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"Top Union Army Commanders" Topic

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Action Log

12 Aug 2017 10:28 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to TMP Poll Suggestions board

726 hits since 12 Aug 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

gamer112 Aug 2017 10:06 a.m. PST

Okay, I know there are probably countless threads on this but I figured I could be lazy, save some time and get some quick input here.
I think most everyone would agree that Grant & Sherman were the best/most capable army commanders(control multiple corps) that the Union had. From my research IMHO a few others seemed/proved as capable; Thomas, Lyon(although short career)& Hancock.
Would you guys agree? Did I leave some one out or do you think some of the other 3 didn't match up to Grant & Sherman? Remember I am talking Army Commanders, not corps or division generals. Thanks in advance, Travis.

mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2017 10:17 a.m. PST

Sheridan, even though he often had superior numbers?

Stephen Miller12 Aug 2017 11:00 a.m. PST

To my knowledge, the only time Hancock commanded multiple corps was on the afternoon (after Reynolds was killed at Gettysburg and Hancock had arrived there) through the evening hours until Meade arrived around midnight. Grant thought him to be the Union general most capable of handling an independent command who had not actually had done so.

gamer112 Aug 2017 11:03 a.m. PST

Yah I was thinking about him, even though I think he was just a corps commander, which is lower than what I was mentioning, but from what I can tell it did seem the operations he did required just as much if not more organizational skills as those required for some of the larger army level operations, especially the early war ones:)

gamer112 Aug 2017 11:05 a.m. PST

Ah did not know that about Hancock but interesting that apparently if given the chance he "probably" would have remained a good one. I say that because as most of you know some generals were good at the division or corps level but turned out to be bad army commanders….

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2017 11:56 a.m. PST


One not mentioned and often excoriated is Rosecrans. He put on an excellent campaign of maneuver to drive Bragg out of Tennessee and into north Georgia in 1863, culminating with the Union's almost bloodless capture of Chattanooga.

But his subsequent campaign into northern Georgia ended up with the debacle at Chickamauga. Of course if he had stayed on the field with Thomas, he might have been able to salvage his continued command of the Army of the Cumberland, but that's a "what if."

Changing gears, I'm glad that you have included George Thomas. His handling of AotC at Chattanooga (Missionary Ridge) was solid. If Sherman had not had a "case of the green envies" against Thomas, then he could also have ended the Atlanta campaign in the first several weeks. His handling of the battle at Nashville in 1864 was brilliant as was his pursuit of Hood. That the pursuit didn't completely annihilate the remnants of the AoT was only due to the awful winter weather.


gamer112 Aug 2017 1:36 p.m. PST

Yah I did consider Rosecrans but since he put in a "mixed" performance I felt he wasn't quite as consistent as the others I mentioned, not that any of them were perfect, but yah I had him on the short list and for what its worth I still am giving him a strategy rating just below the others:) So I am representing him as one of the Unions better ones, just not on the top of the list:) But as with all these kinda discussions it often comes down to opinion and perspective. Who knows how many other lower level generals on both sides would have made out standing army commanders IF they had just gotten the chance, interesting what ifs:) Thanks again all, sounds like my list is pretty fair at least.
BTW if it makes you feel better I gave Bragg the same low rating as Burnside, McClellan and the rest of those early Union commanders:)

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian12 Aug 2017 1:46 p.m. PST

Another vote for Thomas. His biggest problem was being from Virginia. His intelligence and mapping service, Field telegraph and overall logistics would put many WW-1 or 2 generals to shame.

John Miller Inactive Member12 Aug 2017 2:07 p.m. PST

I believe Hooker is better then he is usually considered. As mentioned above, I don't think Hancock ever commanded an army and, therefore would not qualify, although IMHO, he is the best corps commander in any ACW army, hands down. John Miller

GROSSMAN Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2017 8:52 p.m. PST

Isn't that an oxymoron?

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2017 9:06 p.m. PST

I don't know John. Black Jack Logan and his Fifteenth Corps would give Hooker a run for his money as a corps commander.

BW195913 Aug 2017 7:20 a.m. PST

I like Thomas, most underrated Union commander. Also another vote for Sheridan and his Valley campaign

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2017 9:59 a.m. PST

Since someone is trying to rehabilitate Hooker, let me put in a few good words for Banks and Butler.
I think having independent commands qualifies them under the OP's strictures.
Both had occasional successes too!

Banks practically duplicated Grant's Vicksburg campaign at Port Hudson, but without nearly as many alarums and excursions without. And he didn't need 25 failed attempts to get it right either.

Butler took New Orleans and quite a few North Carolina islands too.

Sure they had failures, but so did Grant and Sherman.

donlowry13 Aug 2017 10:01 a.m. PST

Rosecrans was great at strategy/logistics, but too excitable on the battlefield -- he would get so wound up that he became virtually unintelligible, just the opposite of Grant's imperturbable calm.

Thomas was good but gets more credit than he deserves for Chickamauga and Nashville. Never heard anyone praise him for Chattanooga/Missionary Ridge before -- the assault on the top of the ridge being mostly the idea of the troops themselves and the lower-level commanders.

