Overland The Overland Campaign

(Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor)

wausaubob

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Grant had an advantage in the Merrimack was not a factor during the Overland Campaign. Also, Grant was much more attuned to keeping his water borne logistics within the navigable range of the US squadron. Lee never wanted to fight in the zone in which the gunboats could operate.
Two things about the Overland Operation: Grant was moving towards reinforcements, and Grant knew from McClellan's experience, how the rivers could sustain US logistics.
 

wausaubob

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While Lee stymied Grant's attempt to capture Richmond, nonetheless the Army finally detached a force sufficient to support Farragut. By late July, S. Phillips Lee created the three tiered blockade of Wilmington, and Farragut's attack squadron closed Mobile Bay in the first week of August. Grant maximized his pressure on the fading railroad system of the Confederacy and gradually drained the Confederate ability to forage its horses and mules in Virginia.
Thus the evidence supports the conclusion that Grant preferred to go back to basics and closed the smuggler's ports and go back to breaking up the Confederate RR system, one branch at a time.
 
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Wausaubob
One should not dismiss the Confederate Ironclad Fleet of several vessels at Richmond plus a few gunboats and torpedo boats. Grant was certainly concern enough before crossing over the James that he ordered Butler to construct a mass river obstruction, in the James, near upper end of Bermuda Hundred fortress. It was covered by heavy rifled artillery emplacements and several powerful river monitors. Butler had a brown water Army of James fleet and there was the US Naval fleet in the James River. They worked well together to keep the water supply line open. They worried over the threat the Confederates may move a torpedo boat(s) overland to a stream to launch down it into the James River downstream. A torpedo boat night attack could be deadly and difficult to stop. They worried about a massive breakout by the Confederate Ironclad Fleet which later was attempted by the Confederates.

Another point I wish to make is how much Ben Butler/Army of the James assisted Grant/Meade in the area of “logistical control” and “power of mobility”. While Lee believed he had Grant/Meade confined in a limited area at and near the time of Cold Harbor, Grant simply turned the table, by accepting the Army of James supply depot at City Point, on the James River, which was already constructed with depot/dock and defensive works, completed by Ben Butler/Army of James. In a grand engineering feat, Ben Butler/Army of James caused a massive pontoon bridge to appear in hours, which allowed Grant/Meade to cross over the James River, without any molestation from an enemy force. Lastly, the Bermuda Hundred fortress and related river forces, allowed the protection for Grant/Meade to safety deploy and recover south of the James, from the heavy rate of attrition suffered in the grinding Overland Campaign. What wonderful gifts all provided by Ben Butler/Army of James.
 

leftyhunter

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los angeles ca
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.
In 20/20 hindsight wasn't Sherman correct? After the heavy loss's at Shiloh one could argue that Sherman wished to avoid head on battles if at all possible.
Leftyhunter
 

James N.

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In 20/20 hindsight wasn't Sherman correct? After the heavy loss's at Shiloh one could argue that Sherman wished to avoid head on battles if at all possible.
Leftyhunter
Too bad for his men he didn't stick to that idea at Kennesaw Mountain! (Also, Pickett's Mill and Dallas too.)
 

jackt62

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Too bad for his men he didn't stick to that idea at Kennesaw Mountain! (Also, Pickett's Mill and Dallas too.)
Except Sherman, like Grant at Cold Harbor, was running out of time and space to continue with flanking movements around the enemy force. Both commanders ordered direct assaults as a desperation move in the hope that a successful assault would indeed vanquish the enemy. Of course, this did not happen.
 

Coonewah Creek

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I agree, in fact, a big question to me, would be whether Lee would have let Sherman avoid attacking him before he attacked Sherman, if situations had been reversed with Grant?
That is an interesting question, and my guess would be that since Lee was never one to yield the initiative unless absolutely compelled to, would have taken offensive action against Sherman, had he been in Johnston's position.

However, an interesting corollary I think is a quote from Grant's memoirs in which he wrote,

"For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation.

Atlanta was very strongly intrenched all the way around in a circle about a mile and a half outside of the city. In addition to this, there were advanced intrenchments which had to be taken before a close siege could be commenced."

Now one might argue that his memoirs, as many others', contained more than a fair share of 20/20 hindsight, but if we can take him at his word, then, in Grant's opinion, Johnston employed the best strategy available considering the military and political situation at that point in time. I always found that an interesting observation by Grant.
 

