Discussion What were the top 5 missed oppurtunities of the ACW?

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Carronade

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Hooker at Chancellorsville. What if he hadn’t “lost confidence in Joe Hooker”?
Did Hooker really have a chance to destroy Lee?
He had over twice Lee's numbers, with a strong force coming in on Lee's flank - or we could even say rear, since the ANV was facing east along the Rappahannock (Meade's comment that "We're on Lee's flank and he doesn't know it" may have understated the situation). How often does an army have such an advantageous position?

Had they pressed the advance on May 1, Meade was close to opening up Banks' Ford, which would speed up the movement of Union troops from the Fredericksburg front to the south bank.

Holding the enemy in front with part of your army while sending your striking force around the flank is a classic strategy, but there may be a moment when the enemy can concentrate on one or the other. The solution is to press the attack and bring all one's combat power to bear.
 

Hoseman

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I think the biggest lost opportunity in the war was when Grant gave Lee the slip after Cold Harbor and crossed the James undetected. He moved a large portion of his army up the river on the south side and sat in front of Petersburg and hesitated. The CS lines were thinly defended and one corps of the AoP could have walked into Petersburg and captured the place without so much as real fight. Had they captured Petersburg then and there, Richmond could have not been held and the war in the east would have most likely ended in 1864. Lee's only choice would have been to give up Richmond and head west but he would have very few, if any, options to feed/supply his army as all the rail lines south would have been severed. I assume the AoP was extremely gun shy of making a frontal assault on any position having just fought at Cold Harbor but one would think that there scouts and intelligence would have known that Lee was still at least a day away from reaching Petersburg.
 
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Carronade

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This will probably get a roll of the eyes and "here he goes again" from some of our veterans, but Beaver Dam Station, May 10, 1864. This was the first morning of Phil Sheridan's expedition allegedly to "whip Jeb Stuart". BDS was a station and Confederate supply depot on the south side of the North Anna River where Sheridan had camped the night before with his seven brigades, almost all of the Army of the Potomac cavalry. Stuart had pursued with three brigades and harassed the Union column as it marched south through the day on May 9 and could be expected to carry on on the 10th. Besides the main road, Sheridan suspected the Confederates might use a ford a short distance up the North Anna and posted the 19th New York Cavalry there.

On the morning of May 10, Stuart had one brigade attack at the main ford and the other two via the upstream ford. That is to say, the inferior force attacked the stronger, dividing its forces, and attacked precisely where Sheridan thought they would. Sheridan's response to this opportunity was to ride away. Some of his troopers actually mounted up and departed under Confederate fire, and the 19th NY was almost left behind.

Sheridan had his chance to "whip Jeb Stuart" and still be in position to do his main job, helping Grant engage Lee and perhaps turn the Overland campaign into a decisive Union victory.
 
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Carronade

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One more oldie but goody, the first day of the Wilderness. Lee's two corps advanced on separate axes. Ewell was halted when he ran into Warren's 5th Union Corps. Hill continued eastward and "threatened" to get between Hancock's 2d Corps and the Union main body. I use the " " because this threat was also an opportunity to catch Hill between superior forces and out of support from the rest of the ANV. Grant might have kicked off his command and his Overland campaign by crushing a couple of Confederate divisions.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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I think the biggest lost opportunity in the war was when Grant gave Lee the slip after Cold Harbor and crossed the James undetected. He moved a large portion of his army up the river on the south side and sat in front of Petersburg and hesitated. The CS lines were thinly defended and one corps of the AoP could have walked into Petersburg and captured the place without so much as real fight. Had they captured Petersburg then and there, Richmond could have not been held and the war in the east would have most likely ended in 1864. Lee's only choice would have been to give up Richmond and head west but he would have very few, if any, options to feed/supply his army as all the rail lines south would have been severed. I assume the AoP was extremely gun shy of making a frontal assault on any position having just fought at Cold Harbor but one would think that there scouts and intelligence would have known that Lee was still at least a day away from reaching Petersburg.
It was also a very real opportunity for Lee to smash 2 Federal Corps. ( II and XVIII)
The only thing that kept Lee from doing so was that he did not know where they were...which was strange, very strange.
Grant's move south of Richmond offered unbelievable possibilities.
 
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CanadianCanuck

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If Lee's army had had better coordination in the Seven Day's they might have crushed the AotP on the Peninsula and severely lengthened (shortened?) the war. At Glendale he probably had his best shot. The army was basically operating without an overall commander, no real coordination and if Lee's officers had managed to carry out the plan out it would have been a fairly decisive victory.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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He had over twice Lee's numbers, with a strong force coming in on Lee's flank - or we could even say rear, since the ANV was facing east along the Rappahannock (Meade's comment that "We're on Lee's flank and he doesn't know it" may have understated the situation). How often does an army have such an advantageous position?

