Ranking the greatest generals in the American Civil War

To get back to the thread question this is also where Lee utterly fails, much worse than Napoleon. Lee had one job. ONE. Survive (some would argue protect Richmond, which is valid, but misses the point). Lee had to do the same thing as two other, vastly superior commanding generals, he had to maintain a credible force in the field. As long as an actual Army of Northern Virginia was in the field the Confederate States of America were an actual tangible thing; the moment it wasn't the Confederacy was a memory. Washington understood this, almost two centuries later, another general, also fighting one of the World's super powers, Võ Nguyên Giáp understood it as well. Both understood, as Lee did not, that their real job was to stay on their feet, to out last the enemy. Just stay there and make the other guy bleed until the mothers and fathers and merchants and bankers compelled the enemy's government to pick up their ball and walk away. Anytime Lee advanced his main force beyond his primary defensive works outside of Petersburg he was failing to do his only job. He could surely send Jackson or Longstreet or A.P. Hill, or the glory-seeking J.E.B Stuart North to raise hell and terrorize the countryside as long as they had to obey on ironclad order (on literal pain of death) "do not be drawn into a set piece battle against a superior enemy force".
I agree that winning is what counts, but I don't think Lee would have been successful with a Vietnam style campaign. Getting the other side to cry uncle isn't just a matter of inflicting casualties and surviving. It's also politics. The importance the other side puts on the issue matters, and preservation of the Union was widely seen as a matter of national survival. I don't think a CSA victory is ASB, but it would be difficult even with Lee adopting a more defensive campaign. Sure the Democrats gained in the 1862 midterms, but they had neither a plurality (which went to the Republicans) nor a majority (which would go to the combined Republican and Unionist seats). And although there were political cartoons such as "Columbia demands her children" there were also political cartoons showing Columbia fighting copperheads, and I think the election results ( both from 1862/63 and 1864) show which of those attitudes was more prevalent.
To me Sherman is hands down the best. It’s thought of (outside the US) as a war remarkable for poor generalship, but imo Sherman grasped modern warfare in a way that would translate anywhere.

edit: not on the same level, or even close, but a guy who will make none of these lists and is imo underrated is McLellan.
McLellan's timidity and aversion to casualties reduced bloodshed in the short term, but increased in the long term by not striking major blows against the enemy. With that being said, he does deserve credit for building up the Army of the Potomac into a formidable fighting force.
I don't really agree with Calbear's assessment of Napoleon. Napoleon's worst failures were diplomatic in nature, rather than in the field. I think it's fair to say Napoleon was the greatest general of his time, while at the same time being a mediocre diplomat at best whose at times abysmal political judgement led to his eventual defeat. And not all generals had the same political power to influence their situations as Napoleon did. A lot of generals won or lost based on circumstances outside their control, before their flaws could truly play out.
Diplomatic skills matter in war. If lose because you provoked a neutral country into siding with your enemies or alienated an ally into seeking a separate peace (or even joining your enemy) then you're not good at waging war.
 
Yeah, he won his own battle on even terms, but not his own campaign.
Both Mill Springs and Nashville were his own campaigns, and in both of them, he left the opposition forces completely scattered and unable to form perform any more service to their nation, while also severely weakening the Confederacy in the process.
Assembling a couple veteran corps well behind friendly lines at the biggest crossroads in the region to kick Hood in the teeth is hardly a test on par with fighting Lee. Also 'war-hardened veterans' is a funny way to spell red-headed stepchildren.
Both Steedman's and Wilson's corps had seen no actually battles throughout the war, and as such had to be prepared from scratch, while of Thomas' remaining units many of Smith's men hadn't seen or participated in large scale combat since Vicksburg, and Schofield's corps was racked with heavy losses, including its 2nd-in-command David S. Stanley, even before the battle begun, not to mention Schofield's backbiting and hesitancy in the leadup to and during the battle. And no, despite the popular image dragging boys from the crib and the grave into CSA service, that was only occurring to counter Sherman's march at the time, and only because Hood had taken all the actual war-hardened veterans with him to fight at Franklin-Nashville. It took Thomas a two day battle to wipe Hood's army from the map, it took Grant almost a year long campaign to do the same with Lee's army, even though both Thomas and Grant had similar numerical 2-1 advantages.
 
