Lee as a Union general

Way back when I was in high school we were told that one of the few areas in which the Union was outmatched by the confederacy, at least early in the war, was in the quality of their Generals. I also understand that Lee was originally asked to be part of the union army but declined, feeling that although he opposed secession, he felt greater duty to his state of Virginia than the the Federal government. But what if he had taken Lincoln up on his offer? Would better leadership have allowed the union to achieve a relatively quick capture of Richmond, or would it have remained the long costly slog that it turned into.

On a more extreme note: Suppose, that despite the fact that it was totally against his character, that Lee became a union general under false pretenses, with the goal of sabotaging the war effort and bringing victory to the confederacy. How much damage could he have done before he was deemed incompetent and replaced?

Well, I’m guessing U.S. General Lee would wrap up the war fairly quickly, but would be viewed forever as the Benedict Arnold of the South.

By SOME Southerners. I am a native Georgian, but I have absolutely no sympathy for the Confederacy or its apologists. Slavery was freaking evil, the Confederacy deserved every bit of the ass kicking it got. I suspect a LOT of southerners feel the same way, and one day all of them will. Lee was a tragic figure to me, letting his loyalty to his state blind him to the evil that he was fighting for.

Or he could have ended up like George Thomas, a largely forgotten figure despite his ability.

I expect Lee, as a Northern general, would have made his employment contingent on not being employed in the Virginia theater of operations. so instead, he would have been assigned to lead troops west of the Appalachians, where the Union had some pretty good generals from the get-go, notably this guy named Grant. So it’s hard to see how that makes a big difference.

He wasn’t blind to the evil he was fighting for. He was a slave owner, and not any better or worse than the rest of that breed.

How would Lee have fitted into the Union Army of the actual civil war. It was especially from 1863 onwards, the modern armys prototype, with battles over spread out over distant sectors and even theatres, controlled by a long range communication network and supported by an Industrial economy?

Lee always struck me as a general of the old school, manoeuvre and fight a battle on a singe day on one field. He was a brilliant tactician, but no great shakes at strategy and disaster at logistics.

Now Grant in the Confederacy? Thats worth exploring. He had been a slaveowner afterall and his in laws had Southern sympathies.

An associated question: had the Union managed to defeat the Confederacy quickly, prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, would this have been a detrimental outcome for the slave population?

Lee might have won the official war quickly, but it was his personal endorsement of the surrender after a long bitter loss that prevented widespread terrorism by partisans.

IIRC, the specific Major General post offered to Lee was the defense of Washington DC, which, I dunno, he’d only need to spectacularly bungle once?

I can see it leading to a second Civil War in the 1880s.

That’s an interesting question. There’s no doubt that Lincoln considered slavery odious and probably would have pushed for the anti-slavery amendments regardless of the EP. However, with a short war would there have been enough anti-slavery elements in Federal positions in the Southern states to push the amendments through?

How can it have ‘prevented’ something whose occurrence is thoroughly documented? Terrorism by Southern whites against the freed Negro population of the South was the norm for the next century.

I would imagine Thomas is as well known as Phil Sheridan. Thomas isn’t unknown for his lack of ability, he’s unknown because his commanding officer was the greatest general in American history and his peer was William Sherman.

If Lee had fought for the Union it seems unlikely he would ever have been surpassed by any other commander. Even if you assume that

A) Lee’s command of the Army of the Potomac somehow does not end the war earlier.
B) Due to the war continuing, Grant proceeds to win a string of victories in the West in the manner he actually did, and
C) This raises Grant to pinnacles of fame,

… Lee would likely still have remained commander at least of the Army of the Potomac. But again, it’s hard to see how Lee DOESN’T do a better job than the parade of failures who commanded it before Meade, which means he might well have won the war.

Excellent point. That goes on to this day with tragedies like Martin Treyvon’s. I was referring to terrorism and general insurgence against the government like what went on in Northern Ireland.

Well, it would have been the writing on the wall for slavery, at any rate, because a quick Union victory would have made clear that 1) the strategy the slave states had been pursuing for decades, of maintaining an equal slave-state/free-state balance in the Senate, was just not going to work any more and 2) secession was off the table as a solution.

Well. look how far McClellan got. :wink: