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

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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.
Hmmmmm that's interesting. I always thought McClellan blew it, but I guess there is debate around that also?
 

thomas aagaard

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Hmmmmm that's interesting. I always thought McClellan blew it, but I guess there is debate around that also?
I thought the same... until a few years ago.
I highly recommend watching the entire lecture.

Back in the late 90ties when I was in the 10th grade I actually wrote a project about the civil war.
I argued that he should have ended the war that day to destroying Lee's army.
(Found the text in a box a few years ago.)
 

Dead Parrott

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The biggest missed opportunity was when Southern Leaders did not accept the results of the 1860 election, and plan for the eventual negotiated compensated gradual emancipation that they could have won (and gotten rich from, and gotten nobody killed).
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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The biggest missed opportunity was when Southern Leaders did not accept the results of the 1860 election, and plan for the eventual negotiated compensated gradual emancipation that they could have won (and gotten rich from, and gotten nobody killed).
A great many southerners did initially accept the '60 election results, and, found themselves fighting in a war just the same. It took more than the intractability of some to get a really good war going. It took a lot of pig headedness from a lot of people from a lot of places to get it done.
 
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Saphroneth

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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
As Thomas has noted, McClellan committed 75% of his infantry brigades to an actual assault all on the same day. This is a greater fraction of his army than most commanders ever did!
In fact, I tried looking at Grant's assaults - Grant being an offensive-minded commander - and it's hard to find any example of Grant actually assaulting with a larger amount of troops either as a fraction or in absolute terms. What's more, Lee still had a reserve - three of his brigades never fired a shot.

In campaign strength (PFD before marching) McClellan had about an 8:7 to 4:3 advantage during the Maryland Campaign. This is not enough to destroy an army in one blow in the Civil War, indeed when George Thomas hit Hood at Nashville he did so with a 2:1 advantage and Hood got the majority of his force to safety anyway.
On the other hand, if Lee really had straggled so badly that his 75,000 PFD before campaign had been reduced down to less than 40,000 PFD on the field, this would mean that there was still a significant force (of ~35,000 PFD) south of the Potomac that could have been used to re-form the Army of Northern Virginia. No way around that; if Lee's left enough troops south of the Potomac to make the opportunity plausible he's left enoug troops south of the Potomac that he can re-form his army anyway.


McClellan once he had the lost orders.
Really? McClellan got the lost orders on the afternoon of the 13th, and was hitting D.H.Hill's troops about eighteen hours later. When you consider that South Mountain is thirteen miles from Frederick (which is more than ACW armies usually marched in a day) that's pretty quick reaction, especially since twelve of the eighteen hours are after dark and there's only one road from Frederick to Boonsboro.
How's the opportunity lost?



Myself, I think one of the top five lost opportunities of the war was the chance for a November '62 campaign. Lee was divided and the kinematics of marching were so bad for him that his best case scenario was being able to unite his army at Hanover Station; any other decision for Lee besides "fall straight back to Hanover Station and let McClellan over the Rapidan" leads to either a fight at US:CS odds of 3:1 or worse or to McClellan taking Hanover Station first and cutting Lee off from Richmond.
 
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Saphroneth

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For the purposes of this, I will consider a missed opportunity for one side to be the situations when a different decision by *that side* (or removing some rotten bad luck) could have had great benefits. It does not count if you need the enemy to oblige for you.


I have more than five to consider.



- Rosecrans marching below the Elk river instead of merely below the Duck river before turning west.
This would have offered the opportunity to cut in behind Bragg's forces instead of merely compelling them to retreat, and could have secured the envelopment by manoeuvre of one of the main CS armies.

- Using line-of-columns instead of column-of-lines at Shiloh and following ASJ's original concept of operations.
This would have given better control of their lines to the CS commanders and could have resulted in the successful execution of a right wheel to trap Grant's army against the swamp on April 6; this would have the prospect of the first major battle of 1862 being an unambiguous Rebel victory.

- More troops for McClellan on the Peninsula.
An extra ca. 20,000 troops on McClellan's right flank to prevent Jackson attacking him there in June would have more-or-less secured the fate of Richmond; McClellan fights regular approaches and compels the loss of the city, and if Richmond is lost to the CSA in summer 1862 then effectively their entire industrial base goes with it. The rail lines also allow control of Virginia to pass to the Federals, and the next Confederate line of defence (the Roanoke) is already turned by Burnside's expedition.

- A November 1862 campaign.
With Lee's force split and the Federal army interposed between the two halves, the marching kinematics are such that either Lee must fight a general engagement with just Longstreet against a force roughly three times Longstreet's size or he must retreat clear to the North Anna and pray that Jackson arrives there before the whole Army of the Potomac. This is within the logistical means of the Union.

- Antietam but not the way you think of it.
Leaving Couch's division at Harpers Ferry and having them advance if AP Hill abandons the area offers the opportunity for one of two things to happen. Either Burnside's move goes without AP Hill being available to put the kibosh on it, or if AP Hill does move Couch follows him and cuts off the Confederate retreat over Boteler's Ford. The consequence of the latter is that Lee must fight to regain his line of retreat and cannot move his army over the ford overnight on the 18th-19th; either Lee strips his line on the 18th (perhaps allowing an offensive by Franklin + Morell to achieve something) or serious fighting on the 19th results.


