Summary: After eleven years our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced no gains for America, despite the expenditure of money plus our troop’s work and sacrifice. Generals rotated in and out of senior command to punch their tickets, but unrelated to their actual performance. What would Lincoln have done? This is #9 in a series about the rot at the top of our military; at the end are links to the other chapters.
“As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”
— “A failure in generalship“, Paul Yingling (Lt Colonel, US Army), Armed Forces Journal, May 2007
An essential step to winning the Civil War:
…..firing generals for poor performance
John C. Fremont was relieved by Lincoln on 2 November 1861 for exceeding his authority by issuing an emancipation order (this might have pushed slave states in the Union to join the Confederacy). He was later given new commands. He resigned his command on 26 June 1862, declining to serve under General Pope. He remained on the bench for the rest of the war.
John Pope was relieved of command on 12 September 1862 due to his defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Don Carlos Buell was relieved on 24 October 1862 by General in Chief Henry W. Halleck, who said “Neither the country nor the Government will much longer put up with the inactivity of some of our armies and generals.”
Generals George McClellan was relieved on 5 November 1862 by Lincoln for general incompetence as a fighting general. On 10 January 1862 Lincoln had said that if McClellan did not want to use the army, “he would like to borrow it, provided he could see how it could be made to do something”.
Joseph Hooker resigned on 27 June 1863 in dispute with Lincoln. Lincoln immediately accepted it.
William Rosecrans was relieved by General Grant on 24 September 1863 following defeats in the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.
Franz Sigal was relieved on 8 July 1864 by Army Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, after repeated defeats.
Ambrose Burnsides was relieved on 14 August 1864 by General Grant after repeated defeats. (He later served 3 terms as Governor of RI and two terms as Senator).
Not just during the Civil War
In our better-run wars the Army provided its own discipline to generals. During WWII Marshall and Ike relieved scores of generals from their commands for deficient performance.
“We cannot understand the difference in your leadership in the last war and in this. We could understand it if you had produced one superior corps commander, but now we find all of your corps commanders good and of equal superiority”
— German Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt in 1945, from America’s School for War by Peter J. Schifferle (2010)
In our wars…
We can only guess how many generals Presidents Bush and Obama would have had to fire in order to find those capable of achieving better results from our mad wars. Perhaps no generals could have achieved much better results under any likely conditions. Perhaps the best we could hope for was a general with the integrity to say that these wars are mad, and that their cost was not worth any likely gains.
But what we got were generals playing the Palace games at the Versailles-on-the-Potomac. As we did in Vietnam. For more about this see Presidential decision-making about Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have 3 choices, sir”
Some great sources for more information
“Cause for relief – Why presidents no longer fire generals“, Robert L. Bateman (Lt Colonel, US Army), Armed Forces Journal, June 2008 — Much good information about our history of firing generals!
Tom Ricks’ new book The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today
Other Posts about Our Generals
- The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders, 27 May 2007
- We do have real generals, and this is how they act, 14 January 2008 — About Paul van Riper (General, USMC)
- The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it, 3 July 2008
- Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired), 2 May 2011
- Rolling Stone releases Colonel Davis’ blockbuster report about Afghanistan – and our senior generals!, 12 February 2012
- Do we need so many and such well-paid generals and admirals?, 9 September 2012
- How bad is our bloat of generals? How does it compare with other armies?, 10 September 2012
- Let’s blow the fog away and see what General McChrystal really said, 23 September 2009
- What can we learn about ourselves from the career of General Petraeus?, 11 November 2012
Only competent generals could have brought about this conclusion: