Overland Something more clever than the Overland Campaign?

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

Piedone

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In the tradition of Douglas Southall Freeman there’s a lot of Grant-bashing regarding the ways the Overland Campaign developed and was led.
I’d ask: Is another plan imaginable which could also produce victory over the South but would involve smaller losses and/or need less time. But the special situation of Grant’s and the AoP (and especially the political situation in Washington) shouldn’t be neglected in such a calculation...
 
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To accept the "Grant the Butcher" argument is to accept all battles of the Overland Campaign were the same. They were not.

The Wilderness featured numerous attacks by both sides, with ANV efforts eventually petering out with big casualties as frequently as AoP assaults.

Spotsylvania was the first time the AoP faced CSA trenches in open spaces. After failed attacks on May 8-11, Grant changed tactics. The Mule Shoe fight was both luck and skill for the Union at first, but poor management of reserves resulted in the sustained combat that yielded huge casualties. Small scale Confederate attacks at places like Harris Farm also racked up big losses. But by this time, the ANV was so badly damaged that its power to go on the offensive was erased.

The North Anna is never talked about because the CSA built massive works that Grant and Meade knew they couldn't take - so losses were minor.

Cold Harbor was brutal for the AoP, and Rhea argues that the mistakes made on June 1 and June 3 were in part the result of fatigue on the part of the Union high command. But again, localized Confederate attacks on June 2 also prompted heavy casualties.

The Overland Campaign was one of maneuver, looking for an opportunity to deliver a "coup de grace." Attacks were necessary, casualties were inevitable, and mistakes were made. But Grant's plan was not at all just to inflict casualties.
 

Pat Answer

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I believe “the political situation in Washington” is indeed a key factor. If I remember correctly, Grant had a whole plan worked out in the spring of 1864 for 60,000 or so men to strike at the rail lines south of Richmond from southeast Virginia and North Carolina. This would be in conjunction with Sherman moving toward Atlanta and Banks concentrating on taking Mobile.
Even though Grant didn’t answer to him at that point, Halleck wasn’t keen on the plan. Lincoln and the Northern press wanted the “showdown” with Lee in north Virginia; Banks got pressured into moving up the Red River... and we got the 1864 of history.

Echoing JeffFromSyracuse (good points), the truth is somewhere in there between ‘Grant-the-master-strategist’ and ‘Grant-the-mindless-butcher’ memes... and I would personally lean to well over the halfway mark on the side of the former.
 

Coonewah Creek

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My understanding was that the Overland Campaign was driven largely from the Federal standpoint, by logistical considerations. Coastal supply would always be available as long as the Union army continuously attempted to drive around the Confederate right, however, maintaining inland railway lines and other logistical support would be more problematic if the army attempted to move around the Confederate left and more into the interior. I'm sure that was not the only consideration, but it was one of the major drivers...
 
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I believe “the political situation in Washington” is indeed a key factor. If I remember correctly, Grant had a whole plan worked out in the spring of 1864 for 60,000 or so men to strike at the rail lines south of Richmond from southeast Virginia and North Carolina. This would be in conjunction with Sherman moving toward Atlanta and Banks concentrating on taking Mobile.
Even with the plans that ended up being executed (Sigel then Hunter in the Valley, Butler up the Peninsula), Grant was failed by his subordinates.
 

Piedone

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I deem it improbable that any general should have the goal to produce huge losses of life (as this would also eventually lead to a breakdown of morale of his own forces...) - the tremendous losses were probably the consequence of the chosen approach and Lee’s countermaneuvres.
Hence I’d ask if another approach to Richmond would have been more promising. What about another Peninsular Campaign or a direct landing south of the James? Or maybe a totally different concept? (But I don’t know if Grant was that free in his decisions to elect a certain strategy or a certain approach to Richmond).
 
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Hence I’d ask if another approach to Richmond would have been more promising. What about another Peninsular Campaign or a direct landing south of the James? Or maybe a totally different concept?
Grant's objective wasn't Richmond. Grant's objective was to defeat the ANV. That narrowed his options tremendously.

The Peninsula was out because the Peninsula is a peninsula and is therefore narrow. Lack of flanks and the need to leave extra troops around Washington would have sapped Grant's superiority in numbers.

