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Grimsley incisively notes that the deadlock of Petersburg colored the way people saw the Overland Campaign; had the North quickly seized Petersburg, the Overland Campaign might have seemed the prologue to brilliant success. The high cost of the campaign fixed on Grant the reputation of a butcher.

Petersburg Campaign

An insightful final chapter discusses the myths that developed about the Virginia campaign. Grant deprived Lee of the initiative, maintained crushing pressure on Lee that eventually broke the Army of Northern Virginia, lost the same proportion of men from his army as Lee did, and moved the Union closer to winning the war. Grimsley also identifies a fundamental difference between the command styles of Grant and Meade.

Grant had the ability to react to circumstances, while the eastern generals obsessed over controlling their circumstances, and floundered when they could not. A few annoying typographical errors mar this work, such as obviously incorrect dates or mislabeled map legends 14, An excellent essay on further reading outlines key secondary sources. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, In addition, the author positions his study in a political and social context that provides an even greater significance for this particular conflict.

His strategy consisted of four subsidiary offenses: two in southwestern Virginia against Confederate saltworks, lead mines, and railroads; a third in the Shenandoah Valley under Major General Franz Sigel; and a fourth in the James River under Major General Benjamin Butler. Ultimately, this proved problematic as the opening battle of the wilderness failed to injure the confederates, but rather forced the federals to retreat.

From there Grant sent his army to Spotsylvania Courthouse, where he met Lee and his army. The battle that ensued proved successful for the federals, for a bit at least, as Union soldiers successfully targeted a confederate line that was not heavily defended. Lee was seen as a formidable general and his surrender would demand a careful and thoughtful undertaking.

Thus, Grant decided to attack the Army of Virginia head-on, with an incredible amount of man-power and intentions of wearing down his impenetrable force. While high causalities ensued both Grant and Lincoln felt that this operation remained important as it could finally bring an end to the Civil War. Within his rendition of these plans, the author reveals the tension between Lee and Grant as they try to disengage the respective enemy. Conversely, Grimsley offers a similar description of General Lee that reveals his motivations and doubts.

Overall, Grimsley attention to both commanding generals and soldiers adds a personal element to his story.

Account Of Battle Of The Wilderness

His writing is clear and thoughtful, leaving the lay historian to appreciate his explanation of the various strategies used during the struggle. Furthermore, the author final chapter on the significance of the Overland Operation puts this struggle into context and elucidates on its overall importance to the Civil War and the Union. In this work, Mark Grimsley, military historian at Ohio State University, provides an insightful history of the Virginia Campaign which pitted Lt.

Ulysses S. Robert E.

Though the majority of the work is devoted to detailing the various battles, skirmishes, and movements of the campaign, Grimsley breaks new ground through an analysis of the political significance of the campaign and detailing the grim and, at time, grizzly experience of the common soldier. Ultimately, these discussions add new significance to a campaign which ended in stalemate.

Grant’s Overland Campaign, 150 Years Ago

Grimsley argues that political developments in Washington, particularly the reelection of Lincoln, played an important role in Grants purpose and approach to this campaign. Moreover, the qualitative depictions of the carnage experienced during this campaign move the discussion beyond previous quantitative depictions based solely upon the numbers of deaths, wounded, and captured. The outcome of the campaign was believed to be crucial to presidential campaign of If America public believed they were losing the war, it was likely that Lincoln would return for a second term and be succeeded by a democrat.

Lincoln feared that a democrat would not emancipate the slaves nor support the war. With the support of Lincoln, Grant, newly appointed Lt. General, shifted the military aims of the North. During the forty days of the campaign, Grant relentlessly pursued the Army of Northern Virginia not allowing Lee to create an advantageous position from which to initiate battle.

Perhaps the best example is the third battle at Cold Harbor.


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The dawn attack witnessed the bloodiest half hour in the history of the Civil War resulting in the loss of nearly 7, men, but achieved no decisive advantages. Despite the length of the struggle and lives lost, the campaign resulted in a stalemate at the Petersburg. At the outset of the campaign Grant initiated several subsidiary offensive campaigns.

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The goal of these campaigns, lead by William W. In each instance these campaigns ultimately failed to bring enduring pressure to bear upon the confederates. Grimsley notes that Lee was served much better by his commanding officers. Grimsley, also devotes a chapter to the experiences of the common soldier during the campaign.

