Could Grant be Replaced?

American87

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Let's say Grant catches a bullet at Belmont or Shiloh, and dies.

Is there any Union general who could replace him, and lead to his series of victories? Could any other general capture Vicksburg, or go through the setbacks and casualties of his Virginia campaign, and still keep pushing to the end?

What do you think?
 

jackt62

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Interesting question. In many ways Grant had a unique military mind that led him to conceptualize warfare as more than simply being localized and discrete battlefield encounters. By that I mean that Grant understood the importance of mastering and controlling the western riverine systems, gaining command of the southern logistical infrastructure from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and fighting a continuous campaign in Virginia that would not abate until the major Confederate army was vanquished. Grant's modest self-confidence was a big advantage; it certainly helped that Grant was not a prima donna and could collaborate, share credit, and promote officers that would advance his goals. That being said, I can't think of a single individual who had all those similar characteristics. For sure, there were many capable commanders such as Sherman, Thomas, and Rosecrans who if thrust into a position that required Grant's replacement, would have likely been highly effective. But the pathway to Union victory might have been much different than it was.
 

Pete Longstreet

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I know you mentioned Shiloh or Belmont... but I often think about this in regard to Grant being wounded in 64. I believe Butler was next in rank. So if something happened to Grant... it was Butler in command. Butler had the political juice and Lincoln knew this... but after the election, Butler was done. Grant is on another level as far as a military commander... but if he's taken out... I would have to go with Sherman or Thomas. Rosecrans was actually quite effective and extremely intelligent. But as we've seen many times... the commander needed Lincoln on his side to manage his army as he saw fit. I think Lincoln had faith in Sherman, which would give me the leverage to wage war on his terms.
 

wausaubob

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Early in the war Grant was very in tune to the way the armies in the west operated from the ground up, and was very effective in working with the navy. That would have been hard to duplicate without Grant, as several tried and failed. After July 1863 there were probably several choices as the entire US officer corp was becoming more experienced.
 

Zack

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Certainly he could have been replaced, all Lincoln had to do was be as patient with others as he was with Grant.

An interesting sub-question is had Grant begun the war in the east instead of the west would he have been as successful? Did he benefit from being isolated from the intense politics that befell Union eastern front generals from 1861 - 1864? By the time Grant got to Washington DC in March 1864 Lincoln made it clear that he would not pry into military affairs.
 

wausaubob

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An interesting sub-question is had Grant begun the war in the east instead of the west would he have been as successful? Did he benefit from being isolated from the intense politics that befell Union eastern front generals from 1861 - 1864? By the time Grant got to Washington DC in March 1864 Lincoln made it clear that he would not pry into military affairs.
I think his time as the Governor's military aide, as a Colonel, and as a brigadier were essential. He never forgot the nuts and bolts of the conversion of civilians to soldiers.
 

Dead Parrott

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I would say yes, he could. His contribution was special (unique combination of skillsets), timely, and essential to the Union victory as it occurred.

But, given the vast number of variables, I don't think we can say that ultimate Union victory was impossible without him.

He was the right man with the right skills at the right time.
 

jackt62

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An interesting sub-question is had Grant begun the war in the east instead of the west would he have been as successful? Did he benefit from being isolated from the intense politics that befell Union eastern front generals from 1861 - 1864? By the time Grant got to Washington DC in March 1864 Lincoln made it clear that he would not pry into military affairs.
Good question. Unlike McDowell and McClellan in the east, Grant and other western commanders had the benefit of a "learning curve" in their field of operations, which allowed them to gain experience without too much negative blowback. Belmont is a great example, in which Grant himself admitted that it gave his troops valuable field experience, despite the disappointing result of that operation. Lincoln and the administration were heavily focused on the immediate operational zone extending from Washington to Richmond. It didn't help that the press was also promoting fast and decisive military action in the east, which placed great pressure on untrained forces and inexperienced commanders. Had Grant been placed in the position of McDowell in July 1861, the resulting Bull Run battle may still have turned out the same.
 