The Valley wasn't favorable, as it too is narrow and dominated by hills and passes, which makes maneuver difficult.

Going to the right through Culpepper was a possibility, but the manpower to guard precious rail lines from cavalry and partisans would have seriously sapped Grant's strength.

Lee wasn't going to follow Grant to NC or anywhere else outside of a Richmond perimeter.

So Overland it was.
 

Piedone

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So as @Pat Answer told in post #3 politicians (and public pressure via the press) meddled in Grant´s planning and forced him into this "showdown" with the ANV.
But in this set-up he probably had no other chance but to try to turn the confederate right when at the same time pinning the ANV in their positions with frontal assaults, the threat of frontal assaults or diversions on the confederate left - as he of course did and tried.

Is it too farfetched to accredit those politicians with a part (or most of) of the responsibility for the huge losses involved in such a strategy (as it demanded several frontal attacks to get the chance of a turning movement)?
(Albeit I do not know on what sources @Pat Answer´s assumption can be based.)

Wouldn´t it hence be appropriate to relieve Grant from his "butcher" label on the base of that reasoning?

Freeman said that Grant didn´t "maneuver well" - regardless of that opinion: as far as I see the whole set-up of the camapign forced Grant into repeating the same trick over and over again (making it more and more improbable to succeed as his moves became more and more predictable). The whole concept allowed (nearly) no other opportunities to present themselves.

Do anybody know who hit on the idea to cross the James (and when)? (as this was the decisive move to evade the bloody stalemate)
E.P.Alexander looked at it as if the AoP somehow "stumbled" into that move when it was realized that after the crossing of the Chickahominy no other occasion to turn the confederate flanks were to be had.

Is it too much to say that the Union to some degree misused one of their best generals here?

And was not the whole strategy to choose the destroying of the ANV as it´s main objective failed in itself?
(btw who exactly defined that objective?)
I deem in the end it was rather pinning the ANV to the defenses of Richmond (and Petersburg) that did the trick - and not the confederate losses during the Overland Camapign. (and it was only the move over the James that produced that...)

Couldn´t that be had also (to a much reduced "price") when cancelling the whole Overland Campaign-idea and landing south of the James in the spring of 64?
Was this eventually part of Grant´s original plan @Pat Answer told about?
 
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Piedone

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I believe “the political situation in Washington” is indeed a key factor. If I remember correctly, Grant had a whole plan worked out in the spring of 1864 for 60,000 or so men to strike at the rail lines south of Richmond from southeast Virginia and North Carolina. This would be in conjunction with Sherman moving toward Atlanta and Banks concentrating on taking Mobile.
Even though Grant didn’t answer to him at that point, Halleck wasn’t keen on the plan. Lincoln and the Northern press wanted the “showdown” with Lee in north Virginia; Banks got pressured into moving up the Red River... and we got the 1864 of history.

Echoing JeffFromSyracuse (good points), the truth is somewhere in there between ‘Grant-the-master-strategist’ and ‘Grant-the-mindless-butcher’ memes... and I would personally lean to well over the halfway mark on the side of the former.
Highly interesting. Can anything be found somewhere about that original plan of Grant´s?
(I deem it much more promising as the idea of the Overland Campaign....)
 

Pat Answer

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@Piedone (Hello!)

How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones (University of Illinois Press, 1983, 1991) was a real eye-opener for me when I read it years ago. The picture, based as much as possible on correspondence written during the war is pretty consistent and convincing that most generals - not only Lee or Grant but also some of our favorite goats like McClellan, Bragg and even Banks - were really trying to come up with imaginative solutions to the problems they directly faced. We tend to play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game a lot (heck, we're human and it's fun), but our memes are just that - easy to remember but oversimplified portrayals that actually move us away from appreciating how tough it was to lead a nineteenth-century army in the face of politics, logistics, and the sheer impossibility of accurately predicting all enemy activity. It is true that some were certainly more talented and more successful at reading situations than others, but it is also true, as you say above, that it is "improbable that any general should have the goal to produce huge losses of life" or to deliberately set out to fail. (The way some campaigns are bitterly described by some (armchair) 'wishful thinkers' today, you sure wouldn't think so!) :smile:

