Monday, August 29, 2005

Top ten Civil War generals

John Hawkins has his list, and here’s mine. Would now be a good time to brag that I’ve read the entire Shelby Foote history on the Civil War? I think so.

1) William Tecumseh Sherman – Except for one battle outside Atlanta (Kennesaw Mt.), almost never made a strategic error on the battlefield. His victories in 1864 paved the way for Lincoln’s re-election. Almost single-handedly broke the will of the South to continue the war.
2) Robert E. Lee
3) Nathan Bedford Forrest
4) U.S. Grant
5) Joe Johnston
6) Stonewall Jackson
7) Winfield Scott Hancock
8) Philip Kearny – Long-forgotten, one-armed Kearny was called “the bravest and most perfect soldier” by Winfield Scott. Fearless in battle, he led a series of charges during the Peninsula campaign and had the cojones to tell George McClellan that he was either a coward or a traitor for retreating. Already a superb general, Kearny would have gone on to greater fame if he had not been killed in 1862.
9) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain – If only for his show of respect towards Confederate troops at Appomattox. Oh, and there was that Gettysburg thing when he was a colonel.
10) George McClellan – Yes, I know. He screwed up the Peninsula campaign, he failed to pursue the Confederate army after Antietam, he belittled Lincoln at every turn, etc. But in the aftermath of (first) Bull Run, he also assembled, organized and trained the largest army on earth and prepared them for the battle ahead.

Honorable mention: Herman Haupt. Another unsung hero of the Civil War, “General” (he refused a military commission) Haupt was in charge of the Union railroad system which played a critical role in troop transport, military supplies, and communication. He literally wrote the book on bridge building and Lincoln was known to have exclaimed: “That man Haupt has built a bridge across Potomac Creek, about 400 feet long and nearly 100 feet high, over which loaded trains are running every hour, and, upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but beanpoles and corn stalks.


enobarbus said...

Interesting choices. I think I would put Grant higher on the list, for what one might call "intangibles." His tenacity was legendary, bordering on insane. His movements to put Vicksburg under siege alone put him in the top 5. Sherman himself was in absolute awe of the man.

He's been saddled with the repuatation of a drunken gambler of a general, but what he lacked of Lee's absolute mastery of tactics, he made up for with his iron will and his ability to see and exploit his advantages -- something McClellan and Burnside never could do.

Neat stuff.

Nick McGuinness said...

I'd rank Union Major General George Thomas (the "Rock of Chicamauga") higher than Forrest in light of Forrest's involvement in the massacre of black solders during the capture of Fort Pillow (April '64)

Eric said...

Yeah, it was tough to list Forrest but most historians grudgingly admit that he was an effective general. Thomas is good but never reached the stature he deserved.

I was torn about leaving Phil Sheridan off my top 10, also. A superb cavalry officer.

Anonymous said...

Poor George Meade. If only he had lived longer after the war and had an ego/political ambition he would have made the list.