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Overrated Generals in the Civil War

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  • Overrated Generals in the Civil War

    Every general, no matter how great or accomplished, makes mistakes on the field of battle. Name one general in history who never suffered a military defeat or made some sort of tactical or strategic error in their career.

    Lee has Cheat Mountain, BC Dam, Malvern Hill, Antietam and Gettysburg, which from my perspective negates Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

    Jackson's Valley Campaign and the Chancellorsville flank march are apparently irrelevant compared to his lackluster performances at Kernstown and the Seven Days.

    The question isn't whether or not they make mistakes, but whether or not they learn from it. Counting victories isn't really a great rule either!

    Sherman might not have won a lot of set-piece battles against Johnston and Hood in the Atlanta Campaign but his strategic plan destroyed their army and made Atlanta's fall inevitable. It's not an issue of making mistakes but a) the context of these "mistakes" and b) what resulted from them.

    Good generals learn from their mistakes, or at least don't make them very often.

    You are not going to have Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, or Rommel and Montgomery/Patton, or Napoleon and Wellington squaring off in every battle, you're inevitably going to have Braggs and Burnsides and Packenhams and Crassuses thrown into the mix. Someone has to lose, after all, and not all men are equal in talent or skills or abilities. Nor are you going to have equal numbers of troops with equal quality with equal terrain and equipment and logistical situations on a battlefield together. The best general has to make what he can of the resources he has. A.S. Johnston was between a rock and a hard place early in the war but his primary problem was fighting against Grant IMO. The reason you know a good general is a good general is because they can and (usually) do beat the crappy generals!

    Really, generals are only overrated on the basis of their reputation. Most historians, even those like Freeman who worship Stonewall, admit that his conduct on the Peninsula was atrocious, and he had some other mishaps elsewhere in the war, but just because he has a vague perception amongst the public that he's a flawless general does not mean he's "overrated".

    Saying he's one of the best generals does not mean he's flawless; it means that he's better than pretty much everyone else.

    In that regards I'd say the three most overrated generals in my opinion were Lee, Sheridan, Sherman and AS Johnston.

  • #2
    I agree Sheridan was highly overrated, and I'd also agree with Lee and AS Johnston. Can't agree with Sherman though, I'd suggest that his subordinate McPherson was considerably more overrated.
    "Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!" -Daniel Webster

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    • #3
      Remember- being 'overrated' doesn't mean you are bad, or even average- you can be competent etc, I was just thinking about those names that really stand out in my opinion regarding the reputation not quite matching the record- just food for thought.

      There is really no 'wrong answer' it's just a matter of opinion and food for thought for the board.

      Sherman was a very good working with Grant and providing trusted and reliable service, but if you look at his record battle to battle- he had his moments- like risking his life time and again at Shiloh, yet at Chattanooga he didn't do well at all.

      He also had moments like Battle of Chickasaw Bayou- and doubting Grants strategy during the VB Campaign- his 'March to the Sea' was basically unopposed- not his fault, but I think the legend got way ahead of the man.

      I'd also add that overrated is when someone gets undue or too much hype or is held blameless etc- there are many qualifications to it.

      I didn't include McClellan in the 'Most Overrated General' thread here as he was a legend mostly in his own mind.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Bladerunnernyc View Post
        Remember- being 'overrated' doesn't mean you are bad, or even average- you can be competent etc, I was just thinking about those names that really stand out in my opinion regarding the reputation not quite matching the record- just food for thought.

        There is really no 'wrong answer' it's just a matter of opinion and food for thought for the board.

        Sherman was a very good working with Grant and providing trusted and reliable service, but if you look at his record battle to battle- he had his moments- like risking his life time and again at Shiloh, yet at Chattanooga he didn't do well at all.

        He also had moments like Battle of Chickasaw Bayou- and doubting Grants strategy during the VB Campaign- his 'March to the Sea' was basically unopposed- not his fault, but I think the legend got way ahead of the man.

        I'd also add that overrated is when someone gets undue or too much hype or is held blameless etc- there are many qualifications to it.

        I didn't include McClellan in the 'Most Overrated General' thread here as he was a legend mostly in his own mind.
        No argument there! Only McClellan could view his handling of the Maryland Campaign as a "Masterpiece of art".
        "Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!" -Daniel Webster

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Viperlord View Post
          No argument there! Only McClellan could view his handling of the Maryland Campaign as a "Masterpiece of art".




