View single post by PvtClewell
 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 04:18 am
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PvtClewell
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Grant also had that thing about refusing to retreat or backtrack that also proved costly to his men. It is almost as if he chose the simple strategy of attrition and could not carry it out in any but the simplist possible ways.

What, you want Grant to fight a war without sustaining casualties? What commander wins wars by retreating? When you're on the offensive, you attack. Men die. I think we've already established that Grant, by the numbers, was no more a butcher than any other commander in the war, but it's Grant who gets the bad rep. Lee loses nearly 6,000 men in a frontal attack at Pickett's Charge, does that not make him a butcher, too? Apparently not. Lee's an icon. Grant's a cigar smoker. Lee says 'It's all my fault' after Gettysburg and he is revered. Grant says he regrets the last assault at Cold Harbor and he's reviled. I don't get it.

In technical terms, Grant may have lost the battle of Cold Harbor in the sense that he did not break Lee's line. But he did not lose the field. He was still there the next day, and the next week. If, in the 19th century, asking for a truce meant conceding loss of the field, clearly Grant wasn't going to do it. But Lee insisted that Grant ask for a truce and all that that implied (to his credit, Foote, a southerner, covers this ground, too, on the very page of Vol. III that you cited). Both were playing the game. Both were culpable here. Maybe they were both neurotic. Lee could have just as easily let Grant recover his men after Grant's initial request as not. What's up with that? (In reality, this is an argument that's hard for me to make. It's difficult to defend leaving wounded men lay for days on a battlefield. But my point, Joanie, is that you can't make 21st century judgments when dealing with 19th century thought processes, traditions and customs. And I know you know that.)

I think it's too simple to say that Grant was simplistic in all that he could so was fight battles of attrition. He was also a master of maneuver (an attribute that seems to get lost in these discussions), constantly pressing forward, constantly putting pressure on Lee. He was the commander Lincoln was looking for after all those halting years of McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside and Hooker. Consider this: if Grant is made commander, say, in 1862, does his aggressiveness (no retreats) possibly end the war sooner, thus actually saving lives? Wouldn't that be ironic?

As for MTL, she was a highly educated, sophisticated whackjob. Not only did she not like Grant, but she alienated Grant's wife, Julia, as well with her irrational tirades. She disliked the Grants, and calling the general a butcher easily would be within her parameters. And protect what political future? Lincoln already had the Republican convention's nomination for a second term by June 8 and MTL's 'butcher' comment didn't surface until Petersburg was under siege weeks later. Cold Harbor was old news. Besides, Lincoln's political future was guaranteed with victories in the western theatre and the capture of Atlanta later in the year.

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