Was there any chance that Lee could have fought on July 4th or 5th instead of retreating?

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
Here’s a funny thing about Gen Lee & Gen Grant as army commanders. The Army of NV suffered about 240,000 casualties under Lee. He led two aborted incursions into Northern Territory. For the rest of the war, Lee defended a few counties in Virginia. (We will leave out loosing 1/2 of Virginia largely to Gen Rosecrans pre A of NV.)

During that same period of time, while sustaining fewer casualties, Grant as an army commander accepted the surrender of two armies, captured fortresses, opened the Mississippi River & Cumberland Rivers, took or caused to be captured Cairo, Nashville, Memphis, Columbus & Bowling Green KY.

Perhaps, in your analysis, Sheridan’s defeat of Early or the Battle of Five Forks or repulse of Gen Gordon’s attack don’t count as tactical victories, just to name some obvious examples. I suggest that retreating all the way to Petersburg & being forced to dig in & await the end is, by anybody’s definition, a very strange sort of victory.
Apparently backing up into a siege in which you cannot sustain your army after you’ve been pressed at every point to arrive there is a “tactical victory” lol. Grant did his job no matter what tactical victories fans would like to cite.
 
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thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
I'm not aware Grant ever tactically defeated General Lee in the field. Rather, he fought a war of attrition and ultimately suffered twice the casualties of his adversary.

He won, sure, but he was the only General in Chief in American history who gave his own men's lives to the degree he did. Not Washington, not Pershing, not Eisenhower, not MacArthur, Westmoreland or Schwarzkoph.

Only Grant. Great military genius, indeed.
Well, Lee lost more men in a shorter time than Grant did during the war.
But I guess you don't count him as an American general?
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
I reckon I give Lee more credit than do you; I figure there was no way to destroy Lee without lots of difficult fighting and heavy losses. Even for a genius like Grant. Lee's destruction was a process, not an event.

I reckon you don't. Hindsight is the gift that keeps on giving.

They couldn't get him, so they used cannon fodder instead. Tragic.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
I'm not aware Grant ever tactically defeated General Lee in the field. Rather, he fought a war of attrition and ultimately suffered twice the casualties of his adversary.

He won, sure, but he was the only General in Chief in American history who gave his own men's lives to the degree he did. Not Washington, not Pershing, not Eisenhower, not MacArthur, Westmoreland or Schwarzkoph.

Only Grant. Great military genius, indeed.
Lee lost twice as many men to McClellan in the Seven days battle's but won tactically same as Grant.

Difference between Lee and Grant is Grant achieved nearly all his objectives in both theatres of war the West and the East put that in your pipe and smoke it... :wink:
 

speedylee

Private
Joined
Aug 15, 2017
I heard a very good discussion about this a few years back at the CWI at Gettysburg College. The general thrust was that the Confeds could not remain after July 4. An army in the field already short on fodder must keep moving because the horses consume the available feed (grass and whatever else horses eat) and have to find more. Remember, the chance to feed its horses on northern lands was one of the reasons the AoNV headed north in the first place. The Confeds had to move somewhere, if only to keep feeding their animals. Heading deeper into enemy territory wasn't an option. Heading home was the only thing to do. The answer is, no, the AoNV could not have stayed to fight another day at Gettysburg after July 4.

On the flip side, the AoNV was still a dangerous enemy. As it retreated, the Confederate army was capable of defending itself. The AoP was badly wounded by the three days of fighting at Gettysburg but it had deeper reserves to call upon. A more aggressive chase of the Confeds would have further damaged Lee's army, no doubt. But would it have been worth the cost? In my mind, no. Meade protected the nation's capital, got the invaders back away from Pennsylvania and out of Maryland. He did his job.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
On the flip side, the AoNV was still a dangerous enemy. As it retreated, the Confederate army was capable of defending itself. The AoP was badly wounded by the three days of fighting at Gettysburg but it had deeper reserves to call upon. A more aggressive chase of the Confeds would have further damaged Lee's army, no doubt. But would it have been worth the cost? In my mind, no. Meade protected the nation's capital, got the invaders back away from Pennsylvania and out of Maryland. He did his job.

I agree with this and Meade was unfairly criticized by many, including General Lincoln (who was not). Meade was managing 50,000 battle casualties, few of whom the ANV could carry away.

Lee and his generals were also trained as engineers, who occupied and fortified a formidable position with their backs to the Potomac River, across which shot and shell were being raced from Virginia to supply them.

An attack from Meade would likely have been a disaster for the AoP. Just my opinion.
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
I heard a very good discussion about this a few years back at the CWI at Gettysburg College. The general thrust was that the Confeds could not remain after July 4. An army in the field already short on fodder must keep moving because the horses consume the available feed (grass and whatever else horses eat) and have to find more. Remember, the chance to feed its horses on northern lands was one of the reasons the AoNV headed north in the first place. The Confeds had to move somewhere, if only to keep feeding their animals. Heading deeper into enemy territory wasn't an option. Heading home was the only thing to do. The answer is, no, the AoNV could not have stayed to fight another day at Gettysburg after July 4.

