Non-Political Civil War Discussion: Generals


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.”

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Law, you must need to find someone to go prosecute? :dizzy_face:


I agree with your post and will add that Lee was prob better than Grant bc Lee had less resources , less men and they still study his out flanking tactics at West Point to this day. He made a small army seem larger and it was because of him that the south had any chance and was able to make the war last 4 yrs. Also Sherman would be high on the list bc he used tactics of slash and burn which although was controversial , it caused the south to surrender sooner. If not for his style, the war would have dragged on.

Sherman’s tactics and slash and burn forced the conferderate soldiers to have to worry and flee to save their homes where as before , they only had to worry about what was happening on the battlefield so it was an effective policy whether wrong or right.

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Lee at Chancellorsville is one of the greatest feats of generalship in the history of warfare. In our history I would think only Eisenhower and D-Day would come close.

Grant won in some part because of the industrial strength of the North. But his making war on the people of the south cinched it. ‘Sherman’s march to the sea’ through Georgia knocked the bottom out of the south. I agree with you about McClellan. His refusal(s) to attack Lee who was just south of D.C. led President Lincoln to ask him, ‘since you are not using the army, would be okay if I borrow it.’ McClellan referred to Lincoln as a gorilla. These men were not friends.

It’s also interesting that until Lincoln found Grant as a leader , the north was losing. Without a Grant, Lee might have won. His lead general mentioned above was too timid. Grant was in the office so to speak with no career path , just drinking. Lincoln stressed he needed a gen who could take on Lee and it was Grant. Drinking prob helped Grant in his boldness.

McClellan was the one too timid like y mentioned.

McClellan was the Kim Helton of generals. Three runs and a punt.



Ah…liquid courage!..:beers:

In the 1930s President Hoover allowed two field grade German officers to follow/tour U. S. Grant’s Mississippi campaign from crossing the river to the defeat of three Confederate armies leading to the siege of Vicksburg. They noted the rapid nature of Grant’s maneuvers and called it Blitzkrieg. Hoover’s motive for allowing them to be the guests of the U.S. Army at that time is another issue. Their names were Rommel and Von Manstein.

When I was a kid my parents took us to Vicksburg to view the battlefields and the bluff where the cannons over looked the Miss. River. A kid’s dad in my old neighborhood would go around to various battle sites with a metal detector and his house was like a museum. He sold me some civil war bullets for $5. The bullets are huge lead balls or bullet shaped with ridges and that whole thing would hit soldiers causing bone splinters which is why they had so many bad wounds and soldiers died later.

Interesting history regarding Blitzkrieg. Got to be careful who you share information to throughout history. We are learning this lesson again with the Chinese and their IP theft.

For the confederacy sometimes it wasn’t just the generals. For sheer brilliance as a cavalry Nathan Bedford Forest was hands down better than Stuart. But for sheer brilliance John Mosby did more with less than any other man in the Confederate army. Tying down an entire division with a force of less than 200 men. Never engaging in a pitched battle but guerrilla against Phil Sheridan. Hit and run.

In an interesting side note Mosby and Longstreet both tried to heal the wounds between the North and South. Longstreet became hated for it. Mosby actually worked in Grant’s administration as an ambassador to China and pretty much ignored what people thought about him.

Forrest was a general.

:cn:. Sounds like exile.

I wasn’t sure Sam. However one of the times the union thought they had him surrounded he told his men this is great whichever direction we shoot we can be hitting the enemy. Then he led his soldiers out of the trap to escape.

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Go to Wikipedia to check out Mosby’s life.

Besides Mosby and Longstreet, Beauregard became a major promotor of Black civil rights and voting rights in the post-war South.

Joe Wheeler later Commanded US forces in Cuba during the Spanish American War.

That’s why Camp Beauregard is the only base named after a Confederate whose name I wouldn’t change, and why I wouldn’t pull Wheeler’s statue out of the Capitol building.

Both became at least somewhat “redeemed” after the war.

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