Grant's heaviest loss

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Grant's heaviest loss

  • Leonidas Polk

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • John C. Pemberton

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    28

Saruman

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 10, 2011
U.S. Grant was ultimately the Union's most successful commander, but suffered a few bloodied noses along the way. Which Confederate General inflicted Grant's most notable defeat?

Leonidas Polk
Battle of Belmont, 7 November 1861. Grant's 3,100 strong expeditionary force attacked Polk's troops at Belmont and brushed aside Gideon Pillow's 2,500 poorly positioned troops. Polk counterattacked with an additional 2,500 troops under Benjamin Cheatham and compelled Grant's men to retreat. Grant lost 607 (20%) of his troops, his mess chest, his gold pen, and his finest horse. He was lucky to survive the battle as Confederate soldiers had him in their sights but Cheatham instructed them not to shoot out of a sense of chivalry. He didn't recognize Grant and thought the Union General was merely a harmless straggler trying to find his way back to the main body of retreating Federals. Here is a picture of Polk:

Polk.jpg


Albert Sidney Johnston
First day of the battle of Shiloh, 6 April 1862. Johnston's 44,000 strong Army of Mississippi attacked Grant's unsuspecting 42,000 strong Army of the Tennessee encamped near Shiloh Church. Johnston's men drove the Union forces back to the northeast, in the direction of Pittsburg Landing. Johnston was mortally wounded inspiring the Confederate attack and the resultant lull enabled the Union army to stabilize and bolster their position near the landing with artillery. Later that evening, the arrival of Lew Wallace's division and Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio gave Grant the ability to counterattack on the 7th. However, on that first day, Grant lost 10,500 (25%) of his troops and was almost killed twice (his aide-de-camp was decapitated while riding beside Grant and then a canister shot hit Grant on his sword scabbard and bent it. An inch or two in either direction could have killed or mortally wounded him). Here is a picture of Johnston:

Johnston.jpg


John C. Pemberton
Second Vicksburg Assault, 22 May 1863. Grant's 45,000 strong Army of the Tennessee attacked Pemberton's 20,000 strong Vicksburg garrison in an attempt to capture the city without resorting to a siege. Lack of coordination and communication with his corps commanders resulted in a bloody repulse for Grant. The failure of the Union to defeat the Confederates in this action resulted in the start of the Siege of Vicksburg. His army lost 3,199 (7%) of its soldiers but only inflicted a mere 500 losses on Pemberton's defenders. Here is a picture of Pemberton:

Pemberton.png


Robert E. Lee
Battle of Cold Harbor, 31 May to 12 June 1864. Continuing his relentless drive towards Richmond in the Overland Campaign of 1864, Grant launched a frontal assault with his army of 117,000 men against Lee's entrenched 62,000 strong army at Cold Harbor. The Union attack was repulsed with heavy losses. Grant later wrote: "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. ... No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained." His army lost 12,738 (11%) of its men whereas Lee only suffered 5,287 losses. Here is a picture of Lee:

Lee.jpg


Pierre G.T. Beauregard
Battle of Petersburg, 15 to 18 June 1864. Grant attempted to capture Petersburg before it could be reinforced by Lee's entire army. Grant's 14,000 but gradually reinforced to 62,000 strong force repeatedly assaulted Beauregard's much smaller 5,000 but gradually reinforced to 38,000 strong army. The Union attacks were plagued by poor coordination and generalship and were repulsed with heavy losses. The failure of the Union to defeat the Confederates in these actions resulted in the start of the ten-month Siege of Petersburg. Grant lost 11,386 (18%) men compared to Beauregard and Lee's 4,000 losses. Here is a picture of Beauregard:

Beauregard.jpg
 
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This question unfortunately does not take into account the time frame covered. A single battle as opposed to a siege is not going to show true results. Since Lee was probably the longest involved in many battles, I will go with him
 

jackt62

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Location
New York City
In terms of significance, Belmont was not a consequential battle. Shiloh, despite heavy casualties and a surprise attack, ended up being a Union victory, as did Vicksburg. In contrast, Cold Harbor was a futile attempt to assault enemy entrenchments with nothing but mass casualties to show for it. The failure to seize Petersburg in June 1864 was more a colossal blunder on the part of the Union that led to a 10 month siege against the forces of General Lee. So in terms of casualties inflicted and ability to withstand Union efforts to achieve victory, I would most certainly vote for Lee as being Grant's most formidable opponent.
 
