Who was the better George? McClellan or Thomas?

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Bee

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More commentary on Thomas and the possibility that he was overlooked and underrated:

Catching Up With “Old Slow Trot”
Stubborn and deliberate, General George Henry Thomas was one of the Union’s most brilliant strategists. So why was he cheated by history?

But for Thomas, every battlefield success seemed to stir controversy or the jealousy of ambitious rivals. Unlike other noted generals, he had no home-state politicians to lobby on his behalf in Washington. Ulysses S. Grant, for example, was championed by Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne, and Sherman by his brother, Ohio senator John Sherman. For Thomas, every step upward depended solely on his performance in the field.

In one of the war’s first skirmishes, he led a brigade in the Shenandoah Valley that bested Confederates under Stonewall Jackson. When the dashing Rebel J.E.B. Stuart heard that Thomas was commanding Union cavalry, he wrote to his wife that “I would like to hang him as a traitor to his native state.” Even after that, there was lingering doubt among some Unionists, including Lincoln. Unlike Grant, Sherman, George McClellan and some other ranking Union officers who had broken their military service with years as civilians, Thomas had been a soldier since the day he entered West Point. Yet when his name came up for promotion, the president, restrained by Northern radicals and surrounded in the Federal bureaucracy by Southerners, said, “let the Virginian wait.” But Sherman among others vouched for Thomas, and soon the Virginian was elevated to brigadier general and ordered to organize troops away from Virginia, beyond the Appalachians.

More Here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/catching-up-with-old-slow-trot-148045684/
 

David Moore

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Not much has been said about George Thomas on this thread. I just ran across this commentary on Thomas:

Why all the Fuss About George H. Thomas?
May 22, 2011Brooks D. Simpson

George H. Thomas was one of the five best commanders on the Union side during the American Civil War. He was extremely competent and skilled. One could easily make a case for him as one of the top three Union commanders (with Grant and Sherman) and note that on a battlefield proper Thomas surpassed Sherman (as did Sheridan, and probably Meade). Sherman’s skills did not include being an especially capable battlefield commander.

So why, one may ask, have some people claimed that Thomas is being denied his rightful place among Union commanders? Why claim that there is (not just was) a conspiracy to denigrate his accomplishment and question his performance? In truth, of course, there is no such conspiracy (I’ve never seen any evidence of it), although one can argue that both Grant and Sherman did not hold Thomas in quite the same high regard as do his most impassioned advocates, some of whom seemed to have derived some of their edge from their postwar political opposition to Grant. After all, most of the areas where Thomas has come under critical examination (Chattanooga, Nashville) can be better understood as a simple lack of chemistry and trust between Grant and Thomas: both men seem to me to be rather prickly and proud in their interaction, and if Grant did not give Thomas the benefit of the doubt that he extended to Sherman and Sheridan, neither did Thomas show the same sort of loyalty to Grant that he extended to Buell and Rosecrans. Most relationships are best understood as two-way streets, and this one simply didn’t work. Moreover, if Grant gracefully conceded that the results at Nashville vindicated Thomas, Thomas never showed a reciprocal generosity. https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/why-all-the-fuss-about-george-h-thomas/

Here is an article from 1961 by Stephen Z. Starr.
Grant and Thomas: December, 1864
by Stephen Z. Starr April 27, 1961

http://www.cincinnaticwrt.org/data/ccwrt_history/talks_text/starr_grant_thomas.html
 
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David Moore

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Attached is a talk given by 1888 by John H. Sherratt who fought in the war.

Given the disputatious conversations on this site that involve Grant, Thomas, Rosecrans,McClellan, and others perhaps at the very least it can be agreed that criticism of Grant and his Memoirs is not something new. Surely intellectually curious Civil War students should welcome research that broadens the discussion and sheds light on topics that haven't been discussed much in recent years.

SOME CORRECTIONS OF GRANT'S MEMOIRS AS REGARDS GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
By JOHN H. SHERRATT.
The relevant article begins on text page 499
https://archive.org/stream/militaryessaysa03illigoog#page/n512/mode/2up/search/john+h+sherratt
 
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Bee

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Attached is a talk given by 1888 by John H. Sherratt who fought in the war.

Given the disputatious conversations on this site that involve Grant, Thomas, Rosecrans,McClellan, and others perhaps at the very least it can be agreed that criticism of Grant and his Memoirs is not something new. Surely intellectually curious Civil War students should welcome research that broadens the discussion and sheds light on topics that haven't been discussed much in recent years.

