An 1862 Overland Campaign...

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
This thread is intended to analyze - operationally and mathematically - the outcome of an attempt at the Overland campaign in 1862. I will do my best to explore various different arguments against it, and why the Overland as-executed in 1864 would be essentially impossible in 1862.

Assumptions:

I will assume for all of these analyses that, where it matters, the generals involved (on the offensive and defensive sides) are Grant and Lee respectively; this is because we have the relative CEVs for the 1864 overland campaign for these two generals.
I will assume that the line of contact between the AotP and the AoNV (which names I will use for simplicity) begins at the Rappahanock, thus making the battles comparable.
I will also assume that, when a battle like a historical battle comes up, the CEVs remain the same. I will conduct two analyses based on this, one of them "fixing" the Union casualties and the other the Confederate casualties.
Finally, I will assume that 1st-4th Corps inclusive are available. 5th Corps is not as it is garrisoning the Shenandoah valley. (Note that this is actually better than the historical number of troops released from Washington in 1862.)

Where I make further assumptions, I will note them in the text.


(My understanding is that this fits into the What-If forum rather than the Eastern Theater forum.)
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
The Logistical Argument


This argument is fairly simple, and hinges on the way the Overland campaign was supplied. To be specific, the Overland campaign was supplied by water, which is how Grant was able to conduct outflanking marches the way he did.

The first water supply base used was up the Rappahanock, which is at least feasible - no major problem there, aside from possible Rebel batteries in Gloucester county. The problem comes when 'Grant' moves further south, to the North Anna area.
At this point supply shifts to the York, and supplies will come up the York or up the James for the remainder of the campaign. However, since this is an Overland campaign and no Peninsular campaign has taken place, the Yorktown and Norfolk positions are unharmed and can continue to block Union supply up the York and James rivers; thus the campaign cannot be supplied and terminates once it is too far south to supply successfully from the Rappahanock. (Functionally this means past the North Anna battle - there is a rail line from Fredericksburg to the North Anna position, but it's blocked by Lee's defences at the North Anna.)

Also worth considering for logistics is that the flying-column supply method was still not fully developed in Federal armies in 1862, but this is a much more minor objection than the point that supply is basically not possible.


This is perhaps the biggest single objection to the approach, and so future analyses will simply ignore it as otherwise they cannot be conducted.
 
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Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
The Rail Argument

This is a related argument, but is about the ability of the opening battle of the campaign (Wilderness) to be conducted. The retreating Confederates destroyed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad as they fell back to the Rappahanock/Rapidan positions, and it took months of work to allow it to sustain a full sized army. This is non-negotiable as to launch the campaign from Culpeper (as Grant did) it must be possible to sustain the army there (numbering some 120,000 or so more PFD, in 1st-4th corps), but the rail line was only capable of sustaining some 40,000 by mid-1862. This means that months of upgrading would be required to even start the campaign, unless an alternative method of supply was found.

This one will also be ignored for future anaylsis.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
The Numbers Argument

This is the problem that the core concept of the Overland campaign (as presented, though arguably not correctly) was to use attrition to weaken the Confederate army.

Since we have the CEVs of all the battles, we can conduct analysis with the troops who would actually be there if the combat were conducted in 1862. For this analysis I am assuming the following army sizes:


1864 period armies are as per Wikipedia, to calculate the original CEVs.
The 1862 Confederate Army in northern Virginia is about 70,000 effectives and is fighting from the Wilderness onwards.
Confederate reinforcements arrive after the fighting at Spotsylvania but before Cold Harbor, and represent:
12,000 from the Peninsula and Norfolk (leaving about 12,000 between the two positions)
8,000 from North Carolina (essentially the core of AP Hill's division)

Loring's force in the dept. of SE Virginia replaces Jackson's force detached to the Valley, so doesn't change the numbers.

The Union army starts at 120,000 (1st-4th corps inclusive) but does not get any reinforcements unless noted - this still leaves the defenders of Washington considerably weaker than they were historically allowed to get at any point in 1862 so it seems appropriate.


Run 1 - assuming each battle has the fighting continue until the Union has suffered the historical number of casualties.