Dead Parrott

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Good question. Unlike McDowell and McClellan in the east, Grant and other western commanders had the benefit of a "learning curve" in their field of operations, which allowed them to gain experience without too much negative blowback. Belmont is a great example, in which Grant himself admitted that it gave his troops valuable field experience, despite the disappointing result of that operation. Lincoln and the administration were heavily focused on the immediate operational zone extending from Washington to Richmond. It didn't help that the press was also promoting fast and decisive military action in the east, which placed great pressure on untrained forces and inexperienced commanders. Had Grant been placed in the position of McDowell in July 1861, the resulting Bull Run battle may still have turned out the same.

Grant said as much himself. He noted that if other generals had had the opportunity to learn on the job as he did, in the circumstances he did, it could have made a difference. I think that's another example of Grant making an honest assessment (and not false modesty or mere excusing for others).
 

jackt62

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Perhaps because of his low key demeanor and recognized determination, Grant got a pass on many military operations that went awry. McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Pope, and Hooker did not last long in their commands after blunders and defeats. But Grant was able to survive from April 1861 to April 1862, a year that brought him almost continuous failure and criticism. From the surprise assault at Shiloh through the destruction of the federal supply base at Holly Springs, to the failed efforts to outflank Vicksburg via waterway, Grant's position in the west remained secure. Of course, once the army got below Vicksburg in April 1863 and commenced the successful Vicksburg campaign, Grant was on a roll. But how many other commanders would have managed to remain long in command that prior year?
 

American87

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Perhaps because of his low key demeanor and recognized determination, Grant got a pass on many military operations that went awry. McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Pope, and Hooker did not last long in their commands after blunders and defeats. But Grant was able to survive from April 1861 to April 1862, a year that brought him almost continuous failure and criticism. From the surprise assault at Shiloh through the destruction of the federal supply base at Holly Springs, to the failed efforts to outflank Vicksburg via waterway, Grant's position in the west remained secure. Of course, once the army got below Vicksburg in April 1863 and commenced the successful Vicksburg campaign, Grant was on a roll. But how many other commanders would have managed to remain long in command that prior year?

I think Forts Henry and Donelson gave Grant a lot of credit that he was able to draw on in Lincoln's favor.
 

jackt62

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I think Forts Henry and Donelson gave Grant a lot of credit that he was able to draw on in Lincoln's favor.
You are correct. Grant had achieved a brilliant series of victories in early 1862 that busted the Confederate defense line across Kentucky and Tennessee. So he was able to bank that for the lack of success that followed. But even so, Grant was given a lot of wiggle room; Pope was also a successful western commander who was brought east to command the Army of Virginia in August 1862. But Pope didn't last long after his defeat at 2nd Manassas.
 

American87

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You are correct. Grant had achieved a brilliant series of victories in early 1862 that busted the Confederate defense line across Kentucky and Tennessee. So he was able to bank that for the lack of success that followed. But even so, Grant was given a lot of wiggle room; Pope was also a successful western commander who was brought east to command the Army of Virginia in August 1862. But Pope didn't last long after his defeat at 2nd Manassas.

It also depends on how much Lincoln blamed or credited Grant with Shiloh. If he believed the news reports and politicians, then Grant was a drunk who blew it and needed removal. Or if he somehow figured out that Grant was surprised, yes, but fought back and turned the tables, he may have considered it in Grant's favor, or at least not faulted him for it.

But I do agree that there is something to your assessment. Pope was shuffled off to Indian country after Second Bull Run, whereas Banks, who also lost, was given random responsible positions. Clearly some generals were hurried off to different posts, while others, who also lost, were maintained in some degree of favor. Of course in Banks' case, it could have been his political connections. But there is also McDowell, who was charged with defending the capitol during the Peninsula campaign, after he lost First Manassas.
 

CaptSpook

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Interesting question. In many ways Grant had a unique military mind that led him to conceptualize warfare as more than simply being localized and discrete battlefield encounters. By that I mean that Grant understood the importance of mastering and controlling the western riverine systems, gaining command of the southern logistical infrastructure from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and fighting a continuous campaign in Virginia that would not abate until the major Confederate army was vanquished. Grant's modest self-confidence was a big advantage; it certainly helped that Grant was not a prima donna and could collaborate, share credit, and promote officers that would advance his goals. That being said, I can't think of a single individual who had all those similar characteristics. For sure, there were many capable commanders such as Sherman, Thomas, and Rosecrans who if thrust into a position that required Grant's replacement, would have likely been highly effective. But the pathway to Union victory might have been much different than it was.
Very well said.

I might add, Grant like Lee had a mind unique among others that allowed him to see and understand what it would take to gain objectives and for Grant, to ultimately win the war. There are few others that had that ability. McPherson, Reynolds, and perhaps Sherman might have served as well as Grant to carry the fight to victory for the Union had Grant been taken out early in the war. But, as you point out, the path to victory would likely have been very different.
 

jackt62

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It also depends on how much Lincoln blamed or credited Grant with Shiloh. If he believed the news reports and politicians, then Grant was a drunk who blew it and needed removal. Or if he somehow figured out that Grant was surprised, yes, but fought back and turned the tables, he may have considered it in Grant's favor, or at least not faulted him for it.

But I do agree that there is something to your assessment. Pope was shuffled off to Indian country after Second Bull Run, whereas Banks, who also lost, was given random responsible positions. Clearly some generals were hurried off to different posts, while others, who also lost, were maintained in some degree of favor. Of course in Banks' case, it could have been his political connections. But there is also McDowell, who was charged with defending the capitol during the Peninsula campaign, after he lost First Manassas.
Shiloh was another example of Grant's "learning curve." He always claimed he was not taken by surprise, but the evidence indicates otherwise. In particular, Grant refused or did not fully comprehend the importance of entrenching (at that stage of the war, maybe no one else did), and was beset by confused orders to Wallace and his Division. Grant can be credited with rallying the troops, but the battle was actually won by the arrival of Buell's army in the nick of time. Still, Grant was following on the heels of his victory at Fts. Henry and Donelson, so he must have retained much goodwill on the part of Lincoln.
 

PatW

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Perhaps because of his low key demeanor and recognized determination, Grant got a pass on many military operations that went awry. McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Pope, and Hooker did not last long in their commands after blunders and defeats. But Grant was able to survive from April 1861 to April 1862, a year that brought him almost continuous failure and criticism. From the surprise assault at Shiloh through the destruction of the federal supply base at Holly Springs, to the failed efforts to outflank Vicksburg via waterway, Grant's position in the west remained secure. Of course, once the army got below Vicksburg in April 1863 and commenced the successful Vicksburg campaign, Grant was on a roll. But how many other commanders would have managed to remain long in command that prior year?


There are several critical differences here. For example, McClellan was constantly demanding more troops, more supplies, and more time. He also had to be prodded into action. Pope was active. But he quickly made himself very unpopular with the eastern generals by his rather negative comments about the conduct of war in the east. So when he messed up, he had no supporters. Burnside lost the confidence of his generals. He also lost the confidence of the army. Heck, there were cases of scurvy in the AOP. Hooker had a great plan against Lee but it did not survive contact with the enemy. Lee seized the initiative and Hooker went passive. Hooker had worked industriously to discredit Burnside. He was not a sympathetic figure.

Grant generally enjoyed the confidence and support of his general corps. Grant usually had the confidence of the rank and file. I read once that soldiers in the Vicksburg Campaign said that Grant knew the location of every regiment, every wagon and every gun. That was obviously impossible. But the soldiers had confidence that Grant was paying close attention and that no one was getting left out. Grant also generally got along well with his superiors. Grant did not ask for more troops or more time. If you gave Grant half a chance, he was trying out an operation against the enemy. And Grant did not intrude into politics. He also did not say things designed to make himself look good at other’s expense. Grant was low maintenance. Given that virtually every other Union commander was in some shape, manner or form pretty high maintenance, one can see why Lincoln developed an ever increasing confidence and fondness of Grant. And it did not hurt that Grant tended to win victories and big ones. He captured three armies and that is hard to overlook.
 

jackt62

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Grant's low key approach, his ability to work within existing resource constraints, and his keen understanding of his relationship with the political leadership were assets that worked in his favor throughout the war. In many respects, Lee exhibited many of the same traits in relation to his army and government. No wonder that both commanders were among the most successful in their respective armies.
 

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