Different commanders at Antietam

HIST: Discussions about the last 4000 years of history, give or take a few days.

Moderator: K. A. Pital

Post Reply
User avatar
Isolder74
Official SD.Net Ace of Cakes
Posts: 6752
Joined: 2002-07-10 01:16am
Location: Weber State of Construction University
Contact:

Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Isolder74 »

It's well known that the Union commander at The Battle of Antietam was the overly cautionous and slow to act McClellan. Given how many advantages he'd been handed before the battle he should have been able to pull of more than the token victory he actually got. It has to be wondered what other Union generals would have been able to do once handed the massive information coup that Little Mac got handed before the battle. To put it simple, he had a copy of Lee's marching orders day before the battle and did not act on the information quickly enough. He acted fast in relation to himself but still was as slow and cautions as usual.

Here's the supposition, let's put a different Union commander in charge and discuss how each of them would have handled the battle differently. We all know most of the command styles of these generals and their various reputations. The easy modes of Grant and Sherman should go last.

Hooker: Given his planning and command styles I'm not sure how much different he'd do but he was more agressive then the historical commander. Wonderful field commander but did not do well at overall adapting once things don't go to plan. --Even

Burnside: His reputation was greatly sullied by his massive losses during The Battle of Fredericksburg. Much of that was due to logistics failings that were not completely his fault. He was a good field commander. --Even

Meade: A good contender for doing much better when in charge of not only the battle itself but also the lead up to it. He was an agressive but also more subdued commander when it comes to his strategic planning. He gets points for being one commander to actually out think Lee on the battle level. +5

Sheridan: The Union commander best known for his campaigns in the Shenadoah Valley and his brutal strikes against Confederate supply lines. +5

Thomas: The rock of Chickamonga. Excellent commander of both field and strategic armies. Stood when others would fall back. +8

Grant: Unconditional Surrender Grant. We know his style well. +9

Sherman: The king of flanking and surrounding the enemy. Grant's right hand man. +10
Hapan Battle Dragons Rule!
When you want peace prepare for war! --Confusious
That was disapointing ..Should we show this Federation how to build a ship so we may have worthy foes? Typhonis 1
The Prince of The Writer's Guild|HAB Spacewolf Tank General| God Bless America!
User avatar
Rogue 9
Scrapping TIEs since 1997
Posts: 18431
Joined: 2003-11-12 01:10pm
Location: Classified
Contact:

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Rogue 9 »

Grant or Sherman, handed Lee's marching orders, would doubtless have hit his lines of communication and defeated the Army of Northern Virginia in detail. McClellan's behavior was inexcusable; he was so terrified of casualties and risking his reputation among the men that he simply would not act.
It's Rogue, not Rouge!

HAB | KotL | VRWC/ELC/CDA | TRotR | The Anti-Confederate | Sluggite | Gamer | Blogger | Staff Reporter | Student | Musician
User avatar
Isolder74
Official SD.Net Ace of Cakes
Posts: 6752
Joined: 2002-07-10 01:16am
Location: Weber State of Construction University
Contact:

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Isolder74 »

Indeed, he even got to Antietam 2 days before he attacked Lee and refused to press his advantage. The idea of this thread was to talk about how much better each of these guys would have been if in command instead of McClellan. Of course Grant or Sherman is easy mode on that so should go last but frankly Litle Mac had no spine.

Even during the battle it took him hours to send out orders during the battle actually costing him more men then if he acted quickly.

Grant often gets called a butcher because he attacked and lost men but at least he attacked.
Hapan Battle Dragons Rule!
When you want peace prepare for war! --Confusious
That was disapointing ..Should we show this Federation how to build a ship so we may have worthy foes? Typhonis 1
The Prince of The Writer's Guild|HAB Spacewolf Tank General| God Bless America!
Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30165
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Simon_Jester »

Isolder74 wrote: 2020-08-17 01:09amBurnside: His reputation was greatly sullied by his massive losses during The Battle of Fredericksburg. Much of that was due to logistics failings that were not completely his fault. He was a good field commander. --Even
...Burnside fucked up due to insufficient aggression as a corps commander at Spotsylvania Court House early in the battle. He sent an unprepared division under a fuckup general to the Battle of the Crater and thus played a key role in that shitshow. His entire command structure for the Army of the Potomac during his tenure as general was unwieldy. That's just off the top of my head.