Battle of the Wilderness
Historical: 124,500 Union PFD vs. 62,500 Confederate Effectives
Casualties: 17,500 Union, 11,000 Confederate
Alternate: 120,000 Union vs. 70,000 Confederate
Casualties: 17,500 Union, 8,100 Confederate

Battle of Spotsylvania
Historical: 105,000 Union, 52,000 Confederate
Casualties: 18,400 Union, 12,700 Confederate
Alternate: 102,500 Union, 61,900 Confederate
Casualties: 18,400 Union, 8,500 Confederate

Battle of Cold Harbor
Historical: 113,000 Union, 60,000 Confederate
Casualties: 12,700 Union, 5,300 Confederate
Alternate: 94,900 Union, 73,400 Confederate
Casualties: 12,700 Union, 2,500 Confederate

Campaign conclusion: 82,200 Union, 70,900 Confederate
Historical conclusion: 110,000 Union, 55,000 Confederate

The campaign has bled the Union army white, and bringing in 5th corps (complete) afterwards would leave it at the historical conclusion but would leave Washington badly exposed - there'd be the forces in the forts and nothing else. Given the size of the force Lee could historically detach in Early's raid (ca. 10,000), here he could threaten Washington much more effectively.


Run 2: Ditto run 1, but Confederate casualties fixed
Historical: 124,500 Union PFD vs. 62,500 Confederate Effectives
Casualties: 17,500 Union, 11,000 Confederate
Alternate: 120,000 Union vs. 70,000 Confederate
Casualties: 23,600 Union, 11,000 Confederate

Battle of Spotsylvania
Historical: 105,000 Union, 52,000 Confederate
Casualties: 18,400 Union, 12,700 Confederate
Alternate: 96,400 Union, 59,000 Confederate
Casualties: 28,100 Union, 12,700 Confederate


Battle of Cold Harbor
Historical: 113,000 Union, 60,000 Confederate
Casualties: 12,700 Union, 5,300 Confederate
Alternate: 68,300 Union, 66,300 Confederate
Casualties: 42,400 Union, 5,300 Confederate

Functionally this is the destruction of the Army of the Potomac.



Run 3

For run 3, both sides throw in all their possible reinforcements for Spotsylvania - thus the Union gets 30,000 reinforcements after the Wilderness, and the Confederates get 30,000 after the same (this is their pulling in four brigades from the Peninsula and Norfolk, four from North Carolina and two from Loring, with no Valley force). Here using attacker casualty rates as fixed, taking the Confederates as the attackers at the Wilderness, to reflect when the attacker can no longer attack.

Wilderness

Historical: 124,500 Union PFD vs. 62,500 Confederate Effectives
Casualties: 17,500 Union, 11,000 Confederate
Confederate casualty rate: 1 in 5.68
Alternate: 120,000 Union vs. 70,000 Confederate
Casualties: 26,400 Union, 12,300 Confederate

Armies after this battle: 93,600 Union, 57,700 Confederate

Union gets 30,000 reinforcements (5th Corps)
Confederates get 30,000 reinforcements (Peninsula, NC etc.)
Armies now: 123,600 Union, 87,700 Confederate

Battle of Spotsylvania
Historical: 105,000 Union, 52,000 Confederate
Casualties: 18,400 Union, 12,700 Confederate
Union casualty rate: 1 in 5.7
Alternate: 123,600 Union, 87,700 Confederate
Casualties: 21,600 Union, 7,300 Confederate

Armies after this battle: 102,000 Union, 80,400 Confederate

Battle of Cold Harbor
Historical: 113,000 Union, 60,000 Confederate
Casualties: 12,700 Union, 5,300 Confederate
Union casualties: 1 in 8.9
Alternate: 102,000 Union, 80,400 Confederate
Casualties: 11,500 Union, 2,200 Confederate


Campaign conclusion: 90,500 Union, 78,200 Confederate
Historical conclusion: 110,000 Union, 55,000 Confederate

With 20,000 less Union troops than historically present on the James, Lee can keep the Union army in check with about the same number of men he used historically and detach about 20,000 men more to threaten Washington (from his larger army). This leaves Washington's garrison threatened by an at-least-equal force of Confederates and could quite feasibly lead to the loss of Washington.



Overall conclusion: put simply, the Union's pockets are less deep in manpower terms while the Confederate ones are deeper. The Overland campaign's fearsome cost in attrition cannot be sustained with the forces the Union has available relative to the Confederacy.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
The Lincoln Argument.


Even assuming that an 1862 Overland campaign goes well enough to place a Union force on the James, what happens next?
We know what happened in 1862 when a Union force lost a battle north of the Chickahominy and moved south to the James with a plan to cross and threaten Petersburg, and that is that it was not permitted to cross; some weeks later it was withdrawn to defend Washington. By the standards of 1862, the Overland campaign failed.
 

Cpl. Smith

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May 1, 2018
I can't imagine an 1862 Overland Campaign playing out similarly to 1864.

1. McClellan & Johnston vs Grant/Meade & Lee, especially Grant's relentless attitude.
2. Far less experienced troops.
3. Neither side is yet quick to throw up field entrenchments.
4. AOTP cavalry is a mess.
You have done an excellent job of this. You need a prize for this.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
1. McClellan & Johnston vs Grant/Meade & Lee, especially Grant's relentless attitude.
That's actually the funny thing about it, above I've used Grant's CEVs. McClellan's CEV is about four to six times better when he attacks (at South Mountain it's 0.64 and Antietam it's 0.7), and that would actually make it viable in a pure casualty-count way.

Though Grant in 1862 wouldn't solve any of the logistical arguments either.

As for "relentless attitude", if that means his outflanking moves then McClellan was a manoeuvrist as well. If that means his willingness to keep attacking repeatedly, that was actively harmful to the Army of the Potomac and caused their quality to nosedive - soldiers need recuperation between battles.

2. Far less experienced troops.
Cuts both ways.

3. Neither side is yet quick to throw up field entrenchments.
Not as quick, perhaps, but it was still a recognized thing that should be done. (Though Grant was the exception, he screwed up big-time at Shiloh by not doing it.)

4. AOTP cavalry is a mess.
AotP cavalry wasn't all that useful for the actual cavalry job (screening and scouting) in 1862, so that one's a bit of a wash.


I will continue to argue that the real problems with attempting an Overland style campaign in 1862 are the logistical issues (specifically the need to open the York and James rivers).
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
You have done an excellent job of this. You need a prize for this.
I'm not really sure how? Comparing "the Overland campaign is impossible because there is literally no viable supply route" with "the Overland campaign would be different because both sides have less experienced troops", it seems that the former is the more telling argument, for example.
 

Cpl. Smith

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That's actually the funny thing about it, above I've used Grant's CEVs. McClellan's CEV is about four to six times better when he attacks (at South Mountain it's 0.64 and Antietam it's 0.7), and that would actually make it viable in a pure casualty-count way.

Though Grant in 1862 wouldn't solve any of the logistical arguments either.

As for "relentless attitude", if that means his outflanking moves then McClellan was a manoeuvrist as well. If that means his willingness to keep attacking repeatedly, that was actively harmful to the Army of the Potomac and caused their quality to nosedive - soldiers need recuperation between battles.


Cuts both ways.


Not as quick, perhaps, but it was still a recognized thing that should be done. (Though Grant was the exception, he screwed up big-time at Shiloh by not doing it.)


AotP cavalry wasn't all that useful for the actual cavalry job (screening and scouting) in 1862, so that one's a bit of a wash.


I will continue to argue that the real problems with attempting an Overland style campaign in 1862 are the logistical issues (specifically the need to open the York and James rivers).
Something will have to happen at Yorktown. Mabey marine landing? How does the the navy play into this?
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
Something will have to happen at Yorktown. Mabey marine landing? How does the the navy play into this?
Well, that's kind of the point. Yorktown is strong enough that you have to either mount a full attack on it with at least a corps of the army (and in the analysis above I already committed the entire Army of the Potomac to one job or another, so you have to conduct the Peninsular Campaign instead of the Overland campaign) or turn it by coming across from the east (which is the Urbanna campaign).

My point is basically that to conduct an Overland campaign in 1862 is impossible without starting with the Peninsular Campaign or the Urbanna Campaign, and if you start with one of those then you may as well just do the historical Peninsular Campaign - you end up in the same place (the James opposite Petersburg) and lose less men doing it.
 

Cpl. Smith

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Well, that's kind of the point. Yorktown is strong enough that you have to either mount a full attack on it with at least a corps of the army (and in the analysis above I already committed the entire Army of the Potomac to one job or another, so you have to conduct the Peninsular Campaign instead of the Overland campaign) or turn it by coming across from the east (which is the Urbanna campaign).

My point is basically that to conduct an Overland campaign in 1862 is impossible without starting with the Peninsular Campaign or the Urbanna Campaign, and if you start with one of those then you may as well just do the historical Peninsular Campaign - you end up in the same place (the James opposite Petersburg) and lose less men doing it.
Well it seems you have a problem here.
 

1SGDan

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The objective of the peninsula campaign was not the James. The AoP ended up there out of failure to secure the stated objective - Richmond
 

Saphroneth

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Well it seems you have a problem here.
Technically the Union had a problem, and essentially the solution to it explains why McClellan did what he did. There's a definite strand of thought which holds that McClellan's Peninsular campaign was a mistake, and it was arguably inferior to the Urbanna plan, but going Overland in 1862 would have been much worse.


