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

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Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
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.
Bridging is a specialized topic, though, and the Antietam is such that musket fire can reach across the entire creek (50-100 feet width) but it's also way too wide for a few planks to get across it. This means it takes long enough for the enemy to react, and attempting to build a bridge within range of the enemy can take days even if done by specialist troops and only harrassed by a few sharpshooters (cf. Fredericksburg).

With hindsight it might have gained the bridge earlier, but what it actually took to capture the bridge was pretty simple: put artillery on the high ground to drive off the Confederate batteries covering the bridge.
 

Hoseman

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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.
Lee may have had 40,000 men late in the afternoon after many of his brigades had come up from Harper's Ferry. But I have read countless sources for many years stating that he did not have more than 30,000 in the morning when the battle opened. Had McClellan attacked on both flanks at once in the morning Lee would have been smashed. Burnside blew it when he wasted most of the day before attacking the CS right.
 

ErnieMac

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1. Robert Patterson closely presses Joe Johnston north of Winchester in July, 1861. P.G.T. Beauregard is forced to meet Irvin McDowell without reinforcements from the Shenandoah Valley.

2. Either Butler or Meade presses home the attacks on Petersburg in June, 1864, seizing the city and breaking Lee's ties to the Carolina's.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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Bridging is a specialized topic, though, and the Antietam is such that musket fire can reach across the entire creek (50-100 feet width) but it's also way too wide for a few planks to get across it. This means it takes long enough for the enemy to react, and attempting to build a bridge within range of the enemy can take days even if done by specialist troops and only harrassed by a few sharpshooters (cf. Fredericksburg).

With hindsight it might have gained the bridge earlier, but what it actually took to capture the bridge was pretty simple: put artillery on the high ground to drive off the Confederate batteries covering the bridge.
I will stop after this.
Pontooning, RR bridging , permanent road bridging and so forth require skills and expertise. In the case of Antietam Creek, for infantry traffic, a rolling bridge could be used. If i need to describe one, I will.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
Lee may have had 40,000 men late in the afternoon after many of his brigades had come up from Harper's Ferry. But I have read countless sources for many years stating that he did not have more than 30,000 in the morning when the battle opened. Had McClellan attacked on both flanks at once in the morning Lee would have been smashed. Burnside blew it when he wasted most of the day before attacking the CS right.
The idea Lee had not more than 30,000 troops in the morning when the battle opened is a deliberate construction of the Lost Cause, aided and abetted by people who wish to present McClellan as incompetent (on both sides of the Civil War).


The first question is how are you measuring the troops? There are several possible categories, and for the purposes of this examination I will look at four of them, plus touch on a fifth.

These categories are:

1) The number of regiments. Simple enough, how many regiments were there in each formation.
2) The number of brigades. Ditto but brigades; simple enough.
3) The strength PFD as of the opening of the campaign, before straggling. For the Union this is straight from their records, but for the Confederacy we must use the values in Harsh which are in the comparable measure - regulation PFD - or work it out by taking their reported strength after Antietam and add back the number of casualties they claimed to have suffered in the Maryland Campaign.
4) The Effective strength, which is the strength a unit had actually able to fight when the battle began on the 17th (or when the unit was engaged). This is often much smaller than the strength PFD, because of straggling and because regulation PFD includes some of the men who were doing other jobs.
5) The strength Aggregate Present, which is basically the "roster strength" or "payroll strength" or "ration strength". This is the largest measure with a consistent meaning, and spies could often get at this number more easily than others because an army needs to know how many men it's paying or feeding more often than it needs to know how many men it has fighting.



For those units commonly considered to be "at" Antietam - including the 6th Corps and Morell's division - the first two are easily stated. Lee had 185 regiments in 39 brigades, McClellan had 188 regiments in 39.5 brigades. Of those brigades at least six of McClellan and five of Lee arrived after the main fighting in the north, so in brigade terms and in regimental terms one could argue that McClellan was outnumbered when he launched his attack at Antietam! (He certainly launched while two divisions of Porter, Couch's division and two divisions of Franklin were still marching to the field, so his army was less complete than that of Lee.)

