Did Grant Fight A Pyrrhic War?

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lurid

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If not, it sure seems like he did with throwing his men into meatgrinders. Or did he fight a war of attrition?
 

Cavalry Charger

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First we should probably talk terms.

Pyrrhic meaning a war that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat.

Attrition meaning a struggle in which either side (or both sides) are unable to achieve decisive victory through a battle or campaigns but rather has to grind down their opponent(s) until they lose the will or ability to continue the fight.

I'd say Grant won a number of decisive victories, so I disagree Grant fought a war of attrition.

I don't think anyone on the Union side saw the victory as tantamount to defeat, but the war certainly inflicted a devastating toll in terms of numbers of lives lost. No doubt all those responsible for making poltical and military decisions had a part to play in that.

I also disagree that Grant 'threw his men into meat grinders'

If the reference is to Grant being a 'butcher' then we've had recent thread you may find interesting

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-victor-not-a-butcher-ulysses-s-grants-overlooked-military-genius.153060/page-2
 
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treebie2000

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Not Pyrrhic because the Southern states remain in the Union today. There was certainly a “gain” in that.


Now this fits the bill:
at·tri·tion
/əˈtriSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: attrition


the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.
"the council is trying to wear down the opposition by attrition"
synonyms:wearing down, wearing away, weakening, debilitation, enfeebling, sapping,
Attrition has no connection to victories or defeats (beyond maintaining the willingness of your force, to continue “attriting” ones opponent). Victories supply that willingness, but aren’t essential to sustaining the effort.

 
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lurid

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First we should probably talk terms.

Pyrrhic meaning a war that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat.

Attrition meaning a struggle in which either side (or both sides) are unable to achieve decisive victory through a battle or campaigns but rather has to grind down their opponent(s) until they lose the will or ability to continue the fight.

I'd say Grant won a number of decisive victories, so I disagree Grant fought a war of attrition.

I don't think anyone on the Union side saw the victory as tantamount to defeat, but the war certainly inflicted a devastating toll in terms of numbers of lives lost. No doubt all those responsible for making poltical and military decisions had a part to play in that.

I also disagree that Grant 'threw his men into meat grinders'

If the reference is to Grant being a 'butcher' then we've had recent thread you may find interesting

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-victor-not-a-butcher-ulysses-s-grants-overlooked-military-genius.153060/page-2
It sure seemed like he did. I just believe he could have minimized his casualties a bit. I'll check out that thread you posted. Thank you.
 
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lurid

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Not Pyrrhic because the Southern states remain in the Union today. There was certainly a “gain” in that.


Now this fits the bill:
at·tri·tion
/əˈtriSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: attrition


the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.
"the council is trying to wear down the opposition by attrition"
synonyms:wearing down, wearing away, weakening, debilitation, enfeebling, sapping,
Attrition has no connection to victories or defeats (beyond maintaining the willingness of your force, to continue “attriting” ones opponent). Victories supply that willingness, but aren’t essential to sustaining the effort.​
I said Pyrrhic, not Carthaginian. Albeit, I think we would be better off today if the south did receive a Carthaginian defeat. You know Pyrrhic, win at all costs, no matter the cost.
 

treebie2000

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I said Pyrrhic, not Carthaginian. Albeit, I think we would be better off today if the south did receive a Carthaginian defeat. You know Pyrrhic, win at all costs, no matter the cost.
pyr·rhic1
/ˈpirik/
“adjective
  1. (of a victory) won at too great a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor.”
    In this case the gain of Grants’ victories outweighs the cost. Grants’ victories preserved the Union, which was the primary goal of the Federal government. For that reason, his victories cannot (in my opinion) be considered Pyrrhic.
 

WJC

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No. In war, victory seldom comes without a high cost. Grant suffers from a badly mistaken claim that he was a heartless "butcher". He was no worse than his opponents (in fact, a soldier in R. E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was more likely to be killed!)
 
