Ulysses S. Grant: Overrated or Underrated?

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Krieger

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What does it say for Lee if Grant was just a stumblebum?
A lot of unfortunate implications. Hence the overreliance on blowing up the AoP with the most ridiculously inflated numbers that you can find while compressing and shrinking the ANV to the tiniest, most ragged and practically helpless little band of defenders that you possibly can get away with.
 

Florida Rebel

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I'm not saying Grant was a terrible human being; he was very generous in his terms to Lee. But when you look at his life, wasn't it a case of great timing more than great ability? All of us have or were in some type of business or job at one time in our lives. Don't we all know people who astonished us with their rise up the ladder? If I'm looking at ability and wonderful potential in an army officer, shouldn't Winfield Scott Hancock be near or at the top of the list of Union commanders? Maybe John Reynolds would be second?
 

jackt62

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I'm not saying Grant was a terrible human being; he was very generous in his terms to Lee. But when you look at his life, wasn't it a case of great timing more than great ability? All of us have or were in some type of business or job at one time in our lives. Don't we all know people who astonished us with their rise up the ladder? If I'm looking at ability and wonderful potential in an army officer, shouldn't Winfield Scott Hancock be near or at the top of the list of Union commanders? Maybe John Reynolds would be second?
Grant was certainly in the right place at the right time. But so where many other CW commanders who did not fare as well (McClellan for example). Or for that matter, one could similarly dismiss General Eisenhower's command ability in WWII as simply a case of luck and circumstance. But luck and circumstance does not detract from Grant's intrinsic abilities which, once given the opportunity to display, should not come as a surprise as he rose up the ladder of command. Of course there were numerous commanders who were in the first tier as you mention (Hancock, Reynolds). But the abilities of other commanders should not take away from giving credit to what Grant achieved.
 

John Fenton

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Grant’s magnificent successes in the West cost his armies a mere 37,000 casualties, while the Rebels lost 84,000.
Although Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, under Grant’s personal direction, suffered high casualties (53,000, or 41 percent) during its drive to the James River, it imposed an even higher percentage of losses on Lee’s army (33,000, or 46 percent).
Lee achieved a great strategic victory during the Seven Days’ Campaign when he drove the weak and indecisive George B. McClellan and his Army of the Potomac away from Richmond. Although Lee had achieved his strategic goal after a day or two, he kept frontally assaulting the enemy for several more days. As a result, his own army incurred 20,000 casualties, compared to 16,000 for McClellan.
At Vicksburg, where he was outnumbered, Grant succeeded while his army incurred about 9,000 casualties— costing the enemy about 41,000.
Gettysburg proved disastrous because of Lee’s frontal assaults on Days 2 and 3—assaults opposed by Longstreet, his senior general. That campaign cost Lee an intolerable 28,000 casualties, while the Union lost 23,000.
The result of Lee’s strategic and tactical aggression was that, within a single theater and in command of a single losing army, Lee saw his troops suffer 209,000 casualties , losses the South could not afford. Lee’s single army suffered 55,000 more casualties than the four armies commanded by Grant in three theaters—all theaters where his armies were victorious.

Given the scope of his achievements in three theaters, Grant’s overall casualty numbers are amazingly low. Given the finality of his defeat in his single theater, Lee’s casualty figures are surprisingly high, and they show how he drained the entire Confederacy of its limited manpower. If Grant had fought less aggressively, the Union would not have won. If Lee had fought less aggressively, the Confederacy’s prospects for success would have been enhanced.
Ulysses S. Grant is often referred to as a ‘butcher,’ but does Robert E. Lee actually deserve that title?
https://www.historynet.com/the-butchers-bill.htm
 

diane

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What does it say for Lee if Grant was just a stumblebum?
That's what Lee wondered! When his cousin was saying the same thing, Lee remarked, "Well, that is not much of a compliment to me!"

