Did Grant win the Civil War?

Tom Hughes

First Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
It would be almost impossible for anyone to effectively manage the giant, fat, corrupt federal government in the aftermath of the Civil War. I doubt Lee would have avoided making faulty appointments, among the thousands that needed to be made.



Did any other Generals do anything like what Grant did at Cold Harbor? I can think of a few...



Both of those evoke how very much Lee had been neutered. Lee still had his mind and his penchant for brilliant maneuvers. But he lacked the men, resources, and spirit to actually exploit any attack. Stedman was a disaster after all and Early got crushed. Those were dying gasps, not potent threats, and that's what Grant did to the AoNV.
Oh yes, other generals were known to throw lots of men into the fray to obtain their objectives. However, Grant's the one who got the name and it stuck with him through the history books.
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
With all due respect, you can only make assumptions like this by ignoring most of what Grant actually says in that report.

You appear to be quoting from the Report of Lieut. Gen. U.S. Grant, U.S. Army, Commanding Armies of the United States, Of Operations March, 1864 - May, 1865 which was sent on July 22, 1865 to E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War. Here are the first five paragraphs, with the part you are quoting in light blue text. Looks like it is actually the 4th paragraph if this is the document and it appears to be part of a sentence instead of a complete sentence. The "first" part of the sentence is in underlined bold text.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the armies of the United States from the date of my appointment to command the same:
From an early period in the rebellion I had been impressed with the idea that active and continuous operations of all the troops that could be brought into the field, regardless of season and weather, were necessary to a speedy termination of the war. The resources of the enemy and his numerical strength were far inferior to ours; but as an offset to this, we had a vast territory, with a population hostile to the Government, to garrison, and long lines of river and railroad communications to protect, to enable us to supply the operating armies.
The armies in the East and West acted independently and without concert, like a balky team, no two ever pulling together, enabling the enemy to use to great advantage his interior lines of communication for transporting troops from east to west, re-enforcing the army most vigorously pressed, and to furlough large numbers, during seasons of inactivity on our part, to go to their homes and do the work of producing for the support of their armies. It was a question whether our numerical strength and resources were not more than balanced by these disadvantages and the enemy's superior position.
From the first, I was firm in the conviction that no peace could be had that would be stable and conducive to the happiness of the people, both North and South, until the military power of the rebellion was entirely broken. I therefore determined, first, to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the armed force of the enemy, preventing him from using the same force at different seasons against first one and then another of our armies, and the possibility of repose for refitting and producing necessary supplies for carrying on resistance; second, to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our common country to the constitution and laws of the land. These views have been kept constantly in mind, and orders given and campaigns made to carry them out. Whether they might have been better in conception and execution is for the people, who mourn the loss of friends fallen and who have to pay the pecuniary cost, to say. All I can say is, that what I have done has been done conscientiously, to the best of my ability, and in what I conceived to be for the best interests of the whole country.

None of that says anything at all about Grant losing his aggressiveness. He continued to be aggressive from the first to the last. You seem to want to see only the tiniest portion of what was said and done so you can fit it into your conception. When he reached Petersburg, Grant realized his Virginia troops were exhausted for the moment. They needed rest and refit before the campaign could be continued with the AoP.

What you miss is that Grant does not command the AoP. Grant commands the combined Army of the United States. Grant commands Sherman and Banks and many others. Grant commands ===ALL=== of the others. When he decides to change to ***greater*** emphasis on the offensive on other fronts, Grant is still being aggressive, still pushing the enemy -- and he pursues a very active siege in Virginia to keep the pressure on Lee and assist his other commanders.

I counted 5 paragraphs based on the edition I had in my copy of Grant's memoirs, which contain a copy of the report.

And I never said Grant lost his aggressiveness. On the contrary, I believe wholeheartedly that he was one of, if not the single most aggressive commander the North had, and certainly up there with Jackson and Lee in terms of aggressiveness.

What I said was that the Siege of Petersburg was a campaign of attrition. Look at the underlined bold part in your quote, Grant says he wants to concentrate forces against the enemy to deprive them of reinforcing each other through their inner lines of communications.

That is what he did by having Sherman attack Johnston, while he attacked Lee in Virginia. And It Worked.

However, his first plan in Virginia was to "find Lee's army and destroy it." Those orders are famous and I deem need no citation. Those were his orders to Meade.

That failing, as it did in the Overland Campaign, he shifted to plan 2, which you quoted in light blue font. That second plan was attrition, which is what the Siege of Petersburg was, being that Petersburg itself was a supply depot, and was never part of the original campaign plan. Grant chose it later, on crossing the James, in order to rob the Confederates of their base of supplies, forcing Lee to evacuate Richmond and come out into the open, without supplies.

The Siege itself, if you call it a "siege," was directed at cutting Lee's rail communications from Petersburg, so that no new supplies could arrive. That he also conducted offensive operations, for the purpose of wearing the Confederates out, and perhaps crushing them if he managed a breakthrough, is also attrition warfare.

In short, the entire Siege of Petersburg, from Grant's motives for attacking it, to its execution and final fruition, were all based on his desire to fight a war of attrition.

