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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:47 am 
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I don't believe that Albert Sidney Johnston was over-rated at all; I don't necessarily know that there was enough information out there to actually rate him all that much, but I do believe that the politics of the day dictated that the sites for both Forts Henry and Donelson were both poorly done. The ideal spots were in Kentucky, however, Kentucky being a border State, it was determined to try to allow the Union to make the first move into Kentucky, and therefore both Henry and Donelson were sited about as far north in Tennessee as possible.

Unfortunately the best site around Dover, also required that Henry be sited in a particularly bad spot; in fact had Henry *not* surrendered when it did, it was going to be flooded out; which is a real tough one to call any general as being responsible for.

Also, too, Foote does a pretty decent job of spelling out the strategic situation facing Mr Johnston in the west - an impossibly long frontier with some particularly crappy defensive sites that pretty much meant it was going to be impossible to defend. With Kentucky trying to walk the tightrope of being a border State, it meant that the obvious and actually only available defensive line of the Ohio River was not available to the CSA.

Johnston's loss at Shiloh was much more about trying to attack in column in the woods than it was anything else - however it was also similar to what Manstein actually pulled off at Kharkov in 1943... when the Soviets were overextended. The timing of the attack was both an opportunity for Johnston as well as forced upon him -due to the fact that Grant and Buell were about to join. Both Union armies had the Tennessee River between them. What had to be done, had to be done before Buell arrived.

I don't think either, that it should be discounted, that at the time it occured Pittsburg Landing was the largest battle of the war, and no Southern commander had ever commanded an army of that size in battle to that date.

Since Johnston died at the battle -if he has a fault, it is not understanding that he was in fact bleeding to death and not scratched.

Incidentally, the Daughters of the Confederacy running Beauviour down there in Gulfport Mississippi had a museum there where they claim to have the minie ball that killed A S Johnston.... considering the fact that I don't think they dug a bullet out of Johnston --- it seems a little improbable --- like one of those medieval religious relics... :)

I don't think Sherman was overrated either ... in his March to Savannah he basically disappeared completely from everyone including Washington - it was an incredible gamble, considering there was no actual line of supplies nor any ability to supply to come from any conventional sources; and they attracted a large amount of refugees.... so nothing was really a given. His Atlanta campaign proved that maneuver wins campaigns -which according to Liddell-Hart is really all that matters.

Who was? Good question ... while guys like Butler were awful, I don't think that they were largely rated as anything more than awful -so let's see... go with a pathologicaly narcisstic guy...

The Pathfinder (Fremont) seems to fit the over-rated bill... although he was apparently ahead of his time in wanting to whip out a form of emancipation into the war strategy mix.

I think Winfield Scott was the most under-rated - it was he that first came up with the Anaconda Plan -which is what ultimately went a long way towards the end result. Never mind that McClellan did all he could to get rid of the old soldier.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:47 am 
Great comments all! I have enjoyed the continued discussion.


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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:04 am 
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An additional thought on Shiloh. I think it was Beauregard who pushed for a good bit of how the battle was organized. He also would be the one technically in command after the fall. In command having a * next to it, as from what I remember the battlefield would have had some very difficult times transfering messages and such (something in gaming we have difficulty producing and doing so would hurt some of the enjoyment). It also seems true that it was a near universal flaw to underestimate the values of defense (I'm not so sure our game designers have not alllowed this as well, in that the offense seems more likely to succeed than if might normally)--the plan was very nearly successful. Were they able to avoid the conflict which delayed them so much and cost so much at the hornet's nest, things might have turned out very differently. Could they pushed a bit harder at the end, who knows. But Beauregard shows himself pretty well in a number conflicts as well.
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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 10:00 am 
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Guess I'll jump into a difficult subject since it is not well defined. "Overrated" is a relative thing and depends on who, when and where you are looking. In the early 20th Century Lee was overrated but the rise of revisionist historians have derated him considerable so he probably isn't overrated now. Correspondingly Longstreet had a revival in supporters mostly around his opinions on Gettysburg probably moving him well into the most overrated territory.

People like Hood are very dependent on the "when". Early in the war he was outstanding at brigade and division level. As Corps and Army command he mostly proved the "Perters Principle" worked even back then. Longstreet without Lee to guide him (and make him move) was a failure.

