1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!

10 Worst Generals

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by CMWinkler, Nov 8, 2012.

  1. CMWinkler

    CMWinkler Colonel Forum Host Retired Moderator

    Oct 17, 2012
    Middle Tennessee
    I ran across this site: http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-worst-american-civil-war-generals.php

    10. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick (USA)


    General Kilpatrick was known for his reckless disregard for the lives of those soldiers under his command and his performance at Gettysburg bordered on criminal behavior with Elon Farnsworth paying the price. His “raid” on Richmond under the pretext of freeing Union prisoners was a joke that cost the life of COL Ulric Dahlgren. When General Kilpatrick commanded his cavalry in parades or battle and they looked quite professional. However, his camp was another story. Kilpatrick’s lack of proper discipline resulted in his camps being unkempt, disorderly, and embedded with prostitutes.
    In July of 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, Kilpatrick, in command of his cavalry, was later accused of using poor judgment when he ordered a devastating charge on July 3. In an effort to repair the damage to his reputation caused this day, and in anticipation of post war political aspirations, he planned a raid on Richmond, Virginia in 1864. His plan was to attack the Confederate capital, cause as much devastation as possible, and free the Union soldiers held prisoner there. On March 1, while en route to implement this plan, he lost his nerve at the gates of Richmond, and retreated.
    9. William S. Rosecrans (USA)


    Appointed commander of the Army of the Cumberland in October 1862, General Rosecrans almost lost the battle of Stone’s River and then waited almost six months to engage an enemy of a much smaller force. Referred to by General McClellan as “a silly fussy goose,” it did seem to accurately predict General Rosecrans military future as a commanding officer.
    His flawed strategy during the Tullahoma Campaign only succeeded due to the drastic mistakes of his opponent. Rather than consolidate his position in Chattanooga, he opted to move through the passes in Lookout Mountain. When he came out, with the mountain to his back, he fought the battle of Chickamauga, the worst Union loss in the Civil War. Trapped in Chattanooga he did little to relieve the suffering of his men. When General Grant relieved him of duty, he had fewer than five days of rations remaining with his troops already being on half-rations.
    Also problematic was his propensity to micro-manage the movements of units instead of relying on his chain of command. Finally, he was accused of disgracefully leaving the battlefield at Chickamauga and he was relieved of duty.
    8. Don Carlos Buell (USA)


    General Buell led four divisions along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad towards Chattanooga while repairing the line. With his supply line destroyed by Confederate cavalry, his movement came to a halt. With Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky, General Buell was forced to fall back north to protect the line of the Ohio River. Dissatisfied with his progress, the authorities ordered him to turn over command to George H. Thomas on September 30, 1862, but the next day this order was revoked. On October 8 he fought the indecisive battle of Perryville, which halted a Confederate invasion that was already faltering. He failed, however, to pursue the retreating enemy and for this was relieved of his command on October 24, 1862.
    7. Gideon Pillow (CSA)


    Suspended from command by order of Jefferson Davis for “grave errors in judgment in the military operations which resulted in the surrender of the army” at Fort Donelson. Despite his advantages at Fort Donelson , General Pillow’s inexplicable decisions led him to an embarrassing defeat. In his memoirs regarding the Battle of Fort Donelson in February 1862, General Grant wrote of his Confederate foe, “I had known General Pillow in Mexico, and judged that with any force, no matter how small, I could march up to within gunshot of any entrenchments he was given to hold.” His decision to flee the fort, leaving the onerous task of capitulation to General Buckner would tarnish is reputation beyond repair and for the rest of his life he would carry the taint of a failure made worse by the abandonment of his own men.
    6. Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (USA)


    In the Shenandoah Valley, General Banks lost 30 percent of his troops when he was routed by Stonewall Jackson and due to his tremendous loss of supplies was dubbed “Commissary Banks” by the Confederates. As part of Pope’s army, he was defeated at Cedar Mountain again by Jackson in the disastrous Red River Campaign as well as the Second Battle Bull Run. After a brief stint in the capital’s defenses he went to New Orleans to replace Benjamin F. Butler. His operations against Port Hudson were met with several bloody repulses eventually falling only after the surrender of Vicksburg made it untenable.
    5. Franz Sigel (USA)


