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What if Lee had accepted command of federal forces?

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  • What if Lee had accepted command of federal forces?

    For senior officers from Virginia (excluding Lee) who had graduated from West Point, 50% joined the Confederate Army and 50% served in the Union Army. What if Lee had chosen to maintain his commission in the United States and accepted command of the Army of the Potomac? How would the course of the Civil War have changed?
    "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

  • #2
    War would be over in 2 years instead of 4; Lincoln wouldn't have been re-elected because the war was over so quickly; the Reconstruction wouldn't have been nearly as harsh for the south; we would have fewer Civil War re-enactments.

    Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about the Civil War.
    "Only Nixon can go to China." -- Old Vulcan proverb.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by gunnut View Post
      War would be over in 2 years instead of 4; Lincoln wouldn't have been re-elected because the war was over so quickly; the Reconstruction wouldn't have been nearly as harsh for the south; we would have fewer Civil War re-enactments.

      Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about the Civil War.
      Oddly enough, most of that would probably have come true.
      My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

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      • #4
        Given the overwhelming materiel superiority of the US, I don't think the Confederacy would've survived a single campaign by Lee.

        Over and out in six months.

        I made that case before, but the question then posed was that if Grant had Lee's forces, and Lee had Grant's, AND they switched missions, too (Lee has to subdue the Confederacy; Grant has to inflict losses, defeats and grind away the North's ability to sustain the war), then the war ends quickly. Grant was not Lee's equal. Neither was the Army of Northen Virginia the equal of the Army of the Potomac (especially true in 1864). So, historically, while the better general (Lee) had the 'easier' mission (just keep fighting), he also had the inferior instrument, and, historically, the inferior general (Grant was STILL an ass-kicker with an indomitable will to win) had a tougher mission (attack and destroy the CSA's main field army) and a superior instrument. Stack the deck, though, and give the superior general the superior instrument, and it almost doesn't matter how hard the mission is: a top-notch army led by a first-rate general simply can't be beat.

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        • #5
          http://www.worldaffairsboard.com/anc...tml#post366105

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          • #6
            What are the chances of southern guerrilla hold outs causing trouble in a shortened war, and without Lee's gravitas to persuade them to go home?

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            • #7
              keith,

              a top-notch army led by a first-rate general simply can't be beat.
              a certain boney at waterloo would probably be happier if that were the case!

              in any case, the lee of 1861 was not the lee of late 1862 or early 1863; neither was the ANV/AoP of 1861 the same as they were a year or two later. i'm not sure even if the AoP won a stunning success in the 1861 battles that the entire south would have turned on its belly and surrendered.

              it would need to be a political surrender, because if the 1861 battles were any indication, both armies would have been in a state of chaos whether they won or lost.
              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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              • #8
                Originally posted by Bluesman View Post
                Given the overwhelming materiel superiority of the US, I don't think the Confederacy would've survived a single campaign by Lee.

                Over and out in six months.

                I made that case before, but the question then posed was that if Grant had Lee's forces, and Lee had Grant's, AND they switched missions, too (Lee has to subdue the Confederacy; Grant has to inflict losses, defeats and grind away the North's ability to sustain the war), then the war ends quickly. Grant was not Lee's equal. Neither was the Army of Northen Virginia the equal of the Army of the Potomac (especially true in 1864). So, historically, while the better general (Lee) had the 'easier' mission (just keep fighting), he also had the inferior instrument, and, historically, the inferior general (Grant was STILL an ass-kicker with an indomitable will to win) had a tougher mission (attack and destroy the CSA's main field army) and a superior instrument. Stack the deck, though, and give the superior general the superior instrument, and it almost doesn't matter how hard the mission is: a top-notch army led by a first-rate general simply can't be beat.
                Lee's army was bled by the end of 1864 (and before) because of Lee's style of fighting. He was lucky to have not seen defeat in the Wilderness, a defeat that would have been because of his poor sense of operational timing of Longstreet's Corps. Through luck he's able to win the race to Spotsylvania. North Anna demonstrated his poor leadership - he commanded through himself, and because he didn't mentor, he failed to take advantage of a ripe opportunity. Cold Harbor was a near miss because Grant/Meade didn't take advantage of an opportunity, and even the failed attack there that finally occurred is nowhere near the defeat that it's made out to be.

