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Sun May 21, 2017, 11:58 AM

Gen. Robert E. Lee - Not that good at his job



Historians are taking a careful look at Robert E. Lee, and are coming to the conclusion that he is more myth than a battlefield genius.

"Lee, they wrote, mishandled overall strategy of the war. Outmanned, Lee should have taken a more defensive posture, drawing the North into difficult Southern terrain. Instead, he was constantly on the offensive, which resulted in heavy casualties and broken spirits.

“All the Confederacy needed was a stalemate, which would confirm its existence as a separate country,” Bonekemper wrote. “The burden was on the North to defeat the Confederacy and compel the return of the eleven wayward states to the Union.”

Historian James McPherson put it this way: “The South could ‘win’ the war by not losing.” However, “the North could win only by winning.”
....
"Lee’s ineptitude was most damaging at Gettysburg.

On the third day of battle, in what became known as Pickett’s Charge, Lee ordered his troops across an open field, subjecting them to heavy fire. Lee did this against the advice of his subordinates. The rebels suffered more than 6,000 casualties.

Lee apologists blamed Longstreet’s execution of the attack, which many historians and military strategists now find laughable.

In a 2006 briefing paper, the Center for Technology and National Security Policy — a Department of Defense research center — called Lee’s effort at Gettysburg a “blunder” that “doomed the hopes of the Confederate States of America.”

The attack was poorly planned. Lee continued even as the battlefield scene suggested he shouldn’t — information he either didn’t seek out or ignored.

“Rapid adaptive decision making might have saved Lee’s army,” the briefing paper argued.

“The ultimate lesson for the U.S. military is that it is not enough to have battle-wise decision makers; they must be more battle-wise than their enemies.”

http://extragoodshit.phlap.net/index.php/the-truth-about-confederate-gen-robert-e-lee-he-wasnt-very-good-at-his-job/#more-411308

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Reply Gen. Robert E. Lee - Not that good at his job (Original post)
packman May 2017 OP
Brother Buzz May 2017 #1
Wounded Bear May 2017 #2
underpants May 2017 #5
Wounded Bear May 2017 #9
Blue_true May 2017 #19
DefenseLawyer May 2017 #21
Blue_true May 2017 #23
thucythucy May 2017 #28
uponit7771 May 2017 #16
GeoWilliam750 May 2017 #24
underpants May 2017 #3
Foamfollower May 2017 #4
malthaussen May 2017 #13
oasis May 2017 #6
Docreed2003 May 2017 #7
gordianot May 2017 #8
malthaussen May 2017 #10
Kentonio May 2017 #25
Sancho May 2017 #11
ThoughtCriminal May 2017 #12
malthaussen May 2017 #14
Kentonio May 2017 #26
uponit7771 May 2017 #15
Adrahil May 2017 #17
onecent May 2017 #18
BannonsLiver May 2017 #20
kwassa May 2017 #22
Voltaire2 May 2017 #27
kwassa May 2017 #31
trof May 2017 #29
TheBlackAdder May 2017 #30

Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:06 PM

1. General Lee had a propensity to crash, too

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:06 PM

2. I've done a bit of reading and studying of the Civil War...

It has long been my opinion that much of the Southern 'genius' was borne of necessity. In modern terms, they threw a lot of hail marys, and it was the ineptitude of the Northern generals that allowed them to succeed as often as not. Especially in the Virginia campaigns, the politicization of the Union forces kept far too many inept generals in command far beyond their demonstration of hitting the Peter Principle point.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #2)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:11 PM

5. There was a lot of ineptitude in that war

Surgeons and doctors were quite often complete quacks which is why the AMA was founded shortly after the war.

Yes. Any Northern Generals were bad but the south's middle management was comprised of people who just happened to be wealthy (plantations) with no military experience. There was quite a bit of angst from the ranks towards these owners/sons of owners who expected to live close to the same lifestyle that they were accustomed to.

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Response to underpants (Reply #5)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:17 PM

9. Conversely, many of the Southern gentlemen you're talking about...

were West Point grads. In many ways, their "states rights" philosophy worked against them. Some of the complaints about Lee should be aimed at Davis, who often allowed local authorities to dictate without an overriding national strategy. IIRC, Lee was not appointed 'supreme commander' until very late in the war. At least Lincoln could implement a national strategy, and found some commanders in '64 to carry it out in Grant and Sherman.