From soapbox to sources:
"When Grant, his staff, Smith, and sometimes Sherman and Dana had been discussing future campaigns for the West and scheming to place their man [Smith] in command of the army of the Potomac, logically they also worked out a strategy for that force. Coordination between the armies of the East and West implied some specific campaign for Meade to harmonize and cooperate with those being considered for the West. The plan was not revealed until Halleck, in a January 8, 1864, letter which explained the military situation in other theaters, solicited Grant's views without revealing that they eagerly awaited them and would treat his ideas with respect. Grant promptly responded, writing one letter explaining his proposals for the spring advance from Mobile and Chattanooga and another outlining eastern operations.
"The plan was pure Grant. It prescribed a raid against the enemy's railroads and logistic infrastructure. He suggested that operations should 'commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters.' To accomplish this he proposed that a force of 60,000 men start from southeastern Virginia, advance to the rail junction of Weldon, ruin the railroads, and then move south along the railroad to Raleigh, completing the destruction of the outer of the two Confederate north-south rail lines.... '...This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee.' This major success would be made possible by seizing the initiative, drawing 'the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared,' and by a surprise seaborne attack on a weak line or, as Grant expressed it, drawing them 'to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary.'" (Hattaway and Jones, pp. 511-513)

The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War by Donald Stoker (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 547-548:
"Late January 1864 saw Grant's first formal statement on operations in the Eastern Theater. He had habitually refrained from offering any such comments because it was not his command area and no one had ever asked him. But now Halleck was asking. Grant recommended shifting the focus away from Virginia by massing 60,000 troops further south. 'I would suggest Raleigh, N.C.,' he wrote, 'as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make New Berne the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured.' He saw many benefits here. First, he thought, it would force an evacuation of Virginia and, 'indirectly, of Eastern Tennessee.' This would open to Union armies untouched regions where they could 'partially live upon the country' while also taking potential stores from the Confederates...."

Now, of course, had this plan been adopted it would have run into its own difficulties and Confederate counter-moves, but what I hope this really illustrates is the bankruptcy of the 'all that ever occurs to me is to pound ahead with human waves' caricature when it comes to Grant. Other memes attached to other generals could also stand some questioning.

On another note: Coming at Richmond from the James was always the correct military strategy, as McClellan knew back in 1862. But the worth of Richmond for both McClellan and Grant would be if the main Confederate army could be pinned there to defend against a siege. Then - and Lee knew this as well of course - it would be a matter of time.

(Well, sorry for the novella... that wasn't a pat answer at all, was it?) :biggrin:
 

Belfoured

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So as @Pat Answer told in post #3 politicians (and public pressure via the press) meddled in Grant´s planning and forced him into this "showdown" with the ANV.
But in this set-up he probably had no other chance but to try to turn the confederate right when at the same time pinning the ANV in their positions with frontal assaults, the threat of frontal assaults or diversions on the confederate left - as he of course did and tried.

Is it too farfetched to accredit those politicians with a part (or most of) of the responsibility for the huge losses involved in such a strategy (as it demanded several frontal attacks to get the chance of a turning movement)?
(Albeit I do not know on what sources @Pat Answer´s assumption can be based.)

Wouldn´t it hence be appropriate to relieve Grant from his "butcher" label on the base of that reasoning?

Freeman said that Grant didn´t "maneuver well" - regardless of that opinion: as far as I see the whole set-up of the camapign forced Grant into repeating the same trick over and over again (making it more and more improbable to succeed as his moves became more and more predictable). The whole concept allowed (nearly) no other opportunities to present themselves.

Do anybody know who hit on the idea to cross the James (and when)? (as this was the decisive move to evade the bloody stalemate)
E.P.Alexander looked at it as if the AoP somehow "stumbled" into that move when it was realized that after the crossing of the Chickahominy no other occasion to turn the confederate flanks were to be had.

Is it too much to say that the Union to some degree misused one of their best generals here?

And was not the whole strategy to choose the destroying of the ANV as it´s main objective failed in itself?
(btw who exactly defined that objective?)
I deem in the end it was rather pinning the ANV to the defenses of Richmond (and Petersburg) that did the trick - and not the confederate losses during the Overland Camapign. (and it was only the move over the James that produced that...)

