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"Why Robert E. Lee wore a colonelís rank during the Civil" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 4:42 p.m. PST

…War


"When Robert E. Lee left the Union Army to command the Army of Northern Virginia, he was just a colonel Ė a far cry from being the military leader the Confederate forces needed him to be. Despite his promotion in the army of the Confederacy and his rise to prominence as the most able leader the southern states had, he still wore the rank conferred upon him by his former country.

Judging just by ranks, the guy holding Robert E. Lee's chair almost matches his rank.

Every time we see the leader of the Confederate army in photos or paintings, he's wearing the rank we've come to know as Lieutenant General, a design of three gold stars in the Union Army. But when the Confederacy broke away from the Union, they didn't just adapt every American military custom and design. Much of the Confederate leadership, especially in the military, were men from West Point who had devoted their lives to military customs and courtesies. Of course, they're going to change things up…"
Mighty History
link


Armand

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 8:46 p.m. PST

Possibly because as a strategist, he sucked.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 11:06 p.m. PST

Looking for trouble John…? (smile)

Armand

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2021 11:27 p.m. PST

Let's talk about how successful the Gettysburg and Antietam campaigns were.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 3:51 a.m. PST

"Let's talk about how successful the Gettysburg and Antietam campaigns were."

Sure John, let's…
I admit Gettysburg was complete utter waste and cluster-*uck. I blame this on Lee. He was missing Jackson, and wanted Longstreet to be "another Jackson". Stuart let him down. And he got too focused on the current ground he was on, and not pushing Hill and ordering him to commit full forces to follow on, and drive them off the hills beyond G'burg instead of giving him the open door of "If you think it is prudent".
He was also recovering from his first heart attack during this time, and the heat was taking it's toll on him.
The fact that after three days of fighting, even though the Union forces still outnumbered, outgunned and out-supplied him, failed to counter-attack on the third day after the Pickett debacle, says something about the man.

As for Sharpsburg, if you want to say "successful", well, he did fight the entire Union Army of the Potomac to a draw with only 2/3 of his force, with Hill coming up only later in the afternoon.

Or do you want to discuss how Robert E. Lee "sucked as a strategist" when he was butchering Grants men at Cold Harbor, or taking Meade out to the woodshed at the Seven Days Battles, or confirming Burnsides inability to lead the Union Army by killing Union troops en-masse at Fredericksburg, or perhaps all over John Pope at Second Manassas, or giving Ol' Fighting Joe Hooker the double whammy at Chancellorsville.

I wouldn't talk about how much he "sucked as a strategist" considering what it took the AOP to do to finally beat him.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 5:28 a.m. PST

John is right for the most part. He was a great Defensive tactician, but a poor strategical planner. He was benefited by facing poor Tactical(& Strategical) adversaries.

Sharpsburg(Antietam) was the big roll of the dice to win Foreign recognition and would have been a rout if anyone but McClellan was in command.

Gettysburg was classic "cattle raid" and a way to keep parts of his army from being sent west to save Vicksburg.

The Overland campaign vs. Grant, shows you how to beat a counter puncher General in outstanding Defensive Terrain.

Murvihill12 Sep 2021 8:10 a.m. PST

Not winning the unwinnable doesn't make you a bad general, just as not losing the unloseable makes you a good general. Lee got the Union playing to his tune for 3 years or so, not too shabby considering what he had to work with.

donlowry12 Sep 2021 8:40 a.m. PST

Returning to the original question: Why did Lee wear a colonel's 3 stars -- I don't know. But I seriously doubt that it had anything to do with the fact that his last rank in the U.S. Army was colonel, for that army's symbol for a colonel was a silver eagle, not gold stars.

Also, I have seen photos (or maybe just one -- and no, I don't remember where) of Lee wearing a more formal uniform with the correct rank insignia of 3 stars surrounded by oak leaves.

One possibility -- in between being a colonel in the USA and a general in the CSA he was, for a while, a major general of Virginia's forces, and that state's commanding general. Maybe (and it's just speculation) 3 stars was his insignia then. Also he was briefly a brigadier general in the CSA, but he was never a colonel in the CSA.

I might also point out that for a while the CSA did not have the grade lieutenant general, so that Lee's rank of General in the CSA at that time would have been the 3-star rank of that army IF it had used the old USA system of 1, 2 and 3-star generals (which it didn't).

So, does that muddy the water sufficiently?

doc mcb12 Sep 2021 12:31 p.m. PST

Chancellorsville. And Second Manassas.

Bill N12 Sep 2021 1:12 p.m. PST

When discussing Lee's strategy are we talking campaign strategy or grand tactics on the battlefield? From June 1862 until March 1865 there is only one campaign strategy decision made by Lee that I think was truly indefensible. That was the decision to stand and fight at Antietam rather than pulling back across the Potomac. It was an act of hubris that Lee's army was lucky to survive.

Also were three stars on the collar the rank insignia of a colonel in the U.S. army in the days leading up to the Civil War? The only portrait I am aware of that shows Lee as a senior officer in the U.S. army shows his rank insignia on his epaulettes.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 4:25 p.m. PST

"…Let's talk about how successful the Gettysburg and Antietam campaigns were…."


I can hardly bear your long explanatory text about it …

Or is it just about throwing a grenade and hiding your hand …? (smile)


Armand

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 6:39 p.m. PST

Pot. Kettle.

I simply do not share the high opinion most wargamers have of Lee.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 7:07 p.m. PST

Murphy you make some good points. Lees heart condition may have been affected him as a commander in some way. Tons of stress as well. I am interested in how people see Lee and his accomplishments.

My thoughts are that Second Manassas was a great campaign, Sharpsburg a close loss. As commander, Hill's position was Lee's responsibility, and he should have avoided this battle. He could not afford the losses.

Fredericksburg was a gruesome gift from Burnside.

Chancellorsville will always be about the brilliant flank move and Jackson's death. But Hooker was not as bad as history has made him look, and he might have salvaged the fight if he had not suffered a concussion. Lee could not really afford his losses there and the AOP survived yet again.

Gettysburg, was different. It seemed like Lee was not Lee. Worn down, not as sharp. Some orders were too vague for the commanders. Stuart was a disaster.. Ewell was actually pretty aggressive, but still not Jackson. Longstreet showed the better judgement here but took the hit. It was a mess and there was no coming back from those kind of losses. The AOP was too exhausted to follow in the rain.

Thereafter, Lee displayed great defensive skills, but surely he knew he had very little chance of winning. i have never understood this phase of Lee's war. So that's the way I have come to look at Lee.

Murphy et al, what do you think about Lee in the final year?

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 8:32 p.m. PST

Don't confuse battles with strategy.

zardoz1957 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 10:15 p.m. PST

I agree with you John. Lee's successes were mainly at the tactical level. His strategy was unsustainable.

Trajanus13 Sep 2021 6:21 a.m. PST

Lee was in a constant battle to see which would run out first, Northern resolve, or Confederate manpower and resources.

His percentage losses in trying to make this work were destined to make it a loosing bet.

As was his over reliance on small command systems and the ability of Longstreet, Jackson and Stuart who ultimately couldn't carry the load.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2021 7:01 a.m. PST

"Murphy et al, what do you think about Lee in the final year? "

Tortorella, tbh, I think that after G'burg, deep down Lee started realizing that "it's a long road until it's over, and when it's over it ain't us that's gonna be on top."
There's been reference work showing that in each of his major engagements, the ANV under Lee suffered approx.20% battle losses. Now start adding that 20% up…Seven Days Battles, Chancellorsville, Sharpsburg, 2nd Manassas, and you can see that the numbers eventually and quickly after G'burg, go against them. This was even more so after The Wilderness campaign.

Lee needed Jackson more than he realized. I think if Jackson were still alive, two things would have happened. 1: Lee would've have listened to Longstreet and Jackson as they both told him that G'burg wasn't where they needed to fight and win, and 2: That they need to find the ground they want to fight on, (Not Meades choice of Pipe Creek or anywhere).

Stuart dropped the ball on G'burg, but Lee still have sufficient cavalry available to recon and screen for him, and he failed to do so. The fact that Heth advanced down Cashtown on the first day leading with a battery of artillery and not at a least a regiment of infantry is on him.

As for the final year of the war. I think with the fall of Vicksburg, Lee knew that their only hope was to defend and hope that Lincoln lost the '64 election, or that US Grant once he came East would screw up just as badly as the other six had. The killer part of this was Grants refusal to exchange CS prisoners thus dropping CS replacement manpower yet again. It was a war of numbers and logistics that the CSA simply could not win.

The other problematic issue Lee had was Jefferson Davis, who seemed to have a rather fatal optimism about the entire thing in the last year of the war.

Considering what Lee had to work with from late 63 – until 65, it's a miracle and testament to his skills and devotion that he was able to keep the ANV marching, fed, and fighting and winning quite a few times before it was all over.

doc mcb13 Sep 2021 3:02 p.m. PST

Murphy, yes. Don't overlook the revival in the Confederate army, also, as a source of fortitude. link

"Although revivals took place throughout the war, it was during the late Fall of 1863 through the Spring and Summer of 1864 that what was subsequently called the "Great Revival" occurred. Although this event is best documented for Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, it actually took place in both northern and southern armies in both the Virginia and the Tennessee theatres of the war."

doc mcb13 Sep 2021 3:02 p.m. PST

Tort, yes, on the whole I agree.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2021 3:23 p.m. PST

Thanks!


Armand

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2021 6:40 p.m. PST

Thanks to all here. Murphy, I had not thought about how Jackson might have helped Longstreet convince Lee to try to take the army around the AOP's left flank, get between Meade and Washington, and on better ground.

I wonder if people game 1864-65 very much. I have found it to be a depressing period as the casualties were so horrendous and the two eastern armies just slugged it out across the old battlefields up to Petersburg, which turned into WW1.

The west was also bloody and Sherman introduced total war to the South. The war was grimmer than ever, and I wish Davis had surrendered after Lincoln was re-elected.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Sep 2021 8:30 p.m. PST

"I wish Davis had surrendered after Lincoln was re-elected."

I honestly believe that the South's biggest enemy was not Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army, but Jefferson Davis. The man simply didn't seem rooted in reality many times when it came to the overall strategic situation of the CSA. The Capitol for all senses and purposes should have been in Atlanta and not Richmond. Davis should have essentially stayed out of trying to "fight the war". LBJ would essentially do the same thing with Vietnam later on.
Davis was a bit of a fatalist. This is noted in the writings of his wife, where she even predicted that "Secession would come, the confederacy would be formed, Mr. Davis would be the President and it would all fail horribly"… Even after Richmond was done, and Lee surrendered, Davis kept up the idea of escaping to Texas to organize resistance there. While the last of his staff officers were using common sense, Davis would not hear of it.
And the rest is history…
Back in 2008 I got a chance to during 145th Gburg reenactment to skip out a day and tour the battlefield. Lee should have ordered Ewell to push all the way and get them off the high ground and not to stop with Hill coming up to support. After that, he should have listened to Longstreet and moved the Army to another better place to do another F'burg or Chancellorsville, or 2nd Manassas repeat. If he was committed to this fight then he should have listened to Longstreet and indeed pushed Hood's division around to the right and made the right hook.
Lee did everything wrong at G'burg and expected victory. The fact that they came so close to it at so many times is a testament to the men that tried and died to win that victory.

Bill N14 Sep 2021 4:27 a.m. PST

1864-65 offers the potential for some interesting games if you move away from the major armies.

The problem I have always had with the Order Ewell to Attack argument on July 1 was that all it would have accomplished was giving the Confederates a couple of hills. The I and XI corps, both already bloodied, would have lived to fight another day, there were plenty of other good defensive positions nearby for Meade.

doc mcb14 Sep 2021 5:53 a.m. PST

I wish Davis had surrendered after Lincoln was re-elected.

Or taken Cleburne's proposal to enlist slaves.

Actually I doubt Jeff Davis by himself had the power to do either. The Confederate Congress would have to agree.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Sep 2021 9:16 a.m. PST

"The problem I have always had with the Order Ewell to Attack argument on July 1 was that all it would have accomplished was giving the Confederates a couple of hills. The I and XI corps, both already bloodied, would have lived to fight another day, there were plenty of other good defensive positions nearby for Meade."

