Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Decisive Battles: Antietam, 1862

Antietam (Sharpsburg) Date: 16-17 September 1862
Forces Engaged:
United States: Army of The Potomac: (MG McClellan, cmdg) Six corps plus army troops (included some augmentations from the Federal Army of Virginia), one cavalry division: about 90,000 in all, of which only about 50,000 see action on 9/17/62.
Confederate States: Army of Northern Virginia: (GEN Lee, cmdg) Two large corps plus army troops organized as “Left” and “Right” “Wings”, one cavalry division and reserve artillery. 45,000 troops.

The Situation: The summer and fall campaign of 1862 was perhaps the most critical of the entire American Civil War, for several reasons:

1. After a year of sustained combat the U.S. forces, and particularly the Army of the Potomac, the champagne formation of the Federal government, appeared plainly struggling with, and possibly even incapable of, defeating the Confederate field forces which were always smaller and usually more poorly armed and equipped.2. Always looking for an opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of the Yanks, the British (and to a lesser extent, the French) government was considering recognizing the CSA as a genuine nation. It is likely that only the CSA’s continued avowal of chattel slavery had prevented recognition by Britain after the Seven Days battles.

3. The U.S. government and the people of the Union itself, which had expected a quick, decisive victory, were increasingly divided and disheartened by the stream of Confederate victories over commander after commander: McDowell at Manassas; McClellan in the Peninsula; Pope, again at Manassas. It seemed to the U.S. public that Lee was a genius who could beat any Union general at will.

The political situation remained unchanged from the moment the first cannon had fired on Fort Sumter: the USA needed to force the CSA to capitulate and rejoin the Union; the CSA needed to bloody the USA long enough and savagely enough to a) draw foreign recognition, investment and military aid (particularly at sea, where the U.S. Navy had effectively closed all Southern ports and isolated the putative nation), and b) weary the Northern public of the war and force a negotiated peace.In pursuit of those political goals, the Union armed forces needed to decisively defeat the Confederate armies, while the Confederate armies took heart from the memory of the Continental Army of what they saw as the “First” American Revolution – they might lose battles but could win the war simply by refusing to be destroyed. An effective Confederate Army in the field meant that Southern independence was still possible.

While the events unfolding that fall and winter in the Western theatre (along and near the Mississippi River) were to prove decisive in the final U.S. victory, most Americans were fixated on the several thousand square miles between Richmond, Virginia, where Lee’s army had begun to trail out from their camps near the recent victory along Bull Run Creek, heading up the roads gray with dust towards Maryland.

The Campaign: Lee’s Maryland campaign had the ostensible goal of winning “hearts and minds” in the border state of Maryland, where many of the residents had been and were slaveowners in fact and “southrons” in thought prior to the outbreak of civil war. In addition, the armory at Harper’s Ferry was a logistical objective, as well as the barns and granaries of Maryland spared the reiving visited on northern Virginia during the preceding eighteen months. The move itself would spare the Virginia harvest, while any tangible rebel gains on northern soil might well aid antiwar factions in Washington D.C. during the offyear elections that fall. And there itched, in some minds in Richmond if not in Lee’s own, the possibility of gaining British aid and comfort if another brilliant victory could show the U.S. to be a star in decline.Lee’s actual plan of campaign was disrupted by the lack of excitement for Confederate glory on the part of Marylanders as well as the intel coup referred to as the "Lost Orders" or “Special Orders 191” so I have a difficult time determining his original ultimate strategic or grand tactical objective; the original plan is supposed to have been something like Napoleon's “Ulm Campaign” of 1805, only this would be an immense right wheel around the Federal capital culminating in the taking of some vital Northern hub such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

As a general comment, this opacity of Lee's - and the Confederate political leadership's - strategic goals is something I see as a recurring problem; it crops up again the following summer. While it was true that Lee’s army had first and foremost to survive, I think that Lee carried this beyond strategic prudence to the point of foiling whatever the Confederate grand strategy was, if there was one other than just "keep fighting".

