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Old 18 Feb 11, 22:12
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Lee was the real butcher?

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.

Thoughts?
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  #2  
Old 18 Feb 11, 22:31
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to be honest, I dont think either Grant or Lee were butchers...
BUT
they have to be the two most aggressive combat commanders with the longest tenure on either side
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Old 18 Feb 11, 22:35
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Gotta agree! I don't think either one of them were butchers!
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Old 18 Feb 11, 22:39
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just fighters

you fight
somebody gets hurt

you fight the most
somebody gets hurt the most
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Old 18 Feb 11, 22:40
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It's my understanding that the fortifications built by both sides contributed mightily to the casualty counts. No marching army stopped for the night without some sort of "digging in". And once Grant faced Lee in Virginia, the works in front of Richmond were formidable. IIRC, Grant tried to flank the works repeatedly, but Lee was able to use interior lines to move troops to the trouble spots rapidly and meet the threat. This caused Grants attacks to become frontal assaults, thus the high casualties.

As for Lee's conduct, offensive or defensive, finer minds than mine haven't been able to come to a conclusion. It would seem that extended operations in the North, by a Southern army, might have put the Unions resolve to continue the fight to the test. I just think that by the time this realization was made by the South, the moment for action on it had long since passed. Lee's efforts were valiant, but doomed.
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Old 18 Feb 11, 22:44
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Lets just say that on a bad day Lee and Grant could imitate Haig in the first World War. The entrenchments and scale of artillery could do terrible things to soldiers.

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Old 18 Feb 11, 22:52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
Lets just say that on a bad day Lee and Grant could imitate Haig in the first World War. The entrenchments and scale of artillery could do terrible things to soldiers.

Pruitt
neither one of them played soldier.....
Lee was an Engineer and Grant was a quitter

but when they saw an opportunity, they went for it...

both of them join the ranks of Amerikas (LOL) greatest combat commanders.
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Old 19 Feb 11, 05:16
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Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
Lets just say that on a bad day Lee and Grant could imitate Haig in the first World War. The entrenchments and scale of artillery could do terrible things to soldiers.

Pruitt
Indeed! Cold Harbor and Pickett's Charge come to mind as shining examples. I guess, like Haig, they didn't calculate enough "wastage" on their bad days.

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Old 19 Feb 11, 08:05
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Originally Posted by D1J1 View Post
Indeed! Cold Harbor and Pickett's Charge come to mind as shining examples. I guess, like Haig, they didn't calculate enough "wastage" on their bad days.

Regards,
Dennis

didn't Lincoln say
that one of the things he admired
about US Grant
was that the man could do the math?
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Old 19 Feb 11, 08:23
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It really sticks in my craw when I hear folks call Grant "butcher", especially when you look through the statistics of all of his battles. He wasn't out trying to get his men killed-he was simply one of those men who understood what needed to be done to win. In the case of the 64 campaign where he suffered his greatest casualties, he was relying on his subordinate commanders to do what they were supposed to so that the men wouldn't have to suffer as much. Had Hunter done what he was supposed to in the Valley & (more importantly), had Butler taken Petersburg when he was supposed to, the 64 campaign would have gone a lot smoother for Grant & his men. The failure of those 2 generals cost the Union thousands more men than it should have & put the war off from being won by almost a year.

I would essentially agree with Bonekemper.
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Old 19 Feb 11, 08:28
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Hellboy, I completely agree with you....
war means fighting and fighting means killing..
somebody that was in charge the longest and did the most fighting
would have the most statistics( bad or good) to define them by

even if its beyond definition to call them a butcher..
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Old 19 Feb 11, 09:13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hellboy30 View Post
It really sticks in my craw when I hear folks call Grant "butcher", especially when you look through the statistics of all of his battles. He wasn't out trying to get his men killed-he was simply one of those men who understood what needed to be done to win. In the case of the 64 campaign where he suffered his greatest casualties, he was relying on his subordinate commanders to do what they were supposed to so that the men wouldn't have to suffer as much. Had Hunter done what he was supposed to in the Valley & (more importantly), had Butler taken Petersburg when he was supposed to, the 64 campaign would have gone a lot smoother for Grant & his men. The failure of those 2 generals cost the Union thousands more men than it should have & put the war off from being won by almost a year.

