Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Was Grant Greater than Lee?

Robert E Lee
Which Civil War general was the greater? The question is still asked today. In the late 19th century the consensus seems to have been Grant who was on the winning side, who led the troops who took Vicksburg and Richmond, and who went on to be President of the United States and to write what has been called the greatest book of its era in his memoirs. In the early 20th century with the romantic interest in the Confederacy and the revisionist history of slavery and racial relations, Lee's reputation soared and many came to regard his reputation with his troops and his various tactical successes against more numerous enemies as the greater military leader. Indeed, his willingness to accept that the Confederacy lost the war and his concern for the restoration of the Union was in indication of greatness of spirit.

I wonder whether the question makes much sense. The outcomes of battles must be the result of many factors, such as the sizes of the forces on each side, their training, their equipment, and the terrain on which the battle is fought. It is not only the leadership of the commanding general that counts but that of all the other senior and junior officers and the morale of the troops. In the battles of the 19th century there must have been a large component of chance in the outcomes of the best planned battles.

I further suppose that a general who is great in planning overall strategy of a campaign may not be as good at planning tactics of a battle, and that some generals are better defensively and others offensively, some better in logistics and preparation of their troops while others excel in leadership in the heat of battle.

Both Grant and Lee seem to me to have been great generals.

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