PDA

View Full Version : Lincoln or Davis - who was the better wartime president?



Shek
08 Dec 09,, 22:47
Lincoln had been a member of the militia, was self-taught, and had served for only two years a member of the House of Representatives.

Davis had graduated from West Point, eventually commanded a regiment of volunteers as a colonel in the Mexican-American War, served as the Secretary of War, and as a Senator for nearly four years prior to becoming the President of the Confederacy.

Yet, in the end, the North had defeated the South. Was Lincoln a better wartime president, or had Davis simply found bad luck?

TopHatter
09 Dec 09,, 00:07
Lincoln had been a member of the militia, was self-taught, and had served for only two years a member of the House of Representatives.

Davis had graduated from West Point, eventually commanded a regiment of volunteers as a colonel in the Mexican-American War, served as the Secretary of War, and as a Senator for nearly four years prior to becoming the President of the Confederacy.

Yet, in the end, the North had defeated the South. Was Lincoln a better wartime president, or had Davis simply found bad luck?

I've never been particularly impressed by the South's wartime leadership.

I may be totally off the mark, but to me, the Confederacy was severely hamstrung by cronyism, nepotism etc, but most of all by it's Constitution, which emphasized "state's rights"

This of course was it's very raison d'ętre...which again, to me, hobbled the CSA because what is needed in wartime is a strong central government with a single clear chain of command. Not a collection (or confederacy, if you will) of idiots wanting to things their own way.

And yes, I could be way off the mark.

Shek
09 Dec 09,, 01:56
I've never been particularly impressed by the South's wartime leadership.

I may be totally off the mark, but to me, the Confederacy was severely hamstrung by cronyism, nepotism etc, but most of all by it's Constitution, which emphasized "state's rights"

This of course was it's very raison d'ętre...which again, to me, hobbled the CSA because what is needed in wartime is a strong central government with a single clear chain of command. Not a collection (or confederacy, if you will) of idiots wanting to things their own way.

And yes, I could be way off the mark.

The South both suffered from a lack of a true national identity, but ironically, implemented more strong central government decisions than did the North, so this cut both ways. For example, the first side to implement conscription (and had a larger portion of its forces serve as non-volunteers) was the South.

TopHatter
09 Dec 09,, 02:13
The South both suffered from a lack of a true national identity, but ironically, implemented more strong central government decisions than did the North, so this cut both ways. For example, the first side to implement conscription (and had a larger portion of its forces serve as non-volunteers) was the South.

Hm, impressive. And of course there was no shortage of political hacks wearing a general's rank and a blue suit.

Dreadnought
09 Dec 09,, 17:31
Hands down Lincoln, not only was he the first US president to utilize a navy effectively but also he kept the value of the Unions money up where as Davis and the CSA printed bills that were not worth much at all even during the Civil War.
The North also learned to utilize ballons in order to spot enemy lines far off in the distance instead of just stumbling upon them and getting shot up for their troubles.

Last point is...Pretty doubtfull that Jefferson Davis would have freed the slaves after the civil war and Lincoln did it in 1863 with almost two years of war still to go even though many thought it an unpopular decision he held true to the values he believed caused the Civil War.

Shek
09 Dec 09,, 18:01
Joe,
Here's an expansion of what I spoke about earlier (with the irony that Southern rhetoric to justify secession was then trampled on in spades in practice during the war).


Amazon.com: Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation (Civil War America) (9780807832516): John Majewski: Books (http://www.amazon.com/Modernizing-Slave-Economy-Economic-Confederate/dp/0807832510/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260365989&sr=8-1/marginalrevol-20)

Although southerners rebelled against growing centralization of the federal government, they had no qualms about establishing a strong national state of their own. Scholars have classified the Confederate central government as a form of "war socialism." The Confederacy owned key industries, regulated prices and wages, and instituted the most far-reaching draft in North American history. The Confederacy employed some 70,000 civilians in a massive (if poorly coordinated) bureaucracy that included thousands of tax assessors, tax collectors, and conscription agents. The police power of the Confederate state was sometimes staggering. To ride a train, for example, every passenger needed a special government pass...Political scientist Richard Franklin Bensel writes that "a central state as well organized and powerful as the Confederacy did not emerge until the New Deal and subsequent mobilization for World War II.

TopHatter
09 Dec 09,, 18:26
Joe,
Here's an expansion of what I spoke about earlier (with the irony that Southern rhetoric to justify secession was then trampled on in spades in practice during the war).

Hm, fascinating! :eek:

Totally blows away my preconceptions of the wartime South's national vs state status.

So...they wrote up a constitution to conform to their ideas of "state's rights"...and then essentially wadded it up and threw it away?

Can't really blame them if they did, given that there was a war for national survival at stake.

astralis
09 Dec 09,, 18:43
joe,

what is interesting is the consequences of this if they had won. most likely, while most of the wartime controls/centralization would be relaxed to some extent, others would be kept. ie blacks would almost certainly be forced to keep a national pass to travel.

it is quite easy to see this pass transform into something akin to the jewish star some time later, just for ID purposes. due to racial intermixing (owner rape), it had by the 1860s became much harder for slavecatchers to find escaped slaves-- many posters of the time described slaves as having "blue eyes" or "trying to pass for a white man". had slavery lasted another hundred years this would have become much more prevalent.

also controlled industry-- given northern advantages, the south would soon find itself badly behind. with a distinct lack of southern enthusiasm for industrialization, the state would probably have to force things along.

the south would NOT have been a very pleasant place to live twenty years down the line, especially given this and their vindication of supposed southern manhood over the northern clerks.

Shek
09 Dec 09,, 19:38
Hm, fascinating! :eek:

Totally blows away my preconceptions of the wartime South's national vs state status.

So...they wrote up a constitution to conform to their ideas of "state's rights"...and then essentially wadded it up and threw it away?

Can't really blame them if they did, given that there was a war for national survival at stake.

The book's thesis traces how the war, while increasing the intensity of the centralization, didn't suddenly create a school in support of centralization. Instead, it tapped into a body of writing and school of thought that already existed - secede from the North, tax and tariff, and use these revenues to industrialize the South.

I haven't read the entire book, just scanned it using Google Books, Modernizing a Slave Economy: The ... - Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=mfBNJek4SQ8C&dq=modernizing+a+slave+economy&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=2mZpvkfYmj&sig=9DTPLZAh4xvsYSSHQbUkflxMbsY&hl=en&ei=DO0fS5SJD8aMlAessKj8Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=&f=false), so I can't comment on how strong and well supported his thesis is, but in the context of state's rights, it's not a new one. Essentially, state's rights was overplayed after the rebellion to draw attention away from slavery as a cause, and so it has distorted the interpretation of the Confederacy and Civil War since.

That isn't to say that state's rights wasn't part of equation - while Davis and the CSA exercised more tyranny than "Lincoln the Tyrant", Davis did face real problems because of the assertion of state's rights. Governors wouldn't sacrifice any portion of their state's territory and so inhibited potentially more effective orders of battle/troop deployment and kept militia forces strictly within their own borders (which was a problem for the north as well, although it was more an issue of volunteers volunteering strictly for the good of their state). These constraints prevented Davis from concentrating forces more effectively, although with the string of victories in the West by federal forces, the issue of defending too much territory was "solved" in large part for Davis.

Julie
11 Dec 09,, 00:45
It’s easy to point out Jefferson Davis’ mistakes and weaknesses, as we could for Abraham Lincoln. So let’s give him some credit. He started with no country, no army, and no government. Also after eights months the capital was moved to Richmond.

The Confederate government raised, equipped, and fed an army of 860,000 men - a huge number for the time. Although the lack of supplies to the Confederate army is well known, no battle was ever lost by the lack of rifles or bullets. The Confederate army gave the Union Army all it could handle for four years even though the northern population was four times that of the south.

Shek
11 Dec 09,, 01:29
It’s easy to point out Jefferson Davis’ mistakes and weaknesses, as we could for Abraham Lincoln. So let’s give him some credit. He started with no country, no army, and no government. Also after eights months the capital was moved to Richmond.

They copied the Constitution almost word for word, used existing state governments, and had a corps of politicians that were veterans of the legislative and executive branches of the United States. It took some months to set it up, but this was complete prior to the South starting the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter.

As to the federal army, in 1860 it consisted of 16K troops who were either nation building, protecting/exploring the frontier, or manning and building coastal fortifications to defend the homeland. The North had the exact same challenge of raising a huge army. In fact, it had an even greater challenge since it had to raise a much bigger army (and supply it) since to suppress the rebellion, they had to not only fight Southern forces, but also occupy territory as they captured it, meaning that the numerical advantage wasn't nearly as great as it appears. Also, recent in the past decades has consistently determined that Northern numbers at battles have tended to be overestimated while Southern numbers have tended to be underestimated, closing the gap a little bit. Additionally, slaves that worked as teamsters, helped to dig breastworks and entrenchments, etc., are not included in the numbers, and so the gap closes just a bit more.

As far as moving the capital, that's a self-inflicted wound. I'm not aware of it causing any detrimental effects on Confederate decision-making, but if so, you've got only the very same Confederate government (headed by Davis) to blame.

Where the South did have a handicap was with armaments manufacturing and shipbuilding, and it did work wonders, but at the same time, the North made some poor decisions in what to arm its army (choosing a lower tech rifled musket to standardize ammunition with a slow-rate fire weapon) and so it failed to take full advantage of its advantage, and while the North held an advantage with its Navy, it had to build its brown water fleet and was in a race to develop the ironside technology.


The Confederate government raised, equipped, and fed an army of 860,000 men - a huge number for the time. Although the lack of supplies to the Confederate army is well known, no battle was ever lost by the lack of rifles or bullets. The Confederate army gave the Union Army all it could handle for four years even though the northern population was four times that of the south.

This brings us back to the heart of the question, which is how did a backcountry woods boy defeat a Mexican War hero who had also been the Secretary of War? It was because Lincoln was a far superior strategist than Davis, understanding the center of gravity of the South and working his way through generals until he found one in Grant that shared the same strategic and operational acumen. In fact, Lincoln had it even more difficult because he had to contend with a Presidential election in the middle of the rebellion. Davis, on the other hand, had a six-year term. One can find fault with Lincoln's and Stanton's micromanagement in 1862, but he learned from it and balanced the need to maintain a shaky war coalition (the GOP and War Democrats) with optimizing his choice for generals.

On the other hand, Davis was seduced frequently by Lee's plans, which ran counter to his defensive strategy. He didn't exercise control over his military, never coordinating actions across the theater of war and waiting until it was too late in 1865 to finally appoint a commander to do just this. Davis, despite his experience, proved to be inferior to Lincoln.

Julie
11 Dec 09,, 03:12
This brings us back to the heart of the question, which is how did a backcountry woods boy defeat a Mexican War hero who had also been the Secretary of War? It was because Lincoln was a far superior strategist than Davis, understanding the center of gravity of the South and working his way through generals until he found one in Grant that shared the same strategic and operational acumen.If he "understood the gravity of the South", Lincoln would not have anticipated a short conflict, initially calling for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months. Despite enormous pressures, loss of life, battlefield setbacks, bickering among his Cabinet members, generals who weren't ready to fight, assassination threats, etc., Lincoln stuck with this pro-Union policy for four long years of Civil War.

FOUR LONG YEARS.....that was anticipated to take 3 months. Lots of lives lost in all that "gravity."

Shek
11 Dec 09,, 03:50
If he "understood the gravity of the South", Lincoln would not have anticipated a short conflict, initially calling for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months. Despite enormous pressures, loss of life, battlefield setbacks, bickering among his Cabinet members, generals who weren't ready to fight, assassination threats, etc., Lincoln stuck with this pro-Union policy for four long years of Civil War.

FOUR LONG YEARS.....that was anticipated to take 3 months. Lots of lives lost in all that "gravity."

Actually, the Militia Act of 1792 only allowed a call up of militia for 3 months. Thus, it's not correct to rely on that to show that Lincoln thought it would take less than 3 months - by law, he couldn't call them up for longer than that.

However, it was correct that he thought it would be on the shorter side. In fact, both sides thought it would be on the shorter side. Pre-war expectations didn't match the reality of the war for either side. Yet, he was able to conduct a proper reassessment and determine that limited means and ways weren't going to get the job done. Thus, he pushed through Congress the Confiscation Acts and wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.

He brought on Halleck as the Commander-in-Chief to attempt to synchronize the theaters of operation throughout the theater of war. When Halleck wasn't getting the job done, while he kept him on to continue to administer the Army writ large, he continued to search for someone who would get the job done and hired on Grant as the General-in-Chief once he had proven himself in the West.

Next, it's not "gravity," but "center of gravity." Lincoln recognize pretty early on that to defeat the South was to destroy the armies of the South, and specifically, the ANV and AOT. However, he moved through generals for the AOP until he found Meade, who was both competent and willing to take the fight to Lee (although to draw him out into a defensive fight for the AOP). With Grant, he found one that was not only willing to fight, but one that not only would follow Lincoln's call to concentrate on the ANV and AOT, but fully recommended it and did so in a synchronized way to ensure that the AOP and Sherman would be able to do so relentlessly.

Davis, on the other hand, waffled in his strategy and didn't exercise control over his generals when it was required. He had the easier task - to fight a defensive war until the North was exhausted or until diplomatic recognition would force the North to come to terms. Yet, he couldn't accomplish this.

Lastly, while it's really unrelated to the question of the thread - who's the better wartime president, I don't really understand why you want to pin deaths at Lincoln's doorstep. The shots that started the war were fired under Davis' order. The war outcome was never in question for the last five months of the war, and yet, tens upon tens of thousands died because of Davis' decision to fight until it was physically impossible to continue fighting. Had he surrendered when it was clear that the AOT and ANV could not defeat their adversary armies, Sherman's march would have stopped halfway to Savannah. The raids elsewhere in the South wouldn't have taken place in 1865. In fact, Davis was hated in the South after April 1865. It was only after the mistreatment of him by Johnson and Radical Republicans that his image was resurrected.

Shek
25 Aug 10,, 01:53
A great passage from Sears' Chancellorsville (pg. 14) that strikes at the strategic acumen of Lincoln and is hauntingly prescient about the casualties endured during the 40 days and nights of fighting of the Overland Campaign.


