Robert E. Lee'S Organizational Structure Of The Army Of Northern Virginia
The structure of Lee’s army played a crucial role in its success and eventual failures in the American War Between the States. Lee’s centralized structure provided a model for generals in the years to come.
The Army of Northern Virginia had a very centralized structure built behind the brains of Robert E. Lee. Lee gained control of the army after the wounding of Joe Johnson. The time was early 1862 and the hopes for the South surviving the year seemed dim. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was slowly advancing onto Richmond.
Lee’s first task was army reorganization. He delegated power to his two best generals- James Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson. Although enemies of one another, Jackson and Longstreet proved a very successful tandem. Jackson would use quick and daring strikes to destroy his adversary. Longstreet provided a more defensive and moderate approach. Together these two generals led Lee’s only two infantry corps. He considered Longstreet and Jackson his right and left hand. The army under this setup was very successful and until the death of Jackson at Chancerlorsville suffered no losses (although the battle of Sharpsburg was a draw).
Lee also gave free reign over his cavalry to J.E.B Stuart. Stuart was a very arrogant horseman but proved himself an excellent strategist. J.E.B. Stuart won much praise in the Battle of second Manassas. According to General Lee Stuart, he was an ideal soldier; and because of his skill as an intelligence officer, Lee regarded him as the "eyes of the army”. Throughout the war the Southern cavalry would beat the Northern cavalry in battles and in quality of recognizance.
Lee’s centralized structure was a three headed monster compared to the north who countered with many corps and a less centralized leadership. Lee’s structure led to his army’s quicker and more strategical movement.
As previously mentioned, Jackson died at the battle of Chancerlorsville. This resulted in a reorganization of Lee’s army. Lee knew that no one man could ever take the legendary Stonewall’s place. So Lee divided Jackson’s corps into two different corps. One of these was led by Ambrose Powell Hill and the other by Richard Ewell.
Both men were very talented and achieved success of their own. After the loss of his leg, Ewell lost his quick reasoning and froze under pressure several times. Hill also proved to move too quickly and sometimes recklessly. Both of these men’s talent could never really take the place of the “hand that Lee lost.”
The theory exists that if Stonewall Jackson lived the Army of Northern Virginia structure would have led to a Southern victory on the Eastern front. This theory is backed by the fact that Ewell froze at Gettysburg and Jackson would never have let Pickett’s charge go forward.
Whether this theory is right or wrong the structure of Lee’s army played a crucial role in its success and eventual failures in the American War Between the States. Lee’s centralized structure provided a model for generals in the years to come.