Generals in Defeat – The Judgment of History

Corruption and Lies History Law and Order Liberty/Politics

I loved the concept of this book. A re-evaluation of the propaganda we have been fed regarding losing generals who, too often, have been the scapegoats of history. It is a compilation of different authors on different subjects and had the added benefit of introducing me to a historian whose books I will avoid because I am not impressed by his supposed “re-evaluation” simply because it, primarily was just a rehash of “accepted consensus.” In my opinion, if you have nothing new to say there is no reason for you to waste your time writing history. Fortunately, only the last author falls into that category. This is, of course, my opinion. But I will not be spending money on any of his books. For one, he tries to cover too broad a subject in a short essay and doesn’t successfully evaluate anything. Again, that is my opinion. The other authors were all worth reading – even though some missed a few observations that I would have added it was a good book. One observation that Napoleon made covers much of the evaluations of history that have labeled these generals as losers. Labels that, as often as not, arise from circumstances beyond their control.

One thing that is not sufficiently covered is that the armies of the Civil War were so large that none of the generals had previous experience and every general that I know of bungled their first attempts to maneuver such large forces, including General Grant and General Lee. They were just fortunate enough that their first attempts were not major battles that everyone was watching. The great generals of history have benefited in that their initial failures were not in highly publicized positions. The list of generals whose reputations were destroyed by the Union Army of the Potomac is long (largely because everyone was watching their initial bungles and Lincoln and the administration rarely gave second chances.)

Steven E. Woodworth – General Albert Sidney Johnston, C.S.A.

Alan Downs – on General Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A.

Ethan S. Rafuse – Major-General George B. McClellan, U.S.A.

Stephen D. Engle – Don Carlos Buell, U.S.A.

Stephen W. Sears – Major-General Joseph Hooker, U.S.A.

Michael B. Ballard – John C. Pemberton, C.S.A.

Brooks D. Simpson – Gettysburg

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Professor Woodworth discusses A.S. Johnston and brings out that most of his failures came from trusting that his subordinates were competent and not intervening quickly when they were not. I think that more could have been saying about the fact that he took his paltry forces and engaged in such an effective bluff that General Sherman reportedly had a nervous breakdown that “overwhelming” Confederate forces were going to sweep over Kentucky. When a couple of Generals finally tested this bluff, naturally, the Confederate line collapsed and he was pushed out of Tennessee. Again, as I have said, no General’s first major command goes well in the War Between the States. But Johnston rallies and almost crushes Grant at Shiloh, although he allows Beauregard to write the march orders and set up the attack at his direction and Beauregard bungles it. Still, with Johnston’s leadership and personality he drives his green forces to the brink of victory – until he is killed and Beauregard calls off the further advance. Dying in the spring of the second year of the war Johnston is often viewed as a disappointment who was over-rated. I on the other hand say his “bluff” held off the Union Army for over half a year and then after he had to run when his bluff was called he rallied and concentrated his forces and crushed Grant and Sherman at Shiloh on the first day catching them completely by surprise driving them to the brink of victory when he was shot down leading his forces from the front – after sending his personal physician to take care of some pitifully wounded enemy soldiers who were getting no medical care.

I won’t go into as much detail with the others but I appreciate Stephen Sears bringing out that General Hooker didn’t choke in fear of facing Lee he was suffering from a major concussion and his second never stepped up to take over. Lazy historians constantly attack Hooker conveniently ignoring an obvious concussion. In addition, Hooker’s reorganization of the army, and his revamping of supply and medical facilities to support his units was masterful and, in my opinion, was realized on the battlefield of Gettysburg (which Meade then got the credit for.) Again, when General Lee moved North toward Gettysburg Hooker put the Union Army of the Potomac actively moving in pursuit faster than any Union general before him. Hooker, however, because of his concussion at Chancellorsville, never got a second chance to face Lee and was never given such an army command again. I think some of the Union armies would have performed better under his leadership than under the leadership they had. And, in my opinion, it was the reforms initiated by General Hooker that raised the morale and allowed the Union Army of the Potomac to be victorious in its later battles.

I was slightly disappointed in Engle’s analysis of General Buell. Buell is accused of not trying hard enough as, when marching on Chattanooga, he stopped marching his army before noon every day. Engle does bring out that Tennessee had a record heat wave in this campaign but doesn’t bring out that he had Northern-born soldiers, wearing wool uniforms, and carrying packs and equipment over 50 pounds. Had he pushed through the heat, myself being a Drill Sergeant, I wonder how many soldiers would have suffered heat stroke or heat exhaustion. We already know the majority of deaths in the Civil War were NOT from combat but from poor medical care and disease. One study demonstrated that those who were sick had a better chance of surviving if they didn’t seek medical care than if they did. That’s Victorian Age medicine for you. The only real disappointment I have here is that he made a statement that Buell could have pushed on through the heat to his destination. That sounded uncomfortable to me as a statement of someone who is used to going through the heat from air conditioning to air conditioning. In a record heat wave and 100-degree heat, how were his soldiers supposed to get respite from the heat on arrival? It would, after all, be hot at his destination as well. He does bring up legitimate criticisms of Buell but Buell’s reliance on the railroads for supply is not, in my opinion, valid. If you look at the number of supplies the Union Army went through daily there is not much else he could have done.

In the last year of the war Grant and Sherman cut themselves off from supply and lived off the land – robbing Americans of their possessions to support their armies – but Buell refused to do that because he was among the American generals that believed he was fighting Americans who had their own Natural Rights given by God. Many of these generals were prosecuted for disloyalty by the Lincoln Administration (as they tried to do with Buell. It is interesting to note that this is a belief that was held by the founders of America but, as Colonel Taylor, CSA said, “The Lincoln administration chose to wage cruel war on one of the founding principles of the United States, that being that a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed.” Buell was one of these.

This is a good book and largely brought out things I had noticed and questioned but too often found ignored in histories of the subjects that failed to analyze the facts and tended to repeat “party lines.” In the words of Napoleon, “History is made up of the lies we have agreed upon.” This book, however, takes a new look and I would highly recommend it. I will end with a quote by one of the greatest American Generals who has been one of my heroes since Grade School.

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