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Not impressed with Grants performance

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Captain Davis, Jan 26, 2017.

  1. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    I've come to the conclusion that besides a couple of small time battles along the Cumberland against subpar leadership and accepting the surrender of Lee, Grant was an unimpressive tactical general.

    Many times he simply used his superior numbers until the rebels had to back out or give up due to attrition. Vicksburg and The Wilderness are a couple of examples.

    Even when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, he was simply overwhelmed after accidentally running into the entire Army of the Potomac on their way to North Carolina.

    Outside of his tenacity, I'm not impressed with his performance.

    I do realize I am but an infant in my quest for Civil War knowledge, but if I am wrong, I'd like to hear examples
    of his tactics winning battles onstead of just having superior numbers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2017

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  3. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    May I ask what you've read to come to this opinion?

    Have you read any campaign studies of Vicksburg?
    Have you read any campaign studies of the Overland Campaign?
    Have you read anything at all on the Appomattox Campaign, since you've completely misstated what happened?

    "Gentlemen, I think that General Grant has managed his affairs remarkably well up to the present time." Robert E. Lee [James L. Morrison, ed., The Memoirs of Henry Heth, p. 186]

    Lee is quoted as saying after the war, "Sir, if you ever again presume to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this University." [S. S. McCormick, The Outlook, Vol. LVI, p. 686]

    Lee was also quoted, reportedly by a member of his staff who heard him say it, "Sir, your opinion is a very poor compliment to me. We all thought Richmond, protected as it was by our splendid fortifications and defended by our army of veterans, could not be taken. Yet Grant turned his face to our capital, and never turned it away until we had surrendered. Now, I have carefully searched the military records of both ancient and modern history, and have never found Grant's superior as a general. I doubt if his superior can be found in all history." [James G. Wilson, General Grant, pp. 366-367]
     
  4. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    I haven't read extensively about either of the campaigns you mentioned, but what I have looked into, he basically seiged Vicksburg and didn't use battle tactics, but merely starved the inhabitants into submission.

    Those quotes from Lee don't really explain much. Like I said, the end results were in Grants favor, but he always had the overwhelming manpower advantage.
     
  5. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    So basically you've formed an opinion without knowing any of the facts regarding the campaigns.

    The Vicksburg Campaign was a campaign of maneuver.
    The Overland Campaign was a campaign of maneuver.

    Lee was a trained military officer who was able to evaluate another officer's abilities.

    May I ask what training you've had to be able to evaluate a military officer's abilities? What makes you a better judge of Grant's performance than Robert E. Lee?
     
  6. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    Like I said, Grant was successful but he should have been. When was he ever the underdog? When did he go out on a limb to win a battle?

    BTW, you seem a bit touchy. Lighten up bud, the war is over.
     
  7. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    Lol, according to Lee's quotes, I'm not the first to question Grant's performance.
     
  8. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    So are you saying there's nothing that qualifies you to be a better judge of military performance than Robert E. Lee? Yet you discount what he has to say?

    Sure, the war is over, but the cheap shots do seem to continue.

    May I suggest that you consider your present opinion to be merely an impression based on inadequate knowledge?

    I highly suggest you read Gordon Rhea's outstanding series on the Overland Campaign. I also suggest reading Terry Winschel's study of the Vicksburg Campaign, Triumph and Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign.
    Then perhaps reading a good study of the Appomattox Campaign, such as Chris Calkins' book, The Appomattox Campaign: March 29 to April 9, 1865.

    Finally, perhaps two books by the eminent British military historian, Major General J. F. C. Fuller:

    Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship
    The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant

     
  9. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    "There is no difficulty in composing a final evaluation of Ulysses S. Grant. With him there be no balancing and qualifying, no ifs and buts. He won battles and campaigns, and he struck the blow that won the war. No general could do what he did because of accident or luck or preponderance of numbers and weapons. He was a success because he was a complete general and a complete character. He was so complete that his countrymen have never been able to believe he was real...Grant was, judged by modern standards, the greatest general of the Civil War. He was head and shoulders above any other general on either side as an over-all strategist, as a master of global strategy. Fundamentally Grant was superior to Lee because in a modern total war he had a modern mind, and Lee did not. Lee was the last of the great old-fashioned generals, Grant was the first of the great moderns." [Military Historian T. Harry Williams]