A. S. Johnston didn't live long enough to really evaluate so in that since was overrated. He was given an impossible task by Davis, defend everything, and he tried with what he had. Whether he would have made the mistake Beauregard made of stopping the attack on the first day to soon one will never know. Strategically his move on Shiloh was very good just a day late and a dollar short.

Most of the lists of best and worse are relative to each other and not about overrated. One can make a best and worse list much easier expecially if you set the level of command for comparison. Lee for sure is top of the list including both North and South. Grant would have come in second. He saw what Lee already knew. Sherman would pull in a close third. One could make a good case for Sherman being the more creative of the top three. But I give Lee the top spot because he did more with less.

And the South's problem was a list of the Top Army Commander while having Lee at the number one spot would be rather bare of any other Southern Generals. I haven't filled out what I would consider the top ten but I think Union Generals would fill most of the spots. For those who lasted long enough to have a rating (Joe Johnson, Bragg, Hood, Beauregard, etc.) they were a pretty mediocre lot. Jackson is a hardone to rate. He never commanded a full army and part of army command is being able to handle subordinates.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 11:39 am 
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Well I feel much better after reading this thread as I was sure most of you would have had me at the most overrated General. Now someone buy me a drink as I think Forrest or one of those other thieving Rebel cavalry guys made off with my wallet.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2011 11:23 am 
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I put Grant as overrated. He won his battles (and by his orders so did Sherman) by making war on the civilian population and by simply throwing his vastly superior numbers at the enemy regardless of the casualty ratios. He never won a battle when he was somewhat equally matched in numbers or was outnumbered.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2011 11:27 am 
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On the Confederate side, I don't think anyone ever rated him highly, but Gideon Pillow is my pick for the worst. My great-grandfather was in his battle line at Belmont (13th Tn Inf).

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2011 12:18 pm 
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RobertWebb wrote:
I put Grant as overrated. He won his battles (and by his orders so did Sherman) by making war on the civilian population and by simply throwing his vastly superior numbers at the enemy regardless of the casualty ratios. He never won a battle when he was somewhat equally matched in numbers or was outnumbered.


Another southerner who has swallowed the Lost Cause Myth that the south lost the war because the north had more men. Like the notion that one southerner could lick ten northerners it makes them feel better even if it has no basis in fact.

As to Grant, rather than being overrated IMHO he probably had the best grasp of the strategic situation of any union commander other than Winfield Scott who developed the Anaconda Plan to split the south in two. Grant was not a brilliant tactician, but he was a fighter and he understood the relative strengths of the two sides. His biggest strength as a commander was if Plan A didn't work he developed Plan B, but he didn't need to go back to camp and think about it, he improvised on the spot. His campaign against Vicksburg was a series of improvisations until he was successful. Lincoln was the first to understand Grant, his comment that he couldn't spare him because he fought when others wished to sack Grant shows his understanding of Grant's strength as a commander. Grant was the first union commander who took the initiative away from Lee, yes he lost more men than Lee since the union was nearly always on the attack, the south only making counterattacks against the union forces. Still the same people who call him a butcher ignore the heavier losses suffered by the south whenever they attacked defences unsuccessfully in the last year of the war when most attacks against dug in troops failed.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2011 8:06 pm 
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Grant could rise to the occassion and put in a brilliant performance. His Vicksburg campaign once he landed was a text book execution of how an army could prevent two separated foes from concentrating. His move from north of Richmond to Petersburg also was text book. Unfortunately, it only seemed to apply himself to the task once the head on method failed. He tended to view his armies as blunt instruments.

But it is hard to compare generals in the Civil War because they seldom faced similar situations. Lee fought the way he did because he had the smaller army with less resources. He had to maintain initiative or be crushed. Sherman had further to go and far worse terrain to go through than Grant but he took Atlanta and Grant was another year doing it. But then Sherman faced poorer generals and the AoT which didn't have the morale and winning attitude that the ANV had.

But ultimately the South lost the war because of lack of men and resources. The North had the men and resources to absorb the loses and still keep coming. The North could maintain an army in enemy territory for any length of time it wished. The South could do this. They could win a battle but they never had those extra reserves to throw in at the end to turn a tactical victory into a strategic victory. And when they finally wore down the Confederate armies they had those reserves to throw in and destroy their opponent.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2011 8:59 pm 
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Concerning Custer-brave, foolish as well.