SOME CORRECTIONS OF GRANT'S MEMOIRS AS REGARDS GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
By JOHN H. SHERRATT.
The relevant article begins on text page 499
https://archive.org/stream/militaryessaysa03illigoog#page/n512/mode/2up/search/john+h+sherratt

You just can not help yourself from this compulsion to drag Grant into the conversation. I have been combing sources, articles, etc, to turn out material that focuses on George Henry Thomas as much as possible (it is hard to separate the two topics, but no need to purposely pursue it). This thread is NOT about Thomas and Grant, or Grant's Memoirs. Feel free to expand us elsewhere.

Please start a NEW THREAD if you wish to retread that tire of the Grant-Thomas relationship.
 

David Moore

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You just can not help yourself from this compulsion to drag Grant into the conversation. I have been combing sources, articles, etc, to turn out material that focuses on George Henry Thomas as much as possible (it is hard to separate the two topics, but no need to purposely pursue it). This thread is NOT about Thomas and Grant, or Grant's Memoirs. Feel free to expand us elsewhere.

Please start a NEW THREAD if you wish to retread that tire of the Grant-Thomas relationship.
One can not honestly and thoroughly discuss Thomas without discussing Grant. That is a fact. People know that now, people knew it 125 years ago. You posted two articles both from recent years.
I too posted two articles: One thouroughly documented by an accomplished CW historian Stephen Starr the other written by a CW veteran in the 19th century.
All I ask is for people to read broadly and deeply on the topic of Thomas, Rosecrans etc. One wouldnt think that to be a controversial request. Did you read the articles I posted?
 

rbasin

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General Upton, in his famous study The Military Policy of the United States, provided us with some idea of the contradictory meddling from Washington to which McClellan was subjected in the days before the battle at Antietam:

Upton1.jpg

Upton went on to discuss some of the important negative consequences of the capture of Harpers Ferry, such as the fact that it enabled McLaws to escape and rejoin Lee:

Upton2.jpg
How is Lincoln urging to hurt the enemy more and Halleck wanting D.C. covered contradictory orders, or even orders at all?
 

67th Tigers

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I think 67th Tigers has presented plenty of evidence that McClellan and Keyes spoke at length with Navy officials. So the argument that the Navy folks did not know what was expected of them seems to stand refuted.

Indeed. Dan believes, wrongly, he has refuted the counterarguments to his case. He came out with the notion that either McClellan or Fox and Goldsborough was lying. Okay, we can test for that. Is there a single surviving communication mentioning that the Army had asked for the Navy to shell Yorktown? Yes there is. Fox's 24th March to Goldsborough explicitly states they were asked to do it. Hence we can conclude that if anyone was lying then it was Fox and Goldsborough. Dan of course can't accept this, but has been able to provide no cogent counterargument.

You should read what Russell Beatie's discussion on the Navy's failure to provide adequate support in his Army of the Potomac volumes. Beatie shows that recent experience had proven that large ships could attack ground positions with minimal chance of being sunk. So Goldsborough refusal to shell Gloucester Point with the excuse that it was too dangerous was invalid and unacceptable.

Indeed. Goldsborough was doing the same in the James. Fox kept trying to get Goldsborough to bombard the rebel battery at Sewell's Point. Goldsborough kept refusing for the same reasons. Eventually when Lincoln came down to Fort Monroe after McClellan had taken Yorktown he patiently listened to Goldsborough's objections and ordered him to attack. The rebels abandoned the Sewell's Point battery that very day, as McClellan's movements had made Norfolk untenable.

The rule that had developed was that with steam ships, one gun in a shore battery equaled one gun afloat.

The Yorktown water battery had 4 guns on the beach (plus an anti-infantry carronade) and 4 guns that could bear on the channel from the main works, thus:

Yorktown%2Bwater%2Bbattery.png


Gloucester Point consisted of two works, and the star fort and the water battery. The water battery was abandoned in late March and the nine 32 pounders hauled upto the star fort and mounted 8 facing the river and one to the rear. There were also around six 6 and 12 pounders in the landward defence.

Gloucester%2BPoint.png


So, taking position in the river below Yorktown you'd have 16 heavy guns firing on you - 8 from each shore. The Gloucester Point battery is far less threatening.

Once past the crossfiring batteries there's the Yorktown batteries with 18 guns:

Yorktown%2Bupper%2Bbatteries.png


Any strong attack with sloops and frigates would have rapidly overwhelmed the defences. Gloucester fort is 30 feet above the waterline, whilst Yorktown is similar.

