Attack and Destroy: Lee, Napoleon and the Civil War

Could a general raised on the strategy that conquered Europe in the early 1800s win an American war in the 1860s?

Attack and Destroy: Lee, Napoleon and the Civil War

The Civil War, in a certain sense, was a fight about borders--specifically, the border between the North and the newly formed Southern Confederacy, which was determined to assert and maintain its sovereignty. In a military sense, however, the Civil War was about a very different sort of border: the invisible "line" dividing the age of Napoleon from the era of modern warfare. Most generals of the Civil War, especially the senior commanders, had attended West Point in the decades immediately following Napoleon Bonaparte's reign, and had been steeped in the philosophy, concepts, and maxims of the French emperor. But in the Civil War, these men who had been trained to think like Napoleon came face to face with military situations that the emperor had never dreamt of. Innovations like the rifled musket, troop movement by rail, and armies of volunteer soldiers posed new challenges that neutralized many of the tactical ploys on which the West Pointers had cut their teeth. The Civil War was a conflict in which only the truly gifted military thinkers--those able to recognize what had changed and to respond creatively to the new situation--could rise to genuine greatness as commanders.

Surely the most notable representative of the generation of cadets raised on Napoleon was Robert E. Lee. Graduating second in West Point's class of 1829 (just eight years after Napoleon's death), Lee spent a long career in the U.S. Army only to find himself at the head of the most visible and important army of the Confederacy. Given Lee's importance, both as a general and as a historical figure, it seems worthwhile to examine how he dealt with the clash between his Napoleonic training and the situations that confronted him in the Civil War. Our questions will be: Did the Lee of 1861 through 1865 remain a Napoleonic thinker? And if he did, was he able to adapt Napoleon's strategies and tactics to meet the very different setting of the Civil War? In the end, the answer to these two questions will settle a third: Was Lee a great military mind?

Napoleon's American Legions

From the very beginning of the Civil War, it was evident that Napoleonic tactical and strategic thinking would play an important, if unfortunate, part in the struggle. On July 22, 1861, for instance, as Union and Confederate armies prepared for the first great engagement of the war near northern Virginia's Manassas Junction, General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, perhaps the preeminent Southern military figure at the time, proudly announced to his staff that his battle plan was modeled after the great Napoleonic victory at Austerlitz. "Tomorrow will be their Waterloo," he boasted.

Meanwhile, across the field from Beauregard, the Federal commander, General Irvin McDowell, was also planning a Napoleonic-style offensive: he would occupy the main Rebel line with half his army, while the other half marched around the Confederate left to strike the enemy's flank.3 The end result would be the main objective of Napoleonic military philosophy--the total elimination of the enemy army. McDowell attacked before the pugnacious Beauregard could re-fight the Battle of Austerlitz, and the Confederate was forced to fight on the defensive as Federal troops assailed his left flank.

The First Battle of Manassas was far from being the last example of applied Napoleonic thinking. It was merely the herald of a war that would be fought, discussed, analyzed, and even romanticized according to the Napoleonic mindset. Confederate Major General Ambrose P. Hill would claim that the Southern army of 1862 was making the same errors as the Austrian army of 1792.4 Even the dandified Major General George Pickett, last in the West Point class of 1846, knew his Napoleonic folklore; he would call his senior brigadier, Lewis A. Armistead, "the bravest of the brave"--a reference to Napoleon's nickname for his famous subordinate, Marshal Michel Ney.

It was certainly not surprising or unusual that the professional generals of the Civil War should express themselves in a Napoleonic context on and off the battlefield. After all, they had spent their formative years as soldiers fully immersed in the whole culture that surrounded the emperor's military thoughts and deeds. The prewar U.S. Army parroted the concepts, regulations, terms, uniforms, and style of the French army--an army that Napoleon had created and that, in the decades after his fall, was still run by his veterans. The West Point curriculum was modeled after France's chief military academy, l'École Polytechnique, and all cadets were required to study French.6 By time of the Civil War, the U.S. Army's basic tactical manual was Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, by Lieutenant Colonel William J. Hardee, a Francophile who had essentially copied the text verbatim from pertinent French manuals.7 In the mid-decades of the nineteenth century, Napoleon's legacy continued to dominate military thinking, especially in the U.S. Army.

