12
   

ALL THINGS CIVIL WAR

 
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2014 11:42 am
The Civil War Trust is posting some good articles lately.

Battle of Cold Harbor: The Folly and Horror
Quote:
Shortly after dawn on June 3, 1864, the Union Army of the Potomac launched a massive frontal assault against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Cold Harbor, Virginia.

Intended to break the battered Confederate army and open the road to Richmond, the attack would serve as the conclusion and climax of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland campaign against General Robert E. Lee.

The main part of the assault would take slightly less than an hour and, according to some accounts, would cost nearly 7,000 Union casualties. In a war that had seen more than its share of uncompromising slaughter, Cold Harbor would stand alone.

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/coldharbor/cold-harbor-history-articles/
OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2014 01:53 pm
@panzade,
It was (relatively) very un-pleasant
to be a soldier in the 1860s. I m glad not to have been in either army.





David
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2014 03:31 pm
@panzade,
If you read Grant's memoirs, you would hardly know the battle had taken place.
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2014 04:24 pm
@Setanta,
It seems Grant made Meade the scapegoat for this disaster.
Quote:
Grant would later write, ‘The enemy knew the importance of Cold Harbor to us, and seemed determined that we should not hold it.’ Grant immediately ordered Sheridan to return to the crossing and ‘to hold the place at all hazards, until reinforcements could be sent to him.’

With the news from Sheridan, Grant immediately began to issue a series of orders that Meade acted upon with great energy. While it is difficult to place a finger on the precise moment of change, it is apparent Meade then tried to play the role of the proactive tactical commander and that Grant let him do it. The strategic decisions would be Grant’s, but Meade would now attend to the details. Perhaps Grant realized the system he had been using was terribly cumbersome, or perhaps he thought Meade was now capable of tactically executing the campaign as Grant wanted it done. Whatever the reason, Meade was now tactically in control of his army. But things got off to a terrible start.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Wed 4 Jun, 2014 05:34 pm
If you read Grant's memoirs, you'll see almost no mention of the battle, other than that there was one. He disposes of the whole affair in a couple of sentences, and then begins telling of the moves made by Hancock (i believe) which would force Lee out of the position. The initial assault saw 7000 Federal troops shot down in under an hour, and thereafter, the troops refused to advance to the attack again. These men were certainly not cowards, but they knew it was suicide. Many soldiers understand the principle of the "forlorn hope,' in which a certain number of people will be lost in order for the rest to be in a position to exploit the situation. Nothing like that was going to happen at Cold Harbor.

In Freeman's R. E. Lee, he recounts the testimony of a Virginia Justice of the Peace, into whose yard Grant rode with his staff. Being a gentleman, and schooled in urbanity, he offered them some buttermilk, the only cold drink he had available. Grant ignored him, but according to the old gentleman, then took out his watch and said: "If i don't hear the Old Fox's guns in fifteen minutes, i've got him." According to that witness, ten minutes later, they could hear a heavy cannonade in the direction of Old Cold Harbor. The "Old Fox" had done it to him again.

It helps to understand the entire campaign to understand Grant's actions. It also helps to understand Grant. Grant was no kind of tactical commander. He certainly was no coward, as his record shows, but both he and his mind tended to wander in the long, often boring and confusing course of a battle. At Palo Alto, he just wandered away from his regiment (he was an infantry Lieutenant then). At the assault on the San Cosme gate at Mexico City, where the fight was hot and the necessity obvious, he lead some men to manhandle a gun up a church tower, from which he began firing on the Mexican defenders, and then rounded up all the men he could find and joined the assault. If he could see the need for immediate action, he acted. Otherwise, he seems to have lost interest in protracted disputes. At Belmont in 1861, after the Federal troops had overrun the Confederate camp, he wandered off on horseback, and when the Confederates counterattacked, he was off by himself, and three southern riders very nearly captured him--he rode out of the woods an up the ramp of the Navy transport still on the river bank, just barely eluding his pursuers.

In 1864, using his new authority, born of his prestige and the obvious fact that he was the man Lincoln was looking for, someone who "understood the numbers" (i.e., that the South could not survive a war of attrition), he assembled a massive army in excess of 100,000 men. He stripped the defenses of Washington, and called in garrison troops from all over the east coast to replace them. Then he came down on the Army of Northern Virginia like a ton of bricks. He expected them to fold, but that was a serious underestimate of the quality of the army he was facing.

