Did Grant Ever Retreat?

NFB22

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I think then that that's the problem; it defines it so narrowly that there are many things I would label as retreats which don't count. In particular there are several occasions on which soldiers - including great generals - describe movements as retreats which are not associated with defeat, such as in Wellington's dispatches where his report of casualties describes his movement from Quatre Bras to Waterloo as "retreat".

If a general describes his own movement as "retreat" but your definition doesn't include it, then you should at least consider that your definition has been too narrow.


I'd love for you to give an example of when Wellington was defeated (and thus had to retreat to "save the remainder of his force") in 1811! I can't think of a single battle he was in for the whole year which qualifies, though he was certainly put in situations in which he had to retreat to avoid a defeat, and in 2nd Badajoz he didn't capture the fort but what compelled him to retreat was the approach of a relieving force; that would have been the same if he hadn't attacked in the first place.

This is what I mean when I say you're giving the word negative connotations which it does not actually possess, by defining it so narrowly.
For example Wellington had not been defeated at Quatre Bras, and retreated (his word) not because he had been defeated but because by a retrograde movement (i.e. moving away from the enemy and towards his own rear) he could fight on better terms.


To shift back to Grant, after the attack on his supply base at Holly Springs Grant moved back north. This would qualify as a retreat as far as I'm concerned, because before the attack Grant was clearly "advancing" and he then reversed course and went back to the start; it even comes after a battle (or rather a large raid) though Grant's main body didn't fight in it.
Does it then qualify as a retreat?
If Grant had fought a skirmish with a single regiment just before the news had come in, would it suddenly count as a retreat because it came after a battle?

I think this definition causes too many problems.



One possible definition is this - there are three kinds of movement in the military sense when manoeuvering on the same scale at which you possess an enemy, those being "advance", "oblique" and "retreat".
An "advance" is moving away from your base and/or towards the enemy or your objective.
A "retreat" is the opposite, moving towards your base and/or away from the enemy or your objective.
And an "oblique" is when you are moving roughly perpendicular to your base and/or the enemy.


On the small scale, of battle lines etc., it's fairly clear which of these something falls into, and it's relative to their unit. If there is an enemy to the south behind the north-facing friendly battle-line and a unit re-orients to oppose them, they are not retreating if they march south closer to the enemy, and they're not advancing if they're pushed north again.
But expanding that out should produce much the same conclusion. It's relative to the unit, their base or bases of supply, and their enemy or enemies.
I think you should reassess what I previously said in my initial post. Wellington's movements in 1815 were most definitely a redeployment and justified. He recognized what was happening and wanted better ground. Not a retreat. Just a redeployment of his troops, the vast majority of which weren't even British, to better ground which he deemed fit to fight a pitched battled. Clearly, he didn't choose wrong.

So far as the Peninsular War, look at some actions in March 1811. As to "save his force" maybe a wrong choice of words but he definitely withdrew his forces from actions at Pombal, Pelariga, and Redinha. Maybe not so much a retreat but wanted no further part of action and moved away to regroup, definitely at Redinha. That said, he wasn't in charge of all allied forces, they quickly regrouped and went back to work. But I would say when the day was done, enough casualties had been taken, to break contact and regroup for another day would constitute a retreat, however short it may be.

Now, from my personal experience regarding a "retreat". I have never been involved in a "retreat"

In Afghanistan or Iraq we would attack or "move to contact" with an enemy force. That would be much like an offensive into Pennsylvania like Lee and the ANV on a smaller scale. Once we made contact, that is what it is. USUALLY we would gain fire superiority and the Taliban or insurgents would "retreat" once we gained fire superiority or they heard rotary wing aircraft coming (at that point they knew they couldn't win). We regarded that as them "breaking contact" but I suppose that could be regarded as a retreat as well. That's why I say until we have a definitive definition. It's hard to say what is and what isn't. That's what I was getting at it in the first place and you said it, its such a narrow definition, hard to distinguish.

