Did Grant Ever Retreat?

Texas Yank

Private
Joined
Mar 25, 2020
This quest hit me while watching the new Grant biography on the History Channel. During one scene in episode 2, Lee tells one of his adjutants, “Grant is not a retreating man.” I immediately started thinking about all the major engagements Grant was in.... Forts Henry & Donnelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga etc... no retreats. My question- is this an already well known fact that has simply escaped my notice? Do our history teachers not make note of this remarkable fact? Or, am I missing an example of where he did retreat?
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
This quest hit me while watching the new Grant biography on the History Channel. During one scene in episode 2, Lee tells one of his adjutants, “Grant is not a retreating man.” I immediately started thinking about all the major engagements Grant was in.... Forts Henry & Donnelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga etc... no retreats. My question- is this an already well known fact that has simply escaped my notice? Do our history teachers not make note of this remarkable fact? Or, am I missing an example of where he did retreat?
Possibly once when Grant lost his first small scale battle in Missouri.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
This quest hit me while watching the new Grant biography on the History Channel. During one scene in episode 2, Lee tells one of his adjutants, “Grant is not a retreating man.” I immediately started thinking about all the major engagements Grant was in.... Forts Henry & Donnelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga etc... no retreats. My question- is this an already well known fact that has simply escaped my notice? Do our history teachers not make note of this remarkable fact? Or, am I missing an example of where he did retreat?
See the Battle of Belmont. Grant did retreat but was outnumbered.
Leftyhunter
 

Texas Yank

Private
Joined
Mar 25, 2020
There was the Battle of Belmont, and many times he "redeployed" during his experiments to take Vicksburg.
Agreed... I understand retreat in a war is a flexible word. Belmont... mentioned above is a pretty good example of him straight up “retreating” but could also be spun into a change in strategy. But in the end he did retreat there.
 

Harms88

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 13, 2019
Location
North of the Wall & South of the Canucks
I would think in the case of Lee talking about Grant, if he says "Grant is not a retreating man", I would in this case equate 'retreating' with 'skedaddling'.

When Grant would abandon a field or retreat, it was more akin to Sam Houston's campaign in the Texas Revolution. It was a strategy meant to give him victory. Or Duke Wellington when he abandoned Quatre Bra before the advance of Napoleon, which was part of a strategy to gain a superior position to fight one of the most dangerous men that's ever lived.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Belmont was a retreat.

At Fort Donelson he ordered a retreat, but his subordinates refused.

After Holly Springs was sacked he retreated north because he couldn't feed his army.

If you believe that Grant thought "Lee's army was his objective point" then he constantly retreated in the Overland campaign. If you believe he was trying to move south to link up with Butler (as Grant himself said he was at the time) then these aren't retreats but maneouvres. I believe the latter.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
The joint attacks against the Mississippi Central Railroad by Generals Earl Van Dorn and Nathan Bedford Forrest at Holly Springs, MS and Jackson TN in December 1862 forced Grant to "retreat" from his overland strategy of reaching Vicksburg via the rail route. Those attacks against Grant's supply lines essentially gained the Confederacy another 6 months before Vicksburg finally fell.
 

DanSBHawk

Captain
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
Come on - McClellan never "retreated" - he just "changed his base".
Thank goodness for euphemisms.

The "retreat" at Donelson that the McClellan fans try to hang on Grant, is his plan to resort to a siege after the gunboats failed. But that was before he knew that McClernand had failed to hold his position. Grant subsequently saw an opportunity, and as we know, switched from resigning to a siege to instead ordering an assault.

On April 9, 1862, McClellan ordered his force to withdraw from an assault posture in front of Yorktown, into a siege position out of range of the confederate artillery. So McClellan actually completed the "retreat" that his fans accuse Grant of contemplating at Donelson.
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
Belmont was a raid or reconnaissance in force; return to base at the end of the operation was planned from the start.

Most of Grant's moves in the Overland were intended to get around Lee's flank and engage in a way that would let the Union army make best use of its superior combat power. Calling Lee's army the objective does not mean one has to batter it head-on or continue a battle that has become clearly unproductive.
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
He pulled back to the north side of the North Anna River during the Overland Campaign. Does that count? He would have been pretty stupid to do otherwise.
Good point - but that's why we need a definition of "retreat". Does it mean an army leaving the battlefield and returning to its base - Hooker leaving Chancellorsville for Falmouth. Or does it mean an army launching an attack from a position which doesn't succeed and pulling back the attacking force to the position without leaving the battlefield, from which it then can continue the fight - Grant at Vicksburg and the assaults in May.,
 

Belfoured

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Belmont was a raid or reconnaissance in force; return to base at the end of the operation was planned from the start.

Most of Grant's moves in the Overland were intended to get around Lee's flank and engage in a way that would let the Union army make best use of its superior combat power. Calling Lee's army the objective does not mean one has to batter it head-on or continue a battle that has become clearly unproductive.
In fact, we know that what Lee feared most was that Grant would force him into a siege in the Richmond area.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
At Fort Donelson he ordered a retreat, but his subordinates refused.

Citation needed.

If you believe that Grant thought "Lee's army was his objective point" then he constantly retreated in the Overland campaign. If you believe he was trying to move south to link up with Butler (as Grant himself said he was at the time) then these aren't retreats but maneouvres. I believe the latter.

Maneuvering is not a retreat. Grant disengaging Lee to attempt another move toward Richmond is not a retreat because the army still moved forward. A retreat would have been falling back to the Rappahannock line.

Once Grant determines there's no advantage to be gained against Lee where he is then a move that seeks a more favorable ground for another battle. Those moves being always towards Richmond forces Lee to respond while also bringing him closer to Butler. Regardless of which Grant thought most important the three objectives (Lee, Richmond, Butler) are complimentary not contradictory.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
He pulled back to the north side of the North Anna River during the Overland Campaign. Does that count? He would have been pretty stupid to do otherwise.

I think that classifies as a withdrawal rather than a retreat. Otherwise Grant retreated on Shiloh 1 when he withdrew to his "Last Line".

The difference being tactical vs strategic: movement on a battlefield vs movement between battlefields.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Grant's movements during the Overland Campaign may be mistaken for "retreat" or "withdrawal," but I would disagree with that assertion. The gradual maneuvering to get around Lee's flanks and cautious moves such as at North Anna were part of an overall strategy to find and exploit any weak points in the enemy's position. Ultimately, that strategy was not successful and Grant shifted his plans when he crossed the James River and settled into a "war of posts" around the Petersburg lines. But the effectiveness or lack thereof of the flanking strategy was in no ways a retreat; Grant did not withdraw the AOTP across the Rappahannock after the Wilderness, as did Hooker the year before.
 
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