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Thread: Was Lee All That?

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    Was Lee All That?

    In my recent spate of ACW reading, my image of Robert E. Lee has been downsized. His tenacious desire for the tactical offense bled the ANV, a luxury it could not afford. His greatest victory, Chancellorsville, was a near thing, resulted in a higher casualty rate than the AOP (to include more killed), and can be partly explained by the concussion suffered by Hooker - quipped Lincoln, "If Hooker had been killed by the shot which knocked over the pillar that stunned him, we should have been successful." He poorly adapted his leadership to the leadership style of his subordinates - his deferential manner of orders to Jackson was sufficient, but to some of his later corps commanders, led to confusion/inaction.

    Had it not been for the forest fires in the battle of the Wilderness that forced some units further south during the initial fighting, it's very likely that the Union Army would have flanked the ANV to the south and rolled it up while it was still divided. In fact, the positioning of Longstreet's Corps is a demonstration of Lee's potentially poor grasp of operational distances and timing. He never again held the initiative once Grant took command of the Union Army and planted himself near Meade's AOP HQ. While people often praise Lee for his generalship, the irony is that had he not defeated the inferior commander, McClellan, during the Peninsular Campaign, it's possible that the war would have been lost, slavery would have remained intact within the South itself, and all the destruction that followed would have never occured.

    In the end, I see Lee as a supreme tactician, but okay to lacking in the realms of operational maneuver, strategy and leadership (Grant faced similar challenges in trying to mold the eastern generals to his liking and in similar style to the western generals).

    What am I missing? Does Lee deserve the reputation he carries today or is more a matter of a successful PR campaign by the Lost Cause narrative?
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    A military critic has said that he lacked the gift to seize upon the right moment for converting a successful defense into a successful attack, and the judgment appears to be in some measure sound.

    In the seven days' fight around Richmond his success was rendered much less complete than it apparently ought to have been by his failure so to handle his force as to bring its full strength to bear upon his adversary's retreating column at the critical moment.

    At Fredericksburg he seems to have put aside an opportunity to crush the enemy whom he had repelled, when he neglected to press Burnside on the river bank, and permitted him to withdraw to the other side unmolested.

    After his victory at Chancellorsville a greater readiness to press his retreating foe would have promised results that for lack of that readiness were not achieved.

    A critical study of his campaigns seems also to show that he erred in giving too much discretion to his lieutenants at critical junctures, when his own fuller knowledge of the entire situation and plan of battle or campaign should have been an absolutely controlling force. It is no reflection upon those lieutenants to say that they did not always make the wisest or most fortunate use of the discretion thus given to them, for with their less complete information concerning matters not immediately within their purview, their decisions rested, of necessity, upon an inadequate knowledge of the conditions of the problem presented.

    Instances of the kind to which we refer are found in Stuart's absence with the cavalry during all that part of the Gettysburg campaign which preceded the battle, and in Ewell's failure to seize the strong position at Gettysburg while it was still possible to do so. In both these eases Lee directed the doing of that which wisdom dictated; in both he left a large discretion to his lieutenant, in the conscientious exercise of which an opportunity was lost.

    Robert E. Lee

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    Shek, I am with you. When Lee faced an inferior opponent he prevailed. During the Seven Days he actually lost most of the tactical battles (with the exception of Gaines' Mills) but won the campaign because McClellan was timid and overly obsessed with boogie man numbers. Imagine what would have happened to the ANV if on 2 July the AOP had ATTACKED coming off of Malvern Hill instead of retreating to Harrison's Landing? Lee suffered 20,000 casulaties, McClellan 15,000.

    At South Mountain a timid Union high command allowed Lee to marshall his forces along Antietam Creek. And allowing the aggresiveness of his subordinates to attack almost cost him his army. He was saved by AP Hill's timely arrival, not by any shear tactical genius of his own.

    At Fredericksburg he faced an inept Union commnader who allowed his bridging to take 2 weeks to come overland from DC rather than 24 hours by water. This allowed Lee the time to gather his forces and dig in. And the Union still broke his line and was only pushed back by a determined counterattack conducted by a subordinate.

    Shek has already spoken about Chancellorsville.

    At Gettysburg he failed to adequately supervise his most junior corps commander (Hill) and made poor assumptions about the ability of one of his other commanders (Ewell). He underestimated the ability of Meade to concentrate his forces and take advantage of interior lines. He also flatly ignored the superiority of Union artillery and faield to insure adequate ammunition supplies were forward for his own artillery. The results speak for themselves.

    At Bristoe Station he allowed Hill to move too far forward unsupported which resulted in Heth's division being shredded by an ambush.

    At Second Rappahannock Station he allowed Jubal Early's division to get defeated piecemeal north of the river with 1700 casualties.

    Shek covered the Overland Campaign pretty well.

    And he allowed Grant to get to the James River.

    Other than that, he pretty much the perfect commander!

    He systemically failed to supervise subordinates, he failed to look beyond his own immediate sphere to see how his actions coincided or impacted other areas unitl much too late in the war. He overestiamted how much the spirit and determination fo his men could overcome shortages in logistics and reality which resulted in their destruction. He underestimated the tenacity of his enemy. And finally, he understimated the ability, skill and determination of the infantry of the Army of the Potomac who were much maligned but soldiered on for 2 years before they got the leadership they deserved.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    i think keith had an interesting thought-- what if we switched the commanders of the two armies? how well would they have done if they were in the other's shoes?
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    i think keith had an interesting thought-- what if we switched the commanders of the two armies? how well would they have done if they were in the other's shoes?
    If we're talking 1864, Lee would have had even more trouble. The much more unwieldy command structure of the AOP would have made his discretionary type orders even more problematic in their interpretation. By North Anna, Grant became much more directive in his orders because he saw that he had too. Lee took much longer to come around to this, and he had faced the problem since the 1863 campaign. Also, he would have inherited an army without a culture of the counterattack, which while not as pertinent to an army on the offense, was something that saved the day frequently and allowed Lee to gamble as he did as the ANV commander. I see Lee conducting less operational maneuver in the Overland Campaign and grinding it out even more than Grant did.

    On the other hand, grasping the operational art better, I see Grant being able to regain the initiative against a Lee-led AOP. The near misses at being destroyed would have decreased (e.g., Wildnerness).
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    i think keith had an interesting thought-- what if we switched the commanders of the two armies? how well would they have done if they were in the other's shoes?
    Which commander at which battle? AOP had 5 different commanders.

    And if you make it 1864 as Shek said, Lee would also be responsible for what was happening in The Valley, in front of Atlanta, on the James and in Mississippi and Alabama.

    He was hardly a luddite but I do not see that he grasped the advances as readily as Grant.

    Lee was the last great Napleonic Age commander....Grant was the first great Industrial Age commander.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    shek,

    If we're talking 1864, Lee would have had even more trouble. The much more unwieldy command structure of the AOP would have made his discretionary type orders even more problematic in their interpretation.
    i wonder to what point his discretionary type orders arose because lee had, for the most part, fairly competent corps commanders, as opposed to the much more uneven field the union had. would he have acted differently otherwise? is there any indication of how he led men in his Mexican War days?

    I see Lee conducting less operational maneuver in the Overland Campaign and grinding it out even more than Grant did.
    as commander of the ANV, he certainly felt immense pressure to either capture washington or baltimore or philadelphia-- but i can't really identify if this was a matter of personal preference or a politically directed move by davis. i wonder if this would have translated the same way if he were commander of the AOP-- that is, would he focus on destroying the ANV or capturing richmond? for grant, it was clear which one he valued. it wasn't so clear with lee.

    On the other hand, grasping the operational art better, I see Grant being able to regain the initiative against a Lee-led AOP.
    perhaps. it'd be interesting to see how lee's better tactical acumen would have translated, though, seeing as how the ANV had less margin for error than the AOP.

    On the other hand, grasping the operational art better, I see Grant being able to regain the initiative against a Lee-led AOP. The near misses at being destroyed would have decreased (e.g., Wildnerness).
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    shek,

    i wonder to what point his discretionary type orders arose because lee had, for the most part, fairly competent corps commanders, as opposed to the much more uneven field the union had. would he have acted differently otherwise? is there any indication of how he led men in his Mexican War days?
    Lee snapped at AP Hill at North Anna, stating "Why did you not do as [Stonewall] Jackson would have done, thrown your whole force upon those people and driven them back?" Even after having AP Hill as a Corps Commander for nearly a year, he still had not figured out how to handle him. To be fair, Hill suffered from the lifelong effects of STD picked up during a youthful indiscretion that would hamper him at times and Lee himself was sick, but I think this fairly captures his mindset that all his subordinate commanders were capable of independent commands. In fact, I'd argue that while the Union had some, um, interesting corps commanders, that they also had some commanders that were superior to their counterparts to the south.