On May 5, he sent his army south in two wings, the western wing marching south southeast on the Brock Road. Lee's army was necessarily dispersed, as he couldn't know where Grant would attempt to cross the river, but it was old, familiar ground, and he soon had two corps marching to intercept Grant's army. Over the course of three days, every time the Federal troops attempted to turn the Confederate flank, Lee would throw a corps of infantry at them, and they "danced" south on the Brock Road. The Federal troops would march south, and Lee would have just brought up more troops to confront their next flanking attempt. At one point, Longstreet was wounded, and Lee seemed to become a little unhinged (he has lost Jackson fighting over the same ground the year before). Anderson, now commanding Longstreet's corps, sent in the Texas Brigade, the only reserve he had left at the time. Lee took off his hat, and began waving it and shouting "Hurrah for Texas," and "I will lead you, boys." The troops began to panic, and began shouting "Lee to the rear, Lee to the rear!" NCOs grabbed his reins and lead his horse to the rear--i truly think he was attempting suicide by combat. The Texans then attacked with such ferocity that the Federal commanders thought they were being assaulted by an entire division, or even a corps, and the fighting ended for the day (May 6, 1864) . (Lee to the rear, at Encyclopedia Virginia.)

Stuart had been on Lee's right, to guard against Federal cavalry getting into the rear of the army. That is exactly what the Federal cavalry attempted to do, and a nasty, bloody fight ensued on May 7 at Todd's Tavern. The Federal cavalry drove in Stuart's troopers (chiefly Wade Hampton's division), but they failed to cut the road to Spotsylvania Court House, which was where Lee was marching his army, to interpose between Grant and Richmond. Although a tactical victory for the Federal cavalry, with heavy casualties on both sides, Lee had managed to elude Grant once more, and had accomplished his purpose of interposing his army between Grant and Richmond.

But the nasty fight at Todd's Tavern had delayed Lee's arrival at his new line, and the army filed on to the high ground and began digging in, leaving a huge salient they dubbed "the Mule Shoe." Grant had with him a brigade commander, Emory Upton, who would have a profound effect on United States military policy many years later. He advocated attacking an entrenched position with columns of infantry who would not stand and trade volleys with the enemy, but who would rush on the enemy position regardless of the cost. On May 12, they came howling out of the woods at the foot of the Mule Shoe, and quickly overran the outer defensive works. On the Confederate left, Walker's brigade, the "Stonewall Brigade," stood fast, and were nearly obliterated. Unfortunately, no one among the Federal commanders had expected the assault to be so successful, and there were no reserves standing by to exploit the opportunity, which might have cut Lee's army in half. General Gordon and others lead troops forward to plug the yawning gap in the line, and Lee tried to lead a counterattack, which resulted in another "Lee to the rear" incident. This was another bloody slaughter house on the long road to Richmond. Although Federal casualties were heavier, Lee lost nearly a quarter of his army there.

Lee anticipated Grant's next move, and fell back on the North Anna River. Grant had not yet been able to bring up his entire army, but he still outnumbered Lee considerably. However, the Federal troops were without bridging equipment or boats, and the attempts at an assault crossing were doomed. There was another bloodletting, but it was so paltry in comparison to the three weeks of battle which had preceded it that many histories of the war don't even discuss it in detail. Grant obligingly moved by his left again, to try to get around Lee's army, which lead him to the yard of that Justice of Peace, and yet another failure to trap "the Old Fox."

I think that Grant's frustration at not being able to win a conclusive battle is what lead him to order the ill-fated attack at Cold Harbor. I think he probably had an attitude of "just one more push" which would see the collapse of the Army of Northern Virginia. Those boys, however, were veterans, the ones who had held on for almost three years, and whose experience made them far more formidable than Grant was apparently giving them credit for. They dug themselves in, and without any guidance from engineers (none was needed) they laid out fields of converging fire from the heights above Cold Harbor, which doomed any assault. More than just "the Old Fox," the veteran troops of Lee's army defeated him.

In the entire "Overland Campaign," as it became known, Grant started with almost 120,000 troops (only about 100,000 were with the army at the beginning of the campaign), and suffered 55,000 casualties. He got more than 60,000 replacements, however. Lee started with 65,000 troops, and suffered about 30,000 casualties. But he only got 15,000 replacements, and about 8000 more troops from Beauregard's little army. Lincoln had indeed found the man who "understands the numbers."

(The exact figures for troops and casualties might be disputed, but not the overall effect.)
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Jun, 2014 12:29 pm
Great summation! Thanks again Set
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Jun, 2014 01:04 pm
I appreciate your kind remarks.
panzade
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Jun, 2014 01:07 pm
@Setanta,
Thank you. I appreciate your scholarly posts.
In fact, I resurrected this thread in hopes of luring you back to posting on History.
I see I've succeeded.
0 Replies
 
raprap
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Jun, 2014 09:39 pm
Somewhere I remember a quote. A general concentrates primarily on logistics. A Colonel concentrates primarily on tactics.

From what I've read of Grant he was a general. His primary concern from about the time he left Paducah was on making sure his army had ample food and municiones.

Granted Grant was tactically outfoxed several times, he never forgot the importance of logistics.

Thanks Set, your knowledge of the details never fails to impress, but your criticism of Grant as a tactician doesn't diminish my opinion of him as a general.

