Just finished Rhea's quadrilogy of the overland campaign. First, I agree with it was Grant's agressivenesss and tenasity that won the war in the east. Second, his tactics during Shiloh and Vicksburg were laudible. However, other than his constant will to flank Lee and draw him out into a pitched fight, what was so special about his debut in the east. Wilderness, Spotslyvannia and Cold Harbor were stand offs. Granted (pardon the pun), he did accomplish widdling down Lee's forces by attrition, but couldn't Sherman or any other knowlegable leader do the same. He finally resorted to siege mentality after Cold Harbor knowing no futher troops were coming. A couple of his moves during the overland campaign did catch Lee off guard but in reality who has a crystal ball and can predict the future.
The tactical results of the Wilderness in 1864 and Chancellorsville in 1863 are practically identical - same casualties and similar situation. However, in 1863, Hooker allowed Lee to take the initiative and dictate their moves for the rest of the year. In 1864, Grant continued South. Under any other US eastern commander, both Wilderness and Spotsylvania would have *ended* campaigning for the year. That gets you to 1866...
My criticism with Grant is that he stopped too soon. 20-20 hindsight shows that all of the offensive agility was fought out of Lee's forces by July. Only the Petersburg trenches saved the ANV for another 10 months.
I suspect that Sherman, or another Grant protégée, may have done the same...
However, other than his constant will to flank Lee and draw him out into a pitched fight, what was so special about his debut in the east.
Its simplicity. This was the final stage of the war and Lincoln wanted to finish it. Given his druthers, Grant may have approached the task differently, but he did have his CnC's wishes expressed quite clearly. Shall we say, "he complied"?
Grant's (and Lincoln's) strategy was to destroy the ANV and take Richmond. His tactics, hampered by the thick second-growth wilderness, were to never let Lee have the initiative (never let him call the tune); wear down Lee's ability to resist by visiting upon him the loss of irreplaceable manpower; force him back to Richmond where he would be invested and fixed in place; then force either the army of the government to sue for peace.
It took Grant 40 days to fix Lee in Richmond by investing Petersburg (note: it was not a seige). With Lee fixed behind entrenchments, Grant could afford to detach significant numbers of troops for other duties. (Sheridan in the Valley, for one example) He methodically entrenched, enabling a smaller number of troops to fix a position and making available troops to extend his lines across vital railroads. When Sheridan came back, Grant had the numbers again and immediately cut the last of Lee's line of supply. Lee scampered out while he still could, only to be caught a few days later.
Could another General have done as well? Perhaps. Close to probaby. I don't think, certainly. On the surface it looks like something another general could have done. There are so many unseen and unrecognized complexities involved in the generalship required. One glaring factor: could Lincoln have trusted any other general in the way he trusted Grant?
Just some thoughts in hopes of keeping the thread going.
Just a minor aside from this thread. What has always intriqued me regarding the overland campaign was that this was the birth of trench warfare (sure there were other instances but never to this extreme) which lead to its fruition decades later in Belgium and France. Massive assaults at entrenched works at the Wilderness, Spotsylvannia, Cold Harbor were very like what happened at Verdun and Yypres. What course would Grant have taken after Cold Harbor if Lincoln and Halleck had given him the replacement troops? Hornes book The Path to Glory is a good read for those interested in Verdun. Can't remember the book or author but several years ago a Canadian journalist wrote about tracing the trench line from Belgium to Switzerland, also an interesting read.