Why is McClellan Criticized for Not Destroying the ANV at Antietam, Yet Grant Praised for Failing to do the Same at Spotyslvania Court House?

RedCivilWar

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Hey CW historians! This is my first thread! Been a fan of the site for some time and definitely excited to engage in fun discussions with you all.

I've always wondered why Little Mac has been harshly critiqued by historians like Sears and McPherson for failing to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, yet these same people give Grant a pass for failing to do the same at the Battle of Spotyslvania Court House.

I understand there are key differences between the two clashes, but there are similarities as well- both involved the Union being on the offensive and CSA on the defensive; both involved the Union outnumbering the Confederates nearly 2:1; both involved Bobby Lee rapidly moving troops between his flanks, and both are ultimately considered tactically-inconclusive/strategic victories for the Union.

Ironically, I've always thought that Spotsylvania was a prime example of why McClellan didn't fail at Antietam. Repeated attacks over several days by Grant didn't permanently break the Confederate lines, and this was with a more war-weary, demoralized CSA that was still recovering from the Battle of the Wilderness. Mac had to contend with an ANV that was still young and spurred by the success at 2nd Manassas.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
 

Jamieva

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Thanks for posting here and this is a good, thought provoking topic.

First as far as Antietam, the criticism of McClellan there is not just about the day of the battle itself. His opportunity is more so in the days leading up when he knows the parts of Lee's army are split up and he has the opportunity to grab them up one at a time before they get back together. A smaller part of it, in my opinion, is the actual execution of the battle plan at Antietam. Also, you mentioned Sears specifically in there. Keep in mind, Sears is the probably the most prominent McClellan critic in Civil War academia. He crushes him for everything he does, in multiple books.

As for Grant at Spotsylvania, he is fighting an army that is well dug in. Antietam had few, if any, type of breastworks etc for the Confederate Army. Most of the fighting there was done in the open. Also, the morale of the ANV fighting on its own turf in VA versus in Maryland, makes the defending army toughen up a little bit more. Keep in mind by the time Lee's army fights at Antietam they have been marching and fighting almost non stop for a couple of months without a major break.
 

Lampasas Bill

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Don't forget that Lee was fighting with his back to the Potomac River. He would have had a difficult time retreating if pressed by McClellan, who still had an two fresh corps in reserve. He had a chance to destroy Lee's army but failed take advantage of the situation.
 

RedCivilWar

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Thanks for posting here and this is a good, thought provoking topic.

First as far as Antietam, the criticism of McClellan there is not just about the day of the battle itself. His opportunity is more so in the days leading up when he knows the parts of Lee's army are split up and he has the opportunity to grab them up one at a time before they get back together. A smaller part of it, in my opinion, is the actual execution of the battle plan at Antietam. Also, you mentioned Sears specifically in there. Keep in mind, Sears is the probably the most prominent McClellan critic in Civil War academia. He crushes him for everything he does, in multiple books.


Thank you for warm welcome boss!

In the first part of your comment, I believe you are referring to Special Order 191. There have been misconceptions about it that have unfortunately persisted in historical discourse. One, it didn't take McClellan 18 hours to react to it but more so around 6. And two, it's importance, in general, is overstated. By the time it was received it was nearly 24 hours old- Harper's Ferry was on the verge of being captured and McClellan had already initiated the army's movement to South Mountain. Could he have split up the AOTP to isolate the different CSA divisions? It's definitely a strategy, but considering isolation was what hurt the AOTP the most at 7 Days, I doubt McClellan would have ever entertained the notion.

Yes, I am aware of Sears's views, which honestly makes me not trust him as much. There have been more even-minded historians like Alan Brinkley.


As for Grant at Spotsylvania, he is fighting an army that is well dug in. Antietam had few, if any, type of breastworks etc for the Confederate Army. Most of the fighting there was done in the open. Also, the morale of the ANV fighting on its own turf in VA versus in Maryland, makes the defending army toughen up a little bit more. Keep in mind by the time Lee's army fights at Antietam they have been marching and fighting almost non stop for a couple of months without a major break.

You're right that the breastworks were better established at Spotsylvania (the ANV had become masters of the engineering craft), but I would counter that these defenses weren't at the caliber that would be erected at Cold Harbor, and were ultimately made redundant due to Emory Upton's entrenchment tactic.

I don't think it's fair to say that the CSA was out in the open. Lee relied on a lot of natural terrain that gave the ANV a huge defensive advantage that they utilized very well (the cornfield on the left, the sunken road in the middle, and the bluffs overlooking antietam creek on the right). If it wasn't for Hooker's sharp reconnaissance, the cornfield would've been a slaughter spot for the Union.

It is true that there was a lot of marching prior to Antietam, but the 2 days McClellan (idiotically, I'll concede) gave Lee prior to launching his attacks gave some recovery time. Spotsylvania, OTOH, continued almost instantaneously from the Wilderness.

I think the morale argument is moot. Desertion started in the CSA in 1864, so clearly home was distinct from the battlefield.

Don't forget that Lee was fighting with his back to the Potomac River. He would have had a difficult time retreating if pressed by McClellan, who still had an two fresh corps in reserve. He had a chance to destroy Lee's army but failed take advantage of the situation.