                In the end, it took 30 days for Grant to reduce Lee and the ANV down to a force that had to throw a Hail Mary (Early's raid) to try and salvage the strategic situation. During this time, the AoP saw huge changes in organization and turbulence due to expiring enlistments. On the other hand, Lee fought with an organization that he had had months to prepare without the turbulence witnessed by the AoP (except for the impact of the casualties), and an organization that he had owned for two years. He was outgeneraled in almost every case during the Overland Campaign, not just simply ground down by superior numbers.

                On the other hand, when you look at Grant (who had to manage all Union armies), you can see his proteges kicking a$$ and taking names, with Sherman and Sheridan playing huge roles in winning the overall war. Furthermore, when you look at the logistical challenges that Grant faced in extending his lines of communication, it makes the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns even that much more remarkable. Lee never accomplishes anything near that on the logistics front.
                "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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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Shek View Post
                  Lee's army was bled by the end of 1864 (and before) because of Lee's style of fighting.
                  A quibble, if I may:

                  It wasn't Lee's style of fighting that caused a long casualty roll, but the fact that he almost always was outnumbered. He was forced to take risks, and sometimes the economy-of-force force was beaten badly and took severe casualties. I submit that this wasn't a STYLE thang, but was forced on him by the circumstances he found himself in. And the circumstances were usually mitigated by his masterful generalship.

                  I know that there is a new point-of-view among revisionist historians to say Lee wasn't all that, but I think they're wrong. Focusing on his casualties (immense) simply doesn't account for the fact that on a battlefield so heavily favoring his enemies, he's naturally going to face big losses. His enemies, with the preponderance of force arrayed against him, should have taken LOWER losses, but they didn't, and I again respectfully submit that's because Lee was overmatching them on the field.

                  He was lucky to have not seen defeat in the Wilderness, a defeat that would have been because of his poor sense of operational timing of Longstreet's Corps.
                  I think you must be posting drunk. That may have been one of the greatest military feats in American military history. Unless you mean SECOND Wilderness. And how ANYbody came away from THAT with anything to be called an army is something only us second-guessers can possibly be arrogant enough to criticize.

                  Through luck he's able to win the race to Spotsylvania.
                  NO, it wasn't luck. He anticipated the move, sent cavalry to hold on, started a forced march before he was sure about the move, and managed to get there in time. Lucky you may say, but any delay in seeing into the future, and he'd have lost. THAT, to me, is dam' fine generalship.

                  North Anna demonstrated his poor leadership - he commanded through himself, and because he didn't mentor, he failed to take advantage of a ripe opportunity.
                  North Anna demonstrated that he was better than Grant, because he laid a trap, Grant fell into it just as Lee supposed he would, and was saved BY LUCK. I'll grant you that because Lee could not personally close the deal, Grant survived, and if he'd done proper staffing, his guys could've taken the fight home. But tell me you think that North Anna proved anything BUT Lee's superiority over Grant, and I'll tell you that you're hanging onto your point out of pride.

                  Cold Harbor was a near miss because Grant/Meade didn't take advantage of an opportunity, and even the failed attack there that finally occurred is nowhere near the defeat that it's made out to be.
                  REALLY. Well, Grant himself, after all the times HE was almost defeated, was frustrated and checked, and racked up a huge casualty roll (almost to the point of losing the war to the 'peace' Democrats - considered it the only thing he regretted during the whole war. I'd say that MAKES it a defeat that it's made out to be.

                  In the end, it took 30 days for Grant to reduce Lee and the ANV down to a force that had to throw a Hail Mary (Early's raid) to try and salvage the strategic situation.
                  Yeah, and as unqualified to be a general as I am, I bet I could've gotten Lee to that point, too. Now, listen, I take NOTHING away from Grant as a general, but I'd say you're going far too far in saying that he was Lee's equal, and I'm absolutely calling shenanigans on any claim to Grant's superiority.