Rap
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2014 02:46 am
@raprap,
I've long thought of Grant as a poor tactical commander, and an excellent supreme commander. It's actually amazing that he lasted long enough to make it to the top, but that's where he belonged, and i think no commander was better suited to the task than he. (George Thomas probably could have done just as well, but he was a Virginian, and had zero political support. Of course, he would have taken forever to get ready for his campaign, and then he would have rolled over Lee like an avalanche.)

Grant was not suited to tactical command. He was preeminently suited to overall command.
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2014 06:27 am
@Setanta,
Does it follow then that the Confederacy was blessed with both a superb tactical commander and an excellent supreme commander?
raprap
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2014 06:55 am
@panzade,
IMHO Lee was also blessed with two fine Lieutenants --Jackson and Longstreet. Ultimately; though, logistics felled Lee--and Grant wore his army down.

Longstreet warned Lee of Grant's tenacity, as Longstreet and Grant were old academy friends.

Rap
0 Replies
 
raprap
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2014 06:57 am
@Setanta,
George Thomas is perhaps the most underrated general of the war.

Rap
0 Replies
 
panzade
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2014 08:36 am
The Civil War Monitor web site is allowing free viewing for a couple of days.
http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/issue-library/i12
enter user name cwtrust and password sum1441
This issue is Broken Soldiers.
Fascinating reading.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Jun, 2014 09:10 am
@panzade,
Not necessarily. Jackson could probably be called their best tactical commander. However, Jackson said at the beginning of the war that they should "raise the black flag," which meant take no prisoners. Quixotically, he told a young officer later in the war that it was cheaper to feed them (prisoners) than to fight them. He had the problem which many observers have noted about the South's overall operational principle. That was to stand on a strategic defense, but to attack the enemy relentlessly whenever they came on to "southern soil." That was the war of attrition they could not win.

I think their best commander overall was Joseph Eggleston Johnston. No southern commander dealt with the enemy more effectively. But Johnston was too much of a realist, and he knew they would lose. He was no exemplar of the rah-rah, hell bent for glory ethic which the southern public (or at least the influential portions of it) advocated. They usually turned to Joe Johnston when others had failed. After Braxton Bragg had been defeated and driven away from Chattanooga, they put the army back under the command of Johnston. Johnston fought a tenacious retreat toward Atlanta. The men complained that they would have to stand and fight while the tack was removed from dead horses, and the wagons hauled away by hand by the soldiers. That was literally true. Once they got back to Atlanta, Johnston was relieved and John Bell Hood given command of the Army of Tennessee. Hood squandered his troops in savage attacks against Sherman's army, which cost many lives and accomplished nothing. Sherman drove Hood away from Atlanta, and then marched on Milledgeville, then the capital of Georgia. Hood fell back to the south and west. Then Sherman decided to "make Georgia howl," and marched to the sea, leaving Hood and his much reduced army to their own devices. j(A signal abdication of his responsibilities--but he was Grant's buddy, so he could get away with it, and he was laying waste the South, which made him popular at home.) Hood marched across northwestern Georgia, and into Alabama, and then advanced on the Tennessee River. He crossed the Tennessee River in fine style--fixing the Federal opponents in place with a demonstration, while most of the army crossed downstream. He then confronted Schofield at the Duck River, south of Columbia Tennessee, and Schofield was turned out of his position by the same operation--demonstrating while another force crossed the river, upstream in this case. Scholfield retreated to Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville. There, Hood sent 20,000 mena repeatedly against Schofield's dug in troops. He suffered thousands of casualties, and lost a dozen general officers, and more than fifty regimental commanders. When Thomas attacked Hood's army a little over two weeks later, it was effectively destroyed. He had only had 30,000 men left of the more than 50,000 he had marched away from Atlanta, and he lost 6000 more in the two day attack by Thomas' army. Although Thomas had mounted as much of his infantry as possible, with every horse and mule he could scrape up, at the end of the second day, Hood's army was so scattered that effective pursuit became impossible.

Ironically, the survivors of Hood's army who still could fight, and were willing to do so, went over the mountains into North Carolina and joined the little army of Joe Johnston. Johnston finally surrendered on April 26, 1865, two and a half weeks after Lee had surrendered. Many southerners called him coward and traitor because he surrendered all the troops in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, totalling almost 90,000 men. But they were no coherent army, and Sherman was poised to destroy the men under Johnston's immediate command, and then to destroy more of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida if he had to hunt down the little bands of soldiers in those states. Lee had pretty much taken the same line of not wanting the war to devolve into a guerilla war which the South would lose, and which would do more damage than had already been done. But Lee was nearing sainthood, so it would have been unwise to compare him to Johnston anywhere in the South after 1865.

Joe Johnston had the ability and intelligence to have been the southern supreme commander--but he also had the realistic attitude toward southern prospects which meant that he would never be given such a command.
0 Replies
 
 

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