Had they pressed the advance on May 1, Meade was close to opening up Banks' Ford, which would speed up the movement of Union troops from the Fredericksburg front to the south bank.

Holding the enemy in front with part of your army while sending your striking force around the flank is a classic strategy, but there may be a moment when the enemy can concentrate on one or the other. The solution is to press the attack and bring all one's combat power to bear.
One thing Hooker might have done that he did not seem to think of was to make his main point with Sedgwick.
When Fredericksburg was forced, Wilcox correctly moved to defend from the west, and Early correctly moved down the Telegraph road.
Had Sedgwick feinted toward Wilcox while 30,000 troops moved to join him at Federicksburg, he could have smashed Early and been 3 days march from Richmond, with the Army of the James there to reinforce and supply him.
Add Longstreet to the mix, and there was the makings of a real campaign.
 
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nc native

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Antietam - McClellan could have taken the Army of Northern Virginia off the Civil War map with a little more aggression rather than caution
Gettysburg - If the high ground had been seized by Confederate forces on the first day of the battle, there probably wouldn't been a day two and Pickett's Charge on day three would have never happened.
Chickamauga - Bragg should have not allowed the escape of Union forces without harassment and pursuit after their defeat. The Confederates did not have the manpower and resources to fight siege warfare at Chattanooga.
Shiloh - If the Confederates had just cut off the Hornet's Nest and continued their push elsewhere instead of wasting so much manpower
with their repeated attacks in that position, Grant's army may have been cut off from Pittsburg Landing and Buell's men would have had no chance to reinforce them.
Fredricksburg - If Meade's assault had been reinforced or pressed harder, the Confederate lines there may have broke requiring reinforcements from Mayre's Heights and other areas of the battlefield to be sent there. The attacks on Mayre's Heights would have had a better chance of success rather than becoming the killing fields they became for Union forces.

I do realize this is like armchair quarterbacking but these are five missed opportunities that come to mind off the top of my head.
 

Coonewah Creek

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I see everyone so far is concentrating on the Eastern Theater. So, just to be different, :wink: let me throw out as one of the greatest lost opportunities of the war was Joe Johnston not holding onto Jackson, MS and essentially giving it up without a fight during the Vicksburg Campaign. Had he held Jackson for just a few more hours, not even days, his "Army of Relief" would have swelled with the reinforcements that were being hurried to him by rail from all over the South. With Pemberton to the west with the Vicksburg army and Johnston's gathering forces to the east, Grant, with only a tenuous supply line back to his Grand Gulf enclave might have literally found himself between the proverbial "rock" and a "hard place." He could have conceivably lost the Army of the Tennessee, cut off and surrounded by superior Confederate forces in hostile territory. That would have no doubt ended his career. Then what would have happened in the Eastern Theater?
 

Irishtom29

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There seems to be some debate on this. I do wonder what would've happened if Bragg pursued. I know Forrest wasn't happy about it.
I doubt the Army of Tennessee was in shape to exploit its victory; it suffered terrible losses and was in a state of confusion the evening the battle ended. And the Army of the Cumberland had but a short retreat into a fortified town and its veteran troops quickly recovered from the loss.
 
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I doubt the Army of Tennessee was in shape to exploit its victory; it suffered terrible losses and was in a state of confusion the evening the battle ended. And the Army of the Cumberland had but a short retreat into a fortified town and its veteran troops quickly recovered from the loss.
I've heard about this, I'm still curious what would've happend if Bragg pursued, but I believe you're not wrong in the fact that success was far from a gurantee.
 

thomas aagaard

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Antietam - McClellan could have taken the Army of Northern Virginia off the Civil War map with a little more aggression rather than caution
How? all his units with the exception of less than a division of infantry was committed and used in the attacks or to cover units was was completely disordered. He had no organized formation to be more aggressive with.

His army was really not that much stronger than Lee's.
Yes it was larger, but the units came from 3 different armies, a large portion of his men was completely green and some even untrained. Way fewer of his commanders was experienced at the level they held command.
(take a look here: should give you the part of experience.

And when I say larger, Iam not talking the 2-1 or even 3-1 you sometimes see claimed.
(jump to about 36:30 in the video for the part about the army strength)

McClellan had about 87.000 men... some days before the battle. According to himself. But he really had no idea how many men he actually had.
And that number include everyone with the army, including everyone doing none combat jobs, all officers, artillerymen and cavalry.
And that count is taken a few days before the battle so the actual number on the day would be smaller, since the federals was strangling just as Lee's men where.

Lee claim that he had 40.000 men at the battle.
That is not wrong, but in this number he is only counting men in the ranks with a musket.
It do not include officers, artillery or the men driving wagons and doing other none combat jobs. (Some being soldiers... others being slaves or free colored men)

The Lecture give a 7-4 advantage for McClellan.
 
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