Inchon 1864?

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jackt62

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The curious name of this thread relates to a question I have about Grant's operations in Virginia in the spring of 1864. Specifically, was it not possible for Grant to mount an amphibious style landing up the James River and land in the rear of Confederate forces commanded by Lee and Beauregard? In other words, a military operation similar to that launched by Douglas MacArthur in September 1950 when US forces successfully landed behind enemy lines in Inchon, South Korea, beginning a drive to oust the North Koreans from Seoul and the Pusan perimeter in South Korea.

Under this scenario, rather than commence the Overland Campaign, would Grant and the Armies of the Potomac and James have been able to pull off a landing possibly near City Point or Harrison's Landing on the James River and quickly strike towards lightly defended Petersburg? Such an operation would have to be a combined Army-Navy affair, but the federal experience with landing troops along the Peninsula and the Carolina coasts in 1862 shows that the Union was capable of mounting such an effort. Essentially, under this plan, Grant would have begun his campaign where he in fact, ended up in mid June 1864, when after countless casualties and failure to flank and destroy the ANV, the AOTP crossed the James River and began the encirclement of Petersburg. I completely understand the opposition that this concept would have aroused in the Lincoln administration because it would have left the ANV between Grant and Washington DC. But a swift strike by Grant towards Petersburg and Richmond would very likely have caused Lee to turn his attention southwards, rather than towards the Washington area and possibly have ended the war by the summer of 1864.

Anyway, all thoughts are welcomed!
 

Dead Parrott

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Solid question, and one that has been discussed here at different levels in different threads.

The conclusions to date seemed to suggest that Grant had indeed envisioned a similar attack, but the political pressure from the north (and from Lincoln) proved too strong in insisting on keeping an army between Lee and Washington. Grant did design an excellent multi-pronged attack which, if executed with any skill, would likely have ended the war in 1864. However, political generals on other fronts absolutely bungled things, leaving everything up to the Overland Campaign (thus increasing the difficulty and bloodshed).

Still, results count - in less than eight weeks, the ANV was removed as a field force and trapped in an unwinnable and inescapable siege.

Your question is a great one though, and it has been explored both for Grant in 1864 and for McClellan earlier (presuming better execution by McClellan). It's a good hypothetical!
 

Belfoured

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Solid question, and one that has been discussed here at different levels in different threads.

The conclusions to date seemed to suggest that Grant had indeed envisioned a similar attack, but the political pressure from the north (and from Lincoln) proved too strong in insisting on keeping an army between Lee and Washington. Grant did design an excellent multi-pronged attack which, if executed with any skill, would likely have ended the war in 1864. However, political generals on other fronts absolutely bungled things, leaving everything up to the Overland Campaign (thus increasing the difficulty and bloodshed).

Still, results count - in less than eight weeks, the ANV was removed as a field force and trapped in an unwinnable and inescapable siege.

Your question is a great one though, and it has been explored both for Grant in 1864 and for McClellan earlier (presuming better execution by McClellan). It's a good hypothetical!
Good points. I would add that there's been a lot of "over compensation" by those who (to some extent with justification) bash decision-making by Lincoln, Stanton, et al. which was based on concerns about the vulnerability of Washington. It was the nation's capital, after all, and as evidenced by Early's campaign in late June - July, 1864, the CSA still saw it as an important target. Whether the hypothetical of an "Inchon-style" offensive would have left Washington sufficiently denuded and whether Lee would have taken advantage are very much open questions but I get the administration's concerns. The irony is that the premise of this line of attack by Grant was a belief that the ANV would have to respond to defend Richmond.
 
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jackt62

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It is interesting that after the failure of McClellan's 1862 offensive, the Union basically gave up on the water route in favor of the overland route. But the overland route failed again and again in the northern offensives of November 1862, May 1863, and May 1864.
 

Carronade

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Grant did launch an amphibious assault up the James towards Petersburg; unfortunately it became one of those things bungled by political generals that @Dead Parrott mentioned. Perhaps if that operation had been carried out in greater strength and with a more competent and aggressive commander?

A stronger attack at Bermuda Hundred or thereabouts might not conflict with engaging the ANV. Grant's goal in the Overland campaign was to draw Lee out into open ground where the combat power of the AofP could be used to maximum effect. He might have had a better opportunity if Lee's army, or part of it, was forced to move towards Richmond.