In fact, his aggressiveness is what made it work. A less aggressive commander could not have sustained that offensive for 9 consecutive months, including in the winter.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
I can't figure this out. If Grant was so bad, why oh why did he win the Civil War? Surely Lee must have had something to do about it?

I just realized that sounds harsh for our Southern friends. Lee was the best general, in a pitched fight? But how did Grant win?

It's like Lee gave it to him on a plate.

I think it was the body count.
It was a war of nutrition and the Union had most of the nutrition.
 

lelliott19

Brigadier General
Moderator
* OFFICIAL *
CWT PRESENTER
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
He is hardly a model of virtue when he owned slaves and seceded
Just a quick correction. At the time of secession, Longstreet no longer owned enslaved people. I believe his father had owned 24 enslaved people in South Carolina in 1820. By 1850, two enslaved people - a woman age 25 and a young girl age 13 - were enumerated as being owned by James Longstreet in San Antonio, Texas. If that is indeed the future General James Longstreet, he was then age 29 and stationed in Texas. For info about Longstreet in 1860, see previous thread on the subject https://civilwartalk.com/threads/did-longstreet-own-slaves.160563
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Just a quick correction. At the time of secession, Longstreet no longer owned enslaved people. I believe his father had owned 24 enslaved people in South Carolina in 1820. By 1850, two enslaved people - a woman age 25 and a young girl age 13 - were enumerated as being owned by James Longstreet in San Antonio, Texas. If that is indeed the future General James Longstreet, he was then age 29 and stationed in Texas. For info about Longstreet in 1860, see previous thread on the subject https://civilwartalk.com/threads/did-longstreet-own-slaves.160563

Yeah, so he owned slaves.

Not too uncommon for people in the South in that day.
 

Cycom

Corporal
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
Just a quick correction. At the time of secession, Longstreet no longer owned enslaved people. I believe his father had owned 24 enslaved people in South Carolina in 1820. By 1850, two enslaved people - a woman age 25 and a young girl age 13 - were enumerated as being owned by James Longstreet in San Antonio, Texas. If that is indeed the future General James Longstreet, he was then age 29 and stationed in Texas. For info about Longstreet in 1860, see previous thread on the subject https://civilwartalk.com/threads/did-longstreet-own-slaves.160563
I mean no offense by this question, but what relevance does this have?

Genuinely curious…and apologies if it’s been explained before, but I just can’t muster the energy to go back in the thread.
 

lelliott19

Brigadier General
Moderator
* OFFICIAL *
CWT PRESENTER
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
I mean no offense by this question, but what relevance does this have?

Genuinely curious…and apologies if it’s been explained before, but I just can’t muster the energy to go back in the thread.
None. And don't worry no offense taken. It was a comment earlier in the thread. I was just answering it. Sorry to interrupt.
 

Cycom

Corporal
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
I have no idea what you were talking about, unless you mean the Confederate army was nearly starved into submission, in which case I mostly agree.
I believe what was meant was that the North had the complete advantage of supplies and infrastructure, meaning that they were well fed in comparison to their adversaries.
 

Jantzen64

Private
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
I counted 5 paragraphs based on the edition I had in my copy of Grant's memoirs, which contain a copy of the report.

And I never said Grant lost his aggressiveness. On the contrary, I believe wholeheartedly that he was one of, if not the single most aggressive commander the North had, and certainly up there with Jackson and Lee in terms of aggressiveness.

What I said was that the Siege of Petersburg was a campaign of attrition. Look at the underlined bold part in your quote, Grant says he wants to concentrate forces against the enemy to deprive them of reinforcing each other through their inner lines of communications.

That is what he did by having Sherman attack Johnston, while he attacked Lee in Virginia. And It Worked.

However, his first plan in Virginia was to "find Lee's army and destroy it." Those orders are famous and I deem need no citation. Those were his orders to Meade.

That failing, as it did in the Overland Campaign, he shifted to plan 2, which you quoted in light blue font. That second plan was attrition, which is what the Siege of Petersburg was, being that Petersburg itself was a supply depot, and was never part of the original campaign plan. Grant chose it later, on crossing the James, in order to rob the Confederates of their base of supplies, forcing Lee to evacuate Richmond and come out into the open, without supplies.

The Siege itself, if you call it a "siege," was directed at cutting Lee's rail communications from Petersburg, so that no new supplies could arrive. That he also conducted offensive operations, for the purpose of wearing the Confederates out, and perhaps crushing them if he managed a breakthrough, is also attrition warfare.

In short, the entire Siege of Petersburg, from Grant's motives for attacking it, to its execution and final fruition, were all based on his desire to fight a war of attrition.

In fact, his aggressiveness is what made it work. A less aggressive commander could not have sustained that offensive for 9 consecutive months, including in the winter.
You are misreading Grant's report when you argue that the two strategies referenced in the 4th/5th paragraph (denoted 'first"and "second") refer to some shift in strategy between the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg Siege. Those are two strategies that are complementary to each other and that Grant applied as General in Chief of all Union armies, not just the AotP. To confirm this, one need only look at the opening sentence of the next paragraph, where he says: "These views [NOTE USE OF PLURAL] have been kept constantly [Emphasis added] in mind, and orders given and campaigns made to carry them out." Grant clearly did not view those two strategies as mutual exclusive of each other in the way you are arguing. And, he did not view himself as shifting from the first strategy to the second.

