Monday, May 16, 2016

A Great Moment In American History - Grant Moves South

Grant moves south
Ulysses S. Grant was lucky to be the commander of all Union forces on May 7th 1864. This was the day that the fighting had ended in the battle of the Wilderness. He had traversed a long and rocky road in his life to arrive at this time and place. Grant had been forced from the army on charges of drunkenness in 1854. He was lucky that the Civil War gave him the opportunity to redeem himself. It had also saved him from a life of poverty and obscurity. There were only three things that Grant was good at. He was a exceptional family man, a master horseman, and an great general. Beyond that he was a failure at everything that he ever tried. Including the presidency of the United States. Grant nearly failed at being a general. After his great victory at Ft. Donelson in February 1862 and the subsequent fall of Nashville, Grant allowed himself to be surprised at Shiloh. He barely escaped disaster. If he had been defeated I believe Grant's career would have been over right then and there. Grant nearly left the army after Shiloh because "Old Brains" Halleck, in essence, had relieved him and took over the day to day operations of the Army of the Tennessee. Grant's career was only saved because of Lincoln's confidence in him. Shiloh was a transforming experience for Grant. After Ft. Donelson Grant believed that one more defeat might force the South to surrender.. After Shiloh, he came realize that it would take the complete annihilation of the Southern army as a fighting force and the subjugation of it's people. It would be a long bloody war of attrition. Until May 7th 1864 Shiloh had been the bloodiest battle that Grant had ever witnessed. However the carnage of the last two days, beginning on May 5th had surpassed anything he had seen to that point. He said that ‘more desperate fighting has not been witnessed on this continent than that of the 5th and 6th of May.’ Grant had opened the Overland Campaign on May 5th. Lee was outnumbered more than two to one. He realized that Grants numbers would mean nothing in the heavy forests of the Wilderness near Chancellorsville. Lee ambushed Grant's army after he entered the Wilderness and it was two days of absolute horror. Wounded men, unable to crawl away from the flames, would burn to death in wild fires created by gunfire. Grant lost 17,500 men as opposed to Lee's 10,500. Lee had won a tactical victory over Grant. Faced with strong Confederate earthworks Grant decided to end the battle. The Army of the Potomac had suffered through commanders like McDowell, McClellan, Pope, McClellan again, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade. Everyone of these commanders had been defeated by Lee, with the exception of McDowell, and Meade. McDowell had been defeated at 1st Bull Run by P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston. McClellan had been defeated by Lee during the Seven Days battles but had won a strategic victory over Lee at Antietam. Only in the sense that he had stopped Lee's raid into Maryland and had forced him to retreat back into Virginia. Meade defeated Lee at Gettysburg, but like McClellan at Antietam, both had allowed Lee to escape destruction by not following up their victories. The Army of the Potomac had suffered defeat at the hands of Lee during the Seven Days, 2nd Bull Run, Fredricksburg, and Chancellorsville. Each time the Army of the Potomac would languish in unhealthy camps, licking their wounds, until the next incompetent commander came along. To lead them to either a bloody defeat, or an inconclusive victory. In the minds of the soldiers, Grant until this moment was no different than his predecessors. He had been defeated by Bobby Lee in the Wilderness, just like all the rest. All day long the wagon trains had been moving north and to the rear. The men foresaw another inglorious retreat. Author James McPherson, in his book Battle Cry of Freedom, described what came next, this way. (But instead of heading north, they turned south. A mental sunburst brightened their minds. It was not another "Chancellorsville ... another skedaddle" after all. "Our spirits rose," recalled one veteran who remembered this moment as a turning point in the war. Despite the terrors of the past three days and those to come, "we marched free. The men began to sing." For the first time in a Virginia campaign the Army of the Potomac stayed on the offensive after its initial battle). By using his superior numbers, Grant's advance turned a tactical defeat into a strategic victory. The war was now a war of attrition. Grant would be defeated at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. There would be fighting unlike anything witnessed in the Civil War until that point. Grant would lose more men in one month than Lee had in his whole army. He would be called "Butcher" Grant. However it was Lee that was the butcher. Grant could sustain the heavy casualties but Lee couldn't. After Grant laid siege to Petersburg it was just a matter of time.

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