When we compare the military leaders of both North and South during the Civil War, it is not hard to see what the differences are. One of the first things that stand out is the numerous number of Northern generals that led the “Army of the Potomac.” Whereas the Confederate generals, at least in the “Army of Northern Virginia” were much more stable in their position. Personalities, ambitions and emotions also played a big part in effective they were in the field, as well as their interactions with other officers.
Each general that was appointed commander of the army in the east had his own plans when it came to defeating the Confederates. Beginning with McDowell, the first general to command a large army in the war, the task seemed insurmountable at first. He had an army of 30,000 men, most of whom were extremely green. Despite Lincoln’s desire that he attack immediately, McDowell knew that he wasn’t ready, and initially had no plans to move against the Confederates during that first summer of the war. Lincoln insisted that he attack at Manassas with the resulting disastrous outcome. Perhaps had McDowell came along later in the war, it might have turned out differently, but that wasn’t a likely outcome.
McDowell’s opponent at Manassas was General Beauregard, commanding the 22,000 troops facing McDowell, while at the same time General Joseph Johnston commanded the Army of the Shenandoah with some 10,000 troops. When Beauregard determined that the Union forces were on the way toward Manassas, he asked for help, at which time the Confederate Government sent Johnston east via the “Manassas Gap Railroad,” to act as reinforcements for Beauregard. Their arrival at Manassas at a critical time turned the tide in favor of the South, and forced the Union forces to retreat back toward Washington.
Neither McDowell nor Beauregard had any long term strategic plans, although Lincoln had hoped that once his army broke through the Confederate lines that they could march on Richmond. On the other hand had the Confederates been able to press their advantage after the Union lines broke, they might have made things difficult for Washington. Later in the war, with more experience they certainly would not have passed up that sort of opportunity, but as it was they were quite happy with the victory they had won.
After the loss at Manassas, Lincoln looked for another leader to replace McDowell, and some consideration settled on General McClellan. McClellan was at his best when he was organizing armies, not leading them into battle. Lincoln wanted the army to take over eastern Tennessee for political reasons, and McClellan for fairly sound military reasons wanted the same thing. The task was given to General Buell; it did not matter to McClellan that the area was impossible to take from the north, not to mention holding it. The area was too far away from the supplies that Buell would have needed, and logistically completely impossible to supply. Buell...