With 32 guns, which can be taken in two or three details, the rule of thumb is that Minnesota alone could have overwhelmed the defenders
 

wausaubob

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Not much has been said about George Thomas on this thread. I just ran across this commentary on Thomas:

Why all the Fuss About George H. Thomas?
May 22, 2011Brooks D. Simpson

George H. Thomas was one of the five best commanders on the Union side during the American Civil War. He was extremely competent and skilled. One could easily make a case for him as one of the top three Union commanders (with Grant and Sherman) and note that on a battlefield proper Thomas surpassed Sherman (as did Sheridan, and probably Meade). Sherman’s skills did not include being an especially capable battlefield commander.

So why, one may ask, have some people claimed that Thomas is being denied his rightful place among Union commanders? Why claim that there is (not just was) a conspiracy to denigrate his accomplishment and question his performance? In truth, of course, there is no such conspiracy (I’ve never seen any evidence of it), although one can argue that both Grant and Sherman did not hold Thomas in quite the same high regard as do his most impassioned advocates, some of whom seemed to have derived some of their edge from their postwar political opposition to Grant. After all, most of the areas where Thomas has come under critical examination (Chattanooga, Nashville) can be better understood as a simple lack of chemistry and trust between Grant and Thomas: both men seem to me to be rather prickly and proud in their interaction, and if Grant did not give Thomas the benefit of the doubt that he extended to Sherman and Sheridan, neither did Thomas show the same sort of loyalty to Grant that he extended to Buell and Rosecrans. Most relationships are best understood as two-way streets, and this one simply didn’t work. Moreover, if Grant gracefully conceded that the results at Nashville vindicated Thomas, Thomas never showed a reciprocal generosity. https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/why-all-the-fuss-about-george-h-thomas/
Good example of the difference between a blog with a few commentators bulldozing the mildly informed, which is what typically happens here, and discussion among equals, who have studied these issues in depth, and can comment from contextual knowledge.
 

DanSBHawk

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Indeed. Dan believes, wrongly, he has refuted the counterarguments to his case. He came out with the notion that either McClellan or Fox and Goldsborough was lying. Okay, we can test for that. Is there a single surviving communication mentioning that the Army had asked for the Navy to shell Yorktown? Yes there is. Fox's 24th March to Goldsborough explicitly states they were asked to do it. Hence we can conclude that if anyone was lying then it was Fox and Goldsborough. Dan of course can't accept this, but has been able to provide no cogent counterargument.



Indeed. Goldsborough was doing the same in the James. Fox kept trying to get Goldsborough to bombard the rebel battery at Sewell's Point. Goldsborough kept refusing for the same reasons. Eventually when Lincoln came down to Fort Monroe after McClellan had taken Yorktown he patiently listened to Goldsborough's objections and ordered him to attack. The rebels abandoned the Sewell's Point battery that very day, as McClellan's movements had made Norfolk untenable.

The rule that had developed was that with steam ships, one gun in a shore battery equaled one gun afloat.

The Yorktown water battery had 4 guns on the beach (plus an anti-infantry carronade) and 4 guns that could bear on the channel from the main works, thus:

Yorktown%2Bwater%2Bbattery.png


Gloucester Point consisted of two works, and the star fort and the water battery. The water battery was abandoned in late March and the nine 32 pounders hauled upto the star fort and mounted 8 facing the river and one to the rear. There were also around six 6 and 12 pounders in the landward defence.

Gloucester%2BPoint.png


So, taking position in the river below Yorktown you'd have 16 heavy guns firing on you - 8 from each shore. The Gloucester Point battery is far less threatening.

Once past the crossfiring batteries there's the Yorktown batteries with 18 guns:

Yorktown%2Bupper%2Bbatteries.png


Any strong attack with sloops and frigates would have rapidly overwhelmed the defences. Gloucester fort is 30 feet above the waterline, whilst Yorktown is similar.

With 32 guns, which can be taken in two or three details, the rule of thumb is that Minnesota alone could have overwhelmed the defenders
The question is not, and never was, whether the Army asked the Navy to shell Yorktown.

The question is whether the Navy ever "promised" to reduce the fortifications at Yorktown with naval gunfire alone, and force the surrender of the fort in a matter of hours.

The plan McClellan submitted to the White House claimed the Navy would be able to do this. There is no documentary evidence that the Navy claimed to be able to do this, or were even consulted about it before the campaign began.

Regarding the ability of the Navy to force the surrender of a fort, it is certainly not a given that ships were always able to come out on top in a ship versus fort duel. See Fort Donelson as an example.
 

