Bonekemper III, Edward H. "The Butcher's Bill." Civil War Times
L, no. 2 (April 2011): 36-43.
In the latest Civil War Times, Edward H. Bonekemper III makes a compelling argument about how Lee, not Grant, deserves nickname “butcher.” Although both inflicted more casualties than their combined opponents, Lee ultimately suffered more than Grant (208,922 vs. 153,642). However, Lee benefitted from a +37,000-casualty differential against his opponents whereas Grant only benefitted from a +31,000 differential. Then there are the goals and the results. Lee needed to force an end to hostilities and he failed to do that. On the other hand, Grant needed to be aggressive and defeat the armies of the South. Not only did he suffer fewer casualties than Lee, Grant was able to force three different armies to surrender. Lee ultimately lost more men without any of Grant’s total victories.
The author poses the age-old question about whether Lee should have been so aggressive. Had he fought defensively instead of invading the North twice, he would have increased the odds for the South. I have heard this argument before and I am not sure I am sold on it. I tend to think that had Lee not invaded at the times he did, he would have ensured more continuous fighting in Virginia, with the result being more Union troops pouring freely into the region. Lee’s best hope of convincing the Union populace that the war was pointless was by getting a victory on Northern soil. By always fighting in Virginia, Lee would have given the Army of the Potomac more chances to succeed.