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Saruman

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This question unfortunately does not take into account the time frame covered. A single battle as opposed to a siege is not going to show true results. Since Lee was probably the longest involved in many battles, I will go with him
The five actions listed above are all single battles and tactical defeats for Grant. Which was the worst?
 

Saruman

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Jun 10, 2011
In terms of significance, Belmont was not a consequential battle. Shiloh, despite heavy casualties and a surprise attack, ended up being a Union victory, as did Vicksburg. In contrast, Cold Harbor was a futile attempt to assault enemy entrenchments with nothing but mass casualties to show for it. The failure to seize Petersburg in June 1864 was more a colossal blunder on the part of the Union that led to a 10 month siege against the forces of General Lee. So in terms of casualties inflicted and ability to withstand Union efforts to achieve victory, I would most certainly vote for Lee as being Grant's most formidable opponent.
That is true, but I feel that the size of Grant's army in 1864 meant that he could easily absorb the losses and these battles were not too disastrous. However, at Belmont his entire force was routed with heavy losses and he was almost killed. Same with Shiloh. His army was shattered and he was almost killed. Grant was lucky to survive personally and politically after these two early engagements.
 
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jackt62

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at Belmont his entire force was routed with heavy losses and he was almost killed.
Here is the description of the battle of Belmont from the National Park Service Civil War Battle Summaries:

"On November 6, 1861, Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant left Cairo, Illinois, by steamers, in conjunction with two gunboats, to make a demonstration against Columbus, Kentucky. The next morning, Grant learned that Confederate troops had crossed the Mississippi River from Columbus to Belmont, Missouri, to intercept two detachments sent in pursuit of Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson and, possibly, to reinforce Maj. Gen. Sterling Price's force. He landed on the Missouri shore, out of the range of Confederate artillery at Columbus, and started marching the mile to Belmont. At 9:00 in the morning, an engagement began. The Federals routed the Confederates out of their Belmont cantonment and destroyed the Rebel supplies and equipment they found because they did not have the means to carry them off. The scattered Confederate forces reorganized and received reinforcements from Columbus. Counterattacked by the Confederates, the Union force withdrew, reembarked, and returned to Cairo. Grant did not accomplish much in this operation, but, at a time when little Union action occurred anywhere, many were heartened by any activity."

Result(s) Union victory

US Est Casualties 498
CS Est Casualties 966
 

nc native

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I would have to pick Cold Harbor as the worst performance for General Grant in an otherwise great career as a Civil War General. Cold Harbor was the only battle that Grant had regrets about fighting afterwards, he admitted that if he had a do over, he would not order the charge on heavily fortified positions that he made there. Although he got caught with his pants down at Shiloh on the first day, his steady leadership rallied the Union forces and won a hard earned victory on the second day of fighting. The opportunity at Petersburg was thrown away due to Butler and the other generals who were in charge of that operation and Grant's attack at Second Vicksburg was understandable in that he tried to win the quick victory rather than settle down for siege warfare where he eventually prevailed. Belmont was a minor battle where Grant did not perform well as in later battles but that is understandable because it was his first time out of the gate and he learned from his mistakes there.
 

Saruman

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Joined
Jun 10, 2011
Here is the description of the battle of Belmont from the National Park Service Civil War Battle Summaries:

"On November 6, 1861, Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant left Cairo, Illinois, by steamers, in conjunction with two gunboats, to make a demonstration against Columbus, Kentucky. The next morning, Grant learned that Confederate troops had crossed the Mississippi River from Columbus to Belmont, Missouri, to intercept two detachments sent in pursuit of Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson and, possibly, to reinforce Maj. Gen. Sterling Price's force. He landed on the Missouri shore, out of the range of Confederate artillery at Columbus, and started marching the mile to Belmont. At 9:00 in the morning, an engagement began. The Federals routed the Confederates out of their Belmont cantonment and destroyed the Rebel supplies and equipment they found because they did not have the means to carry them off. The scattered Confederate forces reorganized and received reinforcements from Columbus. Counterattacked by the Confederates, the Union force withdrew, reembarked, and returned to Cairo. Grant did not accomplish much in this operation, but, at a time when little Union action occurred anywhere, many were heartened by any activity."