                  During this time, the AoP saw huge changes in organization and turbulence due to expiring enlistments. On the other hand, Lee fought with an organization that he had had months to prepare without the turbulence witnessed by the AoP (except for the impact of the casualties), and an organization that he had owned for two years.
                  And notice: those expiring enlistments weren't a-comin' back. Lee, though, asked for and got a totally-incredible re-up rate from an army that KNEW it was dieing. And you have GOT to be kidding me that the AoNV wasn't undergoing massive upheaval. The leader losses were severe, and the meddling from Richmond was an order of magnitude greater than what his counterpart had to put up with. Note that Early's raid, such as it was, was handled by the AoP HQ. Earlier in the war, Washington took personal charge of field forces to try to stop Jackson and Forrest.)

                  He was outgeneraled in almost every case during the Overland Campaign, not just simply ground down by superior numbers.
                  Absolutely not true. I think Lee was besting Grant at every turn of the card and roll of the dice. Grant's signal strength, and it WAS unique among Federal generals, was his absolute stubborn refusal to ever be finally defeated. And my point remains: Lee, with Grant's army and mission, beats Grant with Lee's army and mission EVERY TIME.

                  Out-generaled? No. WAY.

                  On the other hand, when you look at Grant (who had to manage all Union armies), you can see his proteges kicking a$$ and taking names, with Sherman and Sheridan playing huge roles in winning the overall war.
                  You're onto something, here. And if Lee had been General-inChief, I wonder what would have happened with the Army of Tennessee THEN. Bet Bragg would've been finding new employment before he could comprehensively ruin a fine field army.

                  Furthermore, when you look at the logistical challenges that Grant faced in extending his lines of communication, it makes the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns even that much more remarkable.
                  The 'logistical challenges' GRANT faced? I'm floored.

                  When Grant started his campaign, he added as an afterthought 10 spare miles of rail. There wasn't 10 miles of track ANYwhere in the entire Confederacy by that time! That Army was magnificently equipped, provisioned and armed, and the 'logistical challenge' Grant had to deal with was keeping the baggage wagons out of Mosby's hands.

                  ANY general would have been pleased to be faced with the abundance that Grant took with him, and if he had to move it farther, it was mostly due to the fact that he COULD. Lee? By that time, field batteries were being teamed by MULES, and then, when THOSE were running out, the GUNNERS manned the traces. Grant used the finest horseflesh in Maryland to haul pontoons.

                  Lee never accomplishes anything near that on the logistics front.
                  Well, I wonder WHY? SERIOUSLY, man, the fact that the dam' army didn't just up and die is a bloody miracle, and the single, last reason to hang on was because Marse Robert asked 'em to. I will bet you that you're not going to make the case that Grant could have inspired that level of deep personal commitment from and army that may have respected him (I certainly would have), but did not LOVE him.

                  I think, my friend (we's still buds, right?), that you've fallen victim to the 'new history' ailment. Personally, I accept that conventional wisdom is accepted more because it's more of the latter than the former.

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                  • #10
                    In Lee's place it is unlikely that he would have done much better than Lee; for neither he nor Lee was a true revolutionary general. Yet I much doubt whether in Grant's place Lee would have done half as well as Grant, for his outlook on war was narrow and restricted, and he possessed neither the character nor the personality of a General-in-Chief.

                    --JFC Fuller, 1957, Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, pg. 278
                    Keith,

                    The conclusion that Grant is a better general than Lee is not new to modern history, as this half a century old quote from a prominent military historian illustrates. I haven't had a chance to read the whole book, so I can't comment on all his analysis, but I did think it was important to throw it out there to point out that it's not a radical proposition as you would make it out to be.

                    As to some of the substance of your post (sorry, but it's late and so I can't go point by point), I agree that Chancerlorsville was a Lee victory since it stopped Hooker. However, once again, it came at a proportionately higher cost in casualties, and I'd point out that the concussion that Hooker suffered from the near miss certainly played a part (an element of luck, although you can make your own luck).

                    You point out that Lee was forced to take high risk gambles because of force ratios; yet, with near parity at Gettysburg, he gambled on Pickett's Charge and decimated his ranks with casualties. You can point to his obstinence at Antietam, gambling with his back to the river and for what strategic gain? It was who Lee was - it was his preferred style of the tactical offense.

