The Overland Campaign

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trice

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Now lets take time and allow General Benjamin Butler speak by way of the wonderful book: BUTLER'S BOOK:

"From an interview with Sheridan (see Feb 25th), I (Butler) learned what Lee and Grant had done in the march from the Rapides. The position of Grant's army and its distance from Richmond, contradicted all the dispatches I had received from Washington, and I judged that it was impossible for him to do otherwise than to take the alternative in the plan agreed upon between us (the infamous suppressed meeting on 04/01/1864 at Fort Monroe), in case he failed to turn Lee's left and drive him back into Richmond (the infamous boxing of Bobby Lee), where I was to meet him (Grant) in TEN DAYS. Evidently Grant was not coming to Richmond (per the secreted talk with Sheridan) but had marched by his left flank to join me at City Point, intending to continue his operations on the south side (of James River). I had PERFORMED MY PART by being around Richmond, holding its outer defences (at Fort Durery) on the south side of the James River, and now --------- I concluded that I would not continue to hold my position more than a day or two longer, long enough to hold a road open for Kautz (only cavalry force available to Butler) to find his way back to join in if he had met with disaster (while attacking rebel railroads). The fortifications of our INTRENCHED CAMP at BERMUDA (HUNDREDS) were by no means in such condition as they needed to be, to be thoroughly impregnable to the attack of the WHOLE OF LEE'S ARMY, he having the interior or shorter line. He might attempt to carry them and thus force Grant, whom he had learned was to make this (BERMUDA HUNDRED'S) his NEW BASE, into the position in which McClellan was at Harrison's landing. Accordingly it was IMPERATIVE that I should NO LONGER PERIL THE SAFETY OF GRANT'S NEW BASE, AND ALSO PROBABLY THE SAFETY OF HIS ARMY."
Ben Butler was many things, but an insightful military analyst was not one of them. He had a long record of military incompetence any time he came close to commanding troops in the field. This extract from his book seems to show a complete lack of understanding of the military situation in Virginia in 1864.
 
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trice

OK you dislike Butler, let us try some of Grant to prove my point!

From General U.S. Grant
CONFIDENTIAL FORT MONROE, VA. APRIL 2, 1864
MAJOR GENL. BENJ. F. BUTLER, Comdg. Dept. of VA. & N. C., FORT MONROE, VA.
“Lee’s army and Richmond being the greater objects toward which our attention must be directed in the next campaign, it is desirable to unite all the force against them.”------“The fact that HAS ALREADY BEEN STATED (yesterday 04/01/1864), that is, that RICHMOND IS TO BE YOUR OBJECTIVE POINT, and that there is to be cooperation between your force and the Army of Potomac, must be your guide.”------“THEN SHOULD THE ENEMY BE FORCED INTO HIS INTRENCHMENTS IN RICHMOND, THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC WOULD FOLLOW, AND BY ANY MEANS OF TRANSPORTS THE TWO ARMIES WOULD BECOME A UNIT (at Richmond). All the minor details of your advance are left entirely to your directions.”
U.S. GRANT, Lieut. General
 

James N.

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Grant's first idea was to take the AoP, load 10 days supplies into the wagons, cut loose from his supply lines, and move south along the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge -- then turn west to strike at Richmond, forcing Lee to fight west of the city. This would avoid the 3 years worth of fortifications defending the northern and eastern approaches to Richmond. To put it mildly, this is a wild and woolly proposal that would scare the daylights out of most commanders.

Grant would later say he would have actually followed through on this idea if he had known how good an army the AoP was and they had known enough about him.

Of course, another one of Grant's first ideas when he was put in command was to make better use of resources by bringing generals McClellan, Buell and Franklin back to active service. Political reality reared its' ugly head and only Franklin came back (Grant wanted him to command the AoP cavalry, but Grant could not manage that and Halleck suggested Sheridan). Not all of Grant's ideas come out looking good in hindsight.

