A Victor, Not A Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant's Overlooked Military Genius

wausaubob

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We don't know how many combat casualties the Conf. Army of No. Virginia suffered in the Spring and Summer of 1864. They stopped counting, and the records were destroyed. I suspect after the Battle of Gettysburg the Richmond press was not publishing accurate accounts of the Confederate casualties.
We do know that after June 1864 the Confederates lacked the numbers and physical strength for offensive maneuvers in Virginia and Maryland.
This was probably a result of the occupation of Tennessee by the United States. It was also due to allowing Texas to operate as an autonomous region. And the fact that the US army in Tennessee was maintaining simultaneous pressure in Georgia. Overwhelming force applied correctly did lead to a predictable result.
 

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wausaubob

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Although Mrs. Lincoln preferred to deflect responsibility for the Virginia campaign from the President to General Lincoln, there is overwhelming evidence that President Lincoln was in control of the Eastern theater up until August of 1864.
When the President, the journalists and political operators were most despairing of the conduct of the war, Grant's second offensive produced a lot of surprised onlookers.
 

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It's a well written book, but Mr. Bonekemper researched it with his conclusion in mind and selected his information to fit his conclusion.
Just as an aside, the same can be said for many books on the Civil War, including one I have just finished reading (James S. Pula's recent work on the Eleventh Corps). I have never found such books very helpful.
 

wausaubob

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The Confederate battle casualties of 1864 were occurring in an army drawn from a shrinking territory and shrinking population base. The United States battle casualties were occurring in armies drawn from a growing area and a rapidly growing population base. For the individual families affected the US casualties were traumatic. For the Midwest and Great West, they made almost no difference.
The number of battle casualties looks dramatic to us in the 21st century. But the US population nonetheless reached 50M by 1880.
Once the younger, fast growing populations of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri were separated from the remainder of the Confederacy, Kentucky was irrevocably neutral and Tennessee was mainly occupied, the arithmetic of attrition could only end one way.
 

wausaubob

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First Sherman, then Thomas and finally Grant, had opportunities to create huge battles of annhiliation. Faced with the opportunities they chose civilian damage, to let the Confederates retreat back across the Tennessee River, or to surrender, respectively.
 

James N.

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… If you have the superior numbers and material, simply grinding them down knowing you can accept casualties they cant, is a valid and potentially winning strategy that requires just numbers not genus. Its been done many times throughout history. When he loses 12738 to 5287 at Cold Harbor, or 42000 to 28000 at the siege of Petersburg it does appear a strategy he was willing to pursue.

And it worked.
Although I don't fault your claims, I believe you've mistaken Burnside's and Lee's losses at Fredericksburg for those at Cold Harbor.
 

fiftyfour

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Grant knew he could win in a war of attrition. Grant had almost unlimited supplies and men.

Grant had a big bad dog and unlike McClellan, Grant was not afraid to use it.
 

archieclement

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Although I don't fault your claims, I believe you've mistaken Burnside's and Lee's losses at Fredericksburg for those at Cold Harbor.
not sure, had looked two online sources, wiki gave 12738-5287. CW Facts gave 13000-2500. I went with wiki.

wiki has 12653-5377 for Fredricksburg, they are pretty similiar
 

Drew

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I'd like to add something here which might not have been considered before, or maybe I just haven't come across this perspective in relation to 'Grant the Butcher'.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was accused by Mary Lincoln and some Northern newspapers of being a “butcher” for the casualties incurred by the Overland Campaign of 1864. It’s a charge that was taken up by former Confederates and later members of the “Lost Cause”, who sought to portray a South that outfought the foul Yankees at every turn and was only overwhelmed by superior numbers. One inherent problem with this narrative’s accuracy is that Grant did not take exceptional casualties by Civil War standards, and his casualty rate across his Civil War career was in fact superior to Robert E. Lee’s; not that the two should be directly compared, as they faced different situations and challenges as generals.

More interestingly to me though is that of the two campaigns where Grant took his highest casualties, there was a common denominator. That denominator is that the overall strategy of the campaigns in question, to a varied extent, was set by someone else. In both cases, that person was Henry Halleck.

http://breckod.com/the-butcher-grant-or-halleck/
The bolded is standard pedagogy wiith respect to the War Between the States. Nothing that went wrong may be attributed to U.S. Grant or Abraham Lincoln. Everything that went wrong for the Union was someone else's fault. Thank you for the link.
 