It is true that Lee had his back to the Potomac, but he was hardly trapped. Boteler's Ford was big enough that entire divisions could move through it very quickly (as proven by A.P. Hill). It's worth point out that McClellan did send one of the reserves, the V Corp, to attack Lee when it was discovered that he was using the ceasefire to retreat, but the rearguard Lee set-up at Boteler's ford repulsed the V Corp.
 

Saphroneth

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I feel that I need to make a couple of corrective points here.


The first one is about the army size at Antietam, because the numerical ratio at Antietam is not actually 2:1.

Regiments:
Counting infantry regiments on the field on the 17th, Lee has about 180 (182) and McClellan has about 190 (191).

Post-battle PFD and add-back:
This is how McClellan calculated his strength at 87,000 on the field (which is a pre-straggle number). Doing the same thing to Lee produces numbers between 50,000 and 70,000, depending which of Lee's post-battle strengths you use (as his strength quickly rises from about 40,000 all told on 22 September to about 60,000 all told on 10 October; McClellan's reports do not rise nearly so quickly).

Effectives on the field:
Going through every brigade individually, the rough estimate for Lee's strength is 47,000 on the field after straggling (of which about 40,000 are infantry). The same thing done for McClellan's strength on the field comes to about 55,000; both of these numbers are uncertain by a few thousand at least.

There is no consistent measure which shows McClellan outnumbering Lee 2:1.


(There is a consistent measure which shows Grant outnumbering Lee 2:1, which is the combined PFD strength of all units going into the campaign minus the casualties at the Wilderness; in fact under this measure Grant outnumbers Lee a bit more than 2:1.)



The second is about the "two corps" in reserve. McClellan did not have two corps in reserve, and the reason for this is:

6th Corps - 6th Corps was not in reserve. It got deployed to the Federal right wing and prevented a collapse there after the repulse of Sumner's attack.
5th Corps, Sykes' division: About half of Sykes' division was actively engaged (half the regulars; Warren's little brigade was doing something else). The other half could by some interpretation be seen as in reserve.
5th Corps, Morell's division: This is the only formation that can be said to be fully in reserve. Part of it gets committed to the right at one point, but then recalled.
 

Saphroneth

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The third is about the operational movements in the leadup to Antietam. I would argue that McClellan's moves were about as much as he could possibly do to exploit the already-expired Special Order 191.


Here's what McClellan actually got of SO 191.
Note by the way that SO 191 was issued on Tuesday 9 September; consequently "Friday" is September 12. McClellan finds the orders September 13.


Special Orders, No. 191
Hdqrs. Army of Northern Virginia
September 9, 1862



  1. (missing)
  2. (missing)
  3. The army will resume its march tomorrow, taking the Hagerstown road. General Jackson's command will form the advance, and, after passing Middletown, with such portion as he may select, take the route toward Sharpsburg, cross the Potomac at the most convenient point, and by Friday morning take possession of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, capture such of them as may be at Martinsburg, and intercept such as may attempt to escape from Harpers Ferry.
  4. General Longstreet's command will pursue the same road as far as Boonsborough, where it will halt, with reserve, supply, and baggage trains of the army.
  5. General McLaws, with his own division and that of General R. H. Anderson, will follow General Longstreet. On reaching Middletown will take the route to Harpers Ferry, and by Friday morning possess himself of the Maryland Heights and endeavor to capture the enemy at Harpers Ferry and vicinity.
  6. General Walker, with his division, after accomplishing the object in which he is now engaged, will cross the Potomac at Cheek's Ford, ascend its right bank to Lovettsville, take possession of Loudoun Heights, if practicable, by Friday morning, Key's Ford on his left, and the road between the end of the mountain and the Potomac on his right. He will, as far as practicable, cooperate with General McLaws and Jackson, and intercept retreat of the enemy.
  7. General D. H. Hill's division will form the rear guard of the army, pursuing the road taken by the main body. The reserve artillery, ordnance, and supply trains, &c., will precede General Hill.
  8. General Stuart will detach a squadron of cavalry to accompany the commands of Generals Longstreet, Jackson, and McLaws, and, with the main body of the cavalry, will cover the route of the army, bringing up all stragglers that may have been left behind.
  9. The commands of Generals Jackson, McLaws, and Walker, after accomplishing the objects for which they have been detached, will join the main body of the army at Boonsborough or Hagerstown.
  10. Each regiment on the march will habitually carry its axes in the regimental ordnance—wagons, for use of the men at their encampments, to procure wood &c.


Maps follow:




SO191.jpg


This is the content of SO 191. (Map base from the GCACW game series as it shows the roads quite well.) This is the most information that McClellan could extract from SO 191.


As of when the orders are captured, it's Saturday. The orders expired on Friday, but because Harpers Ferry has not yet fallen they are a fairly good predictor (though not perfect) of Confederate positions.
Given that McClellan knew DH Hill left Frederick on the 11th, and assuming that he knew there was no extra division or so knocking about not included in the orders, the below is what McClellan could reasonably predict Lee's positions to be in red (along with the true positions, which are slightly different and where different are in orange).

Note that while the cavalry is not marked on this map, this is because McClellan was actually in contact with it already - Stuart's cavalry was holding the Cactotin passes as of noon on the 13th, and Jefferson Pass is not taken until near sundown.

SO191_13.jpg


Before continuing, stop a moment and work out how you think there is an opportunity to destroy Lee's army.

As I see it:

Jackson's force and Walker's force are impossible to catch as things stand. They have a free and clear escape route back south and to get at them means crossing the Potomac.

