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Subject: Joe Johnston's generalship during Sherman's drive on Atlanta rss

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Bernie Roessler
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Question. Was there an available candidate (besides Lee) who could have done a better job? This is probably difficult to answer given the level of speculation it requires. I don't feel I've read enough to try and answer myself. Perhaps you could point me to some good reading material, or better yet, as there are some quite knowledgeable people here on BGG, you can try and answer yourself. I will say Sherman capturing Atlanta, whether you want to blame Johnston for that or not, probably ensured Lincoln's reelection and therefore Union victory in the War.

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Quote:
Question. Was there an available candidate (besides Lee) who could have done a better job?


Aside from Johnston, Hardee was the best of the "western" generals available to the Confederacy.

Hardee had clashed with Bragg (like almost everybody) and Davis didn't forget. Hardee displayed no great tactical genius and his strategic ability was untested. Between these two officers, Johnston was the better choice.

Lee was not going to leave Virginia.
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There were - in my admittedly contentious view - probably only two Confederate generals on a level with Joe Johnston active at army level at this point in the war. One was defending Richmond against two armies numbering over 100,000 men, the other was a whisker away from capturing an entire Union army in Louisiana. Lee was indispensable where he was, and arguably Taylor was precisely the man for the Red River, even if his plans were frustrated by higher command.

In the period Johnston was in command, the Military Division of the Mississippi suffered around 14-15k casualties, whilst the Army of the Tennessee suffered around 10k casualties. The proportions become significantly worse after Hood takes command; that's in large part due to the Confederates taking the tactical offensive, though that was largely on Hood's initiative. Hood also showed inferior staffwork and co-ordination in command. But perhaps a switch to the tactical offensive was necessary, and Hood was just not the right pick. Except Johnston had begun planning for an attack to forestall further Union advances on Atlanta. His sacking was not to do with an unwillingness to attack (he had at Dallas and Kolb's Farm, though the latter was a debacle led by Hood), but an unwillingness to tie his army to a fixed position he didn't believe he could hold. He probably wasn't wrong there; Atlanta was arguably less well-placed for a siege than Richmond-Petersburg. However, he wasn't proposing abandoning it immediately or anything, so it's hard not to see the whole thing as part of the final implosion of his relationship with Davis.

Johnston had held Sherman at bay for two months before his sacking, and Hood, once he assumed a defensive posture, held Sherman for another two months. Hood, however, had lost 11k men in his attacks, to 6k Union soldiers; imagine he'd had them fit and well, or the losses had been more at parity. In any case, if a retreat had been necessary (as Lee judged at Richmond in April 1865, in even worse circumstances than Hood in September 1864), the army would have been far more intact to defend central Georgia and the Carolinas (in this parallel, we also don't see the borderline insane Nashville campaign). All the good "achieved" by Johnston's sacking - a counterattack, holding til at least September - could have been accomplished by Johnston. Much of the ill achieved by Hood - repeated badly planned counter-attacks against superior fixed positions (!), the foray to Nashville - would never have been countenanced by Johnston.
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pete belli wrote:
Quote:
Question. Was there an available candidate (besides Lee) who could have done a better job?


Aside from Johnston, Hardee was the best of the "western" generals available to the Confederacy.

Hardee had clashed with Bragg (like almost everybody) and Davis didn't forget. Hardee displayed no great tactical genius and his strategic ability was untested. Between these two officers, Johnston was the better choice.

Lee was not going to leave Virginia.


At a slightly later date, I think it would have been fair to say Stewart was the best-proven of the Western corps commanders. At the start of the Atlanta Campaign, Johnston really did have some bad luck - the dreadful Polk and the overpromoted Hood, alongside the solid but unremarkable Hardee. This was partly the result of the awful politicking against Bragg, which led to the best corps commander from Chickamauga both losing their posts (albeit deservedly). One feels Johnston could have handled Harvey Hill and got the best out of him on the battlefield, and Buckner was significantly more promising for high command than Hood.
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Robert E. Lee's reply when President Davis was considering a command change outside Atlanta:

...Hood is a bold fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal. General Hardee has more experience in managing an army.
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pete belli wrote:
Quote:
Question. Was there an available candidate (besides Lee) who could have done a better job?


Aside from Johnston, Hardee was the best of the "western" generals available to the Confederacy.

Hardee had clashed with Bragg (like almost everybody) and Davis didn't forget. Hardee displayed no great tactical genius and his strategic ability was untested.


Pete, according to Dupuy's Encyclopedia of Military Biographies:

"Hardee published Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Manoeuvres of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen, popularly known as Hardee's Tactics, which became the best-known drill manual of the Civil War."

