Discussion Worse Than I Thought, Failure of Confederate Leadership in the West

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
In fairness to Bragg, short of intelligence to the contrary, Rosecrans could be expected to at best spend the winter in Nashville then launch a campaign in the spring. Bragg failed to consider Rosecrans would be pushed to act in December. It is a failure of Bragg's intelligence (the jokes make themselves) to think Rosecrans was starving rather than preparing to attack.

Bragg's flank attack on Dec 31 was an excellent move. It came up short in no small part to Polk's mismanagement of his corps with piecemeal attacks.

Bragg's total clueless about what to do Jan 1 or 2 is a major failure on his part.



David Powell's books give Bragg's intended operations and the reasons they weren't carried out a pretty thorough examination.



Literally anyone. Not removing Bragg after Stones River was inexcusable.

Joe Johnston is the logical choice, both in terms of seniority and circumstances (being on the defensive). When Johnston declined to relieve Bragg, Davis should have responded that he could either follow orders and replace Bragg or be relieved himself for failing to follow orders.

Alternatively, Hardee should have been ordered into command whether he wanted it or not. If not after Stones River then later.
It was Bragg’s responsibility to have a plan on place in case Rosecrans did sally from Nashville. Military doctrine is to plan for what your opponent could do, not what you think he might do. In none of the historical record is there any evidence that Bragg communicated any plan of any kind to his subordinates before his ad hoc orders after Rosecrans’ advance.
 

Joshism

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It was Bragg’s responsibility to have a plan on place in case Rosecrans did sally from Nashville. Military doctrine is to plan for what your opponent could do, not what you think he might do.

Indeed, but that doctrine - contingency planning - seems to have been rarely followed in the ACW by army commanders on either side.

What was Lee's plan if McClellan moved aggressively or Harpers Ferry held on longer than expected? He didn't really have one, beyond DH Hill as a general rear guard. Antietam was an ad hoc defensive position.

What was Lee's plan if the AOTP closed in on him in PA, beyond a vague plan to concentrate somewhere?

Perhaps the best known contigency plan of the war was Meade's Pipe Creek Circular, which also seems to be the last time Meade produced a contigency plan.

Hooker's Chancellorsville plan hinged on Lee retreating.
 

67th Tigers

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What was Lee's plan if McClellan moved aggressively or Harpers Ferry held on longer than expected? He didn't really have one, beyond DH Hill as a general rear guard. Antietam was an ad hoc defensive position.
This I can answer, as Lee ordered Jackson to break off the siege of Harper's Ferry and concentrate with him at Sharpsburg. They hoped to cut through the AoP and rescue McLaws' command which was trapped in the Pleasant Valley. Sharpsburg wasn't meant to be a defensive position, but rather a place to reconcentrate for further offensive operations. McClellan rather spoiled things by aggressively attacking Lee.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Indeed, but that doctrine - contingency planning - seems to have been rarely followed in the ACW by army commanders on either side.
It perhaps says something that when Pope took command his speech to the troops (promulgated by proclamation) was basically an outright rejection of the idea of contingency planning as being unmanly and defeatist.


I hear constantly of 'taking strong positions and holding them,' of 'lines of retreat,' and of 'bases of supplies.' Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear.
 

Joshism

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This I can answer, as Lee ordered Jackson to break off the siege of Harper's Ferry and concentrate with him at Sharpsburg. They hoped to cut through the AoP and rescue McLaws' command which was trapped in the Pleasant Valley. Sharpsburg wasn't meant to be a defensive position, but rather a place to reconcentrate for further offensive operations. McClellan rather spoiled things by aggressively attacking Lee.

That's Lee reacting to events he didn't expect. Like Bragg at Murfreesboro.

It perhaps says something that when Pope took command his speech to the troops (promulgated by proclamation) was basically an outright rejection of the idea of contingency planning as being unmanly and defeatist.


I hear constantly of 'taking strong positions and holding them,' of 'lines of retreat,' and of 'bases of supplies.' Let us discard such ideas. The strongest position a soldier should desire to occupy is one from which he can most easily advance against the enemy. Let us study the probable lines of retreat of our opponents, and leave our own to take care of themselves. Let us look before us, and not behind. Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear.
I'm pretty sure that was just Pope taking shots at McClellan.

Grant followed Pope's advice without repeating the bombast. He took wasn't much of a contigency planner and it nearly ruined him at Donelson (What if the enemy attempts a breakout?) and Shiloh (what if I'm attacked?). Grant succeeded in spite of this due to determination to press forward and usually quickly coming up with another idea how to do so.

If Grant was in Bragg's shoes he would have probably launched a flanking attack on Jan 2 to cut the Nashville Pike north of Rosecrans' position. Who knows if it would have succeeded.

Lee too reacted quickly and aggressively when caught off guard. That was his MO: aggressively take the initiative whenever possible. If the enemy takes the initiative then take it back if at all possible.

Bragg had moments of aggression: the Kentucky Campaign, Dec 31, and Chickamauga. But he tended to lose his nerve: after Perryville, after Dec 31, Chattanooga. Joe Hooker but with a difficult personality instead of a big ego.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I'm pretty sure that was just Pope taking shots at McClellan.
Perhaps, but he did then quite promptly prove that having a secure line of retreat and supply (for example) was actually quite useful...


