Civil War Interactive Discussion Board Home
Home Search search Menu menu Not logged in - Login | Register
Civil War Interactive Discussion Board > Civil War Talk > Other Civil War Talk > What Qualities made a Civil War General great


What Qualities made a Civil War General great - Other Civil War Talk - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
 Moderated by: javal1 Page:    1  2  3  4  5  Next Page Last Page  
 New Topic   Reply   Printer Friendly 
 Rate Topic 
AuthorPost
 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 03:51 am
   PM  Quote  Reply 
1st Post
JoanieReb
Member
 

Joined: Wed Jan 24th, 2007
Location:  
Posts: 620
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

What Qualities made a Civil War General “great”,  and are these qualities timeless and universal?

 OK, this seems like a pretty sophomoric question, I admit.  

 And, I’m being more than a bit whimsical with this one.  But who knows, given a little serious input, it may actually go somewhere….we've done wonders with less in the past!

Over time, as I’ve looked at the individual “Great Generals” of the CW,  I’ve kept little mental lists of the characteristics that made them “great”.  The lists don’t always overlap.  I’ve often wondered, if you moved the Great CW Generals around in space and time – assigned them to different wars, so to speak, would they still distinguish themselves?  Or was the “greatness” time, war and even “side” specific?

It seems to me, that ideally, The Qualities of a Great General should be pretty universal.  A great leader is a great leader by nature, right?  Like, put Genghis Khan at the head of any army during any war and look out!

But what got me really thinking about this is this:  I started out with a pretty good-sized list of “great general” qualities for Grant, but as time as gone on, my respect for him has diminished.  My personal list for him now has two things that made him “great”:  First, superior resources (far superior number of troops along with technologically and numerically superior weaponry); Second, the killer instinct that led him to use these effectively.  Not sure how effective he would have been fighting for The Confederacy….(them’s fightin’ words, Pvt. Clewell, I’m sure – care to engage?)

 What think Y’All Venerated Students of The Civil war?

 Thanks!

 

 

 

Last edited on Tue Mar 18th, 2008 03:52 am by JoanieReb



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 12:57 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
2nd Post
j harold 587
Member


Joined: Tue Jun 12th, 2007
Location: Wilmington, Ohio USA
Posts: 166
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

The qualities of a good leader are their ability to make the most of their strengths and allow their weakness to influence the situation as little as possible.  Grant had more men and supplies, but had to transport them to the confrontation. So when other Union commanders suffered a set back then ran back to Washington and had to carry supplies with them, or as often happened leave them behind which re-supplied the Confederates. Grant just fell back keeping his supplies to re-fit his troops and went back on the offensive. This  kept pressure on the Confederats and denied them the supplies the did not have to transport.

Grant was also loyal to his friends. Good quality for a military leader, not so good politicaly as he prooved. 



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 01:23 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
3rd Post
CleburneFan
Member


Joined: Mon Oct 30th, 2006
Location: Florida USA
Posts: 1021
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

This is a thought provoking question, Joannie Reb. I need time to give it due consideration. Right off the bat, my first thought is that Sherman, for instance, would be as effective in Iraq or Afghanistan as he was in the Atlanta Campaign and beyond, but my second thought immediately yells out that the demands of today's generals are different than those of the Civil War and even antiquity.

Today's wars break down into two major areas (according to Cleburne Fan's Theory of Modern Warfare). One type is the massively technological war in which vast superiority in modern weapon systems makes demands for a certain type of leadership unknown in past history.

But in stark contrast, guerrilla warfare (ex: FARK, Colombia and Abu Sayaf, The Phillipines)  and terroristic tactics (ex: Basque seperatists, Spain and Al Queda, various countries) fought anywhere and everywhere demand a totally different kind of leadership philosophy and expertise.

I don't know how well Sherman or Lee would deal with the War on Terror. In fact, Lee tried to discourage his army from breaking down into partisan units and retreating to the hills to fight on indefinitly after his surrender.

One must ask, for example, how would Alexander the Great have fared today trying to put down FARK or hunt for Osama bin Laden?  He was an absolute ruler, after all. Men had to do what he said. In the US that kind of leadership just doesn't fly. Another thing. Alexander was both the head of state and the head of his military.

Thus as times change, so do generals. But are the principles of great leadership timeless? I need more time to think. I'm certain convincing arguments can be made for both positions.



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 03:32 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
4th Post
HankC
Member


Joined: Tue Sep 6th, 2005
Location:  
Posts: 517
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Time-honored abilities of commanders may be remembered by the rubric 'aim-drift':
agility
imagination
main effort
direction & control
risk
initiative
focus
(total)

These charactersitics provide easy understanding into the greatness of Grant and Lee, the solid, though unspectacular work of Thomas and Bragg and the failures of Johnston and McClellan.


