Could Grant be Replaced?

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
I would have to say no.

Grant and McClellan were the only two commanders on the Union side willing to use siege and attrition warfare. McClellan before Richmond, which was called off by the Seven Days, and Grant before the same city and Petersburg, which he was able to hold due to his vast numerical superiority and his deep and thorough construction of earthworks protecting his lines.
There is a bit more than this to know about McClellan and Grant.

McClellan's first involvement with a siege would have been at Vera Cruz in March 1847 -- Winfield Scott in command, McClellan the junior officer on Scott's staff under R. E. Lee, Joe Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. But then he was with Scott for the daring campaign of movement and battle that followed, including the storming of Mexico City. Grant experienced all of that as an infantry officer instead of a staff officer, and Grant also had experienced the campaigns of Zachary Taylor in Texas and northern Mexico.

After that, McClellan was one of the observers in the Crimea, including the Siege of Sebastopol. That's the only experience either one had with a siege between the end of the Mexican War and the beginning of the Civil War.

Once the Civil War starts, McClellan has the campaign in WV, followed by little or no action until the 1862 Siege of Yorktown. Then you have the pursuit of the withdrawing Rebels towards Richmond, where it looks like McClellan wanted to start a siege, only to be delayed by Seven Pines and tossed back by Seven Days, then nearly besieged himself. Grant actually ends up with far more experience besieging armies, even though that is not what Grant wants to do.: Ft. Donelson (briefly), kicking his heels at the Siege of Corinth, Vicksburg, breaking a Rebel siege at Chattanooga, then the Richmond-Petersburg siege.

There is a huge difference between them. McClellan actually looks like he wants to wage a siege. Grant tries to avoid them, but uses them to reap the rewards of his campaigns if he can't end them more quickly. Grant's sieges end in the surrender of Rebel armies; McClellan's do not.

Other Union generals used siege warfare, though. Banks took Port Hudson with it. Quincy Gilmore took Fort Pulaski with it. Henry Halleck took Corinth with it and arguably Pope took Island No. 10 with it. Sherman took Atlanta with it. Sieges are simply procedures soldiers use in certain situations. A soldier using a siege is not the same as a soldier using "attrition".
 

American87

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There is a bit more than this to know about McClellan and Grant.

McClellan's first involvement with a siege would have been at Vera Cruz in March 1847 -- Winfield Scott in command, McClellan the junior officer on Scott's staff under R. E. Lee, Joe Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. But then he was with Scott for the daring campaign of movement and battle that followed, including the storming of Mexico City. Grant experienced all of that as an infantry officer instead of a staff officer, and Grant also had experienced the campaigns of Zachary Taylor in Texas and northern Mexico.

After that, McClellan was one of the observers in the Crimea, including the Siege of Sebastopol. That's the only experience either one had with a siege between the end of the Mexican War and the beginning of the Civil War.

Once the Civil War starts, McClellan has the campaign in WV, followed by little or no action until the 1862 Siege of Yorktown. Then you have the pursuit of the withdrawing Rebels towards Richmond, where it looks like McClellan wanted to start a siege, only to be delayed by Seven Pines and tossed back by Seven Days, then nearly besieged himself. Grant actually ends up with far more experience besieging armies, even though that is not what Grant wants to do.: Ft. Donelson (briefly), kicking his heels at the Siege of Corinth, Vicksburg, breaking a Rebel siege at Chattanooga, then the Richmond-Petersburg siege.

There is a huge difference between them. McClellan actually looks like he wants to wage a siege. Grant tries to avoid them, but uses them to reap the rewards of his campaigns if he can't end them more quickly. Grant's sieges end in the surrender of Rebel armies; McClellan's do not.

Other Union generals used siege warfare, though. Banks took Port Hudson with it. Quincy Gilmore took Fort Pulaski with it. Henry Halleck took Corinth with it and arguably Pope took Island No. 10 with it. Sherman took Atlanta with it. Sieges are simply procedures soldiers use in certain situations. A soldier using a siege is not the same as a soldier using "attrition".

I disagree that many of those examples are sieges. For example, Halleck at Corinth did not conduct any siege maneuvers; Bueauregard withdrew on his approach. Pope did not conduct any Siege maneuvers at Island No, 10 either, and Sherman, while certainly setting up earthworks outside Atlanta, did not, as I recall it, attempt to seize Hood's supply lines until about a month after his arrival.

But yes, thank you for the information on McClellan's and Grant's familiarity with sieges before the war.

Grant was quite willing to use sieges, as you mentioned, he did them several times. Sort of at Fort Donelson, definitely at Vicksburg, and then, if not a perfect siege in the purest technical terms, he certainly followed siege principles to a T during Petersburg, although his envelopment was not complete for 9 months, and once it was, he launched the all-out assault that drove Lee from his defenses.

And I disagree that a siege is not "attrition." A siege is attrition in its purest form, as its purpose is to deprive the enemy of supplies and starve him out, which is the very definition of attrition.

Grant was conducting a campaign of attrition, by default, when he conducted his sieges. That is how he won at Vicksburg, and that is how he reduced Lee to one quarter strength of his own army at Petersburg and Richmond.

To fight a siege is to conduct a battle, war, or campaign of attrition. There is no real way around that imo. It would be like saying a flank march is not a field maneuver.
 

American87

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Location
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There is a bit more than this to know about McClellan and Grant.

McClellan's first involvement with a siege would have been at Vera Cruz in March 1847 -- Winfield Scott in command, McClellan the junior officer on Scott's staff under R. E. Lee, Joe Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. But then he was with Scott for the daring campaign of movement and battle that followed, including the storming of Mexico City. Grant experienced all of that as an infantry officer instead of a staff officer, and Grant also had experienced the campaigns of Zachary Taylor in Texas and northern Mexico.

After that, McClellan was one of the observers in the Crimea, including the Siege of Sebastopol. That's the only experience either one had with a siege between the end of the Mexican War and the beginning of the Civil War.

Once the Civil War starts, McClellan has the campaign in WV, followed by little or no action until the 1862 Siege of Yorktown. Then you have the pursuit of the withdrawing Rebels towards Richmond, where it looks like McClellan wanted to start a siege, only to be delayed by Seven Pines and tossed back by Seven Days, then nearly besieged himself. Grant actually ends up with far more experience besieging armies, even though that is not what Grant wants to do.: Ft. Donelson (briefly), kicking his heels at the Siege of Corinth, Vicksburg, breaking a Rebel siege at Chattanooga, then the Richmond-Petersburg siege.

There is a huge difference between them. McClellan actually looks like he wants to wage a siege. Grant tries to avoid them, but uses them to reap the rewards of his campaigns if he can't end them more quickly. Grant's sieges end in the surrender of Rebel armies; McClellan's do not.

Other Union generals used siege warfare, though. Banks took Port Hudson with it. Quincy Gilmore took Fort Pulaski with it. Henry Halleck took Corinth with it and arguably Pope took Island No. 10 with it. Sherman took Atlanta with it. Sieges are simply procedures soldiers use in certain situations. A soldier using a siege is not the same as a soldier using "attrition".

And as to McClellan, he was never really able to get a siege going. At Yorktown he was prevented by Johnston's withdrawal, and outside of Richmond we was prevented by Lee's offensive in the Seven Days.

He certainly tried, but the enemy either withdrew when his guns were finally up, or the enemy assumed the offensive before the guns arrived.

He also failed to go after Johnston's/Lee's line of supplies while in front of Richmond. It seems that in that case, he was pursing more of a fieldworks strategy, backed by heavy artillery, then a campaign of attrition or actual siege warfare, designed to sap the enemy's strength through lack of supplies and wasting away his men. As Lee desrcribed it, it was "a battle of posts," which seems more accurate imo, and perhaps reflects the unorthodoxy of it, since that phrase does not seem to be a technical military term.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
And as to McClellan, he was never really able to get a siege going. At Yorktown he was prevented by Johnston's withdrawal, and outside of Richmond we was prevented by Lee's offensive in the Seven Days.