For the third category, the same inclusive categories of units gives:
87,000 Union PFD. (This is the number often used as "McClellan's strength", though he never had all these units at strength on the field at one time.)
75,000 PFD for the Confederates. This number may seem startlingly large, but it's true - the Confederate army shortly after Antietam reported 64,000 PFD and it suffered over 13,000 admitted casualties at Antietam itself, and there are reasons to think their admitted casualties are an underestimate (such as no record of casualties existing for some regiments and a few entire brigades).

This does not mean I'm claiming there were 75,000 Confederate soldiers at Antietam, certainly not in the firing line. What I'm claiming is that by the same measure as one could say "the Union had ~85,000 troops at Antietam" one could say "the Confederacy had over 70,000 troops at Antietam".
It should be noted here that McClellan's numerical strength was swelled by a number of new regiments who were still quite close to establishment but who were also extremely weak in combat; one regiment couldn't even fire their weapons when they were called upon to do so at the battle of Shepherdstown, and so the fighting value of these regiments was much less than their numerical strength illustrates. By contrast just about Lee's entire army was veteran.


So by the first two measures Antietam is an even battle, and by the third measure McClellan had only a small numerical advantage. What about Effectives?

Well, the usually reported value for Confederate strength in total effectives is via Carman, and there are a number of problems with it. 67th goes into greater detail in a post on his blog, but for now it will suffice to note that Carman's estimate of Confederate effective strength ascribed only 1,784 infantry and 310 artillery to Jackson's entire division - while Starke (one of Jackson's brigadiers) claimed his brigade had a strength of 1,400-1,500 infantry in action at Antietam.
Even Carman's numbers - which discount three brigades, two of them with AP Hill, as never engaged - give the total Confederate strength in engaged as around 38,000. 67th re-examined Carman's numbers and found it to be fairly reasonable to ascribe ca. 42,500 Confederate effectives before AP Hill arrived and another ~4,500 arriving with AP Hill.
However, whether you consider engaged strength to be ca. 40,000 (adding back the brigades Carman missed) or ca. 47,000 (correcting the estimates of Carman which are more dubious) this number cannot be compared to the 87,000 number for the Union as it is not the same category. Doing the same check for "engaged" on the Union side gives numbers more in the range of 55,000 for those units that arrived at the field on the 17th (i.e. everyone but Couch and Humphreys).


What this means is that the strength ratio at Antietam after AP Hill's arrival was:

185:188 (regiments)
39:39.5 (brigades)
75,000:87,000 (PFD pre-straggling)
45,000:55,000 (Effectives, rough)

What this tells us is that McClellan's regiments were on average somewhat larger and held together somewhat better.

Before AP Hill arrived but counting all Union troops who did arrive the numbers were roughly:

162:188 (regiments)
34:39.5 (brigades)
66,000:87,000 (PFD pre-straggling)
40,500:55,000 (Effectives, rough)




Or, to put it another way, if Lee only had 30,000 men on the battlefield before AP Hill arrived - and suffered over 10,000 casualties to those units - how is it that shortly after Antietam he reports his strength as over 60,000?
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
The idea Lee had not more than 30,000 troops in the morning when the battle opened is a deliberate construction of the Lost Cause, aided and abetted by people who wish to present McClellan as incompetent (on both sides of the Civil War).


The first question is how are you measuring the troops? There are several possible categories, and for the purposes of this examination I will look at four of them, plus touch on a fifth.