HankC



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 04:09 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
5th Post
David White
Member


Joined: Tue Sep 6th, 2005
Location: Texas USA
Posts: 909
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

I put high marks on persistence and resilence, something Grant and Jackson showed in spades.



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 05:04 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
6th Post
PvtClewell
Member


Joined: Wed Jun 13th, 2007
Location: North Carolina USA
Posts: 420
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

That's a very nice post, HankC.

Allow me to add that I think the great generals displayed qualities of resolve, a courage of conviction, an ability to inspire and maintain the confidence of their men, and showed an ability to successfully adjust their plans in the fog of war. Most good plans almost always go awry under fire and a good commander finds ways to adjust.

Grant, Sherman, Lee, Cleburne, Jackson, Forrest immediately come to mind. I might reserve judgment on Longstreet, Meade, Thomas and Sheridan, who I think could be borderline great. That's off the top of my bald head and I'll hate myself later for neglecting others.

Joanie, you might have to explain to me why your respect for Grant dwindles. Isn't he the consummate soldier? He forced the surrender of three Confederate armies totaling about 89,000 troops. He was successful in two different theatres demanding two different types of warefare.

I think your comparison of Grant to Genghis Khan is too severe. In the preface of Jean Edward Smith's biography on Grant, Smith writes: 'Grant made victory look easy. The clarity of his conception and the simplicity of his execution imparted a new dimension to military strategy. Grant ignored Southern cities, rail junctions and other strategic points (me: hardly a Genghis Khan) and concentrated on destroying the enemy army. His systematic deployment of overwhelming force not only led to victory in 1865, but established the strategic doctrine that became the basis for American triumphs in two world wars and more recently in the Persian Gulf. Grant's personal contribution demands recognition.'

You don't have to accept that overview, but I think it's accurate. In fact, I think Grant would have been exactly the kind of commander the Confederacy could have used. I think he's kind of like Patton — fast, mobile, hard-hitting.

Apparently, the debate is engaged.



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 06:52 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
7th Post
ole
Member


Joined: Sun Oct 22nd, 2006
Location:  
Posts: 2027
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Grant ignored Southern cities, rail junctions and other strategic points (me: hardly a Genghis Khan) and concentrated on destroying the enemy army.
I'd take issue with the statement, enlisted man Clewel, but it would be nit-picky and qualify my total admiration of the excellent posts made on the subject.

ole



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 07:35 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
8th Post
HankC
Member


Joined: Tue Sep 6th, 2005
Location:  
Posts: 517
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

ole wrote: Grant ignored Southern cities, rail junctions and other strategic points (me: hardly a Genghis Khan) and concentrated on destroying the enemy army.

 
I do not believe this to be an 'either-or' situation.
 
Grant's mission was to defeat the Confederate armies. Frequently the way to do this was to target the infrastruture: Corinth, Vicksburg, Richmond, Petersburg - these towns were, if nothing else, important supply and transport centers. To capture them means a major loss in the CS' ability to supply it's armies.
 
Look at the siege operations at Petersburg: they are mostly attempts to cut the rail lines supplying Lee from the south.
 
BTW, I was convinced on another forum that the Fort Donelson garrison did not constitute an army. Others mileage may vary ;)
 
 
HankC
 



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 08:33 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
9th Post
booklover
Member


Joined: Sat Jun 23rd, 2007
Location:  
Posts: 222
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

I'm completely sincere in this, but I think the best quality a Civil War general had was a benevolent biographer to quantify his life. Much of what we believe of Robert E. Lee came from Douglas Southall Freeman. Whether we like (or dislike) Grant depends on which biography we read, or whether we read his autobiography. Stonewall Jackson's legend is far greater than the man himself, as can be said about William Tecumseh Sherman. I don't believe that its impossible to look at their records and form an opinion, but I respectfully ask how many here have studied their campaigns without relying on secondary sources? This is not meant as an insult to the fine opinions presented here, but rather as fodder for more discussion.

Best
Rob



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 08:50 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
10th Post
amhistoryguy
Member


Joined: Wed Sep 7th, 2005
Location: Milwaukee - Wisconsin
Posts: 35
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

