Question of the Week: 11/23-11/29/20

There were so many good responses last week, that we’ll be revisited the question with different armies over the next few weeks…

In your opinion, who was the best corps commander for the Army of the Potomac?

18 Responses to Question of the Week: 11/23-11/29/20

  1. A somewhat loaded question, given that few lasted as Corps commanders that long, save earnest mediocrities like Wright and Sedgwick. For his assault at Antietam, and standing up to Burnsides at Fredericksburg, I give it to Hooker. Unlike Hancock, who’s post Gettysburg record was indifferent at best, Hooker created the Army that essentially won the Battle of Gettysburg, then performed more than credibly as a Corp Commander out West, until derailed by Sherman’s animus.

    1. Regrettably despite his strength as a combat leader, Hooker displays the most undermining attribute of a subordinate commander…gross insubordination…during the Fredericksburg campaign. Even President Lincoln in his famous letter to Hooker appointing him to army command emphasizes it is in spite of, not because of this quality, and that he hopes it does not come back to haunt him.

    2. The derailment by Hooker was self inflicted. Howard learned from his mistakes at Chancellorsville and performed much better than Hooker ever could in command of the Army of the Tennessee at Ezra Church, but Hooker did do well commanding the XX Corps at Peachtree Creek. Hooker resigned in a tantrum, but John “Black Jack” Logan who was first runner up after McPherson was killed during the Battle for Atlanta, continued to faithfully serve as commander of the XV Corps after being passed over for command.

    1. Hancock was overrated. Arguably he had three good days during the war as a corps commander — July 2 and 3, 1863 and May 12, 1864. His Gettysburg wound prevented him displaying the physical courage that he displayed earlier in the war. At Petersburg, he botched the early attacks on June 15-17 and his corps was routed from the field twice in two months – June 22 and August 25 (more due to attrition in the 2nd Corps than his leadership). However, he should have been reassigned earlier than November 1864. He was not the Hancock of 1863.

  2. Hancock. The competition is pretty limited. Hooker’s career was equally short and Welker’s recent book makes a good case that his handling of the attack at Antietam doesn’t match the conventional wisdom. While Hancock’s performance eroded a bit during the Overland Campaign, the real change was at Petersburg, when his ongoing wound troubles and the battering of the II Corps finally took effect. (So I’ll give him Humphreys as a relief pitcher). .

  3. Sheridan commanded the Cavalry Corps in the east. I’ve always been fascinated by the cavalry, so I’ll stick with Phil Sheridan.

    1. Sheridan’s performance as commander of the Cavalry Corps in the Overland Campaign was mediocre at best. His Richmond Raid was a failure and the Trevilian Station Raid was mixed. Sheridan practically abandoned Gregg’s division at the Battle of St. Mary’s Church. See Eric Wittenberg’s book on Sheridan.

      1. Well, to that, I will ask what corps or army commander on either side had a ‘perfect’ record? I also give credence to commanders ‘learning’ as they go along, at least, some appear to have been able to do so. Stonewall, Longstreet, Stuart, Grant, and Lee, just to name a few, can ALL be criticized for decisions they made or didn’t make, and all ended up on the short end of an engagement at one time or another. That said, Sheridan was as responsible as anyone else in helping to turn Lee out of Petersburg and hence facilitate Lee’s surrender.

        As a point of comparison, I will offer up George Washington and Nathaniel Green. Both are revered military leaders whose campaigns, strategies, and tactics are studied to this day. Both lost as many if not more engagements than they won. Yet they prevailed. They epitomize that adage of “Lost the battles but won the war”. I think much of that can be applied to Sheridan. He wasn’t perfect, but he was effective when he was most needed to be..

  4. I agree with both Hancock and Sheridan, not necessarily in that order, but the best corps commander of the entire Union Army was Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga”

  5. Hancock was the best, until his wound put him out of active service. His tactical and personal leadership was among the best in the whole Union Army (although Thomas was probably top).

    I’d like to suggest Sedgwick should get more appreciation, especially when you consider Second Fredericksburg and Rappahannock Station – not to mention the “Sedgwick’s Foot Cavalry” march of 37 miles in 24 hours to Gettysburg.

    Three who should also get more attention for Petersburg-Appomattox are Humphreys, Parke, and Wright . . .

    1. The 37 mile march in 24 hours was due to the command, “Put the Vermonters in front and keep the ranks well closed up.” You may have guessed I’m front Vermont

  6. John Gibbon and Charles Griffin deserved corps command earlier than when they received it. They would have been corps commanders in the western theater long before 1864-1865.

  7. Gens. Phil Sheridan and Edward Ord (technically, Ord’s command was the Army of the James, but it served in reality as an oversized corps) for their aggressive moves during the Appomattox Campaign. These two commanders effectively ended the CW.

    1. Technically, both were army commanders during the Appomattox Campaign, although I agree with you that both Sheridan and Ord had their best week in uniform during that campaign. Ord in particular marched his troops as fast as the cavalry in some places.

      Griffin as head of the 5th Corps managed his corps brilliantly during the campaign, despite being in command less than a week.

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