Longstreet in the Wilderness

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Marse Lee, Mar 12, 2018.

  1. Marse Lee Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2017
    What if Longstreet wasn't wounded my his own men during the Battle of the Wilderness? What affect would this have on the battle and the war at large?
     
  2. fyrdhammer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2018
    It's not obvious that this might improve the situation for his side, imo. The impact on the battle of the Wilderness itself is probably negligible as his assault that day probably achieved as close to its maximum potential as it was likely to. Assuming the rest of the Overland Campaign doesn't get completely butterflied, and I suspect it wouldn't be because this was largely geographically determined, the only glaring improvement I surmise is possibly he has the wherewithal to put Lee's plan at North Anna into full action when Lee falls ill. Whether this is enough of a setback for the Army of the Potomac that it butterflies Cold Harbor, I don't really know but it's possible that a more bloody North Anna causes Grant to be more cautious about frontal assaults there. It seems likely that there will be one more large battle before the Army of the Potomac crosses the James River and that Grant will go on the offense regardless in an attempt to inflict casualties on the Army of Northern Virginia before things bog completely down at Petersburg. It seems unlikely to me that the situation within the Army of the Potomac regarding coordination between various corps and divisions will have substantially improved in this time, so it will probably still be a blood bath, if not quite as bad as OTL's Cold Harbor.

    There's another possibility here that Lee having to depend on more junior corps commanders had a positive effect in the sense that he seems to have realized that delegating as he had when he could depend on Stonewall Jackson was not a successful strategy. Whether Longstreet still in place butterflies that, I couldn't tell you. If Longstreet is sent on the Raid on Washington in Early's place or something, I suspect he either does as well as Early did or worse. Predicting much beyond this runs into a horde of butterflies.
     
    Indiana Beach Crow likes this.
  3. History Learner Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2012
    I think this post sums it up quite nicely:

     
  4. Md139115 Bring back the Inquisition!

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2017
    Location:
    Secret Catholic World Domination Conference
    Curious... a Wilderness where Lee mauls Grant has a lot of associated butterflies. Could one of them be a Republican defeat in the 1864 elections?
     
  5. exocet elmo Member

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2018
    Longstreets the best senior General the Rebs have, but by Overland it’s immaterial. The South’s already lost.
     
  6. fyrdhammer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2018
    It's not obvious that Longstreet would be able to take and hold the Brock Road. But accepting the premise that he does and inflicts more casualties on the Army of the Potomac, the Army of the Potomac is still twice the size of the Army of Northern Virginia and he's unlikely to achieve a casualty ratio significantly different than OTL.

    If Grant is forced back across the Rapidan by some miracle, he's still got the Army of the James operating south of Richmond and Sigel's forces operating in the Shenandoah Valley. If he turns back for Washington he's leaving them to be crushed by a redeployed Army of Northern Virginia. It's hard to see Grant not attempting a flank march via another route or maintaining contact with Lee to keep him in place at least. Grant has too many exposed chess pieces to turn back at this stage.

    Re: Longstreet, there's a huge temptation by historiographers to paint him as a defensive genius in contrast to Jackson's supposed offensive genius. I'm not sure this is completely borne out in the true archetypal sense by his actions during the war itself. At any rate, by the time 1864 rolled around, Lee seems to have accepted a more defensive strategy without too much intervention by Longstreet.
     
    mrmandias likes this.
  7. Anaxagoras Vox clamantis in deserto

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    Between a rock and a weird place
    This is a key point. Both Ewell and Hill disappointed at corps-level commanders. Early replacing Ewell was a major improvement, but otherwise there was nothing but disappointment for Lee as far as his corps-level command was concerned. Had Longstreet not been incapacitated, the AoNV would have been in a much better situation for the remainder of the Overland Campaign.

    Nothing is alternate history is obvious. We're talking only about possibilities.

    Both Butler and Sigel were defeated by the Confederates IOTL and were no longer very threatening by the time Lee would have even had the opportunity to detach forces to reinforce Breckinridge and Beauregard. I don't think he would want to do that in any event, since the AotP would still be dangerous and Lee would have gained the measure of Grant as an unusuall tenacious commander. Moreover, Lincoln had clearly gambled the outcome of the 1864 campaign on Grant and expended all his political capital placing him in supreme command, so he could not remove him even in the event of a disaster in the Wilderness. And the AoNV will also have suffered enormous casualties, too. So I think we would simply see the two main forces eyeing one another across the river.