To be fair, he might not actually be worse than McClellan in the relevant role... but that really isn't saying very much. Hooker would probably be better, again, just from having the balls to actually attack.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov
User avatar
Isolder74
Official SD.Net Ace of Cakes
Posts: 6752
Joined: 2002-07-10 01:16am
Location: Weber State of Construction University
Contact:

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Isolder74 »

I think one of Burnside's big failings in general is that he wouldn't questions orders from his higher ups. It seemed that when we was put in command by himself he didn't know what to do.
Hapan Battle Dragons Rule!
When you want peace prepare for war! --Confusious
That was disapointing ..Should we show this Federation how to build a ship so we may have worthy foes? Typhonis 1
The Prince of The Writer's Guild|HAB Spacewolf Tank General| God Bless America!
Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30165
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Simon_Jester »

I mean, yes, but that also applied to him being a subordinate commander maneuvering independently (Spotsylvania Court House). And he was perfectly capable of accepting an incompetent subordinate and failing to control or supervise them, to the detriment of an overall plan (Ledlie at and before Petersburg)

So he couldn't lead, and he couldn't act independently in pursuit of the army's overall objective while serving as a subordinate commander, and he couldn't supervise his own subordinates to ensure they correctly carried out a critical operation with implications at the army level.

That combination sounds like a fairly comprehensive set of 'failure' to me.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov
User avatar
Isolder74
Official SD.Net Ace of Cakes
Posts: 6752
Joined: 2002-07-10 01:16am
Location: Weber State of Construction University
Contact:

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Isolder74 »

This is why I feel that both him and Hooker would have left the battle about the same as McClellen. It's only possible that they might have tried attacking the day they'd arrived instead of waiting 2 days to assault the Confederate position as McClellan did.

Frankly, given the information he was handed, the historical commander acted extremely incompetently. Even given a copy of his oponent's marching orders, which includes division deployments, he sat on his hands and moved slow and with indecisiveness. He knows that a good portion of Lee's army is off at Harper's Ferry and he still won't move agressivly.

I can only imagine how fast Lee would be in trouble against perhaps Thomas or Sheridan if you handed them the same intelligence coup.
Hapan Battle Dragons Rule!
When you want peace prepare for war! --Confusious
That was disapointing ..Should we show this Federation how to build a ship so we may have worthy foes? Typhonis 1
The Prince of The Writer's Guild|HAB Spacewolf Tank General| God Bless America!
User avatar
irishmick79
Rabid Monkey
Posts: 2272
Joined: 2002-07-16 05:07pm
Location: Wisconsin

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by irishmick79 »

I know this hasn't been added to in a while, but I'll add a few notes regarding Antietam.

First, and this is quite important - there were very, very few officers in either army who could have rallied the Federal forces as effectively as McClellan did following the disaster at 2nd Manassas. The forces that had been the Army of Virginia under Pope were an effectively demoralized lot, strung out from campaigning, and experiencing great shortages in equipment and competent officers. The Army of the Potomac was still arriving from the Virginia peninsula piecemeal, and would take a few days before it was at full strength. When McClellan was restored to command on 29 Aug, the effect on the men was electrifying. As McClellan moved forward into western Maryland, his presence energized the men and gave them renewed confidence in victory. I really don't think it's much of an exaggeration to think that McClellan was probably the only man in either army who could have achieved this.

Second, cavalry. The U.S. Army had serious issues with the state of its cavalry arm, which was virtually useless in the campaigning. Pope had effectively wrecked his cavalry arm through overuse and mismanagement, and McClellan needed time to reassemble it. The lack of adequate cavalry meant that McClellan lacked reliable scouts who could feed him information on enemy movements and strength. McClellan never really could develop a competent cavalry arm, instead choosing to rely on the much maligned Allan Pinkerton and his services for information. While McClellan did indeed greatly inflate the strength of the rebel forces, there was an army wide sense that the rebels outnumbered the U.S. Army. Having adequate cavalry on hand could have given McClellan the means to verify the accuracy of the information uncovered in Special Order 191, and to monitor the rebel reaction to his advancing forces.

Third, logistics. The Army of the Potomac's logistical situation was a mess. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the primary link which served the Army in Western Maryland, and it had been extensively raided by the rebels and was under capacity to serve the entire army. While this would be rectified as the army moved westward and continued to operate from Hagerstown and Frederick following Antietam, prior to the battle the supply system couldn't meet the army's needs. McClellan furthermore inherited the Army of Virginia, which was in a state of complete disarray. He had to refit and reorganize this force on the march in the midst of a campaign.

Fourth, let's talk about Special Order 191. This is the infamous Lost Order, which much has been made of and for which McClellan has been lambasted for not taking full advantage of. A few salient points are useful to remember - the order did not indicate any overall objectives, did not even indicate that Jackson was to seize Harper's Ferry...merely to intercept any forces which attempted to escape that way. The order furthermore does not outline strengths, conditions, or specific objectives of any of the rebel army's formations. And perhaps most importantly, when it was discovered the order was already four days old. It was written on 9 September, and not discovered until 13 September. This is indeed a critical point to consider as much can happen in four days to render a written operational plan moot. McClellan would need time to verify that the rebels were still executing the provisions of the order, and make sure that the rebels had not significantly deviated from the deployments outlined in the letter. What could have helped McClellan the most with this task you ask? Oh yeah, a reliable cavalry arm.