Result(s) Union victory

US Est Casualties 498
CS Est Casualties 966
That NPS summary is pretty inaccurate.

Strategically Belmont was a Union defeat because Fremont's objective of disrupting Confederate troop movements between Tennessee and Missouri was not achieved. Tactically Belmont was a Union defeat because Grant's men did not claim possession of the battlefield. Union losses were 607 and Confederate losses were 641.

Grant's supposed withdrawal was actually a rout:

"Despite the assertion of Grant and others that 'there was no hasty retreat or running away,' the retreat from Camp Johnston had degenerated into a rout... 'Something approaching panic struck the Union army.' Even the march of Logan's 'Dirty-first,' the lead regiment, 'at first was slow in order, but became more and more uncontrollable, until, all was in a mass of confusion, Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry - horseman and all were in a state of confusion mixed and intermixed - dropping guns, coats, blankets... on their flight."

"This retreat was the worst of all. It was there our noble fellows were killed. They were surrounded & each man had to fight his own way back."

Belmont was a Union defeat even to his own soldiers:

"[Grant] had not the courage to refuse to fight. The advantages were all against him & any permanent or substantial good an utter impossibility under the circumstances. I see that he & his friends call it a victory, but if such be victory, God save us from defeat. True, it demonstrated the courage and fighting qualities of our men, but it cost too much" - Colonel Wallace.

"Grant says that he achieved a victory and accomplished the object of his expedition. It may be so (the latter part of it) but almost everyone here doubts the story. He says his object was to threaten Columbus, to keep them from sending reinforcements to Price. Well he has threatened them, had a fight, and why they can't send reinforcements now as well as before, is more than I know. I never will believe that it was necessary to sacrifice two as good regiments as there were in the West, to accomplish all that I can see has been done this time" - Charles Wills.

And the northern press:

"There is no disguising the fact that we were defeated, and badly too" - St. Louis Missouri Weekly Democrat.

"The disastrous termination of the Cairo expedition to Columbus... Our troops have suffered a bad defeat" - Chicago Tribune.

"Belmont was a defeat for the union forces, and barely escaped being a disaster. It cost many good lives and resulted in very little, or nothing" - Louisville Daily Journal.
 
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DanSBHawk

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Tactically Belmont was a Union defeat because Grant's men did not claim possession of the battlefield.
That's assuming that possession of the battlefield was the objective. But it wasn't.

And a more comprehensive selection of opinions may tell a completely different story of the battle.
 
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Saruman

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That's assuming that possession of the battlefield was the objective. But it wasn't.

And a more comprehensive selection of opinions may tell a completely different story of the battle.
The objective was to disrupt Confederate troop movements from Tennessee and Missouri. This was not achieved.

Tactically he burnt a small camp. His force was routed and he lost 20% of his men. Belmont was a defeat.
 
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DanSBHawk

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The objective was to disrupt Confederate troop movements from Tennessee and Missouri. This was not achieved.

Tactically he burnt a small camp. His force was routed and he lost 20% of his men. Belmont was a defeat.
Grant's orders were for a demonstration, which was keep Polk on edge and concerned with the defense of Columbus. That objective succeeded. Polk continued to obsess over the defense of Columbus, rather than taking the offensive or giving more attention to holding the two rivers to the east.

Grant decided he wanted a fight instead of a demonstration. His green troops got some valuable experience and confidence. They gave better than they took. While it wasn't a stunning success, it was not a defeat either.
 

jackt62

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Strategically Belmont was a Union defeat because Fremont's objective of disrupting Confederate troop movements between Tennessee and Missouri was not achieved. Tactically Belmont was a Union defeat because Grant's men did not claim possession of the battlefield.
While there may be differences of opinion on the tactical outcome of Belmont, the battle was not important enough to tilt the strategic situation either way, let alone be a defeat for the Union as regards the disruption of Confederate troop movements. Grant achieved some limited goals of bringing his raw troops under fire and showing the flag at a critical time and in a disputed area. There isn't much to say beyond that.
 

Saruman

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Grant's orders were for a demonstration, which was keep Polk on edge and concerned with the defense of Columbus. That objective succeeded. Polk continued to obsess over the defense of Columbus, rather than taking the offensive or giving more attention to holding the two rivers to the east.
No, Fremont's orders were to "send a force from Cape Girardeau and Bird's Point to assist Carlin in driving Thompson into Arkansas" and then "stating that the enemy was reinforcing Price's Army from Columbus by way of White River, and directing that the demonstration that had been ordered against Columbus, be immediately made."

