Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reason 17: Lee's inadequate staff size

As stated in my previous post, over the next couple of weeks, I am going to review the seventeen reasons as to why Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia lost the battle of Gettysburg. I must honestly admit that the seventeen reasons were not originally drafted by myself, but by the authors of the book "Last Chance for Victory: Robert E Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign." I have spent much time researching the 17 reasons co authors Scott Bowden and Bill Ward have compiled and have found them all to be an excellent representation as to what went wrong for the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg.

Today we are going to discuss number 17 on the list, Lee's inadequate staff size and faulty organizational structure. General Lee studied and followed Napoleon Bonapart very closely and was fully aware that his staff size was roughly the size of one of Napoleons lone division commanders. Lee did not alone suffer from this problem, in fact, there was not a single army commander in the union or confederacy who had the much needed intricate Napoleon style staff. There is a simple reason for this. The United States of America had no need for such staff sizes before the beginning of the Civil War.The're two reasons for this. Number one, from the time of the American Revolution through the time of the war with Mexico, the armies in field were far smaller than those put into action during the Civil War. Number two,  American army officers were trained at academies that emphasized engineering expertise instead of the art of commanding armies in the field.

When one looks at the correspondences of General Robert E Lee you will see that he often requests men that have received "Proper instruction" so that his soldiers could be "properly led". This shows Lee was well aware he needed a more intricate larger staff.

During the Gettysburg campaign Lee's small staff size really began to show itself as a problem. Thanks to the absence of JEB Stuart, Lee was forced to send what little staff officers he had available out on reconnaissance missions. It is obvious that these scouting missions could have been performed more efficiently and far more quickly if they were to be performed by Stuart's troopers. Sending staff officers on scouting missions restricted to information that could be obtained as well as put restrictions on how that information could be acted upon.

Finally the most important defect of Lee's staff was to have a general officer on his staff who was with the army, but without a field command. This role would be very much similar to Napoleons Imperial Aide De Camp. There was such an officer with the army at the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, but was not a member of Lee's staff. This man was of course Isaac Trimble. Trimble was just the man for this type of job. Aggressive, intelligent, and experienced, Trimble in his imperial aide de camp role would have carried with him the authority of the commanding general.

In the next post I hope to take a look at reason 16 for the Army of Northern Virginia's  loss at Gettysburg, Meade's localized counter attack on Culps Hill on July 3rd. Please stay tuned.

Be well,
Fred Brennan


  1. Hi Fred.

    I have often thought the same thing, that Lee's staff was to small. I sometimes get the feeling, that he lost sight of the execution of the attack.

    Lee' way of commanding was also - in my humble opinion - a weakness. He never gave direct orders, he told what he wanted in broad terms and then leaving his corps commanders to do the detailed planning and execution. And when the attack was launched, I think that I have read somewhere, that he often took a passive role. Maybe I'm mistaken about that ?.

  2. PS: Looking forward to read the next 16 reason's :-)