Couldn´t that be had also (to a much reduced "price") when cancelling the whole Overland Campaign-idea and landing south of the James in the spring of 64?
Was this eventually part of Grant´s original plan @Pat Answer told about?
This line struck me: "Freeman said that Grant didn't "maneuver well"

Putting aside other issues regarding Freeman (I'm not big on historians who admit to pausing before a statue daily in veneration), what on earth was his basis for that conclusion? The Overland Campaign was a succession of maneuvers by Grant - including the last, crossing the James) that Lee effectively responded to with the considerable aid of Grant's uninspired and ponderous subordinates. Vicksburg ended up under siege as a result of extended, successful maneuvering (yeah, I know - there were the assaults on May 19 and May 22 but how did Grant get there in the first place?)
 

Piedone

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@Piedone (Hello!)

How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones (University of Illinois Press, 1983, 1991) was a real eye-opener for me when I read it years ago. The picture, based as much as possible on correspondence written during the war is pretty consistent and convincing that most generals - not only Lee or Grant but also some of our favorite goats like McClellan, Bragg and even Banks - were really trying to come up with imaginative solutions to the problems they directly faced. We tend to play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game a lot (heck, we're human and it's fun), but our memes are just that - easy to remember but oversimplified portrayals that actually move us away from appreciating how tough it was to lead a nineteenth-century army in the face of politics, logistics, and the sheer impossibility of accurately predicting all enemy activity. It is true that some were certainly more talented and more successful at reading situations than others, but it is also true, as you say above, that it is "improbable that any general should have the goal to produce huge losses of life" or to deliberately set out to fail. (The way some campaigns are bitterly described by some (armchair) 'wishful thinkers' today, you sure wouldn't think so!) :smile:

From soapbox to sources:
"When Grant, his staff, Smith, and sometimes Sherman and Dana had been discussing future campaigns for the West and scheming to place their man [Smith] in command of the army of the Potomac, logically they also worked out a strategy for that force. Coordination between the armies of the East and West implied some specific campaign for Meade to harmonize and cooperate with those being considered for the West. The plan was not revealed until Halleck, in a January 8, 1864, letter which explained the military situation in other theaters, solicited Grant's views without revealing that they eagerly awaited them and would treat his ideas with respect. Grant promptly responded, writing one letter explaining his proposals for the spring advance from Mobile and Chattanooga and another outlining eastern operations.
"The plan was pure Grant. It prescribed a raid against the enemy's railroads and logistic infrastructure. He suggested that operations should 'commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters.' To accomplish this he proposed that a force of 60,000 men start from southeastern Virginia, advance to the rail junction of Weldon, ruin the railroads, and then move south along the railroad to Raleigh, completing the destruction of the outer of the two Confederate north-south rail lines.... '...This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee.' This major success would be made possible by seizing the initiative, drawing 'the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared,' and by a surprise seaborne attack on a weak line or, as Grant expressed it, drawing them 'to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary.'" (Hattaway and Jones, pp. 511-513)

The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War by Donald Stoker (Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 547-548:
"Late January 1864 saw Grant's first formal statement on operations in the Eastern Theater. He had habitually refrained from offering any such comments because it was not his command area and no one had ever asked him. But now Halleck was asking. Grant recommended shifting the focus away from Virginia by massing 60,000 troops further south. 'I would suggest Raleigh, N.C.,' he wrote, 'as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make New Berne the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured.' He saw many benefits here. First, he thought, it would force an evacuation of Virginia and, 'indirectly, of Eastern Tennessee.' This would open to Union armies untouched regions where they could 'partially live upon the country' while also taking potential stores from the Confederates...."

Now, of course, had this plan been adopted it would have run into its own difficulties and Confederate counter-moves, but what I hope this really illustrates is the bankruptcy of the 'all that ever occurs to me is to pound ahead with human waves' caricature when it comes to Grant. Other memes attached to other generals could also stand some questioning.

On another note: Coming at Richmond from the James was always the correct military strategy, as McClellan knew back in 1862. But the worth of Richmond for both McClellan and Grant would be if the main Confederate army could be pinned there to defend against a siege. Then - and Lee knew this as well of course - it would be a matter of time.

(Well, sorry for the novella... that wasn't a pat answer at all, was it?) :biggrin:
Thank you very much for your "novella"! That's highly interesting stuff and I never heard about it before.
I will definitely try to get "How The North Won" as soon as possible!

I am very much of the same opinion when looking at what generals did or did not.
Of course it's a lot of fun to design the one and only clever plan that would have saved Napoleon or Hannibal or someone else... - but reality is just another case where even a genius´ plan could break apart easily because of the meddling of just one idiot with a voice loud enough to be heard...

On impulse I thought about democracy as the most difficult and demanding environment to try to get one's plan executed with so many independent, influential and confident voices...

But then we in Germany had those grandiose disasters with professional soldiers deciding on their own (who became entangled in their own intrigues and put spokes in each others wheels) or with autocrats who failed because the meddling happened just behind the curtains and in side rooms...
 

Piedone

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@Piedone I can't recommend Gordon Rhea's five book series on the Overland Campaign and initial assault on Petersburg enough. I think he answers many of the questions you have. Plus, it's a far more balanced viewpoint than Freeman and Alexander.
Thank you for the hint - I have obviously to play a bit of a catch-up, I know quite something about the sequence of events and battles but I am not very familiar with the political and personal background of the designing of this Overland Campaign.

Of course I know that neither Freeman nor Alexander are state-of-the-art and especially Freeman obviously REALLY dislikes Grant, whereas Alexander is much less biased, as a matter of fact he is sometimes quite critical about Lee and generally talking rather favorable about Grant. I used the citations just to jazz my post a bit up....
 

Piedone

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This line struck me: "Freeman said that Grant didn't "maneuver well"

Putting aside other issues regarding Freeman (I'm not big on historians who admit to pausing before a statue daily in veneration), what on earth was his basis for that conclusion? The Overland Campaign was a succession of maneuvers by Grant - including the last, crossing the James) that Lee effectively responded to with the considerable aid of Grant's uninspired and ponderous subordinates. Vicksburg ended up under siege as a result of extended, successful maneuvering (yeah, I know - there were the assaults on May 19 and May 22 but how did Grant get there in the first place?)
Please excuse me, I frankly didn't´t want to arouse anybody with that citation.

I used it just to recapitulate that Grant was criticized for the Overland Campaign to enforce my point that (I think) this campaign was neither especially inspired nor really comparable to Grant´s former excellent maneuvering in the West -
as through it's design it allowed only a limited number of moves (which were often only a repetition of a former move...) - and it came with a heavy price to pay.

Somehow I got the feeling that Grant could have devised a better plan and after reading @Pat Answer ´s posts I am (maybe in some contrast to @JeffFromSyracuse) somehow convinced that the mentioned plan of landing 60000 men in southeastern Virginia would have been a superior design.
 

Carronade

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The idea of striking at southern logistics with their own supplies by sea through Sussex, New Bern, etc. is intriguing, but the Federals would still need to pin down the ANV. With a reduced AofP (and Washington) to the north and this new Union force to the south, the Confederates would be in a position to use interior lines to concentrate against the new threat. As Lincoln and Grant appreciated, they would need to keep pressure on all fronts.

'removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters.'

If there was enough of a climate difference that operations would be practical in North Carolina but not on the Rappahannock front, that might allow the Confederates to protect the latter with minimal force while reacting to Grant's offensive.
 
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Somehow I got the feeling that Grant could have devised a better plan and after reading @Pat Answer ´s posts I am (maybe in some contrast to @JeffFromSyracuse) somehow convinced that the mentioned plan of landing 60000 men in southeastern Virginia would have been a superior design.
Do you have anything specific in mind? Butler had 30k men and faced 20k men around Bermuda Hundred on the James River during the period that Spotsylvania was being fought. The plan didn't work, in part because of Butler's timidity. Are you thinking the same route, or through the Dismal Swamp and into Petersburg?
 

Belfoured

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Please excuse me, I frankly didn't´t want to arouse anybody with that citation.

I used it just to recapitulate that Grant was criticized for the Overland Campaign to enforce my point that (I think) this campaign was neither especially inspired nor really comparable to Grant´s former excellent maneuvering in the West -
as through it's design it allowed only a limited number of moves (which were often only a repetition of a former move...) - and it came with a heavy price to pay.