OpnCoronet

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Feb 23, 2010
That is an interesting question, and my guess would be that since Lee was never one to yield the initiative unless absolutely compelled to, would have taken offensive action against Sherman, had he been in Johnston's position.
However, an interesting corollary I think is a quote from Grant's memoirs in which he wrote,
"For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation.
Atlanta was very strongly intrenched all the way around in a circle about a mile and a half outside of the city. In addition to this, there were advanced intrenchments which had to be taken before a close siege could be commenced."
Now one might argue that his memoirs, as many others', contained more than a fair share of 20/20 hindsight, but if we can take him at his word, then, in Grant's opinion, Johnston employed the best strategy available considering the military and political situation at that point in time. I always found that an interesting observation by Grant.




Interesting, perhaps, but, not in tune with the historical facts as they existed in late 1864.

If Johnston was right to order Pemberton out of Vicksburg and not sacrifice his army to a foregone conclusion. Why in the world would he sacrifice his army to the same foregone conclusion at Atlanta?

In point of historical fact, IMO, withstanding a siege at Atlanta, would not have ended the war any the later than it did in reality. The only difference being, Johnbston surrendering his Army in Ga. rather than North Carolina, as soon as Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

In one respect, Johnston's strategy, as you propose, was viable(and I do not deny that it may have been his strategy all along). Without a reinvigoration of confederate war effort in the West, by significant increase in men, supplies and arms, the war was lost in the confederate heartland. Johnston knew Davis had sent all he could afford to Bragg, there was nothing left, if the war could not be won with the forces at hand, and, Johnston believed it could not, then the war was truly lost in the West. If that were the case, then fighting aggressived to achieve only Phyrric viictories, at best, to only delay the inevitable, would be the heihts of foolishness.
 

Coonewah Creek

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In one respect, Johnston's strategy, as you propose, was viable(and I do not deny that it may have been his strategy all along).
Note that it was Grant who suggested that Johnston's strategy was viable. Honestly, I am still just a long-time student of the Atlanta Campaign and have come to no "cast in concrete" independent opinion on what might have happened had Johnston remained in command. I do think he was right in trying to get the Davis administration to turn Forrest loose on Sherman's long railway/depot supply network in Tennessee and Northern Georgia. That Forrest's cavalry was stuck in the backwater Mississippi Theater when the real military decisions were being reached during the Atlanta and Overland Campaigns is an unforgivable mistake on the part of the Davis Administration. Hood tried to accomplish something of the same thing in sending Wheeler north, but that was a dismal failure (too little, too late). Had Forrest been freed earlier, of course what damage he might have inflicted is purely speculative (but look at the Johnsonville Expedition for an example). If the damage to Sherman's lifeline had been significant, whether Johnston might have then been able to then successfully counterpunch an overextended, under-supplied Army Group under Sherman prior to his reaching the Chattahoochee River has always been an interesting "what if" on my part, but even under the best of circumstances, you may still be right. It may have still just remained a matter of time and would have had little influence on the political events in the North.
 

OpnCoronet

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Note that it was Grant who suggested that Johnston's strategy was viable.



I only argue, that the strategic fgacts as they existed in late 1864 early 1865 do not lend credence to Grant's remembrances. I would suggest, though, that perhaps Lee's growing deification as A military 'genius' and Johnston's vilification as one who helped to lose the war for the confederacy had something to do with it.

Grant probably appreciated Johnston on military grounds, as a skilful practioner of the 'Art of War' rather more than the simply hard fighting tactician, Lee.
 

Norm53

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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.

Excellent video. I conclude from it that all along the objective of this campaign was to separate Lee from Richmond with flanking moves and destroy it with Grant's superior numbers. Frustrated with his inability to achieve that goal, and having run out of flanking territory, Grant makes a final desperate frontal attack at Cold Harbor and suffers the consequences. Grant (and Lincoln) now have to settle for a siege of Petersburg-Richmond, knowing that Lee must defend it. We are back to Grant's initial preference, except lots more troops are dead, wounded, and missing.
 
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Excellent video. I conclude from it that all along the objective of this campaign was to separate Lee from Richmond with flanking moves and destroy it with Grant's superior numbers. Frustrated with his inability to achieve that goal, and having run out of flanking territory, Grant makes a final desperate frontal attack at Cold Harbor and suffers the consequences. Grant (and Lincoln) now have to settle for a siege of Petersburg-Richmond, knowing that Lee must defend it. We are back to Grant's initial preference, except lots more troops are dead, wounded, and missing.
Thanks Norm. I'm going to have to watch it again, and I think I concur. Hopefully, I'll get back to the video in the next couple of days. I haven't studied this campaign in depth, which is why I thought to open up the conversation in this thread to see what insight I could gain.
 

wausaubob

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That is an interesting question, and my guess would be that since Lee was never one to yield the initiative unless absolutely compelled to, would have taken offensive action against Sherman, had he been in Johnston's position.