He details the process of rendering medical aid to those who fell during combat and their transportation to field hospitals and onto Fredericksburg. Often those wounded lingered for days in the battle field waiting for rescue. Often doctors had to prioritize who received treatment. Those earmarked for death were often still conscious. Grimsley also describes the process of capture. Grimsley also describes the daily experiences of the soldier including fatigue, inadequate rations, lack of water, and diarrhea.

During the portion of the campaign fought in heavy brush, soldiers also often suffered from poison ivy, wood ticks, and lice. The tactical advantage probably went by a small margin to Lee. But the key thing here is that Grant refused to see this as a defeat at the Wilderness or even a major setback.

The pattern of war for the Union Army up until then was to fight a major battle and then retreat North and lick their wounds. When they turned to the right, they cheered Grant who was at that crossroads watching them.

They wanted the chance to defeat Lee, and this was one of their great defining moments. They would move ahead and engage Lee again. Now the two armies moved toward Spotsylvania, the next point of strategic importance. The Confederates got there just ahead of the Federals, literally five minutes ahead of them. The Confederates thought, however, that it could be defended if there were enough artillery placed in it. On the 11th, troops moved into position.

They overran the Confederates. Confederate artillery had been ordered out and then belatedly ordered back into the Mule Shoe. It took an enormous effort on the part of the Confederates to seal the break.

Lee again rode into the midst of the fighting. And only by the most tenacious fighting did the Confederates manage to stabilize this line along the northwestern face of the Mule Shoe. Learn more about what it was like to be a soldier in the ranks. And then for the better part of 20 hours, the most fearsome close combat of the entire war took place along this little piece of works at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 12, Men stabbed each other across log entrenchments. They clubbed one another with muskets. Many of them talked about how a numbness set in.

It began to rain again. Layers of men were pushed down into the muck behind the breastworks.

Civil War - "Petersburg To Appomattox" 1865 - a short history

After the battle, when the people came to bury bodies, they found in some places four or even five layers of dead men pushed into this mire behind the works. The volume of fire was so great that a inch oak tree was felled completely by musketry. You can see the stump of it at the Smithsonian even today. In the end, Lee was able to hang on long enough to construct a new line of works south of the Mule Shoe, and his hollow-eyed veterans stumbled back to that line long after midnight on May All told, the fighting would continue at Spotsylvania for several more days.

Another 18, casualties for Grant, another 12, for Lee—staggering losses. Two huge battles, one right after the other with enormous losses, both in officers and men. On May 20, Grant issued orders to continue his movement southward. And on the 20th and 21st, the armies marched away from the hideous battlefields at Spotsylvania. By this point in the Overland Campaign the vast majority of soldiers in both armies were exhausted. Once the armies became engaged on the first day of the Battle of the Wilderness, they were fighting pretty much continuously until late in the month as they head toward the North Anna.

The losses had been appalling. Both armies were getting replacements, but these replacements in no way met the same standard for proficiency of the veterans who had been knocked out of the ranks at the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania. The overall quality of the armies is diminishing as we move into May—not only are we losing a number of men, but also the ranks of the leaders are being decimated on both sides, including the top echelon of the subordinates in each army, the corps commanders. So there are tremendous problems of command in both armies that go along with the tremendous attrition in the ranks.

While at Spotsylvania, Grant decided to place his army between Lee and Richmond.

The Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864

But Lee once again anticipated what Grant was going to do and took up a position behind the North Anna River, not many miles south of the Spotsylvania battlefield. The Confederate line was in the form of a big inverted V, with the apex resting nearly on the North Anna River and then the flanks falling back to the southeast and the southwest. Confederates erected very strong entrenchments there. Grant moved up opposite Lee and, over the period between May 23 and May 25, managed to place the Army of the Potomac in a very awkward position.

He had different parts of the Army of the Potomac south of the river and north of the river. Lee was incapacitated by illness. Lee knew that Grant was vulnerable, but he was literally confined to his cot and could not get up and command the army. And the fact that his subordinates were not trustworthy in his view or were unknown quantities meant that Lee was not willing to entrust a major tactical offensive to any of them. If Jackson had been there, he would have given it to Jackson.