Confederate failure to make Lee commander of all forces

Jun 2017
2,909
Connecticut
#72
The North always had someone in command of the entire war effort. Initially it was Winfield Scott. When he retired due to old age he was replaced by McClellan. McClellan was replaced by Halleck. Early in 1864 Grant assumed top command although Halleck remained as chief of staff. I don't think anyone in the South had this authority prior to Lee gaining it near the end of the war. Prior to Lee becoming commander in chief, most of these types of command decisions were made by Davis or his various secretaries of war. Grant did supervise Sherman in 1864 and '65. They coordinated their offensives to begin on the same day. Grant approved Sherman's March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign. Grant ordered George Thomas be fired just prior to the Battle of Nashville although his order was disobeyed.

Choosing army commanders like Bragg, Johnston, and Hood was an important part of this position we're discussing as was supervising these generals, discussing and approving their plans, listening to and helping them with problems beyond the army commander's realm of control, etc. If the South wasn't producing enough gunpowder or some other supply, then the commander in chief or the president or the secretary of war would have to deal with that. Recruiting, replacements, reinforcements, senior officer assignments - these were all things a commander in chief had to deal with. But probably the biggest influence a commander in chief has is appointing and firing army commanders.
1)This is just letting them hire the people running a separate campaign, and approving their plans which makes a huge difference but it's not like if Lee had that power he'd be running the campaign nor was Grant running the campaign. Sounds to me like just taking on the Secretary of War's jobs some of which the Secretary of War was taking from the President. Being able to hire and fire people for another front than one you've been given complete control over just seems like deferred authority that high ranking generals don't tend to have unless they also are in charge of the country. Seems from the Thomas thing Grant's power clearly was dependent on those above him agreeing with his choices. It's not like Davis just can't take back that job anytime he wants which given how he felt about Johnston's performance he would have done even if Lee was given that job. I believe Lee did give him advice. So what more could he have done because that authority is still just rubber stamped advice unless he's President. The commander in chief is still the President not Lee, Lee was the highest ranked general and the commander of a specific army. Military's work for the government and they have ever since Washington worked for the Congress. Unless you have a military dictatorship where the head of state can't say no, they can say no.

I do agree who's in charge matters but getting to pick your person for a job isn't the same as doing it yourself. Even approving the general's plans is irrelevant in the Hood case given the reasons why one wouldn't pick Hood. because he'd be liable to just ignore this believing once his insane kamikaze attack or pursuit was successful no one would care and he would be a hero. Hood still is drawing up the plans. Also keep in mind Lee did approve Pickett's charge and while that decision is an outlier who's to say he wouldn't do the same thing?

2)Grant did not "supervise". Planning to start two separate projects hundreds of miles away from each other on the same day is not supervision. For Sherman the day he started was basically just symbolic. While in the 20th century this sort of thing makes sense as commanders didn't actually lead their troops into the battle and simply had them execute a plan they were making far away in the 19th they still had to direct the fighting as it happened.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,319
Dispargum
#73
The issue with Davis as commander in chief is that he was not a career military man and made a lot of controversial decisions. The thinking is that Lee, as a career military man, with a solid record of achievement in the Civil War, especially as a leader of men, would have made better decisions. Davis began the war looking on paper as if he would be a great wartime president. He was a West Pointer, a veteran of the Mexican War, and a former Secretary of War. But by 1863 it was becoming obvious that Davis not living up to expectations and maybe someone else should make some of the decisions that Davis was making himself.

As far as Grant firing Thomas, Grant had full authority. Thomas and Hood were facing off against each other at Nashville, both parallized by an ice storm so neither could move or fight. Grant didn't fully understand the weather situation and assumed Thomas was being negligent in not attacking Hood. He sent General Logan to Nashville with orders to relieve Thomas and attack Hood immediately. Logan arrived at Nashville, assessed the weather, concluded that Thomas had committed no negligence, so he refused to relieve Thomas. A day or two later, the weather cleared, Thomas attacked, and won a great victory. Meanwhile, Grant, now angry at Logan for not relieving Thomas, had boarded a train and was going to Nashville himself, but it all worked out well in the end for the Union.

