The Overland Campaign

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Cavalry Charger

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https://www.irishcentral.com/photo/irishmans-photographs-of-the-civil-war

"In May of 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army began the Overland Campaign, which aimed to wedge Union forces between the troops of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia."
https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/timothy-osullivan-irish-photographer

This quote got me thinking. There was an overall design/strategy in place involving a lot of individual battles. I tend to think more of these individual battles than the aim of the campaign itself.

Was the Overland campaign about cutting Lee off from his source and therefore destroying his army? Or was it about preventing Lee from protecting the capital of Richmond and taking it? Or both?
 

barrygio

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View attachment 316918
https://www.irishcentral.com/photo/irishmans-photographs-of-the-civil-war

"In May of 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army began the Overland Campaign, which aimed to wedge Union forces between the troops of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia."
https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/timothy-osullivan-irish-photographer

This quote got me thinking. There was an overall design/strategy in place involving a lot of individual battles. I tend to think more of these individual battles than the aim of the campaign itself.

Was the Overland campaign about cutting Lee off from his source and therefore destroying his army? Or was it about preventing Lee from protecting the capital of Richmond and taking it? Or both?
As I understand it, the objective was both to destroy Lee's army and to take Richmond. But it was only one campaign in a larger scheme. Grant simultaneously ordered offenses on all other fronts: Butler's army was to advance on Richmond via Bermuda Hundred on the James, Sherman's to destroy Joe Johnston and advance on Atlanta, Sigel to secure the Shenandoah Valley. Originally Banks was to advance on Mobile from New Orleans, but he was instead ordered by Washington up the Red River.

Thanks for posting the interesting photos
 
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trice

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When the Overland Campaign started, there was only a general plan of campaign for the Virginia campaign. It went like this:
  1. Grant/Meade would move on Richmond, assuming would move to attack them or to interpose between the their advance and Richmond.
  2. Sigel would push up the Shenandoah, threatening Confederate sullies/LOC and acting as a possible turning reinforcement for Grant/Meade
  3. Butler (really Smith and Gillmore) would move on the Petersburg-Richmond RR line to cut the Confederate LOC
  4. Crook and Averell would lead expeditions against the Confederate RR/LOC from West Virginia.
This fell apart quickly, with Breckinridge routing Sigel and Butler blundering into uselessness at Bermuda Hundred. Averell was stopped at Cove Gap, but Crook tore up the RR and burned the New River Bridge before returning to WV (hearing that Lee had beaten Grant at the Wilderness.

That left Grant/Meade. They were marching quickly, trying to get through the Wilderness and get to better territory. Lee moved to strike them hard, wanting to see if he could pull off another Chancellorsville. Grant and Meade had discussed what to do and were on the same page: if Lee came into range, fight him!

So when the AoP is in the Wilderness and Meade hears Lee is approaching, there is no hesitation. Meade calls off the advance, pivots the army to the West, and moves to meet Lee. After he issues those orders, he notifies Grant of what he has done.

Two days of bloody battle later, Grant looks out across the smoldering Wilderness, sees the Confederates digging in, ready for more fighting. He mutters "After two such days, Joe Johnston would retreat." That night, Grant pulls the AoP out and marches SE. When the army realizes that they are not pulling back to Fredericksburg but pushing towards Richmond, the troops erupt in cheers. Finally, they have commanders who will keep up the fight, who will lead them against the enemy until the war ends.

That takes us to Spotsylvania and the bloody fighting there. Grant sends Sheridan on his raid towards Richmond; Lee detaches Stuart to counter Sheridan and Stuart dies. Fighting around Spotsylvania continues day after day, Grant hitting Lee left, right, and center. Grant wants to keep Lee tied in position and neither has enough cavalry present to engage in a real campaign of movement. Grant would gladly crush Lee and comes close a time or two (particularly at the Mule Shoe); Lee defends with grit and skill.

When Grant gets the reports of how things have fouled up in the Shenandoah and at Bermuda Hundred, he realizes it is all up to the main force. He starts the series of turning movements that take us to the North Anna, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. In those days, they used to call this campaign the "Forty Days" as a reference to the suffering and trials of the Bible.

The campaign of Grant and Meade came close to breaking Lee more than once. Confederate disaster loomed overwhelmingly in the days before Cold Harbor and then again at Petersburg. Hard fighting, General Lee, overall exhaustion of the soldiers and plain luck saved the Confederacy in those dark days.

There was no specific campaign plan drawn out beforehand. Grant and Meade acted on general principles and ideas. They knew that every step closer to Richmond was a blow to the Confederacy. They knew what Lee knew: that Lee needed room and distance from Richmond to wage the campaign of maneuver he favored, that the more tied to Richmond and Petersburg the ANV became the less of a threat to the Union they were. While Grant must have wanted to avoid a siege and win quickly, Grant must also have known a siege would grind slowly in favor of the Union.
 