McClellan was still receiving telegrams from Harper's Ferry as late as the 12th, so had reason to question if Jackson was indeed going to Harper's Ferry as the order suggested. Furthermore, he was receiving constant suggestions from Halleck about ensuring the security of the capital, and urging him to the relief of the garrison there. This was something of a challenge to accomplish, as Halleck did not wish for McClellan to hug too close to the Potomac and give Lee an opportunity to slip around his right flank.

So overall, would another commander have fought the battle differently? Probably. Would they have achieved a better result? Hard to say. Given the complete shit show that was the Northern high command during this period, a different commander would have been navigating a meddling War Department, a completely demoralized army, virtually useless cavalry, and a chaotic supply situation. Not exactly a recipe for success. Any commander coming from the west would have likely been regarded with a great deal of suspicion by the eastern army, and would have needed a few extra days to get to the capital and settle into command. This gives Lee more time to run wild in Maryland, maybe Pennsylvania. Coming on the heels of 2nd Manassas, this is pretty much completely unacceptable to Lincoln, who is already eating a political shit burger following the implosion of the Peninsula Campaign. And oh yeah, there's an indian uprising in Minnesota, and an invasion of Kentucky going on at the same time to boot. Let's not even talk about the bloody English, or what the French are designing for Mexico and Texas.
"A country without a Czar is like a village without an idiot."
- Old Russian Saying
Darken
Redshirt
Posts: 5
Joined: 2022-05-22 09:38am

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Darken »

McClellan was a great organizer to be sure. But as a field commander, he was atrocious. Maybe not the worst, but given all the resources he had, there is no reason he should not have done better.

McClellan was not cautious because he worried about high casualties. He was cautious because he continuously believed that he was outnumbered, which is absurd. This wasn't contemporary propaganda, or some political ploy to undermine him--you can read his own accounts, the accounts of his staff, accounts of men who worked with him ... he constantly called for reinforcements. He repeatedly told the President that he would "move soon" and then find another reason to delay.
in short, I think McClellan fell victim to what happens to a lot of sports teams -- they're more worried about not losing than they are with winning.
User avatar
Isolder74
Official SD.Net Ace of Cakes
Posts: 6752
Joined: 2002-07-10 01:16am
Location: Weber State of Construction University
Contact:

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Isolder74 »

I was going to say the same thing but I didn't want to play a part in dredging up a dead thread.

McClellan was useless as a field commander.

Sure he was great at training and getting the men the 'beans and bullets' that they needed but was incapable of handling risk. Having an well equipted army is useless if you aren't willing to use it. Multiple times he allowed himself to be fooled into thinking he was facing armies much larger then was actually present and refused to do his own recon and scouting. Worse he was incapable of thinking he was wrong and unable to listen to his lower ranking commanders. More then once during the Pennenula Campaign he lost chances to crush the Confederates because he convinced himself that he was outnumered when everyone below him told him otherwise. He was a fool and even when he was handed information that should have meant easy victory he still dragged his feet and let Lee regroup instead of take him out while he was dispersed. Antitiem should have been a crushing victory but he let himself stall the battle into a draw.
Hapan Battle Dragons Rule!
When you want peace prepare for war! --Confusious
That was disapointing ..Should we show this Federation how to build a ship so we may have worthy foes? Typhonis 1
The Prince of The Writer's Guild|HAB Spacewolf Tank General| God Bless America!
User avatar
Lord Revan
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 11673
Joined: 2004-05-20 02:23pm
Location: Zone:classified

Re: Different commanders at Antietam

Post by Lord Revan »

McCellan's worries about being outnumbered make even less sense since IIRC the South had lower population and thus lower recruitment pool then the North and that's ignoring the troops or just people needed to be kept home to make sure the slaves won't revolt something that wasn't really an issue with the North.

Everything I've read suggests that McCellan might have made a decent staff officer who in charge of either logistics or training but a field commander he was too afraid of the enemy to be of any worth.

Say what you will about Lee but he was able to beat armies bigger then his own by being tactically bold.
I may be an idiot, but I'm a tolerated idiot
"I think you completely missed the point of sigs. They're supposed to be completely homegrown in the fertile hydroponics lab of your mind, dried in your closet, rolled, and smoked...
Oh wait, that's marijuana..."Einhander Sn0m4n
Post Reply