While this decision led to much suffering on both sides, it made perfect sense from a military standpoint. It was an effective way to exploit the Union's great manpower advantage, and accelerate the exhaustion of the CSA's dwindling resources.
Grant was willing to fight a war of attrition. Lee won most of the battles he fough against Grant but unless he could take those battles without loosing a single man to injury, capture, or death and unless he could take them without loosing ammo then each battle was ultimately costing Lee even more than Grant.
You are quite right that General Grant was willing to fight a war of attrition against the CSA. This can be seen from Grant's own words in a letter written to General Butler on 18 April 1864:
"Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole south is exterminated. If we hold those caught, they amount to no more than dead men."
I have to wonder if Grant was considering another fact when he said that. Veterans have experince that green recruits won't have. And both sides were loosing veterans to the POW camps in addition to green recruits. Given the numbers both had to fall back on I think Grant could more afford to loose that experience.
Without having documentation at hand, I would have to believe that by 1864 and 1865, most of the soldiers in General Lee's army were battle hardened veterans. By the later stages of the war, those who remained were likely to be the most dedicated to the cause of the CSA. For this and other reasons, depriving General Lee of these soldiers was much more important to General Grant than getting back a like number of his own soldiers.
I'm not disagreeing on that note, TD. I'm just saying that I think given their experince veterans were a bit more important than green recruits to both sides. But the North had a large enough population that it could better afford to loose that experince while the South didn't have the population to fall back on as they lost that experince.
Last edited on Wed Apr 17th, 2013 06:27 pm by Hellcat