A parallel for Grant's action.
[from the Philadelphia times, March 14, 1896.] here is a comparison of his campaign in 1864 and Lee's in 1862. their strategy was similar. And the losses incurred in the Wilderness and the subsequent battles were about on a Par with Lee's losses in the Seven days battle and those Succeeding it. Leslie J. Perry's interesting argument.
When General Grant, having been made lieutenant-general, came East and assumed direction of the armies operating against Richmond, the war had been in progress three years; about a dozen great battles had been fought between the two principal Virginia armies, in which alone the aggregate losses in killed and wounded were over 90,000; half as many more had fallen in scores of lesser actions—all to no purpose, for, notwithstanding the fact that perhaps equal losses had been inflicted on the Confederates, the situation of the beligerents in Virginia remained substantially the same as when the first battle of Bull Run occurred in 1861. Retaining Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac, but casting his personal fortunes with that magnificent but unfortunate  army, Grant inaugurated a campaign against Lee which involved a succession of bloody battles hardly paralleled in modern warfare, in which the Confederate commander, almost constantly acting on a careful defensive, to husband his rapidly failing strength, was barely able throughout this terrible summer to hold his own and protect Richmond. By thus always fighting behind fortified lines and taking few chances, Lee was enabled to inflct far greater losses on the Union army than his own sustained. But, nevertheless, the Confederate losses were also quite large. Confederate bulletins and newspapers from time to time announced the repulse of the Yankees with ‘great slaughter,’ and showered enthusiastic praises upon the brave and brilliant defense their great leader was making against overwhelming numbers, yet the Union army day by day drew nearer and nearer Richmond, and the very terseness with which, after the first trial of strength with Grant, the heretofore bold and dashing Confederates hugged their breastworks, was evidence that they were cowed and dismayed by this new order of warfare. Grant at once detected this after the Wilderness; he asserted to his government that Lee was already whipped, and that it was impossibie to get a battle out of him in the open. Grant pressed the fighting with such ferocity and persisted in it with such bull dog tenacity that he began to be stigmatized by his enemies North and South as a ‘butcher.’ It is my purpose to indulge in some speculations concerning this campaign, and the Union losses, comparing them with other campaigns of the war, and then let the reader form his own conclusions as to whether Grant's eventual success was dearly bought or otherwise. The period of which I shall treat is the forty-one days beginning with the battle of the Wilderness, on the 5th of May, and ending with the crossing of the James on the 15th of June, 1864. The fighting, beginning on the 5th, was almost continuous throughout the month of May, but practically ended with the battle of Cold Harbor on the third of June. The total Union losses in all the battles of this period in killed and wounded (I do not include prisoners, as they are not counted in the butcher's bill), was follows:
The campaign in which these losses were made may be truthfully
described as a series of seige operations, alternating with flank movements toward Richmond to turn the Confederates out of fortified positions too strong and too well defended to be broken through.
But Lee, who was an able engineer officer, having always the inner line, found it easy again to interpose and throw up new defenses.
This process was repeated four different times—first at Spotsylvania, then at the North Anna river, again at Cold Harbor, and finally in front of Petersburg.
It is not necessary to my purpose to discuss the Confederate losses in these operations further than to say that they also were quite heavy.
There is no complete return of them, but subordinate reports leave no room for doubt that at the Wilderness, where Lee at first assumed the offensive, there were not less than 10,000, and perhaps as many as 12,000 killed and wounded; around Spotsylvania between 8,000 and 10,000; North Anna, Cold Harbor, etc., about 5,000.
I think the total may be fairly stated at 25,000 men. The The fighting, it will be seen, was not all one-sided.
Even the Confederate fortified lines were several times pierced by fierce attacks, and the safety of Lee's entire army momentarily imperiled.
The Wilderness is generally assumed to have been a drawn battle, but in fact it was a Union triumph.
Grant had not actually driven Lee from the field, but he had maintained himself south of the river, offering, if not again delivering battle.
While safely covering his own capital, Grant still menaced the enemy's, for he held the roads leading south, and at once actually proceeded to advance further into the interior of Virginia.
He had held the enemy at bay, inflicting such staggering blows as to at last change the policy of that enemy from a hitherto generally successful offensive-defensive into a purely and very careful and timid defensive one.
More, General Grant had destroyed the illusion in the Union army that Lee was absolutely infallible and that the Rapidan was a sort of Chinese wall which could not be successfully passed while Lee defended it. This was a victory in itself.