Sheridan certainly did well in the Valley, and at 5 Forks.

Grant was considering Hancock as a replacement for Meade, but his health wasn't up to it.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2017 10:04 a.m. PST

Let's not forget either that Union high command was 75% political. Lincoln had to appease both Republicans and Democrats.
Having a brother who was a Senator got Sherman forgiven for having been crazy.
Butler and Banks were political to the core. And yet they had some success.

goragrad14 Aug 2017 1:52 p.m. PST

Reportedly Reynolds was offered command of the Army of the Potomac before Meade but didn't take it because his conditions were not acceptable to Lincoln.

Had he accepted it the histories show a strong probability that e would have been as successful (if not more so) than Grant or Sherman.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2017 4:37 a.m. PST

There is a difference between an overall commander and a under commander. When you have a "green field" situation, it is easy to be overwhelmed. The enemy is somewhere out there, you have no clear objectives and can do anything you want. Most people do one of two things. #1: do a very predictable "standard" approach that is safe and balanced but at best gives average results or #2 have a mind freeze and do almost nothing. The superior generals do something special and see beyond the immediate situation. Hooker at Chansclerville is an example of #1. Pope at 2nd Bull run is an example of #2.

Sometimes, the situation makes the general, but the general has to be strong enough to take the chance. Lee at Chandlersville on the first day is such an example- he had only one way to win, and he was smart enough to find it and brave enough to try it. Notice that in the 2nd day, May 3rd, Lee fought just as a normal general and did frontal attacks on an entrenched enemy. He lost a lot of troops (which he could ill afford). Sorry, he lacked the genus of the first day's flank attack. I wonder if the situation made the general more than the general made the situation. Remember he also liked frontal attacks in the 7 day's battles and in the Wilderness, but missed a main chance at North Anna.

Ostrowski Inactive Member15 Aug 2017 5:54 a.m. PST

John Bell Hood might have been claimed as a 'top general' for the Union in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign…..

donlowry15 Aug 2017 9:13 a.m. PST

Burnside did a pretty good job in East Tennessee.

gamer115 Aug 2017 9:15 a.m. PST

Great input all and some very interesting facts.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2017 9:16 a.m. PST



Move along, Move along.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2017 9:59 a.m. PST

Just reading Brian Will's "George Henry Thomas: As True As Steel" at the moment. So another vote for a Thomas.

Bill N15 Aug 2017 11:24 a.m. PST

The criteria for top Union army commander would have to include (1) the general must have successfully commanded a large body of troops (2) in independent operations (3) against a defendant whose army was not so small or battered that victory could be obtained simply by not messing up. Applied rigorously those criteria leave you with a small pool: Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Rosecrans, Meade, and a couple of commanders in the Trans-Mississippi theater. Grant and Sherman stand out as the top two in this pool. My vote for #3 would be Thomas.

John Miller Inactive Member15 Aug 2017 4:01 p.m. PST

Grossman: Well, I guess my statement was an oxymoron. I did not word that well. I just believe Hooker is better than it is generally stated. Most importantly he made some far reaching, long overdue, changes before he left the AOP. He certainly struck out at Chancellorsville, but he was only up once.

Cleburne1863: I was referring to Hancock, (not Hooker), as the best corps commander, but that was off topic I guess. You mention Black Jack Logan and here I must bow to your superior knowledge in this regard. My enthusiasm for Genrl. Hancock aside for a moment, I must admit my knowledge of affairs outside the realm of the AOP and the ANV is very limited and therefore my high regard for him should be tempered by my ignorance of matters in other theaters.

Thanks to both of you for responding to my comments, John Miller

donlowry16 Aug 2017 5:33 p.m. PST

Hooker was often brilliant, but had two big problems:

1. As a subordinate, he was not a team player. He wanted all the glory for himself.

2. As an army commander, paradoxically, he lacked that crucial last bit of confidence in himself. When it was time to go all in, he would fold instead.

John Miller Inactive Member16 Aug 2017 7:23 p.m. PST

donlowry: Your right of course. I know he had his issues, but I am inclined to think he was not quite as inept as he is often portrayed. One of my favorite quotes goes something like "I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker". I would like to think he would have done better if he tried it again. Perhaps he was his own worst enemy. Thanks for your comments. John Miller

gamer123 Aug 2017 2:38 p.m. PST

Good stuff guys, I always enjoy learning new tid-bits, thanks. I pretty much rated the folks mentioned, along with the bad ones not mention because of the topic along the "average" of the comments made, with Grant & Sherman at the top, and many of the others right below them, "in the middle" for my game.
FYI for those interested I also have about 15 "character traits" that I gave certain leaders on both sides based on what they did. These give slight extras and I think help "bring the leaders to life" in the game and add color, most are good but some are bad. Common traits include the ones most of you I imagine would expect like: aggressive, defensive, cautious, warrior, campaigner, logistics, cavalry, etc.
Thanks again all!

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