Did Grant Ever Retreat?

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
The joint attacks against the Mississippi Central Railroad by Generals Earl Van Dorn and Nathan Bedford Forrest at Holly Springs, MS and Jackson TN [along with Sherman's defeat at Chickasaw Bluffs] 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.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Absolutely Grant retreated at times. However the line given to the General Lee character in the documentary was a summary line to convey the message that Grant and Meade were not going to retreat in 1864.
The Chattanooga results had already shown the administration was going to fully back Grant and Meade with the resources of the US economy. Unless the Confederates somehow disrupted Grant's connections to the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay, the war had fundamentally changed. In a few weeks, when it became clear that Sherman was also on the move, and Butler was moving up the peninsula, General Lee had a very good idea that the US was finally going to do what should have been done in 1862.
 

Luke Freet

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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?
During his attempt to take Vicksburg in late 1862, Grant ordered a retreat of his army after Van Dorn raided his supply depot at Holly Springs. He also had to retreat after Belmont in late 1861.
However, I can't recall an instance where Grant had to order a retreat 1863 onwards. Maybe in some operation during the :tongue:etersburg campaign.
What is important to not however, is that Grant is one of the more stubborn generals, where if he does get defeated in battle, he will carry on the campaign, which set him apart from his contemporaries, who thought that one lost major engagement meant that it was all over. So Lee's brilliant manuevers, designed to unnerve the likes of McClellan and Hooker, did not achieve much against Grant, aside from increasing casaulty figures.
 

Texas Yank

Private
Joined
Mar 25, 2020
During his attempt to take Vicksburg in late 1862, Grant ordered a retreat of his army after Van Dorn raided his supply depot at Holly Springs. He also had to retreat after Belmont in late 1861.
However, I can't recall an instance where Grant had to order a retreat 1863 onwards. Maybe in some operation during the :tongue:etersburg campaign.
What is important to not however, is that Grant is one of the more stubborn generals, where if he does get defeated in battle, he will carry on the campaign, which set him apart from his contemporaries, who thought that one lost major engagement meant that it was all over. So Lee's brilliant manuevers, designed to unnerve the likes of McClellan and Hooker, did not achieve much against Grant, aside from increasing casaulty figures.
Well stated... Grant definitely stands apart from the other Union commanders from a standpoint of nerve. He seemed to respect, but never fear Lee.
 

jackt62

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Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
However, I can't recall an instance where Grant had to order a retreat 1863 onwards. Maybe in some operation during the :tongue:etersburg campaign.

I suppose that the withdrawal of the Army of the James under General Butler into its Bermuda Hundred lines after a series of failed attempts to threaten Richmond and its rail link constitutes a "retreat" given that Grant was the overall commander of those forces and was the originator of that army's plan.
 

Joshism

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Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
I suppose that the withdrawal of the Army of the James under General Butler into its Bermuda Hundred lines after a series of failed attempts to threaten Richmond and its rail link constitutes a "retreat" given that Grant was the overall commander of those forces and was the originator of that army's plan.

Did Grant order or endorse the retreat? Has anyone ever made a compelling argument the retreat was due to any cause other than Butler's incompetence?
 

jackt62

Captain
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Location
New York City
Did Grant order or endorse the retreat? Has anyone ever made a compelling argument the retreat was due to any cause other than Butler's incompetence?

Grant did not endorse or order the retreat, and famously said about Butler's situation that he was a "bottle strongly corked." But
I'm stretching a point here about the thread question, given that Grant was the overall commander.
 

JeffBrooks

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Location
Manor, TX
Grant did not endorse or order the retreat, and famously said about Butler's situation that he was a "bottle strongly corked." But
I'm stretching a point here about the thread question, given that Grant was the overall commander.

Grant was technically in overall command of every single soldier of the United States by this point. But I'm not going to blame him for the Union retreat at Brice's Cross Roads.
 

edfranksphd

Private
Joined
Aug 30, 2019
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?
Vicksburg, many times during the 6 months that led up until the final victory. Also, he didn't get to be in charge during the post-Shiloh retreat but for the next 6 months the Yankee army had to give up most of TN and much of KY to reorganize and prepare to meet Bragg's invasion with 80,000 rebs coming from Knoxville and Chattanooga leading up to the Battle of Perryville, which the CSA won! But Grant had been removed from command during this entire period, so technically, he was not in charge during this retreat. But Bragg's surprise assault on KY to the point of installing a reb gov at the statehouse in Frankfurt, the state capital, gave Lincoln and the entire North fits, and Grant got a good portion of the blame, rightly or wrongly.
 

DanSBHawk

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May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
Vicksburg, many times during the 6 months that led up until the final victory. Also, he didn't get to be in charge during the post-Shiloh retreat but for the next 6 months the Yankee army had to give up most of TN and much of KY to reorganize and prepare to meet Bragg's invasion with 80,000 rebs coming from Knoxville and Chattanooga leading up to the Battle of Perryville, which the CSA won! But Grant had been removed from command during this entire period, so technically, he was not in charge during this retreat. But Bragg's surprise assault on KY to the point of installing a reb gov at the statehouse in Frankfurt, the state capital, gave Lincoln and the entire North fits, and Grant got a good portion of the blame, rightly or wrongly.
Other than the first attempt, the unsuccessful attempts at Vicksburg might be considered failures, but not really retreats.

Grant was not "removed from command" for those 6 months. Iuka and Corinth were both before Perryville. Grant was a department or district commander by then, and Perryville was not in his jurisdiction, so no credit or blame went to Grant for that.
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
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?
Grant's very first action in the Civil War was an attack on Confederate forces on Belmont. His attack was a total failure and was lucky to have the Union riverine navy to haul his men back to safety. To his credit even when he saw how badly the attack had gone, his handing of the retreat was masterful. He aptly demonstrated his greatest strength--his unflappability. No matter how badly things might be at any given moment, he could assess the situation and choose the best coarse of action to make things better.
 

Belfoured

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Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Grant was technically in overall command of every single soldier of the United States by this point. But I'm not going to blame him for the Union retreat at Brice's Cross Roads.
Sturgis was just "changing his base".
 

edfranksphd

Private
Joined
Aug 30, 2019
Other than the first attempt, the unsuccessful attempts at Vicksburg might be considered failures, but not really retreats.

Grant was not "removed from command" for those 6 months. Iuka and Corinth were both before Perryville. Grant was a department or district commander by then, and Perryville was not in his jurisdiction, so no credit or blame went to Grant for that.
My point in mentioning Perryville was that while Grant wasn't in charge it was b/c of his handling of Shiloh that the Rebs were able to ultimately push the Yankee army north by 200 miles out of middle TN entirely, all the way back to Louisville. Not sure what timing of Iuka and Corinth vs Perryville have to do with this point. But for Shiloh screwup by Grant, it's likely that middle TN would not have had to be recaptured again, which took de facto until Grant was able to rescue Chattanooga from Bragg's investment, in Nov 1863, nearly 20 months after Shiloh.
 

DanSBHawk

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Location
Wisconsin
My point in mentioning Perryville was that while Grant wasn't in charge it was b/c of his handling of Shiloh that the Rebs were able to ultimately push the Yankee army north by 200 miles out of middle TN entirely, all the way back to Louisville. Not sure what timing of Iuka and Corinth vs Perryville have to do with this point. But for Shiloh screwup by Grant, it's likely that middle TN would not have had to be recaptured again, which took de facto until Grant was able to rescue Chattanooga from Bragg's investment, in Nov 1863, nearly 20 months after Shiloh.
"Shiloh screwup?" I'm not following you. Shiloh was a Union victory.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
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.
Could a retreat at any time be considered a tactical maneuver if it results in a opponent's movement that will result in a counter movement which the opponent will be defeated? Does anyone play chess? In what may appear to be a retreat is a movement in hopes of alluring a opponent into a set counter movement to capture them.In a rush to capture his opponent ,he will move into a set trap that will result in his being defeated.Was that not why the best strategy in this is condition .? Hannibal at Cannae did this against the Romans and we know the outcome of that battle! In retreat one must be very tactical in having your opponent convinced to reason that you are defeated .this may cost a certain loss in force but the result is that your opponent is defeated.That may be a reason for Mead's caution in getting to close to Lee after the battle ,a injured animal is the most dangerous when it is being persuaded ,It will turn and wait .Grant movements were tactical maneuvers to counter the Confederate moves.as his movement at Richmond were to move troops to match those of Lee's or to force Lee to extend his forces,
 

Biscoitos

Corporal
Joined
May 14, 2020
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.,
Exactly right. That is where a good discussion should always begin.
My favorite history Prof would have said "Give me your operational definition of retreat."
 
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