Did Grant Fight A Pyrrhic War?

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WJC

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victory was first and foremost.
Victory is always foremost in war. A combatant must be willing to use every means at his/her disposal to win because, in the end, victory saves lives.
A commander who is not willing to fight with every means available does a great disservice to his/her soldiers.
 

lurid

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Thank you all for your posts, they were all very informative. I like to say I'm a Yankee through in and through out, I just try to come up with the most facts before I analyze anything. And I'm glad to conclude that Grant fought the war with dignity.
 

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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?
I wouldn't call it pyrrhic, but Grant made use of his considerable advantage in numbers to win; had John B.Hood Grant's numbers he would have been a great army commander as well. Had Grant been a Confederate general he would have been every bit the disaster that was Hood as a commander of an army.
 
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TnFed

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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.
Well said. Grant and Sherman saw no glory in war. I guess they were not exposed to all those Ivanhoe type stories.
 

JeffBrooks

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Had Grant been a Confederate general he would have been every bit the disaster that was Hood as a commander of an army.
I disagree with that. Look at Grant's performance in the Vicksburg Campaign, where he did not possess superior numbers and achieved the most brilliant operational and strategic victory of the war through maneuver and speed rather than brute force.
 
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I disagree with that. Look at Grant's performance in the Vicksburg Campaign, where he did not possess superior numbers and achieved the most brilliant operational and strategic victory of the war through maneuver and speed rather than brute force.
“In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union’s losses were approximately 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.”


J.G. Randall, David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1962) pp.419-420
 

JeffBrooks

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“In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union’s losses were approximately 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.”
Reread the post. I said Vicksburg, not the Overland Campaign.
 

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Reread the post. I said Vicksburg, not the Overland Campaign.
“Grant’s plan was to isolate Vicksburg, marching first to Jackson, Mississippi, cutting off the citadel’s line of retreat and source of supply, and then invest the rebel fortress. Starting with 50,000 troops (a number that would grow to 77,000), divided into five corps, Grant faced 30,000 Confederates who were strung out defending too many points with too few men.
Of the major battles of this campaign, four deserve attention. The Battle of Port Gibson (1 May 1863), conducted one day after Grant landed his men across the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg, led to the Federals achieving a foothold twenty-five miles south of Vicksburg. The Confederates had mounted a gallant defense, but had been outnumbered three to one. At the battle of Raymond (12 May), near Jackson, the bluecoats again outnumbered the Confederates three to one (and in artillery seven to one) and again the Confederates withdrew but only after a stiff fight.”

https://www.historyonthenet.com/vicksburg-campaign-civil-war-1863
 
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lurid

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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.
True, but the Union/FEDS did not finish the job as far as I'm concerned. Edited modern politics reference.
 
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lurid

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I wouldn't call it pyrrhic, but Grant made use of his considerable advantage in numbers to win; had John B.Hood Grant's numbers he would have been a great army commander as well. Had Grant been a Confederate general he would have been every bit the disaster that was Hood as a commander of an army.
War theory: on the offensive requires 3:1 advantage. Hood and all those other officers in Confederates had the advantage of fighting on their own soil, they knew the terrain. They also had the advantage of having spies everywhere tracking the Union's movements.
 
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WJC

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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.
Thanks for your response.
Like it or not, all war fits your chess analogy....
 

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War theory: on the offensive requires 3:1 advantage. Hood and all those other officers in Confederates had the advantage of fighting on their own soil, they knew the terrain. They also had the advantage of having spies everywhere tracking the Union's movements.
Ordinary not enough to overcome a 3.1, but perhaps it should have been enough to overcome a Federal advantage.
 
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JeffBrooks

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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.
I don't see how this is any more true of Grant than it was of Lee. We can point out that Grant hurled his men at enemy positions in frontal assaults on the Vicksburg defenses and the attack at Cold Harbor, but we can say the same thing about Lee at Malvern Hill and Pickett's Charge.
 

wausaubob

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The Overland campaign in the spring and summer of 1864 created the only evidence that Grant was engaged in a war of attrition.
That campaign, and the simultaneous United States campaign in Georgia occurred because Generals Grant and Meade realized that after the battle of Gettysburg, if General Meade had pushed Lee more aggressively, General Lee would have had hurry back to Richmond, and would not have been able to reinforce General Bragg in Tennessee.
The result of the Overland campaign was very high casualties, which became Grant's responsibility and not Meade's or Lincoln's. But General Lee's army began to shrink. He was not able to reinforce General Johnston in Georgia.
When the continuous contact of the campaign was prolonged into fall and winter, and the Confederate army had to remain concentrated in Richmond and Petersberg, the Confederate government could not longer provision the army. That's when Early had to stay in the Shenandoah valley, Hampden took risks to capture the US cattle herd, and the Confederacy was trading cotton for food through General Butler's lines. All of which accelerated the decline of the Confederate rail system.
By August of 1864 the Confederacy was based on 5 states, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Florida and Mississippi contained to few white people to make any sizable contribution to the war effort.
 

lurid

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I don't see how this is any more true of Grant than it was of Lee. We can point out that Grant hurled his men at enemy positions in frontal assaults on the Vicksburg defenses and the attack at Cold Harbor, but we can say the same thing about Lee at Malvern Hill and Pickett's Charge.
Well, I wasn't doing a compare and contrast with Grant and Lee, because to be quite candid, I dislike Lee and don't believe for a second he was a great general. Therefore, I would expect Lee to sacrifice his soldiers, but Grant, I would have expected he would have been a little bit more prudent. Nevertheless, I get what you and the rest of the posters in here are conveying..
 
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Canadian

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General David Petraeus is a big fan of Grant, and speaks highly of his tactical and strategic abilities. Gary Gallagher has said that the Overland campaign was not Grant’s first choice. He would have done several campaigns into the South, similar to Sherman’s. Sherman’s March to the sea was a version of this idea. However Washington was focused on Robert E. Lee, so Grant did what was expected of him and faced off. To this day he “wears” it while Lincoln doesn’t.
 

Burning Billy

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“In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union’s losses were approximately 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.”


J.G. Randall, David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1962) pp.419-420
But what was the end result?

Grant outfoxes Lee, gets across the James, and Lee's army gets pinned to Petersburg - the very thing Lee was striving to prevent in the Wilderness. The crossing of the James was also the moment the Confederacy died, even if all the participants didn't realize it yet. The Confederacy may have had some impressive tactical performances during the Overland campaign, but the rebels failed strategically, and with that failure every remaining hope for the Confederate cause evaporated.
 
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