I think this question can be taken in several different directions. Might a "Great" Civil War General simply be one that history has been kind to ? Do we compare two generals in similar circumstances and label one "Great" and one "horrible.' ? Or, are we looking at leadership qualities demonstrated by an individual ? If we look at leadership qualities, IMO, it is possible that those criteria are timeless, and can be used over time, with some modification.
A good or great leader doesn't necessarily have to have all the qualities of a great leader, nor does he have to use them all all of the time, in every situation. When I started to come up with a list of positive leadership qualities, I quickly discovered that dependent upon circumstances, a particular quality that is beneficial in one instance could be a detriment in another. Some qualities apply only to the battlefield, yet "great" commanders lead and take care of their commands off the battlefield too. Most "Great" military leaders are also good followers - good soldiers and can take orders as well as give them. Most "Great" leaders are also blessed with "great" subordinates to carry out their orders. IMO, many generals labled "great" owe their greatness to their subordinate generals, but that is just my opinion.
Some commanders grew into their roles over time, and often at the expense of their commands. Some commanders were brilliant at one battle and dismal at another. All things to keep in mind when weighing "Greatness," IMO.
Anyway, here is a list of qualities that I use to judge performance of CW leaders:
Physical Capacity
Willingness to lead
In Agreement with the character of the war - How is it to be fought?
Know How
Experience
Decision Making - following through
Communication of policy and objectives - Military and political
Ability to adjust and adapt - situational and with new technology and methods
Persistence
Realistic Expectations
Not Personal - attacks the enemy strategy
Aggressiveness - of self and command
Even Temperment - rational under stress
Physical Courage
Ability to inspire action without coercion - conficence of men, trusted and respected
Recognition of limits - self and command
Vision - recognition of big picture and your role in it.
Ability to weigh what is to be gained vs. what is to be risked.
Success is not soley dependent on the accomplishment of others.
Can be Bold - unpredictability
Ability to gather and use resources - intelligence.
Objective to win vs. trying not to lose - completness of victory with pursuit.
Ability to recognize and use enemy leaders shortcomings against him.
Recognition of the merit of others - not jealous
Gallant
Firm
Just
Upright
High Energy
Ability to make solid preperations.

There might also be a moral component we could add - Moral courage.
It is an interesting question to explore.

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 08:50 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
11th Post
Kernow-Ox
Member
 

Joined: Tue Feb 26th, 2008
Location: Oxford, United Kingdom
Posts: 142
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Booklover - interesting points. Remind me to find a sympathetic biographer now (I'm reminded of Churchill's line about history being good to him as he intends to write it).

Jackson's a good example. We only cite his Shenandoah campaign because it worked. However, as he was cut off in his prime we cannot know what other achievements or failures he might have achieved.

We can criticise McClellan's hesitancy all we like. Yet unless we too are presented with the information he had access to, along with a list of all his guiding assumptions, prejudices and such like, I doubt this critique is actually based on much. Why he did what he did is a more interesting question than why he didn't do what he could have.

As for the notion of a 'great' general, would a boring, unimaginative commander who still managed to get the job done be eligible? Or are we only interested in mavericks? I think there's a fine line between genius and fool.



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 09:11 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
12th Post
Crazy Delawares
Member


Joined: Fri Feb 22nd, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 143
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

See the whole picture (Clarity of purpose).
Establish the goal.
Don't stop. NEVER stop until the goal is attained!
Adapt, improvise, if the situation requires it and always overcome.



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 09:13 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
13th Post
Rebel Yell
Belle,Bourbon,Battlefields


Joined: Sat Feb 9th, 2008
Location: Maryland USA
Posts: 105
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Ahh...McClellan...truly an interesting subject...on one hand he was a brilliant organizer and, IMHO, he was responsible for shaping the AoP into a formidable fighting force (pardon the alliteration). But, on the other hand, he did not seem to be able to bring himself to use the army for the purpose for which it was intended, i.e. the destruction of the confederate forces. Maybe he cared too much about his troops and could not bear to put them in harms way. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a trained strategist or tactician, but it does seem to me that when the enemy is encountered, one should use any and all forces available to defeat him. McClellan just did not seem inclined to take the risks necessary to do that.

What say you, my esteemed colleagues???



 Posted: Tue Mar 18th, 2008 09:17 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
14th Post
Crazy Delawares
Member


Joined: Fri Feb 22nd, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 143
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

To use a baseball analogy...
McClellan always struck me as a baseball picher who would warm up great and then fold at gametime.



 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 03:30 am
   PM  Quote  Reply 
15th Post
PvtClewell
Member


Joined: Wed Jun 13th, 2007
Location: North Carolina USA
Posts: 420
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Rob,

Munching on your fodder for further discussion from earlier in the thread, I agree with most of what you say. Having said that (?), since most of us here are buffs or amateur historians at best, I guess all that most of us have ready access to are secondary sources. And for the purpose of an informal discussion board, I guess that should be enough.

Allow me to use myself as an example. After exhausting myself on the recent Cold Harbor debate on this board, I hurried out and bought Smith's biography on Grant. My home library has about 100 Civil War volumes, including four on Lee, but none on Grant. So this board prompted me do something about that, for which I'm grateful. If nothing else, I've acquired a deeper appreciation for Grant, as well as for the western theater of operations. I may, indeed, be absorbing Smith's bias (here we go again) on his subject, but I've also gained a measure of knowledge and a perspective I didn't have before.

But I still agree with your basic premise. Fodder for discussion, you know.