These categories are:

1) The number of regiments. Simple enough, how many regiments were there in each formation.
2) The number of brigades. Ditto but brigades; simple enough.
3) The strength PFD as of the opening of the campaign, before straggling. For the Union this is straight from their records, but for the Confederacy we must use the values in Harsh which are in the comparable measure - regulation PFD - or work it out by taking their reported strength after Antietam and add back the number of casualties they claimed to have suffered in the Maryland Campaign.
4) The Effective strength, which is the strength a unit had actually able to fight when the battle began on the 17th (or when the unit was engaged). This is often much smaller than the strength PFD, because of straggling and because regulation PFD includes some of the men who were doing other jobs.
5) The strength Aggregate Present, which is basically the "roster strength" or "payroll strength" or "ration strength". This is the largest measure with a consistent meaning, and spies could often get at this number more easily than others because an army needs to know how many men it's paying or feeding more often than it needs to know how many men it has fighting.



For those units commonly considered to be "at" Antietam - including the 6th Corps and Morell's division - the first two are easily stated. Lee had 185 regiments in 39 brigades, McClellan had 188 regiments in 39.5 brigades. Of those brigades at least six of McClellan and five of Lee arrived after the main fighting in the north, so in brigade terms and in regimental terms one could argue that McClellan was outnumbered when he launched his attack at Antietam! (He certainly launched while two divisions of Porter, Couch's division and two divisions of Franklin were still marching to the field, so his army was less complete than that of Lee.)

For the third category, the same inclusive categories of units gives:
87,000 Union PFD. (This is the number often used as "McClellan's strength", though he never had all these units at strength on the field at one time.)
75,000 PFD for the Confederates. This number may seem startlingly large, but it's true - the Confederate army shortly after Antietam reported 64,000 PFD and it suffered over 13,000 admitted casualties at Antietam itself, and there are reasons to think their admitted casualties are an underestimate (such as no record of casualties existing for some regiments and a few entire brigades).

This does not mean I'm claiming there were 75,000 Confederate soldiers at Antietam, certainly not in the firing line. What I'm claiming is that by the same measure as one could say "the Union had ~85,000 troops at Antietam" one could say "the Confederacy had over 70,000 troops at Antietam".
It should be noted here that McClellan's numerical strength was swelled by a number of new regiments who were still quite close to establishment but who were also extremely weak in combat; one regiment couldn't even fire their weapons when they were called upon to do so at the battle of Shepherdstown, and so the fighting value of these regiments was much less than their numerical strength illustrates. By contrast just about Lee's entire army was veteran.


So by the first two measures Antietam is an even battle, and by the third measure McClellan had only a small numerical advantage. What about Effectives?

Well, the usually reported value for Confederate strength in total effectives is via Carman, and there are a number of problems with it. 67th goes into greater detail in a post on his blog, but for now it will suffice to note that Carman's estimate of Confederate effective strength ascribed only 1,784 infantry and 310 artillery to Jackson's entire division - while Starke (one of Jackson's brigadiers) claimed his brigade had a strength of 1,400-1,500 infantry in action at Antietam.
Even Carman's numbers - which discount three brigades, two of them with AP Hill, as never engaged - give the total Confederate strength in engaged as around 38,000. 67th re-examined Carman's numbers and found it to be fairly reasonable to ascribe ca. 42,500 Confederate effectives before AP Hill arrived and another ~4,500 arriving with AP Hill.
However, whether you consider engaged strength to be ca. 40,000 (adding back the brigades Carman missed) or ca. 47,000 (correcting the estimates of Carman which are more dubious) this number cannot be compared to the 87,000 number for the Union as it is not the same category. Doing the same check for "engaged" on the Union side gives numbers more in the range of 55,000 for those units that arrived at the field on the 17th (i.e. everyone but Couch and Humphreys).


What this means is that the strength ratio at Antietam after AP Hill's arrival was:

185:188 (regiments)
39:39.5 (brigades)
75,000:87,000 (PFD pre-straggling)
45,000:55,000 (Effectives, rough)

What this tells us is that McClellan's regiments were on average somewhat larger and held together somewhat better.