    "Grant was necessary to bring the war to a close... his positive qualities, his power to wield force to the bitter end, much entitle him to rank high as a commanding general. His concentration of energies, inflexible purpose, imperturbable long-suffering, his masterly reticence, ignoring either advice or criticism, his magnanimity in all relations, but more than all his infinite trust in the final triumph of his cause, set him apart and alone above all others. With these attributes we could not call him less than great." [Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain]

    "The strong and salutary characteristics of both Lee and Grant should live in history as an inspiration to coming generations. Posterity will find nobler and more wholesome incentives in their high attributes as men than in their brilliant career as warriors. General Grant's truly great qualities - his innate modesty, his freedom from every trace of vain-glory or ostentation, his magnanimity in victory, his genuine sympathy for his brave and sensitive foemen, and his inflexible resolve to protect paroled Confederates against any assault... will give him a place in history no less renowned and more to be envied than any other man." [General John B. Gordon, CSA]

    "It will be a thousand years before Grant's character is fully appreciated. Grant is the greatest soldier of our time if not all time... he fixes in his mind what is the true objective and abandons all minor ones. He dismisses all possibility of defeat. he believes in himself and in victory. If his plans go wrong he is never disconcerted but promptly devises a new one and is sure to win in the end. Grant more nearly impersonated the American character of 1861-65 than any other living man. Therefore he will stand as the typical hero of the great Civil War in America." [William T. Sherman]

    "Criticism cannot deprecate the really great qualities of General Grant. His task was one to tax a Bonaparte. He had determined, unflinching courage and he adds to the laurels of Lee. No other Northern general could have accomplished more against the genius of a soldier. It was Grant, who, in the face of the gravest difficulties, won the war. He deservedly ranks among the greatest of Americans." [Theodore A. Dodge]

    And it's too bad that today's southerners who profess to honor the confederate soldiers of the 1860s don't follow the lead of those same soldiers of the 1860s in their appreciation for a truly great man:

    "As to my own fate, I know not what is in store for me. I believe the politicians in Washington are bent on the most extreme measures, and if they have their way will stop at no humiliation they can heap on me. My sole reliance is on General Grant. I have faith in his honor and his integrity as a soldier, and do not believe he will permit the terms of my surrender of the parole given me, to be violated." [Robert E. Lee, May, 1865]

    "Lee was correct in trusting General Grant, because at that time, Stanton and President Johnson were intending to put Lee under arrest. But Grant declared to Johnson that if any Federal official molested Lee, then he would surrender his commission in the United States army. I have always felt that General Grant should be entitled to the gratitude of all Confederate soldiers for this act." [Joseph E. Johnston]

    In 1869, some members of Congress wanted to put a massive painting of Lee surrendering to Grant in the Rotunda of the Capitol. They visited Grant, who was President-elect, to gain his approval. Grant, who was usually calm, got upset and said, "No, gentlemen, it won't do. No power on earth will make me agree to your proposal. I will not humiliate General Lee or our Southern friends in depicting their humiliation and then celebrating the event in the nation's capitol." This immediately ended any discussion of the painting.

    "In common with most Southern soldiers, I had a very kindly feelings towards General Grant, not only on account of his magnanimous conduct at Appomattox, but also for his treatment of me at the close of hostilities. I had never called on him, however. If I had done so, and if he had received me even politely, we should both have been subjected to severe criticism, so bitter was the feeling between the sections at the time. General Grant was as much misunderstood in the South as I had been in the North. Like most Southern men, I had disapproved the reconstruction measures and was sore and very restive under military government; but since my prejudices have faded, I can now see that many things which we regarded as being prompted by hostile and vindictive motives were actually necessary, in order to prevent anarchy and to insure the freedom of the newly emancipated slave.

    "I had strong personal reasons for being friendly with General Grant. If he had not thrown his shield over me in 1865, I should have been outlawed and driven into exile. When Lee surrendered, my battalion was in northern Virginia, a hundred miles from Appomattox. Secretary of war Stanton invited all soldiers in Virginia to surrender on the same conditions which were offered to Lee's army, but I was excepted. General Grant, who was then all-powerful, interposed, and sent me an offer of the same parole that he had given Gen. Lee. Such a service I could never forget. When the opportunity came, I remembered what he had done for me, and I did all I could for him." [John S. Mosby]

    "The facts of my calling upon Grant in 1885 at Mt. McGregor were these: I wanted him to know the Confederate soldiers appreciated his conduct at every surrender during the war, and after the war in Reconstruction days." [Simon Bolivar Buckner]

    "No man could be thrown in for any length of time with Grant, without admiring him with all his abilities and respecting him. He was with all his abilities one of the simplest, most confirming and trustful of men. The greatest mistake the Southern people ever made was not realizing that is they had permitted him, he would have been the best friend they had after the war." [John Wise, CSA, Recollections of Thirteen Presidents]
     
  10. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    Thanks I'll check them out.

