Author Topic: Worst US General?  (Read 9782 times)

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Offline besilarius

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #30 on: April 27, 2012, 05:02:10 PM »
Good points, bob.  You're absolutely correct that quite a few generals were good until overpromoted.
Or perhaps there was not time to grow into his new position.
US Grant stated in his memoirs that McClellan probably would have been a very good general except he was bumped up too quickly.  Going from a small command in West Virginia to the most important army command in the country was too abrupt.  Inheriting the mess after first Manassas, he did what he understood - he organized.
Faced with taking the army into the field, he was very unsure and hesitant, but could not admit it.

Then you have situations where your staff lets you down.  Rosecrans' was doing a decent job, holding at Chickamauga.  He was relying on Thomas on the left to hold on and wear down Bragg's attacking force, and mostly this was working.  Faced with the inept and overpromoted Leonidas Polk, superior numbers weren't helping.
However, one of Rosey's staff suddenly rode into headquarters and reported that a gap had opened on the center.
Rosey overreacted, and without seeking any confirmation, immediately ordered a division to pull out of the line and move into the reported gap.
Well, no good deed goes unpunished.  As it happened Old Pete Longstreet with two hardbitten divisions from the Army of Northern Virginia, was deploying for an attack, right off the railroad flatcars that brought his men west.
Suddenly recognizing a hole had opened in the yankee line, he promptly piled on.
Without the order from Rosecrans, it is debatable if Longstreet would have attacked frontally into a prepared position, or if it would have been pressed hard.
Even if he had, the normal resistance of veteran troops in dug in field fortifications, would probably have led to another bitter fight of attrition.
I think you could argue that Chickamauga wasn't so much won by the Confederates, as lost by Rosecrans.
Still, the campaign up to that point had been brilliant.  He outmaneuvered Bragg out of about three strong river lines, and forced his way to taking Chattanooga by befuddling his enemy in a nearly bloodless campaign.
If you try to evaluate Rosecrans' performance, he was superb in maneuver.  When he got into a nasty slugging match, he lost the big picture and relied too much on subordinates.
However, even though Bragg won the battle, I'd have to rate him much worse than Rosecrans, who never had a wholesale mutiny of his generals to face.
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along”.  Terry Pratchett.

During filming of Airplane, Leslie Nielsen used a whoopee cushion to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that Nielsen "played that thing like a maestro"

Tallulah Bankhead: "I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me."

"When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman." — Abraham Lincoln.

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Offline bob48

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #31 on: April 28, 2012, 05:00:30 AM »
Interesting stuff, and I agree with what you say about both Bragg and Polk, and yet Thomas was the man at Chickamauga - the Rock and all that.
Banks was also a bit of a disaster, especially in the Valley, although he was clearly nowhere near as good as Jackson. This in itself raises interesting questions; To me Jackson, rates as perhaps the finest General from the ACW, but how well would he have done had he gone on to higher command?

In addition, it has always seemed to me that Lee lost his edge after Jackson died. All conjecture, but a facinating subject.
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Offline besilarius

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #32 on: April 28, 2012, 10:40:18 AM »
It looks to me that it would depend.  If Stonewall did not adapt to the needs of a wider command span, then he would have been courting disaster as an army commander.  He relieved AP Hill for not following orders exactly.  Did the same to Garnett, who died leading his troops at Gettysburg.
This kind of zero tolerance was so impractical and created a poisonous atmosphere.  (Totally understandable, considering the high stakes involved.)
Stonewall would have to change enough to accept that he could not be everywhere, so would have to trust his subordinates to think on their own, and do their best.
Considering his history, I'm not sure he would be able to move up to manage a higher level.
Now Lee, did grow, I think.  Suddenly placed in command of an army whose commander was wounded, outside of the nation's capital, and just having a confused action that was a painful screw up, he rose to the situation.
Instead of trying to do everything, he recognized the effective subordinates, and built his army around them.
After Grant's fighting in the Wilderness, Longstreet was seriously wounded and out for a long time.  AP Hill  had never lived up to his promise, and the same for Ewell.
In the maneuvers and fighting afterwards, Lee was the glue that held everything together.  At the same time, his health was poor.  His heart problems kept him in bed a lot.
Overall, I think Lee's faults were not so great, exept for possibly keeping poor subordinates and not replacing them.
Whether this was from his gentility, or because no one better was available, is another interesting question.
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along”.  Terry Pratchett.

During filming of Airplane, Leslie Nielsen used a whoopee cushion to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that Nielsen "played that thing like a maestro"

Tallulah Bankhead: "I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me."

"When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman." — Abraham Lincoln.

"I have enjoyed very warm relations with my two husbands."
"With your eyes closed?"
"That helped."  Lauren Bacall

Master Chiefs are sneaky, dastardly, and snarky miscreants who thrive on the tears of Ensigns and belly dancers.   Admiral Gerry Bogan.

Offline bob48

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #33 on: April 28, 2012, 04:15:32 PM »
Interesting - you've given me food for thought. Somewhat inevitably, I began to wonder what would have happened if Jackson had not suffered his fatal wound (by letting someone else do the recon) and had been present at Gettysburg - who knows, he may have even talked Lee out of attacking.

You have to wonder though, what were Lee's alternatives at that point, with the Union army now concentrating, I guess he had to either fight or withdraw. Either way, to me, its an endlessly fascinating subject.
'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers'

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Recombobulate the discombobulators!

Offline besilarius

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #34 on: April 30, 2012, 04:57:10 PM »
Don't know if this would be of interest, but on Saturday night on C-Span3 (cable 105 here), there were two taped classes from the Naval Academy, the first was on Robert E Lee's generalship and the second on US Grant.  The professor was Wayne Hseih.
Not a great show, but he raised a number of interesting points about Lee.  The big one was that he ultimately failed, and the south overall, because they were all focused on big battles like Napoleon.
This was not in itself, a bad strategy.  If the re was enough early success, a demoralised North might have lost its purpose and sought peace.  What they did not do was adapt their strategy.
In particular, Dr. Hseih believed that a strategy similar to Washington's in the Revolution may have given the South a better chance of a negotiated peace.
Washington had a few victories, and none that were simply war winning.  What he did was combine a regular army, with partisan forces, avoiding major battles, unless he was sure the chances were good.  The constant wearing down of the enemy army from partisan activity, lead to support from the French and Spanish, and ultimately the british government believed it wasn't worth it to continue.
Now, I think a lot of this lack of adaptability may stem from Jefferson Davis (who had a very high opinion of his own military abilities).   But Lee did show a real limitation on strategical matters.  He was superb at operational level.
Regrettably, the US Grant class began at 2AM, and this boy can't hack it anymore.
If you are interested in a good evaluation fo Grant, I'd definitely recommend Keegan's The Mask of Command.  Very thoughtful treatment of Grant.
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along”.  Terry Pratchett.

During filming of Airplane, Leslie Nielsen used a whoopee cushion to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that Nielsen "played that thing like a maestro"

Tallulah Bankhead: "I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me."

"When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman." — Abraham Lincoln.

"I have enjoyed very warm relations with my two husbands."
"With your eyes closed?"
"That helped."  Lauren Bacall

Master Chiefs are sneaky, dastardly, and snarky miscreants who thrive on the tears of Ensigns and belly dancers.   Admiral Gerry Bogan.

Offline LongBlade

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #35 on: April 30, 2012, 05:04:44 PM »
Well, not everything Lee did was in his control.

At the risk of sounding trite, I would simply suggest the issue is a classic case of "amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics."

The South had nothing like the industrial base of the North. That doomed them from the start.

Also, the beginning of the end was largely a case of accident - Gettysburg was a battle that neither side chose. Lee stumbled into it largely because JEB Stuart was out joyriding instead of telling him where the Union forces were. But an accident nevertheless. Compounding it was Lee's blind determination to send Pickett's division in a frontal assault over a mile of open terrain, but that's still small potatoes.

The war was well and truly lost when Grant got hold of the Union army, stuck to Lee like glue and fought a war of attrition. The North simply had more of everything and could afford to endure the losses.

Offline MIGMaster

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #36 on: April 30, 2012, 07:25:07 PM »
I'm surprise nobody mentioned  "General" Larry Platt of "Pants on the Ground" fame.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pants_on_the_ground

Offline besilarius

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #37 on: April 30, 2012, 09:08:51 PM »
Migs, an interesting choice for the coveted award.
He certainly is up there in the useless category, and over blown as well.
However, in terms of screwing up battles and campaigns, I don't think he was that ineffective.
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along”.  Terry Pratchett.

During filming of Airplane, Leslie Nielsen used a whoopee cushion to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that Nielsen "played that thing like a maestro"

Tallulah Bankhead: "I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me."

"When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman." — Abraham Lincoln.

"I have enjoyed very warm relations with my two husbands."
"With your eyes closed?"
"That helped."  Lauren Bacall

Master Chiefs are sneaky, dastardly, and snarky miscreants who thrive on the tears of Ensigns and belly dancers.   Admiral Gerry Bogan.

Offline Electric_Strawberry

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #38 on: May 12, 2012, 09:12:46 AM »
William Manchester wrote a very good biography on MacArthur, "An American Caesar".   Manchester was particularly critical of the way MacArthur reacted to the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He describes  MacArthur's seeming unwillingness to take any action after learning of Pearl Harbor to the extent he appeared to be confused as to whether he should be acting as an American General or a Philippine Field Marshal.  That inaction included his failure to disperse his aircraft, which led to most of them being destroyed on the ground.  Further, Manchester points out MacArthur's habit of claiming credit for the ideas of his subordinates.