Longstreet's and DH Hill's forces are north of the Potomac and can be attacked, but they have a clear escape route to the west via Williamsport or Shepherdstown.

McLaws' force is vulnerable so long as Harpers Ferry holds out, as this pins them in the Pleasant Valley if South Mountain can be forced. This is about a quarter of Lee's force and is the component that is actually vulnerable.

With this in mind, what McClellan actually does is:

SO191_14.jpg


Of note here is that much of the approach march of Burnside's wing (9th and 1st Corps) actually happens at night. There's only two suitable roads to use, with two thirds of McClellan's army trying to squeeze through Frederick (thus a lot of the delay) and the attack at South Mountain begins around 9AM on the 14th.
(The Jefferson pass is seized near sundown on the 13th, and part of Franklin's wing makes a two hour night march for Jefferson pass.)


So the question really is - how exactly can McClellan much better this set of operational movements based on available information?
 

Saphroneth

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It is true that there was a lot of marching prior to Antietam, but the 2 days McClellan (idiotically, I'll concede) gave Lee prior to launching his attacks gave some recovery time. Spotsylvania, OTOH, continued almost instantaneously from the Wilderness.
This is something I'd like to quickly look into in terms of operational movements. The two days you're talking about (and correct me if I'm wrong, of course) are I assume the 15th and the 16th.

The basic reason why McClellan doesn't attack before the 17th is that his army is strung out on the roads before then. Franklin's wing marched a different route so I'll just look at the troops of Burnside's wing, Sumner's wing and Porter's wing, but fundamentally speaking all of these units are no further west than Frederick Maryland at midday on the 13th.

The troops making this move are everything that was at Antietam on the 17th except for 6th Corps, and (per McClellan's quoted strength for Antietam, which is essentially post-Antietam strength plus add-back of Antietam casualties and appears to be a pretty good read for PFD strength) number:

1st Corps 14,856
2nd Corps 18,813
5th Corps (Sykes and Morell) 12,930
(6th Corps 12,300)
9th Corps 13,819
12th Corps 10,126
Cavalry Division 4,320

For about 75,000 absent 6th Corps. (There were also about 1,500 casualties to these units at South Mountain.)

At this point it's good to look at Special Order 191 and what it looked like when it was being fulfilled. Per Steiner (who saw Lee's army marching through Frederick) most of Lee's infantry divisions took sixteen hours to march through the streets (that's all of Lee's army minus DH Hill, Stuart and Walker, so about 55,000 PFD) and DH Hill followed the next day after the reserve artillery and baggage trains.

The consequence of this is that McClellan's army's road column is going to be so long that it takes more than a whole day to go past a single point - and there's at least two places where it has to go past a single point. In particular in getting through the South Mountain gaps, which can't really be got through until the Confederates have actually been forced off the position (and the fighting at South Mountain consumes essentially a whole day, the 14th).

So that means that from noon on the 13th to noon on the 15th there is one day's worth of marching that can be done, plus any night marching, to actually make ground. This is enough that the head of McClellan's column did indeed reach Antietam Creek by the end of the 15th, but McClellan does not yet have any numerical superiority - all his troops are stacked up behind one another in road columns.

That's what causes the delay, basically - that 75,000 men and their artillery (almost 300 guns) take up a lot of road space. All the night marching that took place to push troops up to South Mountain had penalties, too, which included that 1st and 9th Corps were exhausted (particularly 9th) and this is actually why it's Sykes and Richardson that reach the creek first, they got right of way and pushed through as fresher troops.

Now, this doesn't mean the movement was well executed; the thrown-together army has distinct and obvious articulation problems.
 

Jamieva

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Don't forget that Lee was fighting with his back to the Potomac River. He would have had a difficult time retreating if pressed by McClellan, who still had an two fresh corps in reserve. He had a chance to destroy Lee's army but failed take advantage of the situation.

He didn't have 2 full fresh corps. Did he have some fresh troops? Yes. That has been covered in several Antietam threads and we have some fellas that love to discuss the numbers. @Saphroneth @67th Tigers

However, I don't think this particular topic needs to get bogged down in numbers to really flesh it out and talk about the 2 options delivered in the OP. Overall I would say "destroying" an army as we saw in 4 years of war is near impossible. The best example we have is Hood's army at Nashville.
 
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Jamieva

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Thank you for warm welcome boss!

In the first part of your comment, I believe you are referring to Special Order 191. There have been misconceptions about it that have unfortunately persisted in historical discourse. One, it didn't take McClellan 18 hours to react to it but more so around 6. And two, it's importance, in general, is overstated. By the time it was received it was nearly 24 hours old- Harper's Ferry was on the verge of being captured and McClellan had already initiated the army's movement to South Mountain. Could he have split up the AOTP to isolate the different CSA divisions? It's definitely a strategy, but considering isolation was what hurt the AOTP the most at 7 Days, I doubt McClellan would have ever entertained the notion.

Yes, I am aware of Sears's views, which honestly makes me not trust him as much. There have been more even-minded historians like Alan Brinkley.




You're right that the breastworks were better established at Spotsylvania (the ANV had become masters of the engineering craft), but I would counter that these defenses weren't at the caliber that would be erected at Cold Harbor, and were ultimately made redundant due to Emory Upton's entrenchment tactic.

I don't think it's fair to say that the CSA was out in the open. Lee relied on a lot of natural terrain that gave the ANV a huge defensive advantage that they utilized very well (the cornfield on the left, the sunken road in the middle, and the bluffs overlooking antietam creek on the right). If it wasn't for Hooker's sharp reconnaissance, the cornfield would've been a slaughter spot for the Union.

It is true that there was a lot of marching prior to Antietam, but the 2 days McClellan (idiotically, I'll concede) gave Lee prior to launching his attacks gave some recovery time. Spotsylvania, OTOH, continued almost instantaneously from the Wilderness.

I think the morale argument is moot. Desertion started in the CSA in 1864, so clearly home was distinct from the battlefield.



It is true that Lee had his back to the Potomac, but he was hardly trapped. Boteler's Ford was big enough that entire divisions could move through it very quickly (as proven by A.P. Hill). It's worth point out that McClellan did send one of the reserves, the V Corp, to attack Lee when it was discovered that he was using the ceasefire to retreat, but the rearguard Lee set-up at Boteler's ford repulsed the V Corp.

If Franklin had moved at more than a sloth pace and with a little more fortitude, he could have at the least he bloodied McLaws division very badly. But Franklin being Franklin he creeped along afraid that Lee would jump out from behind some bushes on the side of the road and wipe him out.
 

RedCivilWar

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I feel that I need to make a couple of corrective points here.


The first one is about the army size at Antietam, because the numerical ratio at Antietam is not actually 2:1.

Regiments:
Counting infantry regiments on the field on the 17th, Lee has about 180 (182) and McClellan has about 190 (191).

Post-battle PFD and add-back:
This is how McClellan calculated his strength at 87,000 on the field (which is a pre-straggle number). Doing the same thing to Lee produces numbers between 50,000 and 70,000, depending which of Lee's post-battle strengths you use (as his strength quickly rises from about 40,000 all told on 22 September to about 60,000 all told on 10 October; McClellan's reports do not rise nearly so quickly).

Effectives on the field:
Going through every brigade individually, the rough estimate for Lee's strength is 47,000 on the field after straggling (of which about 40,000 are infantry). The same thing done for McClellan's strength on the field comes to about 55,000; both of these numbers are uncertain by a few thousand at least.

There is no consistent measure which shows McClellan outnumbering Lee 2:1.

(There is a consistent measure which shows Grant outnumbering Lee 2:1, which is the combined PFD strength of all units going into the campaign minus the casualties at the Wilderness; in fact under this measure Grant outnumbers Lee a bit more than 2:1.)

The second is about the "two corps" in reserve. McClellan did not have two corps in reserve, and the reason for this is:

6th Corps - 6th Corps was not in reserve. It got deployed to the Federal right wing and prevented a collapse there after the repulse of Sumner's attack.
5th Corps, Sykes' division: About half of Sykes' division was actively engaged (half the regulars; Warren's little brigade was doing something else). The other half could by some interpretation be seen as in reserve.
5th Corps, Morell's division: This is the only formation that can be said to be fully in reserve. Part of it gets committed to the right at one point, but then recalled.

The third is about the operational movements in the leadup to Antietam. I would argue that McClellan's moves were about as much as he could possibly do to exploit the already-expired Special Order 191.

So the question really is - how exactly can McClellan much better this set of operational movements based on available information?


Thank you for the detailed information friend. As flawed as Gene Thorp's piece was in the WaPo, I thought he more than debased the myth about the 18 hours of inactivity that has unfortunately pervaded American history.

For the troop counts, I was going off of Wikipedia's listed numbers, which combine numerous sources including Ezra Carman. While I don't doubt that CSA numbers, in general, are deliberately cut short as part of post-Lost Cause influence (trying to make the Confederacy's manpower look weaker than it was to perpetuate the idea that they were a band of revolutionaries fighting the tyrannical gov't), I don't think they're as close as you want it to be. No way McClellan only had 55,000 with 6 Corps- even if each Corp was at its lowest it would number over 60000 troops. He wouldn't have done battle with just that many.

Well put. I knew he didn't have 2 entire Corps in reserve, at the very most 1.


This is something I'd like to quickly look into in terms of operational movements. The two days you're talking about (and correct me if I'm wrong, of course) are I assume the 15th and the 16th.

The basic reason why McClellan doesn't attack before the 17th is that his army is strung out on the roads before then. Franklin's wing marched a different route so I'll just look at the troops of Burnside's wing, Sumner's wing and Porter's wing, but fundamentally speaking all of these units are no further west than Frederick Maryland at midday on the 13th.

The troops making this move are everything that was at Antietam on the 17th except for 6th Corps, and (per McClellan's quoted strength for Antietam, which is essentially post-Antietam strength plus add-back of Antietam casualties and appears to be a pretty good read for PFD strength) number:

1st Corps 14,856
2nd Corps 18,813
5th Corps (Sykes and Morell) 12,930
(6th Corps 12,300)
9th Corps 13,819
12th Corps 10,126
Cavalry Division 4,320

For about 75,000 absent 6th Corps. (There were also about 1,500 casualties to these units at South Mountain.)

At this point it's good to look at Special Order 191 and what it looked like when it was being fulfilled. Per Steiner (who saw Lee's army marching through Frederick) most of Lee's infantry divisions took sixteen hours to march through the streets (that's all of Lee's army minus DH Hill, Stuart and Walker, so about 55,000 PFD) and DH Hill followed the next day after the reserve artillery and baggage trains.