I have read a ton on him (mainly Little Bighorn but have looked at his Civil War campaigns as well)

Great audacity and it won him his brevet rank, proved fruitful at Gettysburg and other spots as well.

From this website : http://www.sonofthesouth.net/union-generals/custer/george-custer.htm
"... an active and daring cavalry officer during the Civil War, distinguishing himself on many occasions. He never lost a gun nor a color.

He fought early and bravely in the Civil War, joining his regiment on the battle of Bull Run. He fought in the Peninsular Campaign, with Both General Kearny and General Smith. His energy and daring, and in particular a spirited reconnaissance, brought him to the attention of General George B. McClellan, who assigned him to own staff, as a captain. A few hours later, Custer attacked a Confederate outpost and drove the rebels back. After McClellan was relieved of command in 1862, Custer returned to cavalry duty as a lieutenant. In June, 1863, he was made brigadier-general of volunteers. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863.

When General Phil Sheridan reorganized the Cavalry, Custer kept his command, and fought in the Battle of the Wilderness, and in the Shenandoah battles.

At the end of September 1864, he was chosen to lead a division, and on October 9, 1864 he fought in the cavalry action known as the battle of Woodstock. Soon afterwards he was made brevet-major-general of the United States Volunteers.

He played an important role in the battle of Cedar Creek. He was with Phil Sheridan in the last great cavalry action of the Civil War, and won the battle of Waynesboro, and added to his notoriety by his accomplishments at Dinwiddie and the Battle of Five Forks.

His actions were particularly noteworthy in the battles immediately preceding the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court-house. He was exceptionally fortunate in his military career during the Civil War, and was made lieutenant-colonel of the 7th Cavalry in 1866, receiving the brevet of major-general, U. S. A, for services ending in Lee's surrender. "


I am convinced that if he had not stayed in the military and fought in the Indian Wars, he would have remained an obscure General of the Cavalry know only to students of the conflict. How many times do you mention General Kilpatrick?

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Tue Jun 07, 2011 2:20 am 
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There is a factor involved in the careers and subsequent reputations of all the ACW Leaders that I feel deserves more acknowledgement:

The ACW, just as with all "Civil" wars, sets Armies that are equipped, organised, trained and led in an almost identical way against each other. It can be very hard for "Great" Generals to fashion a reputation from that situation? Most of histories "Greats" gained at least some of their glory from campaigns against enemies that were, if not exactly inferior in every way, at least significantly different in some aspects.

My point being that it is very hard for a leader or his forces to gain a useful advantage over any opponent when the sides are so similar in so many ways. It comes down to a trial of strength between the men involved and ultimately a business of attrition.

The ACW did not produce a single "major" victory in the field by clash of arms for either side by my reckoning? At least not when the operational situation is examined immediately after any victory / defeat = Both sides always escaped complete destruction to fight again. Count them off: From 1st Bull Run onwards just about every single battle resulted in an inconclusive result in the broader sense of the term.

The greats of history, by comparison, have all been judged in the light of performances achieved under somewhat different circumstances.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Fri Jun 10, 2011 12:16 am 
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Digglyda wrote:
There is a factor involved in the careers and subsequent reputations of all the ACW Leaders that I feel deserves more acknowledgement:

The ACW, just as with all "Civil" wars, sets Armies that are equipped, organised, trained and led in an almost identical way against each other. It can be very hard for "Great" Generals to fashion a reputation from that situation? Most of histories "Greats" gained at least some of their glory from campaigns against enemies that were, if not exactly inferior in every way, at least significantly different in some aspects.

My point being that it is very hard for a leader or his forces to gain a useful advantage over any opponent when the sides are so similar in so many ways. It comes down to a trial of strength between the men involved and ultimately a business of attrition.


EXCELLENT points. MOST of the ACW generals were products of the same military academy and also many had the advantage of having fought together is other areas. So, many, if not most, were all schooled in the same tactics, the same strategic goals and even their instructors ended up in different armies.

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 Post subject: Re: Most Overrated General of the War
PostPosted: Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:43 pm 
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I disagree. Many Generals were educated in West Point but certainly not all, some were educated at local Military Schools, some not at all. Reputations are mostly subjective evaluations that only historical research can correct to any degree. Even military records don't tell the whole story.
Even if all the generals were from the same statistical population, some would still rise to the top and others sink to the bottom with the bulk in the middle. I believe Personality and Character are the difference.

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