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 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:06 am
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JoanieReb
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I'm about to tackle Cold Harbor in sincerity. 

That particular battle has always sickened me.  Grant's stated regret that he sent in the third wave has made me wonder - should he have fought there at all?  What were the alternatives?

I'm going to be reading with those questions in mind.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Thanks!

Last edited on Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:07 am by JoanieReb



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 01:27 pm
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Michael C. Hardy
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No, Grant should not have fought at Cold Harbor.

Was it not about this time that Mary Todd Lincoln bestowed on Grant the title “butcher”?

Regards,
Michael



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 05:31 pm
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ole
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Have we forgotten that Meade was the commander of the AotP? Cold Harbor deserves much more study. May I suggest Fergurson's "Not War but Murder"? Or Rhea's "Cold Harbor"?

"Was it not about this time that Mary Todd Lincoln bestowed on Grant the title “butcher”?" Shucks! The quick reply doesn't give me access to all those nice things. Yes. Mary coined the phrase "butcher." But if one looks at the numbers and percentages, the figures do not ring true.

Grant was, above all, an active general. He had numerical superiority and he used it. "Butcher?" Check the numbers.

ole



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 08:51 pm
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PvtClewell
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Gordon Rhea is my source for just about anything on the Overland campaign.

Should Grant have fought at Cold Harbor?

Rhea writes:

"Grant has been roundly criticized for assailing Lee's line the morning of June 3. Viewed in the campaign's larger context, the decision made sense. Recently reinforced by the 18th Corps, the Army of the Potomac was stronger than ever. Grant believed that the Confederates were on their last legs and everything that had happened since crossing the Pamunkey, from Early's botched assault on Bethesda Church to Wright's and Smith's breakthrough on June 1 supported him in that conclusion. Lee now stood a mere seven miles from Richmond, his back to a river..." (P. 389, 'Cold Harbor', 2002).

Grant's casualty count at Cold Harbor is always a source of controversy and Rhea contributes to that controversy, downsizing the numbers we're accustomed to seeing. I haven't been to Cold Harbor in several years, but I believe the NPS says Grant suffered 6,000 casualties inside of half an hour, or close to something like that. Rhea says the number is more like 3,500 to 4,000 casualties. You can take those numbers for what they're worth, but I'm guessing Rhea did some serious research on this for his book.

Then Rhea writes this:

"The two years preceding Cold Harbor had seen a host of days in which Union and Confederate armies each sustained far more casualties than Grant suffered on June 3. Lee's casualties in three days fighting at Gettysburg, for example, exceeded 22,000, with Confederate losses on the last day of the battle topping 8,000. Pickett's famous charge at Gettysburg — a frontal attack that lasted about as long as Grant's main morning attack at Cold Harbor — cost the Confederates between 5,300 and 5,700 men, a number well in excess of the 3,500-4,000 that Grant lost during his main June 3 attack. And while cumulative casualties in Grant's successive battles against Lee were high, no single day of Grant's pounding saw the magnitude of Union casualties that McClellan incurred in one day at Antietam, and no three consecutive days of Grant's warring proved as costly to the Union as Meade's three days at Gettysburg. In the Overland campaign, Grant waged several consecutive battles, one after the other. Unlike his predecessors, who disengaged after their battles and left Lee to repair his losses, Grant followed up his fights with a vengeance. In the end, he had something to show for his efforts." (p. 386)

Grant gets the 'butcher' label but it appears other commanders, North and South, actually had worse days in the war than he. The 'butcher' label seems little unfair to me, especially in a civil war like this one, when there was butchery enough for all. (Come to think of it, Burnside at Fredericksburg also had a significant butcher's bill. But who's jumping down his throat? History almost treats him as a sympathetic figure. I guess because he lost. Or because of his sideburns).

My own feeling is that Cold Harbor was a burp in the inevitable progression of the AofP toward Richmond. Sheridan's cavalry had captured the Cold Harbor crossroads a few days earlier and asked for support. Both armies thus naturally gravitated to the strategic spot in their war of manuever, setting the stage for the battle that followed.

