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Who's the better General? - Robert E. Lee - The Participants of the War - Mikitary & Civilian - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 02:42 am
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Doc C
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An interesting photo is of McC with the other Mac shortly after Antietam. As always Ole, I agree, Grant would have been tenacious irregardless of whether or not McC was there. Still Grant couldn't stand him and had to be thinking of him in his rear throughout this time. Politics is Politics.

Doc C



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 02:45 am
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ole
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Honestly, I did not expect to be misunderstood - refering to the General as Marse Robert should convey to all the feelings of the speaker.

JDC:

Now I'm confused. Other than a few years in Missouri, which just barely qualifies as southern (my favorite of all the states I've lived in, by the way), I've visited the south eight (I started with four, remembered two others, and then remembered two more. Stay tuned. Does Texas count?) times in my life. I should know that "Marse" somehow modifies a statement? I had supposed it was a rural honorific of sorts.

I returned to the computer after my earlier message to modify my statement but not before you'd already graciously responded. Apparently I hit the "x" instead of the "Send" button. If the mind isn't the first thing to go, it's right up there.

Ole

Last edited on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:32 am by ole



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:07 am
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ole
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Still Grant couldn't stand him and had to be thinking of him in his rear throughout this time.

McC apparently had Grant's trust 'though. He was given the lead position in the crossing and the responsibility to drive directly on Vicksburg while McP and Sherman moved inland to scare off JEJ. I don't think I'd characterize Grant's feeling for McC as one of "couldn't stand him." No. He didn't respect him and didn't want him around, but he felt the same about any conniving, disruptive commander in his army. Grant, and Sherman as well, would settle for nothing less than a smoothly functioning team. Rock the boat and you're out. McC riled McP and Sherman more than once and established in Admiral Porter a feeling very close to loathing,

Having the personal ear of Lincoln made McC virtually untouchable until he committed the sin that even Lincoln couldn't defend -- he ignored a regulation by issuing (and having published) his self-serving congratulatory message to his troops. Ooops!

Ole

Last edited on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:09 am by ole



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:09 am
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Doc C
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JDC

I hope you did not include me in your comment "the south still worships Robert E. Lee". I beg to differ with your comment that the lost cause may have been just a 19th century political movement. In my opinion its very much a modern day attitude, not mine. I do hold him in high esteem as an individual but to characterize it as worship is a stretch. I do include myself in the south you refer to, having been raised/lived in the deep south and having southern roots dating back to 1620 Virginia.

Doc C



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:28 am
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ole
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If there was an inexhaustable amount of troops then Grant would win.

Thanks for your input Swamp Shadow, welcome aboard!

Grant did have access to more troops than Lee, but it wasn't exactly inexhaustable. It's quite possible that Grant would have had to rethink his priorities if Lee's assets were equal to his. He wasn't just a bulldog incapable of anything but attacking head on with overwhelming force. Consider Vicksburg as an example, Pemberton and Johnston's forces together were roughly equal to Grant's. He caught them separated (thanks in no small part to Johnston's indecision), chased Johnston away and turned on Pemberton.

At Shiloh where he was on the defensive (admittedly unprepared and without entrenchments) he demonstrated a calm intensity and resolution. Much has been said of Sherman's calm demeanor during that battle, but I suspect that, without Grant being even calmer, Sherman might have lost it. So. Grant could defend as well as attack. Agreed?

Again. Welcome. Just reading is good. Engaging is even better because that makes a board active and attracts participants. I'm grateful that you've decided to participate.

Ole



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 12:17 pm
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Widow
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Ole,

Speaking of perceptions of Lee, check The Commanders of Chancellorsville: The Gentleman versus the Rogue, by Edward G. Longacre, 2005.

Longacre saw Lee as a chess player, while Hooker was the poker player.

Patty



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 02:42 pm
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Ole, I agree that Grant could defend as well as attack, but I think that in that scenario Grant would have been the first to attack.



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:08 pm
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Longacre saw Lee as a chess player, while Hooker was the poker player.

I like the comparison, Patti, but don't really get Longacre's point. How do you interpret that statement?