Mr. Lincoln possessed a clear and stark view of what he called the "awful arithmetic" required of the general who commanded the Army of the Potomac. He observed to his secretary, William Stoddard, that at Fredericksburg the Potomac army had lost 50 percent more men than the enemy army, yet if the two should refight that battle, with the same result, every day "through a week of days," the enemy army would be wiped out and the Potomac army would still be a "mighty host." As Stoddard recorded it, the president said that "No general yet found can face the arithmetic, but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered."

On a separate but related note, this book looks promising on the topic: Amazon.com: The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (9780195373059): Donald Stoker: Books (http://www.amazon.com/Grand-Design-Strategy-U-S-Civil/dp/0195373057/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=IAVP5GFP25SLH&colid=2G9MPHZ8DRIJF)

Albany Rifles
25 Aug 10,, 14:05
Shek,

Rather fitting you are studying the war from the strategic level, considering how you earn your pay these days!

Shek
12 Sep 10,, 01:24
Buck,

Not sure if you ever came across this, but it's a succinct and interesting thesis which I think isn't far off the mark.


The Civil War as Revenge of the Nerds - Personal - The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2010/06/the-civil-war-as-revenge-of-the-nerds/58086/)

I don't want to overstate this, but I suspect going into the war, no small part of Southern secessionist ideology was built on the ability to kick ass, and that ability being decisive.

Albany Rifles
13 Sep 10,, 17:45
I'll check it out later...thanks!

Shek
22 Dec 10,, 20:06
Just finished reading this book a few weeks back, Amazon.com: The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War (9780195373059): Donald Stoker: Books (http://www.amazon.com/Grand-Design-Strategy-U-S-Civil/dp/0195373057). While the book itself is weak towards the latter half and contains a fair amount that I question, he makes a very strong case that Davis was far beneath Lincoln's strategic ability. In fact, it was Davis' service in the Mexican War and as the Secretary of War (as an aside, there's still a clock from his desk while he was the SecWar that is still in the SecArmy's office - pretty cool, even if he was a traitor) that contributed to him wanting to play general-in-chief and jump down into the weeds, detracting from him from looking at the big picture and matching means to ends.

astralis
22 Dec 10,, 20:25
one thing I would like to know is, how did the South manage to centralize/mobilize relatively more resources than the North, yet have such weak national leadership?

they didn't really even have the advantage of a single federal bureaucratic framework as much as a whole bunch of state bureaucratic frameworks. it's always surprised me how the South managed to recruit/conscript, equip and train its soldiers pretty much until the fall of 1864.

as far as i see, actually creating the military machine was one of the two major strategic duties for the respective wartime presidents. the second being a cohesive national strategy for employing the military machine. it seems to me that davis succeeded in the first but failed quite badly at the second.

Shek
22 Dec 10,, 20:37
astralis,

Recall that the South had a much more developed militia in order to put down any potential slave insurrections. Furthermore, they had already started preparing for war in 1860 (read Amazon.com: General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (9780684827872): Joseph Glatthaar: Books (http://www.amazon.com/General-Lees-Army-Victory-Collapse/dp/0684827875), or a very short review, http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/staff-college/56468-general-lees-army.html). As such, the machinery of war had already begun turning. Additionally, the standing army of regulars in the North stood at 16K on the eve of secession, of which I believe 5-7K put on butternut. Thus, the North essentially had to mobilize from nearly the same state on some fronts.

IIRC, the South would have been the 4th or 5th largest industrial country in the world in 1860, so in many respects, it wasn't that they were so undeveloped, its just that for some of the raw materials of war (e.g., iron), the North was just that far ahead.

A final point to make is that the North did a good job of equipping the ANV after many battles, to include First Bull Run as a prominent example.

astralis
22 Dec 10,, 21:29
shek,


Recall that the South had a much more developed militia in order to put down any potential slave insurrections.

to me, that only explains the first year or two of fighting; afterwards, attrition from the bloody battles of 1862 means that training and equipping would have to come from non-militia sources. in any case, southern performance at the First Bull Run was not exactly impressive, and the battle almost went the other way.


Furthermore, they had already started preparing for war in 1860 (read Amazon.com: General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (9780684827872): Joseph Glatthaar: Books, or a very short review, General Lee's Army).

interesting, didn't know they started that early.


A final point to make is that the North did a good job of equipping the ANV after many battles, to include First Bull Run as a prominent example.

touche. IIRC, though, most of the southern arms were either imported from europe or came from Tredegar, which argues for a pretty good level of financial ability despite the stupid self-imposed bar on selling cotton.

in any case, i wonder how early lincoln started thinking of the war in terms of a national strategy. i notice the anaconda plan was a good representative of this but union warfighting up until 1863 was largely dominated by the army of the potomac attempting to advance on richmond. the other elements of the plan, epitomized by farragut's capture of New Orleans in early 1862, were largely disregarded as a sideshow until the fall of Vicksburg.

gunnut
23 Dec 10,, 01:09
I see a faint parallel of the south to Nazi Germany. Both had centralized leadership, strong marshall tradition, prepared for war, and a leader who lost sight of the big picture.

The Confederacy lost the first industrial war. Germany lost a war to the greatest industrial power the world had ever seen.

Blademaster
23 Dec 10,, 06:54
It was Winston Scott that came up with the strategy of Oeration Anaconda but due to his poor health he was not able to implement it so it fell to General Meade who disagreed with Scott's strategy and preferred a more direct assault like the Penisula Campaign. Lincoln went along with Meade's plan until it fell apart and he went back to Anaconda like Scott originally envisioned.

Shek
26 Dec 10,, 14:00
shek,
in any case, i wonder how early lincoln started thinking of the war in terms of a national strategy.

I'll respond in bite size chunks. Lincoln started before he even took office, deciding to undertake the non-military resupply of Ft. Sumter, which put Davis on notice in a "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario. He essentially put the South in a position to be the aggressor, which would rouse Northern and foreign opinion in favor of the Union, and he boldly stated this in his inaugural:


Abraham Lincoln: First Inaugural Address. U.S. Inaugural Addresses. 1989 (http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html)

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

This was in contrast to Davis, who ignored advice from Toombs that firing on Sumter would arouse Northern opinion in favor of the Union and tilt the deck against the Confederacy.

Lincoln 1, Davis 0.

Shek
27 Dec 10,, 16:01
The second piece of the strategic puzzle that Lincoln grasped was the fact that once the Confederacy proved that it wasn't going to collapse immediately, there was the need to eradicate the reason for the cause of the Civil War: slavery. Slavery sustained the Southern economy that allowed its white males to fight in the confederate armies (and provided labor to these armies as well) and it provided power to the class that brought secession. If you don't terminate a conflict by removing the causus belli, then you risk a peace that will not last.

In a famous dichotomy that marked this fundamental shift in the Union approach to war, McClellan gave this letter to Lincoln on 8 July 1862 after completing the retreat from Richmond. Lincoln thanked him for it and put it in his pocket, never replying to it. However, 5 days later, he first brought up the subject of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to an audience and then two weeks later he brought it up before his entire cabinet. The path to hard war was set, with Union armies about to take war in a measured way against the secessionist power.