                    As to being outgeneraled during the Overland Campaign, he desperately tried to gain the initiative and was never successful. Grant controlled the operational and strategic initiative throughout the campaign beginning when the first pontoon bridges were laid across the Rapidan. The only time when the initiative could have swung was the initial contact at North Anna, but Lee failed to seize the initiative.

                    And North Anna brings up a great point - while the Union often had poor maps (all accounts I've read point to Hancock's faulty map as the reason why Petersburg along with its railroad junctions didn't belong to the Union on the night of 15 June), Lee and his troops were fighting on home terrain that they knew very well (e.g., Jackson's use of a bypass during Chancelorsville). We should expect them to do better at using the terrain - for example, North Anna had been scouted out previously by the ANV for use as a defensive position and so Lee should have been able to set up a good position. However, Grant recognized it for what it was once he gained contact with Lee and thus decided not to attack it. Also, because Grant was fighting offensively and Lee was fighting defensive, we shouldn't be surprised at Grant receiving higher casualties. Yet, when you look at relative casualties, you see Grant being successful in attacking the COG of the south and moving towards ultimate victory.

                    Next, in addressing Spotsylvania, it was luck. According the plan, Anderson's Corps should have arrived five hours later. However, the brush fires started from the fighting in the Wilderness resulted in a movement to daylight that won the race, barely (it barely had the edge as Warren's Corps arrived and deployed immediately into battle). If that corps arrives five hours later, it's facing two Union Corps, one of which is fully prepared and deployed and the other which is probably totally closed.

                    As to Grant's logistical prowess, he developed and fought a campaign that took advantage of the LOCs he had. He forced the AOP to travel light compared to what it had been and then made sure he had to log to sustain continuous operations. It was a slugfest over extended LOCs, yet, you don't see log being the constraining factor. On the other hand, while the South wasn't as rich in terms of log, it had a terrible supply system that saw a large amount of its food rot and spoil and supplies go unused because they failed to develop their logistics capability (getting is only half the battle - distribution is the other half). Lee could have remedied some of this, and so we cannot overlook the complexity of the Overland Campaign or give a free pass to Lee just because they didn't have plenty. Grant maximized his use of what was available, while Lee failed to optimize what was available.

                    Lastly, of course there's no hard feelings. Just because you're wrong, I'll forgive ya ;)
                    "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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                    • #11
                      Too bad this thread ended so quickly.

                      The debate was left hanging.
                      To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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                      • #12
                        Yes, it did wander off course a bit. Pity, I think it is an interesting question. I don't know enough about the minutae of first Bull Run to know what difference Lee circa 1861 would have made. I'm going to work on the assumption of a creditable draw rather than a great victory first up. Then what? Without a big scare does the Union Army get someone like McClellan to expand & organize it? Lets assume that this is the aggressive Lee of 1862. Does he directly attack Richmond with a force that we know to be fragile? What happens if he does? Do the Union armies have the strength to overwhelm the Confederates facing them & either take or invest Richmond? I have no doubt that if Lee were given the Army McClellan had in 1862 he would end the war quickly, but does he get that army, or does he make a mistake with the one he has & end up relegated to some minor post in the western theatre?

                        I don't really feel qualified to answer these questions in detail, but I'd be curious to hear from people who are.
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                        Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Bigfella View Post
                          Yes, it did wander off course a bit. Pity, I think it is an interesting question. I don't know enough about the minutae of first Bull Run to know what difference Lee circa 1861 would have made.
                          I can only offer some thoughts. Lee in 1861 accepted command of Virginia forces such as they were, but soon lost his command when Virginia's forces were incorporated into the newly formed Confederate States of America (CSA). Thereafter he served in Richmond on President Jeff Davis' staff. In May 1862 Gen Joseph Johnston commander of CSA forces in Virgina was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines, a defensive action intended to defend Richmond from the numerically superior forces led by US Maj Gen George McClellan during his Peninsular campaign. Lee assumed command without previous experience commanding an army. He quickly disengaged from the defensive and launched a series of offensive moves over the course of a week that ended with McClellan's army in full retreat.