The objective of the peninsula campaign was not the James. The AoP ended up their out of failure to secure the stated objective - Richmond
Well, the James is where the AotP ended up after the Overland Campaign, and it's where the AotP ended up after the Peninsular Campaign. An 1862 Overland could only gain Richmond by winning one or another of the battles of the Overland, and Lee's army is simply bigger in comparison to the AotP in 1862 than in 1864.
(In fact, an 1862 Overland would need to win Spotsylvania and North Anna, plus fight directly through the Richmond fortifications down the rail line from Fredericksburg - it's the only route that can even theoretically supply the Army of the Potomac - so it means substantially outperforming the 1864 Overland with a comparatively smaller army.)
 

Joshism

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As for "relentless attitude", if that means his outflanking moves then McClellan was a manoeuvrist as well. If that means his willingness to keep attacking repeatedly, that was actively harmful to the Army of the Potomac and caused their quality to nosedive - soldiers need recuperation between battles.

My point is that I can't imagine McClellan making the moves like Grant. For better or worse the campaign movement would have been very different.

I will continue to argue that the real problems with attempting an Overland style campaign in 1862 are the logistical issues

I concur this was a major issue.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
My point is that I can't imagine McClellan making the moves like Grant. For better or worse the campaign movement would have been very different.
In what sense? I mean, I think McClellan wouldn't have gone overland because he saw that it would be very costly and unlikely to work, but if you mean McClellan was disinclined to act decisively then I'm afraid that isn't the case except when he had a fairly hefty positional-numerical or logistical disadvantage. (It's hard to find an opportunity he missed which Grant would have taken - in fact, the closest thing to an error he made was taking a risk in front of Lee, who immediately jumped on it.)
 

1SGDan

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According to you an overland campaign in 1862 would have been impossible. (We actually have no way of knowing because it wasn’t attempted) We do know that the Peninsula Campaign failed so is it your position that no campaign against Richmond in 1862 could be successful?
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
According to you an overland campaign in 1862 would have been impossible. (We actually have no way of knowing because it wasn’t attempted)

We do have a way of knowing - we know that there is no viable supply route unless the Union wins several battles which, in 1864, it lost. The historical Overland campaign would be impossible because the Union army would starve.

Thus an 1862 Overland is much harder than the original, which failed, both on logistical grounds and due to a more unfavourable balance of resources (the 1864 Overland taking more men than the entire eastern field army of 1862 - including both detached corps).

We do know that the Peninsula Campaign failed so is it your position that no campaign against Richmond in 1862 could be successful?
It is my position that the reasons for the failure of the Peninsula campaign are not inevitable. They were not within McClellan's control, but they were within the control of his political and military superiors (Lincoln, Halleck and Stanton).
In particular, if 1st Corps had been present on McClellan's right flank in June 1862 he would not have been pushed away from Richmond. (It took everything Lee could muster as it was.)

Additionally, I think that if McClellan had been permitted to follow up by crossing the James from Harrisons Landing and going after Petersburg, he would have conducted the attack on that city more effectively than Grant (because Grant didn't bother with regular approaches) and thus could have achieved a result more by the end of 1862.

I think it is also possible that, had he been reinforced in July, McClellan would have been able to return to Richmond directly and conduct regular approaches there. Had he known he would not be reinforced, he might also have attempted this in July sans reinforcements (though the chances of a quick positive result would be less)

In each of these cases, these are operations which McClellan was promised the troops for and which he planned on doing, and which he was then not permitted to do. They are all logistically plausible, do not involve leaving Washington defenceless, and do not require troops beyond those which existed.


A fourth option, requiring a different set of operations in Feb-Mar 1862, would have been an Urbanna operation (thus outflanking the York and James river defences while also outflanking the Rappahanock position). This would also be a plausible approach route to Richmond, essentially a half-size Overland being conducted by one wing of the army with five divisions as a detached turning force further south.
 

1SGDan

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1. Supply routes can be established where none previously existed.
2. Assigning the outcome of battles not fought based upon what happened two years later is presumptive in the extreme.
3. Excuses do not win campaigns or battles.
 

Cpl. Smith

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1. Supply routes can be established where none previously existed.
2. Assigning the outcome of battles not fought based upon what happened two years later is presumptive in the extreme.
3. Excuses do not win campaigns or battles.
Exelent points.
 
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