Sammy Sofa wrote:Their reputations were always propped up by the horsefeathers of the Union military leaders more than anything else.
Depends on the general. Men like Forrest and Jackson were legit military geniuses whose tactics have been studied and emulated for 150 years. Lee wasn't a bad tactician at all. His failure, and why some say the South would have fared better without him, was that strategically he didn't take into account the big picture. He was obsessed with being the aggressor in all situations, and fighting offensive campaigns always costs far more lives than defensive ones. Being aggressive in situations where he didn't need to be cost him 20,000 troops during the Seven Days Campaign, 28,000 at Gettysburg, and so on. Lee and Grant were quite similar in that regard, the difference being that Grant could replace those 20,000 troops, whereas Lee most certainly could not.
The most significant and costly example of Lee's stubbornness is of course at Gettysburg. Longstreet, Ewell, and several other generals implored Lee to not fight a full scale engagement at Gettysburg but rather to turn around and advance toward Washington, knowing that the Union Army would have to pursue them. Thus, the Confederates could find some awesome high ground and make a defensive stand, giving the Army of the Potomac no choice but to attack them in what would likely have resulted in a Confederate victory. But Lee inexplicably made the boneheaded decision to ignore their advice and to attack a well entrenched AOP force. Hell, there are entire books devoted to trying to figure out what the hell Lee was thinking when 99 out of 100 generals in history (Custer being the 1) would have turned toward DC and made the AOP follow them.
Oh, and I'll add that if Lee gets penalized for fighting against a bunch of halfwits, Grant needs to be similarly penalized. During his campaigns out west (Shiloh, Vicksburg, Atlanta, Chattanooga), he didn't fight against a single Confederate commander worth a crap. Perhaps his greatest victory of the war came during the Vicksburg Campaign when he faced Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton. As I've stated before, Pemberton was such a lousy commander that his own second in command wrote to his wife "He is either the worst general in either army or he's a traitor, but I've yet to figure out which."
That's not to say that Grant wasn't an outstanding military mind, because he obviously was. He gets too much crap for being a butcher. His victories out West were tactically very brilliant.