On the flip side, the AoNV was still a dangerous enemy. As it retreated, the Confederate army was capable of defending itself. The AoP was badly wounded by the three days of fighting at Gettysburg but it had deeper reserves to call upon. A more aggressive chase of the Confeds would have further damaged Lee's army, no doubt. But would it have been worth the cost? In my mind, no. Meade protected the nation's capital, got the invaders back away from Pennsylvania and out of Maryland. He did his job.
Well put.
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
I agree with this and Meade was unfairly criticized by many, including General Lincoln (who was not). Meade was managing 50,000 battle casualties, few of whom the ANV could carry away.

Lee and his generals were also trained as engineers, who occupied and fortified a formidable position with their backs to the Potomac River, across which shot and shell were being raced from Virginia to supply them.

An attack from Meade would likely have been a disaster for the AoP. Just my opinion.
I think this is correct. Had Meade attacked at the Potomac crossing where the rebels had already dug in, we’d be discussing a slaughter. I don’t think that it’d be much different in character from Antietam. The Federals would pound the rebel lines, the rebels would hold, tens of thousands would die. Lee & Meade would stare across the field at each other the next day and then that night, per his specialty, Lee would slip away.
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
per his specialty, Lee would slip away.

Not really his "specialty." He moved if he had to, but not at Chancellorsville or Manassas, for example.

My point is the 160 year-old criticism of Meade is ridiculous, for "not pursuing" the ANV.

Come on, really?
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
Not really his "specialty." He moved if he had to, but not at Chancellorsville or Manassas, for example.

My point is the 160 year-old criticism of Meade is ridiculous, for "not pursuing" the ANV.

Come on, really?
Yeah, agreed on the Meade criticism. Meade actually did pursue quite vigorously with what he had on hand.

However, Lee always was good at slipping away in the night. It was one of his specialties. If only he’d have tried it the night of July 2nd...
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
I began my life as a firm proponent of Grant, the butcher. The older I've got the more I've appreciated the true value of Grant as a military leader.

There has always been 2 ways to evaluate him.. Was his goal to destroy Lee's army or to capture Richmond?

To begin with in his own words, the best way to conduct his offensive was to pass west of the Wilderness and to advance on Richmond between the Rappahannock and the James Rivers. This way his opponent does not have the advantage defending river passages. A Union advance has to advance against river crossings and NW/SE ridges. Advancing on this axis prevents Lee from using any natural defence line. Remember we have Grant's own words to prove this point.

Instead what does he do he repeats Hooker route. To what effect. He also is trapped in the Wilderness where a significantly inferior opponent blocks his advance.

Now tell me do you really want to tell me that every move he made thereafter was not to defeat Lee on the field of battle, but rather to drain his army and allow Sherman to devastate the body of the South. Or did he time after time attempt to outmaneuver Lee and shatter his army. I think it is without question that the second was his goal.

Was his move across the James a stunning triumph? Undoubtedly. Could he have achieved the same result by simply using the US Navy to transport him to assault Petersurg or better yet down to NC and advance against almost no resistance and cut Richmond's supply from the South. Without a doubt and with minimal losses.

In actual time Grant's policy was to stretch Lee's line to the breaking point. Every clash following the crossing of the James was to simply stretch Lee's army to the breaking point. Sure Grant would have loved to win any given engagement. But his goal was to stretch Lee's numerically inferior army to a breaking point. At which point he did not win a battle against Lee, because Lee seeing his army stretched beyond its ability to defend finally decided to leave Richmond and continue the battle elsewhere.

Finally I know its a common meme the state that the CW was won in the west. And in fact I mostly agree. However let me point out that Vicksburg falls and the CW is barely halfway through. Following G'burg Lee is still contemplating invading the North again. Finally in 1865 with Grant almost totally investing the Southern capitol and Sherman barely 200 miles South heading toward the capitol that Richmond finally falls and the CW ends with in weeks.

I think it is important to understand that Lee understood that the only way for the South to prevail was to actually invade the North. The only way to obviate the tremendous Northern advantage in numbers and material was to intimidate the Northern populace and/ir convince the European powers to intervene. Unfortunately Lee did not understand the crucial point was that he did not have to win battles, he simply had to occupy territory. Had he simply sidestepped at Antietam and reinvaded or made it a point to his subordinates in his 2nd invasion that they were to avoid battle at all costs. He would have put the North in an untenable position vis a vis the European powers as a country unable to defend its own territory. A giant being stabbed to death by a midget.
 
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