Home Forums Horse and Musket American Civil War Couldn’t Jeff Davis fire anyone?

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    Avatar photovtsaogames

    During the American Civil War, Abe Lincoln sacked a number of Union generals. And they usually stayed sacked. McDowell never got a major independent command again, Pope was sent off to chase the Sioux, Burnside and Hooker both got lesser commands and McClellan turned to the political arena after being relieved the second time – with the same lack of success.

    But Jefferson Davis had to go back to the same well over and over. Of the first crop of full Confederate generals, only Lee was a success and got along with Davis. Albert Sidney Johnston died early at Shiloh and was not in the running afterwards. Beauregard wasn’t bad – when he wasn’t feuding with and plotting against Davis. Joe Johnston was nearly as cautious as Little Mac; specializing in retreats and excuses – when he wasn’t feuding with and plotting against Davis. Then there is Braxton Bragg, a good planner and trainer who became indecisive in the face of the enemy, who feuded with his subordinate generals incessantly and lacked the common touch. Routed at Chattanooga, he finally resigned. His buddy Davis soon brought him back as virtual chief of staff. From this position he was able to continue his feud with his old subordinates and continue his baleful influence on the star-crossed Army of Tennessee. When Bragg’s generals had twice before agitated to have Bragg removed, one of the reasons Davis sustained him was he wasn’t fond of the other choices – Beauregard or Joe Johnston.

    Only two others were later promoted to full general. Kirby-Smith was a good brigade commander who was promoted way above his level of competence. He became the telegraph-bound administrator of the trans-Mississippi. The other was John Bell Hood, a brilliant brigadier, a fine division commander, an average corps commander and one unfortunate army commander. Enraged by his subordinates in the Army of Tennessee (see a pattern here?), he sent Pat Cleburne and thousands of others to their deaths at Franklin. He then hung on outside Nashville long enough for George Thomas to come out and shatter his rump of an army.

    When a full Confederate general was unsuccessful, he remained in the small stable of available army commanders, all but the martyr Albert Sidney. Was Davis incapable of firing someone or did the Confederate Constitution tie his hands?

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood

    Avatar photoEtranger

    6 of (a) & half a dozen of (b) I suspect. There was also the problem of finding adequate replacements, given the high casualty rate amongst officers in the CSA. There can’t have been that large a pool of suitable officers in any case. The Union army also struggled with that to some extent, but of course had a larger cadre.

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    I would also guess that keeping the various states happy was more important in the CSA. The USA had trouble with that, too, but things got better as time went on.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoOB

    I’d tend to agree with that point Thaddeus.  Davis had to keep his States happy or the polity would fail. He ultimately was politically responsible for making it work.


    Avatar photovtsaogames

    Joe Brown of Georgia kept threatening to secede from the CSA, since that right was enshrined in the constitution, along with the right to own slaves.


    For political reasons, Davis inisted on a strategy of cordon defense, which Napoleon characterized as a method only good to stop smugglers.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood


    Davis probably knew they were never going to win.  They needed a string of “grand slam” victories.  Even by 1862 the Union was showing a certain amount of parity with the South as far as troop quality was concerned.  Generals were another matter completely.  They had Lee, Longstreet, AS Johnson and Jackson.  After 1863, they had Lee and Longstreet.  I am talking actual battlefield commanders.  Forest and Mosby were cavalry commanders, scouts and raiders.  They were never going to win a strategic victory over anything.  They question should not have been why didn’t he replace his generals but how was he going to replace his generals?

    The Union had Grant, Sherman and Thomas.  McClellan gets an honorable mention because he seemed to only want to “win enough” to bring the south back into line.  In other words, he was probably a decent commander militarily but was also a scum bag.  Howard, Hancock and Meade were solid commanders.  Rosecrans was decent enough.


    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    --Abraham Lincoln

    Avatar photovtsaogames

    Not impressed with AS Johnston. Grant and Thomas shredded his cordon defence. It is true that they all made mistakes at the start, including RE Lee in West Virginia. Albert Sidney might have risen above that but he was in deep trouble by Shiloh. Getting shot made him a martyr, but not a good general.


    Longstreet was probably the best corps commander on either side but didn’t show he had the chops for indepedent command in coastal North Carolina or Knoxville,  in 1863.

    Rosecrans? A notch better than Bragg, but not much more.


    I think Davis was perfectly capable of believeing what he wanted to. Lincoln had a better grip on what was going on. After getting burned by Jackson’s Valley campaign he left operational strategy to the professionals. Davis was convinced he knew better, fortunately for the Union.

    It's never too late to have a happy childhood

    Avatar photoSane Max

    McClellan gets an honorable mention because he seemed to only want to “win enough” to bring the south back into line.  In other words, he was probably a decent commander militarily but was also a scum bag.

    Hum, I don’t see it that way round. He knew his stuff but froze under stress, and hated risks. Antietam could have been a major victory rather than a bloody near- win, and he lacked the one skill that mattered – he really thought Generals were going to be allowed to do what they wanted in a Republic. As for being a scumbag… well, being in favour of trying to get the South to stop fighting rather than making it go all the way was an opionion shared by easily the majority of Americans at the time, they can’t all have been scumbags.

    I think the difference starts at the top. Lincoln had no idea how war worked, and so had to learn as he went along, that meant a lot of believing his New General had the Magic secret, and having to find a new one when it turned out they didn’t. Davis wanted to be a General rather than President, believed he had made all the best choices for command to begin with and let them get on with it.




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