I think Grant catches a lot of grief because of war weariness in the nation which was in its fourth year of conflict. There were indeed complaints even within the AofP about the casualties Grant suffered. People were just tired of the war and this battle ended in a stalemate with high casualties, aggravating the frustration. But you can bet if Grant broke through at Cold Harbor and was marching through Richmond the next day, there is no controversy.

Last edited on Wed Feb 6th, 2008 11:33 pm by PvtClewell



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:03 pm
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ole
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Thanks Pvt. You said it gooder than me. (Would've said gooder'n, but that might confuse some.) Don't you think you ought to be at least a major by now?

ole



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:47 pm
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JoanieReb
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Thank you, Generals.

I've been meaning to read Rhea for some time,  seems like an awful oversight that I haven't!

Hmmm, but this business about downsizing casualties, and rah-rah cheerleading on Grant, has me wondering, might he be a bit....biased?

JUST KIDDING!

Thanks again.

Back after supper....

JoanieReb



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:50 pm
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PvtClewell
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I was waiting for that one, Joanie.

You know, years ago, when I was in college, Pickett's Charge featured 15,000 troops. Now current scholarship estimates Pickett used 12,000 troops. The numbers are always changing.



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:58 pm
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JoanieReb
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You were waiting, weren't you? Pounced on that one like a duck on a junebug. 3 minutes, perhaps a new record!

Geez, General Clewell! It appears all the NASCAR posts have sucked the fun right out of you! (Hee-hee, I said "Junebug"! That's NASCAR-speak for Junior!)

Last edited on Tue Feb 5th, 2008 11:24 pm by JoanieReb



 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 11:30 pm
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JoanieReb
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One thing that bothers me extremely about Grant and Cold Harbor is that Grant's pride would not allow him to ask Lee for a truce in order to collect and care for his wounded.

As Lee's army had no wounded on the battlefield, it was only those very brave Yanks that lay there in the elements suffering for 4 days before Grant would finally follow protocal and ask for a proper truce. After which time, only two Yankees were found alive, the others whom were anable to crawl or unrescued by commrades had died excrucialting deaths, no water, nothing for their pain, nothing to protect them from the elements.

I find that unforgivable.

(Anyone wondering about this can find a good, basic account in Foote, volume III.)



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 12:16 am
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Michael C. Hardy
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Meade was no more than a clerk once Grant chose to make his headquarters in the field with the Army of the Potomac. Meade is just lucky he did not go the way of McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Pope, and Hooker. Grant laid out the strategy, Meade simply did the paper work of implementing it.

Mary Lincoln is the one to call Grant a butcher, not me. Yes, Lee suffered the same number of losses with the Seven Days campaigns. Grant, by this time of the war, should have known better. And, had he not known better prior to the start of the Overland Campaign, then the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and North Anna River should have taught him a little about attacking field fortifications head on.

Something I’m trying to grasp is Grant’s continue support of Sherman after the latter’s failure at Tunnel Hill (Chattanooga). Yes, I know, that is an age-old question.



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 12:29 am
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JoanieReb
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Good points, Michael!

Thank You.

Big Powell sent me this link - I thought the poem, "Whenever I Smoke a Cigar", deserved sharing.

http://www.1861-1865.org/?p=119

Now, back to our discussion!

Last edited on Wed Feb 6th, 2008 12:30 am by JoanieReb



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 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 12:54 am
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JoanieReb
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Thank you, Bama.  I feel I should have known this, but didn't.

How on earth can such behavior be condoned?

Another thing I've never read but have meant to is Grant's memoirs.

What did he have to say about those episodes?



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 03:00 am
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HankC
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From March 1862 to May 1864, the US incurred 106,000 and the CS 93,000 casualties in Eastern battles. During this time, despite the campaigns, marching and massive casualties, the 'front' moved from Manassas to Culpeper, about 10 miles *closer* to Richmond as the crow flies.
(During this time another 2000 men died every *week* from disease).