The consequence of this is that McClellan's army's road column is going to be so long that it takes more than a whole day to go past a single point - and there's at least two places where it has to go past a single point. In particular in getting through the South Mountain gaps, which can't really be got through until the Confederates have actually been forced off the position (and the fighting at South Mountain consumes essentially a whole day, the 14th).

So that means that from noon on the 13th to noon on the 15th there is one day's worth of marching that can be done, plus any night marching, to actually make ground. This is enough that the head of McClellan's column did indeed reach Antietam Creek by the end of the 15th, but McClellan does not yet have any numerical superiority - all his troops are stacked up behind one another in road columns.

That's what causes the delay, basically - that 75,000 men and their artillery (almost 300 guns) take up a lot of road space. All the night marching that took place to push troops up to South Mountain had penalties, too, which included that 1st and 9th Corps were exhausted (particularly 9th) and this is actually why it's Sykes and Richardson that reach the creek first, they got right of way and pushed through as fresher troops.

Now, this doesn't mean the movement was well executed; the thrown-together army has distinct and obvious articulation problems.

I'd have to do more research to verify this, but even if I take your word for it, it doesn't change the end result- that by delaying 2 days, Lee's army got to rest, entrench themselves better, and were able to holdout long enough for Jackson, Longstreet, and AP Hill to reinforce.

Grant may not have hit the Mule Shoe perfectly, and if anything had troops backed up at points, but he did hit it with a mailed fist.

It is hard for me to believe that any army under Grant would have been held up at Burnside's bridge for anything like the time it took for A.P. Hill to come up.

You won't find any argument from me here, but the faults at Burnside's Bridge rest on it's eponymous general, not McClellan. It's been proven that Burnside delayed a couple of hours after getting directions from Mac.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
However, I don't think this particular topic needs to get bogged down in numbers to really flesh it out and talk about the 2 options delivered in the OP. Overall I would say "destroying" an army as we saw in 4 years of war is near impossible. The best example we have is Hood's army at Nashville.
Even Hood's army at Nashville "broke clean" - most of its strength marched away successfully.

Grant may not have hit the Mule Shoe perfectly, and if anything had troops backed up at points, but he did hit it with a mailed fist.

It is hard for me to believe that any army under Grant would have been held up at Burnside's bridge for anything like the time it took for A.P. Hill to come up.
I tend to the view that this is actually the wrong comparison. The Mule Shoe is the equivalent of the attack in the north at Antietam (by the way, it's an interesting question as to how much strength Grant actually attacked with at the Mule Shoe, because the attack at Antietam might well be bigger?) and the Burnside's Bridge thing is more like, say, Laurel Hill. Or for that matter Burnside's attack on the 12th May at Spotsylvania - even the commander is the same.


One of the main reasons for the delay at the Burnside Bridge though is that if Burnside is slow neither Grant nor McClellan has any recourse to "punish" him. He's a corps commander whose appointment has the Presidential imprimatur, and (unlike, say, Warren at Spotsylvania) cannot be relieved of command by a mere army commander - only arrested for violating the Articles of War, and "being slow" isn't sufficient cause.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
If Franklin had moved at more than a sloth pace and with a little more fortitude, he could have at the least he bloodied McLaws division very badly. But Franklin being Franklin he creeped along afraid that Lee would jump out from behind some bushes on the side of the road and wipe him out.
According to a map I found, on the night of the 13th the main body of 6th Corps was at Buckeystown; from there to Sandy Hook via Jefferson Gap and Crampton's Gap is somewhat more than 20 miles.
With the fact there was a genuine battle on the way (Crampton's Gap), reaching Sandy Hook by nightfall on the 15th would actually be quite an impressive bit of marching; given that Franklin actually reached Crampton's Gap with his head of column by noon on the 14th I think he must have done quite a lot of forced-marching to get there, but the downside of that is of course exhaustion.

With Harpers Ferry surrendering not long after 8AM, there's at most a couple of hours of daylight on the 15th to push down the Pleasant Valley unless something causes HF to hold out for a bit longer. It's kind of "all or nothing" - if HF surrenders then McLaws can get his "corps" out of the trap, if not then the majority of McLaws' corps will probably be compelled to surrender.
 

67th Tigers

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Nov 10, 2006
Grant may not have hit the Mule Shoe perfectly, and if anything had troops backed up at points, but he did hit it with a mailed fist.

I have my doubts. The 2nd attack on the Mule Shoe was a catalogue of staff errors, and had Lee not have misread the situation and withdrawn the artillery from the position it would have been another bloody repulse for no gain.

There is a difference between seeing the enemy making a mistake and exploiting it, and simply blundering on and hoping the enemy makes a mistake.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Thank you for the detailed information friend. As flawed as Gene Thorp's piece was in the WaPo, I thought he more than debased the myth about the 18 hours of inactivity that has unfortunately pervaded American history.

For the troop counts, I was going off of Wikipedia's listed numbers, which combine numerous sources including Ezra Carman. While I don't doubt that CSA numbers, in general, are deliberately cut short as part of post-Lost Cause influence (trying to make the Confederacy's manpower look weaker than it was to perpetuate the idea that they were a band of revolutionaries fighting the tyrannical gov't), I don't think they're as close as you want it to be. No way McClellan only had 55,000 with 6 Corps- even if each Corp was at its lowest it would number over 60000 troops. He wouldn't have done battle with just that many.
The problem is that Wikipedia's sources combine Confederate Effectives after straggling and Union PFD before straggling (and then they leave out the Confederates who weren't engaged and have some low estimates for certain divisions). The numbers simply aren't comparable.