    General Sigel opened the Valley Campaigns of 1864, launching an invasion of the Shenandoah Valley in which he was severely defeated by General Breckenridge at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864. This battle was particularly embarrassing due to the prominent role young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute played and was his relieved of his command for “lack of aggression” and replaced by General David Hunter. He was unable to shake the reality that he was defeated by a charge of young Virginia Military Institute cadets and his military aspirations ended abruptly serving the rest of the war without any active commands.
    4. Braxton Bragg (CSA)


    General Bragg’s problems were legendary on the battlefield. He lacked the ability to communicate with his generals. This problem was magnified by his chronic indecisiveness. His march to Kentucky, touted by some as a strategic masterpiece was little more than a pathetic attempt to protect General Smith’s flank from General Buell. He simply assumed William S. Rosecrans would not attack once his force had been routed at Stone’s River. It took him two days to discover the enemy was advancing on his position at Tullahoma, then chose to obey an order over six months old, retreating to Chattanooga. There it only took a brigade of men to fool him into a full retreat from that city. After Chickamauga, he refused to destroy the Army of the Cumberland in spite of the sound advice of Generals Forrest and Longstreet. At Missionary Ridge, he grossly misplaced his line then blamed his men for the loss.
    3. Ambrose Everett Burnside (USA)


    General Burnside’s leadership fiasco at Antietam allowed General A. P. Hill’s Confederate division to come up from Harpers Ferry and contain the Union breakthrough. He is also the chief architect of the futile, murderous assaults at Fredericksburg; leader of the ill-fated Mud March; and his obvious failure at Petersburg where he bungled the follow-up to the explosion of the mine. In reaction to this failure he was sent on leave and never recalled. He finally resigned on April 15, 1865. He also fought at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania where his poor leadership continued to be exemplified, appearing reluctant to commit his troops after the Fredericksburg experience.

    2. George Brinton McClellan (USA)


    The master of over-estimation and slow movement, he constantly proclaimed himself the Savior of the Union, yet seemed unwilling to fight. At Antietam, he had his opponent’s battle plans and still could not win. Tommy Franks [speaking to U.S. soldiers], “I will avoid the McClellan strategy of sit and wait here and will employ those tactics of Cleburne repulsing the enemy from the heart of Iraq [Baghdad]. Safely entrenched at Harrison’s Landing General McClellan began condemning the War Department, Lincoln, and Stanton, blaming them for the defeat. Finally it was decided in Washington to abandon the campaign and transfer most of his men to John Pope’s army in northern Virginia. There were charges that McClellan-now called by the press “Mac the Unready” and “The Little Corporal of Unsought Fields” was especially slow in cooperating.
    1. Benjamin Franklin Butler (USA)


    The nickname “Beast of New Orleans” was bestowed on the general, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared him to be an outlaw to be executed when caught. General Butler was so detested in the South that long after the war, chamber pots with Butler’s portrait in the bottom were found in many Southern homes.
    In the conduct of tactical operations in Virginia, Butler was almost uniformly unsuccessful. His first action at Battle of Big Bethel was a humiliating defeat. Furthermore, at Petersburg rather than immediately striking as ordered, General Butler’s offensive bogged down east of Richmond in the area called the Bermuda Hundred, immobilized by the greatly inferior force of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, and he was unable to accomplish any of his assigned objectives. But it was his mismanagement of the expedition against Fort Fisher in North Carolina that finally led to his recall by General Grant in December.
    He resigned his commission on November 30, 1865. The man’s face found a home at the bottom of urinals in New Orleans; he was failure at Big Bethel; a fascist, a militaristic governor in New Orleans who made the Nazi Gestapo look like a Catholic school girl’s choir. Laughable at Bermuda Hundred; a failure as both a politician and general officer; and considered by many as the ugliest general officer on both sides, General Butler tops the list as the worse general officer of the American Civil War.
    David Hurlbert, Ph.D.
    What do y'all think?
    CSA Today, WJC, Will Carry and 2 others like this.