Andy Cardinal

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I agree for the most part, although I believe Grant always intended to reach the James and unite with Butler's army. Of course he expected Butler to accomplish more.

Grant's strategy was to attack logistics, so after cutting the Virginia Central that meant the railroads entering Richmond from the south. That was the intention of Sigel's role in the Shenandoah as well (strike at logistics).
 

Coonewah Creek

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Sherman's to destroy Joe Johnston and advance on Atlanta
Not to sidetrack the discussion with this, but since the Union strategy involved more than just the Overland Campaign as noted, I thought I would respectfully "pick a nit" with respect to the implication of Grant directing Sherman against Atlanta specifically.

With Grant having been named General-in-Chief of all the Federal armies and Sherman assuming command in the west, the plan for the 1864 campaign was that all Federal armies move simultaneously against the forces of the Confederacy, as previously discussed. While Grant engaged Lee in Virginia, his instructions to Sherman in a letter dated April 4, 1864 reads in part:

"You I propose to move against Johnston’s army [the Army of Tennessee], to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources."

"I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute it in your own way. Submit to me, however, as early as you can, your plan of operations."

In his reply to Grant on April 10, Sherman affirmed his mission as being “to knock Jos. Johnston, and do as much damage to the resources of the enemy as possible.” Although this seems in accordance with Grant’s instructions, we find, in examining the specifics of what Sherman proposed to do, that he actually violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Grant’s directives. Sherman, instead of striving to “knock” Johnston and break up his army, would merely try to maneuver him into retreating south of the Chattahoochee River, at which point, as he also tells Grant in his April 10 letter, he will send cavalry to cut the railroad between Atlanta and Montgomery and then “feign to the right, but pass to the left and act against Atlanta or its eastern communications, according to developed facts.” Thus it is clear that Sherman’s primary objective was, contrary to the clear meaning of Grant’s instructions, not Johnston’s army, but Atlanta.

This subtle shift in priorities probably reflected, at least in part, Sherman’s dislike of battles, which he tended to regard as dangerously unpredictable in outcome. However, the main reason was his belief that Grant’s Virginia offensive would be the “principal” one, and that his own campaign would be “secondary.” Thus Sherman saw his top-priority task as preventing Johnston from reinforcing Lee, not necessarily defeating Johnston’s army in pitched battle.

 
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To confess I have argued this subject on another website for a length of time. I have done some light research and formed an opinion. There was an infamous war conference, around 04/01/1864, between Grant and Butler at if I recall correctly Fort Monroe. Butler discusses it well in his letters and works. Grants is rather obscure about it and vague. I am of the opinion, Grant’s plan was to continuously flank Lee with the ultimate goal to force Lee inside Richmond and capture the entire Army. Grant is thinking Vicksburg and Fort Donelson but on a grander scale. All the while, causing Lee to leave his entrenchments in a panic to attempt to block Grant’s flanking movement. Thusly, causing Lee to engage in more open field fighting. Grant believed he could have Lee inside Richmond in 15 days. Butler’s Army was simply to move up the James River southside and seal off the Richmond from the south thus Grant and Butler would have Lee completely encircled. Lee completely disrupted this time table by violently attacking in the Wilderness and by entrenchment fight at Spotsylvania. Butler’s Army as instructed advanced only to be confronted by the powerful southern outer entrenchments of Richmond at Fort Darling complex. But Grant was stalled before the Spotsylvania entrenchments which left Butler venerable and isolated to a Confederate attack. The skillful CSA Beauregard launched a powerful attack upon the exposed Butler and drove him back to Bermuda Hundred but Beauregard’s assault stalled and checked there.
 

trice

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I agree for the most part, although I believe Grant always intended to reach the James and unite with Butler's army. Of course he expected Butler to accomplish more.

Grant's strategy was to attack logistics, so after cutting the Virginia Central that meant the railroads entering Richmond from the south. That was the intention of Sigel's role in the Shenandoah as well (strike at logistics).
Grant intended that Butler's Army would cut the RR between Petersburg and Richmond. This cuts all supply routes into Richmond from the South. If that happens, Lee's ANV cannot stay and fight in northern VA (for supply reasons if nothing else).

At the same time, Grant is threatening the Confederate supply line to Richmond from the West with the Sigel/Crook/Averell expeditions. If those work, Richmond becomes untenable and Lee's ANV needs to think about retreating to Lynchburg or North Carolina.