Grant followed Pope's advice without repeating the bombast. He took wasn't much of a contigency planner and it nearly ruined him at Donelson (What if the enemy attempts a breakout?) and Shiloh (what if I'm attacked?). Grant succeeded in spite of this due to determination to press forward and usually quickly coming up with another idea how to do so.
This is true, though in many cases the reason why it works is that Grant then gets lucky. If the Confederates hadn't pulled right back into Donelson, or if Buell had been more than a day away (both absolutely possible and in fact the "expected" outcome if anything) both the mentioned battles could have gone considerably worse.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Indeed, but that doctrine - contingency planning - seems to have been rarely followed in the ACW by army commanders on either side.

What was Lee's plan if McClellan moved aggressively or Harpers Ferry held on longer than expected? He didn't really have one, beyond DH Hill as a general rear guard. Antietam was an ad hoc defensive position.

What was Lee's plan if the AOTP closed in on him in PA, beyond a vague plan to concentrate somewhere?

Perhaps the best known contigency plan of the war was Meade's Pipe Creek Circular, which also seems to be the last time Meade produced a contigency plan.

Hooker's Chancellorsville plan hinged on Lee retreating.
Perhaps it is useful to compare like to like. If you read Tullahoma, The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the the Course of the Civil War, June 23-July 4, 1865 you will discover the meticulous planing that Rosecrans & his staff did for that campaign. Powell & Wittenberg do a good job of detailing the lack of any planing by Bragg & his corps commanders. Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly is an exhaustive history of the Army of Tennessee exclusively from the Confederate side. Once you have read those books, you will have a very different understanding of this topic.
 

Joshism

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If you read Tullahoma, The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the the Course of the Civil War, June 23-July 4, 1865 you will discover the meticulous planing that Rosecrans & his staff did for that campaign. Powell & Wittenberg do a good job of detailing the lack of any planing by Bragg & his corps commanders.

Rosecrans certainly had a good plan for Tullahoma while Bragg didn't have a clue.

Rosecrans also had a good plan when he flanked Chattanooga. However, once Bragg concentrated against him, Rosecrans lost the initiative and improvised until being defeated.

I will no doubt read the book in due time as I think highly of both authors.
 

Pete Longstreet

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As far as the "then who if not Bragg" question... that still falls onto Jefferson Davis. The armies of the west upper echelon was in shambles, dysfunctional, and saturated with infighting. Numerous complaints about Bragg. If Bragg was performing, then I'd say his record could speak for himself. But he wasn't. Davis should have looked at a lower rank or other subordinates from the east to replace him. Even if seniority was a factor... Davis could have said the fate of the western theater was desperately in need of change and therefore promoted anyone who had a solid reputation for leading. Hey... Lincoln promoted Burnside even when Burnside said he wasn't qualified for such high command. So Davis should have done something... because we all know the end result by him doing nothing.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Rosecrans certainly had a good plan for Tullahoma while Bragg didn't have a clue.

Rosecrans also had a good plan when he flanked Chattanooga. However, once Bragg concentrated against him, Rosecrans lost the initiative and improvised until being defeated.

I will no doubt read the book in due time as I think highly of both authors.
A new source has surfaced recently. All of Dana’s reports from Crawfish Springs as they were received in Washington are now available online from the aHuntington Library. Nobody has seen the Dana logbooks for 125 years.
 

Jamieva

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It was Bragg’s responsibility to have a plan on place in case Rosecrans did sally from Nashville. Military doctrine is to plan for what your opponent could do, not what you think he might do. In none of the historical record is there any evidence that Bragg communicated any plan of any kind to his subordinates before his ad hoc orders after Rosecrans’ advance.

But sally which way? There are multiple options on how he can move, and therefore you would need to formulate multiple contingencies. At that point you may be better off just being in a "read and react" mode. Bragg has the cavalry force to get him the intel needed for that, but as I posted earlier, much of the cav power of the AoT is frittered away right before the campaign starts. The authors went into great detail on this.

Also, again as they pointed out, Bragg is very ill for much of the first half of 1863, as his wife who is with him. He tells Richmond he doesn't think he could serve in the field at some point because of how ill he was, but at that point Rosecrans had not moved. Part of the lack of planning may very well be traceable to Bragg's physical condition.
 

Rhea Cole

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Joined
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
But sally which way? There are multiple options on how he can move, and therefore you would need to formulate multiple contingencies. At that point you may be better off just being in a "read and react" mode. Bragg has the cavalry force to get him the intel needed for that, but as I posted earlier, much of the cav power of the AoT is frittered away right before the campaign starts. The authors went into great detail on this.

Also, again as they pointed out, Bragg is very ill for much of the first half of 1863, as his wife who is with him. He tells Richmond he doesn't think he could serve in the field at some point because of how ill he was, but at that point Rosecrans had not moved. Part of the lack of planning may very well be traceable to Bragg's physical condition.
Given your obvious interest in Bragg's generalship, the newly released Decisions of the Tullahoma Campaign, The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Michael Bradley is a small book you should have.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
IMG_0852.jpg
My heptagon of books is now an octagon.
The recently released Decisions of the Tullahoma Campaign, The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions That Defined the Operation by Michael Bradley has turned my Tullahoma heptagon into an octagon. Paired with Bradley's Tullahoma, The 1863 Campaign for Control of Middle Tennessee the analysis of individual command decisions is a thought provoking combination.
 
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