Which idea goes along with is such and such general or admiral overrated because he never met his match. Maybe he didn't have one! At any rate, if the best the enemy's got is second or third rate...that's the enemy's best! What should an excellent general do - call for better? That's it? That's all ya got? C'mon, get something worth my time... Nope! Instead it's: That's it? Good! And the battle is won that much faster.
 

diane

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Grant’s magnificent successes in the West cost his armies a mere 37,000 casualties, while the Rebels lost 84,000.
Although Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, under Grant’s personal direction, suffered high casualties (53,000, or 41 percent) during its drive to the James River, it imposed an even higher percentage of losses on Lee’s army (33,000, or 46 percent).
Lee achieved a great strategic victory during the Seven Days’ Campaign when he drove the weak and indecisive George B. McClellan and his Army of the Potomac away from Richmond. Although Lee had achieved his strategic goal after a day or two, he kept frontally assaulting the enemy for several more days. As a result, his own army incurred 20,000 casualties, compared to 16,000 for McClellan.
At Vicksburg, where he was outnumbered, Grant succeeded while his army incurred about 9,000 casualties— costing the enemy about 41,000.
Gettysburg proved disastrous because of Lee’s frontal assaults on Days 2 and 3—assaults opposed by Longstreet, his senior general. That campaign cost Lee an intolerable 28,000 casualties, while the Union lost 23,000.
The result of Lee’s strategic and tactical aggression was that, within a single theater and in command of a single losing army, Lee saw his troops suffer 209,000 casualties , losses the South could not afford. Lee’s single army suffered 55,000 more casualties than the four armies commanded by Grant in three theaters—all theaters where his armies were victorious.

Given the scope of his achievements in three theaters, Grant’s overall casualty numbers are amazingly low. Given the finality of his defeat in his single theater, Lee’s casualty figures are surprisingly high, and they show how he drained the entire Confederacy of its limited manpower. If Grant had fought less aggressively, the Union would not have won. If Lee had fought less aggressively, the Confederacy’s prospects for success would have been enhanced.
Ulysses S. Grant is often referred to as a ‘butcher,’ but does Robert E. Lee actually deserve that title?
https://www.historynet.com/the-butchers-bill.htm
Good post!

Neither should be called a butcher. There was going to be blood when these two generals met. No doubt of it.
 

Florida Rebel

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Lee fought for survival and for Virginia and the other state's independence. To me it's a big diff. If the North would have lost, Grant and all the Yankee's would have simply gone home. Nothing would have changed for them and their individual lives. There would still be a USA - albeit a smaller one. As for anyone saying that Lee wasted lives and was too aggressive; in my opinion and many others, he had to be OFFENSIVE and WIN the contest The Southern people - in my opinion, would not stand still, wait and see what happened if all the South did was play defense. Besides, as I have said in many posts, considering the lack of men and supplies, the South had to win and win fast. Lee knew it could never be a long war.
 

diane

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That's where Stonewall Jackson was right - he advocated a very hard, very fast war immediately. Sherman was right, too - the South was an agricultural country and the North was full of factories. For those Union generals who wanted to just wear the rebels down, they had good reason to think this would win the war as the South could not sustain major losses continually. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia only, so naturally he was fighting for Virginia, but once he signed up for the Confederacy he was on board to protect every part of it, just as he had been with the United States. Davis should have put him in charge of the whole of CSA forces, at least much sooner.

But, as I mentioned earlier, there's no rating system for taking advantage of enemy weaknesses and mistakes. If an excellent general falls on his face in the mud just once and a poor general has the ability to take advantage of that - that's just the fortunes of war. Lee vs Grant is really one of history's epic contests - both were steel eyed, steady at the helm and determined to do or die, and that went for their troops. Napoleon said three things had to be present for success: intelligence, talent and opportunity. Lee and Grant had all three.
 

unionblue

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Lee fought for survival and for Virginia and the other state's independence. To me it's a big diff. If the North would have lost, Grant and all the Yankee's would have simply gone home. Nothing would have changed for them and their individual lives. There would still be a USA - albeit a smaller one. As for anyone saying that Lee wasted lives and was too aggressive; in my opinion and many others, he had to be OFFENSIVE and WIN the contest The Southern people - in my opinion, would not stand still, wait and see what happened if all the South did was play defense. Besides, as I have said in many posts, considering the lack of men and supplies, the South had to win and win fast. Lee knew it could never be a long war.
"Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, other wise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation."

-- A. Lincoln in a letter to Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort (Kentucy) Commonwealth, April 4, 1864.
 

Dead Parrott

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That's where Stonewall Jackson was right - he advocated a very hard, very fast war immediately. Sherman was right, too - the South was an agricultural country and the North was full of factories. For those Union generals who wanted to just wear the rebels down, they had good reason to think this would win the war as the South could not sustain major losses continually. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia only, so naturally he was fighting for Virginia, but once he signed up for the Confederacy he was on board to protect every part of it, just as he had been with the United States. Davis should have put him in charge of the whole of CSA forces, at least much sooner.