Which really calls up the fundamental point. In looking back at this thread, the various posts don't seem to differ too much about the underlying facts (although we did have some disagreement about the facts around Early's invasion and Lee's plans once he was appointed GiC). Rather, the main disagreement is your desire to label Grant's actions at Petersburg as "attrition" and other posters' (including myself) argument that those actions don't qualify as an "attrition" in its strictest sense.

In post 202, I raised the possibility that we may be talking past each other by using different definitions of the term "attrition." I don't see that you responded to that point, so I'll re-raise it. How are you defining the term "attrition" when you claim that the entire siege of Petersburg was "based on Grant's desire to fight a war of attrition"? (And please don't just say you mean it in the way that Grant meant it because that is a tautology that does nothing to advance the discussion.) All warfare is based in some sense on attrition (i.e., killing the enemy or destroying their ability to age warfare). Yet "attrition" is sometimes used in juxtapostion/contrast to wars of maneuver, where emphasis is placed upon killing the enemy with little regard to one's on losses, with the understanding that you have greater troops/resources than your enemy. This strategy is not viewed as particularly honorable or skilled, and as OpnCoronet noted in Post 215, those in favor of the "Lost Cause" theory often try to place Grant "in that box."

Your most recent post appears to concede that the Overland Campaign was not one of "attrition" (however you are defining it), but the Petersburg Siege was. This once again begs the question of what definition or standard you are applying in making that judgment.

The appropriate label/characterization of Grant's generalship must take into account what Grant repeatedly points out in his Report; namely, that that the Overland Campaign largely deprived Lee of his ability to take on a large scale offensive (and he makes that point DESPITE Early's invasion because he is able to distinguish between a raid undertaken by a light corps and an offensive campaign undertaken by an army). The Campaign also demonstrated Lee's unwillingness to take the type of risks he was known for, now that Grant was in charge ("He [Lee] acted purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them . . . " Grant did adjust his strategy in light of these developments, but not to attrition in its narrowest sense. Grant did not continually assault the Petersburg works en masse without regard to casualties, simply to bleed Lee dry. Rather, he resorted to deception (i.e, the mine/Crater), local shifting of troops in small scale attacks, cavalry raids and the continued maneuvering to his left to cut off sources of supply. His goal was to create a situation where Lee either had to attack him or abandon the Confederacy's capitol. And, he held Lee in place (always looking for an opportunity to strike), allowing Sherman and Sheridan to continue their operations. It was a master work of the operational art - particularly in neutralizing the Confederacy's most potent weapon. And it most certainly was not simply throwing bodies at Lee in order to overwhelm him, as those who call Grant the "Butcher" contend . . .
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
You are misreading Grant's report when you argue that the two strategies referenced in the 4th/5th paragraph (denoted 'first"and "second") refer to some shift in strategy between the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg Siege. Those are two strategies that are complementary to each other and that Grant applied as General in Chief of all Union armies, not just the AotP. To confirm this, one need only look at the opening sentence of the next paragraph, where he says: "These views [NOTE USE OF PLURAL] have been kept constantly [Emphasis added] in mind, and orders given and campaigns made to carry them out." Grant clearly did not view those two strategies as mutual exclusive of each other in the way you are arguing. And, he did not view himself as shifting from the first strategy to the second.

Which really calls up the fundamental point. In looking back at this thread, the various posts don't seem to differ too much about the underlying facts (although we did have some disagreement about the facts around Early's invasion and Lee's plans once he was appointed GiC). Rather, the main disagreement is your desire to label Grant's actions at Petersburg as "attrition" and other posters' (including myself) argument that those actions don't qualify as an "attrition" in its strictest sense.

In post 202, I raised the possibility that we may be talking past each other by using different definitions of the term "attrition." I don't see that you responded to that point, so I'll re-raise it. How are you defining the term "attrition" when you claim that the entire siege of Petersburg was "based on Grant's desire to fight a war of attrition"? (And please don't just say you mean it in the way that Grant meant it because that is a tautology that does nothing to advance the discussion.) All warfare is based in some sense on attrition (i.e., killing the enemy or destroying their ability to age warfare). Yet "attrition" is sometimes used in juxtapostion/contrast to wars of maneuver, where emphasis is placed upon killing the enemy with little regard to one's on losses, with the understanding that you have greater troops/resources than your enemy. This strategy is not viewed as particularly honorable or skilled, and as OpnCoronet noted in Post 215, those in favor of the "Lost Cause" theory often try to place Grant "in that box."

Your most recent post appears to concede that the Overland Campaign was not one of "attrition" (however you are defining it), but the Petersburg Siege was. This once again begs the question of what definition or standard you are applying in making that judgment.

