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The Battle of the Wilderness

Discussion in 'The Eastern Theater' started by major bill, Jan 11, 2017.

  1. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    I went to the Jackson Michigan Civil War Round Table tonight and the speaker was Jim Epperson who gave The Overland Campaign. Due to time restraints Epperson basically gave us his view of the myths of this battle. I was wondering if the view of the Battle of the Wilderness was going through a re examination? I have read a few books on this subject, but most are now a bit dated. I was wondering if the view of this battle was changing in the past few years.

    For example it was said the Grant was looking for a battle and was willing to fight Lee almost anywhere except at Mine Run. That Grant was not really trying to slip to the east of Lee, but only trying to by pass the Mill Run area before turning west.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2017
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  3. Rebforever

    Rebforever Captain

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    There was no way an army would be able to take Mine Run fortification from Lee IMO.
    I have not read what you suggest concerning the Wilderness battle.
    Meade was set to try but an icy rain had put down 6 inches of ice being too slick to accomplish anything.
     
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  4. highplainsdrifter59

    highplainsdrifter59 Private

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    Grant from the start was willing to "slug it out" with Lee. Grant purpose was to eliminate the effectiveness of the ANV and this was what he did. Lincoln gave Grant all the power needed and Grant took it and begin his systematic approach to make this happen. The battles in and around the Wilderness area was just part of those steps.
     
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  5. Rebforever

    Rebforever Captain

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    How long did that take? Almost a year. Grant gave up at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. But I agree he did win Appomattox.
     
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  6. dlofting

    dlofting First Sergeant

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    I was always under the impression that Grant didn't want to fight Lee in the Wilderness where the AOP superiority in artillery would be much less of a factor.
     
  7. jackt62

    jackt62 First Sergeant

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    Grant did not want to fight in the Wilderness, but two things happened to frustrate his plan.
    1. The AOTP under Meade, after successfully fording the Rapidan river, got bogged down by logistic problems that slowed that army's march to open ground, and:
    2. The ANV, once again under Lee's superb leadership, swiftly moved Ewell's and Hills' corps down the Orange Plank Road and the Orange Turnpike, in time to catch the AOTP in the Wilderness where the AOTP could not effectively use its numerical advantage and artillery.
     
  8. highplainsdrifter59

    highplainsdrifter59 Private

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    Oh I agree, Grant would have much preferred not fighting in the Wilderness but Grant was to keep the pressure on Lee at all cost. Grant knew the old ways of hit and move away wasn't going to end the war. The fact he stopped the exchanging of prisoners was another example. He thought that was not solving anything but adding more men into the firing line.

    It did take Grant a year to accomplish pushing Lee out of the Richmond, mainly Petersburg line and on toward Appomattox, but the old regime had taken almost 3 years to accomplish pretty much nothing.

    Example would be in the year 1863, just counting the days of major battle between the AOP and ANV comes up to five days. Two at Chancellorsville and three at Gettysburg. The war was dragging, Lincoln needed something to happen not just for re-election but the North was beginning to tire of the loss of their men.
     
  9. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    I wouldn't totally agree with the 5 days take. Chickamauga involved Longstreets corps, and the XI and XII were sent west after that from the AotP and participated in Chattanooga.

    As far as Grant wanting to fight in the Wilderness that is a theory I would need a lot of primary sources to believe that I have not seen. Fighting in the Wilderness completely cancels out the Aotp superiority in manpower and artillery. All Grant had to do is look at Chancellorsville to see the best example of this.

    Grant wanted to fight Lee out in the open, but not there. Lee reacted quicker than he had hoped and the AotP didn't move as swiftly as he had hoped through the area.
     
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  10. highplainsdrifter59

    highplainsdrifter59 Private

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    "I wouldn't totally agree with the 5 days take. Chickamauga involved Longstreets corps, and the XI and XII were sent west after that from the AotP and participated in Chattanooga."


    The jest of those days were the attempt of the two major armies in that area only spent 5 days in which a major battle took place. Yes....smaller battles, skirmishes took place but nothing to enhance the overall outlook to end the war.


    Lee vs Hooker (Chancellorsville)/Meade (Gettysburg), those were the 5 days from which I write about.


    I am in total agreement Grant didn't wish to be caught in the Wilderness, but so happen things lead that way and Grant moved toward the enemy. Grant did not come out of area without a loss of men, but he also knew Lee could not afford to lose man for man either. Grant knew the cost would be high but history also shows us, Grant prefers to attack not defend. Thus, when Lincoln looked for a general to defeat Lee and bring the war to a foreseeable end, Lincoln called upon a man/general that attacked, and attacked again. The McDowell’s, McClellan’s, Pope, Burnside’s, Hookers, Meade, generals who fought a battle pulled away or stood still and waited to find another spot to start the process all over again, that was not getting the job done...maybe fast enough. Lincoln gave Grant complete control to oversee the entire Union armies. Lincoln needed a man that would not back away and move back toward Washington to fight another day.

    Grant when at a standstill in and around Petersburg still attack to break the stronghold of Lee, it had its major faults, Cold Harbor comes to the forefront, but Grant didn't pack up and move away, he still hammered along the lines until Lee had no choice but to pack up and leave and what did Grant do? He attacked again, all the way to Appomattox Court house
     
  11. Rebforever

    Rebforever Captain

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    Due to the Union army having difficulty in maintaining their number of men due to 3 year assignment, and desertion, Grant at Petersburg took a lot of time rebuilding his forces. I will say a lessor man would have been replaced. IMO
     
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  12. Rio Bravo

    Rio Bravo First Sergeant

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  13. Rio Bravo

    Rio Bravo First Sergeant

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    I thought I would share this photo of The "Palmetto Battalion" at the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness !
     
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  14. Yankeedave

    Yankeedave 1st Lieutenant

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    Meade and the aop was about 65,000, having lost the 12 and 11 corps. Grant committed them while he disentangled his troops of sheridan, the d.c heavies, burndasses 9th, the usct and the wagons.
    Meade had see mine run and was desperate to avoid it.
    As rebforever noted this battle like most between lee v grant is a draw.
     
  15. 67th Tigers

    67th Tigers Sergeant Major

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    The 30th April 1864 returns are available for the AoP and 9th Corps.

    However their definition of PFD is different. Hooker move the "extra duty" men out of PFD, but Burnside kept them in. Making an estimate of Burnside's extra duty we sum to:

    91,000 infantry combatants (reckoned much the same to rebel counts)
    14,000 cavalry
    8,600 artillery

    vs the rebels, on 5th May by Young's study:

    51,600 infantry
    8,600 cavalry
    5,700 artillery

    Not quite the 3:1 Early tried to claim, but rather closer to 1.7 to 1
     
  16. Yankeedave

    Yankeedave 1st Lieutenant

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    Is that removing tge heavies and usct from tge count?
     
  17. Carronade

    Carronade 2nd Lieutenant

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    What strikes me about the Wilderness was Grant and Meade losing control of events. Grant's intentions were to get through the Wilderness and engage Lee on more suitable ground, to retain the initiative, and to make use of maneuver rather than frontal assault; but they ended up mainly reacting to the Confederates and fighting head-to-head in the tangled forest.

    Given the distance from their starting points, they probably couldn't avoid camping in the woods the night of May 4-5, but they were ready to resume their march southward in the morning when Ewell's troops appeared from the west. From that moment on the Yankees were reacting to events. Somehow Grant's general intent to engage Lee aggressively translated into a perceived need to make a frontal attack through the woods - though only after giving the rebs time to throw up field fortifications. Then when Hill's column was detected on the Orange Plank Road, the only thoughts seem to have been the danger of him cutting off Hancock's corps or getting into the army's trains - it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that the Confederates were thrusting themselves between two more powerful Union forces. Instead of opportunity they saw only danger; Hancock was pulled back and ended up engaging Hill frontally, another slugging match in the woods.

    After the battle, Grant made his famous comment about the AofP commanders worrying more about what Lee might do to them than what they could do to Lee. I'd say he hit the nail on the head.
     
  18. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    I've read a letter to Butler that showed Grant expecting to combine their forces in about 30 days from Grant moving south over the river. I don't believe it was his intention to turn west.
     
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  19. BillO

    BillO Captain

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    Actually no. Grant had no intention of fighting a major battle in the Wilderness. Although it is true that once Lee started the fight Grant had every intention to stay and win.
     
  20. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    He definitely wasn't going to go west.
     
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  21. Yankeedave

    Yankeedave 1st Lieutenant

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    Grant had discussed the idea of maybe moving west of the anv, but the idea never got far off the ground.
    When Grant headed south Meade had half the aop, hancock with a little less than half. Just comment on command structure. When Burnside is finally sent in on the second day it's from Grant.
    For the rest of the campaign it's Meade's AoP that take the brunt. All the way to Petersburg. The 9th corps his here and there. Same with the heavies and usct.
    The majority of the regiments under meade are old regiments in number. What little permanent replacements came went into existing units. In the aop few new units exist.
    I doubt Grant thought he could get past the wilderness without a fight with lee. Both moved to what was probably expected as far as a battlefield is concerned. The difference is Grant moved when he fought to a draw. He was not stunned by the event so to speak.
     
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