Question of the Week: 5/22-5/29/17

During the defense of Richmond/Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded. General Robert E. Lee took his place as army commander to defend Richmond from McClellan’s Union Army.

In your opinion, was there another Confederate general who could’ve stepped into that command role successfully at that time? Why or why not?

9 Responses to Question of the Week: 5/22-5/29/17

  1. I don’t think so. Given how much Davis liked to be involved in military operations, I don’t think anyone other than Lee could have managed both the army AND Davis simultaneously.

  2. No…there was no other general available who possessed Lee’s seniority, comfortable relationship with President Davis, and audacity.
    Consider the other available Generals: Samuel Cooper had never served in the role of field commander, had no reputation save as an Adjutant General, a desk general; Beauregard had recently been relieved of his command in the West.
    The Major Generals with the Richmond Army? Excellent to mediocre as division commanders, but none with high enough reputation among their peers to impose an audacious plan for offensive action or comfortable enough a relationship with the President to propose and win approval of such a plan.
    Jackson of the Valley? Audacious enough but, lacking in political acumen and man management skills, he could not have assumed effective command of the division commanders, a group of proud and balky subordinates.
    At that time and place, Lee was it.

    1. Stonewall also hadn’t finished in the Valley – Port Republic and Cross Keys wouldn’t happen for another week, You correctly note one of the many other problems that would have resulted from handing Jackson an entire army to “play with”, including putting an even larger number of subordinates under arrest and more subordinates who could be kept in the dark regarding his plans.

  3. Previous points are very well taken, especially the need for any Johnston replacement to be diplomatic in dealing with Jefferson Davis, whose sensibilities could be easily upset by the smallest slight (unlike his counterpart, Lincoln).

    That said, Beauregard, even though he and Davis hated each other, might have been an effective replacement for Johnston. Remember, Beauregard did a yoeman’s job at defending Richmond/Petersburg when Lee was completely fooled by Grant’s brilliant outflanking move to the James River from Cold Harbor in 1864.

    Also, even though Davis often let his ego and thin skin get in the way of military decisions, the Confederate president every now and then showed he could surmount these flaws, i.e. sticking with Johnston for so long (many critics say too long) during the Atlanta campaign.

    Also, Beauregard might have done even better than Lee during the Seven Days campaign. I doubt the Louisianan would have ordered the disastrous frontal attack on Malvern Hill. Beauregard was all about flanking, not head-on attacks.

    Another point, if Beauregard would have become the hero of Seven Days instead of Lee, the South might have won the war (perish the thought). Lee was extremely Virginia-centric. He repeatedly refused to acknowledge the Western Theater even existed. Unlike Lee, Beauregard, a native of New Orleans, realized almost from the beginning that the war would be won or lost in the West, not the East. It’s hard to believe that Beauregard would have refused to send troops from the Army of Northern Virginia to Western Theater, like Lee repeatedly did (with the single exception of Longstreet’s temporary assignment to the Chattanooga area in 1863.)

    1. Those are interesting and good points about Beauregard as the only viable option to Lee. Two problems I see: (1) Timing – Beauregard only retreated from Corinth on May 29 – I don’t see how he could feasibly have been designated as Johnston’s replacement three days later – and his post-Corinth conduct quickly incensed Davis; (2) Outcome – predicting these types of hypotheticals is always interesting but risky. Beauregard couldn’t take credit for the decisions which led to the win at First Bull Run, and he clearly screwed up at Shiloh after succeeding another Johnston. I’m not suggesting that the result on April 7 would have been any different but Borie’s poor decisions helped insure that. His defense of Richmond after Grant crossed the James was a nice accomplishment but much was due to Federal incompetence in executing Grant’s plans.

  4. I think it was plan good luck for the Confederacy that he was available to ale over. It always surprised me that position wasn’t given him initially. Perhaps the war would have ended more quickly if Lee had not even so placed. Lee and Davis worked as a team, unlike Johnston and Beauregard.
    Just my take, knowing my knowledge is incomplete. Now I will be thinking about this all day.

  5. How about James Ewell Brown Stuart? Jeb did a fine job leading an infantry corps after Stonewall was fatally wounded at Chancellorsville.

  6. Or maybe James Longstreet. Old Pete didn’t do too well on his own in the Western Theater, after Chickamauga. But in the East he wouldn’t have to put up with Braxton Bragg.

  7. Davis had few cards to play and Lee was his only ace. I am not aware of any subordinate General complaining about the appointment at the time or in the next few months. I think Stuart would have been far too inexperienced and Longstreet (for who I have a great regard) was not at this time ready for strategic command though soon afterwards he put forward thoughts that might have won the war for the Confederacy if adopted by Davis. Fortunately for the Union Old Pete may have had a grasp ,of the strategic situation but his appreciation of political realities was almost non existent and his habit of garnering support from Davis’s known adversaries in Richmond doomed his attempts at influencing the progress of the war.

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