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #9)

Sun May 21, 2017, 02:27 PM

19. Sherman, Sheridan and Grant.

The first two were more important than Grant, IMO. The two crafted the concept of "Total War" where an adversary was relentlessly pursued and attacked even as they retreated and conquered land was left incapable of sustaining an army with provisions. Sherman and Sheridan sold Grant on the concept.

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Response to Blue_true (Reply #19)

Sun May 21, 2017, 02:56 PM

21. General George Thomas, a Virginian that wasn't a traitor

 

Was perhaps the best field commander in the war.

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Response to DefenseLawyer (Reply #21)

Sun May 21, 2017, 03:57 PM

23. Accepted, I had read about a southerner who was an

important General for the Union cause. One that I remember served directly under Grant's command as Sherman did before replacing Grant as leader of the Union's Army of the West.

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Response to DefenseLawyer (Reply #21)

Sun May 21, 2017, 06:58 PM

28. The Rock of Chicamauga

(not sure I'm spelling that right).

I agree--a much neglected patriot and brilliant tactician.

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Response to underpants (Reply #5)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:46 PM

16. +1, The plantation owners had to lead the cannon fodder to death so they could keep slaves

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Response to uponit7771 (Reply #16)

Sun May 21, 2017, 05:09 PM

24. Actually, they did not

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty_Negro_Law

Rich man's war. Poor man's fight.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:08 PM

3. Oh don't tell this to the "Lost cause" industry

My stepfather gets monthly (I think) magazines with articles in great detail about every possible part of that war. I laugh when I see them, "Give it up already!" but I don't bring it up in front of him. Not worth it.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:10 PM

4. I've always thought Lee was the most over rated general of the war.

 

Sherman was the greatest general of the war. He understood how modern wars must be fought, and he executed on that flawlessly.

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Response to Foamfollower (Reply #4)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:33 PM

13. eh, Billy was a lousy tactician.

He couldn't manoeuver troops at all. Good strategist, though, and an implacable and ruthless commander. A bit temperamental (that red hair must be to blame), his "nervous breakdown" at the start of the war is not to his credit, even if he was right that the war would take a long time and a lot of killing before it was done.

-- Mal

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:12 PM

6. The defeated South desperately needed a hero. Many still need one. nt

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:15 PM

7. Arguably, the south lost the war when Jackson was killed...friendly fire I might add

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:16 PM

8. Very correct when Lee was on the defensive he was brilliant.

However much of that success could be attributed to brilliant the supreme weirdo General Jackson. The lost wrong Confederate cause is America's greatest tragedy and waste. We are just a few months into America's second greatest tragedy the occupation and subjugation of American politics by Russia and domestic traitors.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:22 PM

10. That may be going a bit too far.

As for the overall strategy, I disagree with the interpretation that "all the CSA had to do to win was not lose." They were competent enough to figure that a long war of attrition would have only one conclusion, so went for an aggressive strategy in hopes of shaking up the USA and maybe securing some foreign intervention. Whether the latter would have been of much practical use is a separate question. Personally, I doubt it.

As for Lee as tactician, I have always pretty much agreed that he pulled off a lot of things he should not have been able to get away with against more competent opponents. How much of the credit goes to him for recognizing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the opposing armies and commanders, and how much of it was blind luck is open to question, but one notes the same tactics didn't work all that well in the Western theatre, so other things being equal, Lee must have had something on the ball. He did tend to throw his people forward relentlessly and rely on their valor and the enemy's confusion to win the day, which tendency Michael Shaara recognized as far back as 1974 in The Killer Angels.

Ultimately, you can't argue with success, and Lee's main job, of keeping Richmond clear of blue bellies, is one at which he was successful for several years when any rational analysis of the odds would have had him down and out. There must be something there, one might think.