Just one year previously Lee had boldly attacked Hooker on this same ground and disastrously defeated and driven him back across the Rappahannock.
Hooker's forces in the Chancellorsville campaign were greater by 20,000 than Grant's in the Wilderness, while Lee's were about the same in both.
At Spotsylvania Hancock broke through the Confederate breastworks and captured many prisoners.
Feeble attempts of the Confederates at Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Bethesda Church to take the offensive were easily repulsed, and with considerable loss.
In short, in this campaign the Union army was handled with a boldness and confidence unknown in its previous history, and with a success in the presence of R. E. Lee which surprised those to whom his name had been a terror for three years. All expectation of out-manoeuvering and defeating the superior Federal army in the open had evidently been put aside, though it is plain Lee had confidence that he could repeat the Chancellorsville episode when he marched on Grant in the Wilderness.
His previous successes in this favorite field against large armies gave him ground for such expectation.
But the cyclone tactics of the Confederate leader of 1862-3 were now completely reversed.
True, Lee was largely outnumbered, but not so largely as at Chancellorsville.
It is not likely that many favorable openings were afforded by General Grant for promising attack, but in the numberless movements at Spotsylvania of corps back and forth, it seems strange that Lee did not make an opportunity with his old-time skill to strike effectively, but here he preferred a strict defensive, a policy in marked contrast with the bold advance at the Wilderness on May 5, and Longstreet's attack on the 6th.
Grant's style of fighting was a new sensation on this front.
The partisans of defunct Federal generals previously cleaned out by Lee, who prognosticated disaster, were silenced by Grant's advance; opposition journals and the supporters of McClellan, who had declared that the war was a failure, spread exaggerated lists of killed before the country for political purposes.
Through such agencies there was created a popular impression that Grant's warfare was utterly devoid of sense or science; that by mere weight of numbers and through sheer stolidity he was maintaining a losing fight; that General Lee—a great military genius—was constantly outgeneraling him, watchfully biding his time and from behind impregnable breastworks shooting down the Union troops like pigeons almost at will, while losing very few himself.
Cheap historians afterward followed these lines.
Many ignorant people are still of that impression, especially those who have read only the earlier histories and have depended upon sensational newspaper accounts for their knowledge of the war, written before the contemporaneous official reports of both sides were accessible.
Never was there a greater mistake.
Lee had previously been lucky in his adversaries; now he had met one who understood his business; who like himself knew how to Weigh relative chances; who knew when his army was licked and also when it wasn't; who,
seconded by Meade, knew how to spread an army out and fight it properly, and who did not lose his head when merely repulsed and rush away in retreat, under the impression that all was lost.
No such series of rapid and able—even brilliant—manoeuvres as those around Spotsylvania were seen on any other battle-field of the war. They were skilfully met; they had to be to save the Confederate army.
It is natural that this continuous fighting and these heavy losses should have had the effect to somewhat impair the morale of the Union army, yet seemingly the troops charged the Confederate breastworks at Cold Harbor, with Richmond in sight, as bravely as they did those at Spotsylvania.
Grant never abandoned the offensive from first to last, and was constantly feeling for the weak spot in his adversary's armor.
Now for my parallel.
The distinguished Confederate leader, General R. E. Lee, was appointed to the command of the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle of Fair Oaks, where his predecessor, General Joseph E. Johnston, was wounded.
For the purpose of loosening McClellan's hold on Richmond General Lee began a series of operations on the 25th of June, 1862, known as the Seven Days battles, in which he succeeded in driving off the Union general and relieving Richmond from the menace of immediate attack.
In these battles the Confederates acted on the offensive, and were precipitated against the Union positions by their commander day after day with a persistent energy bordering on desperation.
Their losses were frightful.
In the first battle at Beaver Dam Creek on the 26th of June, some 18,000 Confederates charged a strong line held by McCall's single division and were repulsed with ease, with a loss of about 3,000 men, killed and wounded, McCall's killed and wounded amounting to less than 400, all told.
The battle of Gaines' Mill followed on the 27th, the Confederates attacking a strong line and eventually winning a victory, but at great cost of bloodshed.
Other battles followed, McClellan retreating to the James, where again the Confederates made desperate efforts to break the Union lines at Malvern Hill, but were signally repulsed, with a loss of not less than 6,000 killed and wounded, the Union army suffering not half as much.
After this series of bloody battles, in which Lee lost 19,739 men, killed and wounded, to McClellan's 9,796, Lee marched toward the Rappahannock, attacking Pope at Cedar Mountain, again at Bull Run and Chantilly, and finally pressing the Union army back into
the fortifications about Washington.