          Malvern Hill/Seven Days were just as bad.

          Question to McClellan: 'Were you on a gunboat during the battle of Malvern Hill?'

          McClellan; 'I don't remember.'


          NY Times April 6, 1863

          http://www.nytimes.com/1863/04/06/ne...tomac-gen.html


          From the section on Malvern Hill- Make note that McClellan defended himself in an Op Ed to the Times and stated that Lee had vastly superior numbers and then he listed numerous qualifications for his failures. That rebuttal is in 'The Civil War Papers Of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865'

          The Army of the Potomac on the 20th of June 1862 had 115,102 aggregate present for duty- figures are below page 337; http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage....db&recNum=346.......
          The battle of Malvern Hill, of the 1st of July, was the most fiercely contested of any upon the Peninsula. The troops were placed in the morning, under direction of Gen. MCCLELLAN, who then left the field, returning to it again in the afternoon. The first action of the day commenced about 10 o'clock in the forenoon, but did not continue long. The principal action, when the enemy attacked most vigorously and persistently, commenced late in the afternoon, and continued till after dark, the enemy being repulsed and beaten at every point. Many of the officers examined by your Committee are of the opinion that the enemy were so severely punished on that day that they could have been followed into Richmond, had our army followed them up vigorously.

          It is true that our army had been severely tried during the preceding week, fighting, as they did, nearly every day, and retreating every night. The corps commanders and the troops under them fought most bravely -- no troops better. However disheartened they may have become by what all must have regarded as a precipitate retreat during the night, they still fought with the most obstinate bravery when attacked in the day time by an exultant and successful enemy.

          The Commanding-General, however, determined o fall back from Malvern to Harrison's Bar, notwithstanding the victory won there by our army. He seems to have regarded his army as entirely unfitted to meet the enemy, for on the day of the battle at Malvern, evidently before that battle took place, he writes to the Adjutant-General of the army from Haxall's plantation:

          "My men are completely exhausted, and I dread the result if we are attacked to-day by fresh troops. If possible, I shall retire to-night to Harrison's Bar, where the gunboats can render more aid in covering our position, Permit me to urge that not an hour should be lost in sending me fresh troops. More gunboats are much needed.'
          Last edited by Bladerunnernyc; 15 Jun 10, 19:20. Reason: added- were

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          • #6
            While I disagree about R.E. Lee; I do find Thomas Jackson to be overrated. I'd also throw in Moseby too. For the Union? Mac of course. Hooker. Hmmmm.
            Eagles may fly; but weasels aren't sucked into jet engines!

            "I'm not expendable; I'm not stupid and I'm not going." - Kerr Avon, Blake's 7

            What didn't kill us; didn't make us smarter.

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            • #7
              Why do you say that about Mosby?
              In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes
              - Benjamin Franklin, U.S. statesman, author, and scientist

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Johnny_Reb View Post
                Why do you say that about Mosby?
                I'd guess because Mosby was ultimately little more than a nuisance.
                "Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!" -Daniel Webster

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                • #9
                  Moseby was good and a nuisance, but too much publicity for little actual value to the CSA.
                  Eagles may fly; but weasels aren't sucked into jet engines!

                  "I'm not expendable; I'm not stupid and I'm not going." - Kerr Avon, Blake's 7

                  What didn't kill us; didn't make us smarter.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by RichardS View Post
                    While I disagree about R.E. Lee; I do find Thomas Jackson to be overrated. I'd also throw in Moseby too. For the Union? Mac of course. Hooker. Hmmmm.
                    Regarding Lee, I think that Grant himself said it perfectly;

                    Page 458 onwards- you may disagree, but Grant makes many excellent points and I agree with him. I'd ask you, how would Lee do outside of Northern Virginia? Considering Maryland- then not learning that lesson- especially regarding cavalry and doing the same thing again during the GB campaign.

                    How would Booby Lee have done at VB, or in Tenn? Not quite the same as his comfort zone in Northern VA...anyhow- enjoy Grant's thoughts.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bladerunnernyc View Post




                      Malvern Hill/Seven Days were just as bad.

                      Question to McClellan: 'Were you on a gunboat during the battle of Malvern Hill?'

                      McClellan; 'I don't remember.'