Before AP Hill arrived but counting all Union troops who did arrive the numbers were roughly:

162:188 (regiments)
34:39.5 (brigades)
66,000:87,000 (PFD pre-straggling)
40,500:55,000 (Effectives, rough)




Or, to put it another way, if Lee only had 30,000 men on the battlefield before AP Hill arrived - and suffered over 10,000 casualties to those units - how is it that shortly after Antietam he reports his strength as over 60,000?
Your points are well taken.
The answer to how the ANV recovered so quickly is not that complicated. Many troops never crossed the Potomac...and Lee was receiving returning wounded, especially from the Seven Days.
Lee probably had 45,000 men in Maryland with no exact number possible;maybe 50,000. DH Hill's division was the largest and had not been at 2nd Manassas. It would be hard to determine how many men he got into Maryland, and what his casualties were, as they had been substantial. That division alone adds mystery.
I think McClellan did well not to attempt an absolute decision, as it might not have been favorable to his side.
 
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thomas aagaard

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Location
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Your points are well taken.
The answer to how the ANV recovered so quickly is not that complicated. Many troops never crossed the Potomac...and Lee was receiving returning wounded, especially from the Seven Days.
Lee probably had 45,000 men in Maryland with no exact number possible;maybe 50,000. DH Hill's division was the largest and had not been at 2nd Manassas. It would be hard to determine how many men he got into Maryland, and what his casualties were, as they had been substantial. That division alone adds mystery.
I think McClellan did well not to attempt an absolute decision, as it might not have been favorable to his side.
The issue is that McClellan similar never had his full strength. His hard big problems with stranglers too.
And he likely never had any real Idea about his own strength. Just like Lee didn't know his own strength.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The answer to how the ANV recovered so quickly is not that complicated. Many troops never crossed the Potomac...and Lee was receiving returning wounded, especially from the Seven Days.
Lee probably had 45,000 men in Maryland with no exact number possible;maybe 50,000. DH Hill's division was the largest and had not been at 2nd Manassas. It would be hard to determine how many men he got into Maryland, and what his casualties were, as they had been substantial. That division alone adds mystery.
That's not really credible. The sheer number of troops that would have to not cross the Potomac doesn't hold up.

You're suggesting that 25,000-30,000 men hung around in northern Virginia with no established supply train for a period of more than two weeks - which would require literal tons of food per day and would make them one of the larger cities in the state. It is not feasible that this many men could be wandering around without being noticed; they would be literally everywhere and eating all the food, and Walker's route of march (which took him through a fairly wide sweep of northern Virginia) would have been running into hundreds of them.

As it happens, we have plenty of eyewitness reports of various components of Lee's army and they also agree with a strength in the vicinity of 75,000. Jones, Hood, Evans, Jackson, Ewell, AP Hill, McLaws and Anderson are described in Steiner's diary as "not more than 64,000 men"; DH Hill is in the same source as "8,000". Walker's division is described as "6,000" and Stuart's cavalry are counted in none of these categories.
The main body (Jones-Anderson inclusive) is also described as taking almost an entire day to march through Frederick (18 hours) which is about right for 60,000 (based on the usual rule of thumb that with eight to ten hour marches about 30,000 men can fit down a road in a day).

Do I think these eyewitness accounts are correct? Not all of them, no; some of them are clearly exaggerated. But the report I listed (Steiner) is actually among the lowest estimate of strength for a component of Lee's army relative to the real fraction of his army it represented.
 
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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?
Great assessment about that phase of the Vicksburg Campaign.

The more I study Johnston's arrival in Jackson, I'm starting to think he didn't even stop.
Seems that he may have ordered his train to "slow down" while he peeked out the window.

I'm not saying that's a fact, but the more I read newspaper articles and letters from the troops, it does fit Johnston's basic philosophy of

"not fighting" .
 
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Saphroneth

Captain
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Feb 18, 2017
He could have conceivably lost the Army of the Tennessee, cut off and surrounded by superior Confederate forces in hostile territory.
Not so sure about the "superior" bit.