He then invaded Maryland, but was attacked at South Mountain on the 14th of September, and again at Antietam on the 17th, where, acting on the defensive, he was enabled to inflict heavy losses on McClellan, but was also badly shattered himself and forced to retire across the Potomac.
Shortly after he fell back behind the Rappahannock, through sheer exhaustion, to recuperate and rest his army, which had been incessantly toiling and fighting with splendid valor since the 26th of June.
In these various battles Lee's losses were as follows:
The Confederate returns of losses in these operations are incomplete and unsatisfactory.
For several of the lesser battles, in which perhays, 3,000 or 4,000 men were lost, no reports of losses whatever appear.
The Confederates did not report their slightly wounded by a special order of Lee himself.
It is demonstrated that the total losses of Lee in these campaigns were not less than 45,000 men killed and wounded, and the reports contain internal evidences that they probably exceeded the total of 50,000.
The aggregates shown above are approximately correct, so far as they go, and for the Seven Days battles are undisputed.
Around Richmond, Lee, like Grant, forced the fighting against a partially fortified enemy, and held his men up to the necessary work with the same tenacity of purpose that characterized Grant's operations from the Vilderness to the James.
His losses fully equaled and probably exceeded Grant's. Lee's bloody assaults at Beaver Dam Creek and at Malvern Hill were even more unjustifiable by any apparent military necessity than Grant's assaults at Cold Harbor, and they were just as costly in human blood.
Every man he lost at Antietam was a waste of life, because he had no need to fight that battle.
Yet no man has risen up to stigmatize the brilliant Confederate leader as a ‘butcher.’
It is true that Lee had temporarily relieved Richmond, beaten Pope, captured Harper's Ferry, and made a good fight at Antietam—all brilliant episodes doubtless, as they added greatly to his military reputation.
But summing all up after
his forced retreat across the Potomac, who can point out any real, tangible advantage attained for his cause by all these bloody sacrifices?
His victories over McClellan and Pope were disappointing, but they did not shake the determination of the North, or for one moment unsettle its purpose to crush the rebellion.
He had inflicted on the enemy losses less than his own army had sustained, except in prisoners; the long, unceasing strain of battle, with its harassments and its killings, had brought his once formidable army to so low a state of morale and discipline that there was well-grounded fear of its total dissolution by wholesale desertion and straggling after Antietam, if we may believe General Lee's own statements and those of D. H. Hill and others.
September 22d, five days after the battle, his total infantry force present for duty was officially stated at only 35,757.
Lee telegraphed Secretary Randolph September 23d, that ‘unless something is done the army will melt away.’
In short, at this time the Confederate outlook was gloomy.
The fortunes of the Confederacy were then at a lower ebb, in my opinion, than at any other period of its existence, except during the last few months prior to the final collapse in 1865.
Its army was reduced to a frazzle by its frightful losses, and other causes far more more dangerous to its existence; the object of its chief general's campaign had been defeated and his weakened army thrown back upon the defensive.
And what was worse, notwithstanding Lee's apparent successes, which had set the South delirious with joy, while he had thus been sensibly growing weaker, his adversary, constantly gaining in strength, was now confronting him more numerous and powerful, more confident and determined than ever.
McClellan's effective army shortly after Antietam had increased to over 15o,000 men. Lee was relatively worse off than at the beginning of his series of brilliant operations.
All the reinforcements added to Joe Johnston's army in June had disappeared into the grave, the Southern hospitals or deserted to their homes.
Mere stupidity largely contributed to Lee's principal successes, whereas in Grant's advance upon Richmond, the Confederate defense, from first to last, was conducted with consummate ability.
And note the difference in results.
Lee lost 45,000 men and gained no permanent advantage, whereas Grant, after losses not exceeding the other's, permanently fastened himself upon the very throat of the rebellion, and just eleven months from the time he set forth he had accomplished his object in its complete overthrow to recompense
the country for its sacrifices.
It is highly probable he would have made even a shorter campaign of it had he been in command instead of McClellan after or previous to the battle of Antietam.
|Wilderness, 2 days||2,246||12,037||14,283.|
|Spotsylvania, 14 days||2,725||13,413||16,138.|
|North Anna, Cold Harbor, etc., 24 days||2,436||11,811||14,247.|
|Total, 41 days||7,407||37,261||44,668.|
|Seven days battles||3,478||16,261||19,739.|
|Second Bull Run||1,740||7,372||9,112.|