Let’s have a non-political discussion about U.S. Civil War Generals.
The idea here is that each poster will post their picks for the best, worst, most overrated, and most underrated generals on both sides. There will also be a special “WTF” award which will be self-explanatory.
I’ll kick everything off with my picks.
Best: U.S. Grant. Almost goes without saying. Won in both eastern and western theaters, defeated Lee fought aggressively and with initiative, and was generous to surrendering forces on the other side.
Honorable Mention: William T. Sherman, Philip Sheriden
Worst: Ambrose Burnside. Hard to say where to begin. Just look at Fredericksburg; what a needless waste of life, assaulting headlong into fortified positions.
Honorable Mention: Irvin McDowell, John Pope
Most Overrated: Henry Halleck. After Shiloh, Lincoln temporarily made Halleck Grant’s superior, which proved to be a big mistake. Later made a Chief of Staff, he proved to not be up to the challenge. Lincoln ultimately called him “little more than a first rate clerk.” In many cases, he took credit for victories that were mostly the work of his subordinates, and was quick to pass the blame when failures were his own.
Most Underrated:John Schofield. Doesn’t get as much hooplah as other Northern Commanders, but he routed Hood at Franklin, and played a major role in Union victories at Atlanta and Nashville as well.
WTF Award: George McClellan. Ya know, this guy’s legacy is difficult to determine. On the one hand, he was the trainer and organizer that the Army of the Potomac really needed; he truly made it the great fighting force that it was. OTOH, his battlefield record is VERY mixed. His Seven Days Campaign, while an interesting plan, proved to be a failure. He later failed to take aggressive action against Lee which eventually led to him being relieved. He always claimed he needed more forces, even though the Union was nearly always at a numerical advantage. To his credit, he did stop Lee’s first invasion of the North at Antietam; a victory that gave Lincoln an opportunity to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, though he failed to destroy Lee’s Army. But after being relieved once and for all…he then ran AGAINST Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential election on what was basically a defeatist “make peace with the South” ticket…honestly…WTF??? Though Lee considered McClellan to be the Union’s top general, Grant would later comment: “McClellan is to me one of the mysteries of the war.”
Best: Robert E. Lee; won several brilliant victories, offensively and defensively, often while outnumbered
Honorable Mention: James Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson
Worst: Braxton Bragg; nearly everyone EXCEPT Jefferson Davis truly despised this guy. To his credit, he did win at Chickamagua, one of the rare occasions when a Southern Army outnumbered the North; however, he completely bungled the aftermath of that battle, leading to his route at Chattanooga; nearly all of his top subordinates mutinied against him and started begging for Davis to relieve him at that point; Davis finally did so, but by then, the war in the Western theater was largely lost
Honorable Mention: John Bell Hood, Leonidas Polk
Most Overrated: JEB Stuart. In many ways, was a brilliant cavalry commander. However, his strange “disappearance” of sorts at Gettysburg was considered a major factor in Lee’s defeat.
Honorable Mention: Albert Sidney Johnston. Despite having a vaunted pre-Civil War reputation, and being highly regarded by Davis, he divided forces in the West that cost the Confederacy at Forts Henry and Donelson, and later was killed leading an ultimately unsuccessful attack on Grant at Shiloh.
Most Underrated: Richard Taylor. Son of Mexican War hero and former Whig President Zachary Taylor, Richard had no military experience before the war, but ultimately rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. Nearly all of his peers considered him to be among the best. Nathan Bedford Forrest commented: “He’s the biggest man of the lot. If we’d had more like him, we’d have licked the Yankees long ago.”
WTF Award: P.G.T. Beauregard. Beauregard had a decidedly mixed record during the war. On the one hand, he was the South’s first war hero, after victories at Fort Sumter and First Bull Run. OTOH, he was widely criticized by Jeff Davis after the bloodbath at Shiloh, and, after abandoning the rail station at Corinth and going on sick leave without authorization, was reassigned to the Carolinas. He did defend Charleston for many months successfully, and was a pioneer in the use of submarine warfare through his use of the Hunley. He also developed trench defensive systems at Petersburg that became a WWI model. Despite this, Davis continued to not trust Beauregard and later put him under Joe Johnston’s command. That said, Beauregard was known for having VERY far-fetched plans and strategies. He covertly introduced one grand strategy to take troops from Lee in the East, reinforce the West, and, after destroying the Federal Forces in Tennessee, move into the Ohio Valley and attempt to induce Western States to come over to the Confederacy. Come on Gustave. Did you honestly believe that a plan like that would actually WORK??? REALLY??? Honestly now…WTF!!! As a post-script, Beauregard and Davis remained bitter enemies long after the war. When Davis died, Beauregard was asked to participate in his funeral. Beauregard tactlessly declined. He wrote this, in response: “We have always been enemies. I cannot pretend I am sorry he is gone. I am no hypocrite.”