Despits all of his shortcomings, and there were many, I can't see him being ranked worse than that other Mac.

Offline joram

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #39 on: May 15, 2012, 04:13:54 PM »
Benedict Arnold is a strange choice to me.  If you include him then I agree with AmericanPride that you would need to also include Confederate generals as well, and that get's into some murky waters of loyalty and Causes.  After all, Arnold never actually succeeded is getting the plans for the fortress at West Point to the British.

My understanding was Arnold wasn't a bad general at all except for the salient point that he defected and unsuccessfully tried to turn over West Point to the British.  But if you are judging on ability, don't know if he should be on the list at all.  If you are judging on the fact that he betrayed the Federal government, then as others have pointed out, you could make an argument for confederate generals as well simply for the reason they chose the Southern cause.

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #40 on: May 23, 2012, 09:32:11 AM »
   Ambrose Burnside
   William Westmoreland
   Mark Clark
   McClellan
   Bragg
   Gates

Offline Longdan

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #41 on: August 09, 2012, 08:27:15 PM »
Seems to me that Benedict Arnold was a minor character, things all told.  He was a talented leader but the betrayal and its enshrinement in myth
are why he is famous.  Mark Clark was the wrong man for the job - he despised his allies and thought poorly of his commander - an opinion he was
too willing to share.  Considering the multnational nature of the Allied force in Italy and its second rate position in the overall plan a grandstanding
chauvinist was a poor choice.  Westmoreland's command was successful tactically and operationally but as the North Vietnamese pointed out that
was irrelevent.  He was put in a very bad position, but his failure was announcing success right before being suprised by the Tet offensive.
The Tet fighting was a crushing defeat for the Viet Cong but as the North Vietnamese pointed out it was irrelevant.  The impact of a huge surprise
attack on what was viewed as the eve of victory had a fatal effect on the american public.  I am old enough to remember it very well.
Gates was a pompous, cowardly, conspiratorial villain and considering what he could have done to the infant nation belongs on any such list.
MacArthur is my choice for America's greatest flawed hero.  His brilliance combined with his blunders and personal failings will provide
grist for such topics forever.  The example of the talented Confederate commanders is why the Military Class in the USA must remain apolitical
for the long term survival of the experiment.  If the Armed Forces becomes political or politically polarised any democracy is in peril and the Armed Force
itself is in danger.  Look at the post-Vietnam experience recently.  The Armed Forces as an institution was shaken to its core.
Anyway that what I was thinking this morning....a good day to you all.
cheers
digni enim sunt interdicunt

Offline besilarius

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #42 on: August 10, 2012, 05:07:05 AM »
Longdan,  that's a pretty good and fair list.  Think I'd agree with most points.
Since you bring up Westmoreland, here's a fair bit to chew on.
According to Lew Sorley's bio of Creighton Abrams, the choice for MACV came down to Westy and Abe.
Westy was chosen because of two reasons.  As a paratrooper, it was thought he might be a better fit in fighting an insurgency in the pre-Tet war against the Viet Cong.  Abrams was a straight leg who began in tanks.
The other reason, and this is Sorley's take, is that the White House was pushing integration.  They needed a point man on the ground.
Abrams was one of those men who just naturally get people's trust.  A quiet charisma that somehow got people on totally opposite sides to come to a working solution without cutting each other's throats.  Kennedy and Johnson wouldn't release him as their point man in keeping the south quiet and calm.
I know that when he moved up from Westy's deputy to theater command, there was a distinct change in how the war was fought.  A lot of people I knew felt he was much better, and rejoiced at Westmoreland's departure.  But by then, in the post -Tet atmosphere, the american people had lost their will to win.
My question has been what-if Abrams was picked over Westmoreland at the beginning.
Would he have been able to do a better job in Nam, and would the southern states have become more violent toward integration efforts (as the administration feared.)
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out until too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along”.  Terry Pratchett.

During filming of Airplane, Leslie Nielsen used a whoopee cushion to keep the cast off-balance. Hays said that Nielsen "played that thing like a maestro"

Tallulah Bankhead: "I'll come and make love to you at five o'clock. If I'm late, start without me."

"When all other trusts fail, turn to Flashman." — Abraham Lincoln.

"I have enjoyed very warm relations with my two husbands."
"With your eyes closed?"
"That helped."  Lauren Bacall

Master Chiefs are sneaky, dastardly, and snarky miscreants who thrive on the tears of Ensigns and belly dancers.   Admiral Gerry Bogan.

Offline bob48

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Re: Worst US General?
« Reply #43 on: August 10, 2012, 09:19:20 AM »
I think that Ben Butler should be on the list.
'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers'

'Clip those corners'

Recombobulate the discombobulators!