-- Mal

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Response to malthaussen (Reply #10)

Sun May 21, 2017, 06:28 PM

25. Yeah I don't buy the defensive strategy argument either

 

The north had a huge material advantage. If the south wanted a win they needed to scare the northern public into a settlement before the numbers game wore the south into the dirt. Sitting back and doing nothing was never going to achieve that.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:24 PM

11. Just for fun...

http://www.scout.com/military/warrior/story/1461364-the-10-best-generals-of-the-civil-war
http://blueandgraytrail.com/features/bestgenerals.html
http://www.andthevalleyshook.com/2015/4/16/8429647/poseur-ranks-the-world-civil-war-generals

There are certainly disagreements, but most of the "top 10" lists are similar.

Lee was effective because he was able to motivate his army, not really because of his tactics or strategy.

An interesting book that speaks a lot about Robert E. Lee is...

April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:24 PM

12. Statistics of "Great Generals"

Enrico Fermi once asked Gen. Leslie Groves how many generals might be called “great.” Groves said about three out of every 100. Fermi asked how a general qualified for the adjective, and Groves replied that any general who had won five major battles in a row might safely be called great. Well, then, said Fermi, considering that the opposing forces in most theaters of operation are roughly equal, the odds are one of two that a general will win a battle, one of four that he will win two battles in a row, one of eight for three, one of sixteen for four, one of thirty-two for five. “So you are right, general, about three out of every 100. Mathematical probability, not genius.”


But then again, incompetence of your opponent can improve your odds quite a bit. That is where General Lee excelled.

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Response to ThoughtCriminal (Reply #12)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:39 PM

14. This presumes one agrees with General Groves's criterion.

Possibly there are more requirements than simply winning or losing battles. For one thing, that would mean that there are no great subordinates.

-- Mal

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Response to ThoughtCriminal (Reply #12)

Sun May 21, 2017, 06:32 PM

26. That also assumes that the chance of winning is always 50-50

 

Which we know is not the case even if forces are evenly matched. One side always has an advantage in some sense. We also know that not all generals are equal, otherwise there would be no need for generals. You could put anyone in the job and get the same result.

So again Fermi is wrong. Just like with his stupid paradox.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:42 PM

15. Lee went on attack because of non reality based conservative thinking... Stupid cons think they have

... the upper hand and lie to themselves about the simple facts.

Also the south wanted to draw an outsider nation on thier side with a win

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:46 PM

17. Lee was very successful defensively....

 

And I do think this article misses a point.

While yes, Lee could have "won" with a tie, he knew the U.S. military potential intimately, and understood that unless he was able to force a resolution early, it would just be a matter of time before the North outproduced and out-recruited him. Both the Antietam campaign, and the Gettysburg campaign were misguided attempts to make the North feel endangered and force a negotiated settlement. Both went poorly for Lee, and Gettysburg in particular pretty much sealed his doom. He'd a enjoy a few more Pyrrhic victories after that, but the end game was already under way.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 12:48 PM

18. Oh packman, YOU DO LOVE CATS....

I love all your cats...esp the one turning the book. Excellent!

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 02:31 PM

20. He should have been hung for treason

Along with Jefferson Davis and all of the southern aristocracy that financed the war. That culture should have been eradicated.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 02:58 PM

22. Pickett's Charge was an inexplicable decision, and a terrible one.

Lee should have disengaged much earlier and moved toward Washington, forcing Meade to leave the high ground and engage them on much less favorable ground.

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Response to kwassa (Reply #22)

Sun May 21, 2017, 06:41 PM

27. anyone who has stood at the bottom of that long field looking up at the ridge,

anyone with any sense that is, can see that the charge was simply suicidal. And it was.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #27)

Mon May 22, 2017, 10:56 AM

31. My great-grandfather probably watched the charge.

He was a courier for the Pennsylvania Bucktails under Col. Roy Stone that fought a retreating action on the first day of the battle. They were ultimately driven back through the town with 60-70% casualties. The remnants formed a third line on Cemetery Ridge during Pickett's Charge.

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 07:12 PM

29. The Union won because of a recce pilot and a FAC.


Reconnaissance pilot (balloon) Thaddeus Lowe who was also a Forward Air Controller directing artillery fire.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaddeus_S._C._Lowe

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Response to packman (Original post)

Sun May 21, 2017, 08:07 PM

30. Lee was another Napoleon, while Napoleon was a master of maneuver, he shifted to only assaults.

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