So, at First Manassas, the hand-picked field commanders of the chief Union and Confederate armies were each the embodiment of France's Napoleonic tradition, which the American military had wholeheartedly embraced. Beauregard, a Louisiana Creole who had not learned English until high school, had been schooled in New York City by the Peuget brothers, two veterans of Napoleon's army who filled the young boy with tales of the master's brilliance and great victories. When Beauregard left for West Point, the Peuget brothers advised their young protégé: "Apply yourself, do not gamble and study the campaigns of Napoleon."8 As an officer in the Regular Army, Beauregard had translated French military manuals into English.9 McDowell was not French by birth, but he had attended school in France. Graduating from West Point with Beauregard in the class of 1838, he wore a goatee in the French style, was fluent in French, and, while on leave from the U.S. Army, had lived in France for a year.

A New Kind Of War

Even at First Manassas it began to be clear that warfare had changed since Napoleon's time. Several factors present at Manassas distinguished it from any of Napoleon's conflicts. First, the Southern forces at Manassas were not armed with the inefficient, inaccurate smoothbore muskets of Napoleon's day. Instead, many of the troops carried rifled muskets, whose greatly increased range and accuracy, combined with improvements in gunpowder and ammunition, gave a significant advantage to troops fighting on the defensive.11 Second, a Napoleonic flank attack proved to be a difficult maneuver for green volunteer troops to execute, so the outnumbered Rebel troops were able to fend off the Federal advance until reinforcements arrived. Third, the railroad--a relatively new invention whose military use was just beginning to be exploited--quickly carried fresh Southern troops to the troubled sector. Fourth, unlike the armed forces of Europe, which were highly developed and professional, the Union and Confederate armies suffered from extremely poor staff work due to the absence of specialized staff officer corps. This hindered the proper coordination of forces and made it difficult to set strategic and tactical plans in motion. Lastly, the American armies had no shock troops, such as the masses of heavy cavalry that Napoleon used to give weight to his assaults.

A paradox, then, appeared in the first great battle of the Civil War: the commanders wanted to fight in the manner of Napoleon, but neither their troops nor their officers had the requisite training to do so, nor were the weapons and troop movement capabilities conducive to doing so. No matter how badly every West Point-trained general wanted to be the next Napoleon, the Civil War was destined to be fought in a manner quite different from that of the Napoleonic Wars. But no matter how plainly that message was written across the fields of First Manassas, few generals were ready to see it.

The Master's Method

Napoleon's military strategy, which revolutionized warfare and changed the course of European history, is easily summarized as "destroy the enemy." Napoleon did not fight battles simply to win possession of a field, or to claim a victory that could then be exploited through diplomatic channels or peace treaties. Instead, Napoleon fought his battles with the singular purpose of utterly destroying the enemy and forcing his will upon a vanquished foe. He did not always succeed in this purpose, but he fought every battle with the same intent. Naturally aggressive and possessed of an iron will and great determination, Napoleon simply sought to overwhelm his enemies. In 1805, Napoleon wrote to Empress Josephine after he captured the Austrian army at Ulm, "I have carried out my design.... I have destroyed the Austrian army." Similarly, after the Battle of Austerlitz in December of the same year, Napoleon wrote contentedly to Josephine, "The Russian army is not only defeated, but destroyed."

Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most successful, implementation of Napoleon's strategy came in the Prussian Campaign of 1806 in which the Prussian army was defeated in the Battles of Jena and Auerstadt (both on October 14) and then rapidly eliminated through Napoleon's ruthless exploitation of those victories. In the space of two weeks the Prussian army had ceased to exist; French occupation of Prussia soon followed. Napoleon boasted to his victorious army, "One of the first military powers of Europe has been annihilated." The Austrian surrender at Ulm in 1805, when Napoleon forced the surrender of an army of 30,000 without a battle, is believed by some historians to be his greatest victory.

Even after Napoleon's star had waned and he was placed on the defensive by the combined powers of most of Europe, he still worked to create conditions under which the enemy could be destroyed. At the Battle of Lützen in 1813, he completely routed the Prussians; only his lack of cavalry prevented him from eliminating them. When the European allies invaded France in 1814, Napoleon's army, significantly outnumbered and composed mostly of underage conscripts, nonetheless maintained its offensive ways. Napoleon consistently attacked and defeated invading allied armies far larger than his own. To the end, Napoleon adhered to his simple strategic formula of finding the enemy, attacking, and seeking to destroy his opponent's army.

