Was Grant's Overland Campaign a Failure?

DanSBHawk

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The Wilderness to Cold Harbor is actually the Overland Campaign, minus the minor affair at White Oak Swamp. The next major action is part of the Siege of Petersburg.

Randall was never one to indulge in hyperbole, and is not here.
Yes, and the Randall quote is about the Overland Campaign and nothing more. Here is the quote being discussed:

"In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union’s losses were approximately 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army."

I didn't say it was hyperbole. My point is that he was comparing apples to oranges. If he's going to compare campaign casualties, he should have compared it to campaign strength. It makes no sense to compare casualties for "the whole campaign" to a snapshot of Lee's army at any specific time.

Lee's army was reinforced during the campaign, so his campaign strength was 96,000. Which is nowhere close to 55,000.
 

American87

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Can't totally agree with this. I believe the shift from Lee to a place (Petersburg) took place after Cold Harbor, but moving out of the Wilderness was just to get Lee to come fight in a different place. Every movement by Grant during the Overland was to try to put himself in the optimal position to fight Lee again. Once he quit beating his head against the wall at Cold Harbor, he realized he needed to find a strategic target and that became Petersburg.

That could very well be the case. Grant certainly moved south to Spotsylvania once he realized Lee was taking defensive positions in the Wilderness.
 

wausaubob

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Agree Grant was moving to get Lee into an open field fight after the Wilderness, but Lee would dig as soon as they stopped moving. That does not mean Grant's focus changed, but it made no sense to continue to butt head long into established positions at Spotsylvania, North Anna and Cold Harbor and bleed your own army out.
Grant had to wonder, why the Confederates did not attack at North Anna? The Army of the Potomac was separated into 3 pieces. But Lee was too sick to do anything and regardless of the rivers, the US artillery could shoot across the water.
Then Lee had to wonder what Meade and Grant were doing attacking his prepared positions at Cold Harbor. And just when Grant looked stationary and whipped, Lee gets screened out the US uses transports and pontoons to cross the James.
People forget that Grant had Meade and Ingalls to explain to him how close McClellan had come, and how the White House and City Point connections could be developed.
 

John S. Carter

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Lincoln constantly feared for the safety of Washington, so the land route became the default position. Aside from the Suffolk route, federal forces in coastal North Carolina never really broke out of their beachhead to launch a possible incursion to the underbelly of the Petersburg/Richmond area. Another interesting scenario that didn't happen. scopIt seems that General Early's littlehere he and his troops came to the doorsteps of Lincoln's White House

Northern-born historian J.G Randall pretty much summed it up:

“In the whole campaign from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, the Union’s losses were approximately 55,000, nearly as much as Lee’s whole army. As a defensive accomplishment in fighting off superior numbers, the campaign stands as a significant chapter in Confederate annals.”

J.G. Randall, David Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1962) pp.419-420
This may be out of context as to this issue, but no one has mention Jubal Early's little venture that led him to the outside of Washington. Was this a serious attempt to distract Grant or was it more of a last gasp into the North to cause anxiety to the North that the Confedercery was still able to do such a bold movement. Is there any book on Early's actions in this? Some call Gettysburg an invasion then what would Early's action be a scouting expedition?
 

lurid

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That's the way it usually works when the enemy is holed up in trenches rather than coming out to fight.

Exactly. The internet is full of vivid imaginations that don't understand how ground wars are conducted. The Confederates were dug in, in a era were there was nothing to open up the perimeters except for to overrun those perimeters with frontal assaults. I was in infantry, they bomb the living daylights out of fortifications to give ground troops an opening, otherwise it is a meatgrinder. Dynamite was discovered in 1880, if it was around for the Civil War the Confederates would have been completely wasted in 6 months. No telling how long they would have lasted in the era of carpet bombing, perhaps 1 month.
 

jackt62

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This may be out of context as to this issue, but no one has mention Jubal Early's little venture that led him to the outside of Washington. Was this a serious attempt to distract Grant or was it more of a last gasp into the North to cause anxiety to the North that the Confedercery was still able to do such a bold movement. Is there any book on Early's actions in this? Some call Gettysburg an invasion then what would Early's action be a scouting expedition?
The campaign in the Shenandoah Valley was originally conceived as part of the Union offensive in May 1864. Sigel was to tie down Confederate forces in the Valley while Grant was operating against the ANV. Lee eventually sent Early and his Corps to the Valley to help put down Hunter (Sigel's successor). Once Hunter was dealt with, Early's mission shifted to an offensive posture whose aim was to divert federal attention and resources away from the main Virginia front. Early's action was definitely more than a "scouting" expedition but it's limited scale and secondary goal did not place it on the scale of the Gettysburg incursion in 1863.
 

Jamieva

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The campaign in the Shenandoah Valley was originally conceived as part of the Union offensive in May 1864. Sigel was to tie down Confederate forces in the Valley while Grant was operating against the ANV. Lee eventually sent Early and his Corps to the Valley to help put down Hunter (Sigel's successor). Once Hunter was dealt with, Early's mission shifted to an offensive posture whose aim was to divert federal attention and resources away from the main Virginia front. Early's action was definitely more than a "scouting" expedition but it's limited scale and secondary goal did not place it on the scale of the Gettysburg incursion in 1863.

The move of Early out west was needed as Hunter was threatening Lynchburg which was an important rail hub for supplies from the west to the ANV. After Early dispatched of Hunter, Lee had him move into the Valley to try to draw troops away from Grant. Lee hoped this would offer him an opening to attack Grant, but it really didn't.
 

