Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?
March 25, 2019, 05:35:17 pm
HomePredMockPollEVCalcAFEWIKIHelpLogin Register
News: Please delete your old personal messages.

+  Atlas Forum
|-+  General Politics
| |-+  Political Debate
| | |-+  Political Essays & Deliberation (Moderator: Beet)
| | | |-+  Was Northern victory primarily due to General Grant’s leadership?
« previous next »
Pages: [1] Print
Author Topic: Was Northern victory primarily due to General Grant’s leadership?  (Read 5334 times)
bore
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 4,131
United Kingdom


View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« on: August 07, 2014, 10:52:38 am »

This is an essay I wrote for my history course in the last year of school. If anyone has any questions, I'll do my best to answer them and I can provide any references needed.



Introduction
In the Winter of 1860, William Tecumseh Sherman told his friend, the Southerner David Boyd "At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail."    Despite these words being spoken before a gun was even fired, it's difficult to find a more accurate summary of the American Civil War. That Sherman could predict the war's path lends credence to the idea, pushed by many historians, that the North's victory was inevitable due to it's superior resources. This view, however, was most definitely not shared by Sherman's friend, Ulysses S. Grant, who claimed that the idea of an inevitable Northern victory due to sheer material strength “has gone into history with so many other illusions” . Grant can thus be placed in a long tradition of historians who emphasise that the war's outcome was not predetermined, but could conceivably have ended differently. If, in fact, Northern victory was not inevitable, the question then must be, why did the war end the way it did? This has been the subject of an intense historical debate since even before the last shots were fired. As well as the economic determinism argument, historians have also ascribed Union victory to the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, the lack of foreign intervention, the internal structure of the Confederacy and the generalship of Grant himself. Even 149 years later, though, the discussion still continues.

Grant
Even those critics who regarded Grant as inferior to Lee or Sherman, or as irrelevant to the actual outcome of the war, concede he was a brilliant general. During the war Grant accepted the surrender of 3 separate Confederate armies, at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Appomattox, more than any other general.  Abraham Lincoln described Grant’s Vicksburg campaign as “one of the most brilliant in the world”  and according to James McPherson “military historians almost universally regard [The Vicksburg Campaign] as the most brilliant and innovative of the civil war” . T. Harry Williams believed Grant along with Lee and Sherman were the only Civil War generals “who deserve to be ranked as great” and military historian John Keegan declared that Grant “was the greatest general of the war, one who could have excelled at any time in any army” .

Grant was such a great general for many reasons, though principally his indifference to the enemy, his willingness to attack and his consciousness of the political aspect of the war. As his close friend William Tecumseh Sherman declared “he doesn't give a damn about what the enemy does out of his sight” , and, while this attitude sometimes hurt him, for example on the first day of Shiloh, it also saved him from the paralysis that affected union generals like Hooker at Chancellorsville and Meade after Gettysburg. This is why Lincoln famously said that “I can’t spare this man; he fights” - because he was such a stark contrast to his other generals. Another remarkable quality of Grant's was his ability not to be unduly influenced by others. For example his Vicksburg campaign was opposed by Sherman, his right hand man, "who expressed his alarm”  at it, Lincoln, who later wrote a gracious letter telling Grant that "you were right, and I was wrong" , Halleck, and Grant's corps commanders. As well, Grant recognised the importance of the home front. An example of this can again be found in the Vicksburg campaign, where Grant refused to retreat to Memphis to launch a conventional assault on the city, as this would "discourage the people so much that bases of supplies would be of no use" . In other words, he recognised that citizen's morale was just as important as military progress. Another example of this awareness of politics can be found in Grant's attitude of inclusion towards political generals like John McClernand. While political generals were, in a strict military sense, often awful, as historian Thomas J Goss noted, portraying this as their only role in the war "neglects their vital contribution in rallying support for the war and convincing the people to join the mass citizen army as volunteers" . While McClernand, for example, was a poor field commander, he also almost single handedly won over Southern Illinois to the Union cause, bringing in vast numbers of troops. That Grant recognised this shows that he, like Lincoln, saw that political matters were just as vital for union victory as military ones.

Serious historians don't dispute that Grant was a great general- the question, then, is did he make a decisive impact on the war's outcome? Could the Union have won the battles at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and the Overland Campaign without him, and could the Union win the war without winning those battles? Well, at the end of the first day of the battle of Shiloh, when the Union army had been driven back to the banks of the Tennessee P.G.T Beauregard telegraphed Richmond to declare that his army had "gained a complete victory " . However Grant's decision to counterattack the following day - against the advice of some of his officers - transformed an inglorious defeat into, in the words of David Donald "a great union victory" . If the North had retreated, the south would have won a great victory in the crucial Western Theatre.  The Overland Campaign also provides an example of why Lincoln proclaimed that "it is the dogged pertinacity of Grant that wins" . The first battle of the campaign, the Battle of the Wilderness resulted in Grant suffering 17500 casualties, at least 7000 more than Lee . At the Wilderness in 1863, after similar casualties, Joseph Hooker retreated, but Grant, crucially, did not.

Perhaps the most obvious example of Grant, and only Grant, playing a vital role, though, is at Vicksburg. That every military figure of note doubted his campaign, and instead suggested retreating to Memphis suggests without him Vicksburg would not have fallen, certainly not in the summer of 1863. The most impressive aspect of the Vicksburg campaign was the disparity between numbers killed or captured on both sides- the Confederates lost 56000 men, while Grant lost only 8873.  By the standards of the civil war Vicksburg is unique in terms of the sheer disparity between losses. Also Vicksburg, as the last real Southern stronghold on the Mississippi, was the only thing stopping the Confederacy being cut in 2 and the Union using the Mississippi for trade, troop transfers etc. It is not for nothing that Grant himself declared that "the fall of the Confederacy was settled when Vicksburg fell" While John Keegan noted that the campaign "defeated all hope of further Southern success in the border states, consolidated Union dominance in the Mississippi Valley and secured a platform for Sherman's invasion of Georgia"  Vicksburg, in effect, cemented Union control of the west, and once the West was in the North's hand Lee's position became untenable.

The final major contribution Grant made was in his role as commander in chief from the spring of 1864. In this capacity he organised the simultaneous attacks of The Army of the Potomac, Sherman, Butler, Banks and Sigel. While, due to their own incompetence, Butler, Banks and Sigel became bogged down and achieved nothing, it is not for nothing that T. Harry Williams asserts that his operation "broke the back of the confederacy"  as Grant managed to tie down Lee and Sherman was enormously successful in Georgia destroying Southern resources (Atlanta, for example, was a major industrial centre), dealing a major psychological blow to the Confederacy, and, even more importantly, re-enforcing the North's will to fight on. Grant himself believed that Sherman's capture of Atlanta was the "first great political campaign for the Republicans in their canvas of 1864."  and believed it, along with Sheridan's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, to be more important than all the speeches made by politicians in deciding the outcome of the election. James McPherson claims that "the impact of this event [the capture of Atlanta] cannot be exaggerated."   and “that every political observer including Lincoln himself, believed in August that the Republicans would lose the election”  and gives as an example the Richmond Examiner who said that Atlanta's fall came "in the nick of time" to "save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin"  While McClellan himself was on the record as wanting to continue the war the Democrats in 1864 ran on a peace platform and McClellan's running mate was the Copperhead George Pendleton. It was a widely held view in both North and South that if Lincoln lost the election and the South was viable at the end of his lame duck term, it would have de facto won its independence. As Susan Mary Grant notes, "Without Lincoln the Union's position was precarious at best"  and Grant felt it "as important for the cause that [Lincoln] should be elected as that the army should be successful in the field".  So while Lincoln's victory can be directly attributable to Sherman and to a lesser extent Sheridan, and his high chance of losing before that can in part be attributed to the heavy losses Grant suffered at battles like Cold Harbor (The only attack Grant ever regretted ordering), Grant's role as General in Chief means he was partially responsible for Sherman and Sheridan's success. It was Grant who appointed Sherman and Sheridan to their posts, and though he was initially sceptical of the March to the sea eventually he persuaded Lincoln to authorise it.  Ultimately it's very difficult to evaluate how the Union campaign would have gone without Grant, simply because he was so involved in it. Nevertheless it should be clear that with the way the war did go, Grant played a part in almost every Union success, and in some, particularly Vicksburg, an irreplaceable one.




contd
Logged
bore
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 4,131
United Kingdom


View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2014, 10:56:45 am »