Napoleon also adopted and expanded upon the practice of "total war" begun during the French Revolution, when war stopped consisting of short contests between professional armies and instead became a full-scale conflict between entire nations, involving the military, the government, and the civilian population. As the most aggressive and relentless leader of his age, Napoleon rapidly asserted his dominance over the staid monarchies of Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

Because Napoleon remained constantly on the offensive, he was able to employ battlefield plans that exploited a great advantage he held over the ponderous armies of his enemies: initiative. One of his favored attack plans was what he called the manoeuvre sur les derrières, which might be called a "reversed-front" battle. In the reversed-front battle scheme, Napoleon distracted the main part of the enemy army with a small detachment, while the remainder of his troops marched around the flank and took the enemy from the rear in a classic battle of envelopment. McDowell's abortive attack at Manassas was closely modeled after this maneuver.

Napoleon's other standard military maneuver was known as the strategy of "central position." Napoleon used this tactic primarily when he was outnumbered. In a "central position" attack, Napoleon would interpose his army between two hostile enemy forces, thereby keeping them apart. Relying on the advantage of interior lines (the ability to move troops from one part of an arced line to another without exposing them to enemy fire), Napoleon could defeat his two separated enemies in detail before they could offer support to one another. Most importantly, although he was outnumbered by both of his opponents together, his central position negated his numerical disadvantage by keeping his enemies apart, thereby allowing him to concentrate numerical superiority against one of them. A famous application of this technique was accomplished during the Waterloo campaign of 1815, when Napoleon rapidly placed his army between the British and Prussian armies and ruthlessly moved to defeat his foes--first routing the Prussians at Ligny, then moving against the British at Waterloo two days later.

Napoleon's concept of artillery was highly innovative and original. Unwilling to see the guns tied down and used merely as infantry support weapons, Napoleon saw artillery as an important weapon in its own right. He used artillery not in small groups but in massive concentrations, which on many occasions simply obliterated the opposing force. This "grand battery" was a standard component of Napoleon's battles, and huge masses of guns made their presence known on many a field, most notably at Wagram in 1809, where the guns blasted a huge gap in the Austrian lines, and at Waterloo, where Napoleon's artillery proved gruesomely effective. These guns were used with the express purpose of destroying enemy troop concentrations--not defensively or against other artillery.

In addition to his many contributions to military strategy and tactics, Napoleon also sped up warfare significantly, eliminating the slow-moving conflicts of the eighteenth century. (In 1805, for example, Austrian general Kienmayer, reflecting the chivalry of an earlier age, sent a letter to Marshal Joachim Murat, the aggressive French cavalry commander, asking him to slow down his pursuit because the Austrian troops were growing tired and required rest.24) A fundamental element of Napoleon's campaigns was the daring, aggressive, and speedy way in which he maneuvered and marched his army. "Marches are war," the emperor professed.

On the march, Napoleon's army did not simply rumble along as one large, clumsy mass. One of Napoleon's best-known maxims stated, "Disperse to march, concentrate to fight," and the emperor followed his own advice steadfastly. The Napoleonic army's corps formations allowed it to march in detachments, each of which was capable of fighting on its own. This sort of marching masked the army's objective and confused the enemy, but it also allowed for a great deal of flexibility. Once the enemy had been engaged, the corps were able to move rapidly to support one another, using a type of movement referred to as Le Bataillon Carre, or the "Napoleonic Fan."

At Waterloo, Napoleon finally met a line he could not break. His central position tactic failed when Prussian reinforcements unexpectedly managed to pass from one side of his army to the other. But even in defeat, he was recognized as a tactical and strategic master. His military thinking was tailored to its time, and therein lay Napoleon's genius.

The Napoleon Of The South

Among the many American generals trained in the Napoleonic method, Robert E. Lee was one of very few who got the chance to prosecute major campaigns against an enemy army. He received that chance because of the respect he had earned as an exemplary cadet at West Point and a reliable officer of the prewar U.S. Army. Upon assuming command of the Confederate Army of the Potomac (which he soon renamed the Army of Northern Virginia), Lee rapidly built a legacy for himself that survives to this day. Even those with only a cursory knowledge of the Civil War have heard of the legendary Southern general who foiled the Yankees at every turn.

Lee was somewhat similar to Napoleon in the fame that attached itself to his name, but in character and background he was very different from the French emperor whose tactics he had pored over as a plebe at West Point.26 Napoleon was rough-hewn, overbearing, pugnacious, and rather difficult to get along with; Lee was the prototypical Virginia gentleman--urbane, graceful, and dignified. When it came to military traits, however, the two men had much in common. Lee shared Napoleon's innate aggressiveness, daring, and fortitude. Never squeamish, Lee possessed Napoleon's iron will to achieve victory at all costs, always emulating Napoleon's desire to attack and destroy the enemy. Nearly all of Lee's battles from May 1862 to the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 were fought with this goal of destroying the opponent.

Lee assumed command in Virginia on June 1, 1862. Almost immediately, he moved to evict the enemy by going on the offensive. One of Lee's subordinates recollected that whenever Lee looked at Major General George B. McClellan's vast Union Army of the Potomac then besieging Richmond, he pondered the best way to attack and destroy it. Lee summoned Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson from the Shenandoah Valley to join the Army of Northern Virginia in a great offensive against the Federals; in the same message Lee urged Jackson that, while traveling, "should an opportunity occur for striking the enemy a successful blow do not let it escape you." As he assumed his first large command, then, Lee was clearly firmly committed to offensive warfare; he believed the best way to achieve victory was to destroy McClellan's army before the gates of Richmond. Napoleon would have concurred.

Lee's implementation of Napoleonic methods did not stop with his espousal of the "find, attack, destroy" principle. His battles show that he frequently attempted to use Napoleon's reversed-front and central position tactics. Perhaps the best example appeared during Lee's first major offensive as army commander: the Battle of Mechanicsville on June 26, 1862, on the second day of what would become the Seven Days' Campaign. Lee had not yet had the opportunity to learn from experience in the Civil War, so his tactics at Mechanicsville came entirely from his preconceived notions on warfare. And those notions were completely Napoleonic.

The fight at Mechanicsville was Lee's first move in his effort to relieve Richmond. It was a quick move, and it was meant to eliminate McClellan's army by defeating it in detail, using the reverse-front battle plan. Directing Major General John B. Magruder to occupy the main part of McClellan's army with a fraction of the Southern army, Lee concentrated his troops against an isolated portion of the Federal force--the V Corps under Brigadier General Fitz John Porter, which was separated from the rest of McClellan's army by the Chickahominy River.29 Lee was distracting the major portion of McClellan's army with a detachment of his own while concentrating the majority of his troops against the enemy's vulnerable flank. Lee also achieved numerical superiority in troops over Porter's corps, even though McClellan's army as a whole significantly outnumbered the Confederate army.

Lee's first grand Napoleonic effort was a failure. Poor coordination on the Confederate side and Porter's strong defensive position foiled Lee's plan, and he suffered a bloody repulse.30 Undeterred, Lee tried again the next day. "Our loss in men and officers is great...we shall renew the contest in the morning," he wrote to President Davis. On June 27, in the Battle of Gaines's Mill, the Southern army was again badly battered until an all-out charge by the brigades of Brigadier Generals John Bell Hood and Evander M. Law broke Porter's line late in the day and forced him to retreat. Lee had achieved a victory of sorts, but it was a costly one, and although Porter's corps had been defeated, it had not been destroyed. Lee had created conditions endemic to a Napoleonic victory, but his failure showed the difficulty of translating Napoleon's concepts into success on the battlefields of the Civil War.

Lee's aggressiveness before Richmond did have its positive effects. It caused the already squeamish McClellan to abandon his siege of the Confederate capital and retreat down the peninsula between the York and James Rivers, whence he had come. Lee was not content with merely forcing McClellan to retreat, however, so, as Napoleon would certainly have done, he sought the destruction of McClellan's army. The battles of the remainder of the Seven Days' Campaign were fought to achieve this end, the only end Lee deemed satisfactory. That McClellan's army repulsed all Lee's attacks in especially bloody fashion did nothing to dissuade the Rebel general or alter his thinking. As Lee wrote somewhat bemusedly in his official report of the Seven Days, "under ordinary circumstances the Federal army should have been destroyed." At the end of the Seven Days, Lee seems to have been as firmly committed as ever to Napoleonic principles and tactics, even though they had not worked thus far.

In his next campaign, the Second Manassas Campaign against Union Major General John Pope (August 26 through September 1, 1862), Lee again closely imitated Napoleon. Pope had been placed in command of the new Army of Virginia, which comprised all the Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley. Lee moved to eradicate the Union presence from the agriculturally rich valley by destroying Pope's army. To do so, he placed his army between two enemy armies--Pope's in the valley and McClellan's floundering at Harrison's Landing at the mouth of the James River. Undaunted by the numbers hemming him in, Lee moved in typical Napoleonic fashion, using the concept of "central position" completely to his advantage.

