Why was the American Civil War badly commanded on both sides?

Fiver

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
3,765
I disagree. I think the fact if the CSA didn't have superior officers the war would have been over much sooner and I think judging the CSA generals by the standard of "winning campaigns" isn't realistic. And the Eastern confederate officers were superior to the West, that is why the Union won most major battles in the west. However there was no single victory in the East that could end the war and it took time for those victories to add up. The CSA might have been large but in terms of population it had a much smaller population than those places(maybe not Poland) especially a free population. There were less than 6 million free people in the CSA in 1860. They were outnumbered almost 4 to 1.
Robert E Lee certainly was superior to most of the Union generals he faced, even he couldn't take Wset Virginia from Rosecrans. Outside of Virgina, the Confederates repeatedly failed, even under the best Confederate generals, even when they had numerical superiority. I agree that the war would have ended sooner if the Confederacy hadn't had RE Lee, but the war also would have ended sooner without McClellan and Halleck. Of course we should judge CSA generals and other generals on the standard of winning campaigns - what other standard should they be judged on. Bothe the Union and the Confederacy had smaller populations than the equivalent areas in Europe, but the Union still had to garrison that big of an area and stretch supply lines over that long of a distance. The Confederacy didn't allow slaves to serve in the military, but they certainly worked in the farms and factories. Not counting them towards confederate number only if you subtract all of the Union farmers and factory workers from the Union's available manpower. The actual size of the armies was roughly 3 Union soldiers to every 2 Confederates in an era where the military technology favored the defensive.
 
Jun 2017
2,967
Connecticut
Robert E Lee certainly was superior to most of the Union generals he faced, even he couldn't take Wset Virginia from Rosecrans. Outside of Virgina, the Confederates repeatedly failed, even under the best Confederate generals, even when they had numerical superiority. I agree that the war would have ended sooner if the Confederacy hadn't had RE Lee, but the war also would have ended sooner without McClellan and Halleck. Of course we should judge CSA generals and other generals on the standard of winning campaigns - what other standard should they be judged on. Bothe the Union and the Confederacy had smaller populations than the equivalent areas in Europe, but the Union still had to garrison that big of an area and stretch supply lines over that long of a distance. The Confederacy didn't allow slaves to serve in the military, but they certainly worked in the farms and factories. Not counting them towards confederate number only if you subtract all of the Union farmers and factory workers from the Union's available manpower. The actual size of the armies was roughly 3 Union soldiers to every 2 Confederates in an era where the military technology favored the defensive.
Good point the war might have ended without McCllelan. The war might have ended up Johnston didn't get shot and replaced too. It took a lot of luck for the Confederacy to last as long as it did but having the better generals helped that luck along. And McCllelan could have ended the war at Sharsburg but Sharpsburg never happens unless they pick up those orders off the ground. The Union and CSA might have both been sparsely populated compared to Europe but the US still had a massive ,manpower advantage(not to mention industry) over the South. Between 3 and 4 to 1. Also remember the South also had to keep an enslaved population about the size of their free population from taking the opportunity to rise up. That's a massive manpower burden already. And when I say 3 and 4 to 1 clearly in the beginning those numbers wouldn't be accurate but as time passed and casualties mounted, that's when the numbers advantage started to matter. You are right though the military tech did favor the defensive.

I don't think we should judge generals off winning campaigns if they had different resources. For example if Grant didn't have the numbers advantage his strategy goes from winning the war to being Hood, came enough as was. Buying time was as good as the South could hope for, which is why Johnston being fired for someone who wanted to do an offensive was a terrible idea. Even in the East, barring a few of Lee's most insane victories that was true. Lee was so successful the South started to forget their situation and look how a victory on Northern soil that was going to be hard to obtain. They might have won if they just went for Washington again in 1863, they had only not gotten there in 62 because of the fluke of those orders being found. Instead they wandered into a battle they weren't prepared for..while searching for shoes.