Ole



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:13 pm
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Agreed, Swamp Shadow. Grant was not one to let his opposition act first. He very much believed in taking the initiative and keeping it.

Ole

Something is screwy in Denmark. This is a repeat of a response I sent not 5 minutes ago -- before my response to Patty. This is the third time I've posted when the message doesn't "take."



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:30 pm
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I would like to "weigh in" on the debate about whether the "better" general was Grant or Lee.  I'm not sure, though, because what constitutes being the "best"?  Most battles won, or fewest number of casualties, or most aggressive, or most committed to the cause.... I could go on and on but my point is, until that is defined, it really can't be argued.  Is there a good overall definition somewhere out there for me to use?



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 05:55 pm
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ole
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Good luck in your search for a definition, Regina. Suggest that you give your definition and nominate the choice that best fits. Be prepared to defend both your definition and your nominee.

Ole



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 02:41 am
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Widow
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ole, I confess that I can't be more explicit about Longacre's interpretation.  It's been several months since I read The Commanders of Chancellorsville.  Besides, I've never played chess or poker, so I don't understand the nuances, the strategies, the calculations, the risks.  But it made sense to me at the time.  Ya gotta read it for yourself!  Patty



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 03:32 am
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Ole:

I think Shiloh is a poor example of Grant's defensive capabilities. He made many mistakes in that battle, and the nature of the battle (lack of command and control on both sides, inexperienced troops) leads me to believe the battle is a credit to the individual soldier on both sides more than it is to the Generals on either side (an argument that can be made for any battle surely, but perhaps more so with Shiloh).

Also, Grant sieze the initiative and not let go? The same, I think,  can also be said about Lee.



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 03:54 am
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ole
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Besides, I've never played chess or poker, so I don't understand the nuances, the strategies, the calculations, the risks

Patti. Nor have I, which is why I asked for clarification. Chess is an intellectual game, if I understand it, but so is poker. Poker, however, is tactics and chess is strategy. Poker is hand by hand, win or lose. When you've won all the chips or lost them, the game is over. Chess is a longer struggle of minds. And now I've confused myself even more. Never mind. Maybe if I read Longacre's book, I will get it. Not.

Ole



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 04:18 am
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ole
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I think Shiloh is a poor example of Grant's defensive capabilities. He made many mistakes in that battle, and the nature of the battle (lack of command and control on both sides, inexperienced troops) leads me to believe the battle is a credit to the individual soldier on both sides more than it is to the Generals on either side (an argument that can be made for any battle surely, but perhaps more so with Shiloh).
Thanks for coming back Orphan. I'd be a bit hard put to call Grant's defense at Shiloh a  poor example. If I'm not in gross error here, it was his only example. So far as mistakes in that battle, I'd be interested in seeing an example of who did not make mistakes -- on either side. Now, as to the credit belonging to the grunt, I will most enthusiastically second the motion. Of the thousands on both sides, very few had shot at, or had been shot at by, another man. Some of WHL Wallace's command had been at Ft. Donelson. Some Confederates had been at Mill Springs. It's remarkable that of the number who were seeing the elephant for the first time, so many of them waged such a fierce battle.

Also, Grant sieze the initiative and not let go? The same, I think,  can also be said about Lee.
Most certainly! One of the basic axioms of active military command is to never, ever let the opposition dictate the terms. If he calls the shots, you are playing with 3 cards in a 5 card game. You might get three of a kind, but the odds are against you.

Thanks for the exchange. Shall we continue?

Ole

 



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 04:39 am
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Ole:

You are correct about Shiloh being the only tangible example of Grant fighting a defensive battle. I'm sure he made preparations to intercept any forces trying to relieve Vicksburg, for example, but no confederate force capable of breaking such a sieze ever seriously attempted that feat.

I should have been more clear in my last post. It seems that you got the impression I was condemning Grant. That was not my intention. Everyone was inexperienced in that battle, even those who were veterans, like Grant, of the Mexican war. True, he had seen combat, but no General officer at Shiloh had experience in fighting a battle of that scale and commanding such large numbers of troops.

Obviously, taking the offensive in such conditions would be much more difficult than assuming a defensive role, so I think that must be taken into account as well.