The Couple of Hills argument is good but remember:
1: The union army was in full retreat from the fighting, if Ewell had pushed and taken the hills there was a good chance of the retreat becoming another route, (Shades of 1st, 2nd Manassass, and Chancellorsville come to mind), and it's harder to establish a good defensive position when the fear of the enemy has routed your troops and they are simply running. You have to go get them to stop, and reorganize and attempt to rally them into some sort of order.

2: The couple of hills would've been real nice to put the CS artillery on and keep plugging away at the Union forces.

3: This would've probably have given Longstreet time to convince Lee and remind him of the strategic and not tactical goal. "Find a good position like we did at Fredricksburg and let them come to us."

4: A defeat and route of the Union forces at G'burg would have probably instilled more fear in the State of Pennsylvania while the papers howled the defeat in headlines, and asked for Meade's head on a platter, and many people could seriously be doubting the effectiveness of the AOP at all.

These are just some of the possible options had Ewell acted instead of just standing there and staring like he was unable to comprehend what he was supposed to do.

Tiger7314 Sep 2021 1:52 p.m. PST

I heard-not read- that the reason for Lee's un-wreathed stars was that immediately after he resigned his U.S. commission he was appointed a colonel in the Virginia state militia & when he was thereafter appointed a general in the Provisional CSA Army, he retained the insignia of a Confederate colonel.
IMO Lee was a masterful battlefield commander, keeping the ANV in the field against the vastly numerically superior & equipped AOP, usually at 2:1 odds, or worse, for 3 long years.
Admittedly his opposite numbers (McClelland, Pope, Burnside, Hooker & even Meade, were inferior, or at best, average army commanders, but some of them would probably have succeeded against a lesser Confederate general.
Yes, Lee blundered badly at Gettysburg, particularly with Picket's charge, but how does that compare with Grant's bone-headed charge at Cold Harbor? The difference is Grant had the resources of overcome it & Lee did not.
I take issue with the statement in this thread that Lee's strategy was poor. What choice did he have? He well recognized that the long game would probably result in disaster, thus the reason for the two ill fated invasions of the North, taken at long odds & both star-crossed.
I also disagree that Lee was a traitor to his country. That would have been the case if he hadn't resigned his commission in the US Army & had intentionally given orders that would have caused Union troops under his command to have been defeated, or had stolen away in the night to join the other side like Benedict Arnold did. He left honorably, as was his right to do & follow his state out of the Union. It is often forgotten, or disremembered, that in the mid 19th century the prevailing attitude was that one's allegiance was first to his state & then to the nation. We can argue the merits & morality of this mindset, but we cannot change a historical fact.
Lastly Lee did own slaves & apparently treated them harshly, to his eternal discredit. But IMO we must remember, when judging him, that he was, as we are, a product of our times.
Can any of us say, with certainty, that if we had been born, to landed gentry, in the 18th century & in the South, that we would have the same enlightened anti-slavery attitude we have today? I would like to think so, but to state absolutely so I think is self-flattering.
As far as pulling down Lee's statutes, if based solely on his slave owning practices, it is difficult for me to distinguish between him & Washington & Jefferson.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2021 2:41 p.m. PST

Grant was also a good tactician and strategist. His objective was Lee's army and he moved across VA keeping Lee in the crosshairs. The AOP had often had the numbers, but it was Grant's leadership that made the difference. Lee and Grant share responsibility for the bloodshed of the final year.

Lee destroyed the offensive capacity of his army at Gettysburg. It was not the same as Grant at Cold Harbor, terrible as that was.

I do not think of Lee as a traitor, but he is definitely not my hero either. He goes in his own category for me. And I wonder what might have been had he been in command of the AOP.

doc mcb14 Sep 2021 4:31 p.m. PST

Lee remains one of my heroes. I am glad the Union stayed together and glad that slavery is abolished. But I am also very proud of my Confederate ancestors. One sticks with one's people. I expect most of the white south agrees with all of those sentiments. If others don't get that, sorry.

donlowry14 Sep 2021 5:42 p.m. PST

heard-not read- that the reason for Lee's un-wreathed stars was that immediately after he resigned his U.S. commission he was appointed a colonel in the Virginia state militia & when he was thereafter appointed a general in the Provisional CSA Army, he retained the insignia of a Confederate colonel.

