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The Anatomy of Military Command

ISSUE:  Summer 1943

Lee’s Lieutenants: Cedar Mountain to Chancellorsvillc. Vol. II. By Douglas Southall Freeman, Charles Scribner’s Sons. $5.00.

The second volume of “Lee’s Lieutenants,” like the first, is primarily concerned with the military qualities of Lee’s higher officers; but Mr. Freeman has penetrated the anatomy of command much further than this. He is constantly aware of the situation of the regimental command; indeed, the most fundamental contribution of this work is the author’s realization that regimental leaders were not only the primary leaders in combat, but that they were also the source from which all officers must be obtained, to replace those of the higher command who had fallen. This latter function of regimental leadership was of paramount importance in view of the excessive casualties among Confederate general officers; yet after Chancellorsville most of those brilliant young colonels who should have passed into the higher ranks were dead or disabled. The result was a decline in the striking power of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The volume, in the larger sense, is a military biography of Lee’s principal subordinates; and quite properly Stonewall Jackson occupies the center of the stage until the curtain falls at Chancellorsville. At Cedar Mountain Jackson still showed the tactical weakness revealed earlier; but at Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg he made few mistakes. At Chancellorsville he had become the great tactician as he had always been the great strategist. Jackson’s extreme secretiveness and his unwillingness to inform even his division commanders of his plans frequently caused his marching and battle orders to seem vague to those who were responsible for executing them. Vague though they might seem, he accepted no extenuating circumstance and permitted no explanation for failure to execute such orders. His displeasure thus fell upon the sensitive, fiery, and able A. P. Hill and Richard Garnett, the first of whom he put under arrest for alleged disobedience of orders and neglect of duty; the latter he had court-martialed. Other officers and privates felt the iron hand of Stonewall, and adjudged him cruel and unjust. However, Jackson’s harsh treatment of his sensitive generals did not arise from personal feelings, but from his conception of military discipline. Despite his relentless enforcement of discipline and merciless driving of his troops, Jackson steadily gained the unstinted devotion of his corps and most of his officers, so that when he fell at Chancellorsville, he was already becoming the half-mythical Southern hero.

James Longstreet, who commanded Lee’s First Corps, continued to display great qualities as a tactician and combat commander; nor was he lacking in strategic talent, His March to Manassas and the flank attack there upon Pope’s army were above criticism; his battle leadership at Sharpsburg was excellent; and his defensive operations at Fredericksburg were masterful. But there were signs that Long-street was developing certain conceptions of battle tactics and strategy different from those of his commander; for at Second Manassas, he disregarded Lee’s plan of attack in favor of his own, which proved successful; in the invasion of Maryland, Longstreet was inclined to argue and give advice. In other words “Old Pete” at the end of 1862 was developing the egotism and self-will that would cause him to refuse to co-operate with Lee at Gettysburg. Before that time, in the winter and spring of 1863, Lee placed Longstreet in command of Southern Virginia and North Carolina. Here, as an independent commander, he accomplished very little, but did not seem to realize the fact. The lovable and modest Richard Ewell, who was described as a> general “never defeated, never surprised, always at the right place at the right time,” would have developed into a corps commander superior to Longstreet had not his vitality been permanently weakened by the loss of a leg. At any rate, he was promoted to the command of Jackson’s Second Corps after Stonewall’s death. As in the first volume, “Jeb” Stuart continues the playful, superficially frivolous, but daring and intelligent cavalry leader whose penchant for riding around the Federal Army was as great as ever. After Jackson fell at Chancellorsville, Stuart, who had never commanded infantry, took command of the Second Corps and successfully continued the battle. John B. Hood at Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Fredericksburg established his character as the outstanding combat leader after Ewell. He showed fine leadership, was a great tactician, and began to display strategic talent. Tragically, he was later promoted too fast, and as the commanding general of the Army of Tennessee he committed errors that caused men to forget his earlier greatness as a combat leader. A. P. Hill, who continued to rise until he commanded an army corps after Chancellorsville, was not unlike Hood in his qualities as a combat leader. He handled his men efficiently and with good judgment; and it was he who after making a forced march from Harper’s Ferry to Sharpsburg threw his men into the battle and saved Lee’s right flank from imminent disaster. Hill was hot-tempered and hyper-sensitive; and his tendency to quarrel with his superiors and get himself arrested caused no end of confusion at times. D. H. Hill was a very good division leader; but his declining health unfitted him for active duty in 1862-63. Lee then sent him to North Carolina in a semi-independent capacity; but his sharp and sarcastic tongue and lack of self-reliance rendered him ineffective in this capacity.

By the end of the second year of war many other generals, such as Trimble, Ransom, Cooke, John B. Gordon, Rodes, Ramseur, Richard Anderson, and Jubal Early, showed military talent of a high order.

“Lee’s Lieutenants” continues in the second volume to be not only a scientific study of the problem of creating and maintaining a command, but also an exciting narrative difficult to match in the literature of military history.


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