From: Secret Underground Lair
Call me slack, but I was so unconvinced by this whole line of argument that I set the book down half way and likely will never pick it back up: if they were a "better" army, why did they lose the war?
OK, you're slack.
I am reminded of an "academic" conversation I had many years ago with a colleague of mine. He was arguing that Lee and Rommel could not be among the greatest generals, because they both ultimately were on the losing side. I could not get him to accept the fact that, while their countries both lost, they perfromed admirably give each individual engagement, at least for the most part. (Yes, both had their bad days.)
Who is the better coach, a pro coach whose team beats a 250 student high school team by 3 points in overtime, or the HS coach who was able to craft a game plan and motivate his players to be in the game against a far superior opponent? This was basically my point then and speaks to 'poid's remarks about the army being an instrument of the country and if the country loses then the army must also be a failure.
I disagree with 'poid in that I believe that the German army may have better army, but there is very little doubt who would win the war, at least after the US and USSR became fully mobilized. They were against tremendous odds, at least in terms of men (on the Russian front) and materiel (on the Western Front) and simply had to lose, at least militarily. Sure, they might have been able to have perfomed well enough for a less than disasterous political settlement of some type, but a real national victory was a very remote possibility. The same be said of The ANV. The South was destined to lose that war, unless the verious armies could win early and often. The ANV did, but the other Souther armies were universally inept most of the time.
It seems that Lee never had numerical parity with his opponent, and still won many major engagements. Some were because of his effective leadership, but some were because the ANV was simply a "better" army than the yankees on those occasions for any number of reasons. But, when you are low on food, ammunition, transport, etc., or your subordinate leaders fail you, you're in for a bad day. Napoleon frequently had parity with his enemies, but that was becasue his individual leadership molded the strategic situation to make this possible. His battles, on the other hand, were usually slugfests with few brilliant battlefield moves (indeed, he even blew a few chances - Borodino comes to mind), but his brilliance and got him to the point of near parity before the battle began. Lee's strategic options were much, much less available. Lee won battle by battlefield(operational) maneuvers on many occasions (Manasas I & II, Chancellorsville come to mind.) Had Lee used more effective battlefiled movement at Gettysburg, he might have won that one, too. Would that have made him a great general? After all, the South still would likely have lost the war.
The other thing is that one would have to define during what period? I think the GA might have been the best in 1805, but by 1812, it was pretty darn crummy. The ANV might not have been as good to begin with, but I don't think it sank quite so far. On average, who knows?
So, I believe it's impossible to really answer the question in any meaningful way, because the two armies faced such radically different situations. It's an intersting discussion, but individual opinions of what actually was are all flawed, mine included, because none of us know all we need to know to objectively make a judgement. Our individual biases take over and we argue what we think, not what we know.
All that said, Jonah's analysis is pretty good. But, exposing my bias, I'd have to say it's draw. If I HAD to choose, then I would have to go with the "optimal" GA over the "optimal" ANV. But not by much. At the end I would have to say the ANV, but not by much.
The Viet Cong "beat" the US (with a little help from some other communists entities ), despite being the "High School" small southeast Asian team against the "pro" U.S. team. If you wanted to argue that the Viet Cong were greater than the Confederates, I could go along with that: they were the underdogs, they could not possibly have fought the enemy on his terms and won either tactical or strategic victories. Nonetheless, at both the level of the individual solder, the small and medium sized field unit, and at the political level, the "Viet Cong" did what it took to win. The Confederates lost, so they obviously did not do what it took to win.
Viet Cong greater than Confederates or Imperial French. I con't care how fancy, elegant, or inspired a commander's moves are on the battlefield. If at the end of the day that was nothing but a waste of his time, and the lives of his people, "greatness" simply doesn't apply. Lee lost. He surrendered. In the grand scheme of history, all those brillant engagments did not matter. Lee a highly capable battlefield commander? Sure. But that is not the same thing as being a "Great Army" or a even a Great Leader. There are simply too many examples of Armies, nations, and Leaders who did not lose in the long scheme of things to consider anyone who did to be great. Doesn't mean every general who was on the winning side was great, or that every nation who won ws great, but lets not base "greatness" on our own cultural nostalgia.