But, as I mentioned earlier, there's no rating system for taking advantage of enemy weaknesses and mistakes. If an excellent general falls on his face in the mud just once and a poor general has the ability to take advantage of that - that's just the fortunes of war. Lee vs Grant is really one of history's epic contests - both were steel eyed, steady at the helm and determined to do or die, and that went for their troops. Napoleon said three things had to be present for success: intelligence, talent and opportunity. Lee and Grant had all three.
Perfect. Seconded.
 

wausaubob

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When Farragut moved his fleet north of Vicksburg in 1862, General Halleck did not meet with Farragut or instruct anyone else to meet with David Farragut. When Halleck was in Washington, and Grant was in Mississippi, Grant met with Porter several times until the navy helped produced the unopposed landing on the east bank of the Mississippi.
When Grant had control of the Army of the Potomac he drove it south and east until it too achieved an unopposed crossing, this time of the James River. What followed demonstrated that Henry Halleck had been wrong to recall McClellan from Harrison's Landing and eastern Virginia. What McClellan had achieved at so high a cost, so early, should never have been given up.
The one campaign shortened the war and the second campaign ended the war in 10 months after the position south of the James River was achieved. It really was that hard. All it took was common sense, and control of the operation art.
Halleck's errors cost thousands of casualties.
 

wausaubob

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I suspect General Lee would have told us that once Grant got Warren's command astride the Weldon RR, and Hill could not knock him off, it was just a matter of time because what remained of the Virginia RR system could not support Richmond and the army.
 

67th Tigers

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A lot of unfortunate implications. Hence the overreliance on blowing up the AoP with the most ridiculously inflated numbers that you can find while compressing and shrinking the ANV to the tiniest, most ragged and practically helpless little band of defenders that you possibly can get away with.
Whilst Jubal Early et al. indeed did try and argue for rebel meagerness etc., there is a worrying trend in trying to do the opposite and minimise Federal numbers whilst increasing rebel ones.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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Even Lincoln thought Grant was overrated in some areas.

"General Grant is a copious worker and fighter, but a meagre writer or telegrapher."

Source: Quoted by Col. Alexander K. McClure in Lincoln's Yarns and Stories, 1904.
I think I read somewhere that Edward Stanton kept Grant busy at night with endless telegraphing of his thoughts, which of course, Grant had to reply to. So if he was busy smoothing Stanton's feathers, he didn't have time to telegraph Lincoln, who didn't need ego stroking, thankfully.
 

wausaubob

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Even Lincoln thought Grant was overrated in some areas.

"General Grant is a copious worker and fighter, but a meagre writer or telegrapher."

Source: Quoted by Col. Alexander K. McClure in Lincoln's Yarns and Stories, 1904.
Because Grant knew how many Confederate telegrams and letters his spies were stealing and giving to his intelligence officers. And Grant knew how much work Stanton had done to clean out the War Department and create ciphers.
 

cake1979

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Grant’s favorite whiskey was supposedly Old Crow so not underrated in my book😜🥃 But honestly don’t look at him as overrated. He won in the East and West although he liked his fair share of frontal attacks.
Old Crow? A little rough for my taste, but I'm not an authority on Civil War whiskeys! I'd assume that beggars could not be choosers at that point.

I'm not the biggest fan of Grant, especially in light of his mis-treatment of solid commanders like Rosecrans and Thomas and his support of mediocre ones like Schofield and McPherson. Not a great judge of character, or maybe just not a good person. Whatever his personality, militarily, I don't see him as either over or underrated, when examining his total body of work. With so much scholarship devoted to him, he's probably rated fairly; as a solid, reasonably aggressive commander who did well in the situations in which he was placed. The man beat Lee, which was not an easy task, and effectively ended the war.

That said, if I split his career into Eastern and Western segments, I'll rate a little differently. His early career in the West was a little sketchy, with black eyes like Shiloh and Chattanooga (until Thomas and Hooker saved him). There he's probably a little overrated. But the late war performance in the East evens the score, if only because he accomplished what nobody else could, in far less time than anyone else would have taken. If anything his time with the AoP is a little underrated.

Still don't like him though. Or his pal Sherman for that matter.......
 
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