- The attack sequence on Gettysburg Day Two goes according to orders.
Lee's attack sequence was intended to draw out Union reserves and then focus with a 2:1 advantage on the most vulnerable part of the Union line, the bend in the fish-hook; it happens that Union decisions played into this perfectly, with the first part of the echelon attack drawing in the Union reserves and the bend in the fish-hook being occupied by the worst corps in the Union army for such an important job (11th Corps, who had never known a victorious field of battle and who had actually been routed the previous day). Two unfortunately timed casualties at the general officer level caused the echelon attack to break down, and absent this we could see the collapse of the Union position and a major CS victory on Northern soil (plus the third CS victory in a row).


- No spoiling attack by Heintzelman in the early days of the Peninsular campaign.
Until Heintzelman launched a demonstration during late March-early April the Confederates did not know that the Army of the Potomac was moving in force to the Peninsula; they were aware an amphibious operation was going to take place but thought it was going to be a reinforcement of the North Carolina operations. Had this demonstration not taken place then 1st Corps AoP (the amphibious units) could have been landed en masse in the area south of Yorktown but between Yorktown and Magruder's force (then in the Big Bethel area, at least a day's march south) and taken the Warwick line more or less immediately.
 

nc native

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After looking at some evidence my fellow members have brought to light, I must admit that McClellan did not have the overall manpower advantage that I believed he had before the battle. I do still wonder though what may have happened on the southern end of the battlefield if Burnside had been able to ford Antietam creek much earlier in the day instead of struggling and taking so much time to cross the bridge now named after him. On that end of the battlefield he had an advantage of at least two to one before A.P. Hill was able to arrive with the Light Division and after the fighting elsewhere Confederate forces were exhausted and in no shape to reinforce their position there.

While it is true A.P. Hill's division would still have arrived on the Union flank on the southern end of the battlefield form Harper's Ferry after a long march, would they have been in time to prevent possible disaster for the Confederates who were fighting there?
 
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Saphroneth

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After looking at some evidence my fellow members have brought to light, I must admit that McClellan did not have the overall manpower advantage that I believed he had before the battle. I do still wonder though what may have happened on the southern end of the battlefield if Burnside had been able to ford Antietam creek much earlier in the day instead of struggling and taking so much time to cross the bridge now named after him. On that end of the battlefield he had an advantage of at least two to one before A.P. Hill was able to arrive with the Light Division and after the fighting elsewhere, Confederate forces were exhausted and in no shape to reinforce their position there.
That's probably the best you can do to reshape Antietam as-fought. 67th has presented before the idea that Burnside basically screwed up by not properly conducting a combined arms effort to gain the bridge (i.e. putting artillery on the heights to help force enemy artillery off from where it was covering the bridge).

This might have led to Lee holding out, as he did have a reserve brigade he never committed, but he'd certainly have been in a tricky spot. I suppose you could have him compacting his lines to try and absorb McClellan's pressure and then hoping for AP Hill's arrival to break the Union left and open a way to get to Boteler's Ford?

The next best way to fight Antietam better is to wait and throw in all the main Union assaults on the 18th rather than the 17th, but that requires hindsight.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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That's probably the best you can do to reshape Antietam as-fought. 67th has presented before the idea that Burnside basically screwed up by not properly conducting a combined arms effort to gain the bridge (i.e. putting artillery on the heights to help force enemy artillery off from where it was covering the bridge).

This might have led to Lee holding out, as he did have a reserve brigade he never committed, but he'd certainly have been in a tricky spot. I suppose you could have him compacting his lines to try and absorb McClellan's pressure and then hoping for AP Hill's arrival to break the Union left and open a way to get to Boteler's Ford?

The next best way to fight Antietam better is to wait and throw in all the main Union assaults on the 18th rather than the 17th, but that requires hindsight.
Burnside seemed to be confused about his objective. Securing a creek crossing needed to be his object.
The creek was too deep to ford efficiently, but it could be easily bridged, possibly with wagons. There was ample manpower to attempt crossings at multiple points, including the stone bridge.
 

Saphroneth

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Burnside seemed to be confused about his objective. Securing a creek crossing needed to be his object.
Bit surprising to be honest, given how many times he was given such an order - at one point he complained that he'd got the same order so many times!

The creek was too deep to ford efficiently, but it could be easily bridged, possibly with wagons. There was ample manpower to attempt crossings at multiple points, including the stone bridge.
I'm not so sure - more than one brigade got lost or spent ages trying to find a suitable ford. Once guns were set up to command the bridge it didn't take long to push the defenders off (ca. 30 minutes) - nothing would have stopped Burnsie getting over before 9AM if he'd been ready to go (assuming the "go" order was 8am).
 