This has to be restated - the numbers on Wikipedia do not compare apples to applies. It is as correct as saying Lee's strength was 75,000 (pre-straggle PFD present at the battle, the way the Wikipedia numbers give McClellan's strength) and McClellan's strength was on the order of 46,000 (Carman's estimate of officers and men engaged, the way the Wikipedia numbers give Lee's strength).

I don't care which strength category we use - pick any you like. What I do insist on however is that the troop count should be consistent.

As for the idea that McClellan "wouldn't have done battle with just that many", that's sort of tautological - we know that McClellan did attack, and we also know that 1st Corps (for which we have the information about how much they straggled) straggled down to about 63% of theoretical PFD being actual effectives on the field. I'd agree McClellan might not attack in those circumstances if he had 55,000 pre straggle PFD, but he manifestly did attack in those circumstances when he had about 55,000 effectives.
If the actual data conflicts with a hard rule about someone, you should re-examine the data, but you should also re-examine the rule.


I'd have to do more research to verify this, but even if I take your word for it, it doesn't change the end result- that by delaying 2 days, Lee's army got to rest, entrench themselves better, and were able to holdout long enough for Jackson, Longstreet, and AP Hill to reinforce.

Perhaps it doesn't change the end result, but it does constrain the alternatives. It is simply not feasible to attack on the 15th, on the morning of the 16th it was foggy, and if McClellan attacked on the afternoon of the 16th he'd be attacking too early for 9th and 12th Corps to get into the fight so it would be pretty much an even fight.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I'd have to do more research to verify this, but even if I take your word for it, it doesn't change the end result- that by delaying 2 days, Lee's army got to rest, entrench themselves better, and were able to holdout long enough for Jackson, Longstreet, and AP Hill to reinforce.
Sorry about this but I want to point to something that might highlight a misconception. Specifically when you say "were able to holdout long enough for Jackson, Longstreet and AP Hill to reinforce".

It is utterly impossible for McClellan to attack fast enough to avoid Longstreet being able to reinforce, because Longstreet's force was the reinforcements at South Mountain. Lee's main body which is forced back off South Montain was DR Jones' and Hood's divisions (Longstreet's force) plus DH Hill's force (the rearguard which was at South Mountain on the start of the 14th), and was in pre-straggle and pre-casualty PFD about 24,500. (Obviously it's a lot weaker than this at Antietam because of straggling and casualties, but I'm going to use this measure because it's consistent - just remember that all numbers quoted here for both sides use that measure. I am also completely ignoring the cavalry, but Lee does have most of his cavalry with him and he has more than McClellan).

On the 15th Sykes and Richardson push up to Antietam Creek through Boonsboro and encounter this force pulled up opposite them. An attack on the 15th means running into them, and Sykes and Richardson combined are:
Sykes - about 5,000 (rough estimate of pre-straggle PFD - smaller division than Morell)
Richardson - about 1/3 of 2nd Corps (14 regiments out of 38, but most of the big new regiments are in other divisions) so about 6,000 pre-straggle PFD.

Since Jackson arrives overnight on the 15th-16th, attacking before Jackson can arrive means attacking with just Sykes and Richardson. This means an attack at 1:2 odds.

Jackson and Ewell arrive overnight on the 15th-16th, and Walker arrives by about noon on the 16th. These three divisions amount to 5,000 (Jackson) + 8,000 (Ewell) + 5,000 (Walker) in pre-straggle PFD - total 18,000, bringing Lee's strength up to about 42,500.

Once all of 1st Corps and 2nd Corps are available to attack on the afternoon of the 16th, plus Sykes, McClellan's disposable strength in pre straggle pre campaign PFD is about 5,000 (Sykes) +
1st Corps 15,000 (Antietam strength plus casualties from South Mountain, minus 16th Maine detached)
2nd Corps 18,000 (Antietam strength, minus 145th PA not yet arrived)

For a total of 38,000.

At this point the only divisions of Lee's army that have not yet arrived are Walker, McLaws and AP Hill. At this point McClellan still has a numerical disadvantage.

If McClellan can get either 9th or 12th Corps into the fight on the 16th (both difficult, remember that it took 9th Corps until something like 10AM on the 17th to be really ready to attack) then he has a numerical advantage - if it's 12th Corps he goes up to about 49,000 PFD (versus 42,500), if it's 9th Corps it goes up to about 53,000 PFD (versus 42,500).
Of course if he can get both into the fight then his advantage is substantial - it's just that that's very hard to do, the whole army was still east of South Mountain on the morning of the 15th and to get the whole thing into the fight by the afternoon of the 16th is a job of work. I suspect there would not be time for substantial amounts of fighting to be done unless most of the Union army just conducted a head-on charge against the heights over the Middle Bridge in the early afternoon.

On the morning of the 17th McLaws and Anderson have also arrived, which bolsters Lee's strength up to 61,000 pre-campaign PFD. (AP Hill and Stuart's cavalry form the last 15,000 or so). It's this circumstance which prevails when McClellan's attacks actually go in, and of course Morell and Franklin arrive to give him about 82,000* pre-campaign PFD on the field exclusive of cavaly.