Rebel Yell,

McClellan was indeed a great organizer (I read that somewhere :)), but I feel he also left his imprint of caution and lack of aggressiveness on the AofP that was almost indelible when in fact it probably should have been an army of irresistible force. By the time Grant inherited command, I think the AofP — through its corps and division commanders — had an expectation for caution and defeat, even after Gettysburg (a battle on northern soil, which I think changes the equation). Consequently, this clashed with Grant's own expectations for the AofP. These colliding expectations didn't help Grant's command structure, either. Could Grant have defeated Lee at Spotsylvania if Burnside isn't slow to respond? Could Grant have won at Cold Harbor if it doesn't take Hancock a day to shift his corps (thus giving Lee time to fortify his position)? Why didn't Meade reconnoiter Cold Harbor before the assault? Could Grant have taken Petersburg if Baldy Smith isn't so cautious he's stopped by what essentially is a holding force?

I believe McClellan's legacy actually haunted the AofP long after he was dismissed.



 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 12:42 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
16th Post
Crazy Delawares
Member


Joined: Fri Feb 22nd, 2008
Location: New Jersey USA
Posts: 143
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

McClellan's legacy would haunt the AoP because many of the officers in that army were there due to his influence. I'm not saying they were "McClellan Men," only that he had some, if not much, influence in putting them in their positions.



 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 01:15 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
17th Post
Albert Sailhorst
Member


Joined: Mon Sep 12th, 2005
Location: Aledo, Illinois USA
Posts: 555
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Part of what makes a great General are the mistakes made by his adversary.

If McClellan's enemies had made more mistakes, Little Mac would be a great general.



 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 02:06 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
18th Post
PvtClewell
Member


Joined: Wed Jun 13th, 2007
Location: North Carolina USA
Posts: 420
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

Albert,

Allow me to respectfully disagree, at least about Mac.

McClellan was virtually given the Peninsula by Johnston, but perhaps because of his caution, he still couldn't take advantage. Of course, this campaign might have been a clash of two overcautious commanders. Maybe they cancelled each other out.

Then there's Antietam, where Mac was in possession of Lee's Special Orders No. 191, which outlined Lee's plans for the Maryland campaign, and Mac still fumbled the ball. No commander who has access to his opponents plans should be so reticent. On top of that, Mac never committed the bulk of his troops at Antietam. What's up with that?

At Second Manassas, Mac's arrogance and his failure to work in conjunction with Pope does nearly as much to damage Pope's effort than Lee does. And don't get me started on Pope.

I fear greatness just wasn't available to Mac, except in his own mind.



 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 02:15 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
19th Post
booklover
Member


Joined: Sat Jun 23rd, 2007
Location:  
Posts: 222
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

PvtClewell,

I had hoped my comment didn't seem too flippant. I think it falls in the same lines as what makes a good president. Most of us (myself deeply included) have no military background other than what we read. Even those who have served in the military might find that what they feel makes a good leader today had little to do with what did then. While secondary sources certainly can make our opinion more informed (and in the long run, even the "professionals" view is simply better-informed opinion) to argue what makes a general great requires (I feel) a bit more research. By the way, with the availability of the Official Records on DVD-ROM and other primary sources that have since been printed, a person doesn't have to limit themselves to just secondary sources.

With that said, I feel hard-pressed to actually determine what makes a general truly great. Winning is an easy answer, but I think one has to determine if greatness will be determined by the strategic (overall) vision of the leader or by the tactical (in the heat of battle) actions. Grant certainly had strong strategic vision as well as tactical smarts, but even he realized that Cold Harbor was a horrible mistake. A general who might be strong with strategic vision may not be as strong a tactician.

Albert, I respectfully disagree with your comment on McClellan. Lee could have been the biggest bumbler around and if McClellan held true to form, he wouldn't have taken advantage of it. He lacked the strategic vision. However, I do agree in principle with your point that if a general can exploit the mistakes of his enemy, that points to greatness.

Best
Rob



 Posted: Wed Mar 19th, 2008 02:46 pm
   PM  Quote  Reply 
20th Post
Albert Sailhorst
Member


Joined: Mon Sep 12th, 2005
Location: Aledo, Illinois USA
Posts: 555
Status: 
Offline
Mana: 

  back to top

OK, I'll agree to forego my McClellan analogy ( a poor choice on my part) but Booklover hit my point on the head when he said: "if a general can exploit the mistakes of his enemy, that points to greatness."....In short, Booklover said what I meant to say!

Thanks!



 Current time is 07:04 amPage:    1  2  3  4  5  Next Page Last Page  
Civil War Interactive Discussion Board > Civil War Talk > Other Civil War Talk > What Qualities made a Civil War General great
Top




UltraBB 1.17 Copyright © 2007-2008 Data 1 Systems
Page processed in 0.2309 seconds (12% database + 88% PHP). 25 queries executed.