Overland Grants Generalship in the Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Did Grant have huff-duff? ;-) Leigh lights?
In effect, yes. The Signal Corps had posts of observation tasked with capturing contrabands ( CSA signals). Tapping into CSA telegraphic coms was routine. At night, a human with normal vision can see a candle at a mile. The longest visual signal recorded during the Civil War was sent by turpentine torch. On very cold clear nights, Fort Transit Station ten miles east of Murfreesboro TN signaled directly to Fort Negley in Nashville. That is 41 miles.

An excellent source for the Signal Corps / AoP is the 10 Volume Photographic History of the Civil War. The photos of the hugely tall signal towers is eye opening. The Signal Corps is a part of the war that few if any CW enthusiasts have any understanding of.
 
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wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
Grant had two months to prepare for the campaign. He knew that the Eastern Theater was where generals lost their careers and commands, and he did not want to go there. By the time he took command he probably had cautionary advice from Howard, Hooker and Miegs. Its impossible to know when he decided that Hooker had not been as badly beaten at Chanc. as General Hooker thought. But somewhere in the process he came to the conclusion that the Army of Potomac had enormous powers of recovery.

The one immediate change he made was to bring Sheridan east, and continue the process of having the cavalry fight independently, usually conducting its own raids on the Virginia countryside. General Meade did not like this, as he had not like Pleasonton's plan to do the same thing.
But Grant's experience in the west was that both sides had successfully employed fast moving cavalry raids.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Grant had two months to prepare for the campaign. He knew that the Eastern Theater was where generals lost their careers and commands, and he did not want to go there. By the time he took command he probably had cautionary advice from Howard, Hooker and Miegs. Its impossible to know when he decided that Hooker had not been as badly beaten at Chanc. as General Hooker thought. But somewhere in the process he came to the conclusion that the Army of Potomac had enormous powers of recovery.

The one immediate change he made was to bring Sheridan east, and continue the process of having the cavalry fight independently, usually conducting its own raids on the Virginia countryside. General Meade did not like this, as he had not like Pleasonton's plan to do the same thing.
But Grant's experience in the west was that both sides had successfully employed fast moving cavalry raids.
The problem with the AoP cavalry was that most of it was deployed as convoy guards & the like.
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
The one immediate change he made was to bring Sheridan east, and continue the process of having the cavalry fight independently, usually conducting its own raids on the Virginia countryside. General Meade did not like this, as he had not like Pleasonton's plan to do the same thing.

But I have read, or have had it noted by our Cavalry experts in this forum, that Grant and Sheridan's advocacy of independent cavalry raids were not a particularly effective means of utilizing the cavalry. Rather than going off on glory seeking adventures, the cavalry could have been more useful as an adjunct of the infantry in clearing and protecting the main axis of advance.
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage by Grady McWhinney and Perry Jamieson
Probably a good idea to read Battle Tactics of the Civil War by Paddy Griffith, too.

I've read them both and if memory serves me correctly, the McWhinney/Jamieson book posits that the "Celtic" heritage of many southerners and their ancestors imbued that population with a more war-like attitude and a highly aggressive way of doing battle. That is an intriguing argument, but one that is very difficult to test and confirm. Yes, there were likely differences in the cultural backgrounds of southerners and northerners but to identify what those actually were, and whether they made any difference is not for me to say. For that matter, where northern soldiers any less aggressive in battle than their southern counterparts?
 

wausaubob

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The first casualty in the east was General Sedgwick, who was killed by a sniper. Wright took over and was not experienced. But the VIth Corp eventually became Grant's shock troops.
 

wausaubob

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But I have read, or have had it noted by our Cavalry experts in this forum, that Grant and Sheridan's advocacy of independent cavalry raids were not a particularly effective means of utilizing the cavalry. Rather than going off on glory seeking adventures, the cavalry could have been more useful as an adjunct of the infantry in clearing and protecting the main axis of advance.
It seems that way. But the raiding was gradually destroying the Virginia agricultural economy. The process accelerated when Sheridan and Wright and Crook were in the Shenandoah Valley. And the outcome to which the process seemed to be pointed was to have Sheridan and the cavalry brigades, assisted by the Vth division commanders, cut off first a piece of the Confederate army and then the entire army. He needed people to act independently, evaluating the situation and acting with celerity. The process had to be balanced with keeping Meade in the chain of command so that there would not be another Warren incident.
 

wausaubob

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As far as dismissing Warren in favor of Griffin, it was probably technically wrong, but it worked. The US won the Five Forks battle and the war in Virginia ended 8 days later, saving many lives and enormous expenses.
 

wausaubob

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Denver, CO
The US cavalry raids continued and became larger. It was a strategy that had to work in the end. Once the Confederates lost access to Kentucky and Tennessee and Texas was cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, the Confederates were going to run out of horses and the horses they kept alive were going to become steadily weaker. In the end the US cavalry was going to be able to conduct raids that the Confederates could not effectively oppose.
 

trice

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May 2, 2006
I've read them both and if memory serves me correctly, the McWhinney/Jamieson book posits that the "Celtic" heritage of many southerners and their ancestors imbued that population with a more war-like attitude and a highly aggressive way of doing battle. That is an intriguing argument, but one that is very difficult to test and confirm. Yes, there were likely differences in the cultural backgrounds of southerners and northerners but to identify what those actually were, and whether they made any difference is not for me to say. For that matter, where northern soldiers any less aggressive in battle than their southern counterparts?
I never bought in to the "Celtic heritage" idea when I read Attack and Die!. There might be a little bit to it, I just thought the authors played it up too much.

I do have one North/South "cultural" idea that intrigues me. I saw once that before the Civil War men in "the South" tended to ride saddle horses when they went anywhere and men in "the North" tended to drive wagons or buggies. I am not sure how universal that might have been. When I look at the early days of the war and see the difference in cavalry effectiveness, I wonder if that "cultural" difference isn't responsible for most of it.

In Europe at the time, it was considered that it took maybe six months to turn a raw recruit into an infantryman and a year or more to turn him into a cavalryman (two years for a lancer). If the horse/buggy "cultural" idea stands, it would put the Union Confederate cavalry far ahead in individual training (much less falling off horses, better ability to move off-road, better skills at caring for horses, etc.) Both sides would still need to do the unit training (riding and maneuvering in formation, tactics, etc.), but the Southerner would start out way ahead on the individual skills needed. Might have been a bit of an East/West differential for "the North" if westerners rode horses more than easterners.

In general, I think the soldiers of "the North" and "the South" fought in similar style and fashion, particularly as the war went on.
 
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wausaubob

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In terms of land armies, in the east the Confederates had an advantage. But in the navy, most of the professional officers stayed in the US navy, including DuPont, Farragut and S. Phillips Lee. Most of the international naval manpower worked out of the northern ports and they had turned away from the slave trade and slavery well before the US Civil War began.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I never bought in to the "Celtic heritage" idea when I read Attack and Die!. There might be a little bit to it, I just thought the authors played it up too much.

I do have one North/South "cultural" idea that intrigues me. I saw once that before the Civil War men in "the South" tended to ride saddle horses when they went anywhere and men in "the North" tended to drive wagons or buggies. I am not sure how universal that might have been. When I look at the early days of the war and see the difference in cavalry effectiveness, I wonder if that "cultural" difference isn't responsible for most of it.

In Europe at the time, it was considered that it took maybe six months to turn a raw recruit into an infantryman and a year or more to turn him into a cavalryman (two years for a lancer). If the horse/buggy "cultural" idea stands, it would put the Union Confederate cavalry far ahead in individual training (much less falling off horses, better ability to move off-road, better skills at caring for horses, etc.) Both sides would still need to do the unit training (riding and maneuvering in formation, tactics, etc.), but the Southerner would start out way ahead on the individual skills needed. Might have been a bit of an East/West differential for "the North" if westerners rode horses more than easterners.

In general, I think the soldiers of "the North" and "the South" fought in similar style and fashion, particularly as the war went on.
This is an interesting cultural twist. A remarkable number of Southern cavalry units were made up of mounted slave patrolers. They arrived in camp fully equipped with shotguns, saddles of some kind & lifelong horsemanship skills. In the North, farm boys saw joining the army as a chance to get away from working with horses. A surprising number of Union cavalry regiments were raised up In cities. It is often said that city boys had romantic notions of what the cavalry was all about. Those men had to be trained from scratch.