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DanSBHawk

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After looking at some evidence my fellow members have brought to light, I must admit that McClellan did not have the overall manpower advantage that I believed he had before the battle. I do still wonder though what may have happened on the southern end of the battlefield if Burnside had been able to ford Antietam creek much earlier in the day instead of struggling and taking so much time to cross the bridge now named after him. On that end of the battlefield he had an advantage of at least two to one before A.P. Hill was able to arrive with the Light Division and after the fighting elsewhere, Confederate forces were exhausted and in no shape to reinforce their position there.

While it is true A.P. Hill's division would still have arrived on the Union flank on the southern end of the battlefield form Harper's Ferry after a long march, would they have been in time to prevent possible disaster for the Confederates who were fighting there?
Ethan Rafuse discusses this in "McClellans War." He suggests that if McClellan had concentrated on the confederate right rather than the left, it would have been riskier but it may have cut off Lee's escape route.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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I'm not so sure - more than one brigade got lost or spent ages trying to find a suitable ford. Once guns were set up to command the bridge it didn't take long to push the defenders off (ca. 30 minutes) - nothing would have stopped Burnsie getting over before 9AM if he'd been ready to go (assuming the "go" order was 8am).
Professional soldiers should not have allowed a creek to stop them from crossing. If volunteers could not find fords, then they should have had orders to use the wagons and timbers they had to effect a crossing, but they didn't seem to have the orders or wagons...Burnside may have been in a snit that day.
 
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If I correctly recall the Burnside Corp have been cut in half by orders of McClellan. The other half was on the opposite end of the entire Federal Battle line. This could easily have upset Burnside as he suppose he had a once close relations to McClellan. He took it as an insult maybe? In response Burnside starts slowing things down as somewhat of a protest. Am wondering if he was also demanding his other half back during the assault or some of it?
 
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Saphroneth

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Professional soldiers should not have allowed a creek to stop them from crossing. If volunteers could not find fords, then they should have had orders to use the wagons and timbers they had to effect a crossing, but they didn't seem to have the orders or wagons...Burnside may have been in a snit that day.
Well, there's a reason why creeks are a military obstacle; it's much easier to cross a fence, after all, but a defended fence or stone wall can be a fearsome obstacle.

It's much harder to bridge under fire and often requires professional engineers. And it may be worth considering that not all that many of the soldiers in the ACW were "professional" as such but were volunteers with training that may not have entirely prepared them for the situation.

Ethan Rafuse discusses this in "McClellans War." He suggests that if McClellan had concentrated on the confederate right rather than the left, it would have been riskier but it may have cut off Lee's escape route.
If you can get the troops over the river then perhaps, but the problem was getting the troops over the river in the first place. There were always going to be some Union troops on the Confederate left to block Lee from being able to get away to the north; in both cases there's a defile preventing troops from crossing the Antietam, but to the north the troops crossing are doing so via a road towards a bridge that's not under enemy control.

Deleting a corps from the north and placing it in the south instead, with the rest of the battle unchanged, means Lee doesn't need to strip nearly as many troops from his right to reinforce his left; indeed, because 9th Corps doesn't get over the river until late enough that AP Hill is arriving, whichever corps follows 9th ends up coming in at a time when Lee's whole army is "up". There's also the danger that with just two corps on the Union right until 6th arrives there's simply not the manpower to make a big assault, and if a big assault is made anyway then the Confederates have the opportunity for a counterattack (since the delay imposed by 9th being hung up on the bridge means that Lee can devote almost his entire army to that flank).

Bets are off if Burnside gets over the bridge faster, of course, but that's a Burnside problem rather than an allocation-of-resources-to-the-flanks problem.
 

Saphroneth

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If I correctly recall the Burnside Corp have been cut in half by orders of McClellan. The other half was on the opposite end of the entire Federal Battle line. This could easily have upset Burnside as he suppose he had a once close relations to McClellan. He took it as an insult maybe? In response Burnside starts slowing things down as somewhat of a protest. Am wondering if he was also demanding his other half back during the assault or some of it?
This was basically because of the pursuit from South Mountain, because corps arrived when they arrived. I agree Burnside was probably annoyed by it and saw it as a demotion that he was now only commanding one corps instead of two, but it's a little hard to see how McClellan could have kept Burnside's wing together given the details of the arrival at the field.
 

drjekyll76

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i wonder what would have happen if the Confederates were to go after Baltimore and surround Washington DC. i know that they were all around it
 
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Dead Parrott

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i wonder what would have happen if the Confederates were to go after Baltimore and surround Washington DC. i know that they were all around it
I don't think Lee received the response he expected in Maryland, and I'm not sure he would have elsewhere in the state. If he won at Antietam ... well, unknown; retreat still seems inevitable. But the foreign response could have been devistating and decisive.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Well, there's a reason why creeks are a military obstacle; it's much easier to cross a fence, after all, but a defended fence or stone wall can be a fearsome obstacle.

It's much harder to bridge under fire and often requires professional engineers. And it may be worth considering that not all that many of the soldiers in the ACW were "professional" as such but were volunteers with training that may not have entirely prepared them for the situation.
I think my point was missed. The troops were not given orders to bridge the creek. If two brigades assault the stone bridge while two other brigades throw timbers over the creek at two different points, the Confederates could not defend.. One or two crossings might be stopped, but not all three.
 
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