No, as I said above, Lee went from being a newly promoted colonel in the US Army to being a major general and commanding general of Virginia's armed forces. He was never a colonel of VA troops.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2021 7:37 p.m. PST

How about we all stick together doc?

Tiger7314 Sep 2021 8:54 p.m. PST

Tortorella,
I respectively disagree with your assessment. At Gettysburg Lee destroyed the offensive capacity of 1/9 of his army (Pickett's Division). The ANV remained a very dangerous animal (see Longstreet's Corps at Chickamauga) until Grant steadily wore it down in the Wilderness Campaign in 1864.
Grant, OTOH, did destroy the offensive capacity of the AOP by his ill advised Cold Harbor attack, which cost over 3X the casualties of Pickett's Charge in less than half the time. It demoralized the AOP to the extent that Grant was unable to mount another major offensive with the AOP until the following Spring. But you're right, they are not the same- Lee didn't have the resources to have a 2nd chance & Grant did.
However, I agree with you that the object of Grant's focus in 1864 was the destruction of the ANV & in that he was successful & for that he deserves the credit.
Donlowry,
I bow to your superior knowledge. My information is entirely hearsay. I was told that by a now-deceased Civil War historian who based it on a conversation he said he had with Shelby Foote. However, I am constrained to point out that Lee resigned his US Army commission on April 20th 1861 & was appointed a brigadier general in the CSA Army on May 14th, upon the transfer of Virginia state troops to Confederate service. Are you certain that during that 24 day interim period the only Virginia state rank he held was that of a major general? I know its, at best, just a minor historical footnote, but it has long intrigued me why the most famous Confederate full general choose to wear a colonel's uniform.

Bill N15 Sep 2021 8:38 a.m. PST

There is a photo of A.P. Hill showing him with three stars on his collar but without a wreath. Hill however did serve as a colonel for a few months.

donlowry15 Sep 2021 9:55 a.m. PST

Yes, I'm certain.

17 April 1861 -- Virginia's convention votes to secede.
18 April -- Lee is offered a command in the Union army.
20 April -- Lee sends in his resignation and is asked to meet with Gov. Letcher of VA.
22 April -- Lee travels to Richmond and is offered command of Virginia's armed forces.
23 April -- Lee is presented to the VA Convention as its commanding general.

Tiger7315 Sep 2021 10:39 a.m. PST

Donlowry,
That's good enough for me.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Sep 2021 12:45 p.m. PST

The un-wreathed stars on Lee's uniform are a bit odd. But his coat has the buttons in groups of two which does signify a general. Leaving off the wreath allows the stars to be bigger. Maybe that's the reason :)

Tiger7315 Sep 2021 1:44 p.m. PST

Scott,
Could be, but I don't think so. A Confederate colonel's rank insignia is 3 equally sized stars, where as a general's rank is denoted by 3 stars, the middle of which is larger than the other two, & all of which are enclosed in a wreath. If Lee wished to just leave off the wreath, it seems to me he would have retained the larger center star. To me, his rank insignia is clearly that of a colonel. I have never seen a single photo of Lee wearing wreathed stars. If it was his intention that the un-wreathed stars were simply an informality, or an effort to display a larger than normal rank badge, one would think there would have been a few pics of him sporting a dress uniform displaying a general's rank.
Just my 2 cents.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2021 3:21 p.m. PST

"…I honestly believe that the South's biggest enemy was not Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army, but Jefferson Davis. The man simply didn't seem rooted in reality many times when it came to the overall strategic situation of the CSA. The Capitol for all senses and purposes should have been in Atlanta and not Richmond…"


But… Atlanta didn't fail before Richmond…?

Armand

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2021 5:12 p.m. PST

Yes, but had it been the capital it almost certainly would have been defended differently and with more resources. I wonder how Lee might have felt fighting for Atlanta instead of defending Virginia?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2021 3:49 p.m. PST

Ah!… thanks!.


Armand

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