Either way, whatever happens on the Iberi, Asia or in the U.S. doesn't make much a difference. Grant was a hell of a leader any way you spin in.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
I think you should reassess what I previously said in my initial post. Wellington's movements in 1815 were most definitely a redeployment and justified. He recognized what was happening and wanted better ground. Not a retreat. Just a redeployment of his troops, the vast majority of which weren't even British, to better ground which he deemed fit to fight a pitched battled. Clearly, he didn't choose wrong.
Oh, I did read what you said, which is why I pointed out that Wellington called it a retreat.

At this point your definition of retreat is too narrow for someone who was a field marshal roughly six times over.
 

Saphroneth

Major
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Feb 18, 2017
Now, from my personal experience regarding a "retreat". I have never been involved in a "retreat"

In Afghanistan or Iraq we would attack or "move to contact" with an enemy force. That would be much like an offensive into Pennsylvania like Lee and the ANV on a smaller scale. Once we made contact, that is what it is. USUALLY we would gain fire superiority and the Taliban or insurgents would "retreat" once we gained fire superiority or they heard rotary wing aircraft coming (at that point they knew they couldn't win). We regarded that as them "breaking contact" but I suppose that could be regarded as a retreat as well. That's why I say until we have a definitive definition. It's hard to say what is and what isn't. That's what I was getting at it in the first place and you said it, its such a narrow definition, hard to distinguish.
I think it's at least plausible you genuinely haven't been involved in a retreat, by my definition, but that's because you were in a situation where you had such a vast total superiority of firepower.

The problem though is that you've defined "retreat" so narrowly that we have hard evidence field marshals disagree with you on it.

Perhaps it's a US army thing. Try "Tactical retrograde".

So far as the Peninsular War, look at some actions in March 1811. As to "save his force" maybe a wrong choice of words but he definitely withdrew his forces from actions at Pombal, Pelariga, and Redinha.
Redinha?

Redinha, as in, the battle where Ney set up a rearguard position and successfully checked Wellington's pursuit, but was forced to pull back over the bridge?

I hadn't even seriously looked at the events of Ney's retreat from Portugal (which Wellington by the way labelled as a retreat by the enemy) as an example of Wellington being forced to retreat by your definition, because it's obvious that after every battle in that sequence it was Ney who then kept retreating from Portugal; if you consider what happened to Wellington in those actions a "retreat" then Port Gibson counts for Grant - he fought the enemy, the enemy pushed him back, then the enemy withdrew.
 

NFB22

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I think it's at least plausible you genuinely haven't been involved in a retreat, by my definition, but that's because you were in a situation where you had such a vast total superiority of firepower.

The problem though is that you've defined "retreat" so narrowly that we have hard evidence field marshals disagree with you on it.

Perhaps it's a US army thing. Try "Tactical retrograde".


Redinha?

Redinha, as in, the battle where Ney set up a rearguard position and successfully checked Wellington's pursuit, but was forced to pull back over the bridge?

I hadn't even seriously looked at the events of Ney's retreat from Portugal (which Wellington by the way labelled as a retreat by the enemy) as an example of Wellington being forced to retreat by your definition, because it's obvious that after every battle in that sequence it was Ney who then kept retreating from Portugal; if you consider what happened to Wellington in those actions a "retreat" then Port Gibson counts for Grant - he fought the enemy, the enemy pushed him back, then the enemy withdrew.
In that specific engagement, Wellington was defeated I would say, but yes it was part of a much larger rearguard action in which the army he was pursuing was retreating. He then broke contact, took a few days, regrouped and continued his pursuit. As I said though, getting away from the point here. Maybe if this was NapoleonicWarsTalk.com we could expand out.

Each person will have their own definition whether its Napoleon, Wellington, Lee, Grant, Rommel or some old Marine like myself.
 

Saphroneth

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In that specific engagement, Wellington was defeated I would say, but yes it was part of a much larger rearguard action in which the army he was pursuing was retreating. He then broke contact, took a few days, regrouped and continued his pursuit. As I said though, getting away from the point here. Maybe if this was NapoleonicWarsTalk.com we could expand out.
I think the issue is that your definition of retreat is so tightly defined that you're disagreeing with outright field marshals (specifically on the issue of whether Wellington retreated after Quatre-Bras). It also seems like your definition of retreat is extremely narrow - so narrow in fact that things you label as examples of retreats then get relabelled as "not retreats" once you look more closely at them.

