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A Northern opinion of Grant's generalship.

[The following able criticism of General Grant's claim to great generalship was published in the New York Tribune last summer, and is worth preserving as the well digested opinion of one who seems to have risen above the prejudices of the hour and to have written, to some extent at least, in the calm spirit of the true military critic. We do not, of course, endorse all of this writer's statements and conclusions, but that his estimate of Grant will be that of the future historian there can be but little doubt.]

To the Editor of the Tribune.
Sir,—The attitude in which General Grant has so long been posed before the world is likely to receive a severe blow from the publication of General Humphreys's last volume of ‘The Campaigns of the Civil War,’ of which the Tribune contained a review [21] yesterday. Most people who read General Humphreys's book will be satisfied, from its frankness of tone, clearness, and accuracy of detail, that he has reached somewhere near the truth of his subject. His statements are indeed tacitly admitted by other writers on the last year of the war in Virginia, but have been either clouded over or not brought forward to the importance they properly deserve. Neither do I understand that he reflects on the mistakes and failures of the Union General with the severity he well might employ, but leaves the reader to draw an evident conclusion for himself.

Colonel Hambley, of the British army, in his great work on the Art of War, a work which I have never seen seriously questioned, speaks of General Grant as one ‘who was successful on a moderate terrain like Vicksburg, but whose Virginia campaign was a failure,’ and elsewhere of ‘Grant's useless sacrifice of ten thousand men at Cold Harbor.’ This judgment is tacitly supported in General Humphreys's book by what would seem to be a column of indisputable facts. I understand from him that General Grant was at least seven times conspicuously and with enormous loss defeated by General Lee before the exhaustion of his war materials and the universal collapse of the Confederacy compelled the latter to surrender. These were not reported as defeats in the bulletins of the day, and some of them were even supposed to be victories, as in the case of Hancock's magnificent attempt to break through Lee's centre at Spotsylvania Courthouse; but they were defeats nevertheless. When a commander assumes the offensive and is repulsed by the enemy with severe loss, it is a defeat for him and a victory for his antagonist, although it may not be a decisive one. Many things conspired to prevent General Lee's victories from being decisive: The overwhelming superiority of the Union army in numbers and munitions of war, his own lack of absolutely necessary war material—for which we can thank the blockade— the determined bravery of the Union forces, and the lack of an able coadjutor like Stonewall Jackson. One can well believe that had Jackson lived a year longer Grant would not only have been defeated, but, as a consequence of his stubborn adhesion to a single military idea, pretty nearly destroyed. Grant possessed an advantage over all his predecessors in Virginia, that he never was forced to contend with Jackson. With Jackson taken from one side and Sheridan added to the other, it ought not to have been so difficult to get the better of Lee.. As it happened, Sheridan's brilliant victory at Cedar Run, a battle gained with equal forces and the most decisive ever fought in Virginia, was all that saved us at that period. The dry truth of it is that Grant lost more battles in Virginia than he ever won elsewhere. [22]

General Grant's tactics evidently succeeded in the West on account of their simplicity. They were not too good for the then undisciplined forces which he commanded. He said to General Sherman, I think it was after the capture of Fort Donelson (I may not give his exact words): ‘I notice at a certain point in our battles that both sides are defeated, but if we only hold on a little after that we whip them awfully.’ There can be no question as to Grant's fine qualities as a soldier. The man who could make such an observation and act upon it with coolness and decision was born for the battle-field; to possess those qualities of mind which constitute the great strategist and tactician—in short, the qualities of a great General—is an entirely different thing. In the tenacity with which Grant followed out a determination once fixed in his mind, perhaps no man has ever surpassed him; but it was an expensive virtue for his soldiers, as the hundred thousand men he lost in Virginia are a witness. Whether he should have been removed after Cold Harbor, a disastrous blunder only equalled by Burnside's at Fredericksburg, is a difficult matter to determine. If he had been, the final result would not have differed much in all probability.

Yet this man, who happened to receive the surrendered sword of Lee, became on that account the supposed hero of the war; received the credit of having suppressed the Confederacy; without education for or experience in civil affairs was made President for eight years; and finally was carried around the earth and exhibited to the nations as the greatest prodigy of the age. The people in their exuberant joy at the return of peace wished for a hero to whom they could pay homage, and, Lincoln being dead, seized upon Grant as the nearest object. Happier for him and for them had he been allowed to continue, like Sherman and Sheridan, quietly at his post of duty. America does not require celebrities of a false lustre to satisfy her pride. ‘There are others who are deserving,’ as Mr. Emerson said.

F. P. S. College Hill, mass., July 4, 1883.

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