I would essentially agree with Bonekemper.
To clarify, I am not calling either man a butcher. No successful general tries to get his men slaughtered.

My remark was intended to agree with the idea that any person can err. After both instances I cited Grant and Lee expressed regrets and remorse in one manner or another for having ordered the actions they did. Those expressions are not the remark of a "butcher."

Regards,
Dennis
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Old 19 Feb 11, 10:23
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As I recall, the Cold Harbor attack was the only action Grant expressed regret.
The Wilderness was fairly stupid, given that in two previous battles, it was proven that it was no place to be for a larger, more cumbersome Union army.
At the end of the Gettysburg campaign, Meade intended to winter up near Fredricksburg, avoiding the Wilderness. Stanton orders him to winter near the Wilderness over objections.
As much as anything else, Stanton caused as many casualties as Grant, but Grant had the luxury of stripping Washington's defenses for men (green troops), something no other commander could accomplish.
From that point on, it was a matter of attrition, of who blinked first. Since neither Lee nor Grant would, it was nearly a fight to the last man.
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Old 19 Feb 11, 12:35
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Originally Posted by hellboy30 View Post
It really sticks in my craw when I hear folks call Grant "butcher", especially when you look through the statistics of all of his battles.
That started with editorials in Northern newspapers and they have unfortunately stuck ever since. I recall one of my junior high teachers explaining that Grant typically lost a lot of men, but he would win, because he had so many.

I like the perspective from many of you that neither man was a "butcher." I think the author is swinging the pendulum the other way in an attempt to change some long existing historical commentary on Grant.
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Old 20 Feb 11, 15:41
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I have a book (packed away somewhere) perhaps thirty years old that postulates the same theory. It is entitled "Attack and Die" and if memory serves it was written by a couple of Southerners.

I think where the argument falters a bit is that few soldiers during the War Between the States understood the impact that the rifled musket was going to have. It's killing power compared to the smoothbore musket was much greater. Many of the officers in the WBTS, Grant and Lee included were in the Mexican War where smoothbore muskets were most common and the few rifles were very slow to operate. The American Army used field artillery to great effect and their crews were not greatly threatened by smoothbores in the hands of Mexican troops that were ineffective much beyond 100 yards. There is an old saying that Generals always fight the present war with tactics from the war before. That was true in the WBTS. The field artillery crews found that enemy infantry five or six hundred yards away were no longer harmless. Massed ranks or columns in a charge came under killing and rapid fire from infantry at those same ranges. I read somewhere that recent research shows that the average infantry engagement in the WBTS took place at something less than one hundred yards. Seems hard to believe. But at 80 or 100 yard smoothbores would not be nearly as lethal as the rifled musket. The carnage was awful.

As far as Lee was concerned, I seem to remember that early in the WBTS, he was called "Old Grannie" or the "King of Spades" because he wanted to dig field fortifications. I think from The Seven Days through Gettysburg, he felt, because he was usually so outnumbered, that he had to maneuver and attack. I believe that he thought that if he stayed on the defensive he would eventually be overwhelmed and worn down by superior numbers and material. Staying on the defensive in 1862 and 1863 was not going to satisfy the mood and expectations of the politicians in Richmond or most of the voters in the South either. In hindsight, a defensive fight by Lee as in 1864, might have been the only chance for the South to achieve it's war aims which was to make the North quit.

As for Pickett's charge, I have tried to get inside Lee's head and my guess is that the following factors caused him to make that decision.
He was in a battle that was unexpected and things had gone well at first with several Union Corps ruined.
Lee was desperate because he had the Union Army out in the open away from Virginia where a victoy would have a big impact on Washington.
Lee knew that the winter of 1863-64 was probably going to leave him immobile in Virginia because of the wastage of horses and mules. There had been a shortage of fodder already in the previous winter. ( Jackson's army in the Shenandoah Campaign of 18000 troops had a wagon train of 1500 wagons. Imagine how many horses and mules Lee had at Gettysburg.)
Lee knew that the morale of his infantry was never going to be better and they had always come through for him in the past.
I believe that Lee was physically and mentally worn out. The burden of the fate of the Confederacy must have weighed heavily on him and he was probably suffering from angina.
In other words it was now or never.
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