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wausaubob

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No. The census information demonstrated mathematically the imbalance in fighting manpower between the US and the Confederacy, in May of 1864. Volunteers from the formerly enslaved population were increasing the US army. Immigrant men were maintaining the US work force. Each age cohort reaching age 18 in the paid labor states was larger than the previous group.
The Confederacy was recruiting from a rapidly shrinking territory. Fighting age men in the frontier states of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri could not have joined the eastern Confederate armies if they had wanted to, and most did not want to.
Confederates may not like but the arithmetic of shrinking the Confederate army by fighting it and capturing its home land could only end one way. It was a mathematical certainty by January 1864.
 

lurid

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No. The census information demonstrated mathematically the imbalance in fighting manpower between the US and the Confederacy, in May of 1864. Volunteers from the formerly enslaved population were increasing the US army. Immigrant men were maintaining the US work force. Each age cohort reaching age 18 in the paid labor states was larger than the previous group.
The Confederacy was recruiting from a rapidly shrinking territory. Fighting age men in the frontier states of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri could not have joined the eastern Confederate armies if they had wanted to, and most did not want to.
Confederates may not like but the arithmetic of shrinking the Confederate army by fighting it and capturing its home land could only end one way. It was a mathematical certainty by January 1864.
All I'm saying is that some of those battles with those unnecessary frontal assaults could have been avoided. Trying to overrun your enemy is a sheer sign that minimizing casualties was not on the agenda and victory was first and foremost.
 

lurid

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No. In war, victory seldom comes without a high cost. Grant suffers from a badly mistaken claim that he was a heartless "butcher". He was no worse than his opponents (in fact, a soldier in R. E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was more likely to be killed!)
But my point is that a guy like Grant should have automatically been better than all of those rebs, not any worse. I'm not saying he was a total butcher, but I think he and his counterparts were playing chess and the soldiers were pawns.
 
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lurid

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Also, I was: 0311. Bravo 1/9 out of Pendleton from 1989-1993, so I'm not really looking for anything philosophical that pertains to the horrors of war. I know how modern ground wars are conducted, and I just don't see how some/many of those losses in the CW couldn't have been prevented.
 

USS ALASKA

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Collection; School of Advanced Military Studies Monographs
Title; Bones behind the blood: the economic foundations of Grant's final campaign.
Author; Townsend, James W.

Abstract; This monograph explores the economic foundations behind General Ulysses S. Grant's 1864-1865 campaign, the final campaign of the American Civil War. This paper will compare and contrast the economic conditions in the Union and the Confederacy with respect to manpower, social systems, finance, infrastructure and industrial capacity. This will result in a calculus of relative strategic power to analyze the strength and protracted military capability of the two belligerents. The campaign was long and bloody--truly a campaign that destroyed vast resources in people and national treasure. While the fighting was both protracted and vicious, the outcome was never in doubt. Based upon a strategic calculus of power, particularly industrial capacity and economic power, it was clear that the Union had a decisive advantage. While the South was primarily a traditional society with an agriculturally based economy, the North was in the stage of precondition for takeoff fully on the road to industrialization. Simply stated the South could ill afford to use up resources in manpower, military equipment and treasure at a rate near equal to the North. General Grant’s final campaign was successful because it flowed from conditions set by a strong, vibrant economy and was guided by a strategy that thrived on this productive strength. Pressed into a corner due to Grant’s final campaign, the South was sure to lose.

Series; Command and General Staff College (CGSC), School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) Monograph
Publisher; Fort Leavenworth, KS : US Army Command and General Staff College,
Date; Original 1992-12-31
Date; Digital 2007
Call number; ADA 258286
Release statement; Approved for public release; Distribution is unlimited. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the student-authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College or any other governmental agency. (References to these studies should include the foregoing statement.)
Repository; Combined Arms Research Library
Library; Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library
Date created; 2007-10-30
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Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 

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USS ALASKA

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Sir, Edited. Grant was trying to make them fight and cause them irreplaceable losses. He was pressing them militarily but causing them pressure across their entire DIME spectrum. The sooner the war was over the sooner the bleeding on both sides stopped. So as you said "Or did he fight a war of attrition?" - yes. And he had the bigger magazine...