By the end of the campaign the total amount of force that had reached Johnston at Jackson was about 7,580 by 14th May and 13,527 after the investment of Vicksburg. Counting the total forces in Vicksburg and Gist the total Confederate forces in theatre as of just before the fall of Vicksburg was ca. 50,000 PFD.

However, by the end of the 13th May (i.e. before the field battles) Grant had already crossed 54,000 PFD of troops, and much of 16th Corps crossed after that. So by no wise could one say Grant would be crushed by superior forces, because there weren't superior forces there to crush him in the forst place.

Manoeuvre is something else, though - but I can understand why Johnston wasn't eager to go after a besieging force in excess of 2.5 times his own size!
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
That's not really credible. The sheer number of troops that would have to not cross the Potomac doesn't hold up.

You're suggesting that 25,000-30,000 men hung around in northern Virginia with no established supply train for a period of more than two weeks - which would require literal tons of food per day and would make them one of the larger cities in the state. It is not feasible that this many men could be wandering around without being noticed; they would be literally everywhere and eating all the food, and Walker's route of march (which took him through a fairly wide sweep of northern Virginia) would have been running into hundreds of them.

As it happens, we have plenty of eyewitness reports of various components of Lee's army and they also agree with a strength in the vicinity of 75,000. Jones, Hood, Evans, Jackson, Ewell, AP Hill, McLaws and Anderson are described in Steiner's diary as "not more than 64,000 men"; DH Hill is in the same source as "8,000". Walker's division is described as "6,000" and Stuart's cavalry are counted in none of these categories.
The main body (Jones-Anderson inclusive) is also described as taking almost an entire day to march through Frederick (18 hours) which is about right for 60,000 (based on the usual rule of thumb that with eight to ten hour marches about 30,000 men can fit down a road in a day).

Do I think these eyewitness accounts are correct? Not all of them, no; some of them are clearly exaggerated. But the report I listed (Steiner) is actually among the lowest estimate of strength for a component of Lee's army relative to the real fraction of his army it represented.
The CSA commissary was not doing much to supply troops after 2nd Manassas, soldiers writing about it are pretty unanimous. A lot of soldiers did spread out on the countryside to find something to eat. The Confederates had some provisions at Winchester, and soldiers seemed to collect there. .witnesses in Maryland seemed to be counting Blacks in the ranks. If they are counted, then, yes, Lee's army was much larger than some claim..
I will accept 50,000 as a number for Lee's soldiers at the main fight. I just cannot make myself believe he was able to do better than that.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The CSA commissary was not doing much to supply troops after 2nd Manassas, soldiers writing about it are pretty unanimous. A lot of soldiers did spread out on the countryside to find something to eat.
Yes, which is how armies have operated for thousands of years. Most of them didn't shed nearly half their strength during a critical campaign, though...


witnesses in Maryland seemed to be counting Blacks in the ranks. If they are counted, then, yes, Lee's army was much larger than some claim..
If you count the highest reported strength for each unit you get:
30,000 for McLaws and Anderson
20,000-30,000 for Longstreet's division at Hagerstown
6,000 for Walker
8,000 for DH Hill
25,000 for Jackson, Ewell and AP Hill
plus Stuart's cavalry
which comes to over 100,000.
Interestingly if you use the standard conversion of PFD to AP you get an estimate of about 90,000 AP. In Union armies much of the difference is men who could theoretically be switched into the front line, but in Lee's army I suspect many of them were black men (slaves and freedmen) - but they're still part of the moving and marching army, and indeed they're the ones providing the logistic capability to support the men.
I see no conflict with Steiner's "not more than 64,000" estimate actually referring to about 55,000 Campaign-Start PFD, plus logistics etc. (That's Lee's army minus DH Hill, Walker and Stuart.)



I will accept 50,000 as a number for Lee's soldiers at the main fight. I just cannot make myself believe he was able to do better than that.
But 50,000 by what measure? Certainly there was massive straggling, but not much more than in the Union army where out of a list strength of 14,856 Meade claims the 1st Corps only took about 9,000 into battle (as an aside, the 3rd division was so wrecked on the afternoon of the 17th that it only had about 300 men in line).