This is obviously a broad brush observation. However, here in Middle Tennessee, that scenario did play out. In June 1863, at the start of the Tullahoma Campaign, Wheeler’s poorly trained troopers were steam rolled by the AoC troopers who had graduated from a year of the hard school of regulation training. Slave patrolers armed with shotguns ran for their lives when confronted by saber charges by men armed with repeaters at Shelbyville.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
But I have read, or have had it noted by our Cavalry experts in this forum, that Grant and Sheridan's advocacy of independent cavalry raids were not a particularly effective means of utilizing the cavalry. Rather than going off on glory seeking adventures, the cavalry could have been more useful as an adjunct of the infantry in clearing and protecting the main axis of advance.
The smoking ruins in the Shenandoah & the battered remnant of Early’s force might argue against that conclusion.
 

rpkennedy

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Carlisle, PA
But I have read, or have had it noted by our Cavalry experts in this forum, that Grant and Sheridan's advocacy of independent cavalry raids were not a particularly effective means of utilizing the cavalry. Rather than going off on glory seeking adventures, the cavalry could have been more useful as an adjunct of the infantry in clearing and protecting the main axis of advance.

If more of the cavalry had been available, they may have been able to clear the Confederate cavalry out of the way, allowing the AotP to win the race to Spotsylvania, leaving Lee in a much tougher spot.

Ryan
 

jackt62

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New York City
This is an interesting cultural twist. A remarkable number of Southern cavalry units were made up of mounted slave patrolers. They arrived in camp fully equipped with shotguns, saddles of some kind & lifelong horsemanship skills. In the North, farm boys saw joining the army as a chance to get away from working with horses. A surprising number of Union cavalry regiments were raised up In cities. It is often said that city boys had romantic notions of what the cavalry was all about. Those men had to be trained from scratch.

There must be a certain amount of truth to that. I have been reminded that southern boys were better horsemen, either because they were exposed to horsemanship as part of the rural economy and lifestyle and conversely because many northern boys with more urban backgrounds lacked exposure to field animals of any kind. That also holds true for firearms; southerners might have had more use and training with them as opposed to those from the north.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
There must be a certain amount of truth to that. I have been reminded that southern boys were better horsemen, either because they were exposed to horsemanship as part of the rural economy and lifestyle and conversely because many northern boys with more urban backgrounds lacked exposure to field animals of any kind. That also holds true for firearms; southerners might have had more use and training with them as opposed to those from the north.
I find this topic interesting because when Rosecrans took over the 24th Corps in Nashville Oct 2862, the cavalry could not have been more pathetic. A regiment of Philadelphia blue bloods had appointed themselves as Rosecrans’ H Q guard. When they were ordered to fight, they mutinied. It is quite a tale. Most of the 14th Corps cavalry had no weapons or horses. Seven months later, they were knocking the snot out of Wheeler’s Corps. That is quite a story, too.
 

Irishtom29

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Kent, Washington
There must be a certain amount of truth to that. I have been reminded that southern boys were better horsemen, either because they were exposed to horsemanship as part of the rural economy and lifestyle and conversely because many northern boys with more urban backgrounds lacked exposure to field animals of any kind. That also holds true for firearms; southerners might have had more use and training with them as opposed to those from the north.

I read somewhere, I don't remember where, the interesting notion that northerners familiar with horses (and there must have been more people familiar with horses in the North than in the South) preferred being infantry because, well, who wants the hassles of looking after a horse? With no social status involved Yankee practicality won out.

I don't know if it's true but it's worth a thought.
 

wausaubob

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The Second Corps may want a word with you. :D

Ryan
The II Corp was the original strike force. But Grant kept the VI Corp out of the trenches and let them be supplied out of Washington. He saved them for the Petersberg breakthrough. He took care of this group and arranged the final break through attempt carefully. They were the soldiers that were taught to advance without shooting back.
 

Jamieva

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The II Corp was the original strike force. But Grant kept the VI Corp out of the trenches and let them be supplied out of Washington. He saved them for the Petersberg breakthrough. He took care of this group and arranged the final break through attempt carefully. They were the soldiers that were taught to advance without shooting back.

The II corps was truly Grant's right arm all the way up to the initial attack on Petersburg. They always were at the point of the spear from the Wilderness through there, and the casualty numbers and battle fatigue took its toll.
 
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