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USS ALASKA
 
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treebie2000

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Grant definitely adhered to the old axiom “find em, fix em, fight em”.
Perhaps Lees’ ability to maneuver/split his forces, etc. influenced Grant to the point that once Grant got him “fixed”, he was gonna fight him where he was fixed.
I guess we could second guess his methods forever, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it was about 13 months from the time Grant became General of the Armies until Gen. Lee surrendered
 

Burning Billy

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It sure seemed like he did. I just believe he could have minimized his casualties a bit. I'll check out that thread you posted. Thank you.
There is a fair bit of mythology regarding Grant being a "butcher." Over his career Grant lost a lower percentage of his men than Robert E. Lee. Lee in fact was the bloodiest army commander of the Civil War. You had more chance of being killed or wounded in the Army of Northern Virginia than any other army - north or south - in the Civil War.

I don't mention that to denigrate Lee, but offer it as an indication of how some of the criticism leveled at Grant's generalship has been unfair. No one calls Lee a butcher for his performance during the Seven Days for instance, because he got the result he wanted despite not winning most of the battles and losing more men than his opponents. Why is the Wilderness any different for Grant?
 

Scott1967

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Apart from Shiloh I would say Grant didn't have the Major battlefield experience that Lee had , Lee had been fighting major battles from mid 1862 to mid 1863 constantly Grant had only been involved Shiloh and Chattanooga and a siege + some minor battles.

It always seemed to me that Grant in 1864 was still learning on the job against a formidable foe , I would imagine the scale of battles Grant had to face must have been an eye opener coming from the western theatre , I really do think people need to cut Grant some slack and understand that Grant was operating in an entirely different theatre of war and facing arguably one of the best generals of the 19th century.

I always consider Grant a jack of all trades when it comes to war he could siege , attack , defend and he showed one standout trait the fact that he never gave up determination to succeed drove him on.
 
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Patrick H

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In my opinion, he did not. The price he paid in men was extreme, but did not constitute too great a price. His victory preserved our union.
 
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Pyrrhic no, attrition yes by circumstance and necessity. In Grant I don't see a ruthless man, but I do see a pragmatic duty-bound one. I don't get the impression he was forced to dehumanize his own soldiers or those of the enemy to succeed. Succeeding in a war is really a mathematical/tactical equation. But by pragmatically pressing his advantage it can also be argued that Grant instead: Saved more lives due to the majority of casualties being the result of disease as the war dragged on. Saved the country from ongoing costly sectional warfare for decades. Really the only claims that can be made against Grant, his motives or his tactics is if one wants to try to prove that he was one of the following:

Willfully careless
Tactically negligent
Motivated by revenge, hatred, retribution, blood lust or some other non-military factor

Grant did not relish the prospect of a protracted war of attrition, but if necessary to fulfill his duty he was willing to engage in one. Although one can certainly argue all battles/wars have inevitable elements of attrition both in lives and supplies. Grant had a desire to reduce casualties for both sides if possible but his view of prospective casualties was much broader than simply the battle/campaign he was currently engaged in. All the previous commanders had failed, flinched and withdrawn prolonging the conflict and leading to the inevitable higher overall casualty rate due to disease. If one does the math it would seem to vindicate this broader and longer-term view of casualties that Grant operated from.

Grant clearly wanted to find any path forward to end the war that would ultimately preserve the Union. If in fulfilling his assigned duty (assigned by superiors) he had to make difficult decisions that would lead to the loss of life, he was willing to do it, but always regretted the corresponding loss in casualties. Someone who is not willing to order men to their deaths to fulfill his duty is obviously not going to be an effective commander during Grant's time. He knew from Shiloh that he could and would be scrutinized and demonized for casualties but he remained focused on his powerful commitment to the cause. Grant saw no glory in war, but He had a pragmatic outlook that allowed him to grasp the bigger picture. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. He didn't start the war, but it was his duty to end it as quickly as possible for the perceived benefit of the entire population of the nation and future generations both on and off the battlefield and around the world. It was mathematical. Ending the war quicker militarily, given the prevailing circumstances required high casualty rates. The stakes were high, that's what drove men to the level of conviction where they would voluntarily sacrifice their life for the cause. After the war Grant took personal responsibility for casualties and I can imagine the heavy burden of responsibility and horrors of the battlefield haunted him to his death.
 
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