So:

Attacking before Longstreet has arrived: literally impossible.
Attacking before Jackson has arrived: means an attack at roughly 1:2 odds.
(Attacking before McLaws and Anderson arrive: means an attack on the 16th, possible but not automatically a good idea)
Attacking before AP Hill has arrived: feasible and he attempted it.




* 6th Corps' numbers for Antietam include one new regiment that did not arrive in time for the battle.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
You won't find any argument from me here, but the faults at Burnside's Bridge rest on it's eponymous general, not McClellan. It's been proven that Burnside delayed a couple of hours after getting directions from Mac.
I also want to nuance this slightly. I don't think Burnside delayed, as in ignored orders - I think he executed his orders incompetently, or at least without the correct celerity.

The difference is that:
In one of them he gets ordered to attack with orders sent by McClellan at 8AM, gets ordered again with orders sent at 9:10 AM and doesn't order the first charge against the bridge until 10AM.
while
In the other he gets ordered to attack with orders sent by McClellan at 8AM and the first charge against the bridge happens at 9AM - it's just that it's one of a series of one-regiment charges without supporting artillery, instead of (as was quite feasible given the amount of prep time) a brigade charge with supporting artillery.
 

RedCivilWar

Cadet
Joined
Jun 26, 2020
Even Hood's army at Nashville "broke clean" - most of its strength marched away successfully.

Yet the Army of Tennessee didn't do much of anything after Franklin-Nashville. Makes me wonder if most of the survivors just disbanded and went back home.

I tend to the view that this is actually the wrong comparison. The Mule Shoe is the equivalent of the attack in the north at Antietam (by the way, it's an interesting question as to how much strength Grant actually attacked with at the Mule Shoe, because the attack at Antietam might well be bigger?) and the Burnside's Bridge thing is more like, say, Laurel Hill. Or for that matter Burnside's attack on the 12th May at Spotsylvania - even the commander is the same.

Antietam was definitely bigger- in one day the casualty figures were relatively equal to the near 2 weeks of battle done at Spotsylvania. For all the criticism Little Mac gets, I never understood the claim that he wasn't a fighter.


I have my doubts. The 2nd attack on the Mule Shoe was a catalogue of staff errors, and had Lee not have misread the situation and withdrawn the artillery from the position it would have been another bloody repulse for no gain.

There is a difference between seeing the enemy making a mistake and exploiting it, and simply blundering on and hoping the enemy makes a mistake.

Yeah, I respect Grant a lot, but having no follow-up strategy for a successful assault on the Mule Shoe was downright dumb on his part. If it had been at the beginning of the war it'd be one thing, but at that point he'd been a veteran field commander.
 
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RedCivilWar

Cadet
Joined
Jun 26, 2020
The problem is that Wikipedia's sources combine Confederate Effectives after straggling and Union PFD before straggling (and then they leave out the Confederates who weren't engaged and have some low estimates for certain divisions). The numbers simply aren't comparable.

This has to be restated - the numbers on Wikipedia do not compare apples to applies. It is as correct as saying Lee's strength was 75,000 (pre-straggle PFD present at the battle, the way the Wikipedia numbers give McClellan's strength) and McClellan's strength was on the order of 46,000 (Carman's estimate of officers and men engaged, the way the Wikipedia numbers give Lee's strength).

I don't care which strength category we use - pick any you like. What I do insist on however is that the troop count should be consistent.

As for the idea that McClellan "wouldn't have done battle with just that many", that's sort of tautological - we know that McClellan did attack, and we also know that 1st Corps (for which we have the information about how much they straggled) straggled down to about 63% of theoretical PFD being actual effectives on the field. I'd agree McClellan might not attack in those circumstances if he had 55,000 pre straggle PFD, but he manifestly did attack in those circumstances when he had about 55,000 effectives.
If the actual data conflicts with a hard rule about someone, you should re-examine the data, but you should also re-examine the rule.




Perhaps it doesn't change the end result, but it does constrain the alternatives. It is simply not feasible to attack on the 15th, on the morning of the 16th it was foggy, and if McClellan attacked on the afternoon of the 16th he'd be attacking too early for 9th and 12th Corps to get into the fight so it would be pretty much an even fight.

I get what you're saying about the lack of consistency, but why is it that the general consensus is that the Union had 75000+ troops. If what you're saying is correct, then historians would've established it as common knowledge and Mac wouldn't be so criticized for Antietam. You see what I'm saying?

You are very intelligent about numbers and research though- have you ever considered editing Wikipedia's page to reflect this?

Is there a reason McClellan didn't attack on the foggy 16th? The fog was what helped Grant's successful attack on the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania.


Sorry about this but I want to point to something that might highlight a misconception. Specifically when you say "were able to holdout long enough for Jackson, Longstreet and AP Hill to reinforce".

It is utterly impossible for McClellan to attack fast enough to avoid Longstreet being able to reinforce, because Longstreet's force was the reinforcements at South Mountain. Lee's main body which is forced back off South Montain was DR Jones' and Hood's divisions (Longstreet's force) plus DH Hill's force (the rearguard which was at South Mountain on the start of the 14th), and was in pre-straggle and pre-casualty PFD about 24,500. (Obviously it's a lot weaker than this at Antietam because of straggling and casualties, but I'm going to use this measure because it's consistent - just remember that all numbers quoted here for both sides use that measure. I am also completely ignoring the cavalry, but Lee does have most of his cavalry with him and he has more than McClellan).