What this implies to me is that your definition of "retreat" is so narrow as to be an unhelpful term, and that the twisting of the definition is done in such a way as to avoid the use of the word - when it's not a word to be avoided, and it's not a word to be ashamed of. If the situation is appropriate then a retreat is the only sensible option, and there's a reason why "Not A Step Back" orders which disallow retreat tend to be viewed very poorly by commanders.

More to the point, if you define retreat so narrowly, you end up having to use circumlocutions to refer to what a more sensible use of the word "retreat" would helpfully apply. If someone outflanks your advanced line and you pull back to an interior line without a vulnerable flank, you can refer to that as a "retreat", but if that word isn't available you have to use the clumsier "retrograde movement" or "withdrawal". What it isn't however is any kind of mistake.

But if making a movement, being opposed by superior forces and forced to abandon the campaign entirely (Belmont) still doesn't qualify as a "retreat", then almost nothing does.
 

NFB22

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I think the issue is that your definition of retreat is so tightly defined that you're disagreeing with outright field marshals (specifically on the issue of whether Wellington retreated after Quatre-Bras). It also seems like your definition of retreat is extremely narrow - so narrow in fact that things you label as examples of retreats then get relabelled as "not retreats" once you look more closely at them.

What this implies to me is that your definition of "retreat" is so narrow as to be an unhelpful term, and that the twisting of the definition is done in such a way as to avoid the use of the word - when it's not a word to be avoided, and it's not a word to be ashamed of. If the situation is appropriate then a retreat is the only sensible option, and there's a reason why "Not A Step Back" orders which disallow retreat tend to be viewed very poorly by commanders.

More to the point, if you define retreat so narrowly, you end up having to use circumlocutions to refer to what a more sensible use of the word "retreat" would helpfully apply. If someone outflanks your advanced line and you pull back to an interior line without a vulnerable flank, you can refer to that as a "retreat", but if that word isn't available you have to use the clumsier "retrograde movement" or "withdrawal". What it isn't however is any kind of mistake.

But if making a movement, being opposed by superior forces and forced to abandon the campaign entirely (Belmont) still doesn't qualify as a "retreat", then almost nothing does.
If you want to say he retreated from Quatre-Bras I can see where you could say it was one even based off of his dispatches. I do agree that retreat is often associated with defeat and therefore has a ring of negativity around it but that's not always the case as you said. I'm only speaking on this particular battle when discussing the term retreat.

If we want to bring this back to the Civil War I think an equivalent would be Confederate forces during Sherman's Atlanta campaign. After the Battle of Resaca, Johnston could not stop the advance of Sherman and he was forced to retreat in face of superior numbers and was tactically at a disadvantage. Eventually Johnston found better ground at Kennesaw Mountain much like the coalition forces at Waterloo and achieved victory. Unfortunately for Johnston in this case, there wasn't a Blucher to help him follow up and Sherman continued his campaign.
 

Saphroneth

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If you want to say he retreated from Quatre-Bras I can see where you could say it was one even based off of his dispatches. I do agree that retreat is often associated with defeat and therefore has a ring of negativity around it but that's not always the case as you said. I'm only speaking on this particular battle when discussing the term retreat.
The thing that I'm getting at is that your definition for retreat should probably include the movement on 17 June because Wellington called it one; this suggests that it's, well, a retreat.

If we want to bring this back to the Civil War I think an equivalent would be Confederate forces during Sherman's Atlanta campaign. After the Battle of Resaca, Johnston could not stop the advance of Sherman and he was forced to retreat in face of superior numbers and was tactically at a disadvantage.
Okay, so pulling back in the face of superior numbers to seek a place to fight at an advantage is a retreat?
 

67th Tigers

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In Afghanistan or Iraq we would attack or "move to contact" with an enemy force.
An Advance to Contact and an Attack are different phases of combat. If the contact is of a smaller force (i.e. less than a third of your size) you might put in a hasty attack. What you describe is the typical "let them attack you so you can expose them to heavy supporting fires" that was adopted by the British in NW Europe (successfully), the US in Vietnam (very unsuccessfully) and by the allies in the sandpit (with mixed results). It heavily depends upon the ability of the artillery and air to hit the targets, which is typically environmental.

