- Jul 2012
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. Union generals Burnside, Butler, Hooker, Pleasanton, Pope, and Sigel are generally considered to be some of the worst generals of the war, but outside of Virginia they repeatedly beat the Confederates – Sigel was competent at Pea Ridge, Burnside shut down most of the North Carolina coast and later beat Longstreet, Hooker performed well at Chattanooga and in the Atlanta Campaign, Pleasanton drove the Confederates from Missouri, Pope cleared the Mississippi south to Memphis, and Butler waltzed into New Orleans.It wasn't without the very notable exception of General Hood, the CSA was commanded very well. Might be the only reason the war lasted as well as it did.
Robert E Lee was arguably the Confederacy's best, yet he never won a campaign outside of Virginia and he was beaten by Meade, who is generally considered a second-string Union general, and by Rosecrans, who is often considered one of the Union's worst generals.
Jackson varied in quality - his performance in the Seven Days Battles was poor. At Brawner's Farm, Jackson only managed a stalemate even though he had a 3-to-1 advantage in numbers. 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 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.
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. .