Inevitablism
Many historians, however, take the view that whoever commanded the North’s army would have won, due to, in Lee’s words, the North’s “overwhelming numbers and resources” . Richard N Current in his seminal essay arguing for the North’s economic power as the major factor in its victory claims that “God was on the side of the strongest battalions” To support these claims Current provides a wealth of statistics, for example, the North had a five to two population advantage, a ten to one advantage in the value of manufactured products and a four to one advantage in the capital of its banks. . By 1865 the Union outnumbered the Confederacy five to one  and in every major battle, apart from Chickamauga and Pea Ridge, the Union armies outnumbered the Confederates. As well, given the Union Blockade and the Confederate embargo of its only really marketable product, “King Cotton” the Confederacy suffered from ruinous inflation, as it had to print money to pay the bills. Sixty per cent of the Confederate government’s financing came from printing money, compared to only thirteen percent in the North  The inflation was so great that the amount of paper money in circulation increased eleven fold in the three years from January 1861 and would have increased even more in the following year, as the Confederate territory shrank to the Carolinas and Southern Virginia, and the owners of Confederate dollars in Union occupied areas sent them to those areas still controlled by the C.S.A government, where they retained some value. The important thing here, as Current rightly points out, is this inflation, which did so much to cripple morale in the South and its ability to keep on fighting, can’t be ascribed to poor leadership. The south had no mechanism to enforce taxation, which was widely evaded, and could not force people to buy its bonds- the only option was printing money. As Current observes, “It is hard to believe and impossible to prove, that the Southerners did a worse job with economic affairs than Northerners would have done in the same circumstances.” - the die was loaded against them. Current is also at pains to emphasise that the North’s advantage was not in a narrow military sense (although it did have an advantage there) but in a wider economic one, once it turned its industries to the war effort, it would be unstoppable.

As well, the Confederacy devoted all its efforts to the war, whereas the North, in Shelby Foote’s words, was fighting with one hand behind its back.  For example during the war 5 000 000 acres were settled in the West and the North’s railways were lengthened from 31000 to 35000 miles- if those resources had been devoted to the war effort as well, the South could not have coped.  In Current's words, it would have taken "a miracle" for the South to defeat those overwhelming numbers and he is not alone in holding this view, John Keegan claims that due to casualty rates, "Northern Victory was foreordained" as did many Confederate generals like Jubal Early and Lee himself.

However, the idea that victory was certain for the North due to its material advantages is not without its flaws. Current himself acknowledges that victory was inevitable only after the North became able to bring its resources to bear and it became clear that Britain would not intervene, in other words, long after Fort Sumter. Even this though is perhaps too conservative, as all the South needed for its independence was the North to give up, and, as alluded to earlier, this looked plausible as late as the summer of 1864 and at numerous other times. For instance in November 1862, even after Antietam, Union soldier Oliver Wendell Holmes jr wrote home- "I've pretty much made up my mind that the South have achieved their independence" . Perhaps the largest flaw is that the idea that Northern victory was inevitable can only come from the privileged view of hindsight- it was not one held in the US during the 1860s. Joseph E. Johnston was right to write in his memoirs that the South had not been guilty of "the high crime of undertaking wars without the means of waging it successfully" . The vast majority of those who actually engaged in the war felt that it was not predetermined. The North's economic advantage was undeniably important, but it can't be said to have been decisive, otherwise we are forced to conclude that nearly every figure, major and minor, were either lying or deluded when at various times in the war, even after the Union had brought it's economic resources to bear, they claimed the Confederacy had a chance to win its independence.

Confederate Internal Affairs
Another common reason adduced for the North's victory is the internal issues facing the Confederacy. This argument is most famously put by the Southern Agrarian Frank Owsley who claimed the Confederacy's "seeds of death were states rights"  David Donald also defended an adapted version of this thesis, claiming it was adherence to democracy in general (which he considered to be things like the election of officers and freedom of speech) which caused the South's demise. Donald for example argues that, Southern soldiers were more individualistic, giving, as an example, Southern soldiers casting aside irreplaceable equipment because it weighed too much.  While it might be true that the Southern soldier was more likely to disobey orders, the fact is, there is no evidence that this made Southern armies less effective. In battle after battle outnumbered southerners won victories against the supposedly more efficient northerners. Another argument along similar lines put forward by Donald is Richmond's tolerance of dissent, in the form, for instance, of habeas corpus, undermined its ability to make the kind of total war necessary for victory. The southern approach is often contrasted with Lincoln's hands on approach, including the suspension of habeas corpus for "all persons discouraging volunteer enlistments, resisting military drafts, or guilty of any disloyal practice affording aid and comfort to the rebels" In the summer of 1862 this lead to the arrest of several hundred opponents of the Northern war effort, and similar arrests occurred throughout the war, particularly in border states in 1861. Another example of Lincoln being willing to fight a hard war is when he encouraged his generals to furlough troops so they could vote in the 1864 election. These tough actions, it can be argued, helped to avoid the border states seceding and helped Lincoln to win re-election.