Oddly, this was doctrinal in the ACW. It was called an "Active Defence" which was developed by Mahan based on War of 1812 experience and employed successfully in Mexico. You move to a position where the enemy has no choice but to attack you, and hence have the advantage of the defence. McClellan and Lee both employed this very effectively, but Grant was literally ignorant of it. He would obligingly throw troops into the enemy killing areas and in 1864 he was clearly losing the attritional race. If he wasn't provided more than ca. 200,000 troops to spend, then he would have been defeated.

Wellington, based on the available intel, did intend a general concentration at Quatre Bras and to attack the left flank and rear of Napoleon. However, when the Prussians broke he knew the French were going to concentrate against him and pulled back to a defensive ridgeline at Water L'eau. It was a retreat, and it was a retreat made necessary by the Prussian defeat.
 

DanSBHawk

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McClellan and Lee both employed this very effectively, but Grant was literally ignorant of it. He would obligingly throw troops into the enemy killing areas and in 1864 he was clearly losing the attritional race. If he wasn't provided more than ca. 200,000 troops to spend, then he would have been defeated.
In a war, the best measure of "effective" is victory. So both McClellan and Lee came up short.

And as Gordon Rhea's books have documented, it was never just about attrition. There have been numerous threads discussing and refuting the "butcher" label.
 

Saphroneth

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In a war, the best measure of "effective" is victory. So both McClellan and Lee came up short.
It's not though, is it? The Foreign Legion at Camaron were defeated completely, but held for ten hours against fifty to one odds; this is the Foreign Legion fighting out of all proportion to their numbers. We wouldn't say they were "ineffective".

And as Gordon Rhea's books have documented, it was never just about attrition. There have been numerous threads discussing and refuting the "butcher" label.
If Grant had merely 120,000 or 140,000 troops, instead of 200,000, he could never have fought the campaign he did. Thus, "if he wasn't provided more than ca. 200,000 troops" holds.
 

DanSBHawk

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It's not though, is it? The Foreign Legion at Camaron were defeated completely, but held for ten hours against fifty to one odds; this is the Foreign Legion fighting out of all proportion to their numbers. We wouldn't say they were "ineffective".


If Grant had merely 120,000 or 140,000 troops, instead of 200,000, he could never have fought the campaign he did. Thus, "if he wasn't provided more than ca. 200,000 troops" holds.
I stand by what I wrote, and 200,000 is an exaggeration as discussed in other threads.
 

Saphroneth

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I stand by what I wrote, and 200,000 is an exaggeration as discussed in other threads.
It's not, though. It's:

122,000 in the Army of the Potomac in regulation PFD https://archive.org/stream/virginiacampaig00humpgoog#page/n432/mode/2up/search/recruits (regulation PFD includes special/extra/daily duty, and is AP - sick/arrested)
21,000 in 9th Corps in regulation PFD https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699811&view=1up&seq=1063
42,000 forwarded to Grant by 10th June https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t4kk9w68r&view=1up&seq=744
16,000 in the part of the Army of the James forwarded to join Grant for Cold Harbor https://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/067/0998

Plus the rest of the Army of the James that stayed on the western bank of the James.
 

DanSBHawk

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It's not, though. It's:

122,000 in the Army of the Potomac in regulation PFD https://archive.org/stream/virginiacampaig00humpgoog#page/n432/mode/2up/search/recruits (regulation PFD includes special/extra/daily duty, and is AP - sick/arrested)
21,000 in 9th Corps in regulation PFD https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924077699811&view=1up&seq=1063
42,000 forwarded to Grant by 10th June https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo1.ark:/13960/t4kk9w68r&view=1up&seq=744
16,000 in the part of the Army of the James forwarded to join Grant for Cold Harbor https://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/067/0998

Plus the rest of the Army of the James that stayed on the western bank of the James.
It is. And it's been discussed on other threads. Overland campaign strengths for US vs CS armies is closer to 160,000 vs 95,000 respectively. See Alfred C Young's writing.
 

Saphroneth

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It is. And it's been discussed on other threads. Overland campaign strengths for US vs CS armies is closer to 160,000 vs 95,000 respectively. See Alfred C Young's writing.
In case you're not aware, it's Young's very estimate which 67th looked into and found was significantly flawed. For example his estimate of 20,000 mustered out is not supported by the evidence, or to be precise it's based off a piece of evidence from the wrong point in time.

If you count according to the same metrics, you get about a 2:1 ratio for the whole campaign; to get 160,000 versus 95,000, what you have to do is to count Union Effectives versus Confederate Regulation PFD, which is the opposite of the normal Lost Cause trick but is just as wrong.
 

DanSBHawk

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In case you're not aware, it's Young's very estimate which 67th looked into and found was significantly flawed. For example his estimate of 20,000 mustered out is not supported by the evidence, or to be precise it's based off a piece of evidence from the wrong point in time.

If you count according to the same metrics, you get about a 2:1 ratio for the whole campaign; to get 160,000 versus 95,000, what you have to do is to count Union Effectives versus Confederate Regulation PFD, which is the opposite of the normal Lost Cause trick but is just as wrong.
Sorry, but I know how you and 67 play with the numbers. We'll just have to disagree. I find Young to be more credible.
 

67th Tigers

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It is. And it's been discussed on other threads. Overland campaign strengths for US vs CS armies is closer to 160,000 vs 95,000 respectively. See Alfred C Young's writing.
When you quote Young, it prompted me to look into it. Young's assertion was not properly researched, which rather undercut his superb work verifying Steven Newton's numbers for the rebels.

Grant used over 200,000 north of the James, and quite a bit more if you include the initial attempt at Petersburg, thus:

Army of the Potomac, April 1864 Monthly Return = 121,964 PFD
9th Corps = 20,780 PFD (after 58th Mass joined)
Reinforcements upto 15th June = 55,178
Army of the James, May monthly return = 32,825 PFD (excluding elements in Md and NC)
Return battle casualties, AoJ during May = 4,765
Total used = 235,512

This should be compared to Lee's force:

ANV (start) = 66,140
Reinforcements = 25,495
Remaining at Petersburg = 8,528 (effectives)
Total = 100,163

Or approximately 2.35:1 as a ratio. As Saph notes, the categories don't mean the same thing, but we use them because we compare ratios to other campaigns. Correcting the Federals to effectives it is about 200,000 Federals vs 100,000 Rebels.
 

DanSBHawk

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When you quote Young, it prompted me to look into it. Young's assertion was not properly researched, which rather undercut his superb work verifying Steven Newton's numbers for the rebels.

Grant used over 200,000 north of the James, and quite a bit more if you include the initial attempt at Petersburg, thus:

Army of the Potomac, April 1864 Monthly Return = 121,964 PFD
9th Corps = 20,780 PFD (after 58th Mass joined)
Reinforcements upto 15th June = 55,178
Army of the James, May monthly return = 32,825 PFD (excluding elements in Md and NC)
Return battle casualties, AoJ during May = 4,765
Total used = 235,512

This should be compared to Lee's force:

ANV (start) = 66,140
Reinforcements = 25,495
Remaining at Petersburg = 8,528 (effectives)
Total = 100,163

Or approximately 2.35:1 as a ratio. As Saph notes, the categories don't mean the same thing, but we use them because we compare ratios to other campaigns. Correcting the Federals to effectives it is about 200,000 Federals vs 100,000 Rebels.
As I wrote above, I know how you two play with the numbers. I'll stick with the credible historians, such as Young. US 160,000. CS 95,000.
 

Saphroneth

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As I wrote above, I know how you two play with the numbers. I'll stick with the credible historians, such as Young. US 160,000. CS 95,000.
What you mean here by "play with the numbers" is to actually look closely at where Young got his numbers - because Young didn't go to the same level of analysis he did with the Confederates, and that's because his analysis was looking at the Confederates (and so by comparison the numbers for the Federals were "thrown together"). Young's analysis was of the Confederates, not of the Union, and while he spent most of his book on the Confederates it baffles me to see his offhand numbers for the Union given the same weight.