But as Lincoln and his supporters proved intractable at some point the Confederate leaders needed a military objective beyond battlefield victory. I don't think they ever perceived it. The Staff Ride Guide to Antietam (Ballard, 2006) states that “(a) Confederate movement north of the Potomac River would threaten both Washington and Baltimore and force the Federal government to devote large numbers of troops to defend those cities”.

While this may be so, I find nothing in Lee’s published orders, subsequent statements, or writings that suggests he had an actual objective in mind to accomplish this goal. There's nothing there that reads anything like "our objective was to secure the line Fredrick-Lancaster-Hatboro, dividing the Federal armies and controlling the strategic arteries of the Susquehnna and routes through central Pennsylvania." or "We planned to hold Harrisburg and force a decisive action on the Army of the Potomac near York." It was all very nebulous and, frankly, fairly improbable.

So Lee’s moves in 1862 prove, I think, that he had no grand strategic vision for this campaign, for either of his offensive campaigns, really. Once the promised Maryland Uprising failed,the movements detailed in Order 191 are purely tactical; snatching up supplies here, investing Harper’s Ferry there. Lee’s strategy in the second and third weeks of September, 1862 can be summed up as “march ‘em out and see what happens.” I’ll talk about what I think the greater implication of this is further down the page.

Anyway, Lee’s army had moved from Manassas to Fredrick, Maryland (then called “Fredricktown”) between 9/3/62 and 9/9/62; the Confederate concentration broke up there on the 10th, moving back across the Blue Ridge mountains to the north and west. McClellan had been moving towards Fredrick, cautiously as always, between the 9th and the 13th; his arrival at Lee’s campground that day turned up the lost orders and Little Mac, for once, sent his troops scrambling after the divided Confederate Army that same day.

Two typical Union failings saved Lee over the next three days.The timidity and sluggish pace of McClellan’s corps commanders – particularly MG Franklin with VI Corps at Crampton’s Gap - failed to drive in the rebel blocking forces holding the mountain passes on the 14th.Then, having forced the passes, McClellan reverted to type; he dawdled through the 15th, allowing Lee to pull his army back together near the town of Sharpsburg. Once in place before Lee, McClellan wasted the entire day of September 16th.

This is the first critical error of McClellan and possibly his worst outside the conduct of the battle itself. On the 16th he outnumbered Lee three-to-one; his 60,000 troops should have swarmed under the 18,000 Confederates in arms before him. McClellen was not a fundamentally decisive man, and he had been fed a steady ration of feloniously exaggerated “intelligence” reports from his so-called “Chief of Intelligence”, Allan Pinkerton. While aces at clubbing unarmed striking workingmen, the Pinkertons were utterly clueless at tactical intelligence, commonly inflating Lee’s numbers by factors of two or more. The first shots across the Antietam Creek weren’t fired until just before dark on September 16th

The Engagement: I can't hope to do better than the description of the battle contained in Ballard 2006). It's here, in the "Staff Ride Guide", well written and illustrated along with a plethora of great information about the campaign, the battle, weapons, tactics and people. The Wikipedia entry for Antietam is solid as well, and well worth a look. Let me do try and break the battle down into bullet points, though.

First, though, in his tactical planning McClellan makes his second critical error: he gives his orders to each corps commander as individuals; he does not imbue them with his intent or the overall tactical plan, establish any attempt to coordinate between his subordinates during the engagement itself. He places himself too far from the fighting to recognize and exploit success. His failure to command during the engagement ensures that his attacks are haphazard, and allows Lee to shift an inferior force to meet and defeat these attacks in detail.

1. The Introduction - 5:30-9am, Union attacks on the Confederate Left.

McClellan's I Corps (Hooker) and XII Corps (Mansfield) attack the Left Wing of Jackson.

Vicious fighting around the Dunker Church, in the Cornfield and along the Hagerstown Turnpike, East and West Woods and the sunken road well-named Bloody Lane.

Jackson gives little ground in return for 13,000 casualties.

Results: indecisive.

2. The Crisis - 9am-1pm, Union attacks on the Confederate Center.

Portions of the Union XII Corps (now lead by Williams after Mansfield's mortal wound) and II Corps (Sumner) attack the juncture of Jackson's Left and Longstreet's Right Wings.

Union divisions of Greene, French and Richardson are destroyed while destroying the Confederate divisions of D.H. Hill and Anderson's in still more fighting around and in the Bloody Lane.

Rodes' Confederate division is withdrawn in error, and while Hill stems the Union attack, the rebel center is effectively broken.

In his third critical error McClellan fails to commit Franklin's fresh VI Corps or Porter's V Corps to drive through Lee's broken center. Lee repairs the damage and fights on.

Results: Indecisive, with a possible opening for a Union advantage missed, as the Fat Controller would say, through confusion and delay

3. The Postscript - 10am-4pm, Union attacks on the Confederate Right.

IX Corps (Burnside) attacks Jones division of Longstreet's Right Wing.

In what may be the most farcical attack of the war (excepting the assault at Fredricksburg, which transcends any levity through sheer carnage) Burnside makes three attempts to ram his entire corps across a thirty-foot-wide stone bridge at the base of a high bluff over a stream that is, in most places, less than waist deep. He finally gets his men across, losing 15-20% of his command.

He is forming to drive in the Confederate right when A.P. Hills "Light Division" arrives from Harper's Ferry and takes him in the left flank, driving him back to the west side of Antietam Creek.

Burnside, not for the last time, is panicked and refuses to attack further, and although McClellan still has Porter and Franklin in reserve, he agrees. The battle ends at 5:30pm.

Results: indecisive.

Lee slips southwards that night, and McClellan dithers another day before lazily trailing the Army of Northern Virginia to the Potomac. The Maryland Campaign is over.

Almost 23,000 men have been killed, are injured, been captured or have simply vanished, either fled or mangled so completely that their corpses cannot be recognized as a specific human. Or human at all.Outcome: Tactical draw. Minor strategic U.S. victory: Lee ends the Maryland Campaign and withdraws into the C.S., and the Eastern Theatre is relatively quiet for three months. Geopolitical consequences are significant, however.

Impact: Critical. Several effects of Antietam make it probably, with Vicksburg and Sherman's Southern Campaign, one of the most decisive actions of the war.

1. McClellan was relived.

It is difficult to underestimate how important this was. McClellan WAS the Army of the Potomac until 1862, and his failings; indecision, hesitation, overcaution, defeatism, were writ large in his command. But he had made the Army and it loved him - anything less than a massive failure on Little Mac's part would have made his relief a MacArthur moment for President Lincoln.

The Army of the Potomac couldn't win the war - that was Sherman and the Army of the Tennessee's job. But it could have lost it for the Union, and to keep that from happening it needed U.S. Grant. But before it could get him it had to lose its beloved McClellan. Antietam was the final blow to his reputation, exposing all his flaws, highlighting all his failings.

September, 1862 set in train April, 1865, though the Army of the Potomac first had to suffer the calvary of Burnside and Fredricksburg the coming December.

2. Lee's offensive founders on his shortcomings as a grand strategic and geopolitical leader.. I have always felt that Lee is one of history's most overrated Great Captains. A terrific tactical commander and a worldbeater at the operational art level - mind you, it helps if they match you against fucking bobos like McDowell, Pope, Burnside and Hooker. But Lee failed on a slew of levels above that of Army command.

I love Bobbie Lee; as a man, as a battlefield commander. But this campaign exposes him as just that: a nice man who was hell on wheels when the guns were firing. He couldn't see the Big Picture.

On the highest levels, he failed to work effectively with the C.S. government to match their war aims to Confederate economic and technical capabilities. He failed to appreciate the changes to battlefield tactics necessitated by the rifled musket and to logistics by the interchangeable part and the railroad (he was furious at being dubbed "The King of Spades" for entrenching during the Seven Days Battles in 1861 and didn't use earthworks effectively except by chance until forced into them in 1864). He failed at the very highest level, to force the C.S. to accept that it could not win if it did not accept the end of chattel slavery and make itself less objectionable to European sensibilities.

On the Grand Strategic level, he failed to develop a realistic objective for his offensive campaigns and failed to maintain his strategic focus. While he understood that defense alone couldn't win, his Maryland Campaign was the first of the two offensives - Gettysburg was the other - were he divided his force, allowed (or directed) them to wander about looking for objectives and was nearly defeated in detail by the Army of the Potomac. He is quoted as saying that his objective was always to defend his native state of Virginia, and it is almost as if in crossing the Potomac he would lose his way, falter and fall into questioning his purpose. Certainly his actions at Sharpsburg itself were tactically sound, but he seemed to be more obsessed with procuring shoes for his troops from Harper's Ferry than knocking the Federals out of the war.3. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the nature of the Civil War. I've always been contemptuous of latter-day Confederates or apologists for Southern treason who gabble about "states' rights" and southern independence, and about the nobility of the Lost Cause. Fuck that noise; the "right" the Southern states were fighting to preserve was the right to fucking own human beings like you own your toilet seat or your box of Captain Crunch. But until September 1862 partisans on both sides could pretend otherwise. Lincoln's little ukase was, in many ways, a nasty little bit of cynical politicking: it freed ONLY the slaves in the places in rebellion, and was far from any real attempt to fully deal with "the Negro Problem". It was designed more to incommode the South and embarrass Southern supporters in Britain.But it was a start. It defined our Civil War as more than a factional fight between regions. It forced both sides to face up to the fact that all this bloodletting was going to HAVE to change things if the U.S. won.

It helped change the face of war: it was part of the end of the beginning of white gloves and the romantic uniforms and hoopskirts and the beginning of the end that would lead down that vast devastated swath through Georgia and the Carolinas, from the mountains to the sea, where the clouds of ragged bummers would remain boogeymen for Southern children for two generations, where armed hard men would flee in panic from a shout of "We're Bill Sherman's Raiders - y'all better GIT!!"

"So we made a thoroughfare for Freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude, three hundred to the main,
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain,
While we were marching through Georgia!"

Touchline Tattles: I honestly don't have any truly odd or funny trivia about Antietam.

It was a grim day, and even the oddball stories, like the 51st Pennsylvania roaring across the Stone Bridge to earn back the grog ration they'd had stopped earlier for some misbehavior, have a grim edge to them - there must have been a lot of extra whisky to pass round in the 51st's camp that night and a haunted few drinkers to sop it, looking left and right at the empty places beside them. Knowing that "only the dead have seen an end to war."


Charles Gittings said...

I think you're being a little hard on Lee here. Let's face it: he was playing a losing hand. His strategic objective was always the same as long as he had the capacity for offensive action, to destroy the enemy force. And failing that, to maintain the existence of his own.

As for his relations with the CSA government, the problem there was Jefferson Davis, and I recommend Clifford Dowdy's one volume bio of Lee on that topic.

pluto said...

I basically agree with Charles but want to expand the horizon slightly.

The Confederacy was basically hodgepodge thrown-together group of states who hadn't really thought through what they wanted or how they were going to achieve it before they started their great endevour.

Before they quit the union, they might have done a little scouting about such basic concepts as:
1. Under what conditions under which Britain and France will aid you?
2. How hard will the northern states will fight to keep you?
3. Could they achieve their goals through a long-term strategy of political attrition instead of war?

These thoughts are off-the-cuff so they are incomplete but you get the idea. One of the fascinating things about the Founding Fathers was that they had done a lot of their homework and had a plethora of (frequently conflicting) plans on how to achieve their goals. Of course, their goals started as being to have the rights of home-grown Englishmen rather than the status of second-rate colonist. They only turned to rebellion when they had completely exhausted all other avenues and had secured a considerable store of weaponry and righteous indignation, both of which served them well in the coming conflict.

To return to the American Civil War, the key points of the entire conflict were:
1. The North decides to fight on when it becomes obvious that this will be a long conflict.
2. The North allocates enough resources to effectively blockade the Southern coastline.
3. The North had effective political leadership throughout the conflict in Lincoln and finally got effective military leadership in 1863-4.

Virtually everything else about the conflict is interesting but basically useless. This is primarily because the way the South left the Union was so poorly chosen that it left the initiative completely in the North's hands and the South was never able to regain it for any length of time.

It has been commented many times that a war is usually won BEFORE it is declared and the American Civil War proves that case again.

P.S. - Have you been following Fabius lately? I think he's having a very interesting dialog with himself.