However, an interesting corollary I think is a quote from Grant's memoirs in which he wrote,

"For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation.

Atlanta was very strongly intrenched all the way around in a circle about a mile and a half outside of the city. In addition to this, there were advanced intrenchments which had to be taken before a close siege could be commenced."

Now one might argue that his memoirs, as many others', contained more than a fair share of 20/20 hindsight, but if we can take him at his word, then, in Grant's opinion, Johnston employed the best strategy available considering the military and political situation at that point in time. I always found that an interesting observation by Grant.
And Sherman's final tactical manuever, leaving Slocum's corp on the railroad, and swinging W and SW with his remaining army, far from the railroad, and deep in enemy territory, involved substantial risk. Just one year previously, Rosecrans' divisions became separate from each other and took a hard blow at Chickamauga. Sherman's circling movement succeeded because he and Thomas worked on the details. They much more experience by then on what worked. And the Confederate opposition was exhausted beyond what they knew.
 

wausaubob

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The experience of the Overland Campaign was that the larger an army was, the slower it moved. After July 31, 1864, Grant spent the next 8 months trying to put some movement back into the Army of the Potomac. That meant re-equipping the cavalry forces and getting rid of the commanders who could not read a map correctly.
However, once the Overland Campaign succeeded to the degree that Grant's army was south of the James River, the Confederacy was drawing its horses and mules from a rapidly shrinking territory. In addition, since southern horses and mules could graze in a pasture almost all year, and because there were no large cities like New York/Brooklyn or Philadelphia in the Confederacy the Confederate economy was not set up to move oats and dried hay by the thousands of tons. Southern cities did not maintain large numbers of working horses in urban and semi-urban settings. In the south horses forage near where they worked.
The war of attrition led to a large number of battle casualties. But it occurred after Missouri remained in the US, after Texas was cut off from the Confederacy, and after the US occupied virtually all of Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as large parts of what had been Virginia.
I think @Rhea Cole was the one who pointed out the toll of the Civil War on horses and mules. But the US could deal with that. It had a large and growing agricultural region from which to buy livestock. It had the financial power to pay a fair price for what it needed. And the US could supply the tons of forage that would allow horses to regain weight and strength quickly, after a field operation.
Its very doubtful that the Confederacy could have operated any substantial organized armies after March of 1865.
The 1870 census showed the severe diminution of horses and mules persisted in most Confederate and border states, even after 5 years of recovery.
 

BillO

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I only argue, that the strategic fgacts as they existed in late 1864 early 1865 do not lend credence to Grant's remembrances. I would suggest, though, that perhaps Lee's growing deification as A military 'genius' and Johnston's vilification as one who helped to lose the war for the confederacy had something to do with it.

Grant probably appreciated Johnston on military grounds, as a skilful practioner of the 'Art of War' rather more than the simply hard fighting tactician, Lee.
I suspect Grant appreciated Johnston for the same reasons Lee appreciated Little Mac.
 

wausaubob

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I suspect Grant appreciated Johnston for the same reasons Lee appreciated Little Mac.
Grant was an experienced quartermaster officer. During the Civil War, he concentrated on logistics. Johnston's concentration was also on logistics. They were well matched opponents. Johnston understood that the US strategy was very expensive. Regardless of the loss of human life, Joe Johnston thought the Confederacy could exhaust the credit capacity of the US. After the war he advocated a war plan for the Confederacy of getting all the cotton warehoused in England and France, as a credit account to pay for munitions as the war went. I don't know if Johnston was right, but Grant and Johnston were playing the same game.
 

BillO

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Grant was an experienced quartermaster officer. During the Civil War, he concentrated on logistics. Johnston's concentration was also on logistics. They were well matched opponents. Johnston understood that the US strategy was very expensive. Regardless of the loss of human life, Joe Johnston thought the Confederacy could exhaust the credit capacity of the US. After the war he advocated a war plan for the Confederacy of getting all the cotton warehoused in England and France, as a credit account to pay for munitions as the war went. I don't know if Johnston was right, but Grant and Johnston were playing the same game.
Kind of my point. I'd much rather face off against an opponent I understand than one I can't.
 
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