Question of the Week 12/21 – 12/27


From last week’s QotW from Chris Kolakowski regarding leaders who rose to the occasion, what do you think is the most important battlefield decision of the war?

What about in the East? or the West?

12 Responses to Question of the Week 12/21 – 12/27

  1. Chris probably sees this coming but…Buell’s inability to move on East Tennessee in the Spring of 1862 even under repeated and direct orders from his Commander, General McClellan, kept the Army of Northern Virginia fed and reinforced for the rest of the year and I think an argument could be made for the entire war. Buell’s intransigence extended the war. If he moves on East Tennessee and blocks the rail lines, Lee’s army starves for want of food and troops by 1863.

  2. McClellan’s decision to forego attacking Richmond at the beginning of the Seven Days. Lee took a risk; it payed off.

  3. In the West, General Geo H. Thomas’ decision to stand at Chickamauga saved Chattanooga, and allowed a spring 1864 campaign to take Atlanta. Had Chattanooga fallen, Atlanta would have been in Confederate hands during the 1864 elections and perhaps Lincoln would have lost.

  4. Agree with Thomas’s stand on Snodgrass Hill in the West; Grant’s decision to head south after the stalemate in the Wilderness in the East

  5. Good nominees. Here’s my candidates:

    East (chronologically) – 1. McClellan’s decision to retreat to the James and abandon the Richmond Campaign. Extends the war and ensures that from here out, the war will be longer and harder than people previously thought.
    2. Stonewall Jackson’s decision to undertake a personal reconnaissance the evening of May 2, 1863. On that ride he was mortally wounded.
    3. Meade’s decision to fight at Gettysburg. The effects are self-evident.
    4. Grant’s decision to head south from the Wilderness, correctly called the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

    West (chronologically) – 1. Rosecrans’ decision to abandon his attack plans and save the army on December 31, 1862 at Stones River. Although much hard fighting remained, this was one of the key decisions of that battle, fought with such high stakes.
    2. Bragg’s frittering of Breckinridge’s Division on December 31, 1862. The mismanagement of this division, which went in too late and in the wrong place, cost Bragg the battle.
    3. Pemberton’s decision to fall back on Vicksburg, allowing him to be invested and ultimately starved out. This choice turned the campaign and ultimately the war along the Mississippi River.
    4. George Thomas’ decision at Chickamauga to defend at Snodgrass Hill and around Kelly Field. The importance of this has been cogently explained above.

    For the entire war, I have to put Grant’s decision to turn south in the top spot.

  6. This one is easy. McClellan’s decisions, based on his fear of nonexistent countless Confederate reserves, not to reinforce Burnside nor to attack the Confederate center at Antietam at approximately 4 PM, September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam. Either action had the potential to deal a devastating blow to Lee’s forces.

  7. Opening fire on Ft. Sumter in 1861 is undoubtedly the most significant battlefield decision of the War, East or West.

  8. Certainly a critical decision was that of Warren to send for troops to occupy Little Round Top at Gettysburg–which saved the Union flank and the battle. On the other hand, the most critical indecision, was Pemberton’s indecisiveness prior to Champion Hill, that led directly to the loss of an Army and Vicksburg.

  9. Jackson’s Flank March @ Chancellorsville. It changed the North’s whole leadership structure, was truly brash, bold and shocking, was simultaneously Jackson’s greatest moment and the cause of his death. The maneuver, the battle, the loss of leaders @ Chancellorsville shaped what occurred @ Gettysburg maybe more than anything else and Stonewall’s loss left Lee short handed thereafter.


  11. While I think that all of the responses have great merit, they may be a bit more tactical than strategic. I would propose that it was Lincoln’s decision to bring Grant east and head all northern armies that had the greatest strategic impact. One might argue that this was a political decision; however, it must be remembered that Lincoln was the Commander-in-Chief of the northern forces and was therefore making a military decision. When it comes to tactical decisions, one might also consider Buford’s call to establish a defense focused on the ridges and high ground in and about Gettysburg.
    Thanks for the thought provoking question.

    1. You’re welcome! I agree the appointment of Grant as general-in-chief is a huge moment. I did a blog post on it back in 2014:

      That said, the question was about battlefield decisions, which are by definition tactical. We have had some very thought-provoking answers and discussion, and it’s been interesting to see others’ perspectives.

      There’s a whole other question about the great strategic decisions of the war that can be asked. Perhaps a future Question of the Week . . .

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