Letter from General George B. McClellan to President Abraham Lincoln Civil War period (http://americancivilwar.com/documents/mcclellan_lincoln.html)

his rebellion has assumed the character of a War: as such it should be regarded; and it should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event. It should not be, at all, a War upon population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment. In prosecuting the War, all private property and unarmed persons should be strictly protected; subject only to the necessities of military operations. All private property taken for military use should be paid for or receipted for; pillage and waste should be treated as high crimes; all unnecessary trespass sternly prohibited; and offensive demeanor by the military towards citizens promptly rebuked. Military arrests should not be tolerated, except in places where active hostilities exist; and oaths not required by enactments -- Constitutionally made -- should be neither demanded nor received. Military government should be confined to the preservation of public order and the protection of political rights.

Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude, either by supporting or impairing the authority of the master; except for repressing disorder as in other cases. Slaves contraband under the Act of Congress, seeking military protection, should receive it. The right of the Government to appropriate permanently to its own service claims to slave labor should be asserted and the right of the owner to compensation therefore should be recognized. This principle might be extended upon grounds of military necessity and security to all the slaves within a particular state; thus working manumission in such [a] state -- and in Missouri, perhaps in Western Virginia also and possibly even in Maryland the expediency of such a military measure is only a question of time. A system of policy thus constitutional and conservative, and pervaded by the influences of Christianity and freedom, would receive the support of almost all truly loyal men, would deeply impress the rebel masses and all foreign nations, and it might be humbly hoped that it would commend itself to the favor of the Almighty. Unless the principles governing the further conduct of our struggle shall be made known and approved, the effort to obtain requisite forces will be almost hopeless. A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present Armies.

In contrast, just a month later Davis would allow Lee to invade the North and strip away the claims of "we're only protecting us" while suffering casualties that couldn't be replaced.

Lincoln 2, Davis 0.

Albany Rifles
03 Jan 11,, 17:25
To add to the discussion.

Many of the Federal arsenals throughout the south were turned over to or siezed by the Confederates. David Twiggs turned over the entire Federal Texas arsenal to the Confederates (over 10,000 stand of arms as well as cannon). The Confederates siezed the arsenal at Harpers Ferry early on and moved the tools and dies to Richmond to produce the Richmond Rifle, an exact copy of the US Model 1855 rifle musket. You may recall Nathaniel Lyon prevented that from happenning in St Louis. The Southern states also sent agents to Europe, much quicker than the Federal government did, to buy as many weapons as they could, especially British Enfields. The late start by the Federals resulted in the US government actually buying worse weapons from Europe than the CSA. A good illustration is the Battle of Prairie Grove, AK in DEC 1862. The Confederatre infantry all had Enfields and the Federal forces had a mix of European weapons and converted smoothbores as their arms, to include the 20th Iowa having the monstrous 20 pound Prussion .71 caliber smoothbores (they jokingly referred to themselves as the 20th Iowa Light Artillery!) My own beloved 43rd New York, a prime unit in the Army of the Potomac, used the Austrian .54 caliber Lorenz rifle musket until after the Battle of Cedar Creek in Cotober 1864.

So the South did not start from scratch.

astralis
03 Jan 11,, 18:43
shek,


In contrast, just a month later Davis would allow Lee to invade the North and strip away the claims of "we're only protecting us" while suffering casualties that couldn't be replaced.

Lincoln 2, Davis 0.

i would say that this is a case of hindsight bias. had lee won a strategic victory and shattered the morale of the north early on, then we'd all be hailing him as a genius.

in terms of stripping away the claims of "we're only protecting our own", i think that illusion was largely shattered in the north by the bombardment of fort sumter.

i think the point where we can mark "2-0" in favor of lincoln would be the emancipation proclamation, although it might be 3-0 at that point due to davis scoring an "own" goal by the southern self-imposed blockade.

astralis
03 Jan 11,, 18:47
AR,


So the South did not start from scratch.

also, thanks to the efforts of the treacherous Secretary of War John Floyd, southern states received significant shipments of brand new northern rifles and artillery just shortly before hostilities started.

it's a damn shame grant didn't capture him at Ft Donelson and hang the bastard.

Albany Rifles
03 Jan 11,, 19:23
it's a damn shame grant didn't capture him at Ft Donelson and hang the bastard.

You, sir, are a man after my own heart!:cheers:

Shek
09 Feb 11,, 20:46
While not addressing Lincoln vs. Davis, it does provide some tarnish to Lincoln:

Brooks D. Simpson | Lincoln and His Political Generals | Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 21.1 | The History Cooperative (http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jala/21.1/simpson.html)


Lincoln and His Political Generals
BROOKS D. SIMPSON

In 1994 Oxford University Press published Lincoln's Generals. Edited by Gabor Boritt, it presented assessments of Lincoln's relationship with five army commanders. Several essays echoed themes first sounded by T. Harry Williams more than four decades earlier in his 1952 study, Lincoln and His Generals. Appearing alongside Joseph T. Glatthaar's description of command relationships, Partners in Command, Boritt's volume helped establish a benchmark in studies of the Union's high command, pointing out (sometimes inadvertently) that much remained to be done, including reassessing judgments rendered by Williams and those who labor in his shadow.1 1

Catchy as Boritt's title might be, especially in a consumer atmosphere where invoking the name of the sixteenth president is sure to promote sales, it is misleading, for the generals under discussion were never truly Lincoln's generals, but generals who worked with (and sometimes against) him. The term might better describe the men who owed their stars to their prewar political prominence—men who had far more in common with Lincoln than did Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Historians usually refer derisively to such people as "political generals." That term carries with it the misleading implication that there exists a rather stark demarcation between the worlds of the cool, disciplined military professional and the eager if bumbling amateur, the man of merit versus the man with connections. One need only look at the five generals covered in the Boritt volume for evidence that military professionals were far from oblivious to the necessities of practical politics. George B. McClellan frequently corresponded with Democratic politicians, and eventually became an active politician; [End Page 63] Joseph Hooker was no stranger to political intrigue; Sherman's brother and in-laws were active in Republican politics; Grant cultivated a relationship with Congressman Elihu Washburne, who was responsible for securing his protege's promotion to brigadier general; and even George G. Meade was not above chatting with politicians or flattering Mary Lincoln to advance his interests. 2

Nevertheless, each of these generals was trained at West Point. They came to Lincoln's attention because of their reputations as military men or for their records on the battlefield. In contrast, "political generals," as defined in this essay, had been professional politicians before the war and possessed little if any military training or experience. Chief among them were Benjamin F. Butler, Nathaniel P. Banks, and John A. McClernand. A fourth general, John C. Frémont, possessed some military experience, but his status as the first presidential nominee of the Republican party proved far more important in the decision to make him a general. A fifth, Franz Sigel, possessed even more military experience, but owed his advancement to his identity as a German American and his political reputation. 3

On the whole historians have not been kind to this quintet, although in the field of Civil War military leadership there is always the potential for someone to take up the cause of a maligned figure and argue that he was simply misunderstood. Butler has his advocates, and there are murmurs that history has been unfair to McClernand and Sigel. However, the prevailing consensus is that each of these men, whatever his other virtues, was an unmitigated disaster as a general. Vivid images circulate of the frog-faced Butler, that foe of southern womanhood, his pockets bulging with spoons, bottled up on Bermuda Hundred or botching the initial assault on Fort Fisher—so repulsive a character that he does not appear alongside Banks, Frémont, and McClernand on the cover of the paperback edition of Lincoln and His Generals, doubtless a concession to aesthetic considerations. Poor Franz Sigel has become a caricature of the misbegotten immigrant officer whose failures were so embarrassing that even Henry W. Halleck ridiculed him. Frémont, Banks, and McClernand are usually simply dismissed with a knowing nod—indeed, McClernand lacks a decent biography. Of course, not all political generals proved military disasters. Several demonstrated military skill, notably John A. Logan; others, from Frank Blair to Carl Schurz and James Wadsworth, had uneven records. However, these generals never exercised independent command, making it more difficult to assess their performance [End Page 64] or to determine its effect on the war effort. Such is not the case with Butler, Banks, Frémont, McClernand, and Sigel. 4