He certainly tried, but the enemy either withdrew when his guns were finally up, or the enemy assumed the offensive before the guns arrived.
Well, that is a very strange way to look at the Siege of Yorktown.

McClellan did start a siege, with all the trimmings. He advanced by regular approaches, built up siege positions, established batteries of heavy guns and prepared for the traditional bombardment to breach the enemy lines and then assault through the breaches. In fact, his siege was so successful that Joe Johnston decided the Yorktown position could not be held and abandoned it before McClellan's actual assault began. This is all a very clear example of siege warfare.

McClellan's siege was not decisive (as all of Grant's ended up being decisive). Johnston's retreat avoided McClellan's blow and the Union pursuit does not succeed in bringing Johnston to a decisive battle or in savaging the retreating force in any crippling way. It was, however, a siege and one that more-or-less succeeded (IOW, it opened up the entire Peninsula and both rivers to a Union advance to the outskirts of Richmond). Doing more than that would require something more from McClellan (such as detecting Johnston's withdrawal earlier, being more prepared for the pursuit, better on-the-fly leadership and performance in the pursuit itself, or maybe better pre-planning and co-ordination with the Navy).

At Richmond, McClellan faced a difficult situation but also created some problems for himself. After Seven Pines, he does little to retain the initiative. Twenty-four days go by without significant Union action, then Lee strikes on June 26 at Mechanicsville. Once Lee strikes, McClellan could have used his strength to attack on his left towards Richmond (gutsy) or he could have concentrated on his right to fight and beat Lee, throwing him back. He did neither. McClellan ends up responding to Rebel actions, dancing to their tune, retreating in his "change of base". If McClellan did not manage to get his siege of Richmond started, the fault would be largely his responsibility.

Everyone who supports McClellan makes excuses for why he could not do what he wanted to do, usually criticizing others for not giving McClellan everything he wanted (which was essentially McClellan's own attitude). Grant's attitude was that you had to succeed with what you could get.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
He also failed to go after Johnston's/Lee's line of supplies while in front of Richmond. It seems that in that case, he was pursing more of a fieldworks strategy, backed by heavy artillery, then a campaign of attrition or actual siege warfare, designed to sap the enemy's strength through lack of supplies and wasting away his men. As Lee desrcribed it, it was "a battle of posts," which seems more accurate imo, and perhaps reflects the unorthodoxy of it, since that phrase does not seem to be a technical military term.

I think you are far off here. For example, "a battle of posts" really is a common military term. Men like Lee, Davis, Johnston, Scott, Beauregard, etc. would all have been familiar with it, as would McClellan himself. It was, however, a term that looked backward to an earlier time in warfare, the days before Frederick the Great, Napoleon and Wellington. It is talking about the days when small professional armies fought wars, spending months campaigning without a major battle, maneuvering for advantage. The capture of a single town might achieve victory (usually because it controlled a critical point, a river crossing or a pass through the mountains or settled a political dispute).
 

Dead Parrott

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I think you are far off here. For example, "a battle of posts" really is a common military term. Men like Lee, Davis, Johnston, Scott, Beauregard, etc. would all have been familiar with it, as would McClellan himself. It was, however, a term that looked backward to an earlier time in warfare, the days before Frederick the Great, Napoleon and Wellington. It is talking about the days when small professional armies fought wars, spending months campaigning without a major battle, maneuvering for advantage. The capture of a single town might achieve victory (usually because it controlled a critical point, a river crossing or a pass through the mountains or settled a political dispute).

It was indeed often the focal point of an entire campaign year.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
He also failed to go after Johnston's/Lee's line of supplies while in front of Richmond. It seems that in that case, he was pursing more of a fieldworks strategy, backed by heavy artillery, then a campaign of attrition or actual siege warfare, designed to sap the enemy's strength through lack of supplies and wasting away his men. As Lee desrcribed it, it was "a battle of posts," which seems more accurate imo, and perhaps reflects the unorthodoxy of it, since that phrase does not seem to be a technical military term.
Another common use of "battle of posts" would be Halleck's campaign from Shiloh to Corinth (late April to May 29, 1862). By May 25, Halleck was in position to start his siege. On May 29th, Beauregard pulled out in the night, leaving Halleck with a limited victory (which led to Halleck being brought to Washington, over McClellan). Halleck did this by constantly entrenching, covering every move with artillery. He moved at a crawl, but never let Beauregard have an opening. When Pope started aggressively by rolling forward to take Farmington, close to Corinth, on May 3rd, Halleck pulled him back. He could have pushed his center (Buell) forward to link with Pope, but he ordered Pope to withdraw to realign with Buell. Halleck's move was safe and secure, but not likely to defeat the enemy army in the field.

Halleck had Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Buell, McPherson, Rosecrans, Logan and others in his command. They seem to have chafed to be after the enemy as they crawled forward.

This is the type of advance McClellan seems to have wanted and is what Lee really seems to have meant with his comment on June 5th:

McClellan will make this a battle of posts. He will take position from position, under cover his heavy guns, & we cannot get at him without storming his works, which with our new troops is extremely hazardous.

Essentially Lee is saying that McClellan will do in Virginia what Halleck has just finished doing in Tennessee. Then Lee follows with this:

You witnessed the experiment Saturday. It will require 100,000 men to resist the regular siege of Richmond, which perhaps would only prolong not save it. I am preparing a line that I can hold with part of our faces in front, while with the rest I will endeavour to make a diversion to bring McClellan out. He sticks under his batteries & is working day & night. He is obliged to adhere to the railroad unless he can reach James River to provision his army. I am endeavouring to block his progress on the railroad & have written up to see if I can get made an iron battery on trucks with a heavy gun, to sweep the country in our front.
The enemy cannot move his heavy guns except on the railroad. You have seen nothing like the roads on the Chickahominy bottom.
The "You" he is writing to is Jefferson Davis. The "experiment Saturday" is the Battle of Seven Pines, which both Lee and Davis had ridden forward to see before Johnston became a casualty. Lee has been in command three days and is already taking steps to strike McClellan. One week after this letter, on June 12th, Lee has Stuart riding around McClellan. Three weeks from the date of this letter, Robert E. Lee is hammering McClellan at Mechanicsville, kicking off the Seven Days. Four weeks from that letter, McClellan is at Harrison's Landing, his campaign a wreck, because of Robert E. Lee.
 

trice

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Joined
May 2, 2006
I disagree that many of those examples are sieges. For example, Halleck at Corinth did not conduct any siege maneuvers; Bueauregard withdrew on his approach. Pope did not conduct any Siege maneuvers at Island No, 10 either, and Sherman, while certainly setting up earthworks outside Atlanta, did not, as I recall it, attempt to seize Hood's supply lines until about a month after his arrival.
It seems you do not recognize sieges when you see them.

Halleck, for example, even moving at a veritable crawl, arrives in front of Corinth by May 25 and does begin typical, classical preparations for a siege. Four days later, Beauregard withdraws before the siege can be prosecuted further. This is exactly as happened at Yorktown when Joe Johnston abandoned his works before McClellan could bring his siege to fruition. Pope's taking of Island No. Ten does include a short siege -- but you do not see it.

On Sherman and Atlanta, I do not even know where to begin. Everything Sherman does is based on the use and denial of supply lines. If you cannot see that in Sherman's actions, I am baffled on how to explain it to you. If you think Sherman did nothing to get at Hood's supply lines in July and early August, I would suggest you look at a timeline of the action If you can't see a siege in the Siege of Atlanta, well, maybe someone else can point it out to you.
 

Dead Parrott

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On Sherman and Atlanta, I do not even know where to begin. Everything Sherman does is based on the use and denial of supply lines. If you cannot see that in Sherman's actions, I am baffled on how to explain it to you. If you think Sherman did nothing to get at Hood's supply lines in July and early August, I would suggest you look at a timeline of the action If you can't see a siege in the Siege of Atlanta, well, maybe someone else can point it out to you.

The development of siege warfare is of special interest to me. Medieval sieges (even the larger longer ones) are mostly starve and storm tactics. From the Renaissance, we see the first shift that artillery brings to dramatically change the fortifications, to lower the walls and develop broader killing grounds (and pay for all the mercenaries!). From the short squat mini lunes (outworks) we see the growth into full Vauban star forts enclosing entire cities in symmetrical multi-layer defenses - and siege tactics taking on an extremely systematic flow - almost clockwork like. As artillery improves and army sizes grow, we see extended outerworks grow to including suburbs that become virtual min-forts of their own. Whereas sickness and lack of pay stopped most earlier sieges, the increased logistics of the larger armies (and larger civilian defended areas) created greater difficulties in both cutting off and supplying the warring parties. From the Napoleonic through Crimea through Prussian wars, the sheer size and length of sieges changed many of the 'rules' and challenged many of the standard assumptions. And firepower and rail transport just continued to increase. The ACW falls into that period of change, and I enjoy reading how the commanders of the period (both professional and amateur) adapted to it.
 

trice

Lt. Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
The development of siege warfare is of special interest to me. Medieval sieges (even the larger longer ones) are mostly starve and storm tactics. From the Renaissance, we see the first shift that artillery brings to dramatically change the fortifications, to lower the walls and develop broader killing grounds (and pay for all the mercenaries!). From the short squat mini lunes (outworks) we see the growth into full Vauban star forts enclosing entire cities in symmetrical multi-layer defenses - and siege tactics taking on an extremely systematic flow - almost clockwork like. As artillery improves and army sizes grow, we see extended outerworks grow to including suburbs that become virtual min-forts of their own. Whereas sickness and lack of pay stopped most earlier sieges, the increased logistics of the larger armies (and larger civilian defended areas) created greater difficulties in both cutting off and supplying the warring parties. From the Napoleonic through Crimea through Prussian wars, the sheer size and length of sieges changed many of the 'rules' and challenged many of the standard assumptions. And firepower and rail transport just continued to increase. The ACW falls into that period of change, and I enjoy reading how the commanders of the period (both professional and amateur) adapted to it.
It certainly is an interesting period in warfare, with siege warfare being a particular area of interest.

There is almost nothing in the Mexican War that would not be familiar to a veteran of Napoleon's army. The differences that exist are ones they could pick up with ease. The tactics on the battlefield are essentially the same. For that matter, the tactics of the army of Napoleon III in 1854 to 1859 is regarded as the essential peak of Napoleonic tactics. There was furious debate about what the mass change to rifled weapons (artillery and small arms) would mean on the battlefield and the changes that would be needed, but no one knew yet what the answer would be.

When the Civil War started, the European militaries did not anticipate any great tactical or operational innovations from the Americans. The interests they had were specifically about siege warfare: the effectiveness of the new rifled guns, particularly how the rifled guns would work against masonry fortifications. Forts like Sumter, Pickens and Pulaski were state of the art. Early observers from European militaries tended to be engineers, with a sprinkling of artillery specialists. European analysts scratched and clawed to get Quincy Gilmore's report on the 30-hour bombardment of Ft. Pulaski -- the first real, detailed description of what the heavy rifled guns could do to masonry.

The Prussian military, in particular, paid little official attention to the Civil War. Partly that was because they had their own wars in 1864, 1866 and 1870 to study. The Prussians who did come here paid particular attention to sieges and engineering matters -- and to the USMRR. Eventually, the Prussians/Germans adopted the USMRR organization almost wholesale for their own use (but then von Moltke the Elder was fascinated by RRs as a young man, when he discovered they could get him home and back on leave faster, yielding more time to spend with his fiancee). That led to von Moltke being an early private investor in RRs long before he rose to a high position in the Prussian military.
 

Florida Rebel

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May 31, 2019
Why doesn't anyone mention Winfield Scott Hancock as a possible GREAT Union leader if he ever had the chance? I wonder who George Meade personally felt was better than Hancock? We all have our favorites.... And generals we think may have been a tad over-rated.
 

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