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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Petersburg and Atlanta, Castel and McMurry, Part 2

Another difference of opinion I have with Castel and McMurry about the Atlanta Campaign is on the dissatisfaction they feel about General Sherman's performance.  Sherman maneuvered too much for them and assaulted too little.  He ought to have annihilated Johnston's Army of Tennessee as early as the beginning of the campaign, at Dalton.  Both Castel and McMurry are sure that if General Thomas had been in charge instead of Sherman, "almost surely the Union victory would have been easier, quicker, and more complete."  [Castel, Decision in the West, 565]

Maneuver is as legitimate at tactic as assault and if properly done, it is far less costly.  Castel and McMurry would do well to read Hans Delbruck's history of the art of warfare.  The Civil War was not fought in a silo.  Neither the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 nor the Atlanta Campaign were fought in silos.  European soldiers did not infest the staffs of the major American armies for nothing. They wanted to learn from the conflict.

Frederick the Great, toward the end of his life, admitted that he had fought too much and maneuvered too little.  Compare the casualties in 1864 that Grant's army group suffered with the losses Sherman's army group had.  Sherman operated far more economically.  True, Grant faced a tougher opponent.  But Sherman operated much farther from the nearest port than Grant, with a far more vulnerable supply line.

Sherman won the decisive campaign of the war.  He may not have eliminated the Army of Tennessee.  He should at least have eliminated Hardee's Corps at Jonesborough.  But every commander makes mistakes.  Grant made them.  Caesar made them.  Hannibal made them.  Alexander made them.  Sherman did what had to be done--capture Atlanta before the November election.

Castel and McMurry fail to articulate sufficiently why they think Thomas would have done a better job.  Hood's wrecked Army of Tennessee at Nashville was not Johnson's rejuvenated Army of Tennessee at Dalton.

No victorious general need apologize for having had numerical superiority over his foe.  How many generals have failed to win despite numerical superiority?  One need only look at the Civil War for examples.  Little Mac, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, Fighting Joe Hooker, Benjamin F. Butler,  "Napoleon" P. Banks, and, yes, Ulysses S. Grant, probably a greater general than Sherman, failed where Sherman succeeded.

Take a look at the statue of Sherman in New York City's Grand Army square.  That's how Sherman's countrymen saw him.  Probably his soldiers, too, and such of Grant's as survived the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg.
They had good reason to see Sherman that way.