So, to be more clear on the matter, let me offer this: We can assume, as I do, that Grant would have done well on the defensive... but I don't think we have a battle that really illustrates this in the same way other Generals have.

Awaiting your thoughts...



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 03:37 pm
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but no confederate force capable of breaking such a sieze ever seriously attempted that feat. Aside from Johnston's timidity, Sherman's chasing him away from Jackson had a lot to do with it. Note: Grant did prepare for the off-chance that Johnston might come back.

It seems that you got the impression I was condemning Grant. Not at all. You and I are simply exploring a subject We're a half-mile off topic, but few are actively on topic, so I'd venture that a complaint can be registered by simply posting something that's on topic.

So, to be more clear on the matter, let me offer this: We can assume, as I do, that Grant would have done well on the defensive... but I don't think we have a battle that really illustrates this in the same way other Generals have. Apologies.You lost me here. Please rephrase and try again. Belay that, I think I got it. You're saying that we have only one example of Grant fighting on the defensive, whereas we have several examples of other generals' defensive work. But we can assume Grant would have handled himself well if he had an occasion to fight defensively. Is that right? If so, I agree. Grant made mistakes, but he accepted each one as a lesson. Which is not to say that Lee didn't learn from his.

So now we're back on topic. I can't assign better or best to one or the other -- they were different men in different circumstances. Grant was a perfect fit for what Lincoln wanted to accomplish. He took Lincoln's goals as his own and made them happen. Davis' strategy was flawed. Lee was therefore carrying a heavier burden than Grant. Maybe that makes Lee a better general? I do, however, fault Lee for not using his influence with Davis to focus on the west. It must have been clear that Lincoln intended to roll up the confederacy from the west. The trans-Mississippi was isolated. Kentucky, West Tennessee and Louisiana were essentially under Union control; Rosecrans is pushing Bragg around middle Tennessee; Grant was in Mississippi and moving on Vicksburg to open the river again; and Lee invades Pennsylvania with Davis' blessing. For me, it makes a comparison impossible.

Thanks, Orphan. I needed that.

Ole

Last edited on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 04:14 pm by ole



 Posted: Mon Jan 8th, 2007 08:32 pm
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I can't assign better or best to one or the other -- they were different men in different circumstances.

It is true that both Generals were operating in different circumstances, but the same can be said of any two Generals who faced each other I think. Comparing Grant and Lee's accomplishments and capabilities, while difficult, is far easier than most other comparisons. Corps commanders on down are very difficult because the success they achieve depends so much on their commanding officers capabilities.

Other comparisons can be even more difficult than that of corps or division commanders, however. For example, when asked who the best General of the Civil War was on both sides, Lee replied it was a man he had never met, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Now, how can you compare a cavaly commander with a major army commander? That is an example of different circumstances! I wouldn't even begin to try and draw comparisons between, say, Sherman and Forrest. Bobby Lee did it without hesitation.

Also, there was a poster who mentioned the idea that Lee was a chess player and Grant a poker player?  If I was forced to decide which game would best describe them,  I would reverse the labels.



 Posted: Tue Jan 9th, 2007 06:00 am
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I do, however, fault Lee for not using his influence with Davis to focus on the west.

Ole, this statement...I'm afraid I don't understand. I can see faulting Davis for many decisions made (especially not relieving Braxton Bragg earlier), caving into political pressure early by not concentrating forces - instead dispersing them over too wide an area, and lack of understanding the political situation in border states. Putting blame on Lee for the incompetence of Confederate commanding officers...I can't make the connection.



 Posted: Tue Jan 9th, 2007 06:04 am
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Comparing Grant and Lee's accomplishments and capabilities, while difficult, is far easier than most other comparisons.

It might be easier because they both ended up as "supreme" commanders of their respective armies. If you start with the question: "Who surrendered to whom?" and work backwards. But then you have to detract from the Grant column because of the handicaps Lee was working under. And then you have to detract from the Lee column his fixation on Virginia and blind eye to the needs of the West.

Battle for battle, both were brilliant and made mistakes. Neither was perfect. Neither was "better." That's the only way I can read it. It remains an interesting discussion, but it is profitable only in that it stimulates thinking and discussion. There is no conclusion.

Ole



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