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

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wausaubob

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The butcher description is based on the fighting in the late spring and summer of 1864. It was Lincoln's idea that the United States army could not divide into a southern unit and a northern unit and prevail. And it was true when McClellan was reluctant to support the northern segment, which he did not control, and when various lesser generals were ingloriously defeated in the Shenandoah Valley.
But it turned out with a determined, but not necessarily skilled commander in the valley, with an overwhelming force, the United States could divide the Virginia army and both armies would prevail.
Beginning in November 1864 the United States forces had the advantage of overwhelming naval and army power. But there was very little in the way of heavy fighting.
What fighting did occur was seriously lopsided and the Confederate soldiers had the good sense to either surrender or retreat, in most instances.
There was no butchery at the end of the war.
 

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"In the previous two years, attempts to defeat Lee by advancing across the Rapidan-Rappahannock river network had failed four times (Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Mine Run) and had once not even gotten under way (Burnside's 'Mud March' of January 1863). McClellan's attempt to use water routes to threaten Richmond from the east had also failed, and any effort to revive it would be rebuffed by the authorities at Washington, in part because success would raise the question of whether political influences had thwarted Little Mac. As a result, the two major field armies occupied virtually the same position they had the year before; despite all the dramatic battles and clever campaigns, stalemate prevailed. Better, Grant thought, to seek another way to get at Virginia--by going around it. A Union army sixty thousand strong, based in the southeast corner of Virginia, would strike at Raleigh, North Carolina. Once that city was in Federal hands, Grant would shift his base of supplies southward to New Bern, on the North Carolina coast, and mount a second campaign against the port of Wilmington, North Carolina. By threatening Lee's logistical links to the Confederate interior, Grant hoped to pull him out of Virginia altogether; aware of Halleck's continuing insistence to secure East Tennessee, Grant opined that the Confederates would have to abandon that as well to muster sufficient manpower to protect what was left of their rail net. The invaders could forage liberally off the land, as at Vicksburg; their presence would energize the Unionist movement in North Carolina and would liberate slaves. Finally, the campaign might break the Virginia stalemate: 'It would draw the enemy from Campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary.' It might even be possible to commence operations at an early date, for the climate was tolerable enough to contemplate a winter campaign. Of course, he added, Halleck would be the best judge of whether the plan could be carried out. Reminding the general-in-chief that he was responding to an inquiry, not volunteering unsolicited thoughts, he concluded: 'Whatever course is agreed upon I shall always believe is at least intended for the best and until fully tested will hope to have it prove so.' If Grant found his boss's comments on his ideas about what to do next in the West to be harsh, he must have been taken aback when he read Halleck's objections to Grant's proposed North Carolina campaign. Apparently misunderstanding the thrust of Grant's comments, Halleck, following a line set forth by Lincoln, declared that the primary objective in the East was not Richmond but Lee's army. The best way to fight Lee was by choosing as the field of battle an area that did not unduly lengthen or tax supply lines. A movement into North Carolina, he continued, was not exactly a new idea. It would be impossible to raise the army to do it without reducing the Army of the Potomac from its present strength of seventy thousand to about forty thousand, at which point it would be vulnerable to an offensive strike by Lee, who would prefer going north to coming south to check the North Carolina force." [Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865, pp. 250-251]
 
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Cavalry Charger

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So, Grant's preference on this occasion was for more indirect assaults, but orders from Washington insisted that he face Lee's army directly. Grant had thought he could draw Lee's army further south with a focus on the key port of Wilmington, and forces based in NC could be supplied by the Union navy without the need to stretch supply lines even further. Halleck's concern was the vulnerability of Washington, and the possibility of a weakened army of the Potomoc also becoming vulnerable to attack, and possible defeat, by Lee if the ANV was not drawn further south.

Thus, it was Halleck who laid out the strategic pattern that Grant would have to accept; direct confrontation with Lee in Virginia. Grant did the best he could within these constrains, aiming a multi-pronged offensive at Lee’s logistics in Virginia and attempting to flank Lee’s army. As soon as he could, Grant attempted a return to a more indirect, logistics-oriented approach, flanking Lee and striking at his logistical nexus of Petersburg, and then focusing his efforts on cutting off the railroads to Petersburg and wiping out the Confederacy’s breadbasket in the Shenandoah.

(Taken from the previous link provided).
 

wausaubob

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The issue was that the United States could support an army nearly anywhere on the Atlantic coast, while the Confederacy had to rely on the logistical support organized at Richmond. The Confederates had not yet demonstrated the ability to fight a distance from Richmond.
Grant supplied his own advance from bases on Virginia's Rivers. The Cumberland River supplement Sherman's logistics in Tennessee.
Than the United States reinforced Washington, D.C. from the Potomac River. Then Farragut closed Mobile Bay. Then Sherman advanced to the coast where the navy was waiting for him, while Thomas organized a new force in Nashville, on the Cumberland River.
Finally Terry and Porter captured Fort Fisher, Schofield landed a force in Wilmington, NC and the war ended in sixty days.
The trips back and forth between Washington and City Point, by numerous officials, including Lincoln demonstrated the point.
Arthur Wellesley in Spain and Scott in Mexico had already proven the point. The opponent with naval power can force conduct the campaign by the shortest route or drive the land forces of the opponent into desperate alternatives.
It took awhile, but Lincoln got the point, although it made him nervous.
 

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"A close examination of Halleck's analysis reveals why he and others had struggled without success to solve the Virginia stalemate. For Meade, even with just sevety thousand men, outnumbered Lee, who awaited Longstreet's return. In these circumstances, could ne hot afford to detach a portion of his command (perhaps as many as thirty thousand Halleck suggested) and, along with the garrison outside Washington, keep Lee in check? Abraham Lincoln had asked the same question the previous September. 'If the enemies sixty thousand are sufficient to keep our ninety thousand away from Richmond, why, by the same rule, may not forty thousand of ours keep their sixty thousand away from Washington, leaving us fifty thousand (Meade's army at that moment numbered ninety thousand) to put to some other use? ... I can perceive no fault in this statement, unless we admit we are not the equal of the enemy man for man.' As these statements appeared in a letter in which Lincoln reaffirmed his understanding that Lee's army and not Richmond should be the objective of operations, the president--like Grant--did not share Halleck's reasoning that a detachment was irreconcilable with defeating Lee. Moreover, there was more than one way to get at Robert E. Lee. Halleck assumed that Lee would never leave Virginia unless it was to invade the North; this matched Lee's own preferences, for just the previous month Lee had fended off an attempt to transfer him west to confront Grant. If the Army of the Potomac could hold Lee in check for a short period, the threat to North Carolina might well achieve that end--and in any case Lee would have to do something to provide for the security of the region. The implication of Halleck's reasoning was clear: he did not think that the Army of the Potomac could deal with Lee using even numbers, for Lee's army was better led. Nor was he willing to contemplate other ways to raise a force sufficient to carry out Grant's North Carolina operation, although there would be plenty of excess manpower once soldiers returned from reenlistment furloughs and recruiting trips." [Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865, pp. 2251-252]
 
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Drew

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Except Robert E. Lee.
Cute post. Except, Robert E. Lee was never tactically defeated by a U.S. Army General. U.S. Grant is on the list of Generals who couldn't do it.

Do I need to re-post the list of U.S. Army Generals who figured out how to whip their adversary? Sadly, Ulysses Grant will not be on the list.
 

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"The plan also reveals Grant's preferences in fighting this war. One looks in vain for the unimaginative slugger and butcher; instead, one finds a strategist who knew the importance of logistics, considered the wider implications of military operations, and was willing to try something different. Grant's plan was bold, imaginative, and achievable; it took a broad view of the eastern theater, transcending Virginia and surmounting the obsession with Lee; it promised a war of maneuver, not of bloody attrition. In combination with his proposed twin offensives against Mobile and Atlanta, it threatened to rip the Confederacy apart. Its only shortcoming was that it was not acceptable to Lincoln or Halleck. That alone proved to be an insurmountable--but not necessarily permanent--obstacle. For, as Halleck admitted, 'the final decision of this question will probably depend, under the President, upon yourself.' " [Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865, pp. 252-253]
 
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"The plan also reveals Grant's preferences in fighting this war. One looks in vain for the unimaginative slugger and butcher; instead, one finds a strategist who knew the importance of logistics, considered the wider implications of military operations, and was willing to try something different. Grant's plan was bold, imaginative, and achievable; it took a broad view of the eastern theater, transcending Virginia and surmounting the obsession with Lee; it promised a war of maneuver, not of bloody attrition. In combination with his proposed twin offensives against Mobile and Atlanta, it threatened to rip the Confederacy apart. Its only shortcoming was that it was not acceptable to Lincoln or Halleck. That alone proved to be an insurmountable--but not necessarily permanent--obstacle. For, as Halleck admitted, 'the final decision of this question will probably depend, under the President, upon yourself.' " [Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865, pp. 252-253]
So glad you posted this last reference. And that we could take this thread to a more imaginative place ... just like Grant.
 

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Cute post. Except, Robert E. Lee was never tactically defeated by a U.S. Army General. U.S. Grant is on the list of Generals who couldn't do it.
Apparently George B. McClellan and George G. Meade, both of whom defeated Lee tactically [six of the seven battles of the Seven Days were tactical victories for Union forces, and Gettysburg was a tactical victory] are not being considered U.S. Army generals.

In Virginia in 1864 and 1865, Grant was the commander of all Union armies, not the commander of the Army of the Potomac. Grant set the strategy, not the tactics, used by the Army of the Potomac. Grant's strategy defeated Lee, which is why Lee is the one who surrendered to Grant, not vice versa.

Do I need to re-post the list of U.S. Army Generals who figured out how to whip their adversary? Sadly, Ulysses Grant will not be on the list.
Provided we remain ignorant of what Grant did.
 

wausaubob

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The subject can remain in a tactical morass, consistent with the views of General Halleck and the make believe military scholar Jomini.
And if we want to be confused, like Lincoln was prior to securing the Union Party nomination against the threats of Fremont and Chase, we can discuss tactics, at which the Confederates were fairly competent.
But the first four months Grant was in overall control, March, April, May and June of 1864, reduced Lee's logistics, made Grant's logistics secure, established Sherman's logistics all the way to Atlanta, and degraded the Confederate logistics in Georgia.
What followed in August, September and October of 1864 were a series of military victories, by the navy and armies, that had political consequences.
To people who don't know much about war, and don't want to know, it may look like butchery.
 
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wausaubob

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"A close examination of Halleck's analysis reveals why he and others had struggled without success to solve the Virginia stalemate. For Meade, even with just sevety thousand men, outnumbered Lee, who awaited Longstreet's return. In these circumstances, could ne hot afford to detach a portion of his command (perhaps as many as thirty thousand Halleck suggested) and, along with the garrison outside Washington, keep Lee in check? Abraham Lincoln had asked the same question the previous September. 'If the enemies sixty thousand are sufficient to keep our ninety thousand away from Richmond, why, by the same rule, may not forty thousand of ours keep their sixty thousand away from Washington, leaving us fifty thousand (Meade's army at that moment numbered ninety thousand) to put to some other use? ... I can perceive no fault in this statement, unless we admit we are not the equal of the enemy man for man.' As these statements appeared in a letter in which Lincoln reaffirmed his understanding that Lee's army and not Richmond should be the objective of operations, the president--like Grant--did not share Halleck's reasoning that a detachment was irreconcilable with defeating Lee. Moreover, there was more than one way to get at Robert E. Lee. Halleck assumed that Lee would never leave Virginia unless it was to invade the North; this matched Lee's own preferences, for just the previous month Lee had fended off an attempt to transfer him west to confront Grant. If the Army of the Potomac could hold Lee in check for a short period, the threat to North Carolina might well achieve that end--and in any case Lee would have to do something to provide for the security of the region. The implication of Halleck's reasoning was clear: he did not think that the Army of the Potomac could deal with Lee using even numbers, for Lee's army was better led. Nor was he willing to contemplate other ways to raise a force sufficient to carry out Grant's North Carolina operation, although there would be plenty of excess manpower once soldiers returned from reenlistment furloughs and recruiting trips." [Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865, pp. 2251-252]
It was probably easier to Halleck to advocate his obstructionist views while Lincoln was insecure about the nomination. After Lincoln secured the nomination, he allowed Chase to resign. A month later the unified command for Sheridan was developed.
Then David Farragut won a great victory, and became very popular in New York. Halleck was no longer necessary. Then Senator Sherman's brother won a great victory in Georgia.
The military problem posed by General Halleck could not be solved until the political problem he could take advantage of had been solved.
 
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The late Mr. Bonekemper had his heart in the right place, but his book merely repeated what J.F.C. Fuller had done much earlier, and Fuller did it better.
It needs repeating. The table Fuller put up at the back of the book was telling. Despite Cold Harbor and Shilo Grant still had the lowest casualty rate of any general.

And Lee's casualty rate was appalling. Despite not having returns after North Anna, which would have made it worse
 

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Aside from the plainly fantastical claim that Lee was never tactically defeated, the actual evidence shared in this thread shows that Lee was the general who lost a greater percentage of his men by far... If the definition of “butcher” means anything like “getting a much higher percentage of your own men killed than the other guy”, then it follows that Lee is the butcher of the war. When one adds on the fact that Lee carried the war on for months after there was no reasonable hope for Confederate success it forces one to remove their blinders and reassess these generals.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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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.
I think Lincoln's control of the war in Virginia is an overlooked aspect of of the war and is often subsidized by Civil War histories. The Overland Campaign was the natural result of the strategy Lincoln had been advocating since the fall of 1861. And I don't believe it was Grant's favored strategy in March 1864 either, but even Grant couldn't completely overcome Lincoln's control until June. Grant did win an important victory that Meade could not in the fall of 1863, which was the latitude to abandon the Orange and Alexandria supply line.

Like him or not, McClellan was pretty prescient in what would happen in an Overland Campaign, which was why he pushed for the Peninsula approach. After the disaster of Lincoln & McClellan, Lincoln (and Halleck) never allowed another eastern commander the same latitude and discretion -- not even Grant until the "hard arithmetic" became clearly more than the civilian morale could sustain.
 

wausaubob

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I think Lincoln's control of the war in Virginia is an overlooked aspect of of the war and is often subsidized by Civil War histories. The Overland Campaign was the natural result of the strategy Lincoln had been advocating since the fall of 1861. And I don't believe it was Grant's favored strategy in March 1864 either, but even Grant couldn't completely overcome Lincoln's control until June. Grant did win an important victory that Meade could not in the fall of 1863, which was the latitude to abandon the Orange and Alexandria supply line.

Like him or not, McClellan was pretty prescient in what would happen in an Overland Campaign, which was why he pushed for the Peninsula approach. After the disaster of Lincoln & McClellan, Lincoln (and Halleck) never allowed another eastern commander the same latitude and discretion -- not even Grant until the "hard arithmetic" became clearly more than the civilian morale could sustain.
President Lincoln made inconsistent statements about his strategic preferences. By August of 1864 he realized that he had to have a group of politically significant military victories. It was at that point that he more or less caved in and let Grant run things. Lincoln was very worried, but Grant justified the President's trust.
 
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