7 thoughts on “The Western Theater, 1861-1863: A Discussion, Part Two

  1. James F. Epperson September 29, 2011 / 2:35 pm

    Well, obviously, what the CS did in fact failed, big-time 😉 I am not sure what alternate strategy could have succeeded. Bragg’s Perryville Campaign actually accomplished a lot, short-term, but Polk screwed up and Bragg dropped the ball at Perryville.

    I think the only option was to maintain an army in the field that can strike back at Federal incursions. By turning the West into a series of battles for posts (Donelson, Arkansas Post, Vicksburg) the South lost a lot of men and morale it could not afford.

  2. Ray O'Hara September 29, 2011 / 2:53 pm

    In part 1 the decision I pointed to was the CSA defensive strategy of meeting every Union trust as far forward as possible to preserve the sacred soil from the tred of the hated invader.. A more rationalized approach based on rivers and mountains might have been better. trust that tiring the Union out would regain anything lost in campaign would be regained at the table.

    As for the North, one might take issue with the lack of speed on the part of some of its commanders {Buell, Roscrans } but the general plan was fine and it ultimately plucked all the fruit off the tree of victory.

    What else was there beyond the Mississippi River, the Nashville, Chattanooga,Atlanta axis lines. those were the key strategic points and those were the ones taken.

  3. Carl Schenker September 30, 2011 / 5:47 am

    I tend to agree with Ray that the basic Union strategy was correct in this period, much of it overseen by the much maligned Halleck — pierce the Confederacy via the rivers. Of course, Halleck is also criticized for being too cautious/passive in the aftermath of Shiloh and the Union probably could have accelerated its success in the West (or at least tried to).

    But what the Union might have done best, it seems to me, was come earlier to the idea of coordinated command and coordinated campaigns across theaters, the Lincoln concept and Grant accomplishment of attacking everywhere all the time and thus overstraining the Confederacy.

    But perhaps Grant and Sherman had to evolve from their 1862 selves to their 1864 selves before that really could be accomplished.

  4. John Foskett September 30, 2011 / 7:27 am

    The Kentucky Campaign, it seems to me, was partly fueled by the same delusion which partly fueled Lee’s simultaneous invasion of Maryland. The notion that two states which refused to secede when it could be done would suddenly jump on board in the middle of a war predictably proved wrong in both cases. Both accomplished the very short term objective of :”taking the war to the North” but not much else. While it may be interesting to speculate on Perryville had Smith and Bragg combined, the counter is that Sill may well have come back to Buell. Much like Lee at Antietam, Bragg should have been destroyed at Perryville, but escaped due to Buell’s ineptitude and temporary loss of hearing. Ultimately, I see both as glorified raids and not as executions of wise or winning strategy.

  5. Ned Baldwin September 30, 2011 / 9:03 am

    For the Confederates, operational offensives [ie Shiloh, Perryville, Corinth, Baton Rouge, Chickamagua, Knoxville, various raids by cavalry commands] were good ideas since they made the US play defense. However, the execution of most of these offensives was a problem. The passivity of the Confederates during early 62 and first half of 1863 was a problem in that it allowed the US to gain the initiative.

    As a far as US strategies go, in the post-Donelson time frame I feel that Halleck focused too much on Corinth. I think a better approach would have been still draw the confederates west by moving up the Tennessee as if to go for Corinth but focus on reaching Chattanooga instead. In the post Vicksburg time frame, I really question the decision to allocate troops towards operations in the Trans-Mississippi rather than toward Alabama.

    • Ray O'Hara September 30, 2011 / 10:16 am

      The CSA offensives seem to me to be as good an idea as the Ardennes Offensive was for the Germans in 1944.
      it burned up hard to replace resources and allowed the side which had the offensivwe burden to cut up the attacker from defensive positions.

  6. Robert Gudmestad September 30, 2011 / 11:10 am

    The Confederacy pursued the wrong strategy because it did not have a strategy. The command system was balkanized, there was no unified effort to combat the various Union offensives, the generals feuded, and there was no significant thought as to how to defend the rivers. Plus the Army of Tennessee was poorly trained and vastly under-equipped.

    From a military perspective, I think it would have been better to fight on the defensive and make the Union pay a high cost for taking territory. But from a political/social perspective, southerners really could not abide giving up huge chunks of territory. What really surprises me is that it took so long for the war to accelerate in the west: the first major battle was Shiloh, essentially a year after Fort Sumter.

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