Of course, Robert E. Lee might have had some interesting ideas of his own if the AoP cut loose from their LOC and came down around Gordonsville-Charlottesville. :hungry:
It may have been his original idea, but once he got to Washington he quickly realized that Lincoln, Stanton, etc. would NEVER have allowed him to do that, and he as quickly dropped it. The defense of Washington was the albatross around every Federal commanders' neck throughout the war. He chose to advance via the Wilderness instead of Culpeper for that very reason among others, including having a shorter supply line to protect.
 
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trice

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It may have been his original idea, but once he got to Washington he quickly realized that Lincoln, Stanton, etc. would NEVER have allowed him to do that, and he as quickly dropped it. The defense of Washington was the albatross around every Federal commanders' neck throughout the war. He chose to advance via the Wilderness instead of Culpeper for that very reason among others, including having a shorter supply line to protect.
Yes, absolutely, his first idea. It is a pretty good one in some ways -- assuming you really think you are going to be able to beat Bobby Lee in a lightning campaign of maneuver in the first 10 days (either beating him in the field or forcing him back so you can re-open your supply line). If you can't do that, well, things are going to start to look pretty bad ...
 

trice

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trice

OK you dislike Butler, let us try some of Grant to prove my point!

From General U.S. Grant
CONFIDENTIAL FORT MONROE, VA. APRIL 2, 1864
MAJOR GENL. BENJ. F. BUTLER, Comdg. Dept. of VA. & N. C., FORT MONROE, VA.
“Lee’s army and Richmond being the greater objects toward which our attention must be directed in the next campaign, it is desirable to unite all the force against them.”------“The fact that HAS ALREADY BEEN STATED (yesterday 04/01/1864), that is, that RICHMOND IS TO BE YOUR OBJECTIVE POINT, and that there is to be cooperation between your force and the Army of Potomac, must be your guide.”------“THEN SHOULD THE ENEMY BE FORCED INTO HIS INTRENCHMENTS IN RICHMOND, THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC WOULD FOLLOW, AND BY ANY MEANS OF TRANSPORTS THE TWO ARMIES WOULD BECOME A UNIT (at Richmond). All the minor details of your advance are left entirely to your directions.”
U.S. GRANT, Lieut. General
This is General Grant's actual opinion of Ben Butler's position at Bermuda Hundred.
Butler embarked at Fort Monroe with all his command except the cavalry and some artillery which moved up the south bank of the James River His steamers moved first up Chesapeake Bay and York River as if threatening the rear of Lee's army At midnight they turned back and Butler by daylight was far up the James River He seized City Point and Bermuda Hundred early in the day without loss and no doubt very much to the surprise of the enemy.
This was the accomplishment of the first step contemplated in my instructions to Butler He was to act from here looking to Richmond as his objective point I had given him to understand that I should aim to fight Lee between the Rapidan and Richmond if he would stand but should Lee fall back into Richmond I would follow up and make a junction of the armies of the Potomac and the James on the James River He was directed to secure a footing as far up the south side of the river as he could at as early a date as possible.
Butler was in position by the 6th of May and had begun intrenching and on the 7th he sent out his cavalry from Suffolk to cut the Weldon Railroad He also sent out detachments to destroy the railroad between Petersburg and Richmond but no great success attended these latter efforts. He made no great effort to establish himself on that road and neglected to attack Petersburg which was almost defenceless. About the 11th he advanced slowly until he reached the works at Drury's Bluff about half way between Bermuda Hundred and Richmond. In the mean time Beauregard had been gathering reinforcements. On the 16th he attacked Butler with great vigor and with such success as to limit very materially the further usefulness of the Army of the James as a distinct factor in the campaign. I afterward ordered a portion of it to join the Army of the Potomac leaving a sufficient force with Butler to man his works hold securely the footing he had already gained and maintain a threatening front toward the rear of the Confederate capital.
The position which General Butler had chosen between the two rivers the James and Appomattox was one of great natural strength one where a large area of ground might be thoroughly inclosed by means of a single intrenched line and that a very short one in comparison with the extent of territory which it thoroughly protected His right was protected by the James River his left by the Appomattox and his rear by their junction the two streams uniting near by. The bends of the two streams shortened the line that had been chosen for intrenchments while it increased the area which the line inclosed.
Previous to ordering any troops from Butler I sent my chief engineer General Barnard from the Army of the Potomac to that of the James to inspect Butler's position and ascertain whether I could again safely make an order for General Butler's movement in co operation with mine now that I was getting so near Richmond or if I could not wether his position was strong enough to justify me in withdrawing some of his troops and having them brought round by water to White House to join me and reinforce the Army of the Potomac General Barnard reported the position very strong for defensive purposes and that I could do the latter with great security but that General Butler could not move from where he was in co operation to produce any effect He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler's line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle He was perfectly safe against an attack but as Barnard expressed it the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. This struck me as being very expressive of his position particularly when I saw the hasty sketch which General Barnard had drawn and in making my subsequent report I used that expression without adding quotation marks never thinking that anything had been said that would attract attention as this did very much to the annoyance no doubt of General Butler and I know very much to my own. I found afterwards that this was mentioned in the notes of General Badeau's book which when they were shown to me I asked to have stricken out yet it was retained there though against my wishes.
I make this statement here because although I have often made it before it has never been in my power until now to place it where it will correct history and I desire to rectify all injustice that I may have done to individuals particularly to officers who were gallantly serving their country during the trying period of the war for the preservation of the Union. General Butler certainly gave his very earnest support to the war and he gave his own best efforts personally to the suppression of the rebellion.
— Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs
 