FDChief said...

Charles: I AM hard on Lee, because I think he was that most dangerous of military leaders, the romantic. He saw his service as a Cause, not a Job, and was never capable of a von Rundstedt ("Make peace, you fools!) moment. Jeff Davis WAS a problem, along with the other structural problems with the CSA Pluto points out that pretty much doomed their rebellion from the start.

But Lee's problem, IMO, was that his objective SHOULD have been the Federal political will and economy; if he could have forgotten the Army of the Potomac and set about commerce-raiding north of the MAson-Dixon Line he might have had more success. But he was mesmerized by the idea that he had to defeat the Yankees in the field. Wasn't gonna happen - the Union had too much strategic depth.

So short of flat-out telling Jeff Davis they were screwed, Lee needed a bigger perspective on where the Union's vulnerabilities were, and he never had it, IMO.

Pluto: I pretty much agree. The South was foolish in many respects, not the least of which was their resort to force in 1861. Lee would have had to have been a politico-military of the Alexander breed to have overcome their built-in problems. He wasn't, and it irks me to hear him touted as a Caesarian military genius by southern partisans. He was an outstanding battlefield general, period.

Ael said...

While I'm amused by the irony of the title: "Decisive Battles: Antietam". I don't personally think that the battle was all that important. It just reinforced pre-existing patterns.

I can't wait till October. There are so many possible choices: Tours, Lepanto, Jerusalem, Yorktown, Babylon, Hastings, Zama, Sekigahara.

The Minstrel Boy said...

civil war animated on antietam

i don't know about bobby lee being over rated, he was a fine and exemplary soldier. he felt that the job of a general was to fight, and he did. it wasn't his paygrade to make or even challenge the situation of civilian control. he saw his duty as to take the lawful orders of his civilian authorities and do the level best he could.

he was realistic enough to know that given his tremendous disavantages in supply, technology, transportation, manpower, armaments, and nearly 3-1 ratios on all those deficiencies that he would have to take long and wild chances. that he was able to pull off those long chances so consistently was simply amazing.

he was also poor at recognising plain god's honest truths that stared him in the face.

he let the army he so loved starve and die in a hopeless cause for far too long. once things degenerated into trench warfare, with grant endlessly extending the lines, lee should have capitulated. the only thing he was capable of doing was fighting another day.

four months of starvation is too damned long. it isn't personal honor or resolve anymore. it's plain ass stubborn.

p.s. pinkerton was an asshole of first magnitude. most of his "intelligence" was from well paid informers, who once they knew what he wanted to hear gave him exactly that.

You Know Where You Are With said...

The first away-date my ex-husband and I ever went on was to Antietam. It's a beautiful and sad place. When I walked down into the sunken road, then covered with May's green grass, it caught my breath.

We had a picnic lunch on the stone bridge. I need to write a poem about it sometime.

FDChief said...

ael: "I don't personally think that the battle was all that important. It just reinforced pre-existing patterns."

I'd argue that for all the reasons I discussed in the post it was one of the "crises" of the ACW. If you want to look at it another way, postulate (as many "alternate histories" have, that SO#191 is never lost (or never found); Lee consolidates at Hagarstown and moves into and devastates south central and SE PA; McClellan races north and attacks piecemeal and is defeated in detail...Lee ramapages through Maryland between the M-D Line and the Potomac, wreaking such havoc that the Dems win in November and force Lincoln to negotiate a peace...

So in the sense that this is one more "McClellan barely wins and Lee gets away", yeah. But the alternatives if things go differently - that's the crux of the biscuit.

MB: My issue with Lee is that he was his "nation's" equivalent of the JCS; the military expert of the Confederacy. Admittedly his problem was that Jeff Davis thought he was Fredrick the Freakin' Great and often refused to listen. But if Lee was all that as a strategist he should have just resigned his commission. You point out that his refusal to admit defeat once penned inside the Lines around Petersburg was just senseless stubborn pride that was played out in the lives of his men - why wasn't the whole last two or three years of the war the same thing? After Antietam and then Gettysburg/Vicksburg the handwriting was on the wall: no foreign support, no chance for victory, just the slow grinding of the South to defeat. Capitulation before Sherman's March would have saved a hell of a lot of human misery...

