enthusiastically applauded he goes to Columbia.
By taking Columbia he also compelled the evacuation of Charleston while moving through more favorable terrain. He ignored the obvious PR stunt for a more effective strategy towards winning the war.
 

Eric Calistri

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Folks seem to often overlook that the lack of opposition was a feature of Sherman’s planning for the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns and treat it, incorrectly, as some sort of flaw.
 
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