Southern generals were more effective
than their Union counterparts
Even though they lost the war, the Confederate Generals were better skilled in battle tactics, military knowledge, and good-decision making. What constitutes a good general--courage, determination, belief in the cause, military knowledge, and the ability to make good decisions under pressure. During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy had some excellent generals. Even though the South lost the war, it had at its disposal more generals who had better skills in forming battle tactics, military knowledge, and good decision making under pressure. These generals included Lee, Jackson, and Jeb Stuart.
At the outset of the war, the South managed to pilfer some of the best military minds ever to graduate from the United States military academies. One of the best generals the South managed to take under her wing was Robert E. Lee. Lee started his military career when he graduated second in his class from West Point in 1829. He went on to serve at Forts Pulaski, Monroe, and Hamilton. In addition to this, he was assigned to San Antonio, Texas, but soon afterward joined General Winfield Scott for the expedition of Vera Cruz. While he was in Vera Cruz, the Mexican War broke out and Lee was commended for his bravery and promoted. After Lee returned to the states, he was appointed superintendent of the Military Academy in 1852. He resigned in 1855 so that he could go back into the field. On April 18, 1861, two days before Lee resigned his commission with the Union Army, he was offered and respectfully refused command of the entire Union Army. (Warner, p.179-183) Another successful recruitment was that of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Jackson was, like Lee, a graduate of West Point Academy in the class of 1846. He proved his valor and military skills in the Mexican War, where he earned the brevets of captain and major. After the war, he resigned his commission and became and instructor at the Virginia Military Academy in 1852 (Warner, p.151-152). With men such as these, men who had seen actual battle, who knew what worked in a crisis and how to deal with one when it arose, and who had taught many of the men they commanded and fought, the South had a definite advantage over the North, in the area of command leadership. The North did; however, have many other assets which the South could not, in all their determination, overcome.
The generals in questions often displayed a remarkable talent for making excellent decisions regarding timing, placement, and other important issues under pressure. General Robert E. Lee was one such general. Lee was appointed commander of the Army of Northern Virginia by President Jefferson Davis when General Joseph Johnston was wounded after facing McClellan and his army on the outskirts of Richmond on May 31, 1861 during the battle of Seven Pines. Lee examined the situation carefully and decided to summon General "Stonewall" Jackson to help him. Together they attacked General McClellan's forces with great enthusiasm between June 26 and July 2, 1861. After two days of undecided fighting, McClellan was forced to retreat. Lee and Jackson kept coming strong and forced McClellan back to his base. Almost as soon as Lee had driven McClellan back, he saw the opportunity to crush Union General Pope and the attack he was mounting near the sight of the battle of Bull Run (Manassas), and took it, gaining the Confederates the victory of Second Bull Run (Second Manassas) and forcing the Union troops to retreat back to Washington for the time being. (McDuffie et al, p.92 and Bedford pg. 218-263). The first example of Southern victory shows Lee's ability to effectively use men and how to gauge how many would be needed to defeat his enemy. In the example of Southern victory stated above is demonstrated Lee's sense of timing. He probably would not have defeated Pope if he had not chosen his time of attack as well as he did. Even though the examples shown are all from decisions made by Lee, many of the other generals such as Jackson and Stuart, had the same level of ability for making decisions as Lee.
Along with decision-making, one aspect of command that made or broke a
general was effective employment of battle tactics. Several generals of the
South demonstrated excellent battle tactics by using their military knowledge.
In the Maryland campaign of 1862 Stuart had detained the enemy at Crampton's Gap
until Lee was ready to meet McClellan's army (Warner, p. 296). This demonstrated
an excellent battle tactic. Another general who demonstrated excellent military
strategy was Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah during the midsummer of 1862.
When Jackson retreated up the Valley, he learned that the enemy had begun to
withdraw and send troops to the east of the mountains to cooperate with
McClellan. He stopped this move an aggressive demonstration against Winchester,
occupied by General Shields, of the federal army, with a division of 8,000 to
10,000 men (Bedford, Volume 2, p. 283).
No army has ever been perfect, especially not the Army of the Confederate States of America, and there will probably never be a so called "perfect" army. But even though the army was far from being perfect, and some, if not most, of the generals, may not have known what a war was really all about and how to fight and win one, the South did have her fair share of adept generals who were more competent by half than their Union counterparts in military knowledge, battle tactics, and decision making under pressure. Had the South been endowed with characteristics that the North also possessed such as population, industry, railroads, and political structure, its generals may have been victorious.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders; 1959.
McDuffie, Jerome, Gary Piggrem, and Steven Woodworth. Advanced Placement Examination: United States History; 1995.
Bradford, Ned. Battle and Leaders of the Civil War: Volumes 1,2, and 3; 1956.