As James McPherson points out though, this argument suffers from a fallacy of reversibility. Every example of Lincoln being authoritarian can be matched by an example from Davis. Davis too suspended habeas corpus, though admittedly less than Lincoln, Davis too arrested opponents of south, like William Brownlow of Tennessee- the south even instituted a draft before the North. While we can marvel at the fact that Davis let an openly pro peace candidate run for North Carolina's gubernatorial election of 1863, the same can be said of Lincoln and the presidential election of 1864. Nevertheless, even conceding that the South was less authoritarian than the North, it's difficult to see how arresting a few noisy opponents of the war, who were well out of the mainstream anyway, could have done that would have improved the South's chances of winning. While it might have helped the Confederacy to be a little more authoritarian, this was not a decisive factor.

contd
Logged
bore
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 4,131
United Kingdom


View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2014, 11:00:46 am »

The Role of Britain
One argument conceded by almost all historians, even those most strongly associated with inevitablism, is that Britain supporting the Confederacy would have, more than likely, allowed the South to achieve its independence, simply because Britain was the superpower of the day. Many influential Britons - though not the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston - such as Lord Russell and William Gladstone , even after the string of southern victories in 1862,  favoured proposing mediation. Even if Britain had offered mediation though, that still would not have been enough. Seward himself, talking to the French Minister in Washington, Mercier, said that ďneither The Federal Congress, myself or any person connected with the government will in any case entertain any proposition or suggestion or arrangement or accommodation or adjustment from within or without upon the basis of a surrender of the Federal unionĒ  In short, Britain could offer all the mediation it wanted, but it was never going to be accepted. The only effective difference Britain could make to the warís outcome was by intervening, and there was no chance of that happening, not least because Britain imported 50% of its grain from the North.  What this means is Britain, and other foreign powers, like France, who followed Britainís lead, were bystanders, and there was no chance of them changing the course of the war.

Lincoln
A final factor suggested by a wide range of historians is Abraham Lincoln, so much so that David Potter argued that if the two sections were to swap leaders, the south would have won its independence. The Nationalist historian James Ford Rhodes claimed that without Lincoln "the North would have abandoned the contest"  and T. Harry Williams described Lincoln "as a great war president, probably the greatest in our history and a great natural strategist, better than any of his generals" While Lincoln may have chosen a succession of bad generals (which he was not to know) he was never sentimental, and when they made mistakes he was willing to relieve them- a stark contrast with Jefferson Davis and his support for, among others,  the hapless Commissary General Lucius Northrop. Lincoln was also a brilliant politician, and his handling of the border states, for example, not sending troops into Kentucky before the South did and revoking Fremont's emancipation order in the early months of the war, managed to avoid them joining the South. This was important because further border states seceding would have left the Union at a serious disadvantage, Lincoln himself perceptively saying that "to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game" . Another major reason Lincoln is so highly regarded as a war leader was his steadfast refusal to give up. During the Fort Sumter crisis Lincoln did not surrender the fort, and after 1st Bull Run, 2nd Bull Run, Chancellorsville and the brutal Overland Campaign he ignored calls for peace. A leader without Lincoln's poise (for example, Seward, who wanted to surrender Fort Sumter, and Winfield Scott, who opposed attacking the seceded states) could have given in at any one of these points, but Lincoln did not. The final impressive characteristic Lincoln showed was his defence of Ulysses Grant, in particular after Shiloh, but also during the early months of 1863 and during the Overland Campaign. Lincoln himself said that after Shiloh he had "had stronger influence brought against Grant...than for any other object" McPherson describes this faith Lincoln exhibited in Grant as the greatest contribution Lincoln made "to the successful strategy of Union forces in the western theatre and eventually the war as a whole"  a lesser president could easily have caved to pressure, thus depriving the North of it's greatest general. In Lincoln then, the North had the best leader possible, and his contribution in terms of continuing the fight, as well as his strategic nous was invaluable.