Since the battle of Belmont had no effect on Confederate troop movements from Tennessee and Missouri, it can be considered a strategic failure. The fact that it contributed to Polk ignoring the two rivers to the east was inadvertent outcome.

Grant decided he wanted a fight instead of a demonstration. His green troops got some valuable experience and confidence. They gave better than they took. While it wasn't a stunning success, it was not a defeat either.
No they didn't give better than they took. They were similarly routed, like Pillow's troops had been. If gaining experience is the definition of victory, then Polk's troops also gained experience and confidence, and let's call it a Confederate victory.
 
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DanSBHawk

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No, Fremont's orders were to "send a force from Cape Girardeau and Bird's Point to assist Carlin in driving Thompson into Arkansas" and then "stating that the enemy was reinforcing Price's Army from Columbus by way of White River, and directing that the demonstration that had been ordered against Columbus, be immediately made."

Since the battle of Belmont had no effect on Confederate troop movements from Tennessee and Missouri, it can be considered a strategic failure. The fact that it contributed to Polk ignoring the two rivers to the east was inadvertent outcome.
And the day before, on Nov 1st, Grant received this order from Fremont:

You are hereby directed to hold your whole command ready to march at an hour's notice, until further orders, and you will take particular care to be amply supplied with transportation and ammunition. You are also directed to make demonstration with your troops along both sides of the river towards Charleston, Norfolk, and Blandville, and to keep your columns constantly moving back and forward against these places, without, however, attacking the enemy.​
 

DanSBHawk

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No they didn't give better than they took. They were similarly routed, like Pillow's troops had been. If gaining experience is the definition of victory, then Polk's troops also gained experience and confidence, and let's call it a Confederate victory.
From the outcome of the war in the western theatre, I think we can determine which side put that experience and confidence to better use.
 

Saruman

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And the day before, on Nov 1st, Grant received this order from Fremont:

You are hereby directed to hold your whole command ready to march at an hour's notice, until further orders, and you will take particular care to be amply supplied with transportation and ammunition. You are also directed to make demonstration with your troops along both sides of the river towards Charleston, Norfolk, and Blandville, and to keep your columns constantly moving back and forward against these places, without, however, attacking the enemy.​
Grant's action at Belmont failed to disrupt troop movements between Tennessee and Missouri, and he disobeyed the order to not attack. Grant suffered a defeat with 20% casualties for nothing.

"Grant says that he achieved a victory and accomplished the object of his expedition. It may be so (the latter part of it) but almost everyone here doubts the story. He says his object was to threaten Columbus, to keep them from sending reinforcements to Price. Well he has threatened them, had a fight, and why they can't send reinforcements now as well as before, is more than I know. I never will believe that it was necessary to sacrifice two as good regiments as there were in the West, to accomplish all that I can see has been done this time" - Charles Wills.
 
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Saruman

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From the outcome of the war in the western theatre, I think we can determine which side put that experience and confidence to better use.
Union victory in the west was more to due to the preponderance of men and supplies. Plus total naval domination of the rivers. The average Union and Confederate soldier was fairly comparable in terms of fighting ability, experience, and confidence.
 

DanSBHawk

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Grant's action at Belmont failed to disrupt troop movements between Tennessee and Missouri, and he disobeyed the order to not attack. Grant suffered a defeat with 20% casualties for nothing.
Although Grant later wrote of a rumored troop movement from Polk in Columbus to Price in Missouri, that was not happening before or after the battle of Belmont.

Polks troops were being sent east not west, to Buckner and AS Johnson in Bowling Green and the Cumberland Gap.

William Feis, in his book Grant's Secret Service, wrote why Grant felt Belmont was a victory:
"From [Grant's] perspective it had emboldened Union forces while striking fear among the Columbus garrison, who now worked feverishly to strengthen their works in preparation for the inevitable Federal onslaught. But Belmont had only stoked his desire for a major offensive."​

And this brings to mind why this thread seems a bit off to me. I didn't vote for any of the above, because Grant did not consider himself defeated by any of them. At most, he considered them temporary setbacks before he achieved victory.
 
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