Question of the Week: 5/16-5/22/16


From Sarah Kay Bierle: General “Stonewall” Jackson won an impressive strategic victory during the 1862 Valley Campaign, but he was not fighting “the best” of the Union generals. What do you think might have happened if Jackson had lived and faced Sheridan, Grant, or Sherman on a battlefield?

12 Responses to Question of the Week: 5/16-5/22/16

  1. It’s one of those “what-if’s” that is difficult, if not impossible to answer. The Grant of ’61 or the Grant who developed into the general we see later during the Overland Campaign, and the same with Sherman. There are other Union Generals as well, who proved with experience and when given the opportunity of higher command to be excellent, such as Hancock. And let’s not forget George Thomas. Jackson did what he did, when and where he did, with what he had, against who he fought. I think there are too many variables entering the equation in What-if questions, to give a definitive answer.

  2. The Grant of Donelson, Sherman of Shiloh, and Thomas of Mill Springs are roughly contemporaries of Jackson of the Valley. We know that all of them could absorb an attack, even a surprise attack and yet keep their composure. In Grant and Thomas at least, we see men more than willing and able to throw their own punches and maintain contact until the other side breaks. Grant, fully as well as Jackson, knew the importance of moving quickly, seeking surprise, and keeping up the pressure on a wavering enemy. I think that we may have had an ‘Overland’ situation in ’62 instead of ’64…ferocious fighting and continuous contact, and rapid movement until one or both sides simply collapsed. 150 years later, the winner would be criticized by historians for engaging in a long slog with no ‘brilliant’ results, and the loser would be criticized for finally being run down.

    1. Great reply. Jackson shares with Grant, Lee, and a few others an instinctive tactical sense, comprehension of the battlefield and his adversaries’ abilities, and unflinching resolve to move aggressively, along with the ability to inspire and lead. These being rare qualities, he was usually up against lesser opponents. He also complemented Lee as a subordinate and partner, as Sherman did with Grant. Whether Jackson would have matured into an effective army commander as Grant did is another question.

    2. Absolutely! Great point. What do you think of Sherman and Sheridan? By the time they evolved into those kinds of generals, their advantages in men and materiel were so large as to be undeniable. It’s much easier to take the kind of risks that Jackson and Grant took when you so clearly overmatch your adversary.

  3. Actually, Jackson was a mediocre tactician. His troop handling on the battlefield was often filled with blunders, as any number of men at Kernstown, Cedar Mountain, etc. could attest to. Even his deployments at Chancellorsville were deeply flawed – it took too long to deploy all three divisions and one didn’t even get into the fight. He had very good operational instincts, as reflected in the Valley Campaign, but he was not consistant. Of course, that is true of almost any general you name.

    1. Dave: An excellent post. To fill out your “etc” I’d add Port Republic/Cross Keys, the second day at 2BR, Brawners Farm, and the inexplicable gap in his front at Fredericksburg which could easily have turned that into a surprising win for the Yanks. Those repeated tactical misfires undermine the established excuse that his horrendous performance during the last week of June, 1862 was caused solely by “exhaustion”. That’s why, whenever the “Stonewall Instead of Ewell on July 1” canard comes up, I immediately envision Jackson trickling troops into the fray while Hancock, Howard, et al. make Cemetery Hill impregnable.

      1. Yeah, very few Civil War commanders were good tacticians. Many were good at strategic thinking or operational thinking or simply good leaders. But battlefield tactics were not a strong suit for most folks, regardless of the uniform.

  4. I am afraid i must confess ; I simply do not have the military knowledge nor the experience nor the in site to know what exactly was happening at that time over 150 years ago .
    Think ill stick to reading and paying my respects to them and leave the judgements alone .
    With no dis respect at all I never cared much for what if s in history ,. Prefer what really happened.
    Guess I could never of been a Hollywood writer lol

  5. The answer might have been answered at First Manassas where Jackson did face Sherman, Both in the infancy of their Civil War careers and maybe in later years of the war if might have been different. But that day of July 21,1861 Sherman was defeating and Jackson was immortalized with the nickname “Stonewall” and rewarded as the new hero of the South! Jackson was fallible too, Seven Days, Cedar Mountain as examples but I’m in the group that thinks Jackson makes the difference at Gettysburg!

  6. I have to go with Dave here. Let’s not forget that Jackson lost a battle to Nathan Kimball in March 1862, and suffered a half-defeat at Cedar Mountain to Nathaniel Banks.

    I agree with the fundamental premise that Jackson’s Valley opponents weren’t the cream of the crop, but they were also hamstrung by divergent missions (Fremont heading to Tennessee initially; Banks to clear the Valley, then abandon it ASAP and join McClellan, etc), lack of unity of command, and the fact that the Federals failed to understand that the Valley and Richmond operations were inextricably linked.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!