View single post by PvtClewell
 Posted: Thu Feb 7th, 2008 03:08 pm
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Joined: Wed Jun 13th, 2007
Location: North Carolina USA
Posts: 420

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OH MY GOD, JOANIE!!!! I think my heart actually stopped for a minute with you referencing McPherson in your argument, given our past exchanges on him. Couldn't find my defibrillator. I was almost another Cold Harbor casualty. ;)

As I stated previously, this whole scenario is an uncomfortable argument for me to make for truly there is no excuse to leave dead and dying on the field. And I don't believe I ever insinuated that you personally referred to Grant as a butcher, and if I did, that was never my intent. My reference was to MTL. Plus, the 'butcher' tag seems to go hand-in-hand with Grant in any Overland discussion. Almost unavoidable.

Having said that...

If I'm getting the timeline right, Grant sent his 'snitty' note to Lee after the four-day episode. I'm guessing Grant was in a snit because Lee was nit-picking, specifically asking for a truce. If Lee agrees to Grant's initial request after the second day, maybe more lives are saved. I submit that this whole affair is a two-way street, although I will concede that Grant, in my view, gets the lion's share of the blame here.

We might have to get a definition of what 'lost the field' means for this argument to gain real focus — and I don't know if we can. Clearly, Grant felt he never lost the field — his lines were still intact after the debacle — even if most of his men did. Is the 'field' the actual point of battle or the entire battlefield proper? He never had to retreat from his original lines. The field is not lost. If Grant didn't feel like he 'lost the field' then his decision not to call a truce (which back then implied that he did lose the field) almost makes sense. It has its own convoluted logic.

I don't know of any other examples where other generals called a truce to recover their dead. Was this a common thing? I don't know. Did Burnside ask for a truce at Fredericksburg? Either McClellan or Lee at Antietam? Lee left Gettysburg filled with dead, dying and wounded. Was there a truce at Spotsylvania?
Because I don't know the answer, I'll hazard a guess that most humanitarian truces were called at the smaller unit level, maybe even at the regimental level. But I honestly don't know.

Joanie, if you're undecided about whether to call Grant a butcher or not, let me quote your now-favorite historian, James M. McPherson, in his latest collection of essays, 'This Mighty Scourge.' (2007, pg.113):

"Union frontal assaults at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg gave Grant a reputation as a 'butcher.'
"This description is distorted. The campaign turned out to be one of attrition, but that was more Lee's doing than Grant's. The Union commander intended to maneuver Lee into a position for open-field combat; Lee parried these efforts from elaborate entrenchments with the hope of holding out long enough to discourage the Northern people and force their leaders to make peace — a strategy of psychological attrition. It almost worked, but Lincoln's reelection and Grant's determination to stay the course brought victory in the end. And if any general deserved the label 'butcher,' it was Lee. Although the Confederates had the advantage of fighting on the defensive most of the time, they suffered almost as high a percentage of casualties as the Union forces in this campaign. For the war as a whole, Lee's army had a higher casualty rate than the armies commanded by Grant. The romantic glorification of the Army of Northern Virginia by generations of Lost Cause writers has obscured this truth."

Even Foote says this was the price the South paid for having Lee as its commander.

You're right. This is fun. But what if we're both playing devil's advocate? Hmm.

Last edited on Thu Feb 7th, 2008 03:10 pm by PvtClewell

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