YK: One of the great ironies of the Civil War is that the hideous bloodletting that took place in places like Antietam, The Wilderness, Shiloh and Gettysburg was so overwhelming that it "hallowed this ground far beyond our poor power to add or detract". The battlefields were beautified and preserved as shrines, often in the middle of what has become a nasty muddle of urban sprawl. So what was "all hell" in Bill Sherman's time has become peace and beauty in ours.

Go figure...

Ael said...

Sorry, I still don't see how the battle was "decisive". I see how the decisions taken *after* the battle may have changed the course of the war. But the battle *itself* didn't really decide anything. Also, when looking at alternatives, you have to look at probabilities. Antietam (or something like it) would have been a fair bet in most "alternative outcomes".

YK: It's funny. When I visited Antietam I found it more haunted than peaceful. Both the cornfield and the sunken road made my head hurt.

The bridge was different. I couldn't help wondering if the creek was deeper in those days (otherwise why didn't they simply wade the creek a little way upstream or downstream instead of getting all shot up trying to cross that bridge.)

I came away very confused about how rational human beings could have willingly participated in such an event.

mike said...

Great post FD, you are right on about Lee. He was pig-headed and constantly risked the destruction of his Army due solely to his under-rating of Union generals. He also wrongly assumed that Union troops were badly disorganized and demoralized.

Both Longstreet and Stonewall advised Lee in early September not to split the Army during the passage through Maryland - Lee ignored their counsel. Later on the 15th, Longstreet advised Lee that he should fortify Sharpsburg instead of going to Turner's Gap. Again Lee disagreed only to countermand his own order a day later and losing a vital 24 hours that could have been used to concentrate his forces and consolidate his position.

Lee knew of the risk in crossing the Potomac. He also knew that his logistics was a shambles and that his Army was "not properly equipped for the invasion". That was a gross understatement, his men needed shoes and clothing, they suffered from hunger. Even some of the officers had to plunder for food. Ammunition was also in short supply. By some accounts there were 13,000 stragglers and deserters during the march into Maryland. Lee himself estimated that one third to one half of his troops had left their units. Later, upon the retreat back to Winchester, the men called their bivouac site: "Barefooted Camp".

Sad times. But thanks for the pic of Barbara Fritchie. I had forgotten Whittier's Poem, although I had learned it in grade school. Guess my memory does not compare to Churchill's. There was a similar incident in Chambersburg PA in 1863. Four old ladies and a string of schoolgirls blockaded one street singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" - a Confederate Brigade Commander had his men bypass them without incident. I don't think that either incident would be repeated in today's world with the same results. So sad times today too!

FDChief said...

"I couldn't help wondering if the creek was deeper in those days (otherwise why didn't they simply wade the creek a little way upstream or downstream instead of getting all shot up trying to cross that bridge.)"

I didn't get to see the battlefield at Sharpsburg until I had been in the service for some time, and I had the same observations. My conclusion was that Ambrose Burnside was among the biggest fatheads that ever walked around wearing a star.

But then, Fredricksburg proved that in a spectacularly awful way...

FDChief said...

mike: I noted during the research for this that Longstreet (as he did a year later at Gettysburg) tried to restrain his commander's Napoleonic fantasies and was (as a Gettysburg) ignored. I should really read his memoirs - by rights he should have been a bitter man; he understood war, specially war in the 1860's, better than his boss and yet Lee was beloved beyond all reason.

rangeragainstwar said...


"Lee's actual plan of campaign" was actually a civil-military objective as he fully expected Maryland to enthusiastically rally behind the CSA. This was a faulty assumption.

It was all very nebulous, and frankly, improbable.

This is a hindsight observation since operation orders of the day were not as specific as present standard models about which we are well-versed.

Lee seemed to favor discretionary orders on the tactical level and his strategic thinking was probably similar. This is a subjective and not a historical analysis.

As for McClellan, he totally ignored the principle of mass and clearly missed a great chanceto destroy Lee's offensive capabilities.