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Jamieva

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ANV is Grant's target. All of the other Union forces in Virginia are working in conjunction with the AotP to rob Lee of the vital items he needs to fight: room to move, men and material. Butler is threatening his flank and rear and vital railroads that supply Lee from the south. That means Beauregard's forces can't all go to join Lee. Sigel/Hunter threaten his flank, rob him of the ability to collect supplies from the Valley at will. same for the force working in SW VA. The Union plan in VA in 1864 is a smaller version of the anaconda plan when you look at it on a map.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Thanks for sharing that @east tennessee roots . Such additions help to bring the campaign alive and, IMO, make it more meaningful.
 
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From General Grant
Head Quarters, Armies in the Field, Culpepper C.H. Va., April 19, 1864
Maj. Gen. B. F. BUTLER, Comd’g. Dept., of N. C. & Va.
“I will, as you understand (from the meeting of 04/01/1864), expect you to move from Fort Monroe the same day Gen. Meade starts from here.”------ “You also understand that with the forces here I shall aim to fight Lee between here and Richmond if he will stand. Should Lee, however, fall back into Richmond, I will follow up and make a JUNCTION WITH YOUR ARMY on the James River (at Richmond). Could I be certain that you will be able to invest RICHMOND ON THE SOUTH SIDE, SO AS TO HAVE YOUR LEFT (flank) resting on the James, above the city, I would form the junction there. Circumstances may make this course advisable anyhow. I would say, therefore, use every exertion to secure footing as far UP THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE RIVER (above Richmond) AS YOU CAN, and as soon as possible. “---------

“The enemy will unquestionably, however, bring everything to Richmond the moment we begin to move (on May 4, 1864). When I telegraph we will start, rain or shine we will start, and hope that from all points I have made preparations, or am making them, FOR A FULL SIEGE EQUIPMENT TO USE IF THE ENEMY FALL WITHIN THE INTRENCHMENTS AT RICHMOND.”
Your OBT. SVT. U.S. GRANT, Lt. Genl.
 