The appropriate label/characterization of Grant's generalship must take into account what Grant repeatedly points out in his Report; namely, that that the Overland Campaign largely deprived Lee of his ability to take on a large scale offensive (and he makes that point DESPITE Early's invasion because he is able to distinguish between a raid undertaken by a light corps and an offensive campaign undertaken by an army). The Campaign also demonstrated Lee's unwillingness to take the type of risks he was known for, now that Grant was in charge ("He [Lee] acted purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive immediately in front of them . . . " Grant did adjust his strategy in light of these developments, but not to attrition in its narrowest sense. Grant did not continually assault the Petersburg works en masse without regard to casualties, simply to bleed Lee dry. Rather, he resorted to deception (i.e, the mine/Crater), local shifting of troops in small scale attacks, cavalry raids and the continued maneuvering to his left to cut off sources of supply. His goal was to create a situation where Lee either had to attack him or abandon the Confederacy's capitol. And, he held Lee in place (always looking for an opportunity to strike), allowing Sherman and Sheridan to continue their operations. It was a master work of the operational art - particularly in neutralizing the Confederacy's most potent weapon. And it most certainly was not simply throwing bodies at Lee in order to overwhelm him, as those who call Grant the "Butcher" contend . . .

Grant clearly did have two separate plans, i.e. an original plan, and a secondary plan. His orders, "Find Lee's Army and destroy It" to Meade indicate his original plan. When this failed, as it did in the Overland Campaign, he resorted to a war of attrition, his "back up plan." This is evident, because he targeted Petersburg for the first time after the Overland Campaign failed. He needed to shift strategy, targeting the Confederate base of supplies, rather than Lee's army directly.

You are projecting by saying "attrition" is not honorable, and you define it well enough in your own terms. It is as simple as Grant explained it, although you do not want to hear that answer, that is, Grant was to "hammer away," i.e. inflicting as many casualties as possible, knowing that the Confederates could not replace him. That was his strategy, as he wrote, using both the terms "attrition" and his definition of it, which I agree with wholeheartedly. It is of course honorable, unless you somehow think Grant winding up the war in less than a year and crushing the most formidable Confederate army in the field (Appomattox) is somehow not honorable, and you want to nit pick how he did it, believing that he "should have" fought Lee in the field, which would have been more "honorable." This is certainly the first time I've read that sieges or attrition warfare are "dishonorable" or any sort of conception like that. Alesia, Caesar's Greatest Siege, and arguably, his greatest battle, was a campaign of attrition, yet he gets all the credit in the world for it from historians. Again, this is this first time I've read or heard that sieges or "attrition" are dishonorable.

Again you bring up Early's invasion, which is just your unwillingness to concede, or in fact maybe you actually believe, that Grant would have done nothing to counter Early occupying the National Capitol. I disagree there, as you well know, but you can't get over it. Get over it.

When you quote Grant about Lee, you are also leaving out the fact that Grant ordered his men to "dig in" once they stopped to face Lee. Lee did take the offense, at the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, so clearly you and Grant are wrong on that accord, but the reason he could not maneuver like he once did was because Grant had his men dig earthworks, which prevent the type of maneuvering Lee was known for. Perhaps he expected Lee to do a backflip and land in his rear, as he said of his subordinates, and he anticipated this by having his men dig earthworks.

You are also leaving out the fact that Grant targeted Petersburg, simply and wholly for the purpose that it was Lee's base of supply. That is attrition, in that it deprives the enemy of resources. Grant knew this, as he stated in his report, and that is why he was willing t to target Lee's line of Supply at Petersburg. You also leave out that Grant's "hammering away," as he said, was with the intent to fight a war of "mere attrition, if in no other way..." So you are clearly leaving out Grant's own words and saying in effect, "Well, all war is attrition. That's war, all of it is. There's no need for the word 'attrition,' because all war is 'attrition,' therefore the point is moot." Which flies in the face of all military literature going back at least to the Peloponnesian War.

Simply put, Grant fought a war of ATTRITION at Petersburg, as he rightfully should have, not being able to defeat, let alone destroy, Lee in the open field. It was his only way of winning the war, as he wrote and anticipated when he wrote his official report as Lieutenant General. That you feel this is dishonorable is wholly on you, but rest assured you are the only person, as far as making the point explicit goes, who feels this way about attrition.

Surely you would have to discount every siege and attrition warfare ever conducted in history, in your vain attempt to have your favorite generals fight "honorable" battles in the field, according to romantic ideas of what warfare should be.
 

1950lemans

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 23, 2013
Location
Connecticut
Simple. Oh yes he did! If he didn't come on the field Lee would probably still be blocking passes, rushing the QB, etc. since he was in his own little home field. Ta-da, it was over in five months.
 

Cycom

Corporal
Joined
Feb 19, 2021
Location
Los Angeles, California
Crazy amount of back and forth in this thread. My takeaway, based on just what I’ve read here, is that Grant did indeed conduct attrition warfare. But like @American87 has alluded to: “so what?” It’s not like he was slaughtering civilians or starving then.

Attrition worked, he won.
 

Jantzen64

Private
Joined
Aug 10, 2019
We both seem to appreciate Grant's merit as a general, although the degree to which is unclear.

Our primary difference is your intent on labeling the Petersburg Campaign (but oddly not the Overland Campaign) as one of attrition, where I (and others) are pointing out that many aspects of that campaign do not fit the strict definition of a war of attrition because they ignore Grant's use of deception, maneuver and local concentration. It is telling that, despite your lengthy response, you continue to avoid defining the very term you suggest is critical to understanding the issue. Consequently, I suspect we're likely not going to resolve the issue. Nevertheless, you make a number of statements to which I'll repsond.


1. "Grant clearly did have two separate plans, i.e. an original plan, and a secondary plan."

Your statement is partially correct; he did change plans at the conclusion of the Overland Campaign. (see point 2 below). BUT, you are incorrect in characterizing the paragraphs 4/5 as reflecting that change in plans. The 4th/5th paragraph of his Report, upon which you have been basing your Petersburg "attrition" argument were not alternatives, but rather two complementary strategies - the first directed to coordination among different theaters and the second directed to the tempo of operations in each theater. See point 4 below.The tempo of operations runs along a spectrum and can include attrition, but the simple fact that Grant refers to it as one alternative only shows what he was prepared to do, not what he ultimately did (That's in the rest of the Report). See point 8 below as well.

2. "This is evident, because he targeted Petersburg for the first time after the Overland Campaign failed. He needed to shift strategy, targeting the Confederate base of supplies, rather than Lee's army directly."

Yes, Grant did shift his original strategy, as he pointed out in his Report and as highlighted in my last post. BUT it was not from one of maneuver to one of attrition. And it was not what he was referencing in the 4th/5th paragraph of his Report. He discusses the change in the later section of the report that I quoted (and which you ignore), where he says it became clear that Lee was unwilling to engage in an open field battle north of the James as the Overland Campaign progressed. That is what forced the change. As he explains in his Report, it was not a question of a different type of warfare, but one of WHERE he would force the final confrontation. Given Lee's change in tactics, Grant chose a different LOCATION. And, he even notes that this change in location was because he couldn't force the situation north of the James "without a greater sacrifice of life than I was willing to make . . . " Given this statement, it is difficult to believe that he would switch to a strategy which - by the strict definition - would have resulted in greater loss of life. These are Grant's own words from the very Report you have been relying upon for a number of posts now.

3. "You are projecting by saying "attrition" is not honorable, and you define it well enough in your own terms."

Again, you avoid defining the very term you want to argue about. To be clear, though, I personally don't view a war of attrition as somehow dishonorable; my point is that some folks - notably Lost Causers - view it as less skillful or honorable than other forms of warfare, in an effort to denigrate Grant's achievements over Lee. Is this what you believe? Are you a Lost Causer?

4. "Again you bring up Early's invasion, which is just your unwillingness to concede, or in fact maybe you actually believe, that Grant would have done nothing to counter Early occupying the National Capitol."

I have repeatedly challenged you to show me any evidence - not what-ifs, maybes or Harry Turtledove conjecture - that Early's invasion prompted Grant to in any way release his hold on Lee at Richmond/Petersburg. You have consistently chosen not to do so, because in fact there is none. You can speculate all you want about what would have happened had Lew Wallace not fought Monocacy, had Early not delayed a day to rest, or if Early had been armed with AK-47s (2 of those 3 are historically interesting, the other just popcorn), but those what-ifs reveal nothing about what type of campaign Grant was waging. The actual record shows that Grant dispatched the XIX and VI corps to deal with Early, but never took his "eyes off" of Lee even when Early was at Fort Stevens. So see? Even then, he was still doing both of the strategies referenced in the 4th/5th paragraph of his Report - marshalling troops at all points so there could be no reinforcement across departments AND keeping constant pressure on his opponents.

5. "When you quote Grant about Lee, you are also leaving out the fact that Grant ordered his men to "dig in" once they stopped to face Lee."

I'm not sure of the relevance of this point to your argument. Are you now saying that one of the defining aspects of attrition is the use of fieldworks? I can't respond more meaningfully unless you define that term you are so fond of using.

6. "Lee did take the offense, at the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, so clearly you and Grant are wrong on that accord,"

My bad; I only used the first half of the quote because I thought you said you were familiar with Grant's Report. The full quote is: "He acted purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive in front of them, and, where, in the case of repulse, he could easily retire behind them." [Italicized language to respond to argument] That was Grant's view - whether it was accurate, you cant say that Grant's Report shows that he believed that the AoNVa's maneuverability and offensive spirit hadn't been compromised. That's what Grant believed, as evidenced by his Report.

7. "You are also leaving out the fact that Grant targeted Petersburg, simply and wholly for the purpose that it was Lee's base of supply. That is attrition, in that it deprives the enemy of resources."

I don't see any evidence for the whole "simply and wholly" point. Grant was always trying to interpose himself (choose ground) where Lee would have to attack him because he was between Lee and Richmond. As discussed in point 2 above, Grant did change his strategy, but he wasn't targeting Petersburg in and of itself, he was still targeting Lee's army by forcing Lee to respond to his movements. And here, I note you come close to equating targeting a base of supplies with a war of attrition. Are you standing on that definition? Was Stonewall fighting a war of "attrition" when he targeted, captured and burnt the supply depot at Manassas Junction in 1862, forcing Pope to retreat/redeploy?

8. "You also leave out that Grant's "hammering away," as he said, was with the intent to fight a war of "mere attrition, if in no other way..."

I'm glad you left in the "if in no other way" part of the quote. Yes, Grant was prepared to do what was necessary, but the simple grammar and verbiage of the sentence shows that Grant was not defining his strategy as simply "attrition." Otherwise, why put in the "if in no other way" part?

9. "Simply put, Grant fought a war of ATTRITION at Petersburg, as he rightfully should have, not being able to defeat, let alone destroy, Lee in the open field. It was his only way of winning the war, as he wrote and anticipated when he wrote his official report as Lieutenant General."

Ahhh . . . we finally come down to the nub of it. In your view, the only way Grant could win the war was by waging a war of what you call "attrition", because Lee was just too good otherwise. That is the Lost Cause talking point. In actuality, note that Grant changed his approach (see point #2 above) not because "it was the only way of winning the war" (as you contend) but because continuing to force the issue north of the James in what might have become a classic war of attrition (i.e., throwing more bodies at Lee) would have caused "a greater sacrifice of life than I was willing to make . . ." If Grant was trying to fight a war of attrition, he simply would have thrown more troops at Lee, trusting that ultimately, the Union's superior numbers would tell. But he didn't do that. He engaged in what most historians agree was a move that thoroughly caught Lee by surprise; crossing the James, thus forcing Lee to respond to him.

Overall, a careful and considered reading of Grant's "official report as Lieutenant General" does not support your conclusion that Grant viewed the Petersburg campaign as the only way of winning the war, or that Grant viewed it as attrition.

But, to the point of your original post - yes, we can agree he won the Civil War.
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Simple. Oh yes he did! If he didn't come on the field Lee would probably still be blocking passes, rushing the QB, etc. since he was in his own little home field. Ta-da, it was over in five months.

Five months? More like 11, May '64-APril '65, but the general gist of your post is well taken, although I disagree it was as easy as "Ta-da" 😛
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Crazy amount of back and forth in this thread. My takeaway, based on just what I’ve read here, is that Grant did indeed conduct attrition warfare. But like @American87 has alluded to: “so what?” It’s not like he was slaughtering civilians or starving then.

Attrition worked, he won.

Exactly, thank you. Grant's men served loyally and bravely, racking up casualties but still eager to take the field and win the war, according to Grant's plan, attrition, which constant offensive raised their spirits to untold of heights in the history of the war.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Grant had one primary political rule, he never criticized the President. The comments about continual pressure, resulting in a victory through attrition, if not in any other way, are just paraphrasing for the public, what Lincoln had been trying to get from McClellan and Halleck.
Lincoln and McClellan had discussed it early in the conflict, but Halleck and others were unable to implement continual, co-ordinated pressure.
What Grant did was far worse, but much more effective.
The plan was to finish the blockade by capturing all the harbors and cities that had a railroad connection. He also was breaking down the railroad system of the Confederacy, which would make it impossible for food and forage to reach the armies, and also impossible to reach the few remaining cities of the Confederacy.
1. Farragut captured Mobile Bay.
2 Grant severed the railroad connection between Richmond and Weldon, NC.
3. Sherman captured the railroad town of Atlanta, GA. He did not even permanently occupy it. It was of very little value to the US.
4. Sheridan confiscated or destroyed everything in the Shenandoah Valley located close enough to a railroad to be valuable to the Confederate army in Richmond.
5. Sherman marched through Georgia and captured Savannah as intact city. He let the Confederate garrison flee the city, because he did not want a siege. He wanted the port, which was useful to the US.
6. Butler failed to hold his position north of Fort Fisher, and he was dismissed. Terry and Porter completed the operation, and Schofield was brought around from Tennessee and landed at Wilmington.
7. Grant severed the Southside Railroad connection to Richmond, and Lee abandoned Richmond and retreated mostly along the line of his last remaining railroad.

Grant was engaged in war against not just the army of the Confederacy. Sherman and Sheridan expressed it more directly. But Grant hid the hard truth that he abandoned Lincoln's preferences, and Grant pursued his own plan for a 6 state siege.
 
Last edited:

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
We both seem to appreciate Grant's merit as a general, although the degree to which is unclear.

Our primary difference is your intent on labeling the Petersburg Campaign (but oddly not the Overland Campaign) as one of attrition, where I (and others) are pointing out that many aspects of that campaign do not fit the strict definition of a war of attrition because they ignore Grant's use of deception, maneuver and local concentration. It is telling that, despite your lengthy response, you continue to avoid defining the very term you suggest is critical to understanding the issue. Consequently, I suspect we're likely not going to resolve the issue. Nevertheless, you make a number of statements to which I'll repsond.


1. "Grant clearly did have two separate plans, i.e. an original plan, and a secondary plan."