The fact that McClellan issued orders directly and in isolation to the individual Corps comanders was a weakness that caused an absence of overall coordination to the battle. If the Army had a DC(M) Deputy Commander for maneuver, this would have been alleviated; however, it was years before the Army adopted this concept.

The key point is that the Army learned its lesson, and at Gettysburg Meade did actually convene a council of war and did formulate a coordinated and integrated battle plan. The coordination at Gettysburg was a model of combat power integration.

It took the Army a few ass kickings, but they did evolve. FDChief as an indirect gunner type should clearly respect the fire planning at G.B. that was instrumental to winning the tactical battle.

Much has been said re. the fighting capabilities of the Union Army. My extraction is that until Gettysburg, although the Union soldier always fought with valor and dignity, the generals never did their job. This was the case at Antietam. G.B. and later battles showed the Union Army Generals allowing the riflemen to do their jobs.

It could also be said that the later battles were successful b/c Grant provided overall command and allowed Meade to act as the maneuver commander. This was an evolution of the concept of war.

I feel Meade is one of the unsung heroes of the U.S. Army (not only the C.W.) Meade was the 1st General to decisively engage Lee's Army. Meade put all his combat power forward, and would win or lose with that disposition.

His only flaw was his reluctance to exploit and to maintain pressure on Lee's hard-pressed Army. This was alleviated by placing Grant as his boss.

An overlooked but implied objective of Antietam was the machinery of Harpers Ferry, which was moved to Fayetteville, NC, to provide rifled muskets for the CSA. In a way this was a strategic logistical move. This objective necessitation the splitting of Lee's maneuver elements.

As for an analysis of Lee, we have the benefit of hindsight. At the point of Appomattox, it was reasonable for him to conduct that campaign; after evaluating the cost and casualties incurred in the battle, it should have been clear to him that this was to be a war of attrition. One which would turn into a battle of annihilation. This is presuming he had the clear-sightedness we assume he had, and we have no reason to doubt his exceptional intelligence.

Accepting his intellectual capacity, we must assume he knew he was fighting for a lost cause. The criticism listed should bear in mind his victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, which did give the South a glimmer of hope of achieving a negotiated peace. In light of those victories, Gettysburg was a long-shot gambler’s gambit.

My biggest criticism of Lee, IMHO, is his aggressive battle fever overtook his judgment on the battlefield. This is a fine quality for a tactical commander, but is a negative for a strategic commander. His detachment as a strategic commander would have to be one-removed, which it never was.

The C.W. went on far longer than was needed b/c the Union wanted to teach the South a lesson of crushing humility. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Confederates fought without shoes and food, but possessed the passion of cause. Contrast this attitude with that of the well-heeled Union Army. Until those with conviction are utterly squashed, their fight will continue.

Sound familiar? Fine analysis. Nice job.


mike said...


For years after the war Longstreet was vilified by many Southerners, except for the veterans of his 2nd Corps. He eventually joined Lincoln's Republican Party and was termed a Scalawag (Southerner in league with and worse than a Carpetbagger). His likeness is conspicuously missing from Stone Mountain where Davis, Lee, and Jackson ride etched in granite - funded by the Klan and the Daughters of the Confederacy. And shame on them, because if Longstreet was in charge instead of Lee, the CSA might have survived and still be here today.

His memoirs were written many decades after the war and some of his accounts are suspect, not only due to his advanced age, but also due to his attempts to redeem his own reputation.

However, I believe that his disagreements about Antietam he put in dispatches to General Lee at the time. And he is backed up by Jackson's brother-in-law who recalled conversations with Stonewall after Antietam and before he was mortally wounded by friendly fire from Confederate troops at Chancellorsville.

FDChief said...

Jim: Well discussed, and I can't but agree with most all of your points; in particular, the critical inability of Lee to get (not that he was alone - most of the ACW GO's didn't "get") the difference between a musket and a rifled musket. Just as the combination of the foxhole, the magazine rifle and the machine gun made defense the king of the Queen of Battle, the rifled musket made a firing line of dug-in infantry (or cavalry, for that matter) almost impossible to dislodge. Longstreet "got it" - he was always arguing for taking some critical terrain and forcing the Yankees to attack them. Lee, the aggro old cavalier, never really accepted that, or that Grant was willing to spend lives 2:1 to grind down the logistically crapped out CSA.