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. Robtweb1

    Robtweb1 2nd Lieutenant Civil War Photo Contest
    Annual Winner
    Retired Moderator

    Apr 20, 2011
    I think Pillow and Banks are tied for first place.
    Aussie Billy Sherman, JohnW. and Lee like this.
  4. NedBaldwin

    NedBaldwin Major

    Feb 19, 2011
    I think Banks doesn't belong on this list.
  5. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l

    Jan 23, 2010
    State of Jefferson
    It's kind of hard to leave John B Floyd off that list. He didn't last long, it's true, but he's memorable for screwing up Lee in West Virginia by feuding with Loring (another it's hard to leave off, too), then arriving west in time to screw up Ft Donelson - and Nashville, and all of mid-Tennessee... and then made a most unseemly departure with his command aboard some mysteriously appropriated transports. Why A S Johnston thought he'd be ok at that critical point is something I don't understand.

    I'd take some exception to the inclusion of Rosecrans. He did well in the east - maybe the western air just didn't agree with him! And, I think he got a lot of bad press from Dana - that worthy helped a good deal with the defeat at Chickamauga. He claimed Rosecrans lost his starch when his headquarters was overrun by the Confederates - he based that on seeing Rosecrans saying a prayer and crossing himself. Well, it was a good time for a prayer but it didn't mean he'd turned yellow! However, he did decide he'd been defeated.

    Leonidas Polk is also hard to leave off the list if for nothing else than his unfortunate invasion of Kentucky, which effectively lost that crucial state for the Confederacy. Even if you win every battle afterward, you're not going to get over that.
    uaskme, ErnieMac, Rebelsoul and 9 others like this.
  6. bankerpapaw

    bankerpapaw 2nd Lieutenant

    Dec 26, 2007
    Rome, Georgia
    That list looks good to me.
    Stony and Lee like this.
  7. FrazierC

    FrazierC First Sergeant

    Sep 20, 2012
    A think that a lot of these guys just had bad days during the most pivotal and well- known moments of their careers. Also, some of these guys were good tactical commanders, but poor strategic commanders, or vice- versa. Still, an interesting and fun to read thread.
    John Hartwell and Lee like this.
  8. KeyserSoze

    KeyserSoze Captain

    Apr 14, 2011
    Kansas City
    A ten worst list without Leonidas Polk on it is incomplete.
  9. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

    Feb 20, 2005
    Near Kankakee
    The list is fraught with error and supposition.
  10. Red Harvest

    Red Harvest 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

    Apr 10, 2012
    Didn't we have a thread about this very poorly constructed list a month or two ago?

    Rosecrans has no business being anywhere near such a list. And where the heck is Van Dorn? Or Sterling Price? Or Floyd? or Wise? or Fremont? or Hood?
  11. John Hartwell

    John Hartwell Major Forum Host

    Aug 27, 2011
    Central Massachusetts
    I'd agree with Pillow, Bragg, and (maybe) Sigel -- NONE of the others belong anywhere near this list! If you're listing "Generals I don't like", that's another matter -- and entirely your own opinion. Most of these men listed you remember only for their mistakes/bad luck. Most of them also made very real and substantial military contributions to their countries' cause, which are often overlooked (or, more precisely, ignored).

    Besides, haven't we had this same thread at least a dozen times before? After rehashing the same stuff over and over, the result is always the same ... a vast and intensive lack of agreement.


    Aussie Billy Sherman and WJC like this.
  12. Pvt.A.Wells

    Pvt.A.Wells Sergeant

    Oct 31, 2011
    Southern, Ohio
    In my opinion, one of the worse was Gen. Marshal CSA. Now I know Marshal has sever problems with the troops and officers not co operating with him, and Richmond not providing what he needed to keep his District of Eastern Kentucky operating properly, but the man was so scared of being defeated, he blew time after time chances of total victory in Eastern Kentucky. While most folks talk about the same old generals, few have looked into some of the more unknown but very vital operations in protecting the rail lines, and salt operations in his district. To his credit, he kept Union forces out of his area, but made no gain either.
  13. gary

    gary Captain

    Feb 20, 2005
    Rosencrans was far better than rated and as a strategist he was superb. His Tullahoma Campaign that maneuvered the Confederates back into Georgia was brilliant. Its his battlefield performance at Chickamauga that was poor. Little Mac was also an excellent strategist. An organizer, he should have stayed in Washington and off the field. He did win at Antietam even though he failed to complete his victory (much like Bragg at Chickamauga).

    John B. Floyd should be on the list. He's worthy of Sir Robin the Brave.

    John B. Hood was good as a brigade commander, but over his head as a corps and army commander. He knew how to destroy armies and men, but unfortunately they were his own.

    As for Ben Butler, he was no fighter but a very capable administrator. Being a true Canteen Commando (our motto, "First to Feed, First to Flee") I'd serve under the Beast because I know I wouldn't be shot at (unlike serving under Hood, Lee or Grant or any other fighting general).
  14. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Lt. Colonel Member of the Year

    Mar 31, 2012
    Central Ohio
    RE Kilpatrick, J.D. Petruzzi specifically mentioned him in his talk this Wednesday, as an example of what careful analysis of the strength and loss figures for the units in the Gettysburg campaign can tell you... I don't recall the specific figures, but the conclusion was that his sobriquet of "Kill Cavalry" was quite appropriate, as he had something like double the loss rate of other Union cavalry units in the campaign, but accomplished little other than (almost accidentally) delaying Stuart.

    (Stuart's cavalry, incidentally, had something like a 39-40% loss between Brandy Station at the beginning of the campaign and Funkstown at the end, with the majority coming in the period prior to the Battle of Gettsyburg. Petruzzi said that that number startled him so much he had to go back and recalculate it a couple of times to be sure.)
  15. realevergreen

    realevergreen Private

    Jul 14, 2010
    Heavy competition.
    Bruce Vail likes this.
  16. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

    Dec 31, 2009
    Smack dab in the heart of Texas
    I sort of like to see who the new folks think should be on the list. That's the fun of this forum. I have my own and I'm stickin' to it. :smile: Bragg wins this one, IMO. Hands down. Well, maybe Sigel. No, it's Bragg. Definitely.

    When I first saw the site CW posted this from, I wondered who the heck chose the guys on it (seemed a bit random), but what the heck. Gotta start somewhere....

    That being said, we all have our preferences in leadership style, and might forgive something someone else won't.....I still say if your nickname is "Commissary" and it's not because you feed your own troops well, perhaps you deserve getting at least an honorable mention. And maybe that's really what this seems to be--a list of guys who could have been better, and through their own arrogance or incompetence or a combination of the above managed to throw away their chance at good fame.

    Wait....Pillow.....so many to choose from, so little time.....
    Stony likes this.
  17. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

    Dec 31, 2009
    Smack dab in the heart of Texas
    Gary, I think we have another cast member.....maybe Hood was trying out for the part of the Black Knight. :smile:
  18. Lee

    Lee Colonel

    Mar 25, 2012
    Interesting list. General Franklin (US) career wise wasn't the brightest light in the harbor and the same could be said for a few other Confederate Generals but then what constitutes the "worst?" Many of those listed definitely belong on that list especially Bragg. Burnside reminds me of that character in the old comic strip "Lil Abner" that always walked beneath a personal rain cloud. Actually the mine at the Crater was a good idea on paper however the execution was abysmal for the Federals.
  19. LtRusell

    LtRusell Private

    Jul 21, 2017
    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you James H. Ledlie. The wonderful man who given the short straw to lead his men into the Crater... and didn't. He makes people like Hood seem Napoleonic. Hiding out... not exactly the "Follow me" of the Army Officer's Corps.
  20. Lee

    Lee Colonel

    Mar 25, 2012
    True that! He was a sniveling drunken coward hiding in a bombproof caring more about his bottle than any of his men who were heading into Harms Way.
  21. mofederal

    mofederal Captain

    Jun 27, 2017
    Southeast Missouri
    Ledlie would have to be at the top of my list and actually anyone else's. Ledlie supposedly graduated from Utica College, but they had never heard of him. Fererro, a little better than Ledlie, had no business being a general either, but he had his moments. Evidently he could dance though. Hood should be there also, Floyd, Polk, Hunter and Fremont. All much worse than some on the list.

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Share This Page

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)