Your statement is partially correct; he did change plans at the conclusion of the Overland Campaign. (see point 2 below). BUT, you are incorrect in characterizing the paragraphs 4/5 as reflecting that change in plans. The 4th/5th paragraph of his Report, upon which you have been basing your Petersburg "attrition" argument were not alternatives, but rather two complementary strategies - the first directed to coordination among different theaters and the second directed to the tempo of operations in each theater. See point 4 below.The tempo of operations runs along a spectrum and can include attrition, but the simple fact that Grant refers to it as one alternative only shows what he was prepared to do, not what he ultimately did (That's in the rest of the Report). See point 8 below as well.

2. "This is evident, because he targeted Petersburg for the first time after the Overland Campaign failed. He needed to shift strategy, targeting the Confederate base of supplies, rather than Lee's army directly."

Yes, Grant did shift his original strategy, as he pointed out in his Report and as highlighted in my last post. BUT it was not from one of maneuver to one of attrition. And it was not what he was referencing in the 4th/5th paragraph of his Report. He discusses the change in the later section of the report that I quoted (and which you ignore), where he says it became clear that Lee was unwilling to engage in an open field battle north of the James as the Overland Campaign progressed. That is what forced the change. As he explains in his Report, it was not a question of a different type of warfare, but one of WHERE he would force the final confrontation. Given Lee's change in tactics, Grant chose a different LOCATION. And, he even notes that this change in location was because he couldn't force the situation north of the James "without a greater sacrifice of life than I was willing to make . . . " Given this statement, it is difficult to believe that he would switch to a strategy which - by the strict definition - would have resulted in greater loss of life. These are Grant's own words from the very Report you have been relying upon for a number of posts now.

3. "You are projecting by saying "attrition" is not honorable, and you define it well enough in your own terms."

Again, you avoid defining the very term you want to argue about. To be clear, though, I personally don't view a war of attrition as somehow dishonorable; my point is that some folks - notably Lost Causers - view it as less skillful or honorable than other forms of warfare, in an effort to denigrate Grant's achievements over Lee. Is this what you believe? Are you a Lost Causer?

4. "Again you bring up Early's invasion, which is just your unwillingness to concede, or in fact maybe you actually believe, that Grant would have done nothing to counter Early occupying the National Capitol."

I have repeatedly challenged you to show me any evidence - not what-ifs, maybes or Harry Turtledove conjecture - that Early's invasion prompted Grant to in any way release his hold on Lee at Richmond/Petersburg. You have consistently chosen not to do so, because in fact there is none. You can speculate all you want about what would have happened had Lew Wallace not fought Monocacy, had Early not delayed a day to rest, or if Early had been armed with AK-47s (2 of those 3 are historically interesting, the other just popcorn), but those what-ifs reveal nothing about what type of campaign Grant was waging. The actual record shows that Grant dispatched the XIX and VI corps to deal with Early, but never took his "eyes off" of Lee even when Early was at Fort Stevens. So see? Even then, he was still doing both of the strategies referenced in the 4th/5th paragraph of his Report - marshalling troops at all points so there could be no reinforcement across departments AND keeping constant pressure on his opponents.

5. "When you quote Grant about Lee, you are also leaving out the fact that Grant ordered his men to "dig in" once they stopped to face Lee."

I'm not sure of the relevance of this point to your argument. Are you now saying that one of the defining aspects of attrition is the use of fieldworks? I can't respond more meaningfully unless you define that term you are so fond of using.

6. "Lee did take the offense, at the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, so clearly you and Grant are wrong on that accord,"

My bad; I only used the first half of the quote because I thought you said you were familiar with Grant's Report. The full quote is: "He acted purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or feebly on the offensive in front of them, and, where, in the case of repulse, he could easily retire behind them." [Italicized language to respond to argument] That was Grant's view - whether it was accurate, you cant say that Grant's Report shows that he believed that the AoNVa's maneuverability and offensive spirit hadn't been compromised. That's what Grant believed, as evidenced by his Report.

7. "You are also leaving out the fact that Grant targeted Petersburg, simply and wholly for the purpose that it was Lee's base of supply. That is attrition, in that it deprives the enemy of resources."

I don't see any evidence for the whole "simply and wholly" point. Grant was always trying to interpose himself (choose ground) where Lee would have to attack him because he was between Lee and Richmond. As discussed in point 2 above, Grant did change his strategy, but he wasn't targeting Petersburg in and of itself, he was still targeting Lee's army by forcing Lee to respond to his movements. And here, I note you come close to equating targeting a base of supplies with a war of attrition. Are you standing on that definition? Was Stonewall fighting a war of "attrition" when he targeted, captured and burnt the supply depot at Manassas Junction in 1862, forcing Pope to retreat/redeploy?

8. "You also leave out that Grant's "hammering away," as he said, was with the intent to fight a war of "mere attrition, if in no other way..."

I'm glad you left in the "if in no other way" part of the quote. Yes, Grant was prepared to do what was necessary, but the simple grammar and verbiage of the sentence shows that Grant was not defining his strategy as simply "attrition." Otherwise, why put in the "if in no other way" part?

9. "Simply put, Grant fought a war of ATTRITION at Petersburg, as he rightfully should have, not being able to defeat, let alone destroy, Lee in the open field. It was his only way of winning the war, as he wrote and anticipated when he wrote his official report as Lieutenant General."