Given this, I don't think his tactical skills were in question. What was in question was his unwillingness to assume command of the Army of Tennessee when Davis asked him which allowed Hood to take over command. As one author stated "When his moment came, he allowed it to pass him by".
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pete belli wrote:
Robert E. Lee's reply when President Davis was considering a command change outside Atlanta:

...Hood is a bold fighter, very industrious on the battlefield, careless off, and I have had no opportunity of judging his action, when the whole responsibility rested upon him. I have a high opinion of his gallantry, earnestness and zeal. General Hardee has more experience in managing an army.


I believe this is what is technically called politesse, or perhaps "damning with faint praise".
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Pedro M wrote:
pete belli wrote:
Quote:
Question. Was there an available candidate (besides Lee) who could have done a better job?


Aside from Johnston, Hardee was the best of the "western" generals available to the Confederacy.

Hardee had clashed with Bragg (like almost everybody) and Davis didn't forget. Hardee displayed no great tactical genius and his strategic ability was untested.


Pete, according to Dupuy's Encyclopedia of Military Biographies:

"Hardee published Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Manoeuvres of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen, popularly known as Hardee's Tactics, which became the best-known drill manual of the Civil War."

Given this, I don't think his tactical skills were in question. What was in question was his unwillingness to assume command of the Army of Tennessee when Davis asked him which allowed Hood to take over command. As one author stated "When his moment came, he allowed it to pass him by".


I think company drill is a different scale to the grand tactical.
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"Hardee's Tactics" was a drill manual based on previously published French sources.

Hardee had spent two years at the French cavalry school at Saumur early in his career.

He was an intelligent officer who had previously served at West Point as an instructor and commandant of cadets.

Hardee displayed no extraordinary tactical ability as a battlefield commander.
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Have you looked at The Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee's Campaigns, 1861-1863? Even if you are unable to actually play the game (it's not a well-done rulebook), there is a lot of information in there about the performance of Army of Tennessee and its commanders.

Moral of the story in short: the right people lost for the right reasons.
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pete belli wrote:
Hardee displayed no extraordinary tactical ability as a battlefield commander.


I think Patrick Cleburne would have been the best choice but given his stated views on emancipation and arming former slaves, a promotion to Corps command, much less Army command, would have been political suicide for Davis.

Edit: Of course, him being a fellow Irishman has nothing to do with this assessment of him! laugh
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Pedro M wrote:
pete belli wrote:
Hardee displayed no extraordinary tactical ability as a battlefield commander.


I think Patrick Cleburne would have been the best choice but given his stated views on emancipation and arming former slaves, a promotion to Corps command, much less Army command, would have been political suicide for Davis.

Edit: Of course, him being a fellow Irishman has nothing to do with this assessment of him! laugh


Of course, by '64 Lee was saying that any man with two arms and two legs could be a soldier, so Cleburne wasn't alone; though I think political concerns were an issue with him, he also hadn't held high command before. The aftermath of Atlanta would have been a natural time, perhaps, and one suspects that if he'd survived Franklin he might well have gotten the nod, politics be damned.
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Pedro M wrote:
pete belli wrote:
Hardee displayed no extraordinary tactical ability as a battlefield commander.


I think Patrick Cleburne would have been the best choice but given his stated views on emancipation and arming former slaves, a promotion to Corps command, much less Army command, would have been political suicide for Davis.


Cleburne was also an Irish immigrant. As you say, he would never be promoted beyond command of a division.

If we're looking for a general better than Joe Johnston we need a skillful battlefield leader (on attack and defense) plus a cunning strategist. Don't forget solid logistical ability to deal with the rickety CSA supply system.

Sherman and Johnston were evenly matched because "Cump" was no offensive wizard on the battlefield either. Like Johnston, he allowed his subordinates to fight their own fights. Unlike Johnston, Sherman had officers with the ability of Thomas.



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Cranky counterpoint:

The "best" general would have been somebody who realized the war was hopeless lost and negotiated a surrender.
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EMBison wrote:
Cranky counterpoint:

The "best" general would have been somebody who realized the war was hopeless lost and negotiated a surrender.


Strategy vs grand strategy, always the moment where things all get a bit RSP
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Sherman is one of the overrated winners of the ACW, but he was not a fool, though he could do foolish things (e.g., ignore Thomas, play favourites,and make costly attacks). God tends to be with the big battalions, so it was not a matter of if Atlanta would fall, but when. Johnston's semi-Fabian strategy would have delayed the city's fall, but its fall was inevitable. I think the Atlanta campaign shows Little Joe at his best, though still on the losing side.

With Hood in charge, the South just loses faster.

goo

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Oversimplifying, and mixing game and historical terms, Johnston played to thwart the Union attempt to achieve its Victory Conditions, while Davis had an entirely different set of Victory Conditions in mind, which Johnston was not attempting to fulfill.

In these terms, the Union Victory Conditions were to achieve a rapid, successful Union campaign against Atlanta - in time to influence the 1864 election. Davis' Victory Conditions were to drive the Union forces out of North Georgia and Alabama, if not further.

The Northern generals had considerably more respect for Johnston than did his own leadership.
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E_T_Lee wrote:
Oversimplifying, and mixing game and historical terms, Johnston played to thwart the Union attempt to achieve its Victory Conditions, while Davis had an entirely different set of Victory Conditions in mind, which Johnston was not attempting to fulfill.

In these terms, the Union Victory Conditions were to achieve a rapid, successful Union campaign against Atlanta - in time to influence the 1864 election. Davis' Victory Conditions were to drive the Union forces out of North Georgia and Alabama, if not further.

The Northern generals had considerably more respect for Johnston than did his own leadership.


Jeff Davis apparently did not do enough play testing and failed to come up with achievable victory conditions
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cschneider3 wrote:

Jeff Davis apparently did not do enough play testing and failed to come up with achievable victory conditions


Yes! Adequate playtesting is always important. After all the Rev 0 victory conditions had not worked out for either side.

Rev 0: "One battle and home by Christmas (1861)"
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I think Forrest falls into that speculation. He’s in that list of defeated commanders who likely dodged a possible hangman’s noose.

Undoubtably talented in killing for his own side, unbridled aggression, a penchant for manoeuvre, an understanding of what was required at the correct time, perhaps better suited to a Panther tank than a horse.

If pushed (allowed?) could he have led an infantry army, I think so. And tactically, strategically in the only manner that really worked well for the Confederates.

Utter speculation of course.



 
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You must consider that Davis had to make the choice and only of the top-ranking generals ( no Cleburne or Stewart or Forrest). Bragg could not return so Beauregard was the answer. He was superb on the defense but an enemy of Davis. Case closed.
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Indeed -- like it or not, popularity matters and mattered then, too. So no D.H. Hill either, for that matter.
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cschneider3 wrote:


Jeff Davis apparently did not do enough play testing and failed to come up with achievable victory conditions


Unfortunately for him, Mr. Davis was not the designer, he was the first playtester. Should have asked more questions before agreeing to that session.
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DiamondSylph wrote:
Indeed -- like it or not, popularity matters and mattered then, too. So no D.H. Hill either, for that matter.


D.H. Hill is a good example.

The irony is that Beauregard was assigned to help Hood with logistics after the fall of Atlanta, Hardee opposed Sherman around Savannah, and Johnston was in charge during the Carolinas Campaign. In other words, the officers were constantly recycled in spite of previous clashes with Davis.

Davis lacked the personal touch that Lincoln used to handle generals... although Honest Abe was a political animal who functioned at a level of ruthless efficiency few other American presidents have achieved.

Part of the problem (on both sides) was the leftover attitude from the "Old Army" prior to the conflict. An unhappy officer would ask for reassignment or in a severe case threaten to resign his commission. This behavior persisted during the Civil War, even when the existence of (a) the Republic or (b) a new nation was at risk. For examples, see the previously mentioned Hardee along with Jackson in the winter of 1861/1862 and Hooker in 1863.

In the Old Army officers were jealous of their promotions and prerogatives. This carried forward (Davis vs. Johnston over the general's rank in the Confederate army) even before major fighting began in 1861. It continued until the guns fell silent in 1865... and then Union officers began maneuvering for jobs in the downsized army.
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Of course, the popularity issue partly runs both ways - if you easily fall out with people you may not be fit for command. Bragg's main problem wasn't incompetence (he wasn't incompetent, despite claims to the contrary), but a manifest inability to get along with people. Harvey Hill and maybe Buckner, both of whom I've praised above, suffered from the same flaw. Harvey Hill was endlessly contentious. Indeed, even Taylor could clash badly with people - though not usually with subordinates.

Lee's greatest gift was uniting disparate personalities. He managed Jackson, who was half-loopy. Of course, Jackson did fall out quickly with people - and Lee had to manage that - but he also created bonds of loyalty, as with Ewell, who didn't like him at first but came to love him. Stuart too.

Joe Johnston, in this regard, may have struggled with the upwards popularity issue - he and Davis had a deep and cherished antagonism - but he generally held his subordinates together. With better subordinates and more confidence from on high, who know what might have happened? Incidentally, where Lee was ambivalent about Hood (see Pete's quote above), he thought Johnston was excellent, and if given the decision in June '64 (which I think is before his appointment as General-in-Chief?) would likely have retained him.
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