    However, this is a message board. If I am not mistaken, it is the intention to have conversation and interaction.

    Maybe I was fishing for some activity. Instead of leaving to read a bunch of material, how about discussing it here?

    How about a few examples to prove my completely uninformed opinion wrong?

    If we all take to the library, why have this place?
     
  11. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    My opinion isn't based on me being Southern. There were unimpressive Southern generals as well. I'd say Bragg was lackluster. I'm not sure if his tactics were, but he treated his men terribly, which couldn't gave helped morale.
     
    CSA Today, Rebforever and JohnW. like this.
  12. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    All outstanding quotes, but none of them answer my question. Did he ever win a battle where he didn't have overwhelming advantages?
     
  13. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    Gary Gallagher one of the foremost Civil War historians, teacher, mentor and speaker considers Grant to be one of the five greatest American generals....the others are Washington, Scott, Eisenhower and Marshall. That's quite impressive company.
     
  14. StephenColbert27

    StephenColbert27 First Sergeant

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    Well, when Grant slipped beneath Vicksburg, he was actually outnumbered by all the Rebel forces in the area. However, Grant was able to move faster than they were able to concentrate, and was able to defeat them in detail on his way to Jackson, and then at Champion Hill after he turned West to besiege Vicksburg itself. I would note that Jackson did the same during his Valley Campaign; Jackson fought several battles where he had superior numbers tactically in spite of being outmanned strategically; he nullified that advantage by concentrating his numbers and catching his foe piece-meal. This is what Grant during the latter state of the Vicksburg Campaign. I would also question the use of the world "overwhelming". Grant had numbers and firepower during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns, it is true, but Lee had interior lines, the advantages of dug-in positions, and a better understanding of his own army and subordinates, Grant being a new-comer to the East.
     
  15. major bill

    major bill Captain Forum Host

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    Grant did not have an overwhelming advantage during the Vicksburg Campaign. He did develop a plan to move around Vicksburg, maneuver quickly to defeat two Confederate Armies before they could join together, and defeat both in detail. The Vicksburg Campaign was a great campaign for Grant that used his superior understanding of and handling of supplies and maneuvering from an unexpected direction. He defeated two smaller Armies before they could work in unison to defeat his army. Grant moved so quickly that the Confederates were dazed and confused. Grant came up with a better plan than the Confederates and outfought the Confederates Armies.

    When the entire Vicksburg Campaign is shortened to only the siege of Vicksburg it is a disservice to Grant.
     
  16. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    I'm currently reading Earl Hess' new book on Braxton Bragg. Already I can see where this traditional view of Bragg is based on bad history--not on your part, but on the part of earlier writers, especially Stanley Horn.
     
  17. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    Good points. I knew Grant had to work his way around Vicksburg and encountered several battles along the way, but I thought he still had the numbers entoute. Also, he didn't really "slip" around. He was forced to go the long way because he was repelled.

    He was stopped short of taking Vicksburg though and could never take it physically. He basically starved them out. I thought tge numbers were still heavily in Grants favor at that point.
     
  18. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    My perspective on Bragg was from reading Sam Watkins memoirs. I really enjoy getting the men's perspective over anything else.
     
  19. Captain Davis

    Captain Davis Private

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    I will give Grant a ton of credit logistically on the Vicksburg campaign. That wasn't easy terrain.
     
  20. JohnW.

    JohnW. First Sergeant

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    I would add Patton, Omar Bradley, Stormin Norman Schwartzkopf, and Robert E. Lee (yes...Marse Robert. He may have fought with the Confederacy but he was still VERY AMERICAN) to that list. :D
     
  21. JohnW.

    JohnW. First Sergeant

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    For that matter you could get rid of Eisenhower, Scott, and Marshall and substitute those 4 listed above and have a much more accurate list of the greatest American generals of all time. Grant included of course.
     

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