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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two teenagers who I love very much. I currently volunteer at the battlefield and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. These words often add a degree of color and character not found elsewhere in their stories. A feature of this blog is the presentation of some of these quotes. My perspective comes from a 28 year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign that fortune could have gone either way. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

West Point General Officers at Antietam

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I am occasionally asked why the Confederate generals seem to be so much better than the Union ones, at least in late 1862.  From the very first days of the war, the southern cause is served by the likes of Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, and JEB Stuart. By the summer of 1862 add Robert E. Lee, and the Hills.  The great Union leaders seem to need some time to emerge. 

I have become very interested in the West Point graduates who fought at Antietam.  While preparing a presentation for a Round Table talk, I arrayed the officers on a chart based on their branch of service in the old Army. Then I noticed something interesting.  There are essentially six branches.  Three are the technical branches and include the Corps of Engineers, Topographical Engineers, and Ordnance.  Three are combat arms and include infantry, artillery, and cavalry.  For this analysis, I will consolidate the technical branches together.

The Technical Branches
Branch
USA Generals
CSA Generals
USA Other
CSA Other
Total Officers
Corps of Engineers
5
1
12
1
19
Topographical
Engineers
5
0
6
0
11
Ordnance
2
0
4
0
6
Total
12
1
22
1
36

This obviously shows that a lot of the West Point Union general officers came from the ranks of the technical branches.  These are officers who saw little combat service in the old Army except in Mexico, and by the nature of their jobs tended to be more technically oriented and less likely to be leaders of men.  There are exceptions of course.  From these ranks come Robert E. Lee, George Meade, and Jesse Reno.  George McClellan is also an engineer.  Lee it must be remembered essentially transferred to the 2nd Cavalry in 1855 and had several years of front line experience with the mounted forces.  Also worth noting are the large number of West Pointers (22 in all) who were not generals.  These are the men who rounded out McClellan’s excellent staff and contributed in many ways throughout the war to the success of the Army of the Potomac in the areas of logistics and engineering.  The sole Confederate officer is E. Porter Alexander, who at this time served as Lee’s brilliant ordnance officer.  But the teaching point here is 12 Union generals and only one Confederate general are general officers at Antietam.

We now turn to the artillery.

Branch
USA Generals
CSA Generals
USA Other
CSA Other
Total Officers
Artillery
19
7
53
2
81

The artillery accounts for the biggest number of West Point general officers who fought at Antietam.  Hooker, Sedgwick, French, Burnside, Stonewall Jackson, Daniel H. Hill and A.P. Hill come from these ranks.  We see here a larger plurality of Confederates at the general officer level. While there were four artillery regiments in the old army, just one battery per regiment actually had guns.  Most artillerymen in the old army if they weren’t manning coastal forts like Ft Hamilton NY, Ft Monroe VA, Ft Sumter SC or Ft Pickens FL fought in the west largely as red-leg infantry. The older gunners like Hooker, Sedgwick and French also saw service in the bloody Seminole Wars of Florida.  Virtually all saw duty in Mexico.  There are also a large number of junior officers in the Union Army.  These men often filled out the regular artillery batteries.  For example, of the 14 West Point graduates of the class of 1862 at Antietam who graduated just two months before the battle, 11 went directly into the artillery batteries.

There are 52 West Point graduates who came from the infantry.  For the first time, the number of generals is very close.  Of 13 generals, seven fight for the Union, and six for the Confederacy.  Israel Richardson and Winfield Scott Hancock are the best representatives for the Federal side.  James Longstreet, Lafayette McLaws, and Richard Garnett are some of the excellent southern generals.

Branch
USA Generals
CSA Generals
USA Other
CSA Other
Total Officers
Infantry
7
6
35
4
52

All these men from the day of their graduation spent their lives on remote outposts in the west.  They had men to lead and combat objectives to accomplish.  And a large number of their ranks become Confederate generals.  For the large number of Union officers not generals, many fought in Syke’s 2nd Division, Fifth Corps, or were aides to General McClellan.  But looking at the relative numbers of general officers starting with the technical branches and moving through the artillery, there is a trend.  The more tactical the branch, the more Confederate generals.

Finally there is the cavalry. 

Branch
USA Generals
CSA Generals
USA Other
CSA Other
Total Officers
Cavalry
5
8
25
3
41

For the first time, we see Confederate generals outnumbering Union generals.  From this group come the likes of JEB Stuart, Fitzhugh Lee, John Hood, Richard and George B. Anderson, and Dorsey Pender.  Union generals here are Alfred Pleasonton, and Sam Sturgis.  John Buford served on McClellan’s staff and did not lead troopers at Antietam. 

The Confederates are blessed at the onset of the war by a large number of officers who were troop-leading soldiers in the old Army.  While not experienced in leading large formations before the war, they had honed their leadership skills and at least had some concept for moving soldiers around the battlefield.  Infantryman and cavalry troopers with combat experience know the importance of taking risks and being daring.

SUMMARY West Point Generals at Antietam
Branch
Union Generals
(West Point Graduates)
Confederate Generals
(West Point Graduates)
Technical
12 (12 of 43 – 28%)
1    (1 of 22 – 5%)
Artillery
19 (19 of 43 – 44%)
7    (7 of 22 – 32%)
Infantry
7    (7 of 43 – 16%)
6    (6 of 22 – 27%)
Cavalry
5    (5 of 54 – 12%)
8    (8 of 22 – 36%)
Total
43
22

Artillerymen are in the middle.  Large numbers come from these ranks.  Their branch is a combination of battlefield daring and mathematical calculation.  Some generals clearly fall into the first category.  Stonewall Jackson and the Hills come to mind for the Confederates.  Joe Hooker, John Sedgwick (who also commanded cavalry in the pre-war), and John Gibbon represent the artillery well on the Union side.  Others fall into the other extreme. 

The Union side on the other hand will promote a large number of technicians to the senior ranks early in the war.  Some great generals will emerge from this group eventually but they enter the war with little or no troop leading experience.  Their technical professions rewarded careful analysis, management of risk, and orthodox business leading practices that do not necessarily translate to battlefield success.  Robert E. Lee is the notable exception.  One year into the war, the technicians are apparently still learning their trade.  Good careful planners, they must learn to successfully lead men on the battlefield.  Some like Franklin, and Baldy Smith wont survive.  But others, like George Meade certainly will.

I am making some broad generalizations here regarding the different branches.  I am also looking only at West Pointers and not the number of volunteers who will receive general officer commissions.  But it is clear by just looking at the numbers that there may be a partial answer to the question by many visitors about the apparent superiority of Confederate leadership

1 comment:

  1. I love everything Antietam. Keep up the great posts. Please visit my blog if Civil War artifacts and Antietam items interest you.

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