It would be quite plausible for a 75,000+ pre campaign PFD to straggle down to 50,000 or less in Effectives, but once we start counting the straggle effect we must count it for both sides. McClellan had marched particularly hard to get to Antietam and a lot of men fell out of the ranks of his army, too - consider that 9th and part of 6th Corps marched overnight of the 13/14th and in fact 1st Corps woke up at 3AM to follow 9th - and then they were in a battle at South Mountain to boot. Since Jackson's division shrunk enormously on the march to Antietam (and only recovered with a day's rest before going into battle) we know that a division can shed alarming numbers of men from a single hard march.

My suspicion is that overall McClellan's men handled the effort of the campaign somewhat better than Lee's, but a lot of the fresh regiments which gave McClellan some of his PFD numerical edge would have handled the campaign less well. I also wonder if McClellan had a numerical edge at all on the morning of the 17th before Morell arrived - if he did it was small.

If there was scope to beat Lee decisively on the 17th, it was because of the opportunities of manoeuvre more than any overwhelming strength on the part of the Federal army. The failure should perhaps be seen as the consequences of trying to do something complicated with an army whose organizational components were literally being put together en route to Antietam.


I should also point out that Lee was not an idiot. If he'd felt that McClellan had overwhelming strength then he could have stepped back off the piste on the night of the 16th-17th and abandoned the field. It would have cost him some of his wagons which hadn't yet crossed, but better to lose some wagons than the Army of Northern Virginia.
(It's always valuable to consider why a general offers battle.)
 
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Saphroneth

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To quote from an article by Thorp on the topic:






In his after-action report, McClellan claimed that his men buried 2,700 Confederates on the Antietam battlefield and captured 6,000 more. He could only guess at the number of wounded, but he estimated it was 18,742 men, using the ratio of killed to wounded for his own troops.

This stands in stark contrast to Confederate reports, which claimed losses of 1,674 dead, 2,292 missing and 9,451 wounded — a total of 13,417. Even discounting the wounded, the discrepancy between the two reports is almost 5,000 casualties.

Which is right? The burial grounds would indicate that McClellan’s number is closer to the truth. More than 3,300 dead rebels specifically associated with the Antietam campaign can be found buried in the Confederate cemeteries in Hagerstown, Frederick, Shepherdstown and Winchester. This number is larger than McClellan’s because it includes bodies buried by the Confederates themselves as well as those who died shortly after the battle.

As for the captured Confederates, McClellan’s medical director, Jonathan Letterman, reported 2,500 wounded under his care following the fight. At least another 2,500 unwounded prisoners of war were transferred from the battlefield to Forts Delaware and McHenry, bringing the number of captured rebels to more than 5,000 — much closer to McClellan’s figure than Lee’s. This would make what is already America’s bloodiest day even more horrific than previously thought, and it would mean McClellan did more damage than he is credited with.





Lee filed his first return five days after the battle, noting the count is “very imperfect” and does not include cavalry or artillery. It states that on Sept. 22, he had at least 36,418 infantry. Adding a conservative number of 5,000 for the missing cavalry and artillery units would bring his total to about 41,000 troops at the end of the campaign.

Eighteen days later, on Oct. 10, Lee filed his first complete report, which showed 64,273 present for duty. This number is significant because Lee had not received a single new regiment to replace his losses; nor did he receive many, if any, recruits because the February draft law had already pulled every eligible man into the army by early summer.

If we add Lee’s reported campaign losses of 13,417 (which, as already noted, are too low), it would show that Lee started the campaign with at least 75,000 men.

Most historians will explain this away by citing the Confederate claim that almost half of Lee’s army — 30,000 soldiers — straggled behind. Where is the corroborating evidence? The Official Records show that some 5,000 rebels moved to Winchester at the start of the campaign, then on to Lee’s army after Antietam, but what about the rest? How could any rebel straggle in Maryland — as many Confederates claimed — and not be captured by the Union army, which immediately occupied every post the retreating Confederates vacated? If the straggling took place in Virginia at the start of the campaign, who fed these 25,000-plus soldiers? Who led them? How did they all get back into Lee’s army so quickly through countryside most had never been in?