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trice
Thank you for the presentation of the section of Grant’s Memoirs cited above as it is related to the time period in discussion. Note it is written after the War and Grant maybe guilty of some revision and self- improvement, in that it alters the historical record. Right from the start Grant states Butler “had no great success” in cutting the railroad between Petersburg and Richmond, when in fact that railroad was cut but had to be abandoned back to the Confederate repair crews, once Grant failed to appear at Richmond to meet Butler. The point being the railroad was cut as ordered, but due to Grant’s failure to appear at Richmond it had to be returned to the Confederates. Second disingenuous statement is as follows, “he made no great effort to establish himself on that road and neglected to attack Petersburg.” The historical record is clear that Butler’s entire Army was on the ordered route and reached the southern outer most defense line of Richmond at the Drury’s Hill entrenchment complex. The maneuver failed due to Grant/Meade Army failed to meet Butler’s Army at Richmond. Additionally, why does Grant say “neglected to attack Petersburg” when Grant never gave orders for Butler to attack Petersburg?
 
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trice continued
Thirdly, why does Grant deflect from Grant’s failure to appear at Richmond in the Overland Campaign by saying Beauregard drove Butler into the entrenchments of Bermuda Hundred; thusly making Butler useless in the Overland Campaign? Butler was rendered useless in the Overland Campaign because Grant/Meade failure to appear at Richmond to meet Butler. It made no difference if Beauregard had attacked or not, because Butler was being forced to retreat to Bermuda Hundred, due to Grant/Meade failure to appear at Richmond. If Butler does not retreat, he is exposed to destruction, because he is isolated and exposed south of Richmond. Fourth, is Grant claimed that he sent Chief Engineer Barnard “too see if I could again make an order for General Butler’s movement in cooperation with mine now that I am getting so close to Richmond”, or remove a part of Butler’s Army to come to Grant. This is again very disingenuous, as Grant has lost too many troops at Wilderness and Spotsylvania to continue to try to force and maneuver Lee into Richmond, with a two-prong assault with Grant on north bank and Butler on the south bank, as originally planned. The truthful plan is that Grant sent Barnard to ascertain if Butler can hold Bermuda Hundred stronghold, without being destroyed, while Grant removes Butler’s most effective force: Baldy Smith’s Corp. Grant is planning the battle at Cold Harbor and still trying to force Lee into Richmond. Due to Grant’s manpower shortage, Grant is now removing Butler’s only effective offensive power in Baldy Smith’s Corp to come to the Cold Harbor planned battle. Butler is made ineffective offensively due to Grant’s instructions not the silly Corked Bottle.
 
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Jamieva

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You need to read up more about Butler's actions if you want to put all of his failures on Grant. He had all the advantages and allowed a smaller force to drive him back and bottle him up. Butler half heartedly went after Petersburg, had a chance after a fight at Swift Creek but again lost his opportunity. This is a pattern of Butler throughout the campaign
 

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The first co-ordinated offensive did not accomplish the end of the war. Banks, Butler and Sigel/Crook did not contribute much.
But in the second co-ordinated offensive, Sheridan is assigned to the valley command, and he is assigned an overwhelming tactical force.
Canby assigns Granger to support Farragut, and Grant can be in City Point and command Butler directly. In the second co-ordinated defense, Meade and Grant manage the details of Warren's movement to that Warren's corp is primarily on the defensive.
What happened? Mobile Bay was closed. Warren cut the Weldon railroad and Lee was further separated from Hood. Grant was not able to move around Lee, but Sherman took that risk instead and his professional commanders made it work. Sheridan jockeyed with Early in the valley until the intelligence reports were favorable. Early outfought Sheridan tactically, but Sheridan had a huge and experienced cavalry arm which defeated Early.
I think this second offensive showed that Grant's ideas were based on logistical control, and the power of mobility.
Thus the Overland Campaign was bad and Grant knew it was bad. And he never repeated it.
 