Lee knew McClellan's huge army might advance back up the peninsula, but it was of little concern to him as he began concentrating his army to move against Pope. When the Army of the Potomac was ordered to leave the peninsula and join Pope, Lee moved swiftly to annihilate Pope's force before the two armies could unite. Lee thus created a standard Napoleonic scenario--using central position to concentrate his army against an isolated enemy, which he could then attack and destroy with impunity. Major General James Longstreet later wrote, "General Lee's intention was to attack before Pope could concentrate and reinforcements could reach him." In Lee's subsequent attack on Pope--the Second Battle of Manassas on August 30, 1862--the Confederates routed Pope with a classic Napoleonic flank attack.

Soon after he defeated Pope, Lee marched into Maryland in his first great offensive on enemy soil. Again the objective was simple: find the enemy army and annihilate it. Lee wrote to Davis before embarking on the campaign, "though weaker than our opponents we must destroy them." Years later, Lee reiterated, "I went into Maryland to give battle." Lee ended up fighting the resultant Battle of Antietam on September 17 on the defensive; despite that fact, he refused to have his army entrench its position. Even when defending, it seems, Lee may well have continued to think offensively.

The Army of Northern Virginia's next big battle, at Fredericksburg in December 1862, was the least Napoleonic of Lee's battles. Ironically, it was also his most decisive victory (and, because of the Union army's repeated rushes up Marye's Heights, a graphic testament to the folly of assaulting strong fortifications during the Civil War). The Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, however, confirmed that Lee was still preoccupied with the Napoleonic style, as he again used part of his army to distract the Federals while the remainder routed them with a flank attack.

Analysis of these battles confirms that, at least through the spring of 1863, Lee was not exactly a forward-looking general. He seems to have been mired in an outdated way of thinking, consistently looking to the Napoleonic tactics and strategy of the past as the inspiration for his campaigns. At times these schemes worked, but just as often--perhaps even more often--they failed. In his Gettysburg Campaign of 1863, however, Lee would again closely emulate Napoleon, from the planning of the campaign through its execution and resolution. This time the flaws inherent in applying Napoleonic techniques to Civil War combat would be more painfully obvious than ever before.

Napoleon In Pennsylvania

Lee's army entered Pennsylvania to news of potential disaster. On July 1, operating with little knowledge of the enemy's whereabouts, Lee received word that a detachment from Hill's corps had become engaged with an unknown portion of the Union army at Gettysburg. Confronted with a potentially grave crisis on enemy soil, Lee responded in typically Napoleonic style. It seemed that Napoleon's methods were working as they were intended to: Hill's force was "pinning down" the enemy while the rest of the army concentrated against it. Lee ordered his army to unite and destroy the Federal force opposing Hill. Lee's intention was obvious--to cripple part of the Federal army and reduce the numerical odds arrayed against him.45 Like Napoleon, Lee, though outnumbered, concentrated numerical superiority against a portion of the enemy. Napoleon himself had said during a grave crisis in 1814, when France was invaded by allied armies far larger than his own, "It is necessary to fall well concentrated on some corps of the enemy and destroy them."

Initially, Lee's aggressiveness seemed to pay off. The Confederate army achieved numerical superiority against the Union forces then on the field, along with a distinct tactical advantage. Ewell's approach brought his Second Corps up directly behind the Union line, and the Army of the Potomac's I and XII Corps were routed. Unfortunately for Lee, well-documented breakdowns in command deprived him of a great victory, and the Federal army seized commanding defensive ground before the Confederates' very eyes. Lee responded to the situation in typically Napoleonic style, shirking the advice of subordinates and resolving to attack the enemy where he was. He would not maneuver or abandon ground won on the first day of the battle.

A standard frontal assault employing Longstreet's First Corps was the plan Lee put into action on the second day at Gettysburg. Like Napoleon, Lee resorted to a direct frontal assault whenever another maneuver failed him, as on the previous day. Napoleon did this most notably at Wagram, Borodino (1812), and Waterloo, with varying degrees of success.48 Placed in a similar situation at Gettysburg, Lee resolved to attack the major portion of the Federal army rather than abandon the field or let the Northerners escape unscathed. The result was a particularly bloody repulse and some of the fiercest fighting of the war. When the sun set on July 2, Lee's army had again proved its valor and skill, but the Federal line was still intact.