On the 15th Sykes and Richardson push up to Antietam Creek through Boonsboro and encounter this force pulled up opposite them. An attack on the 15th means running into them, and Sykes and Richardson combined are:
Sykes - about 5,000 (rough estimate of pre-straggle PFD - smaller division than Morell)
Richardson - about 1/3 of 2nd Corps (14 regiments out of 38, but most of the big new regiments are in other divisions) so about 6,000 pre-straggle PFD.

Since Jackson arrives overnight on the 15th-16th, attacking before Jackson can arrive means attacking with just Sykes and Richardson. This means an attack at 1:2 odds.

Jackson and Ewell arrive overnight on the 15th-16th, and Walker arrives by about noon on the 16th. These three divisions amount to 5,000 (Jackson) + 8,000 (Ewell) + 5,000 (Walker) in pre-straggle PFD - total 18,000, bringing Lee's strength up to about 42,500.

Once all of 1st Corps and 2nd Corps are available to attack on the afternoon of the 16th, plus Sykes, McClellan's disposable strength in pre straggle pre campaign PFD is about 5,000 (Sykes) +
1st Corps 15,000 (Antietam strength plus casualties from South Mountain, minus 16th Maine detached)
2nd Corps 18,000 (Antietam strength, minus 145th PA not yet arrived)

For a total of 38,000.

At this point the only divisions of Lee's army that have not yet arrived are Walker, McLaws and AP Hill. At this point McClellan still has a numerical disadvantage.

If McClellan can get either 9th or 12th Corps into the fight on the 16th (both difficult, remember that it took 9th Corps until something like 10AM on the 17th to be really ready to attack) then he has a numerical advantage - if it's 12th Corps he goes up to about 49,000 PFD (versus 42,500), if it's 9th Corps it goes up to about 53,000 PFD (versus 42,500).
Of course if he can get both into the fight then his advantage is substantial - it's just that that's very hard to do, the whole army was still east of South Mountain on the morning of the 15th and to get the whole thing into the fight by the afternoon of the 16th is a job of work. I suspect there would not be time for substantial amounts of fighting to be done unless most of the Union army just conducted a head-on charge against the heights over the Middle Bridge in the early afternoon.

On the morning of the 17th McLaws and Anderson have also arrived, which bolsters Lee's strength up to 61,000 pre-campaign PFD. (AP Hill and Stuart's cavalry form the last 15,000 or so). It's this circumstance which prevails when McClellan's attacks actually go in, and of course Morell and Franklin arrive to give him about 82,000* pre-campaign PFD on the field exclusive of cavaly.


So:

Attacking before Longstreet has arrived: literally impossible.
Attacking before Jackson has arrived: means an attack at roughly 1:2 odds.
(Attacking before McLaws and Anderson arrive: means an attack on the 16th, possible but not automatically a good idea)
Attacking before AP Hill has arrived: feasible and he attempted it.




* 6th Corps' numbers for Antietam include one new regiment that did not arrive in time for the battle.

Fair point, I'll concede this to you. I didn't realize Jackson and Longstreet were that close to Sharpsburg. I still don't think it was suicidal to attack on the 16th though.


One of the main reasons for the delay at the Burnside Bridge though is that if Burnside is slow neither Grant nor McClellan has any recourse to "punish" him. He's a corps commander whose appointment has the Presidential imprimatur, and (unlike, say, Warren at Spotsylvania) cannot be relieved of command by a mere army commander - only arrested for violating the Articles of War, and "being slow" isn't sufficient cause.

I also want to nuance this slightly. I don't think Burnside delayed, as in ignored orders - I think he executed his orders incompetently, or at least without the correct celerity.

The difference is that:
In one of them he gets ordered to attack with orders sent by McClellan at 8AM, gets ordered again with orders sent at 9:10 AM and doesn't order the first charge against the bridge until 10AM.
while
In the other he gets ordered to attack with orders sent by McClellan at 8AM and the first charge against the bridge happens at 9AM - it's just that it's one of a series of one-regiment charges without supporting artillery, instead of (as was quite feasible given the amount of prep time) a brigade charge with supporting artillery.

Dang, I didn't realize Corp Commanders couldn't be fired by the General-in-Chief. Wasn't Burnside ultimately canned by Grant after the Crater though?

But yeah, you're right that it was more incompetence than ignorance. I'll openly concede that, like Sears towards McClellan, I have a staunch bias against Burnside and believe him to be one of the worst commanders in the Union. But that's a discussion for another day :smile:
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Dang, I didn't realize Corp Commanders couldn't be fired by the General-in-Chief. Wasn't Burnside ultimately canned by Grant after the Crater though?

He took a one month leave of absence and as he was about to return Grant advised him, since he'd been found guilty over the Crater affair, to wait until things blew over before coming back. Grant then managed to dodge Burnside coming to meet him to discuss this a little later. Burnside realised that he was being given the run-around, not formally relieved, but kept from coming back to assume his command.

This is specific for Burnside by 1864. In 1862 Lincoln and Stanton appointed corps commanders, which was in line with the Act of Congress that authorised Corps Commanders. They discontinued this practice by 1863, having Halleck and later Grant appoint provisional corps commanders. Burnside was the last survivor of this cohort.
 
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