From May 1864 to May 1865, the war ended, at the cost of about 63,000 US and 43,000 CS battle casualties (not including the final surrender at Appomattox).

Condemning Grant as a 'butcher' based on one day is a bit extreme...


HankC

http://civilwarmissouri.blogspot.com/



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 03:32 am
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JoanieReb
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I didn't think it was based on one day; thought it was based on one month.  In the month leading up to and through Cold Harbor, "Grant has lost no less than half as many men as it had lost in the previous three yearsunder McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade on his own."

I've been re-reading Shelby Foote's account of The Wilderness in preparation for diving into Rhea and couple more specialized accounts.

Volume III, page 295 gives a good acoount of the losses and cumulative strain that it had on the officers and men.



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 03:43 pm
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younglobo
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Grant a butcher lets consider the source mrs. Lincoln was a wee bit off cilter lets not forget. Did Grant loose lots of men yes but he won battles and that is what saved the union. Going to look some stuff up and add to this later.

ok did a little research here , first be sure to check out this site http://www.brotherswar.com/Spotsylvania.htm

I quote from the opening page "The Battle of the Wilderness cost the Union Army of the Potomac nearly 7,000 more casualties than their Southern counterpart.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee had successfully withstood and repelled the Union assaults that would begin the bloodiest campaign of this already bloody war. Although Lee lost 11,000 to Grants 18,000, the question was for how long Lee's Army could withstand such losses.  While the Federals could replace the men lost during such fights, Lee could not. Despite the scale of death and injury, Ulysses S. Grant would not repeat the pattern of previous eastern generals. He would not withdraw, reorganize, refit, and plan. Grant ordered his Army to move around Lee's right and push south, guaranteeing another collision with his veteran gray nemesis. Despite the horrific casualties and scenes of mutilation with wounded men burning alive amidst the Wilderness fires, men in blue cheered when Grant ordered the move towards Richmond. They understood their new leader would show the determination to finish this fight."

 

Last edited on Wed Feb 6th, 2008 03:55 pm by younglobo



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 04:27 pm
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younglobo
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Reb.. check out this article I found on the subject of casualties at Cold Harbor http://www.historynet.com/magazines/civil_war_times/3706816.html



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 05:14 pm
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younglobo
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Overland Campaign   May 8- 21 1864     union dead 17,000 

 Battle of the Bulge   Dec 16 1944- Jan 25 1945      US dead 19,276,

Battle of IA Drang Valley November 14-18 1965    US dead 389

All of these battles are ones we probably know , two are made famous in movies.

My point here is that during war for a side to win many good men have to die and commanders have to make decisions that will effect these men and thier families forever , to "armchair General" weither this should or that should of been done is a part of disscussing history I have never liked ,we as a student of history are too far removed we were not there and didnt have to make those hard decisions, these commanders were men that stood up when history and thier country called them . Death is inevitable in war .

"The portrat of freedom is painted with the blood of patriots "

Think that is the quote , probably got it wrong though

And thats my 2 cents

 



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 07:25 pm
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Michael C. Hardy
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Yes, Mary was a little daft. But, 17,000 dead in one month and nothing to show for it. Grant was no closer to capturing Richmond that when he started. In fact, Grant gave up on capturing Richmond and looked towards Petersburg.

Maybe Mary’s calling Grant a butcher was a political way of protecting her husband. Elections were coming soon and maybe by not condoning the deaths of 17,000 men, Mary was protecting her husband’s political future.

Has anyone ever looked at the public’s perception, via newspapers, of Grant’s loses? Something is clicking on a back burner that Grant suppressed the newspapers and would not let them publish the actual number of loses that he sustained.



 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 08:17 pm
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PvtClewell
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Wow. There's a lot of stuff going on here.

Mary Todd Lincoln's 'butcher' quote came during the seige of Petersburg, but I think you have to take her utterings with a grain of salt. She never liked Grant, thought him to be coarse and unmannered and wanted Lincoln to remove him as commander of the army. Good thing she wasn't Lincoln's military advisor, huh? MTL, I think, had her own biased platform about Grant apparantly based on manners and social graces. To my mind, she was commenting on something she knew nothing about when it comes to warfare.