Saphroneth

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With 32 guns, which can be taken in two or three details, the rule of thumb is that Minnesota alone could have overwhelmed the defenders
And indeed during the Crimean war it was pretty clearly shown that a ship could retreat if it was in danger - some British ships at Sevastopol were set afire, retired to solve the problem, then returned to the bombardment.


The plan McClellan submitted to the White House claimed the Navy would be able to do this. There is no documentary evidence that the Navy claimed to be able to do this, or were even consulted about it before the campaign began.
Fox's 24 March to Goldsborough is clearly a document which mentions that the Navy was at least consulted about it; thus it is documentary evidence that consultation took place. I assume by saying "documentary evidence" you're attempting to reject the statements of others about generals making naval support a condition of their approval as not qualifying, but even under the reduced nature of "documentary" evidence we still know consultation had taken place.


Regarding the ability of the Navy to force the surrender of a fort, it is certainly not a given that ships were always able to come out on top in a ship versus fort duel. See Fort Donelson as an example.
Well, Fort Donelson was a combination of poor tactics (Foote did not bother to run the defences or engage them from a distance, in fact he treated them with contempt) and heavy defences (the water batteries had at least a dozen pieces between them, all 32 lber or heavier, and Foote claims to have been under the fire of "over twenty heavy guns").
Obviously if the fortifications are treated with contempt and engaged under their own ideal conditions they're going to do much better - but if Foote had run past Fort Donelson by night he'd have taken much less fire and then been in a position to take the batteries (water batteries or land defences) in the rear.
 

cash

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One can not honestly and thoroughly discuss Thomas without discussing Grant. That is a fact. People know that now, people knew it 125 years ago. You posted two articles both from recent years.
I too posted two articles: One thouroughly documented by an accomplished CW historian Stephen Starr the other written by a CW veteran in the 19th century.
All I ask is for people to read broadly and deeply on the topic of Thomas, Rosecrans etc. One wouldnt think that to be a controversial request. Did you read the articles I posted?

One cannot honestly compare McClellan and Thomas by denigrating Grant. That is a fact.
 

DanSBHawk

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And indeed during the Crimean war it was pretty clearly shown that a ship could retreat if it was in danger - some British ships at Sevastopol were set afire, retired to solve the problem, then returned to the bombardment.



Fox's 24 March to Goldsborough is clearly a document which mentions that the Navy was at least consulted about it; thus it is documentary evidence that consultation took place. I assume by saying "documentary evidence" you're attempting to reject the statements of others about generals making naval support a condition of their approval as not qualifying, but even under the reduced nature of "documentary" evidence we still know consultation had taken place.



Well, Fort Donelson was a combination of poor tactics (Foote did not bother to run the defences or engage them from a distance, in fact he treated them with contempt) and heavy defences (the water batteries had at least a dozen pieces between them, all 32 lber or heavier, and Foote claims to have been under the fire of "over twenty heavy guns").
Obviously if the fortifications are treated with contempt and engaged under their own ideal conditions they're going to do much better - but if Foote had run past Fort Donelson by night he'd have taken much less fire and then been in a position to take the batteries (water batteries or land defences) in the rear.
From page 81-82 of the link provided above:

https://books.google.com/books?id=S...bAhXk5oMKHaZMAtYQ6AEILzAB#v=onepage&q&f=false

The teaching of this superficial review of some of the most famous actions of our war between ships and batteries is, that, where the guns on shore were well protected by earth, well elevated, and separated, they never failed to get the advantage over the ships ; and that, where they did fail, this came from the forts not answering one of the above three conditions. This is illustrated by the fact that Admirals Farragut, Dupont, and Porter, who won the most distinguished victories over forts not filling these conditions, themselves failed before forts which filled them, and stated that success was beyond their power under such circumstances. Also it appears that, as Gen. Totten conceded, a fleet under favorable circumstances can run by a fortified position without very great risk.
To apply these results to Yorktown : — Its guns, as already stated, were most of them eighty feet above the water-level, well protected, and in small groups, well separated. There is no reason to suppose the fleet could have silenced, much less disabled, these guns. It probably could have passed them with trifling loss at night. It would have been very rash for transports, crowded with troops, to try to pass with it, as was shown by the fate of Gen. Ellet's river-steamers and Admiral Porter's transports at Vicksburg. If the fleet had passed without a convoy of troops, it could in no respect have weakened Magruder's position. It seems, then, that the navy was right in not attacking Yorktown, and that Gen. McClellan's opinion that it might have reduced it was ill-judged.
 