                          So, with no experience commanding an army he turns the war around in a matter of weeks. Could he have done the same thing at Bull Run in command of Union forces. I would venture to guess, that he would, for several reasons. One, he had learned from Scott during the US-Mexican war to press the offensive at every opportunity; two, he was a master at taking advantage of terrain to place his troops; three, he was not a micro-manager; he set objectives and suggested courses of action, then let his lieutenants conduct the fighting as they saw fit; fourth, he got rid of generals who were incompetent or wouldn't fight,


                          I'm going to work on the assumption of a creditable draw rather than a great victory first up.
                          Fair enough, but considering Union forces almost had the battle won, would a Lee have made the victory complete?

                          Then what? Without a big scare does the Union Army get someone like McClellan to expand & organize it?
                          Lee wins Bull Run and possibly a grand army is not needed.

                          Lets assume that this is the aggressive Lee of 1862. Does he directly attack Richmond with a force that we know to be fragile? What happens if he does? Do the Union armies have the strength to overwhelm the Confederates facing them & either take or invest Richmond?
                          Given McClellan's superior troop strength and advantage in material during the Peninsula campaign, Lee would have taken Richmond and driven the rebel army south and pursued it doggedly. Remember he'd be up against Joseph Johnston, a general who preferred defensive actions. Lee rolls right over him at Seven Pines. There is no Lee to come to the rescue.

                          I have no doubt that if Lee were given the Army McClellan had in 1862 he would end the war quickly, but does he get that army, or does he make a mistake with the one he has & end up relegated to some minor post in the western theatre?
                          If ifs and buts were but candy and nuts, oh, what a Christmas we would have. Short answer: I don't know. :)

                          I don't really feel qualified to answer these questions in detail, but I'd be curious to hear from people who are.[/QUOTE]
                          To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by JAD_333 View Post
                            So, with no experience commanding an army he turns the war around in a matter of weeks. Could he have done the same thing at Bull Run in command of Union forces. I would venture to guess, that he would, for several reasons. One, he had learned from Scott during the US-Mexican war to press the offensive at every opportunity;
                            Not always a good thing...

                            two, he was a master at taking advantage of terrain to place his troops; three, he was not a micro-manager;
                            Sometimes he was a micro manager..

                            he set objectives and suggested courses of action, then let his lieutenants conduct the fighting as they saw fit;
                            Most of the time...

                            fourth, he got rid of generals who were incompetent or wouldn't fight,
                            That leaves him who.... IIRC Hancock and Sherman....

                            vs PGT Beauregard who has Jackson, Ewell, Longstreet...

                            I don't think Lee has enough of an edge here to win the war in a single battle.... if he can win the battle at all.

                            I think a better question would be what if lee went blue and Jackson got the ANV...


                            Fair enough, but considering Union forces almost had the battle won, would a Lee have made the victory complete?
                            probably not, the quality of the troops on both sides wasn't up to it, which is why the few good units had commanders rise to fame...


                            Lee wins Bull Run and possibly a grand army is not needed.
                            So Lee wins a battle... his abilities on the offense are not inspiring...


                            Given McClellan's superior troop strength and advantage in material during the Peninsula campaign, Lee would have taken Richmond and driven the rebel army south and pursued it doggedly. Remember he'd be up against Joseph Johnston, a general who preferred defensive actions. Lee rolls right over him at Seven Pines. There is no Lee to come to the rescue.
                            ...... Sherman is recovering, so who is Lee's dog of war in the pursuit?
                            Last edited by zraver; 05 Dec 11,, 07:36.

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                            • #15
                              Recall that early in the war Lee was of a more defensive mindset. His defense plan for Richmond caused his troops to deride him a Granny Lee & the King of Spades.

                              That went with his mindset as an engineer. In fact his first attempts at the offensive ended rather ignominiously.

                              I do not see that he would have had any greater success at 1st Manassas the McDowell.

                              As for the war ending quickly.....

                              Wasn't going to happen.

                              The Union chain of command was in a shambles, the logistics were strained to the limits, the 90 day militia call ups were set to expire and, most importantly, the almost 5,000 casualties on both sides stunned all concerned.

                              It was a clash of amateurs...and, much like Wilson's Creek, showed regardless of the commanders, thsi was going to be a long and bloody process.
                              “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                              Mark Twain

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