What Could Lee Have Done Differently in 1864?

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
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Apr 30, 2012
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Jupiter, FL
There was a trap at North Anna?

Lee placed the ANV in a broad inverted V-shaped entrenched position with the center apex dominating a ford of the North Anna and both flanks well anchored (on the South Anna, I presume).

Lee's goal was to wait for the AOTP to stumble into the position of being divided on either side of the ANV. The fortifications would allow Lee to send the majority of the ANV against an isolated corps of the AOTP while the river effectively prevented escape or reinforcement. It was a pretty clever use of topography.

The Union did as Lee hoped while they were feeling out the Confederate position. However, Lee's health was at a low point and he was in no condition to direct the attack. Stonewall and Stuart was dead, Longstreet was out badly wounded at Wilderness, Ewell had been transferred after his breakdown at Spotsylvania, and Hill was yet again out sick. Thus not one of Lee's corps commanders had held their commands for three weeks.

The Union soon realized the danger and withdrew across the river. The opportunity passed with the ANV unable to even attempt to grasp it.

Of course, this unintentionally contributed to the disaster at Cold Harbor by lulling Grant into a false sense that the ANV was teetering on collapse.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
Except they were gambling with their soldiers lives. The money involved was 100s of Millions. Enormous sums in those times.
But wars are easier to start than they are to end, that is certain.
Indeed. But I‘d deem it pretty hard to find someone (especially in times when Napoléon was still one of the most influential role-model) who would have acted accordingly (with professional soldiers it would even today be a hard task to find such a person ...)
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Lee placed the ANV in a broad inverted V-shaped entrenched position with the center apex dominating a ford of the North Anna and both flanks well anchored (on the South Anna, I presume).

Lee's goal was to wait for the AOTP to stumble into the position of being divided on either side of the ANV. The fortifications would allow Lee to send the majority of the ANV against an isolated corps of the AOTP while the river effectively prevented escape or reinforcement. It was a pretty clever use of topography.

The Union did as Lee hoped while they were feeling out the Confederate position. However, Lee's health was at a low point and he was in no condition to direct the attack. Stonewall and Stuart was dead, Longstreet was out badly wounded at Wilderness, Ewell had been transferred after his breakdown at Spotsylvania, and Hill was yet again out sick. Thus not one of Lee's corps commanders had held their commands for three weeks.

The Union soon realized the danger and withdrew across the river. The opportunity passed with the ANV unable to even attempt to grasp it.

Of course, this unintentionally contributed to the disaster at Cold Harbor by lulling Grant into a false sense that the ANV was teetering on collapse.
I didn't know that, thank you.
 

atlantis

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 12, 2016
Not a bad idea, but the big disadvantage with manning the crossing points was that Lee could not be certain of the exact location, route or direction of Grant's offensive movement, and whether Grant intended to strike the right or left flank of the ANV. To compensate for this uncertainty, Lee placed his three Corps in widely scattered positions close to rail and road networks. This did make sense because once Grant's intentions were known, it would be possible for the ANV to move quickly to the point of contact. In fact, this is exactly what happened; Ewell and Hill's Corps were able to trap the AotP in the Wilderness, while Longstreet (further away at Gordonsville), came up by the 2nd day of that fight.
I was under the impression Grant intended not to strike ANV but push thru the wilderness as fast as possible and beat Lee to Richmond.
Was Longstreet too late to the wilderness fight?
 

Pat Answer

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He could've cut loose from Richmond, the very millstone of his Army. Without the burden of defending Richmond, Lee would've been more apt to be mobile, and the ANV, being mobile was deadly. Its a really good question.
He couldn't cut loose from Richmond; I doubt Davis would have allowed it.

Another problem would be sustaining the AoNV at fighting condition pretty much on forage.
 

GwilymT

Sergeant Major
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Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
I've briefly studied the Overland Campaign, but I'd definitely like to study the 1864 campaigns in more detail when I have time.

I was wondering, could Lee have realistically done anything to stop Grant in 1864? It seems like Grant had found the winning strategy, and it was only a matter of time—but I'd like to test this assumption. Thoughts?

View attachment 419501
He could have surrendered and saved countless lives.
 

Joshism

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Location
Jupiter, FL
He could have surrendered and saved countless lives.

The problem was Jeff Davis, Lee's commander-in-chief, was absolutely delusional about the reality of the situation. When Davis was captured in May 1865 he intended to reach the Trans-Mississippi and keep the war going with Edmund Kirby Smith.

Even if Lee recognized the Confederacy was absolutely hopeless in Jan 1865 after Lincoln's reelection, Hood's destruction, Sherman's March, Wilmington's fall, defeat in the Shendoah, and the grinding attrition in Petersburg he would have had to persuade Davis. Given that Davis had all the same information as Lee, this seems unlikely. Lee, unsurprisingly, felt duty-bound to fight on as long as ordered or until surrounded as at Appomattox.
 

jcaesar

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Aug 28, 2020
The problem was Jeff Davis, Lee's commander-in-chief, was absolutely delusional about the reality of the situation. When Davis was captured in May 1865 he intended to reach the Trans-Mississippi and keep the war going with Edmund Kirby Smith.