Bee

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One wouldnt think that to be a controversial request. Did you read the articles I posted?

I read the first one long before you posted it, but since it speaks more about Grant than it does Thomas, I purposely left it out. News flash: the topic of Thomas and Grant has been so thoroughly covered that even the articles are getting recycled. Apparently you do not understand that the topic of this thread is McClellan and Thomas. "Serious students" as you are so fond of saying, usually learn to expand beyond what has already been covered, stay with the topic, and they are not constrained to re-covering material because it makes them feel secure.
 

cash

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I read the first one long before you posted it, but since it speaks more about Grant than it does Thomas, I purposely left it out. News flash: the topic of Thomas and Grant has been so thoroughly covered that even the articles are getting recycled. Apparently you do not understand that the topic of this thread is McClellan and Thomas. "Serious students" as you are so fond of saying, usually learn to expand beyond what has already been covered, stay with the topic, and they are not constrained to re-covering material because it makes them feel secure.

In addition, we normally don't do reading assignments. If there was a point to the article, that point should have been made with people pointed to the precise part of the article as support rather than simply posting a link to the article and expecting people to read the whole thing without a point to look for.
 

67th Tigers

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Well, Fort Donelson was a combination of poor tactics (Foote did not bother to run the defences or engage them from a distance, in fact he treated them with contempt) and heavy defences (the water batteries had at least a dozen pieces between them, all 32 lber or heavier, and Foote claims to have been under the fire of "over twenty heavy guns").
Obviously if the fortifications are treated with contempt and engaged under their own ideal conditions they're going to do much better - but if Foote had run past Fort Donelson by night he'd have taken much less fire and then been in a position to take the batteries (water batteries or land defences) in the rear.

He was under fire from 15 effective guns at close range. There were water batteries, one with a 10" Columbiad and 8 32 pdrs and another with a 32 pdr converted to a 64 pdr rifle and 2 32 short 32 pdrs. Atop the hill an 8" howitzer and 2 9" Dahlgrens bore on the 4 attacking gunboats, each of which had 3 8" shell guns bearing.

The rebels only fired the 10" and the rifle initially, and then very deliberately. The attacking Federals were hamstrung by only having shell guns, not solid-shot guns, facing forward. Bearing this in mind, they were foolish to close. Pillow had the rest of his guns hold fire until the Federals got to ca. 350 yards, when all their solid-shot guns opened at once. Having attacked bow on, all the hits raked the target - i.e. they went down the long axis of the ship inflicting maximum damage rather than through the sides and out.

One of the participants noted that had Foote been sensible, that is held the range open and concentrated his fire he would have easily overwhelmed the river batteries. Indeed, the rule of thumb says Foote should easily have won, but he was overconfident.

In total Misroon's initial seven vessels had 37 guns. He easily had enough firepower to engage Gloucester Fort or the Yorktown water Battery at 4:1 odds.

The notion that the bluffs were "too high" is ridiculous. Anybody claiming such needs a basic course in trigonometry. At 1,000 yds the additional elevation needed to hit a target 60 feet above sea level (i.e. the height of the Yorktown bluffs, look at a topographic map) is 1.1 degrees. In practice (since the guns are some 10 feet above the waterline) around 1 degree. A long 32 at 1,000 yards needs 3 degrees elevation to hit the top of the bluffs, and about 3 degrees at 300 yards too....

Part of the problem seems to be that the US commanders weren't exploiting steam that well. Foote drove his gunsboats to 300 yds from the enemy batteries and stopped. Rodgers at Drewry's Bluff did something similar.
 

DanSBHawk

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As someone who actually experienced naval vs shore batteries, Admiral Porters words carry more weight regarding water batteries and the elevation of the shore batteries:

Page 76: https://books.google.com/books?id=S...bAhXk5oMKHaZMAtYQ6AEILzAB#v=onepage&q&f=false

Admiral Porter also before his victory at Fort Fisher had been sorely tried by these river-defences at Vicksburg. He reports to the Secretary of the Navy, Feb. 7, 1863 : "The people in Vicksburg are the only ones who have as yet hit upon the method of defending themselves against our gunboats, — viz., not erecting water batteries ; and placing the guns some distance back from the water, where they can throw a plunging shot which none of our iron-clads could stand."
 

67th Tigers

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As someone who actually experienced naval vs shore batteries, Admiral Porters words carry more weight regarding water batteries and the elevation of the shore batteries:

Maybe, but he contradicts your case. According to Porter water batteries were always easily overcome when attacked....
 
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