Ahhh . . . we finally come down to the nub of it. In your view, the only way Grant could win the war was by waging a war of what you call "attrition", because Lee was just too good otherwise. That is the Lost Cause talking point. In actuality, note that Grant changed his approach (see point #2 above) not because "it was the only way of winning the war" (as you contend) but because continuing to force the issue north of the James in what might have become a classic war of attrition (i.e., throwing more bodies at Lee) would have caused "a greater sacrifice of life than I was willing to make . . ." If Grant was trying to fight a war of attrition, he simply would have thrown more troops at Lee, trusting that ultimately, the Union's superior numbers would tell. But he didn't do that. He engaged in what most historians agree was a move that thoroughly caught Lee by surprise; crossing the James, thus forcing Lee to respond to him.

Overall, a careful and considered reading of Grant's "official report as Lieutenant General" does not support your conclusion that Grant viewed the Petersburg campaign as the only way of winning the war, or that Grant viewed it as attrition.

But, to the point of your original post - yes, we can agree he won the Civil War.

I did define attrition, you're just ignoring it because you believe "attrition" is not a part of war. You believe all war is "attrition" so any defitinition of it flies right over your head.

No, you are flat out incorrect in part 1. Grant did fight a war of attrition at Petersburg. That's why he targeted Petersburg and not Richmond or Lee's army. He was attacking Lee's advanced supply base, and the fact that you cannot see this questions if you've ever read about the Siege of Petersburg at all, or that you do not know, at least, what Petersburg was and what it meant to the Confederate War Effort.

You are also lying again about Early's invasion, which I responded to multiple times, but you are lying because you have a bug up your butt about Grant and will not concede any point that questions his infallibly as a commander. You in fact are attempting to redefine warfare, saying there is no such thing as "attrition," because you believe it is "dishonorable" and that Grant would do no such thing. Your hero-worship and outright love and slavery to Grant clouds all your military thinking if you do in fact think "all war is attrition," which you do, and that Grant was physically impossible of fighting a war of attrition, which you do think, because you believe there is no such thing as "attrition," all in an attempt to argue with yourself and clear Grant's name of your projected "dishonor ability" of his warfare, which he admitted to, I might add, and was quite clear and explicit as to it, but you just ignore it, saying "all warfare is attrition."

As to Earthworks, you said Lee was not his usual self, in the operational sense of the word. That is because you overlooked, or did not know, or refuse to know, that Grant ordered earthworks constructed whenever his army halted in front of Lee. That precludes Lee's customary warfare, because you cannot maneuver against earthworks like you can an army in the field. Had Lee attempted his usual practices of flanking, which he did at Spottsylvania, he would run squarely into Grant's earthworks, which he did at Spottsylvania. Again, this precludes the fact that you are familiar with the campaigns you are writing about.

As to point 7, you are lying again, or are who warped in your mind to defend Grant from your illusions of "dishonor," which are fake by the way, that you are arguing that Grant never targeted Petersburg. "No," you say, "he was just feinting in that direction to get Lee to come out into the open, you know, into the earthworks he already had built around Petersburg. It was all just some attempt to force Lee into the open." That is so bonkers that it again questions your legitimacy in this argument and why you're even here to defend Grant in this first place, which stems from your complete hero worship of the man and your disregard for anything militarily related to his campaigns, unless you can somehow make it stick in his defense.

And yes, "attrition" is when you fight to deprive the enemy of their supplies. Jackson's Second Manassas March falls into attrition under that category. I highly, highly recommend that you do some research on what "attrition warfare" is before you continue with any more of your bonkers and ludicrous points.

Grant wrote "if in no other way," because he meant he would fight a war of attrition "if in no other way" winning was possible. So when his Overland Campaign failed, and possibly during the Overland Campaign, he resorted to a campaign of attrition, which is depriving the enemy of his supplies, and "hammering away," as it were, until he was bled dry of men and resources. That is exactly what Grant did at Petersburg, you are so up your butt about being "dishonorable," that you will lie cheat and steal to deny it.

When you say "ahh now we get to the rub of it," you are projecting. You believe "attrition" is "dishonorable," to the point that you deny there is a such thing as "attrition warfare." You DO NOT want to admit that Grant fought this ghastly thing called "attrition," because in your mind, that's not a clean way to win a war. It reflects badly on his character as man, in your opinion. He didn't love his wife, or his kids, he couldn't be trusted with money, no, you believe he was "dishonorable" if he fought "attrition." And THAT IS THE RUB OF IT. Your allusion to "most historians" is the most obvious lie yet, because you are so bereft of reasonable argument that you throw out "most historians" in the attempt I'll believe you. But really, you are just up your butt about Grant being "dishonorable" about fighting a war of "attiriton"—HIS WORD—that you will lie cheat and steal to the point of denying there is a thing such as Attrition Warfare to begin with.

In short, you and another Grant crazy on here are the only two people I've ever read or heard or otherwise communicated with, who believe targeting supplies (Petersburg) and attacking the enemy to bleed them Dry (Grant's operations around Petersburg) are somehow not "attrition," because there is no such thing as "attrition," and therefor Grant was just conducting an "honorable war just like every body else." Doop-de-doo.
 

Similar threads

Top