President Lincoln usually escapes censure for making these appointments. Perhaps, as some scholars argue, it was a regrettable necessity, a price Lincoln had to pay to maintain political harmony. James M. McPherson admits that several political generals "proved to be incompetent; some battlefield disasters resulted from their presence in command." Nevertheless, by making such men generals, the president satisfied political constituencies whose support was critical to a successful prosecution of the Union war effort; McPherson added that a West Point education was no guarantee of military capability. Other historians minimize the impact of the political generals' battlefield performance. Archer Jones argues that "Lincoln never pushed generals with primarily political appeal for command of the major armies," adding that in his selections the president displayed "an informed and sophisticated grasp of the political and military import of each." In some cases Lincoln scholars come close to denying the problem altogether. "Lincoln would go to extremes as President to avoid partisanship in selecting battlefield commanders," Mark Neely insists, adding that "Lincoln's clear-sighted unwillingness to allow partisan concerns to interfere with decisions critical to the army was an admirable trait crucial to winning a major war in a democracy."2 5

These latter arguments come close to obliterating the historical record altogether. Of the quintet under examination, Banks, Butler, and Sigel commanded field armies in ill-fated campaigns; Frémont headed a department at a most critical time and took actions that greatly embarrassed Lincoln; McClernand's efforts to exercise the independent command Lincoln had intended for him was short-circuited by Halleck and Grant. In each case partisan concerns interfered with decisions critical to the conduct of military operations. None of these generals led an army to victory; in several cases their defeats proved major setbacks both militarily and politically, especially in 1864. 6

Nor does the cost-benefit analysis offered by McPherson and others always hold up. Take the case of John C. Frémont. At a time when [End Page 65] even Ambrose Burnside and John Pope have their defenders, no one is pressing for a revisionist assessment of Frémont the Civil War general. Yet Lincoln tendered him a commission as a major general in May 1861 due to his political reputation and influence. Whatever benefits the president hoped to derive from the appointment nearly disappeared altogether that August when Frémont imposed martial law in Missouri and declared free slaves who belonged to secessionist masters. Coming at a time when Lincoln was anxious about Kentucky's allegiance, the proclamation portended disaster on both the military and political fronts. After Frémont refused Lincoln's request to modify the proclamation, the president ordered that the section in question be struck—although by that time Kentucky's government had sided with the Union cause. Nearly two months later Lincoln removed Frémont; however, the Pathfinder soon made his way to Virginia, only to become one of Stonewall Jackson's victims in the Shenandoah Valley. Refusing to serve under John Pope, he requested to be relieved of command, and Lincoln complied. Frémont never saw active service again, in large part because his seniority in rank required Lincoln to displace other generals; eventually he launched an abortive run for the presidency against Lincoln in 1864 as the front man for disgruntled Republicans. One is hard pressed to conclude that Lincoln derived any benefit from his association with Frémont, whose actions damaged the Union cause politically and militarily.3 7

Nor can one find much that is worthy of praise in Lincoln's dealings with John A. McClernand. A "veteran" of two months of service as a private in the militia during the Black Hawk War, McClernand served in the state legislature and Congress as a Democrat. He proved at best a mediocre battlefield commander at Belmont, Forts Henry and Donelson, and Shiloh: however, he told tales of his brilliance to Lincoln and others, annoying Grant and other generals with his unsubstantiated claims. Lincoln, prone to accept McClernand's self-estimate of his accomplishments, listened when the general came to Washington in September 1862 to press his case for raising an army in the Midwest with which he proposed to capture Vicksburg. Lincoln thought this was a good idea: he endorsed orders that said that once McClernand had raised a force that Grant did not require for his own command, McClernand could lead it against Vicksburg—if the general-in-chief, Halleck, so ordered. The president and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton failed to inform [End Page 66] either Halleck or Grant of the plan. The result presaged disaster and dissention; even T. Harry Williams admits that perhaps the president's "powers of human evaluation were not as sharp as usual."4 8

McClernand's visit to Washington had unintended consequences. Halleck, who had heretofore been rather critical of Grant, decided that, whatever his shortcomings, Grant was superior to McClernand. David D. Porter, in charge of the flotilla along the upper Mississippi, soon reached the same conclusion and shifted his allegiances accordingly. William T. Sherman, who had always despised McClernand, overcame his own reservations about Grant's generalship and made common cause with his superior against the interloper.5 9

Grant got wind of McClernand's plan and asked Halleck for instructions. Back came word to use his army as he saw fit. Together Grant, Sherman, and Porter conspired to launch a drive against Vicksburg before McClernand arrived to take charge of his new command. The resulting thrust, premature as it was, quickly unraveled, leaving McClernand to take charge of an expedition planned by Sherman against Arkansas Post. When McClernand, peeved that Grant had commandeered his recruits, angrily demanded that Halleck be punished for sustaining Grant in command, Lincoln weakly responded that he could not afford to take sides in another "family controversy"; at the end of January, Grant clarified McClernand's status as a corps commander in Grant's army in compliance with previous orders from the War Department.6 10

McClernand understandably thought he was being played for a fool; Bruce Catton reflected that he "had been given the works." The loophole in his orders that allowed Grant to be the judge of whether he could spare enough regiments for McClernand to form an independent strike force would never be closed. By hiding behind Stanton and Halleck, Lincoln was shirking responsibility for the whole affair. Unable to displace Halleck, McClernand returned to assailing Grant, forwarding reports of his superior's drinking as evidence of his incompetence. Such behavior promoted distrust and friction at a time when cooperation was essential—and led Grant to use Charles A. Dana, a representative from the War De- [End Page 67] partment sent to spy on Grant, to discredit McClernand in report after report to counter the corps commander's criticisms of Grant. In so doing Grant, understandably acting in self-defense, was simply playing by Lincoln's rules. That McClernand was wrong in behaving as he did does not relieve Lincoln of responsibility for creating the situation or for failing to reprimand McClernand's subversive behavior. It was not the sixteenth president's finest hour as commander-in-chief.7 11

Historians have not been kind to McClernand the battlefield commander, although some students of the Vicksburg campaign claim that the resulting critical picture is overdrawn, obscuring the shortcomings of Sherman and fellow corps commander James B. McPherson. Nevertheless, McClernand did not exceed the requirements of competence in the campaign against Vicksburg, especially at Port Gibson and Champion Hill, where his lethargy and lack of initiative may have cost Union forces a decisive victory that would have rendered the ensuing siege perfunctory. Once he had secured the perimeter around Vicksburg, Grant waited for the opportunity to remove McClernand; the Illinois politico obliged when he failed to observe regulations concerning the publication of orders in the press. When McClernand protested what he believed to be his unjust removal, the president waffled again, first asserting that "it is a case ... in which I could do nothing without doing harm," then declining to grant McClernand's request for a court of inquiry until it could be convened "without prejudice to the service"—as if such circumstances would ever arise during the duration of the war. Incredibly, just before elevating Grant to general-in-chief, Lincoln allowed McClernand to resume command of his old corps. Ill health forced the reinstated corps commander to withdraw from service in the field that spring; later that year he resigned, thus closing a chapter that does Lincoln little credit.8 12

