Monday, November 9, 2015

Worst Confederate Generals

Everyone knows the Union had some real turkeys as generals. Burnside, Hooker, John Pope, Nathaniel Banks, Ben Butler... I mean somebody had to get trounced by Lee and Jackson and Forrest, right?

What most people might not realize, though, is that the Confederates had their fair share of losers as well. For every Lee, there was a Braxton Bragg.  For every Jackson, there was a Hood. For every Nathan Bedford Forrest, there was a Gideon Pillow. 

If you Google something along the lines of, say, “worst confederate generals,” you’ll find plenty of results. But a lot of what you’ll get is also just straight opinion. 

So, what I was interested in was seeing if there wasn’t a way that we could make this a little bit more objective. Let’s take a look …


So, here’s what I did:
  1. I went to Google and typed “worst confederate generals”
  2. I added all the results into a larger list
  3. I looked up each general on that list on Wikipedia
  4. I saw if they were in any major battles
  5. I narrowed it down to battles where they were in charge
  6. I went to the Wikipedia page for that battle
  7. I recorded whether they won, their strength vs. their opponent’s, and their losses vs. their opponent’s
I also made sure they weren’t just one-hit wonders. In other words, it was important that these guys were truly trusted with command. If, on the other hand, they got a single chance, blew it, and then retired to the farm, I eliminated them (sorry, John B. Floyd).

Put together, this gave me something concrete (and also pretty generally agreed on) to evaluate these guys.  In all, I was able to identify four “losers.” And they are…

#4  Sterling Price

This fellow’s a little on the obscure side. First of all, all his battles were west of the Mississippi. I’m talking names like Pea Ridge, Wilson’s Creek, Prairie d’Ane, and the Second Battle of Corinth. Not exactly the Confederate high tide at Gettysburg here.

How’d he do? Well, his overall record was 3-4. Not bad. 

Of his 4 losses, though, 2 were pretty darn ugly. At Ft. Davidson, he outnumbered the Federals by a factor of 8, but also suffered 8 times as many casualties. An almost identical result happened at Pilot Knob. I guess that’s what happens when you take on permanent fortifications. In his other losses, however, he was definitely outgunned.

In his victories, on the other hand, he never had less than twice the number of Federals. His greatest victory was probably Lexington, where he inflicted 3000 casualties, but lost only 150 men himself.

Overall, he lost the fewest men – 7550 – of any of the generals in this post. Of course, he never had that many troops engaged either. That said, he also led in fewest net loses - subtracting the number of his casualties from the number of his opponents’ gives us a mere 23.

  • Record:  3-4 (best)
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  330% (worst)
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  270%
  • Total losses:  7550 (best)
  • Difference in losses:  -23 (best)
  • Final word:  Most respectable loser?

#3  John Pemberton

John Pemberton is mostly known for losing Vicksburg. He’s not a one-hit wonder though, having also lost at Champion Hill and won at Chickasaw Bayou.

That loss at Vicksburg, though, is huge. I’m talking 32,700 casualties, 28,400 more than the Union. Ouch! Overall, that means Pemberton led the 4 losers in this post in net losses and loss percentage.

What’s interesting about Pemberton, though, is that he may well be the most hated Confederate general out there. Losing Vicksburg undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. That Pemberton was a Yankee, however, probably had a lot more.

Yup, this guy was born in Philadelphia and had 2 brothers who fought for the Union. He did, however, have a Southern wife and spent a number of years in the Army down South before the war. 

After the war, Pemberton was something of a man without a country. He originally settled in Virginia, but was never really comfortable there. He then returned to Pennsylvania, but was made to feel much the same. Of course, if he had been a winning general, he’d probably had his own monument on Richmond’s Monument Ave.

  • Record:  1-2 
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  50% (best)
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  280% (worst)
  • Total losses:  36,740
  • Difference in losses:  -28,090
  • Final word:  Big-time loser

#2  Braxton Bragg

Braxton Bragg is probably the most prominent general on this list. He was in command at such major battles as Chickimauga, Murfreesboro, Perryville, and Missionary Ridge. 

He also seems to have had no people skills whatsoever. He was famous for micromanaging his subordinates, fighting with them, and then blaming them for his own errors in battle. Nathan Bedford Forrest once told him, “If you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path, it will be at the peril of your life.” 

That said, 3 of his losses were really tactical victories. They’re only listed as losses because Bragg failed to follow up, even retreating in the case of Perryville and Murfreesboro. His other losses were pretty bad, a rout at Missionary Ridge and the loss of the last port open to the Confederacy, Ft. Fisher.

Overall, though, he was pretty evenly matched with his opponents, within 10% of both their strength and their losses. Also, though he generated 42,150 rebel losses, he also generated only 700 less Union ones.

  • Record:  1-4 
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  90% 
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  110% (best)
  • Total losses:  42,150 (worst)
  • Difference in losses:  -700
  • Final word: Bad wrap?

#1  John Bell Hood

Now, this one is rather interesting. On the face of it, John Bell Hood would seem to be the absolute worst, hands down. His only strategy seemed to be full frontal assault, no matter the situation. The worst example of this is Franklin, where he lost 6,250 men, 4,000 more than the Federals, in the span of a few hours. The same sort of thing happened multiple times, however, when he relieved Joe Johnston before Atlanta.

He also needs to be dinged on the wild goose chase he led the Army of Tennessee on after Atlanta. This would end, of course, in the total rout of his forces at Nashville … and the end of Confederate resistance in the West.

So, how bad was it overall? Well, how about an 0-9 record? That’s pretty telling. At the same time, however, he did not lose the most soldiers (Bragg did), nor have the biggest difference in losses (that would be Pemberton), nor have the worst odds in strength (Price) or the worst percentages of losses (Pemberton). I just gotta return to that 0-9 record though. That’s pretty darn hard to beat.

Now, what makes this so interesting is the number of people who still come to Hood’s defense. And I do have to agree with them that Hood was an excellent divisional commander, as well as displaying considerable personal bravery.

The numbers, though, don’t lie. Think about it. Would you want a pitcher with an 0-9 record on your baseball team? Would you be happy if your NFL team was 0-9 halfway through the season? 

  • Record:  0-9 (worst)
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  200%
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  260%
  • Total losses:  28,050
  • Difference in losses:  -14,700
  • Final word:  Biggest loser