The security of Washington was a legitimate concern, but it did not mean that large Union forces should stand idle waiting to see if the rebels made a lunge towards the capital. The way to protect Washington was to fight and beat the Confederate army, preferably under more favorable circumstances than the Wilderness.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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The curious name of this thread relates to a question I have about Grant's operations in Virginia in the spring of 1864. Specifically, was it not possible for Grant to mount an amphibious style landing up the James River and land in the rear of Confederate forces commanded by Lee and Beauregard? In other words, a military operation similar to that launched by Douglas MacArthur in September 1950 when US forces successfully landed behind enemy lines in Inchon, South Korea, beginning a drive to oust the North Koreans from Seoul and the Pusan perimeter in South Korea.
Under this scenario, rather than commence the Overland Campaign, would Grant and the Armies of the Potomac and James have been able to pull off a landing possibly near City Point or Harrison's Landing on the James River and quickly strike towards lightly defended Petersburg? Such an operation would have to be a combined Army-Navy affair, but the federal experience with landing troops along the Peninsula and the Carolina coasts in 1862 shows that the Union was capable of mounting such an effort. Essentially, under this plan, Grant would have begun his campaign where he in fact, ended up in mid June 1864, when after countless casualties and failure to flank and destroy the ANV, the AOTP crossed the James River and began the encirclement of Petersburg. I completely understand the opposition that this concept would have aroused in the Lincoln administration because it would have left the ANV between Grant and Washington DC. But a swift strike by Grant towards Petersburg and Richmond would very likely have caused Lee to turn his attention southwards, rather than towards the Washington area and possibly have ended the war by the summer of 1864.
Anyway, all thoughts are welcomed!
An "Inchon" type operation could have been executed. Washington was well fortified and manned.
Grant might have taken Hancock and 25,000 men up the James, while Meade advanced over the Rapidan and Butler feinted toward Richmond.
Petersburg probably would have fallen to Hancock, as Beauregard could not have defended both Richmond and Petersburg in force.
At the same time, Hunter would advance toward the rail line between Lynchburg and Richmond. And march to join Hancock.
Lee would be in a pickle.
Hunter might be diverted for a while, but he would be reinforced. Even if Beauregard can hold Petersburg, Richmond, and Lee's army will be cut off from the Confederacy. There would be sufficient Federal force to cut the rail line between Petersburg and Richmond.
Lee might stomp Meade in the Wildnerness, but that will do him little good.
At worst, Lee would be caught between two major enemy forces. At best Lee would need to send one of his Corps to Richmond and attempt to defeat the Federals in detail there. And hope that Meade does not get too frisky.
Lee's situation would not look good.
 
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Dead Parrott

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An "Inchon" type operation could have been executed. Washington was well fortified and manned.
Grant might have taken Hancock and 25,000 men up the James, while Meade advanced over the Rapidan and Butler feinted toward Richmond.
Petersburg probably would have fallen to Hancock, as Beauregard could not have defended both Richmond and Petersburg in force.
At the same time, Hunter would advance toward the rail line between Lynchburg and Richmond. And march to join Hancock.
Lee would be in a pickle.
Hunter might be diverted for a while, but he would be reinforced. Even if Beauregard can hold Petersburg, Richmond, and Lee's army will be cut off from the Confederacy. There would be sufficient Federal force to cut the rail line between Petersburg and Richmond.
Lee might stomp Meade in the Wildnerness, but that will do him little good.
At worst, Lee would be caught between two major enemy forces. At beat Lee would need to send one of his Corps to Richmond and attempt to defeat the Federals in detail there. And hope that Meade does not get too frisky.
Lee situation would not look good.
It's a great 'What If' scenario.
 

jackt62

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To my mind, the lack of serious discussion over an "Inchon" scenario in 1864 shows that the Lincoln administration and the military command under Grant were trapped in an outdated paradigm. The failure of McClellan's 1862 waterborne movement caused the North to view all future offensives in Virginia in light of that experience, thereby resulting in the automatic decisions to go the direct route via the Rappahannock/Rapidan river jump off points. The lack of mid 19th century strategic planning entities within the government meant that alternative methods of striking at the ANV and the Confederate heartland in Virginia were non-existent. Although Grant was forward thinking in developing multiple federal offensive actions that were coordinated to nullify the Confederate ability to concentrate forces at a threatened point, Grant was still not able to question the suitability of the overland route by the AOTP.
 

Will Carry

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When the Union Navy assaulted Fort Fisher, they had the big guns of 58 war ships. They were attacking a fort with a garrison of around 1900 men who had not seen much if any combat. They were also very lucky. The Confederates made terrible mistakes and their electrically detonated mines failed to go boom. If Hoke (was it Hoke?) hadn't turned tail and run away, the landings would have been heavily contested by 6000 hardened veterans. Instead they landed with little opposition. I can understand why the union failed to make an assault from the Chesapeake Bay. Too many unknowns. The price of defeat was too high. Plus the Navy and the Army didn't seem to work together well.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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When the Union Navy assaulted Fort Fisher, they had the big guns of 58 war ships. They were attacking a fort with a garrison of around 1900 men who had not seen much if any combat. They were also very lucky. The Confederates made terrible mistakes and their electrically detonated mines failed to go boom. If Hoke (was it Hoke?) hadn't turned tail and run away, the landings would have been heavily contested by 6000 hardened veterans. Instead they landed with little opposition. I can understand why the union failed to make an assault from the Chesapeake Bay. Too many unknowns. The price of defeat was too high. Plus the Navy and the Army didn't seem to work together well.
If you are referring to the assault on Ft. Fisher in 1865, Hoke did not turn tail. He had been ordered by his boss, Braxton Bragg, to defend the approaches to Wilmington, not to defend Ft. Fisher. Bragg did not seem to believe Ft Fisher could be taken.
 

Joshism

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But a swift strike by Grant towards Petersburg and Richmond would very likely have caused Lee to turn his attention southwards, rather than towards the Washington area and possibly have ended the war by the summer of 1864.
Swiftness was rarely the AOTP's strong suit. During the Overland Campaign they were repeatedly outmarched and outmaneuvered by the ANV.

Yes, a grand maneuver might have put the Confederacy on the ropes, but I would bet on a far less impressive result.
 
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jackt62

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I can understand why the union failed to make an assault from the Chesapeake Bay. Too many unknowns. The price of defeat was too high. Plus the Navy and the Army didn't seem to work together well.
On the other hand, there were instances of army/navy cooperation and coordination that were successful such as the assault at Fort Henry, running the Vicksburg batteries, and beachhead landings in both Carolinas in 1861 and 1862.
 

Carronade

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Historically the "Inchon" landing was commanded by Ben Butler. Butler commanded the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In early 1864, as plans for the year's combined offensives were being made, the 10th and 18th Corps were moved into the department and formed into the Army of the James, also under Butler. It was common for department commanders also to command armies, but we might consider whether it would be possible to leave Butler in the administrative role (at which he was fairly competent) and give someone else the field command for the offensive.

Butler had strong political support and was also one of the Union's senior major generals, but hopefully Grant with Lincoln's support could ensure that the command went to someone they could rely upon to carry out their strategy. If the attack up the James was going to be a principal element of that strategy, it might justify sending additional troops and a new commander.

If they did not want to split up the Army of the Potomac, Burnside's 9th Corps was separate and was well organized for independent operations. Burnside might not have been the man for fast action, but he had a number of successes to his credit including amphibious landings in cooperation with the navy. We should note that the 9th Corps of 1864 was not the same group he had formed specifically for waterborne operations in 1862.
 

Robin Lesjovitch

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Historically the "Inchon" landing was commanded by Ben Butler. Butler commanded the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In early 1864, as plans for the year's combined offensives were being made, the 10th and 18th Corps were moved into the department and formed into the Army of the James, also under Butler. It was common for department commanders also to command armies, but we might consider whether it would be possible to leave Butler in the administrative role (at which he was fairly competent) and give someone else the field command for the offensive.

Butler had strong political support and was also one of the Union's senior major generals, but hopefully Grant with Lincoln's support could ensure that the command went to someone they could rely upon to carry out their strategy. If the attack up the James was going to be a principal element of that strategy, it might justify sending additional troops and a new commander.

If they did not want to split up the Army of the Potomac, Burnside's 9th Corps was separate and was well organized for independent operations. Burnside might not have been the man for fast action, but he had a number of successes to his credit including amphibious landings in cooperation with the navy. We should note that the 9th Corps of 1864 was not the same group he had formed specifically for waterborne operations in 1862.
The 9th Corps is just what I would have nominated for ops on the James. One problem was that both Burnside and his number one John Parke were senior to all other officers in the AoP. As I would have wanted Hancock to command the main thrust, at Petersburg, he would be outranked. So, have Butler in administrative command, have Burnside and the 9th Corps join with a quarter of Butler's troops to become the reformed Army of the James, then Hancock with some troops from the AoP and three quarters of Butler's troops become the Army of the Appomattox. If I were Grant, I would be with Hancock expecting to have my headquarters in Petersburg within a week.
Meade was quite capable of amusing Lee.
 