Young's numbers for the Federals are derived from:

- Take the reported strength of the Army of the Potomac in PFD (which is not regulation PFD as it is discounting special, extra and daily duty, but that's a detail which Young didn't check on because he wasn't going into full detail)
- Add the strength of the 9th Corps (which is regulation PFD, and correctly sourced, though missing some units which joined before the campaign began)
- Add reinforcements sent to Grant (which is sourced)
- Add Smith's report of 16,000 reinforcements to Grant (which Young does not source)
- subtract 20,000 men who mustered out during the campaign (which Young does not source).

Of these five numbers, the main problems are with the first and the fifth. (The fourth is not sourced and is possibly low but the impact is minor by comparison).

The first one we can verify is problematic for two reasons. One is that if you add together the officers and men PFD of the Army of the Potomac and of 9th Corps in the places which Young sources them you get 122,000, not 118,000 as he claims (he's not simply counting PFD exclusive of officers, either, as then it would be 116,500 or 117,000), but the second one is that it's clear looking at the ratios that the AotP is being measured differently to 9th Corps:

PFD O​
PFD M​
PFD total​
Present​
PFD as fraction of AP​
9th Corps​
842​
18408​
19250​
21357​
90.13%​
AoP​
4609​
98260​
102869​
127471​
80.70%​

We also have information that says that the end-of-April report for the AOP was made in July, not April, but that the morning report for 30th April was on file and gave the strength in the appropriate categories; a "May 1" report on PFD for the whole army lists every single unit in regulation PFD. 67th used this, but even simply correcting the Army of the Potomac to the same PFD fraction of Present as 9th Corps would add about 13,000 men.

Put simply, if Young is correct on this one (that the reported strength of the Army of the Potomac in PFD is regulation) then this report is counting men who don't fit in the PFD category as being in the PFD category; if Young is wrong, then the Army of the Potomac is counting its own strength differently (which is something we know they started to do back in 1863)


The fifth one is problematic for a different reason, which is that Young simply doesn't say where it came from and we have to thus guess where he even got it from - it's certainly not a number we can blindly trust. Going through the individual corps it's possible to verify that on the order of about 5,000 men mustered out, but of course many of those men fought in the campaign before they did muster out - the sensible thing to do is to count them as casualties, though not battle casualties.

Even using Young's numbers, the number of men with whom Grant crossed the Potomac plus the number of reinforcements he got is 182,000.

But if Grant had got just the men with whom he crossed the Potomac by Young's numbers (118,000) plus 32,000 reinforcements only (150,000 all told) then I'd argue that his campaign would not have been possible as fought.



ED: It's not like these numbers are being pulled out of thin air (and one could argue Young's 20,000 number was, though I think we've tracked the source for it down). If there's an error it should in principle be possible for you, or anyone else, to detect it because we have shown our working; to simply say you're not even going to engage but that we must be wrong is to ignore analysis.
How would it have been if it were the Lost Cause numbers that were viewed as "credible" and nobody ever even considered challenges of them?
 
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67th Tigers

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Let me go further. As someone who writes academic works as part of his job, there is a systemic problem with the way we write them. Authors tend to know a huge amount about what they have researched, but typically only a cursory amount about what they haven't. Since with monographs (vice research papers) there is pressure to tell a "whole story" and the author has to fill in the areas that they have done only cursory literature reading in. This sometimes creates serious issues.

This is the case for Young. They've done a magnificent job utilising the methodology pioneered by Busey and Martin to find the strengths of both sides at Gettysburg. Others have used the same methodology for the rebel army at the time of the Seven Days and 2nd Bull Run/ Antietam, always coming out with much higher numbers than the Lost Cause likes to admit. The numbers are similar to Steven Newton's derived using a different methodology. Interestingly, Busey continued with his analysis of the casualties at Gettysburg and was able to revise up Federal casualties to 23,594 and found 24,104 rebel casualties (and was able to name them), an increase over the modern consensus established by Krick of ca. 22,000, but much less than Livermore's 28,063 (which is primarily due to him double counting the wounded who were later captured).

However, Young did almost no analysis of the Federal strength. He didn't go through Federal regimental returns as Busey and Martin did for Gettysburg (and later extended into analysis of the casualties). He relies essentially entirely on the OR returns, and misreads elements of them. For example, not being au fait with how Hooker and Meade changed how the returns are made out, he mixes definitions. He may have been well intentioned, but he used some incorrect data inputs.
 
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