Conclusion

Overall then, Grant was clearly a great general, and, as the war turned out, he was responsible, one way or another, for nearly all the union victories of note. Whether a Rosecrans or a Buell could have led the Union to victory with the speed of Grant is impossible, though, to know. Certainly the idea that Northern victory was guaranteed by the North's resources is false. It is true that if the North kept on endlessly assaulting the South the North, by virtue of its resources would have won, but that is not how wars are fought, the North kept on fighting only because it wanted to and the North's desire to keep on fighting, combined with its resources, is the real reason why it would have won almost any possible permutation of the war. Why then, did the North keep on fighting? The answer must lie with Abraham Lincoln. There were times in the war when a majority of Northerners opposed fighting, but Lincoln, by virtue of being Commander in Chief, kept them going. So, was General Grant primarily responsible for Northern victory? Given the way the war actually turned out, with its various campaigns and battles; yes. It is impossible to argue that someone who played an instrumental role in so many significant battles was not, in some way, responsible for the war's outcome. Could the Union have won without Grant? It is not difficult to imagine a more cautious general like McClellan putting the Union into a position in November of 1864 where Lincoln lost the election, at which point Confederate victory would have been likely. The answer to the question of why the Civil War turned out as it did, cannot however be neatly ascribed to a single factor. Grant needed a leader like Lincoln to trust in him, and Lincoln needed a general like Grant to win victories, and they both needed the material advantages of the North to take and hold a vast hostile territory. Ultimately, as the war turned out, Grant's generalship was, along with Lincoln's leadership and the North's material advantages, necessary for victory.
Logged
bore
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 4,131
United Kingdom


View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2014, 12:19:30 pm »

Bibliography

Battle Cry of Freedom- James McPherson
Lincoln-David Donald
Drawn with the Sword-McPherson
This Mighty Scourge-McPherson
Why the North won the Civil War- ed. Donald
Our Lincoln- ed. Foner
The American Civil War- John Keegan
The War for a Nation- Susan Mary Grant
Personal Memoirs -US Grant
Debate on the American Civil War Era- Hugh Tulloch
The American civil war- Adam I.P. Smith -
Logged
Cassius
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 2,841


View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2014, 12:31:53 pm »

You lucky bastard, getting to study the civil war. I had to slog through the Third Reich, for about the fourth or fifth year running. Was that coursework?
Logged
bore
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 4,131
United Kingdom


View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2014, 12:39:44 pm »

You lucky bastard, getting to study the civil war. I had to slog through the Third Reich, for about the fourth or fifth year running. Was that coursework?

It was a brilliant subject.

Yeah it was coursework, the dissertation for the advanced higher, worth about a third of the mark.
Logged
Fuzzy Bear
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 10,628
United States


View Profile WWW Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2019, 07:30:14 pm »

I certainly agree that Grant's leadership made the military difference in the Civil War.

The South could never have won the War.  The North, however, became war weary over time.  There was a time in 1864 when McClellan was believed likely to unseat Lincoln, and the South was holding out for this in the realistic hope that such an event would end in a negotiated peace of some kind.  Grant's leadership was a key ingredient in giving the North hope for victory and belief that it was worth it.
Logged
136or142
Adam T
YaBB God
*****
Posts: 6,970
View Profile Show only this user's posts in this thread
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2019, 08:37:42 pm »

I certainly agree that Grant's leadership made the military difference in the Civil War.

The South could never have won the War.  The North, however, became war weary over time.  There was a time in 1864 when McClellan was believed likely to unseat Lincoln, and the South was holding out for this in the realistic hope that such an event would end in a negotiated peace of some kind.  Grant's leadership was a key ingredient in giving the North hope for victory and belief that it was worth it.

I don't know as much about the fighting of the Civil War itself as this or the original poster, but I've suspected that had the South maintained a purely defensive strategy (Gettysburg is up in Pennsylvania after all) they could have waited out the Northern Population.

Of course, putting a trench all across the Mason-Dixon line would have been impossible, so what do I know?
Logged
Pages: [1] Print 
« previous next »
Jump to:  


Login with username, password and session length
Logout

Terms of Service - DMCA Agent and Policy - Privacy Policy and Cookies

Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines