Friday, July 27, 2012

Where were the best generals fighting?

In Two Great Rebel Armies, Richard McMurry concentrates upon the differences between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee.

One reason the Army of Northern Virginia was so successful is that it had the best generals in the Confederacy, i.e., Lee, Longstreet, Jackson and Stuart. It was the Confederacy's "A Team." Another reason is that the Union wasn't using its "A Team" to oppose them, i.e., McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker.

The Confederacy knew what it was doing, or at least thought it did. Virginia was the Confederacy in the eyes of many. And while some have argued that Davis made a mistake by not concentrating his best forces in the West, an interesting argument could be made for abandoning the West and concentrating all its forces in Virginia where the Confederacy's A Team was virtually invincible. After all "winning" for the Confederacy meant avoiding defeat by Union forces and if the Army of Northern Virginia had "all" military forces at its disposal perhaps that goal could have been achieved.

Of course Jefferson Davis would have said that approach was out of the question. Even if it made military sense it would have been a political disaster. So the A Team continued winning more than it lost in Virginia while the B Team lost battle after battle in the West.

One of the reasons the Army of Tennessee had trouble winning battles was that none of its commanding generals was first-rate. Albert Sidney Johnston relied too much upon subordinates and let battles get away from him. P. G. T. Beauregard had grandiose schemes that perhaps not even the Army of Northern Virginia could carry out. Joseph E. Johnston was slow, cantankerous and unimaginative. John Bell Hood was unintelligent, unqualified to lead an army and rash. [all of this according to McMurry]

The second reason the Army of Tennessee had trouble winning battles is that it faced (although apparently unbeknownst to Union leadership) the Union's A Team, i.e., Grant, Sherman, Thomas and Sheridan.

Apparently some historians have discussed creating a computer program that would pit Grant, Sherman, Thomas and Sheridan against Lee, Longstreet, Jackson and Stuart. McMurry rather cleverly suggests that they might also create a program that pits McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker against Joseph E. Johnston, Bragg, Hood and Pillow.

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