Question of the Week: 7/10-7/16/17

Is there a Civil War campaign that seems “textbook perfect” to you? Why?

20 Responses to Question of the Week: 7/10-7/16/17

  1. I vote Second Manassas. Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet were at the top of their form as a team with the initiative all the way and Pope never knew what hit him. Not sure why it doesn’t get more attention. Although same can be said of Grant at Vicksburg once he got across the river. On the navy side, has to be Farragut at New Orleans.

  2. Grant, Vicksburg Campaign from Bruinsburg landing through establishing the siege and regaining river communications near the Chicksaw Bluffs. Grant, Appomattox Campaign from Petersburg Breakthrough until Lee surrenders.

    1. David:

      You’re right on the money.

      The thing that impresses me the most about the Vicksburg campaign: Grant did a lot of improvising from Bruinsburg to Big Black River. That’s what makes the operation even more stunning. Grant had an overall strategy, but was able during the 18 days to adapt according to battlefield conditions. Without question, Vicksburg was the most brilliant campaign of the war. No other campaign comes close. Grant not only successfully used his army, but also closely coordinated with the Navy and sent a diversionary cavalry raid through Mississippi that completely flummoxed the Rebs. Oh, and he also cut much of his supply line, telling his troops to live off the land as much as possible.

      The thing about Appomattox that impresses me the most: Grant’s constant urging of his troops to aggressively pursue Lee. Lee had escaped several times during the Overland Campaign and at Gettysburg and Antietam. Grant was determined he wouldn’t escape once again.

      1. Bob, Grant’s use of his subordinates during the campaign and his combination of a ‘pursuing force’ and a ‘blocking force’ when conducting the pursuit interests me. Grant generally stayed with Meade and followed the Rebels to keep pressure on the rear of Lee’s column while Sheridan and Ord led the cavalry, XXIV and V Corps below and ahead of the ANVA columns. Habitual command relationships were scrambled by this task force, but two men whose ruthlessness Grant was certain of were given the most important mission of getting the lead and blocking off the routes south and southwest. Both were separate Department commanders, but cooperated well-enough together to accomplish the mission.

    2. David:

      Your reply today to my first post is, again, right on the money.

      The Appomattox campaign doesn’t get the attention it should. (Bruce Catton’s masterpiece is the exception that proves the rule.) Too many folks just write if off as inevitable, considering the deteriorated shape of the Army of Northern Virginia. Of course, they forget that the Army of the Potomac was a shadow of its former self, also. Grant basically willed his army to pursue, pursue, pursue. Sheridan and Ord were the tips of the sword. (I would add Custer to the list of sword tips.)

  3. On paper, I’d actually tip my hat to George McLellan on the Peninsula. On paper, both sides still recognized capitals as the prize to be won that would end the war. Little Mac’s approach neutralized the advantage of the Confederate interior position by exploiting the Union’s superior ability to move men and supplies by water. His plan to advance up the Peninsula secured both flanks, depriving the Confederacy of the advantages of maneuver and, theoretically, forcing a confrontation with his superior army. Victory would leave Richmond to fall into his lap. That’s all on paper and according to the textbook, of course.

    In practice….well, that’s another story.

    1. Lots of issues here. First, as you acknowledge, this is ultimately meaningless because it’s purely hypothetical [recalling von Moltke’s comment about plans surviving contact with the enemy]. If we’re going to give credit for theory, Joe Hooker’s May, 1863 plan was a damn good one, as well. Second, this was the re-working of a plan by McClellan. His strategic aim, as set out in his August, 1861 missive, was a decisive battle in Virginia against his Rebel opponent and not the capital at Richmond. His plan went from moving from Urbanna to moving up the Peninsula because Johnston bolted from central Virginia, rendering Urbanna unworkable. The problem with the line he ended up taking was that he put himself in a narrow track towards Richmond – no way of being flanked but no way of flanking, either. The real point, however, is that the execution failed. I have to go with Grant’s Vicksburg campaign, beginning with his crossing the river, because it actually worked.

  4. The only campaign that achieved its strategic goals, followed the timetable set down in the initial planning, in which all elements ( cavalry, infantry, signals & naval ) played their roles exactly as conceived, is The March to the Sea. The Confederate responce was exactly what was anticipated, so even the opposition is included in the success of the campaign plan. Start to finish, no other campaign remotely followed the letter & spirit of the initial planning as did the March to the Sea.

    1. A fair point but one might comment that it’s likely for a “campaign” to go as planned when there is no meaningful opposition. The real opposition went north, leaving Hardee and his cobbled-together small force as the only obstacle.

  5. With due notice that “no plan survives contact with the enemy,” probably the three that I would nominate as models of superb offensive execution are Second Manassas, Stones River (the pre-battle maneuvering), and Tullahoma.

  6. Lots of decent answers. I think we need to define terms a bit, however. IMO, “textbook perfect” should not mean that nothing goes wrong, but rather that all unexpected contingencies are well-handled, or have minimal effect on the outcome. Things always “go wrong.” It is a mark of good generalship that a commander is flexible enough to deal with the unexpected. With this as a preamble, I’m going to offer four candidates. In chronological order:

    Second Manassas




    If you put a gun to my head and force me to make a choice for the “best” here, I’d probably indulge my Grant inclinations and go with Vicksburg, but it would be hard to argue with any of these.

    1. James: I agree with three of your four. Tullahoma was a success until Rosecrans actually had to fight a battle – at Chickamauga Creek.

    2. James: An excellent point about what “textbook perfect” means in this context. For example, Second Manassas could have been more devastating if our friend Stonewall hadn’t developed the “slows” after Longstreet’s crushing Chinn Ridge attack. Our other friend McClellan “helped” out here, as well, and Pope made his own significant “contribution” by pretending that Longstreet hadn’t arrived and denuding the Federal left. Vicksburg, I think, had fewer of those aberrations once Grant made his decision to cross the river, although Pemberton and Johnston did a nice impression of “Men in a Coma” and Grant’s attempts at a direct assault were rebuffed once he had the city in a siege.

  7. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Outmaneuvered Johnston, outfought Hood, virtually eliminated the effectiveness of the opposing forces (no serious opposition on the March to the Sea), achieved both tactical and strategic objectives, eliminated the possibility of a favorable political outcome for the South by giving Lincoln a victory, and a major blow to Confederacy to continue the fight both militarily and and civilian support, and finally did not rest on is laurels but continued the fight until ultimate victory.

  8. Many good suggestions so far, and I’d like to enter a lesser known, and underappreciated, one: Sam Curtis’ campaign over the Ozark Plateau and the Battle of Pea Ridge in the winter of 1862. The whole point was to secure St. Louis as a logistical base by moving Price’s troops out of southwest Missouri, which Curtis accomplished. Pea Ridge itself is a good example of what Mr. Epperson referred to above regarding generalship when things “go wrong.” Curtis is in an excellent defensive position, facing south, with his trains in his rear. Van Dorn moves around his right flank and strikes in the rear. Curtis, while fighting a battle that was not of his choosing, does a complete 180 with his army; moving them to where the army is now facing north with his trains safely behind his lines. Post Pea Ridge, supply problems derail his move on Little Rock, but the campaign up to and including the battle itself is a fine example of generalship on the part of Sam Curtis.

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