As for Grant and Sherman attacking on the same day, in 1863, Rosecrans did not begin his campaign in Tennessee until after the last battle in east that year (Gettysburg) had already been fought. This allowed Longstreet to deploy from Virginia to Georgia in time to reinforce Bragg at Chickamauga (Bragg's only victory). In '64, Grant decided not to let that happen again. By attacking with all of his armies on the same day, the Confederates would be unable to shift forces between armies as Longstreet had done. The Campaign of '63 is therefore an example of what can happen when a commander in chief (Halleck) does not coordinate the activities of his different armies. Johnston and Lee were unable to reinforce each other in '64 because both were under attack at the same time - the result of a strong commander in chief (Grant) thinking nationally, not locally.

But it sounds like you don't think it matters who the commander in chief was. I tend to agree but for different reasons. Lee would not have performed much better than Davis because Lee did not have the resources to implement better decisions.
 
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Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,742
#75
The invasion of MD and the invasion of PA are both examples of Lee operating on the strategic level.
That's Lee on the operational level, not the strategic level.

What was Beauregard's strategic advice?

What was Bragg's strategic advice?
It's been a while since I read The Grand Design by Stoker, so I'm not remembering what strategic advice Beauregard offered. I do recall that Stoker thought it was unrealistic.

Bragg suggested that most ports should not be garrisoned, so the most important ports would be much better defended and kept open. Likewise, he recommended not garrisoning most of Texas and Florida so that the size of the Confederate field armies could be increased and the Confederate heartland better defended. If the Union seized any of these ungarrisoned areas, they could be retaken later.

That concentration of force might have been enough hold off Union forces long enough for war weariness to set in. But it would have been a hard sell politically as major parts of the Confederacy would feel abandoned.
 

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,742
#76
I guess what surprises me about the Democrats in 1864 is how persistent they were in willingness to compromise with the slave power. I would have thought that after the difficulty of passing the Compromise of 1850, after the decline of the Whig Party, after the rise of abolition, the rapid success of the new Republican Party, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Bleeding Kansas, Dred Scot, eight years of Democratic presidents who accomplished almost nothing, all culminating in the Civil War itself, that maybe, finally, the Democrats would wake up and realize that the country had lost interest in compromise.

By 1860, a lot of Democrats had reached the point where they were no longer willing compromise with the slave power. The party had already been losing northern Democrats who were sick of the slaveholding states being the tail that wagged to dog. In 1860, the Democrats fractured over slavery, with the northern and southern branches each nominating their own candidate for President. A significant number of northern Democrats realized the time for compromise had passed and Lincoln employed many of these War Democrats.
 
Jun 2017
2,909
Connecticut
#77
By 1860, a lot of Democrats had reached the point where they were no longer willing compromise with the slave power. The party had already been losing northern Democrats who were sick of the slaveholding states being the tail that wagged to dog. In 1860, the Democrats fractured over slavery, with the northern and southern branches each nominating their own candidate for President. A significant number of northern Democrats realized the time for compromise had passed and Lincoln employed many of these War Democrats.
The issue with this is those Northerners were still preaching compromise that just wasn't good enough for the South who went from preserving the Missouri status quo to expanding slavery. Douglas was the guy who's popular sovereignty bill opened up free territory to slavery and the Southern Democrats were willing to walk out of the convention and stage their own over his nomination. The Northern Democrats didn't walk out, the Southern ones did. Of course this ensured beyond a reasonable doubt the Republicans would win and they then made a referendum about leaving the Union if he were to win. By 1856 and 1860 the popular sovereignty wing of the party wasn't good enough for them, possible appeasement wasn't good enough it needed to be guaranteed and set in stone forever in their minds.