Even if Lee recognized the Confederacy was absolutely hopeless in Jan 1865 after Lincoln's reelection, Hood's destruction, Sherman's March, Wilmington's fall, defeat in the Shendoah, and the grinding attrition in Petersburg he would have had to persuade Davis. Given that Davis had all the same information as Lee, this seems unlikely. Lee, unsurprisingly, felt duty-bound to fight on as long as ordered or until surrounded as at Appomattox.

He would have faced a probable full scale mutiny if he tried to surrender unconditionally much earlier without political support from Richmond. As it stood some officers were angry enough to confront him directly about meeting Grant and were quite willing to take to the hills as insurgents. Ending a war is often more difficult then starting it.
 
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trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
But wars are easier to start than they are to end, that is certain.
Sad but true. Here's a couple of my favorite quotes to go with it.

"What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution."
Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve, director of Imperial Russia's police (1881-1884) and later Minister of the Interior and chief of Gendarmes (1902–1904). His predecessor at Interior had been assassinated; Plehve survived three attempts before the fourth one got him in 1904. This quote in 1903 is supposedly part of Russia's decision process that led to the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05.

"The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions."
Robert Wilson Lynd (Roibéard Ó Floinn), Irish writer and nationalist, 1878-1949

Plehve's quote always reminds me of Seward's idea of starting a war with Britain in 1861 to bring the secessionists back into the Union. Dumber than a stump.
 

GwilymT

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Location
Pittsburgh
The problem was Jeff Davis, Lee's commander-in-chief, was absolutely delusional about the reality of the situation. When Davis was captured in May 1865 he intended to reach the Trans-Mississippi and keep the war going with Edmund Kirby Smith.

Even if Lee recognized the Confederacy was absolutely hopeless in Jan 1865 after Lincoln's reelection, Hood's destruction, Sherman's March, Wilmington's fall, defeat in the Shendoah, and the grinding attrition in Petersburg he would have had to persuade Davis. Given that Davis had all the same information as Lee, this seems unlikely. Lee, unsurprisingly, felt duty-bound to fight on as long as ordered or until surrounded as at Appomattox.
I agree, Davis was at that point a lunatic. Marse Robert had to know there was no hope and had to know that his soldiers would follow his orders, unless he wasn’t the demigod we’ve been led to believe he was. All he had to do was order them to stand down. To continue in the fight knowing it was futile is a failure of morality. In my book it’s a failure of character and shouldn’t be viewed as completing duty in a futile fight but rather as not having the strength of character to stand up and stop the slaughter. It was in his hands and every life lost from fall of ‘64 to the end is on his shoulders.
 

jackt62

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I was under the impression Grant intended not to strike ANV but push thru the wilderness as fast as possible and beat Lee to Richmond.
Was Longstreet too late to the wilderness fight?
Correct. Getting trapped in the Wilderness was the last thing that Grant would have wanted, but the slower moving wagon trains of the AotP, and Lee's quick response resulted in that happening. Longstreet's I Corps did come up by the morning of the 2nd day of the conflict, and was able to mount a serious flank counterattack that almost broke through Hancock's II Corps to the Brock Road.
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
The problem was Jeff Davis, Lee's commander-in-chief, was absolutely delusional about the reality of the situation. When Davis was captured in May 1865 he intended to reach the Trans-Mississippi and keep the war going with Edmund Kirby Smith.

Even if Lee recognized the Confederacy was absolutely hopeless in Jan 1865 after Lincoln's reelection, Hood's destruction, Sherman's March, Wilmington's fall, defeat in the Shendoah, and the grinding attrition in Petersburg he would have had to persuade Davis. Given that Davis had all the same information as Lee, this seems unlikely. Lee, unsurprisingly, felt duty-bound to fight on as long as ordered or until surrounded as at Appomattox.
I am just beginning with reading „Honour and Violence in the South“ but am already suspecting that Davis wasn‘t maybe that much delusional (or lunatic) but rather driven by a peculiar understanding of honour. But I´ll have to read the book first to know better....
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
I agree, Davis was at that point a lunatic. Marse Robert had to know there was no hope and had to know that his soldiers would follow his orders, unless he wasn’t the demigod we’ve been led to believe he was. All he had to do was order them to stand down. To continue in the fight knowing it was futile is a failure of morality. In my book it’s a failure of character and shouldn’t be viewed as completing duty in a futile fight but rather as not having the strength of character to stand up and stop the slaughter. It was in his hands and every life lost from fall of ‘64 to the end is on his shoulders.
Like I said before that was probably out of the bonds of victorian civilization - they regarded such as heroic and pretty much literally demanded it from their soldiers.
It‘s the same with expecting brigade generals to lead from the front - which was rather insane
- given the risk of them being killed which often led to a rout
- and given the fact that good brigade generals were always in extremely short supply....
 

Joshism

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Location
Jupiter, FL
I am just beginning with reading „Honour and Violence in the South“ but am already suspecting that Davis wasn‘t maybe that much delusional (or lunatic) but rather driven by a peculiar understanding of honour. But I´ll have to read the book first to know better....

Honor Culture is a form of delusion. It is based on perception, not reality. Adherents violently attack those who would challenge their image with the truth.
 
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