    Quote Originally Posted by astralis
    as commander of the ANV, he certainly felt immense pressure to either capture washington or baltimore or philadelphia-- but i can't really identify if this was a matter of personal preference or a politically directed move by davis. i wonder if this would have translated the same way if he were commander of the AOP-- that is, would he focus on destroying the ANV or capturing richmond? for grant, it was clear which one he valued. it wasn't so clear with lee.
    Lee didn't have pressure to capture a city. Davis was for a defensive strategy, but Lee's smooth tongue and writing was able to convince Davis for both northern offensives. These were a means to draw the AOP out for a decisive battle. In that manner, both Lee and Grant were alike - important geographical locations were important for they anchored that which you wanted to destroy - the army. However, Grant didn't see things like Lee in that while he wouldn't mind the grand, climatic battle, he was content to string together tactical actions into a whole campaign to win the victory by destroying the enemy.

    Quote Originally Posted by astralis
    perhaps. it'd be interesting to see how lee's better tactical acumen would have translated, though, seeing as how the ANV had less margin for error than the AOP.
    While the margin of error was true, it's over estimated. Not included in the roll call were the thousands of slaves that provided labor and freed up soldiers to actually carry a musket and fight. For example, while the Union held a 10K advantage at Gettysburg once you dig into the numbers of soldiers, once you add the 5K of slaves that accompanied the Confederates on the offensive, the numbers are even closer than when you first look at them.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Albany Rifles View Post
    Shek, I am with you. When Lee faced an inferior opponent he prevailed. During the Seven Days he actually lost most of the tactical battles (with the exception of Gaines' Mills) but won the campaign because McClellan was timid and overly obsessed with boogie man numbers. Imagine what would have happened to the ANV if on 2 July the AOP had ATTACKED coming off of Malvern Hill instead of retreating to Harrison's Landing? Lee suffered 20,000 casulaties, McClellan 15,000.

    At South Mountain a timid Union high command allowed Lee to marshall his forces along Antietam Creek. And allowing the aggresiveness of his subordinates to attack almost cost him his army. He was saved by AP Hill's timely arrival, not by any shear tactical genius of his own.

    At Fredericksburg he faced an inept Union commnader who allowed his bridging to take 2 weeks to come overland from DC rather than 24 hours by water. This allowed Lee the time to gather his forces and dig in. And the Union still broke his line and was only pushed back by a determined counterattack conducted by a subordinate.

    Shek has already spoken about Chancellorsville.

    At Gettysburg he failed to adequately supervise his most junior corps commander (Hill) and made poor assumptions about the ability of one of his other commanders (Ewell). He underestimated the ability of Meade to concentrate his forces and take advantage of interior lines. He also flatly ignored the superiority of Union artillery and faield to insure adequate ammunition supplies were forward for his own artillery. The results speak for themselves.

    At Bristoe Station he allowed Hill to move too far forward unsupported which resulted in Heth's division being shredded by an ambush.

    At Second Rappahannock Station he allowed Jubal Early's division to get defeated piecemeal north of the river with 1700 casualties.

    Shek covered the Overland Campaign pretty well.

    And he allowed Grant to get to the James River.

    Other than that, he pretty much the perfect commander!

    He systemically failed to supervise subordinates, he failed to look beyond his own immediate sphere to see how his actions coincided or impacted other areas unitl much too late in the war. He overestiamted how much the spirit and determination fo his men could overcome shortages in logistics and reality which resulted in their destruction. He underestimated the tenacity of his enemy. And finally, he understimated the ability, skill and determination of the infantry of the Army of the Potomac who were much maligned but soldiered on for 2 years before they got the leadership they deserved.
    So you must have some interesting classes teaching in the Richmond area )
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shek View Post
    So you must have some interesting classes teaching in the Richmond area )
    Always smooth sailing! And you should see me on the Q&A sessions during tours and seminars.)

    And as my late father always said....the missionary must go among the sinners!
    Last edited by Albany Rifles; 03 Nov 09, at 21:12.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    Astralis

    is there any indication of how he led men in his Mexican War days?

