- Jul 2012
Sharpsburg/Anitetam was irrelevant to getting the Army of the Potomac out of Virginia. That had been achieved 10 days before the battle when McClellan began his pursuit of Lee. Lee also invaded Union territory in the hopes that Maryland would welcome the Confederates as liberaters and to divert US troops from fighting against Bragg in Kentucky. Both of these Confederate goals resulted in complete failure. Lee also wanted to win a battle on northern soil to harm US morale and encourage the US peace movement. This goal also resulted in complete failure for Lee. Lee had no chance of a tactical win at Antietam. Any reasonably aggressive Union commander should have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan almost destroyed Lee's army anyway, but the Confederates got several lucky breaks when aggressive Union commanders were shot, and a last minunte save from Confederates who forced marched from Harper's Ferry. Antietam was a tactical draw, but Lee had to retreat afterwards due to lack of supplies. That was unavoidable, and guaranteed the public on both sides saw the battle as a win for the United States, which was the opposite effect from what Lee had wanted. it also cost Lee irreplaceable troops in return for nothing.Winning wasn't the point. The strategic goal was to get Those People out of Virginia. The tactical draw was a strategic win.
Antietam was a strategic win for the United States, showing even the Confederacy's best could be beaten. It also gave Lincoln the chance to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would lead to nearly 200 thousand escaped slaves joining the US army and a total loss of about 500,000 slaves from the Confederate economy.
Learning nothing from Antietam, Lee would double down on failure with his later Gettysburg Campaign, with even worse results for the Confederacy.
Let's hear some words from actual historians on McClellan.McClellan was the single best General Those People had.
"A brilliant organizer, he was nevertheless a disaster for his cause. McClellan understood deliberate, “scientific” warfare, but never grasped the importance of those battle-winning concepts—initiative and momentum. Temperamentally unfit to hold a field command, he imparted his own super-cautious approach to the officer corps of the Army of the Potomac—to the lasting detriment of that army." - Keith Poulter
"Previously describing him as “inarguably the worst” of the Army of the Potomac’s commanders, I see no reason now to soften that indictment. On the Peninsula he demonstrated his utter failings as a field commander, revealed most blatantly when he skedaddled from the Glendale and Malvern Hill battlefields. At Antietam he dribbled away the blessings of the Lost Order, imagined three Rebel soldiers for each one he faced, and threw away the war’s best chance to utterly defeat Robert E. Lee. McClellan’s final disservice was permanently staining the Potomac army’s officer corps with his paranoia. Braxton Bragg was more of a soldier than McClellan" - Stephen Sears
"I have trouble accepting George McClellan as one of the worst generals, even though I think Steven Sears has made a strong case that he was the Army of the Potomac’s worst commander. But does rating “Little Mac” below George Meade, Joseph Hooker, and Ambrose Burnside qualify him for the bottom of the entire barrel?" - Steve Newton
"... the Peninsula Campaign: an exercise in how to ruin a good strategy with second-rate, over-cautious leadership." - Steve Newton
"I sympathize more with the two Johnstons (who were of one generation) than I do with McClellan, who was from the next generation and whose character flaws were so great as to prevent him, in my view, from ever fulfilling the expectations of his admirers." - Craig Symonds
"McClellan’s well-documented desertion (there is no gentler word for it) of his army at Glendale, assigning no one to command in his stead during that pivotal battle of the Seven Days, ought by itself to guarantee his infamy. At Malvern Hill the next day he again boarded the gunboat Galena for a wholly unnecessary excursion, then squatted in a distant corner of the battlefield, like the lowliest coffee-boiler, during the fighting. (I’ll wager Grant didn’t know this about Glendale and Malvern Hill when he remarked on McClellan.) Then add the virus of McClellanism he injected into the high command of the Army of the Potomac. . . . Well, I could go on." - Stephen Sears
The Army of the Potomac has a much better win/loss record than you give it credit for.The worst the Army of the Potomac took were probably Cold Harbor and the Crater, both of which occurred long after McClellan. A couple of the worst the Army of Northern Virginia took were Gaine's Mill and Malvern Hill, after which McClellan retreated, not Lee.No other Army in all of recorded history could have been curbstomped as much as the Army of the Potomac was and kept advancing.
The idea that the Confederacy possessed better generals is one of the great myths of the Civil War. Virtually all of the trained officers from Union states and 40% of the officers from the Confederate states fought for the Union. Once you take a real look at Robert E Lee, or at war as a whole, it's clear that the CSA military record was largely one of failure. CSA attempts to invade Union territory, from Gettysburg to Glorietta Pass always ended in failure. Even in an era that favored the defense, the Union successfully took and held an area about the size of modern Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Poland. Lee was arguably the Confederacy's best, yet his track record on offense was poor and he was beaten by Rosecrans and Meade, who are generally considered second-string Union generals. When they weren't fighting Lee, men generally considered among the worst Union commanders - Burnside, Pope, Hooker, Pleasanton, and Butler - had a record of repeated success against the Confederates.You keep mentioning "the worst" union Generals. They never had a tactically self-awae General. All the efficient warfighters went South; the sole reason the wrong side won the War is they had too many Yankees to shoot.]
Joe Johnston was probably the best the Confederacy had in the west, and he wasn’t good enough. AS Johnston was out of his depth - he did not just fail as an army commander, he failed to be an army commander. Floyd and Pillow were cowards. Sibley led his forces to disaster in Arizona. Van Dorn did the same in Arkansas. Price did the same in Kansas, losing to Pleasanton, who is often considered one of the Union's worst generals. Polk was an incompetent backstabber; the Union did a service for the Confederacy when they killed Polk with artillery fire. Hood was a backstabbing subordinate and a total disaster in command. Bragg was one of the few Confederate generals to win battles, but he had no idea what to do with a victory and his abrasive nature helped erode what little cohesion his Confederate army had. Jackson varied in quality - his performance in the Seven Days Battles was poor. At Brandy Station, Stuart was surprised by Pleasanton, who as noted is often considered one of the Union's worst generals. At Knoxbville, Longstreet was beaten by Burnside, who is also considered one of the Union's worst generals. During Early's one solo command in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 he was unable to defeat Franz Sigel, who as you may guess was also considered one of the Union's worst generals, then fatally delayed at the Battle of Monocacy, by Lew Wallace, a man far more noted for his literary accomplishments than his military skill.
Both sides showed tactical weakness. Lee was not a brilliant offensive tactician, as he showed in West Virginia, the Seven Days, and at Gettysburg.
But the Confederacy's great weakness was at the strategic level. Lee never demonstrated the strategic vision of Grant, Sherman, Scott, or Lincoln.