The simple answer is that that Confederates had suffered a major loss and needed some way to explain it. While straggling undoubtedly occurred in the last few days before Antietam, 30,000 men were not missing for most of the campaign.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 16, 2018
To quote from an article by Thorp on the topic:







In his after-action report, McClellan claimed that his men buried 2,700 Confederates on the Antietam battlefield and captured 6,000 more. He could only guess at the number of wounded, but he estimated it was 18,742 men, using the ratio of killed to wounded for his own troops.

This stands in stark contrast to Confederate reports, which claimed losses of 1,674 dead, 2,292 missing and 9,451 wounded — a total of 13,417. Even discounting the wounded, the discrepancy between the two reports is almost 5,000 casualties.

Which is right? The burial grounds would indicate that McClellan’s number is closer to the truth. More than 3,300 dead rebels specifically associated with the Antietam campaign can be found buried in the Confederate cemeteries in Hagerstown, Frederick, Shepherdstown and Winchester. This number is larger than McClellan’s because it includes bodies buried by the Confederates themselves as well as those who died shortly after the battle.

As for the captured Confederates, McClellan’s medical director, Jonathan Letterman, reported 2,500 wounded under his care following the fight. At least another 2,500 unwounded prisoners of war were transferred from the battlefield to Forts Delaware and McHenry, bringing the number of captured rebels to more than 5,000 — much closer to McClellan’s figure than Lee’s. This would make what is already America’s bloodiest day even more horrific than previously thought, and it would mean McClellan did more damage than he is credited with.





Lee filed his first return five days after the battle, noting the count is “very imperfect” and does not include cavalry or artillery. It states that on Sept. 22, he had at least 36,418 infantry. Adding a conservative number of 5,000 for the missing cavalry and artillery units would bring his total to about 41,000 troops at the end of the campaign.

Eighteen days later, on Oct. 10, Lee filed his first complete report, which showed 64,273 present for duty. This number is significant because Lee had not received a single new regiment to replace his losses; nor did he receive many, if any, recruits because the February draft law had already pulled every eligible man into the army by early summer.

If we add Lee’s reported campaign losses of 13,417 (which, as already noted, are too low), it would show that Lee started the campaign with at least 75,000 men.

Most historians will explain this away by citing the Confederate claim that almost half of Lee’s army — 30,000 soldiers — straggled behind. Where is the corroborating evidence? The Official Records show that some 5,000 rebels moved to Winchester at the start of the campaign, then on to Lee’s army after Antietam, but what about the rest? How could any rebel straggle in Maryland — as many Confederates claimed — and not be captured by the Union army, which immediately occupied every post the retreating Confederates vacated? If the straggling took place in Virginia at the start of the campaign, who fed these 25,000-plus soldiers? Who led them? How did they all get back into Lee’s army so quickly through countryside most had never been in?

The simple answer is that that Confederates had suffered a major loss and needed some way to explain it. While straggling undoubtedly occurred in the last few days before Antietam, 30,000 men were not missing for most of the campaign.
I hope we are not disagreeing about anything but specifics. The point is that Lee was not as disadvantaged numerically as many histories claim.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I hope we are not disagreeing about anything but specifics. The point is that Lee was not as disadvantaged numerically as many histories claim.
Oh, indeed - this is certainly the key point.
I sometimes wonder about the people who claim McClellan should have just attacked more on the 17th, because as it stands he committed 75% of his brigades to attacks that actually went forwards all on the same day - for comparison Lee had launched 75% of his brigades in assaults as of just before Pickett's Charge, and he'd had two days to do it in. It's one of the more all-in attack days of the war, at least in the East.
 