I had a play with Ethan Arsht's spreadsheet - discussed earlier by some commentators - Union Generals screenshot attached
- surprises
High Rankings for Rosecrans - only lost one battle but it was a biggie
High Ranking for Buell - who fell out politically
McClellan was ranked higher than I thought - ditto Burnside

Surprisingly low rankings for Sherman and Sheridan

As somebody said earlier lies, damned lies and statistics
 

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Confederate Generals from Ethan Arsht's spreadsheet

Surprises - Lee ranked Low - but he did lose a lot of battles in 1864-65 which was inevitable given the resources superiority of the Union side
Jackson ranks high but he was killed in 1863 at Chancellorsville when the confederates were a their zenith

Again lies and statistics - would be useful to give extra points (positive or negative) to more decisive battles rather than incidental skirmishes
 

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Both Mill Springs and Nashville were his own campaigns, and in both of them, he left the opposition forces completely scattered and unable to form perform any more service to their nation, while also severely weakening the Confederacy in the process.
Like I said, Mill Springs is barely more than a skirmish and Nashville saw him triumph over a twice inferior enemy, far from a campaign on even terms. Not much to fault him for, but you need something more impressive to be the best general on either side.
Both Steedman's and Wilson's corps had seen no actually battles throughout the war, and as such had to be prepared from scratch, while of Thomas' remaining units many of Smith's men hadn't seen or participated in large scale combat since Vicksburg, and Schofield's corps was racked with heavy losses, including its 2nd-in-command David S. Stanley, even before the battle begun, not to mention Schofield's backbiting and hesitancy in the leadup to and during the battle.
That's still the vast bulk of his infantry, and his cavalry was plenty seasoned in the types of actions that characterized ACW cavalry service. Hood had his best division commander killed at Franklin; Schofield's 2nd in command being wounded isn't as big a handicap.
And no, despite the popular image dragging boys from the crib and the grave into CSA service, that was only occurring to counter Sherman's march at the time, and only because Hood had taken all the actual war-hardened veterans with him to fight at Franklin-Nashville.
Yeah, I'm not referring to their age, I'm referring to the fact that they were getting beat like red headed stepchildren, their 'war hardening' to this point consisting of almost uninterrupted defeat. Calling them 'war hardened' is just a way to inflate Thomas's credit, not a real reflection of their formidability.
It took Thomas a two day battle to wipe Hood's army from the map, it took Grant almost a year long campaign to do the same with Lee's army, even though both Thomas and Grant had similar numerical 2-1 advantages.
Yeah because Hood was just shy of an obliging enemy, and Lee was not.
 
Yeah, I'm not referring to their age, I'm referring to the fact that they were getting beat like red headed stepchildren, their 'war hardening' to this point consisting of almost uninterrupted defeat. Calling them 'war hardened' is just a way to inflate Thomas's credit, not a real reflection of their formidability.
Regardless of whether you win or lose, if you fight in a battle, you are going to get experience, and if you fight in as many battles as the Army of Tennessee, it is fair to say you are war-hardened. Not to mention they did have several victories under their belt, including Richmond, Chickamauga, Pickett's Mill, and Kennesaw Mountain, while also turning in great performance that nearly won the day in such battles as Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, and Atlanta, so I would say it is unfair to describe their time in the service as "almost uninterrupted defeat". Throughout the war and regardless of their fortune in it, the Army of Tennessee held together through all the trials it underwent, until Nashville, when Thomas was finally able to break their spirit in a way unmirrored throughout the war, and resulted in the fight being over for the Army of Tennessee. Lee's army was still willing to fight even up to Appomattox, had he not surrendered them. The same can not be said for the men of the Army of Tennessee after Nashville.
Schofield's 2nd in command being wounded isn't as big a handicap.
But having to balance the need to have troops properly prepared for combat against Schofield's conniving to get him removed from command was a major one. Schofield might as well have served as a CSA general during this battle, as his hurting of the Union cause in the lead up to it far outweighs his minor contribution during it.
 
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