In your opinion, what was the most under-rated campaign of the American Civil War? Why?
Tullahoma. Overshadowed (even then) by Vicksburg/Port Hudson and Gettysburg.
The Campaign for New Orleans. A combined U.S. Navy and Army operation that began in late 1861, using Ship Island (in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Mississippi) as staging area for 15,000 men (Benjamin Butler) and 16 steam frigates (Farragut). Once the 20 or so mortar schooners (David Dixon Porter) were ready, the expedition crossed the bar at the mouth of the Mississippi; engaged (and then ran past) Forts Jackson and St. Philip; destroyed the Rebel Navy; and took New Orleans — the largest city in the Confederacy — before the end of April 1862. While Andrew Hull Foote fought his way south, down the river, Farragut forced his way north… until the two Federal fleets met, south of Memphis.
Unfortunately, the operation, successful in almost every other aspect, is remembered for having ignored one key element: Vicksburg.
Tullahoma because it did not culminate in a major battle or series of battles. But in fact the relative “bloodless” capture of Chattanooga established the base for the deep penetration of the South & the March to the Sea. It also created an objective that Bragg would have to try to retake at great cost to the Confederacy’s diminishing resources.
Tullahoma because it proved that smart Generals could win a campaign by maneuver with light losses rather than the high loss but less risky methods employed by Generals like Grant.
I think the Union Navy’s contributions during the entire war are absolutely under rated. They kept armies supplied and reinforced in the East and the West, they blockaded Southern ports, they conducted amphibious operations, and they took on often formidable forts and fortifications that were trying to deny them and Union ground elements access to certain areas.
That said, their operations involving the Vicksburg campaign in particular deserve kudos.
Tullahoma is an obvious answer, and it is obvious because it is correct.
Perryville, aka the “Heartlland Campaign.” It gets overshadowed by Antietam and the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It was the farthest north a major Confederate army reached in the west (not counting raids) and ended with tough fighting at Perryville, sending the Confederates out of Kentucky.
Fort Donelson. It resulted in the North’s occupation of Nashville and western and central Tennessee. Even more important, it put Ulysses S. Grant on President Lincoln’s radar.
Just to be a contrarian, I think Tullahoma has become the “George Thomas of campaigns” – too much over-reaction in the other direction. For all of the brilliance of the maneuvering, Rosecrans failed to finish it off and in fact his opponent was able to decisively whip him at Chickamauga. He gained a lot of space but the objective was to defeat the enemy. As for Grant’s “high loss but less risky method”, I’ll avoid the obvious retort. War means fighting at some point.
Tullahoma was like one of those bloodless 18th century ballets-it was ultimately meaningless because Rosecrans placed himself in a position to be almost annihilated. As a campaign, I have a great fondness for Bragg’s strategic repositioning from Corinth to (ultimately) Murfreesboro, even though he screwed up his Kentucky Invasion. However, the Grant/Foote combined campaign to take the forts gets my vote also. It effectively denied the Confederacy Kentucky, threw them out of Western and Central Tennessee, and led to the fall of Memphis. However, It needed the failed Confederate at Shiloh to cement it. I think it sometimes gets ignored because it took place so early in the war.
I agree with the Donelson campaign as under-rated. In part i think you’re correct that its chronological position detracts from its importance. I think that it also gets lost in the Shiloh sequel. The campaign cost the CSA much of Tennessee and the capitol of Nashville for the rest of the war. Shiloh might have put it in the Tullahoma category but for the fact that, unlike Rosecrans, Grant actually won the major fight which ensued.
Perhaps my choice of an under rated campaign may not be classified as a campaign at all, but it could be put in the category of a very elaborate feint! Nevertheless, I think the consequences of this feint (or feints)was pivotal, to the success of the Vicksburg operation that followed. I am referring to the seven attempts or operations that Grant instigated in his effort to come to terms with the capture of Vicksburg, the linchpin of the Western Theater. From digging canals to attempting to navigate the Yazoo River, to the attack at Chickasaw Bluffs. all added to the impression that Grant was determined to capture Vicksburg from the north. To use the boxing analogy, it was like jabbing at your opponent seven times with your left and then following it up with a successful landing of a knockout round house right to the chin of his adversary.
A great question!
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