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Coonewah Creek

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2018
Location
Northern Alabama
Manoeuvre is something else, though - but I can understand why Johnston wasn't eager to go after a besieging force in excess of 2.5 times his own size!
Taking the initiative wasn't Johnston's style, I agree. However, at Jackson, Johnston would have had, as you noted, more than a third of the number of troops available to Grant, and prepared defenses stiffened by substantial artillery. Grant didn't have 3:1 odds (lets roll the die). Assaulting that position with the troops at his disposal would be no guarantee of success.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Arguments about Antietam are unconvincing. The Army of the Potomac performed well considering what it had been through in its first summer of heavy fighting. The Confederates were forced to concentrate and fight and their incursion into Maryland stopped.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
When the Confederates retreated to Corinth, MS, the US had enough soldiers to threaten them with one part of the army, and rejoin the river fleet with another part of the army and move down to Vicksburg..
Once McClellan got as far as the James River, it seems to me that a fortified position should have been established as far up the river as the US navy felt confident it could control. The Confederates would have to had to guard that position and it could have been reinforced at some convenient time in 1863.
If the US was capable of conducting a Mobile Bay operation in August of 1864, then some type of Mobile Bay operation was possible in August of 1863. The Mississippi resistance was ready for it, and could have done a lot of intelligence work for the US. Grant noted it in his memoirs.
Lincoln probably missed two occasions to make more detail peace proposals. He was trying in December of 1863, but he was constrained by the Radicals.
Once he had the 13th Amendment passed, he should have called the Confederate peace commissioners to Washington, D.C. to discuss the potential peace with the international ministers. Offers of asylum or reconstruction assistance might have delayed the breakout from Petersburg long enough that the Confederate army would have withered away without a chase.
In contrast, once the Confederates left the Petersberg/Richmond area, and Lee was not in direct communication with Davis, Grant did a good job opening up communication and keeping the exchange going.
 
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Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
To answer the OP's question:

I think Bermuda Hundred and Petersburg are the hands-down winners. Cutting off Richmond makes a massive shift of the strategic picture in Virginia and was well within the real of possibility.

Runners up...

Perryville: if Bragg has authority over Kirby Smith and Polk is better behaved, Bragg potentially concentrates most or all of his army against one wing of Buell's at Perryville, defeating him in detail and sending him reeling back to Louisville. Even if Bragg is unable to stay in Kentucky, he's probably better regarded all-around.

Shiloh: a better executed attack by Johnston defeats Grant. Johnston lives, Grant and Sherman never ascend.

Pea Ridge: Sigel goes where intended so his men are fresher for Day 2 and/or Curtis blocks Van Dorn's escape eastward and/or attacks sooner on Day 2. Van Dorn's army on Day 2 was in bad shape and Curtis massed a massive bombardment on the morning of Day 2. Destroying a large part of Van Dorn's army here means those forces aren't available to go east of the Mississippi River and fight at Iuka and Corinth. It possibly also results in the death or disgrace of Van Dorn and perhaps some of his key subordinates like Price or Shelby, which could alter the long-term picture in the Trans-Mississippi (along with making the battle a greater blow to Confederate morale).

Stones River: with Rosecrans throw back, rather than Polk bleeding himself out making piecemeal attacks against the Round Forest, Bragg reinforces his left and traps Rosecrans against Stones River. Bragg subsequently either surrounds Rosecrans, winning one of the most stunning victories of the war, or more likely causes him to retreat across the river and back to Nashville under the cover of darkness. Rosecrans is replaced by Thomas while Bragg winters at Murfreesboro, his standing in the army greatly improved.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Taking the initiative wasn't Johnston's style, I agree. However, at Jackson, Johnston would have had, as you noted, more than a third of the number of troops available to Grant, and prepared defenses stiffened by substantial artillery. Grant didn't have 3:1 odds (lets roll the die). Assaulting that position with the troops at his disposal would be no guarantee of success.
I might not be following. How exactly does Johnston relieve the siege of Vicksburg by standing and waiting for Grant to attack him?
 
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