Somehow I got the feeling that Grant could have devised a better plan and after reading @Pat Answer ´s posts I am (maybe in some contrast to @JeffFromSyracuse) somehow convinced that the mentioned plan of landing 60000 men in southeastern Virginia would have been a superior design.
Nothing directed at you. Freeman said it and you quoted it, so I was simply commenting on it. It does seem to be an unsupportable statement by him. I think you underestimate Grant's intentions (as opposed to the execution). When checked at the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, at North Anna, and at Cold Harbor he ultimately resorted to maneuver each time, and the end result was the one Lee feared most from the outset - a siege. There were missteps along the way - in no small part due to the failure of subordinates to competently and promptly execute their orders, especially leaving the Wilderness for Spotsylvania and outside Petersburg right after crossing the James. But no less than Gordon Rhea has stated that Grant caught Lee by surprise a few times. Whether there may have been a better plan, who knows (they all had their pros and cons), but Freeman's statement just doesn't hold up
 

Rhea Cole

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The most obvious step would be removing the politically protected deadwood in the Army of the Potomac's command structure. Butler et al thwarted Grant's plan to envelop Lee. Grant's strength was always to take what actually was happening in the battle space & keep fighting. As Sherman said, Grant really didn't care what Lee or Butler for that matter did. He was going to keep pounding away no matter what either one of them did.

An interesting thing that could have been accomplished was the destruction of the Augusta Arsenal. By 1864-65, the majority of Lee's powder was coming from Augusta. A raid could have left no stone standing. There was absolutely no way for the CSA to replace the supply of superb quality powder from Augusta. It is possible that Lee would have run out of ammunition. In any case, I am happy it did not happen. If the Yankees had blown up the arsenal, the explosion would have flattened my wife's family home & who knows if we would have ever met.

As a mature student of the Civil War, to me it is more than passing strange that anybody takes D.S. Freeman's depiction of the losers as the best generals & best fighting men. The tactical victories without strategic impact of the A of NV are glorified. The Overland Campaign that beat Lee like a drum until he holed up at Petersburg & awaited defeat is held up as one long string of A of NV victories. Perhaps it is because I study the Western Theater where victory is defined by surrounding & accepting the surrender of your opponent that I find the that I find the D.S. Freeman version an artifact of a age rather than an objective history.
 

Piedone

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Do you have anything specific in mind? Butler had 30k men and faced 20k men around Bermuda Hundred on the James River during the period that Spotsylvania was being fought. The plan didn't work, in part because of Butler's timidity. Are you thinking the same route, or through the Dismal Swamp and into Petersburg?
Well...I am everything but familiar with all the more intricate details and conditions on which such a plan had to be based.
But from my common understanding I´d say

- that the topography favoured defensive operations (of Lee) north of Richmond and the James River presenting many opportunities to find strong positions and draw lines that frustrated almost any attack
- that the confederate army in Virginia could only be supplied with the use of the railroads (which Lee hence was forced to defend)
- that the loss of Richmond was in any case a fatal blow to the Confederacy as it implied the loss of most of it´s ability to produce arms, accoutrement and ammunition - and a heavy blow to the common support of and loyality to "the cause" [I am just citing the phrasing]
- that everything but a swift movement against Petersburg gave Lee the opportunity to gradually shift troops into that region as to the effect of producing an enduring siege (yes, in the end that spelled disaster but...well....one way or another disaster was pretty much inevitable at that time I think...)
- that Lee always was loath to transfer too many troops south of the James as creating a credible threat of Washington was his best card

Also I somehow understood that Grant was sometimes let down by some of his subordinates with their minor quasi-independent operations elsewhere - obviously Lee could still handle such threats as long as they consisted of a force not bigger than about 20.000 when detaching forces and/or creating scratch forces to beat them in detail.

Hence I´d conclude that Grant´s original plan of an operation of 60.000 south of the James
either against the railroads via Suffolk / Weldon
or even a swift landing as close as possible to Petersburg with the intention to take that railroad knot soon
did present great opportunities -

as long as there still was sufficient force north of the James to threaten Richmond with a direct approach.

I cannot really see how Lee should have been able to avoid the loss of the railroads to an army of 60.000 without the use of the bulk of the ANV in southern Virginia / northern North Carolina.
But this implied reducing his forces around Richmond to a point where a breakthrough became possible.

Hence I deem this course could have led to the same (inevitable) outcome in less time and with less losses.
But - of course - those are just phantasies of a complete amateur and armchair-general...
 
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