    Technically, as an engineer, Lee never commanded any troops until he became a cavalry officer as a lieutenant colonel in nominal command of the 2d Cavalry Regiment in 1855. AS Johnston, as the colonel, usually served in an overall command role during expeditions and Lee would comamnd element sof the regiment.

    As an engineer he was a staff officer for over 25 years. While personally heroic (he was wounded twice and brevetted 3 times in Mexico) he still was not in command.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    Quote Originally Posted by Albany Rifles View Post
    Always smooth sailing! And you should see me on the Q&A sessions during tours and seminars.)

    And as my late father always said....the missionary must go among the sinners!
    Who and where do you give tours? While just dreaming on acetate for retirement (got a few years to go), giving staff rides to business leaders as consultant work sounds like something that might be fun and pay some bills at the same time.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shek View Post
    Who and where do you give tours? While just dreaming on acetate for retirement (got a few years to go), giving staff rides to business leaders as consultant work sounds like something that might be fun and pay some bills at the same time.

    Wow, going back to college to now and in the US and Canada

    ACW

    Eastern

    I have done Staff Rides for the Overland Campaign and its component pieces.
    Gettysburg and Antietam.
    Petersburg through Appomattox.
    Bermuda Hundred.
    Peninsula.
    Seven Days (did that one for the first time on my last day in uniform!)
    1864 Valley.
    Manassas 1 & 2.

    Western

    FT Henry & Donelson to Nashville
    Shiloh
    Iuka & Corinth
    Vicksburg Campaign
    Chickamauga & Chattanooga (my first one...actually got an AAM for that one!)
    Stones River

    Transmississippi

    Wilson's Creek
    Pea Ridge

    Tours

    Well, pretty much everything in Virginia.
    Bentonville/Aversboro
    Northwest Georgia to Kennesaw Mountain
    Atlanta to the Sea
    62 Valley
    Monocacy to FT Stevens
    Brandy Station
    Road to Gettysburg
    Tidewater
    Defenses of Washington
    Savannah
    Honey Springs
    Lexington, MO
    Springfield, MO
    Mine Creek
    Westport
    Lone Jack
    Prairie Grove
    Red River
    Columbus, GA

    7 Years War

    Jumonville Glen and FT Neccessity
    Ticonderoga
    Winchester

    Revolutionary War

    Lexington & Concord/Boston
    Bunker/Breed's Hill
    Dorchester Heights
    Saratoga
    Stanwix
    Oriskany
    Monmouth
    Germantown
    Trenton
    Camden
    Ninety-Six
    Cowpens
    Kings Mountain
    Guilford Courthouse
    Petersburg (Arnold's Raid)
    Yorktown


    1812

    Chippewa
    Lundy's Lane
    Sacket's Harbor (AWESOME brewery!)
    Fort McHenry & Baltimore
    Bladensburg


    Sometimes I had a bus. Sometimes I had one or 2 others in the car. Sometimes I had some poor Scouts who were stuck with me.)

    Minus the Scouts, usually some form of beverage was involved!

    I am taking 2 friends on a Beefsteak Raid and an Apple Jack Raid driving tour in a few weeks.

    I did a lot of this between 1993 and 2007. During that time a travelled a LOT for business, usually for 2 or 3 weeks at a time. If it was in the XVIII Airborne Corps I'd drive my POV and spend my spare time or a weekend scoping out things. My boss always wanted me to give at least a tour/staff ride every few months. A lot of the time he let me do prep on the clock...so I was lucky.

    So, yeah, I'm pretty boring. Don't let me block you into a corner at a party!)
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    geezus, AR, in short you've gone over just about every bloody bit of ground in the US. great fun, though, i'd rather doing a staff ride than doing staff work...
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    geezus, AR, in short you've gone over just about every bloody bit of ground in the US. great fun, though, i'd rather doing a staff ride than doing staff work...
    Agreed.

    My yard looks like crap but you should see my map collection!

    As I said, when you wake up in a hotel room on a Saturday morning in Clarksville, TN/Watertown, NY/Columbia,SC/Leesville,LA/Junction City, KS and you have nothing on the agenda until Monday morning, a rental car outside your door with unlimited mileage and a cooler by yopur bedside....well, what the hell else is there to do!?!?
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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