Lee was undeterred by the failure of his aggressive, offensive strategy on July 1 and 2. On July 3, with near-pathological determination, he resolved to attack once again. Realizing that the odds facing this attack were long, Lee concocted what can only be described as his most far-fetched Napoleonic scheme of the entire war. Knowing the power of the entrenched Federal force facing him and the weakness of his own troops, Lee decided to mass his artillery into a huge, Napoleonic-style grand battery, the concentrated fire of which would blast the enemy away and allow the Confederates to attack unopposed.

The idea of using concentrated artillery in a tactical offensive role was something of a rarity in the Civil War. The generally difficult terrain of American battlefields, the lack of an easy way to move artillery, and the long ranges of many of the guns in use meant that, in the Civil War, artillery was mainly a defensive weapon. The Napoleonic "artillery charge" was rarely used.49 For the most part, the artillery was kept well back of the front lines and used primarily for counterbattery and defensive fire.50 But the idea of moving guns far forward to support an infantry attack, as Lee was now contemplating, had been pioneered by Napoleon, perhaps the finest artillerist in history.

The cannonade carried out from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on July 3 under the direction of the capable Colonel Edward P. Alexander reached a truly Napoleonic crescendo. The bombardment was an awesome spectacle. It was also singularly ineffective. Because of the guns' proximity to their target, they could not be sighted accurately enough to do great damage, and most of the Confederate shells fell well behind the Federal line. Lee's attack then went forward in a large, geometrically precise Napoleonic mass that was bloodily repulsed in perhaps the single most dramatic yet futile moment of the war. By making such an attack, Alexander later wrote, Lee had taken "a desperate chance and the bloodiest road." Lee had come much closer to destroying his own army than the enemy's.

A Different Kind Of Waterloo

After the disastrous failure of Pickett's charge, Lee's army, devastated by casualties and desertions, limped back into Virginia, its fighting power irreparably harmed. Lee tried once again to draw the Army of the Potomac into battle, but he did not meet his enemy in another major battle until April 1864. By that time the war had changed dramatically. Facing Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, a man who shared his will and determination, Lee was able to execute yet another successful flank attack at the Battle of the Wilderness. But Grant refused to retreat; instead, he headed south. This forced Lee to assume a defensive posture in a day-to-day battle of attrition that effectively ended his days of daring Napoleonic offensives.

Lee had shown himself to be extraordinarily skillful as a Napoleonic fighter. Unfortunately, Napoleon's methods were outdated by the time of the Civil War, and Lee's insistence on using them proved disastrous to the Confederate cause. While other "great" generals in the war, such as Grant and William T. Sherman, and even lesser commanders such as McClellan and Beauregard, sought to adapt to the changes that had occurred in weaponry and transportation and the unique characteristics of armies made up of free volunteers, Lee stubbornly persisted in his outmoded way of thinking. He showed little inclination to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances, as is seen most glaringly in his continued preoccupation with offensive warfare and his belief that the enemy army had to be engaged and destroyed.

When eliminating the enemy army was no longer a viable strategic objective, the most successful commanders were the ones who accepted this fact and adapted their plans accordingly.52 Grant and Sherman, for example, both achieved success by disregarding the Southern armies opposing them and directing their efforts toward capturing key cities and topographic objectives. Grant ultimately forced the end of the war by ignoring Lee, moving south, crossing the James River, and threatening Richmond. Similarly, Sherman realized that engaging Hood's army was unimportant; the Georgia countryside was the key objective of his 1864 campaign. As Sherman himself remarked: "They may stand the fall of Richmond, but not all of Georgia."53 Even the much-maligned McClellan was in many ways an extremely forward-looking general, putting off (much to President Abraham Lincoln's exasperation) an essentially useless and potentially disastrous battle with the Southern army and correctly deducing that the capture of Richmond was the more important objective.

In 1863, had Lee fixed the destruction of Pennsylvania's capital, Harrisburg, as the objective of his offensive, he might have won a great victory. Instead, he rushed to bring his army into contact with Union forces, intent on destroying them, and was utterly defeated in fruitless attacks against their impregnable line.

What then, can be said of Lee's legacy? An analysis of his campaigns shows him to be an extremely conservative man, unwilling or unable to adapt to the many changes in warfare that had occurred by the time of the Civil War. Against all odds, he sought to destroy an enemy using methods that had worked for Napoleon years before. Unfortunately for the Confederate cause, his outdated tactics and stubborn refusal to adapt to new military developments cost the war. By looking backwards to Napoleon's successes, Lee failed to move forward to his own.


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