I'd argue that the lesson for us here is that it doesn't matter if your troops are tough and well-led, your generals clever, your cause "noble"; if you don't have a strategic and geopolitical plan grounded in fiscally achievable reality you can win all the Chancellorsvilles you want and still find your sorry ass dragging down the road to Appomattox.

I don't think that'll happen in SW Asia. I think that, instead, we'll find ourselves where the British were along the NW Frontier in the 19th and 20th Centuries, piddling away money and men in dribs and drabs fighting an endless punitive war against "natives" whose hobby and entertainment IS war.

The bigger problem, to me, is that we're spending immense amounts on "defense"; huge carrier air groups, "Star Wars", all that sexy military hardware to fight the Russians and Chinese...who are spending money (at least the Chinese are) on infrastructure, manufacturing and economic investment.

It's 1605, we're the Spanish, they're the British, and look what happened to those two between 1588 and 1888.

Ugly prospect, innit?

FDChief said...

mike: Poor old Longstreet, guy couldn't get a break. He was the blue-collar grunt amid all those gay cavaliers. Sad story.

Publius said...

These academic Civil War discussions always hit a hot button with me. You'll see why at the end.

I'm by no means a Civil War expert, so I'll not get into analyzing a particular battle or other such arcana. What seems pretty apparent to me is that the Confederacy was always doomed to defeat, and not because of battlefield events. As has been pointed out, the Union enjoyed far too great an economic and population advantage for it to have turned out otherwise.

Lee? Yeah, it seems he knew tactical and operational art, but was not a grand strategist. That was supposed to be Davis, another West Pointer. Davis clearly wasn't up to the task, so it seems the task devolved to Lee. Who else was there? One must conclude that the South was terminally short on hard-nosed thinkers to operate at the strategic level, not a good state of affairs for a so-called nation at war. The war went on far too long specifically because of the lack of realists, with the romantics having to be beaten to a bloody pulp. Idiots. All they managed to do was kill a lot more Americans.

You might liken the CSA Army to the Wehrmacht in WW2. War groupies often say the Germans had better generals, something that I find in hindsight very debatable. It was the U.S.'s industrial might that turned the tide, they say, not events on the field of battle. I say, "So what. It doesn't matter." I've heard this shit from Germans; I've told 'em, "Excuse me, you lost. That's why I'm here on your soil rather than you being on mine. You've never been on my soil and you never will. Fuck you."

And then maybe you can liken Lee to Rommel, another romantic figure. Another loser. And here's my point about Robert E. Lee, the only reason I'm making this post. I just wanted to remind everybody that there is one significant difference between Rommel and Lee.

From all accounts, Rommel was a very decent man. Lee, OTOH, was a miserable human being. What else would one term an individual who goes to war against his country in order to perpetuate an abomination such as slavery? Rommel was an honorable man. Rommel never betrayed his country. Lee violated his oath to the Constitution and to his nation. He was not honorable; he was a traitor. Fuck him.

rangeragainstwar said...

I like your analysis of Lee. I wonder if he got this sense of honor and devotion at West Point?
Chief - I roger your cmts. But going one further I believe the bank is broken and Coin is killing America.We never lose battles but as Publius and Harry Summers point out- that's irrelevent when you lose the war.It's even more embarrasing when it's a phoney feel good war.
I wish I had more time to interact but the road beckons.

FDChief said...

Publius: Your comments are, as usual, both piercing and prescient. I can find nothing to disagree with, other than that like dandruff, I cannot resist fiddling with these battles long ago.

And I also agree that Lee has gotten and gets WAY too much of a pass for his treason. He seems like a decent human being - except for the fighting and killing in the name of a viciously inhumane social practice that almost all of the civilized world had abandoned years before 1860. I'm sure that there were "nice guys" who loved their families and were kind to strangers when they weren't working at the Sonderkommando or the Exterminazionlager

Jim: I think that the COIN issue is more of a symptom than a disease, but you're right - it's all part of the same nasty hairball that the sickly cat of our Republic is coughing up.

Enjoy the road.