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jackt62

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Burnside's 9th Corps was separate and was well organized for independent operations. Burnside might not have been the man for fast action, but he had a number of successes to his credit including amphibious landings in cooperation with the navy.
Despite Burnside's early success in North Carolina, he seemed to become flat footed and somewhat inept in later operations. So while a strike force that included the 9th Corps is a sensible idea, I question whether Burnside was the right person to lead it in a daring amphibious landing up the James River. Of course, by 1864, it would probably have been difficult for Grant to replace Burnside as the 9th Corps commander.
 

Carronade

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The 9th Corps is just what I would have nominated for ops on the James. One problem was that both Burnside and his number one John Parke were senior to all other officers in the AoP. As I would have wanted Hancock to command the main thrust, at Petersburg, he would be outranked. So, have Butler in administrative command, have Burnside and the 9th Corps join with a quarter of Butler's troops to become the reformed Army of the James, then Hancock with some troops from the AoP and three quarters of Butler's troops become the Army of the Appomattox. If I were Grant, I would be with Hancock expecting to have my headquarters in Petersburg within a week.
Meade was quite capable of amusing Lee.
That's a valid point about Burnside's seniority, also an issue in the early part of the Overland campaign, but I'm curious about your proposed solution. How would you define the missions and areas of operations of the Armies of the James and Appomattox? Would they be so independent of each as not to require a common commander? Asking two commanders to "coordinate" is always problematical, and the issue of Burnside's seniority might still arise. Divided Federal command could offer opportunities to the Confederates.

Perhaps the Union should have left Burnside in his department command when 9th Corps was brought back east. Ironically, Burnside's success at Knoxville may have created a problem for the Union command. Of course if the 9th was under someone junior to Meade, it might just have gone back into the Army of the Potomac.

I agree Hancock would have been a good choice if the rank issues could be worked out.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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AFAIK, the Bermuda Hundred campaign itself rather taxed the Union's sealift capability. They could have kept feeding units in that way, I suppose, but I don't think the initial landing could have been very much bigger than actuality.

Butler and Bermuda Hundred do need closer attention; the usual summary of "Butler was landed and allowed himself to be bottled up" may fit the result, but doesn't actually accurately describe the operations. If anything, Butler proved his inept generalship not by doing the wrong thing, but rather by being unable to control and coordinate his subordinate commanders' activities.
 
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Robin Lesjovitch

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That's a valid point about Burnside's seniority, also an issue in the early part of the Overland campaign, but I'm curious about your proposed solution. How would you define the missions and areas of operations of the Armies of the James and Appomattox? Would they be so independent of each as not to require a common commander? Asking two commanders to "coordinate" is always problematical, and the issue of Burnside's seniority might still arise. Divided Federal command could offer opportunities to the Confederates.

Perhaps the Union should have left Burnside in his department command when 9th Corps was brought back east. Ironically, Burnside's success at Knoxville may have created a problem for the Union command. Of course if the 9th was under someone junior to Meade, it might just have gone back into the Army of the Potomac.

I agree Hancock would have been a good choice if the rank issues could be worked out.
Burnside, with mostly the 9th Corps would feint at Richmond, maybe in 3 columns. Beauregard would have to react to a substantial Federal force heading toward Manchester.
Hancock would debark and drive as fast as possible toward Petersburg. The Dimmock line was substantial, but could not have been manned sufficiently to keep 25,000 Federals from overwhelming it. Even if Petersburg does not fall immediately, Burnside can divert one of his columns to cross the Appomattox and get in the rear of Petersburg. Remember, Grant is present.
All sorts of thing could go wrong. But the strength of the Federal Forces I think would tell.
 

trice

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Grant actually did make a move like this during the Overland Campaign -- it just wasn't on the James River towards Petersburg.

Smith's XVIII Corps (16,000) was detached from Butler, moved down the James River and up the York River to the Pamunkey, arriving at White House on May 30-31. A brigade was left to safeguard White House and Smith moved with about 10,000 to join Grant/Meade's left flank at Old Cold Harbor on June 1 (moving mid-afternoon).

Grant sent Sheridan ahead to secure the crossroads and pulled Wright's Corps from the right, moving behind the Army, to extend and reinforce the left. The idea was to push through Old Cold Harbor toward Richmond. This would put Grant's army around Lee's right flank, south of Lee and closer to Richmond, with an open road to the Confederate capital and Sheridan's cavalry massed to exploit the breakthrough.

This could have worked, maybe should have worked. Great effort and initiative by Robert E. Lee, combined by some fierce Confederate resistance and missed Union opportunities, barely saved the day. That is how we got to what history calls the Battle of Cold Harbor, a bloody repulse if ever there was one.
 
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