Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Were these four Union generals better than more famous Civil War generals?

we are the mighty has a post titled
4 Union generals that were better than any of the 'famous' ones
that begins with a contemporary “workplace” theme:

Every workplace has them: the loudest, most boisterous employees, constantly talking about how much work they're doing and how good they are at their jobs or making a scene with their after-work activities. Meanwhile, quietly plugging away somewhere, there are the employees who really are good at their job, their performance going unnoticed because they simply just want to finish up and go home.

There is a different workplace theme underlying some of these stories, unmentioned in the set-up: getting along with your superior.

The fourth general on the list, Union Major General George “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas is not unknown to students of the Civil War and not underrated by many. A problem Thomas had was not getting along with Ulysses Grant, a problem shared by Major General Lew Wallace.

The full story of Nathan Kimball, the second general on the list, also illustrates the issue, although not as to Kimball himself. The wearethemighty post points out that Kimball defeated Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson at Kernstown on March 23, 1862. Unmentioned in the post is that Jackson never accepted the blame for defeat at Kernstown, and instead charged the then-leader of the Stonewall Brigade, Richard Brooke Garnett, with disobeying orders. Jackson ordered Garnett to be arrested for "neglect of duty" on April 1, 1862 and relieved him of command. Garnett's court-martial started in August 1862. Robert E. Lee ordered Garnett released and Garnett, desparately seeking redemption, died in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. As to the underlying facts, Jackson, misinformed of the size of the Union force under General Shields, ordered Garnett to attack, even though the Union forces outnumbered Confederates two to one. In the fighting, Shields was wounded and Kimball took over. At the time of the Confederate withdrawal, Garnett’s troops were low on ammunition and facing attack on multiple fronts. As to Jackson’s prowess in this time period, recall at the Battle of Glendale on June 30, 1862 during the Seven Days, Jackson executed poorly, which led to a serious loss at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862.

The third general on the list, August Willich, has an interesting backstory. He was an avowed communist, and considered Karl Marx too conservative. He commanded the 32nd Indiana at Shiloh, and on the second day [April 7, 1862], ordered the regimental band to play "La Marseillaise." The high point of Willich’s Civil War career came when the 32nd stormed up Missionary Ridge. Whether they were initially given such a command from Willich, or did so merely motivated by self-preservation, this was a key turning point in the battle, and ultimately paved the way for the Atlanta campaign.

As a footnote, Grant held Lew Wallace responsible for the bad showing by Union forces on the first day of Shiloh, and Wallace would never have a significant field command for the remainder of the war. Even when Lew Wallace arguably saved Washington DC by his stand at the Battle of Monocacy, Grant was slow to give credit, and Grant did little dispel the issue of Wallace's performance at Shiloh. Although Wallace's Ben Hur is generally viewed as a story about the power of Jesus Christ, in many ways it is the story of Lew Wallace's seeking a righting of a wrong done to Wallace.

Returning to the workplace theme of wearethemighty, the stories of Thomas, Wallace, and Garnett (the loser to Kimball at Kernstown) illustrate what happens if your superior is willing to throw you under the bus. Separately, if the un-ordered charge up Missionary Ridge had failed, Willich could have been an easy scapegoat.

As to who was better, most people recognize what Thomas achieved. Could he have master-minded the Vicksburg campaign? Probably not. Did he save Rosecrans from terrible defeat at Chickamauga? Yes.
Kimball beat Jackson at Kernstown, but Union forces had a two-to-one advantage. Separately, although Kernstown was a tactical defeat for the Confederacy, it was a strategic victory for the Confederacy, because it tied up Union troops McClellan could have used in the Seven Days. As to "better," Kimball was a competent divisional commander through the Civil War, but not much evidence he performed significantly better than others. Although Willich had an unusual style, similar comments could be made about Willich.

Further, as to Willich, note that the Union Army (of the United States of America) had no reservation to having an avowed communist as a general. Shortly thereafter, the Germans (Prussians) declined Willich's offer to serve in the Franco-Prussian War.


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