By Jack McGuire
I often wonder about the men, Union and Confederate who fought so valiantly for their beliefs under some of the harshest conditions imaginable. At times plowing headlong across open fields into each other knowing full well a simple leg wound could mean the loss of life or limb. How the ebb and flow of a long war would question the reliability or even the mettle of their leadership.
The early success of Mexican War Veteran George McClellan in Western Virginia that dislodged Confederates from the passes of Rich Mountain and Laurel Mountain certainly played some role in his rise to prominence among the troops. Although one could surely think his proclamation that “No prospect of a brilliant victory shall induce me to depart from my intention of gaining success by maneuvering rather than fighting” would seem to portend his future reluctance to engage the enemy.
We have Fighting Joe Hooker whose federal army seriously outnumbered Southern troops yet General Lee was able to divide his army in two and force Hooker to retreat across the Rappahannock. While casualties on both sides were high, the most damaging loss to the Confederacy was Stonewall Jackson.
While the South seemed to enjoy early success General Pillow was suspended from command by Jefferson Davis for grave errors in judgment that led to the surrender of the army at Fort Donelson. General Bragg’s inability to communicate with his generals was magnified by a chronic indecisiveness. At Missionary Ridge he misplaced his line and went on to blame the loss on his troops. Mistakes, blunders and indecisiveness plagued both Blue and Grey uniformed fighting men throughout the conflict.
General Burnside’s failed leadership at Antietam permitted A. P. Hill’s divisions to move up from Harpers Ferry and contain the Union breakthrough. Burnside is also the architect of the futile assaults at Fredericksburg and at Petersburg he bungled the follow up to the mine explosion.
Fortunately when faced with what amounted to inept leadership we were blessed with the resolve of President Abe Lincoln who when faced with a rebellion of great magnitude was patient enough to sort through the failures of his Generals until he found those able to bring it to a conclusion. There has been a one hundred and fifty year debate on whether or not Confederate Generals were better than Union, but the truth of the matter is the fighting men under both their commands or their descendants should be able to sue for lack of support. For it is their courage. Their blood, sweat and tears we shall forever honor.
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