But Grant always saw maneuvering as a way to bring his army into contact with the enemy and fight him. He always believed in pursuit. He and Meade wanted to move on Lee and the ANV. Richmond was useful because Lee was tied to it. Threatening Richmond allowed them to operate effectively against Lee and the ANV. Grant would use Butler or Sigel or anyone else to fight Lee, and all Grant's campaigns tend to focus on concentrating against the target.
 

Dead Parrott

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Grant intended that Butler's Army would cut the RR between Petersburg and Richmond. This cuts all supply routes into Richmond from the South. If that happens, Lee's ANV cannot stay and fight in northern VA (for supply reasons if nothing else).

At the same time, Grant is threatening the Confederate supply line to Richmond from the West with the Sigel/Crook/Averell expeditions. If those work, Richmond becomes untenable and Lee's ANV needs to think about retreating to Lynchburg or North Carolina.

But Grant always saw maneuvering as a way to bring his army into contact with the enemy and fight him. He always believed in pursuit. He and Meade wanted to move on Lee and the ANV. Richmond was useful because Lee was tied to it. Threatening Richmond allowed them to operate effectively against Lee and the ANV. Grant would use Butler or Sigel or anyone else to fight Lee, and all Grant's campaigns tend to focus on concentrating against the target.
This is exactly correct. Great summary!
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Thanks to @JerseyBart 's inspirational thread on American Battlefield Trust videos, I managed to find one on the Overland Campaign.

It is brutal in terms of lives lost, and pinpoints both Grant and Lee as men who 'displayed both brilliance and poor judgement' in terms of the campaign. We also see the loss of at least two great Generals - John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and J.E.B. Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

 
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Thanks to @JerseyBart 's inspirational thread on American Battlefield Trust videos, I managed to find one on the Overland Campaign.

It is brutal in terms of lives lost, and pinpoints both Grant and Lee as men who 'displayed both brilliance and poor judgement' in terms of the campaign. We also see the loss of at least two great Generals - John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and J.E.B. Stuart at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

Interesting and well done video. I need to ask; is that @scone at 17:41 one minute from the end? Thanks,
Lubliner.
 

OpnCoronet

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View attachment 316918
https://www.irishcentral.com/photo/irishmans-photographs-of-the-civil-war

Was the Overland campaign about cutting Lee off from his source and therefore destroying his army? Or was it about preventing Lee from protecting the capital of Richmond and taking it? Or both?




The ANV was the real target. I think Lincoln believed that the existence of the confederacy was sustained by its armies, destroy the armies and the csa, ceased to exist.

In reality both the AoP and the ANV, were committed by their political superiors to defending their respective Capitals. Union strategy was to threaten the confederate Capital from more than one direction, in the expectation that this would force Lee to either divide his forces to meet all threats or concentrate against one, in either case the expectation was that Lee would be forced out of prepared defenses to fight in the open against the superior numbers of the Union armies in Va., or fall back to the defensive works around Richmond, where the ANV could be besieged.

In fact, it seems to me that the above plan was exactly how it worked out, with the siege or Petersburg substituting for Richmond. But, as noted by others, the plan was general and not specific it did not really maater when or where Lee was forced to fight or defend, because the real targe was not a fixed geographic point on a map, but, where the ANV was located.\, wherever the ANV went, there, the AoP would be.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Personally, after reading some of the posts here, I do think the strategy was more about destroying Lee's army. I don't know that Richmond as a Capital was as important to take as, say, the likes of Vicksburg for strategic purposes. Although it's proximity to Washington would certainly create a threat while hostilities were ongoing. If it was taken, the Confederate Government could always be moved to another location. But, destroy an army and you have no government, because that's how wars are won.
 

Saint Jude

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Not to sidetrack the discussion with this, but since the Union strategy involved more than just the Overland Campaign as noted, I thought I would respectfully "pick a nit" with respect to the implication of Grant directing Sherman against Atlanta specifically.
Your post seems to rely heavily on Castel's analysis in Decision in the West, which I personally don't find all that convincing. As I see it, Sherman didn't violate the spirit, much less the letter of Grant's orders. It wasn't an either/or proposition. Sherman was after both the Army of Tennessee and Atlanta. If he had been simply trying to maneuver Johnston into retreating, he would never have attacked him at Kennesaw Mountain.
 

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Lincoln consistently advocated the destruction of the rebel armies, rather than the capture of cities such as Richmond. Grant adhered to this concept, and instructed General Meade at the onset of the Overland Campaign: "Lee's army will be your objective. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also." That being said, the taking of southern cities as a goal should not be overlooked. After all, much of the Union's ability to defeat the Confederacy was based on the capture of strategic places like New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta, which were prime logistical bases for the south and which also held psychological significance to the southern population and administration. So in actual fact, military conflict was not a simple choice of "either-or" and the distinction between going after armies and seizing vital towns and cities was often commingled.
 
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