Cavalry Charger

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The bolded is standard pedagogy wiith respect to the War Between the States. Nothing that went wrong may be attributed to U.S. Grant or Abraham Lincoln. Everything that went wrong for the Union was someone else's fault. Thank you for the link.
I thought it was interesting that Grant was making suggestions to avoid a more direct conflict and, according to the link, Halleck was having none of it. I know you think it is standard pedagogy, but if there is another way to view the situation then I think it's worth considering. Grant, like everyone else, was following orders, and if the choice had been given to him he may have done differently. That may have saved lives, at least in those instances.
 

wausaubob

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Edited.
Grant's methods were hard to comprehend until Farragut closed Mobile Bay and Sherman cut the last railroad out of Atlanta. People then began to realize there was a plan.
Once the United States railroad system was running at full steam, and combined operations controlled the rivers, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast, the Confederates had few options.
 

mterry

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Neither was Grant fighting for independence……….
nor fighting a country bent on mass genocide.....
nor fighting a country willing to fight to the death and use kamikazes

If gauging the fighting efficiency of our enemies, casualties they inflicted compared to their size, would think it would be not put Wehrmact/Waffen SS at the top of list. Not to mention by the time we engage them, the flower of their army had been scattered across the Russian steppes

To suggest Grant alone faced somehow a more determined or deadly foe seems iffy to me, and also would ignore that's theres other CW generals to compare to as well.

If you have the superior numbers and material, simply grinding them down knowing you can accept casualties they cant, is a valid and potentially winning strategy that requires just numbers not genus. Its been done many times throughout history. When he loses 12738 to 5287 at Cold Harbor, or 42000 to 28000 at the siege of Petersburg it does appear a strategy he was willing to pursue.

And it worked.
One could make the same comment about Lee. How many guys did he get killed?

This is absurd. If you look at who made the biggest blunders you’d probably pick Lee. Lee didn’t have men to expend but he still sent them up that hill for worthless ground.

Grants predecessors did not push forward. To win, the union had to take ground. To not lose, Lee has to just hold it.
 

wausaubob

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I thought it was interesting that Grant was making suggestions to avoid a more direct conflict and, according to the link, Halleck was having none of it. I know you think it is standard pedagogy, but if there is another way to view the situation then I think it's worth considering. Grant, like everyone else, was following orders, and if the choice had been given to him he may have done differently. That may have saved lives, at least in those instances.
Halleck never had one idea of his own. He was simply relaying the President's directives.
 

wausaubob

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WW2 certainly illustrates that, 85% of the casualties were allied......
Grant won by convincing Confederate soldiers to quit and go home or desert, until there not enough people left with ammunition to continue fighting. When he had the opportunity to allow Sheridan and Ord to kill the remaining Confederate soldiers, he declined the opportunity.
 

archieclement

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One could make the same comment about Lee. How many guys did he get killed?

This is absurd. If you look at who made the biggest blunders you’d probably pick Lee. Lee didn’t have men to expend but he still sent them up that hill for worthless ground.

Grants predecessors did not push forward. To win, the union had to take ground. To not lose, Lee has to just hold it.
The comments I had replied to were referring to US Army commanders.....If Lee was a US army commander that certainly puts those silly treason allegations to bed......

Drew had said "No General Officer in the history of the U.S. Army has lost as many casualties to an adversary as did U.S. Grant to the Confederate States Army, relative to his own troop strength. "

Wausaubob replied to it, and I to him......it wasn't the parameter the comments were made under. Are we now talking the original US Army Commanders, any North American commanders or any world commanders now?.....I just know the context I had actually replied to...…. Edited.
 

cash

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The comments I had replied to were referring to US Army commanders.....If Lee was a US army commander that certainly puts those silly treason allegations to bed......

Drew had said "No General Officer in the history of the U.S. Army has lost as many casualties to an adversary as did U.S. Grant to the Confederate States Army, relative to his own troop strength. "

Wausaubob replied to it, and I to him......it wasn't the parameter the comments were made under. Are we now talking the original US Army Commanders, any North American commanders or any world commanders now?.....I just know the context I had actually replied to...…. If we aren't referring to US army commanders anymore, theres several Russian commanders I would nominate for high losses

Zhukov fairly closely replicates Grants Cold Harbor loss ratio on a far grander scale...….254000-111000 in Kursk campaign

I have no problem excluding Lee from the list of U.S. Army commanders, considering he was an enemy of the U.S. Army. So even if the assertion is true, it's a silly comparison, because the commander pays the cost required for victory. As the casualty rates show, Grant lost fewer men per hundred engaged than Lee did anyway, and I don't hear anyone calling Lee a butcher. For the record, I'm not either. I have a great deal of respect for Lee's generalship. Lee was a talented general, especially on the defensive, and was second only to Grant in the Civil War. Lee was a very bloody general, though, and anyone who went up against him was going to take casualties.

The fact remains a soldier had a better chance of surviving the war unscathed under Grant than he did under Lee. The death rate of men of military age in the Union was 1/3 that of the confederacy during the war. [Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, p. 151] One of five men of military age in the confederacy died during the war. [Ibid., p. 188] Of course, that counts men who weren't in the army as well as those who were in the army, so it might not be so great a statistic. It does show, however, what the war did to the male population of the former confederacy, and Lee's offensive strategy, while IMO the right strategy, has to take the blame for much of those deaths.
 

archieclement

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I have no problem excluding Lee from the list of U.S. Army commanders, considering he was an enemy of the U.S. Army. So even if the assertion is true, it's a silly comparison, because the commander pays the cost required for victory. As the casualty rates show, Grant lost fewer men per hundred engaged than Lee did anyway, and I don't hear anyone calling Lee a butcher. For the record, I'm not either. I have a great deal of respect for Lee's generalship. Lee was a talented general, especially on the defensive, and was second only to Grant in the Civil War. Lee was a very bloody general, though, and anyone who went up against him was going to take casualties.

The fact remains a soldier had a better chance of surviving the war unscathed under Grant than he did under Lee. The death rate of men of military age in the Union was 1/3 that of the confederacy during the war. [Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, p. 151] One of five men of military age in the confederacy died during the war. [Ibid., p. 188] Of course, that counts men who weren't in the army as well as those who were in the army, so it might not be so great a statistic. It does show, however, what the war did to the male population of the former confederacy, and Lee's offensive strategy, while IMO the right strategy, has to take the blame for much of those deaths.
I would agree, the odd thing about drawing any comparison to Lee is if one generally is fighting outnumbered instead of with the advantage of numbers.….....would seem its going to be somewhat harder to avoid casualties if the other side can bring more guns to bear then you can...…… and has more reserves to bring up, and as Sherman can simply extend their lines beyond yours to flank you.

Outnumbered you have to maneuver to try to achieve superiority or parity with an attack on a specific point of the battlefield.....remaining passive isn't much an option outnumbered, as JJ continually demonstrated.....as it just leads to being forced to retreat...and retreat.....then retreat some more. until your finally sacked. Outnumbered requires seizing the initiative to compensate for the lack of numbers.

Once Grant started to continue to move forward, regardless of his losses...….Lee could never regain the initiative as the pressure on him became constant
 
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cash

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This is during the winter of 1863:

"Grant looked everywhere for an opportunity to take the offensive. He instructed Sherman to return to Vicksburg, assemble a mobile column, and launch a large-scale raid into central Mississippi to strip the region of forage and war materiel, destroy the rail network, and deny the area to the Confederates as a base from which the Rebels could hinder a Union drive toward Atlanta or Mobile or even threaten to retake points along the Mississippi. The latter city was still very much on Grant's mind as he wrote Halleck to suggest future operations. Once Mobile was in Union hands, he argued, a Union army operating in concert with a second army based at Chattanooga could drive into the Confederate heartland, with Atlanta and Montgomery, Alabama as objectives. This would slice the Confederacy yet again into smaller and smaller pieces by severing the logistical and transportation links between regions. It would be Vicksburg all over again, this time without the Mississippi River as an obstacle. Grant would command one column, while either Sherman or McPherson--two generals he trusted and who knew how to cooperate--would head the other one. In proposing this campaign Grant knew that he was challenging Halleck's preference for continued operations west of the Mississippi. Although the general-in-chief maintained that diplomatic reasons had justified Banks's abortive expedition into Texas, he still wanted to mop up Confederate resistance in Arkansas and western Louisiana. While success here would eradicate an irritating Rebel presence, it was less than clear exactly how such operations would contribute materially to Confederate collapse, especially when the electorate would be looking for signs that the Lincoln administration was winning the war. Aware of Halleck's stubborn adherence to trans-Mississippi operations, Grant even tried to outflank his superior. Baldy Smith and James Wilson, who viewed themselves as Grant's strategic planners, wrote Dana in support of the Mobile operation; Dana, no stranger to intrigue (and now assistant secretary of war), passed their dispatches on to Stanton. Halleck threw cold water on most of Grant's ideas. Clearing out East Tennessee remained his top immediate priority. Lincoln and Stanton attached 'the greatest importance' to the region for political as well as military reasons; recent Confederate activity there underlined the need to secure it. In contrast, he questioned the wisdom of undertaking a winter campaign in Mississippi. Grant, who had learned from his experience at Vicksburg the previous spring, directed Sherman to commence his offensive against Meridian before he received Halleck's response and was not surprised when Halleck renewed his objections to the plan and demanded that East Tennessee and Banks's operation receive priority." [Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865, pp. 249-250]
 


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