Sunday, April 13, 2008
Our fourth speaker was fellow round table member Matt Spruill. Even though he's a member he was no slouch when it came to presentations. I've always enjoyed discussing the war with Matt because he offers a perspective from a modern military officer. Also Matt does a good job of giving a balanced view of things. He will not blast a general's decisions without first exploring the position that general was in; what did he know of the situation, what were the options available to him? Then if a general still made a poor decision he will not hold back with his opinion, but he makes you think critically of what options really did face the general in the heat of the moment. The decision might seem bad at first but when you look at all the sides of the issue often times you come away with a greater appreciation of what the general faced and what he finally decided to do. This is what Matt has added to my thinking of the war.
During the symposium Matt presented the battle of Stones River, subject of his most recent battle field guide (and I've reviewed it here previously). Matt had two statements that I thought were interesting and needed more contemplation.
The first was that "successful commanders need to make judgement decisions and take acceptable risks." This goes along with things I've been taught by Matt before but I've never heard him phrase it quite that way. In some ways it seems so simple, the good generals make decisions after weighing the different options, figure out what risks they are willing to take and choose accordingly.
The Stones River statement Matt offered was that Bragg should have weighted his main attack on the left by adding Breckinridge's force behind Cleburne. Bragg would have been taking a gamble that Rosecrans would not attack his weakened right wing but it would have increased the odds of a successful attack by the left wing. We could all debate whether doing so would have been an acceptable risk. I believe that it would be an acceptable risk because if the attack had succeeded the results might have been extraordinary. Rosecrans might have been completely surrounded and forced to fight for his survival, and Bragg might have dealt the major blow that the Confederacy needed in the West to revive its sinking fortunes. As it happened Bragg did not manage the battle well enough to provide a major victory and ended up with a tactical draw and a strategic defeat.