The episodes involving Frémont and McClernand serve to call into question the willingness of many scholars to excuse or even defend Lincoln's employment of political generals in independent commands, for whatever initial benefit the president derived from these appointments was more than negated by what followed. But the true test of the consequences of making such appointments [End Page 68] became painfully obvious in 1864, when what happened on the battlefield would determine what happened at the ballot box. Three political generals—Butler, Banks, and Sigel—held independent commands at the onset of this critical period. All had been appointed by Lincoln; all were in place as Grant assumed overall command. What happened over the next eight months can help us determine whether the political benefits of making such appointments outweighed their military costs and whether partisan concerns hampered the progress of military operations. 13

At first glance Benjamin F. Butler seemed an unlikely candidate for a commission in the Union army. Less than a year before the war started, this prewar Democrat voted fifty-seven times to nominate Jefferson Davis as the party's candidate at the Charleston Convention. However, once war broke out, Butler, taking advantage of an appointment as brigadier general in the Massachusetts militia, marched a regiment down to Washington at a time when Lincoln was anxious for troops from any quarter. The president rewarded the enterprising officer by appointing him as the war's first volunteer major general, a decision with significant consequences down the road, for Butler would forever outrank most of the officers he encountered. During the next two years Butler's reputation rested largely upon his decision to justify the taking of slaves on the grounds that they were "contraband of war" and his controversial performance in managing the occupation of New Orleans; his actual participation in combat operations was minimal.9 14

At the end of 1862 Lincoln decided to replace Butler with Nathaniel P. Banks. For several months he struggled with the problem of what to do with the general. Among his less inspired solutions was a proposal to put Butler in command of operations along the Mississippi Valley "as soon as the navigation of the Mississippi is opened," in effect superseding Ulysses S. Grant. Eventually he decided to place Butler in charge of the Department of the James, with headquarters at Fort Monroe. In that post Butler could do little harm, or so it seemed, and in any case the general had never been given a chance to demonstrate whether he possessed any military skill. All that changed in 1864, when Grant decided to reinforce Butler's department and form a field army, the Army of the James, with plans to use it in the forthcoming campaign.10 [End Page 69] 15

In light of what was to follow, it is worth recalling that Grant came away from his initial encounter with Butler on April 1, 1864, with a favorable impression of his new subordinate—one of the cruelest April Fools to befall anyone, for Butler understood that the best way to employ his force offensively would be to have it drive up the James River to sever Richmond's connections southward and perhaps capture the city itself. This was exactly what Grant had in mind, and to see Butler anticipating the move was doubtless gratifying and a bit flattering. If Butler succeeded even in threatening Richmond or its rail links, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee would find himself compelled to dash south to protect the Confederate capital, allowing Grant to fall upon his retreating forces; otherwise, Lee would be forced to launch a desperate attack on Grant's numerically superior force. As one of Butler's staff officers put it, "We will fasten our teeth on Lee's line of supplies & he must leave his positions to come and beat us off." Nevertheless, Grant wondered whether Butler possessed the prerequisite military knowledge to implement the plan, and so he assigned William F. Smith to command the Eighteenth Corps to provide Butler with the assistance of what Grant believed to be a first-rate military talent.11 16

Those historians who praise Grant's judgment of subordinates often ignore these two erroneous assessments, for Smith was a far better staff officer than he was a corps commander, and neither he nor Butler was willing to allow the other to take charge. When Grant added Quincy Adams Gillmore to the mix as a second corps commander, he completed a recipe for confusion and eventual failure. Several times the general offered written clarifications for the spring campaign, but ultimately he relied on Butler's common sense: thus the written orders never explicitly declared that Butler could achieve his objectives by striking directly at Petersburg, due south of Richmond and a prime rail junction. Together, Butler, Smith, and Gillmore botched their assignment, leaving Lee to face Grant unimpeded. Eventually Grant forced Lee back to Richmond's outer defenses; after he failed to crack the Confederate lines at Cold Harbor, he decided that the best move was to threaten Petersburg itself by shifting most of his army south of the James River, only to be thwarted again, in part due to Smith's procrastination.12 [End Page 70] 17

Thus, while Lincoln may have placed Butler in command of the Department of the James, Grant did not initially object to working with the Massachusetts politician. Butler's previous record contained little evidence of what was to come; moreover, Smith, Grant's man and a West Pointer, contributed to the result. Realizing that Butler lacked the ability to direct an army in the field, Grant first proposed that Butler be sent to Missouri or Kentucky, where he could employ his skills overseeing an occupied area; when Halleck suggested that this would not do, the two men tried to devise a solution that would leave Butler in nominal command at department headquarters at Fort Monroe while placing Smith in charge of combat operations. However, Halleck butchered the wording of the resulting order, creating an untenable chain-of-command. Grant suspended the order and suggested that William B. Franklin, not Smith, be put in charge at the front, an idea the administration found unacceptable. Grant decided to relieve Smith after learning that Smith was criticizing everyone's handling of operations, rendering him unable to work with anyone. Smith circulated rumors that Butler had blackmailed Grant by threatening to reveal stories of Grant's intoxication; actually, Butler proved unwilling to accept the role Grant had outlined for him.13 18

Doubtless Lincoln could have helped Grant by accepting the general's original proposal to transfer Butler to another command behind the lines. That he did not do so may have been in part because at a moment when his reelection prospects were not encouraging, he needed no new enemies—especially in the aftermath of his acceptance of Salmon P. Chase's resignation and his veto of the Wade-Davis Bill. Butler, enjoying the moment, declared that he had the Democratic nomination in his back pocket; Republicans unhappy with Lincoln whispered that Butler would make a fine president. The incident revealed both the costs of appeasing a powerful political personage and its failure to secure loyalty. Butler's incompetence contributed to the collapse of Grant's 1864 spring offensive. Had the Army of the James fulfilled its assignment, the Confederates would have found themselves in serious trouble, and as the Union military situation brightened the president's political prospects would have improved. Now, with Lincoln in trouble, Butler, ever the opportunist, looked to profit. Thus, an appointment made for partisan reasons damaged military operations without securing a commensurate political payoff. If anything, the appointment badly backfired, for Butler, dangerous as ever, looked to exploit a situa- [End Page 71] tion that he had helped create by failing to execute his assignment. For the rest of the summer Grant was reluctant to leave his headquarters at City Point to oversee operations elsewhere because in his absence Butler, by prerogative of his seniority in rank, would be in charge. It would not be until after the November election, when Butler fumbled the initial effort to take Fort Fisher, that Grant could finally get rid of the general. 19

It was not the first time Grant had found his hands tied by political considerations. In the spring of 1864 he had attempted to secure the removal of Nathaniel P. Banks from command of the Army of the Gulf. Lincoln's support of the "Bobbin Boy of Massachusetts" is one of the more curious actions of his presidency. A former speaker of the House of Representatives, one-time governor of Massachusetts, and participant in an extensive intrigue concerning the merger of Northern Know Nothings and Republicans in the presidential contest of 1856, Banks, like Butler, won his stars as a major general in 1861. Whether he deserved them came into question the following year, when he fell victim to Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley and at Cedar Mountain. That fall Lincoln appointed him to replace Butler at New Orleans; the following spring Banks failed to cooperate with Grant during the Vicksburg campaign, disappointing Lincoln, who hoped that the two commanders would join forces (which would have left Banks in command over Grant). However, Banks claimed victory at Port Hudson, mitigating any questions about his military competence. After Vicksburg, Grant (whose elevation to major general in the regular army raised him above Banks) looked to cooperate with the Massachusetts general in an operation against Mobile, but the Confederate counteroffensive at Chickamauga and the Lincoln administration's desire for Banks to move westward through Louisiana toward Texas, in part as a show of force against the growing French presence in Mexico, derailed those plans.14 20

Grant came away from his meetings with Banks skeptical of that general's military abilities. Lincoln, however, trusted Banks with overseeing the establishment of a loyal state government in Louisiana, giving no thought to the idea that perhaps he was placing too much on Banks's shoulders in expecting him to make his way [End Page 72] through the tangled morass of Louisiana politics while driving toward Texas. When in January 1864, Grant, at Halleck's request, outlined a plan of operations in the West that included an offensive by Banks against Mobile, Halleck replied that the president preferred that Banks first complete his operations to secure Texas. Historians observe that when Grant took over as general-in-chief in March 1864, he implemented an approach that Lincoln had long advocated, that of simultaneous advances against a common center; but when Grant offered that vision nearly two months earlier, Lincoln rejected using Banks's army to cooperate in a coordinated offensive.15 21

Even after Grant took over as general-in-chief, Lincoln continued to back Banks, despite signs that the general was floundering in Louisiana. On April 22 Grant wired Washington that it was time to make a change: "I have been satisfied for the last nine months that to keep General Banks in command was to neutralize a large force and to support it most expensively." Although "I do not insist on it," he thought that "the best interests of [the] service" demanded Banks's removal. Lincoln hesitated, claiming that he wanted more information; Grant repeated his request, adding that Banks's own report and other information "clearly show all his disasters to be attributable to his incompetency." Over the next week Grant continued to call for Banks's removal; still the president wavered. "I think the President will consent to the order," Halleck explained, "if you insist upon Genl Banks removal as a military necessity, but he will do so very reluctantly, as it would give offense to many of his friends, & would probably be opposed by a portion of his cabinet."16 22

Thus warned, Grant attempted to devise a solution, not unlike the one he later approved in Butler's case, where Banks would retain nominal command but remain at New Orleans. But even that idea fell on deaf ears. As Halleck explained, "Genl Banks is a personal friend of the President, and has very strong political supporters in and out of Congress. There will undoubtedly be a very strong opposition to his being removed or superceded, and I think the President will hesitate to act, unless he has a definitive request from [End Page 73] you to do so, as a military necessity, you designating his successor or superior in command. On receiving such a formal request (not a mere suggestion) I believe, as I wrote you some days ago, he would act immediately." What Lincoln wanted was Grant to make his request painfully explicit so that the president could use it to shield himself from his critics by claiming that his hands were tied: "he must have something, in a definite shape, to fall back upon, as his justification," as Halleck put it. Instead of complaining, Grant, after gathering additional evidence, renewed his request. At last Lincoln complied. It had taken nearly four weeks for Grant to gain his point.17 23

It is one of the curiosities of the scholarship about Lincoln's relations with his generals that both T. Harry Williams and John Y. Simon hold Grant responsible for the delay in removing Banks. Williams reminded readers that Lincoln "could not and would not hastily relieve a general who was so important a political figure as Banks"; he understood that Grant was "dodging the responsibility of asking specifically for his removal." Simon did little more than reiterate the same argument forty years later, although its origin was obscured by incomplete annotation. However, Grant was fairly explicit about the military costs of retaining Banks in command; even the fault-finding Simon grudgingly admits that Grant's initial request was "unequivocal." It was Lincoln who was anxious to dodge responsibility, for only he (and not Grant) had the authority to remove Banks from department command. That the president used the general's wishes to shield himself from criticism became apparent after the fall election, for when Banks sought reinstatement, Lincoln declined, observing that whatever his personal friendship for the Massachusetts politician, in the matter of reinstatement "he whom I must hold responsible for military results, is not agreed."18 24

Partisan considerations clearly outweighed military ones in this dispute. The president, not the general-in-chief, appointed department commanders; Lincoln held on to the authority while ducking the responsibility. And it had been the president, not Grant, who was enamored with the idea of Banks's move westward, away from the heart of the Confederacy. Had Grant been able to employ [End Page 74] Banks's force in an earlier thrust against Mobile, the result would have aided Sherman's operations against Atlanta. Perhaps Grant's behavior in attempting to handle Butler the following July was influenced in large part by the president's reluctance to cooperate in the Banks matter. Both times the general made clear the military costs of retaining a political general in command in an important area; both times the president procrastinated on political grounds; both times the result hampered the successful prosecution of military operations in a year when military success was essential to achieving political victory. 25

Only in the case of Franz Sigel did Grant get his way with a political general, and only after the German-born general had suffered ignominious defeat. Sigel's record was not an inspiring one when Lincoln decided to put him in charge of the Department of West Virginia in March 1864. He may have helped rally Missouri Germans to the Union cause in 1861, but whatever military promise he had was not evident at Wilson's Creek or Pea Ridge; his performance in Virginia during 1862 raised serious questions about his competence. Eventually Grant hit upon the idea of having Sigel move up the Shenandoah Valley, destroying enemy resources, pinning down enemy forces, and depriving Lee of both. Lincoln, grasping the idea, remarked, "Those not skinning can hold a leg."19 26

But it was Sigel who was skinned in May at New Market. His defeat there allowed Lee to call upon Confederate forces in the Valley to reinforce his army as it struggled to fend off Grant's attacks. Halleck, who had previously warned Grant that Lincoln would be hard-pressed to remove Sigel, snapped, "If you ever expected anything from him you will be mistaken. He will do nothing but run. He never did anything else." In marked contrast to his behavior concerning Banks and Butler, Lincoln volunteered that he would approve Sigel's replacement by David Hunter; Grant assented, wiring "By all means ... appoint Genl Hunter or anyone else." Sigel remained in the field for several more months, only to be removed for good when he failed to resist Jubal Early that July.20 27

The impact of these military failures upon Grant's overall plan of campaign was devastating. Instead of advancing on Mobile, which would have forced the small Confederate Army of Missis- [End Page 75] sippi, commanded by Leonidas Polk, to defend Alabama, Banks's ill-fated expedition up the Red River left Polk free to reinforce Joe Johnston's Army of Tennessee in its efforts to defend Atlanta from William T. Sherman. Without those reinforcements, Johnston might have found himself in dire straits that spring. That the Red River campaign was an abysmal disaster only made things worse. Sigel failed to deny Lee the resources of the Shenandoah Valley or to pin down Confederate forces. Butler, who had a golden chance to sever Richmond's links to the Confederate heartland, proved little more than a distraction to Lee as he fended off Grant's repeated attacks at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. What began as a campaign designed to threaten the supply lines of the Army of Northern Virginia thus became a bloody contest between Lee and Grant. The contest of attrition that resulted came about, not by choice or design, but as a consequence of defeat elsewhere. There need not have been a siege of Petersburg; Cold Harbor would have remained an insignificant wayside. 28

Butler, Banks, and Sigel: three political generals, appointed by Lincoln, whose performance during the 1864 campaign impaired military operations critical to the president's prospects for reelection. Whatever the merits of awarding these men commissions at the beginning of the war to rally support for the cause from diverse groups, their retention proved costly. "It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel and Lew Wallace," Halleck remarked in the spring of 1864, "and yet it seems impossible to prevent it." Only in the case of Butler was there any cause to believe that he might rise to the challenge of command, primarily because he had yet to sustain a major reverse; even Grant thought he might prove satisfactory. Scholars who are eager to remind readers that the president did not give Grant a free hand in military matters forget to add that the presence of these three political generals handcuffed the Union commander.21 29

The costly military mistakes these men made outweighed whatever political benefit their retention may have realized. Retaining incompetent generals in order to appease political constituencies thwarted the chance for a victory in 1864 and increased the human toll on the battlefield. Appointments justified on the grounds of [End Page 76] political necessity ultimately incurred political costs, for the bungling of Butler, Banks, and Sigel contributed to a military situation in the summer of 1864 where the Northern public, anticipating decisive victory with Grant in command, began to wonder whether it was worth it to continue the struggle—something on voters' minds as they pondered whether to give Honest Abe another four years in office. Perhaps Lincoln would have been wiser to dismiss these three men and risk whatever short-term damage his actions might have caused. Awarding their vacant commands to successful successors might well have led to a decisive victory achieved in timely fashion. Victory may have come in spite of the decision to retain these men in command, not because of it. That is something for students of Lincoln the president to ponder. [End Page 77]

rj1
24 Feb 11,, 15:55
This question was even asked? Geez, I'm a Southerner, but hands down Lincoln. Lincoln was dealt a far better hand than Davis was and had greater advantages from the outset, but even with his bad hand Davis didn't play it well.


This brings us back to the heart of the question, which is how did a backcountry woods boy defeat a Mexican War hero who had also been the Secretary of War?

Put me, a person with no formal training, in charge of the American military and put Norman Schwartzkopf in charge of the Iraqis circa 1990, and I'm pretty certain I can win against him. Even for all its inherent advantages at the beginning of the war, it still took the Union four years to get a decisive victory against a numerically and economically inferior opponent. Not to mention you're overestimating the worth of politicians over generals in this conflict. Lincoln can free slaves in territories he has no power over all he wants, doesn't mean jacksh*t if the Union armies lose at Gettysburg or any other battles.

Albany Rifles
24 Feb 11,, 21:39
Shek,

Good read from Brooks Simpson.

I would read an ingedients list if he wrote...even if he is a damn Yankees fan!

To his thesis....


No doubt about the failures and faults of the gentlemen in question as generals. And I am sure their ineptitude also caused some problems. But they were kept on board because of their political value. McClernand's political machine recruited those 5 divisions which Grant used so well. Siegel along with the other Forty Eighters kept the Germans enlisting and strong in the war effort. While they would never have fought for the Confederacy they certainly could have emigrated or sat out the war. Instead they enlisted in droves. Butler was a disaster in some reas but he was a powerful War Democrat who kept his support behind the president. And while Bermuda Hundred was not a brilliant success he did establish the base at City Point as ordered. And was his failure to cooperate with the AOP...was that the result of not pushing north or the failure of the AOP to push south?

That Lincoln could be blind to the shortfalls of soem of his subordinates, I think on the balance he did a pretty good job overall.

PS: Have you check out Simpson's new Crossroads blog? Good stuff. Crossroads | Where history, scholarship, the academic life, and other stuff meet. (http://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/)

Shek
25 Feb 11,, 12:53
Put me, a person with no formal training, in charge of the American military and put Norman Schwartzkopf in charge of the Iraqis circa 1990, and I'm pretty certain I can win against him. Even for all its inherent advantages at the beginning of the war, it still took the Union four years to get a decisive victory against a numerically and economically inferior opponent. Not to mention you're overestimating the worth of politicians over generals in this conflict. Lincoln can free slaves in territories he has no power over all he wants, doesn't mean jacksh*t if the Union armies lose at Gettysburg or any other battles.

Your analogy reveals a lack of understanding about what the odds really were. Unlike Iraq-US 1990, there was no technological difference. There was parity. Unlike Iraq-US 1990, there wasn't one side with lots of incompetent generals and one side with few incompetent generals. There was parity, or if anything, because of a need to cobble together a coalition of the willing, the Union had more incompetents due to the patronage doled out for raising units.

The reality is that the numerical superiority didn't reveal itself until 1864, and that was also because of the seizure of Southern territory before than that precluded the raising of further Southern regiments. It was also something that wasn't a factor until late 1864 after the Army of Tennessee had attritted itself thanks to Hood and after the ANV had been attritted by Grant, who had pulled out all the heavies and unnecessary garrisons to create a force that doctrinally wasn't strong enough to enjoy offensive success (not a 3:1 ratio) once the supporting lines of effort collapsed during the Overland Campaign.

This view is also biased through the hindsight that the Union won the war. Most outside observers didn't even give the Union a chance in hell in conquering the Confederacy. For example, the Brits never thought the Union could defeat the Confederacy until sometime in 1864. Other foreign governments felt the same.

Lastly, the Confederacy was the 4th largest manufacturer in the world. While it did lag behind the Union in capacity, the only place that this revealed itself was through its inability to maintain its railroad infrastructure, which contributed in the late years to an inability to distribute the ample food stuffs that it had. However, it didn't affect anything of note in the early years.

Shek
25 Feb 11,, 12:57
Shek,

Good read from Brooks Simpson.

I would read an ingedients list if he wrote...even if he is a damn Yankees fan!

Really? 4qbSTATrnWI


To his thesis....


No doubt about the failures and faults of the gentlemen in question as generals. And I am sure their ineptitude also caused some problems. But they were kept on board because of their political value. McClernand's political machine recruited those 5 divisions which Grant used so well. Siegel along with the other Forty Eighters kept the Germans enlisting and strong in the war effort. While they would never have fought for the Confederacy they certainly could have emigrated or sat out the war. Instead they enlisted in droves. Butler was a disaster in some reas but he was a powerful War Democrat who kept his support behind the president. And while Bermuda Hundred was not a brilliant success he did establish the base at City Point as ordered. And was his failure to cooperate with the AOP...was that the result of not pushing north or the failure of the AOP to push south?

I know that there's a recent book out that is revisionist WRT the political generals. It would be interesting to get my hands on it and see what argument that author uses.


PS: Have you check out Simpson's new Crossroads blog? Good stuff. Crossroads | Where history, scholarship, the academic life, and other stuff meet. (http://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/)

It's a good read. Thanks.

Albany Rifles
25 Feb 11,, 20:08
[QUOTE=Shek;790982]Really? 4qbSTATrnWIQUOTE]

No one likes smart ass majors, Shek!