    Quite true, and largely due to a spillover effect from the Lost Cause's interpretation of his actions at Gettysburg. Longstreet was a good defensive general and preferred to fight on the defensive. But his capacity as an offensive commander has always been overlooked. Four of the most successful tactical attacks of the entire war were led by Longstreet - at Second Manassas, the second day at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and at the Wilderness.

    I disagree. The South's defeat was not fully guaranteed until Lincoln's reelection was assured. Until the late summer of 1864, they still have a chance.
     
  8. fyrdhammer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2018
    I don't actually disagree with this, although Sigel doesn't actually get foiled until a week after The Wilderness. I'm not suggesting that Lee would march his entire army against either of these forces, but he wouldn't have to shift that many over to them to, albeit temporarily, dramatically shift the balance of operations. We see Early dispatched to the Valley as soon as his corps could be spared from duty on the Overland Campaign in OTL and I wouldn't be horribly surprised to see that or something similar happen earlier if Grant breaks contact with Lee and for some reason doesn't avail himself of another avenue of advance.

    I also tend to think Grant is going to be more inclined to continue pushing Lee rather than be seen to be breaking off the campaign entirely. That's how the political incentives were aligned at this point in the war and Grant quite rightly seems to have realized that sustaining heavy casualties while moving forward was more palatable than sustaining heavy casualties and going back to Washington.
     
  9. Anaxagoras Vox clamantis in deserto

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    Between a rock and a weird place
    Well, Early wasn't dispatched to the Valley until the Confederates in that sub-theater had been defeated at the Battle of Piedmont. ITTL, with Grant badly handled in the Wilderness, we would obviously see a different set of circumstances. It was a good idea in any event, however, so Lee might have done it even under better circumstances.

    I agree with this. Lincoln had bet too much on Grant's success to remove him in the same manner as Burnside or Hooker. But while attrition worked in the Union's favor from a purely military point of view, it did not work in the Union's favor politically.
     
  10. Kerney Making America Sane Again

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2010
    Location:
    Earth
    I agree, but I think the war was lost in Georgia. The only secondary PoD I could see is making a difference is making Longstreet an Army Commander either sending him or Lee west. Longstreet may not be up to being an Army Commander, but it's hard to be worse than Hood. He might be the Goldilocks general, Hood being too aggressive and Johnston being too defensive.

    What do others think.
     
  11. fyrdhammer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2018
    The problems the western theater faced were less a matter of tactics and more a matter of logistics and political conditions particular to the Army of Tennessee. I don't think see how Longstreet improves those particularly. If anything, he's more likely to adopt the same methods Johnston did at that stage of the war because that was probably the best strategy they had going for them by this stage of the war.

    I can't think of many particularly brilliant examples of Longstreet operating independently that lead me to believe he'll substantially change the conditions on the battlefield in a way that Johnston couldn't.
     
  12. Anaxagoras Vox clamantis in deserto

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    Between a rock and a weird place
    Actually, an early version of Shattered Nation involved Longstreet not being wounded and Davis replacing Johnston with him rather than with Hood. I think he might have done well in such a role. Granted, his major change at independent command - at Knoxville in the fall and winter of 1863 - was pretty much a fiasco. But he was given insufficient forces and an incredibly difficult task, so that even the most skilled general would have been very unlikely to succeed.
     
  13. Marse Lee Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2017
    Oh really? That's pretty cool. Love your book series by the way. I've always thought that Longstreet would have done well in an independent command, despite his disaster at Knoxville.
     
  14. fyrdhammer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2018
    I don't disagree that Longstreet could do well in an independent command, but by 1864 the learning curve is pretty steep and assuming Longstreet is sent to Georgia after the Overland Campaign comes to a close, that's not a lot of time to familiarize himself with the eccentricities of the AoT and formulate a strategy that will either protect Atlanta or deal a large enough defeat to a union army that the cumulative effects of set backs in the west and heavy casualties in the east could swing the outcome of the election of 1864. Almost anyone that understands that the time of bayonet charges is over does better than John Bell Hood does in this time period, and maybe Longstreet coordinates a more successful attack at Peachtree Creek, but it's hard to say whether that was really in the cards or not. I suspect that replacing Johnston with Longstreet isn't going to create a scenario that substantially improves the AoT's coordination in a way Hood was unable to at the time.
     
  15. Kerney Making America Sane Again

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2010
    Location:
    Earth

    Longstreet had been west during Chikamagua/Chattanooga so that might help.