                      NY Times April 6, 1863

                      http://www.nytimes.com/1863/04/06/ne...tomac-gen.html


                      From the section on Malvern Hill- Make note that McClellan defended himself in an Op Ed to the Times and stated that Lee had vastly superior numbers and then he listed numerous qualifications for his failures. That rebuttal is in 'The Civil War Papers Of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865'

                      The Army of the Potomac on the 20th of June 1862 had 115,102 aggregate present for duty- figures are below page 337; http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage....db&recNum=346.......
                      The battle of Malvern Hill, of the 1st of July, was the most fiercely contested of any upon the Peninsula. The troops were placed in the morning, under direction of Gen. MCCLELLAN, who then left the field, returning to it again in the afternoon. The first action of the day commenced about 10 o'clock in the forenoon, but did not continue long. The principal action, when the enemy attacked most vigorously and persistently, commenced late in the afternoon, and continued till after dark, the enemy being repulsed and beaten at every point. Many of the officers examined by your Committee are of the opinion that the enemy were so severely punished on that day that they could have been followed into Richmond, had our army followed them up vigorously.

                      It is true that our army had been severely tried during the preceding week, fighting, as they did, nearly every day, and retreating every night. The corps commanders and the troops under them fought most bravely -- no troops better. However disheartened they may have become by what all must have regarded as a precipitate retreat during the night, they still fought with the most obstinate bravery when attacked in the day time by an exultant and successful enemy.

                      The Commanding-General, however, determined o fall back from Malvern to Harrison's Bar, notwithstanding the victory won there by our army. He seems to have regarded his army as entirely unfitted to meet the enemy, for on the day of the battle at Malvern, evidently before that battle took place, he writes to the Adjutant-General of the army from Haxall's plantation:

                      "My men are completely exhausted, and I dread the result if we are attacked to-day by fresh troops. If possible, I shall retire to-night to Harrison's Bar, where the gunboats can render more aid in covering our position, Permit me to urge that not an hour should be lost in sending me fresh troops. More gunboats are much needed.'
                      Completely agreed that Mac's conduct of the Peninsula campaign was extremely poor. At least in Maryland he had the excuse of Pleasonton feeding his wild view of Lee's strength. (Pleasonton was remarkably guilible when it came to intelligence gathering it seems)
                      Last edited by Viperlord; 15 Jun 10, 22:01.
                      "Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!" -Daniel Webster

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Bladerunnernyc View Post
                        Regarding Lee, I think that Grant himself said it perfectly;

                        Page 458 onwards- you may disagree, but Grant makes many excellent points and I agree with him. I'd ask you, how would Lee do outside of Northern Virginia? Considering Maryland- then not learning that lesson- especially regarding cavalry and doing the same thing again during the GB campaign.

                        How would Booby Lee have done at VB, or in Tenn? Not quite the same as his comfort zone in Northern VA...anyhow- enjoy Grant's thoughts.
                        Something else to consider about Lee. He worked a very narrow, easily defensible sector (compared to the vast area that Bragg and other western generals had to defend) of the Confederacy. They had to contend with multiple simultaneous thrusts from reasonably talented Federal generals, whereas, Lee had to defend against a series of boobs until Meade took command.
                        I come here to discuss a piece of business with you and what are you gonna do? You're gonna tell me fairy tales? James Caan in the movie "Thief" ca 1981

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Viperlord View Post
                          I'd guess because Mosby was ultimately little more than a nuisance.
                          The same could actually be said about Forrest.
                          I come here to discuss a piece of business with you and what are you gonna do? You're gonna tell me fairy tales? James Caan in the movie "Thief" ca 1981

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by RichardS View Post
                            While I disagree about R.E. Lee; I do find Thomas Jackson to be overrated. I'd also throw in Moseby too. For the Union? Mac of course. Hooker. Hmmmm.
                            Agree about Stonewall. I'll take Longstreet anytime over Jackson. Although Fair Oaks was a black mark on his CW career, he seemed to learn from his mistakes, whereas Jackson continued to make the same ones.
                            I come here to discuss a piece of business with you and what are you gonna do? You're gonna tell me fairy tales? James Caan in the movie "Thief" ca 1981

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                            • #15
                              If we are going to blacklist Forrest, we have to name Joe Wheeler as well!

                              Pruitt
                              Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                              Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                              by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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