As Lee's army had no wounded on the battlefield, it was only those very brave Yanks that lay there in the elements suffering for 4 days before Grant would finally follow protocal and ask for a proper truce. After which time, only two Yankees were found alive, the others whom were unable to crawl or unrescued by commrades had died excruciating deaths, no water, nothing for their pain, nothing to protect them from the elements.

Joanie, there's more to this story. In the 19th century, if a commander sent for a flag of truce to bury his dead and cart off his wounded, he was considered to have lost the field of battle. We have to view that incident through a 19th century lens and not from the 21st century, otherwise we should be truly and utterly appalled.

On top of that, Grant finally did ask Lee on June 5 (two days later) that each side be permitted to remove the dead and wounded 'when no action was in progress.' Lee refused, saying "I fear such an arrangement will lead to misunderstanding and difficulty. I propose therefore, instead, that when either party desires to remove their dead or wounded a flag of truce be sent, as is customary ..."

Grant thought it over for a day, roadblocked by the 'flag of truce' clause, and sent another message to Lee saying he would recover his dead and wounded immediately. Trouble was, there was no 'flag of truce' clause in this note either, and again, Lee declined. It wasn't until the fourth day that Lee allowed Grant to recover his dead and wounded. Two men were found alive.

Men died in this needless battle of wills and semantics, and a favorable light does not shine on either commander because of it. But it was a 19th century mindset — they were a product of their times, like we all are. They both had points of pride. And war is hell.


And, had he not known better prior to the start of the Overland Campaign, then the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and North Anna River should have taught him a little about attacking field fortifications head on.

But after each of those battles, Grant was able to maneuver his army closer to Richmond. Rhea writes: "Lee had earned high marks as a defensive fighter, deadlocking an army nearly double the size of his own force, and Cold Harbor added to his laurels. But impressive as Lee's victories were, the pattern of the campaign remained troubling. Each time Lee fought Grant to a stalemate, the Union general shifted to new ground closer to Richmond, maintaining an intense regimen of maneuver and attack that prevented Lee from taking the initiative and steadily curtailed his ability to countermaneuver." (P. 393).

If the North was going to vanquish the South, it was incumbent upon Grant to be on the offensive, and an offensive army is almost always going to suffer more casualties. Most armies prefer to attack at odds of 3-to-1 at the point of contact, if possible, to provide the best hope of success.

Do we ever learn not to attack fortified positions in frontal assaults? In World War II, the Allies nearly broke themselves trying to take Monte Casino in Italy. Nearly happened again at Aachen, and the Hurtegen Forest. And, while we're at it, Operation Market-Garden.


Has anyone ever looked at the public’s perception, via newspapers, of Grant’s loses? Something is clicking on a back burner that Grant suppressed the newspapers and would not let them publish the actual number of loses that he sustained.

Again, Rhea writes: "A century later, conspiracy theory devotees claimed that Grant conspired to put a lid on his true casualties at Cold Harbor until the Republican convention, scheduled to convene on June 7, had nominated Lincoln. Nothing about the timing or accuracy of reports on Cold Harbor, however, differs significantly from the timing or accuracy of battle reporting throughout the campaign. On Monday, June 6, the New York Herald published a front-page report parroting Dana's latest dispatch that losses for the previous three days' fighting around Cold Harbor 'will not exceed, according to the Adjutant General's report, seven thousand five hundred.' The next day — June 7 — the New York Times ran a headline reporting 'heavy losses on our side' at Cold Harbor, in a battle that produced 'no decisive result.' The accompanying article estimated casualties at 5,000 to 6,000 and candidly described the failure of the attack. That same day, the Republican convention opened in Baltimore. The following day, delegates nominated Lincoln for president, fully cognizant of the bloodshed at Cold Harbor and of Grant's failure to achieve success there." (P. 385)

Whew. I'm wiped out.

Last edited on Sat Feb 9th, 2008 12:08 pm by PvtClewell



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