Jamieva

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Lee pushed Grant out of every advance until he surrendered at Appomattox, with 26,000 men to Grant's at least 63,000, probably more if BattlefieldTrust is only counting the Union soldiers in and immediately around Appomattox.

Lee didn't push anyone in the Overland. He blocked. Grant moved when blocked. Lee was reactive for the entire campaign.
 

wausaubob

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The move of Early out west was needed as Hunter was threatening Lynchburg which was an important rail hub for supplies from the west to the ANV. After Early dispatched of Hunter, Lee had him move into the Valley to try to draw troops away from Grant. Lee hoped this would offer him an opening to attack Grant, but it really didn't.
It turned into a raid. Early allowed the Confederates to burn down Montgomery Blair's Silver Springs home, then later they also burned Chambersburg. Early's army created a lot of headlines that hurt the US administration politically. That was a success. The question then arises, why wasn't he withdrawn back to Richmond after achieving that success? The most likely answer was that is was mandatory that Early supply his force from local resources as long as possible. It was also required that the resources of the upper valley, and the Lynchburg area be available to Richmond. Early was not able to do that after September 19-22, and his force paid a high price for the attempt.
 

Jamieva

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It turned into a raid. Early allowed the Confederates to burn down Montgomery Blair's Silver Springs home, then later they also burned Chambersburg. Early's army created a lot of headlines that hurt the US administration politically. That was a success. The question then arises, why wasn't he withdrawn back to Richmond after achieving that success? The most likely answer was that is was mandatory that Early supply his force from local resources as long as possible. It was also required that the resources of the upper valley, and the Lynchburg area be available to Richmond. Early was not able to do that after September 19-22, and his force paid a high price for the attempt.

Early's role was to secure the fall crop for the ANV if possible and that is why he was not recalled.
 

Dead Parrott

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Lee didn't push anyone in the Overland. He blocked. Grant moved when blocked. Lee was reactive for the entire campaign.

Agreed, though I'd say Lee grabbed the Initiative only once: making the excellent initial move into the Wilderness. It was an early surprise move and the only time Lee had the initiative. A big part of Grant's strategy was to deny the ANV the initiative, to keep it in constant reactive mode - and he succeeded. Grant of course planned that the other flank attacks would force the ANV into some truly impossible choices as well, but the flank attacks were bungled. Grant being Grant, he kept his eye on the strategic objective, improvised, and pushed on.

And, as you pointed out, Lee and the ANV were reduced to some desperate near-run blocking - which he\they did rather brilliantly, I think. Possibly their best performance of the war, IMHO.

End result? Despite total Union flank failures, and heroic CSA near-disastrous resistance, the ANV is removed as a field threat, unmovably trapped in an unwinnable siege, with Richmond imperiled... all in just eight weeks. Strategic success.

A number of posters here either can't or won't see the big picture. Fortunately for us, Grant did.
 

Rebforever

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Agreed, though I'd say Lee grabbed the Initiative only once: making the excellent initial move into the Wilderness. It was an early surprise move and the only time Lee had the initiative. A big part of Grant's strategy was to deny the ANV the initiative, to keep it in constant reactive mode - and he succeeded. Grant of course planned that the other flank attacks would force the ANV into some truly impossible choices as well, but the flank attacks were bungled. Grant being Grant, he kept his eye on the strategic objective, improvised, and pushed on.

And, as you pointed out, Lee and the ANV were reduced to some desperate near-run blocking - which he\they did rather brilliantly, I think. Possibly their best performance of the war, IMHO.

End result? Despite total Union flank failures, and heroic CSA near-disastrous resistance, the ANV is removed as a field threat, unmovably trapped in an unwinnable siege, with Richmond imperiled... all in just eight weeks. Strategic success.

A number of posters here either can't or won't see the big picture. Fortunately for us, Grant did.
I am not sure about a “siege”. There were times Lee could have left. But kept digging. But he dug more than he could handle where Grant made the Breakthrough.
 

Jamieva

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I am not sure about a “siege”. There were times Lee could have left. But kept digging. But he dug more than he could handle where Grant made the Breakthrough.

It was not technically a siege as Lee was not surrounded. However, to just bail and leave Petersburg and Richmond defenseless was not a tenable option until forced to do so. Grant even though he was stuck in this trench situation he didn't want, was always working to extend the works and stretch Lee to the breaking point.
 

Dead Parrott

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I am not sure about a “siege”. There were times Lee could have left. But kept digging. But he dug more than he could handle where Grant made the Breakthrough.

Agreed entirely, not a siege in the classical sense. But certainly in the sense that Lee envisioned when he feared Grant would get across the James (and said so). And clearly in the sense where Grant anticipated Lee would have to either fight openly in front of Rchmnd\Petersbg (and be destroyed), defend the location from within and thereby become trapped in defending it, or abandon the location which would give the Union the CSA capital. Any of which were the original strategic aims of Grant's original campaign.

Folks who think its all numbers don't really appreciate the dilemma Lee and the AMV faced (and how very dire it WOULD have faced), how fortunate they were that the USA flank attacks were blundered, and how brilliant Lee and his army responded during the campaign (despite mistakes made and how close-run they came to disaster). Once you brush away the partisan simplifications, it is a really, really fascinating campaign to study! And i mean the entirety of the early 1864 USA effort and CSA response.
 
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