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Ole Miss

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Grant was a professional soldier who was dealing with political appointed general officers and the vasty majority of which were incompatent. I would offer these as examples of poor military leaders who had political pull.
Benjamin Butler
Franz Siegel
Ole Dan Sickles
John Alexander McClernand
John Floyd
William "Extra Billy" Smith
Regards
David
 

wausaubob

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The war ended based on closing Mobile Bay, which Grant had advocated for. He also formed very heavy cavalry units, commanded by Sheridan, Wilson and Stoneham. Butler's failure to take Fort Fisher was addressed immediately. 3 weeks after Butler's failure, before the Confederates could restore the Weldon railroad, Terry and Porter were back at Fort Fisher.
The Overland Campaign failed and Grant's subsequent actions demonstrate that his ideas on how to win the war were very different than what was demonstrated in the Overland Campaign.
The United States had an enormous advantage in combined arms operations. It also had a large and growing advantage in forming, mounting and equipping cavalry units. When both advantages were pressed to the fullest, there was nothing much the Confederates could do about it.
 

frontrank2

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My gr - gr grandfather ( on my father's side ) fought with the 39th NY Infantry. He was wounded at the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Rd. AKA the 1st Battle of the Weldon Railroad on June 22, 1864. The Federals were held off with my grandfather being wounded that day. he suffered a minor leg wound and was listed as Absent Without Leave while he was in the hospital ( real nice ). He returned to the regiment in August, 1864.
 
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Jamieva
Nice try but I find nothing convincing in your post to change my position. If you had been well-read you would know that most of the Army of James/Ben Butler seasoned dependable troops were those of the Baldy Smith Corps which constitutes about half of Butler’s force. While technically correct that Beauregard had the lesser number of troops, Beauregard had a suspected higher number of seasoned troops and they had better leadership. Beauregard had the advantage of attacking in the fog and there was an alinement error in the Federal disposition. Therefore, I submit that Beauregard’s force was superior to Butler’s force. I will repeat forever that the phrase “bottle him up” is a political slur of no value or relation to the historical fact on the ground. Again, Butler had no orders from Grant to go “half-hearted” or whole-hearted after Petersburg. Grant had no interest in Petersburg until Grant went south of the James later. Swift Creek was definitely not an “opportunity” as it was outside the objective of Grant’s instructions. Secondly, like the Beauregard successful assault, it does not matter if it occurs or not, as Butler is forced to withdraw, because of Grant’s failure to appear to join Butler at Richmond. Thirdly, the engagement you wrongly seek did not happen because Gillmore and/or Smith did not want it to happen. The only “pattern” I observe is the one in which Butler is shortchanged and limited so as to prevent any positive noteworthy event to improve his political suspected ambitions. Finally, I do not support anyone attempting to put all of Butler’s faults solely on Grant.
 
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Wausaubob
We are much in agreement but let me engage in a few details. While I have been critical at points in the Overland Campaign, overall, I mostly uphold Grant’s performance, except for the Cold Harbor event. I would describe it as mainly a draw between Lee and Grant/Meade, with Lee wining short term but Grant wining long term. Regardless of your saying this campaign “did not accomplish the end of the War”, and that “Butler and Sigel/Crook did not contribute much”, may be too hard judgement upon it. If one sees the ‘first coordinated offensive” (Overland) and the “second coordinated offensive” (Petersburg) as rightfully one coordinated offensive that encircled and choke too death Richmond/Confederacy, then I say you may redeem yourself and become more optimistic. Butler and Sigel/Crook did cause Lee to detach troops to confront them and these were not confronting Meade. I believe it is wrong to speak of Butler/Army of James as a separate operation, as Grant always made it contingent and secondary upon what Meade was to do. Therefore, when one speaks of “Butler’s failure” it is more correct to say: Grant/Meade/Butler failure. I think again you are being hard upon yourself in saying Grant only attained “logistical control” and “power of mobility” in the “second coordination offensive” (Petersburg). I submit an opinion that Grant had these also in the Overland Campaign to a degree acceptable. Grant left the railroad and successful used the rivers of East Coast Virginia; therefore, he maintained “logistical control”. Grant mostly kept his “power of mobility”, which Lee caused to be restricted around time of Cold Harbor, but Grant recovered by going south of the James River.
 
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