Two paths to command: command systems of the Union and the Confederacy, 1861-1865
Fullenkamp, Leonard Joseph
Vandiver, Frank E.
Master of Arts
A parallel look at the command systems of the Union and the Confederacy as they evolved during the Civil War in part explains why the war was fought the way it was and why it lasted four years. Both nations began the war with national command systems which were ill-equipped to control the huge armies which eventually were formed. Ultimately, after numerous costly mistakes, the North was able to achieve an effective command system which contributed to the Union victory. The South was never able to develop a command system which provided for the efficient utilization of its forces. At the beginning of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln exercised general control over the Union's armies while the details of military command remained in the hands of General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Neither Scott nor his successor, George McClellan, were able to provide the effective leadership demanded by the President. Dissatisfied with the strategic direction of the war by his generals Lincoln assumed their duties himself and for a time functioned as both the commander-in-chief and general-in-chief. This arrangement did not measurably improve his ability to direct the nation's armies, and therefore Lincoln restored the position of general-in-chief to the Union's command system and appointed Major General Henry Halleek to that post. Although seemingly qualified to be the senior military commander, Halleck refused to wield the authority Lincoln was willing to give him. Consequently, for a year and a half, Lincoln maintained a high degree of personal involvement in the direction of the war while he sought a general who shared his strategic views. Finally, in March 1864 Lincoln and the Congress picked Ulysses G. Grant to replace Henry Hal leek. Grant's effectiveness as the senior military commander was enhanced by the appointment of Hal leek as the Chief of Staff of the Army. In this capacity Halleck performed many of the burdensome administrative duties, normally the responsibility of the general-in-chief, thus enabling Grant to direct his full attention to the prosecution of the war. This command arrangement provided the most efficient use of the nation's armies, thereby, for the first time since the war began, bringing the full weight of the Union's combat power against the South. Having benefited from its mistakes, the North was eventually able to develop a command system which produced the most effective use of its advantages in manpower and resources. By contrast, the South was never able to achieve a comparably effective command system. Jefferson Davis believed he could be both the political and military leader for his country and its armies, and therefore the command system devised by the Confederacy in 1861 assigned him both tasks. Throughout the war, Davis retained a firm grip on both jobs despite a succession of military reversals and repeated attempts by his political opponents to dilute his war powers. On two occasions, in March 1862 and February 1864, Davis was forced to name commanding generals in order to quiet his critics. Neither of these officers was given substantive authority and, as a consequence, their appointments did not significantly alter the Confederate command system. In February 1865 Davis was at last compelled by Congress to relinquish command of the army to General Robert E. Lee, who was named General-in-Chief of the Confederate armies. This change to the Confederate command system came too late in the war and therefore did not significantly affect either the direction or the eventual outcome of the war.