Note-Must also keep in mind the Whigs actually did collapse and there was an entire angry Whig pro slavery wing who reinforced that wing.

The anti slavery Dems had mostly left the party in the 1840s with Van Buren and the Free Soilers. The pro expansion, popular sovereignty wing of the party had been the pro slavery wing of the party before that and they never did learn their lesson nor should they be given credit for it.

Lincoln employing a war Dem as his VP(though a southerner) might have set back race relations in the US a century, it was not effective in any way, he literally balanced the ticket by picking a man whose constituents couldn't vote. Once the Civil War ended Northern Democrats appeased the south/tried to pretend Jim Crow didn't exist for the next 70 years and even after that whether to oppose segregation was hotly debated for another several decades. Northern NIMBY Democrats were far from learning their lesson, the South decided to bring it into their yard, which makes appeasement quite hard.

Being willing to support your country against a pro slavery revolt is almost the lowest possible bar for backbone on this issue possible(I say almost because Buchanan wasn't even willing to do that, while ironically the President who owned the most slaves, Zachary Taylor was eager and willing to fight in 1850 when it was not popular). Also must be noted during a bloody local war especially early on preaching compromise is not going to go over all to well. Once it became politically expedient and people started to tire of the war the Democrats were right back to preaching compromise in 1864,complete with a general as their nominee who had Lee's army trapped at Sharsburg and had the war basically won before disobeying the Presidents(at least initially) order to attack. If that doesn't scream compromise I don't know what does.
 

Code Blue

Ad Honorem
Feb 2015
4,113
Caribbean
#78
So, it existed, it had some backing, but it was bitterly opposed by many. How is that any different from what I have said?
How is it any different from what I said (that you attempted to rebut)? That's the right question.

I said the movement was "significant,"which is what you questioned, and you said the movement was "widely" denounced. Somewhere between those two modifiers, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive, is the optimum qualifier. When a President signs an order, the national legislature passes an enactment, and 7 out of 11 governors in a strong states'-rights confederation make a call for something - the movement threatens the threshold for what is "significant."
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,319
Dispargum
#79
I just thought of another controversial decision by Davis. In the Vicksburg Campaign, Davis ordered Pemberton to hold onto Vicksburg at all costs. Johnston, in between Davis and Pemberton in the chain of command, ordered Pemberton to keep his army intact, even if it meant losing Vicksburg. Pemberton, given contradictory orders, chose to obey Davis and went on to lose both his army and Vicksburg. I suspect if Lee had been commander in chief he would have agreed with Johnston. He probably agreed with Johnston in '64 that it was more important to preserve the army than it was to hold Atlanta. So if Lee had been commander in chief in '63 it's possible that Pemberton's army may have survived the Vicksburg Campaign. That's still not a given. Grant stole a march on Pemberton and gained superior position so that it would have been difficult for Pemberton to escape the Vicksburg trap. Even if Pemberton had escaped Vicksburg, Grant would then be based on Vicksburg with a large army while Pemberton would be outnumbered and probably based on Jackson. Again we have a situation where the Confederates have an army they can't do anything with. So again, even with Lee as commander in chief, it's not clear that the Confederates would be significantly better off.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,319
Dispargum
#80
By 1860, a lot of Democrats had reached the point where they were no longer willing compromise with the slave power. The party had already been losing northern Democrats who were sick of the slaveholding states being the tail that wagged to dog. In 1860, the Democrats fractured over slavery, with the northern and southern branches each nominating their own candidate for President. A significant number of northern Democrats realized the time for compromise had passed and Lincoln employed many of these War Democrats.

Good point about the split conventions of 1860. I've also looked at the legislation passed in the 1840s and '50s by Democratic presidents and congresses. There's a lot of legislation that had nothing to do with slavery. So, yes, Democrats did have other interests besides preserving and protecting slavery.
 

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