Last week we asked if you thought there was a “textbook perfect” campaign. This time let’s reverse the question:
Which Civil War campaign seems least effective or most disastrous to you? Why?
My pick is The Battle of Fredericksburg. It’s not necessarily a “campaign” but that specific battle IMO resulted in disaster and gained no significant advantages for either side. If you are looking for disasters I would say they were imposed on both sides. The bombardment and destruction of the city and surrounding area dealt a blow to the local civilians and of course the disastrous charge at the stone wall and Marye’s Heights levied a deadly blow to the Union Army. Of course you can say that it had an emotional impact on both sides but in regards to an overall tactical “disaster” it would be my pick.
– Michael Aubrecht
Same commander but I’d volunteer the Mud March – I guess the good news is that nobody got killed (unless they disappeared in the muck)
Hood in Tennessee.
The Braxton Bragg-Kirby Smith invasion of Kentucky in 1862 failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. The campaign was predicated on the false premise that the people of Kentucky would flock to Bragg’s army & drive the Yankees out. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In a profound failure of reconnaissance, John Hunt Morgan substituted his chronic self aggrandizement blinded him to the thin to non-existent support for secession in Kentucky. Morgan also failed to alert Bragg to the desert like conditions that El Niño had inflicted on the state. The stated goal of forcing the Federals to abandon Nashville by capturing Louisville ignored logistical realities. Had Bragg taken Louisville, his army would have starved to death if he attempted to hold it. Louisville was a transshipment point, with winter coming on, there was nothing in Louisville or the surrounding area capable of sustaining his army. The Confederate Army had no resources for logistical support of an army wintering on th Ohio River. The divided command of Bragg & Kirby Smith is a textbook example of how to fordoom a campaign. There was a complete failure of reconnaissance; Joseph Wheeler was incapable of providing Bragg with even the most elemental warning of the Federal forces approaching Perryville. After the fur ball battle there, Bragg had three days rations; his animals were dropping dead from starvation & thirst; the onset of winter weather threatening to literally freeze him in place, Bragg was forced into a horrific death march to Knoxville. While Bragg was in Kentucky, in a characteristic display of incompetence, the supply base in Chattanooga was removed from Bragg’s command. His orders for supplies to be brought forward to his frozen, starving army were ignored. Bragg, in a singular admission, reported that he did know where his army was or how many men were left in the ranks. What could be a greater admission of failure than that?
My submission was written on an iPad amid constant interruptions. Unfortunately, there is no edit option, so this is an errata. Bragg reported to Davis that he did not know how many men he had or where they were. What could be a greater admission of failure than that? Davis’ unfathomable decision to confirm Bragg in command placed the disastrous 1862 Kentucky Campaign in a category of failure all of its own.
There was one big positive to the campaign, however (for the South). Buell was positioned to move on Chattanooga and was in between two weak enemy armies. By combining the armies and moving north it forced Buell to abandon his own plans and follow Bragg. It probably delayed the fall of Chattanooga by a year.
It also resulted in the replacement of Buell with Rosecrans. I guess it can be debated on whether or not that was an improvement.
Some might say that the real problem was (1) Smith’s insistence on being independent of Bragg and refusing to cooperate with him (2) coupled with Davis’s refusal to require that cooperation.
A perfect description! Well written.
The Confederate operations during Ft. Henry-Donelson resulted in the capture of the entire rebel army; penetrated the rebel’s strategic line in the Western theater; secured Nashville & most of Tennessee; & confirmed Grant’s tactical & strategic concept to aggressively seize & exploit the initiative…a model that proved decisive in winning the West & ultimately the war.
All of the above are good choices, but how about the 1864 Red River campaign. Not only was it a complete failure, it pulled much needed Union troops away from other proposed campaigns that might have ended the war many months earlier. And to make matters worse, the Union troops outnumbered the Rebs by about 2-1.
Excellent choice! Richard Taylor is seldom mentioned among the “great generals” but he clearly one of the best. Perhaps his lack of West Point pedigree??????
Col Abel D. Streight’s spring of 1863 raid into northern Alabama with his “Jackass Brigade” to destroy portions of the Western & Atlantic Railroad that supplied Confederate forces in Tennessee. Since there were not enough horses to be found, Streight’s troops were mounted on mules that were too slow to outrun Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry. Not only did Streight fail in his mission, but his entire command of approximately 1,700 strong was captured by Forrest’s 500 trooper cavalry, a portion of which repeatedly rode along a ridge to make the Union commander think he was heavily outnumbered. When Streight found out after his surrender that his forces actually outnumbered his enemy, he demanded the right to renege on his surrender which was just as ludicrous to the Confederates as earlier seeing almost an entire Union brigade mounted on jackasses.
I don’t think Streight’s ‘raid’ was a complete failure. He did draw Forrest away from the state of Mississippi and helped enable Grants move across the Miss. River.
The Confederate ‘effort,’ to seize and hold Kentucky (Sep 61-Feb 62). Not a campaign, but a politico-military disaster. Lost the Confederate Government a plausibly neutral U. S. state, that blocked invasion routes into the Confederate heartland; cost Department Number Two major field forces routed or captured at Mill Springs and Fort Donelson; cost the Confederate state of Tennessee its capital.
The Siege of Knoxville. Not only did the Confederates fail to fully invest the city, the attack on Fort Sanders on 29 November was a textbook on how not to execute an operation of that kind.
Second would be the Death Ride of the Army of Tennessee, aka the Franklin-Nashville Campaign.
I wish to note that a jackass and a mule are two quite different animals. A jackass is a male (jack) ass. A mule is a cross between an ass and a horse and is a sterile hybrid.
Streight did not use mules because there was a dearth of horses; he used mules because he thought they were better suited for the mountainous terrain he planned to traverse.
I disagree that Bragg’s 1862 Kentucky campaign was a failure. It certainly did not fulfull all the Confederate expectations, but it derailed Union strategy for 6 at least 6 months, maybe a year, and stabilized the CSA position in the western theater after a disastrous spring. Logistically, it was the most significant campaign waged by the south during the entire war, transferring Bragg’s army from Mississippi to Kentucky. I think it bought the Confederacy another year of life. That’s not a failure, that is a success.
Hood’s foray into Tennessee, on the other hand, shattered his own army and pretty much ended the war in the west for the south. That is clearly a strategic, operational, and tactical failure.
I would argue that Bragg’s decision to concentrate his army at Murfreesboro in November 1862 was a continuation of the disastrous Kentucky campaign. Bragg never explained his decision, apparently Morgan had convinced him that his raiding had destroyed the supply line to Nashville. Wheeler’s cavalry completely missed the giant supply dumps piled high in plain sight. Right up until Rosecrans’ advance on Dec 24 slapped aside his cavalry viddettes, Bragg vervently believed that the Federals in Nashville were starving, about to retreat in disorder. After loosing 40% of his army, Bragg doubled down on Middle Tennessee & settled in for a starvation winter that weakened his army with every passing day. The campaign that began with the decision to advance into Kentucky, until his army straggled to a halt in Shelbyville was a never ending series of disasters. The Confederate army in the West was weakened beyond all hope of recovery. From that point on, the Confederacy was a deadman walking. The failures that followed were the rotten fruit of Bragg’s disastrous campaign, it literally doomed the Confederacy. No other campaign rises ( sinks ) to that level of strategic impact on the outcome of the war.
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