July 06, 2011
The Great (?) Robert E. Lee
By David E. Petzal
Since this is the 150th anniversary of the Great Southern Miscalculation, and since everyone had fun yelling at each other and me the last time, here’s another: Was Robert E. Lee truly a great commander, or did he have the good luck to face some of the lamest generals in the history of modern warfare?
I give you:
George B. McClellan, the Virginia Creeper, who could do everything with an army but fight; who actually had Lee’s plans before the Battle of Antietam and could manage no better than a draw.
Joe Hooker, “his hindquarters was where his headquarters were,” he of the loud mouth who imploded at Chancelorsville.
Ambrose Burnside, who brought military incompetence to hitherto undreamed of heights at Fredericksburg.
George Gordon Meade, who was not a bad general, but who won at Gettysburg in large part because Lee screwed up repeatedly and then, with the Confederates routed, when he could probably have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia, did...nothing.
It’s about as dismal a collection of general officers as you can find. To equal it, you have to go to the British Army in World War I, or the French Army in any war since Napoleon.
On the other hand, I can’t think of any Confederate officer who could have commanded the steadfast loyalty of so many men for so long through so much horror and suffering as Marse Robert.