I know someone who is a big Civil War buff (I’m not particularly) who argues that Grant has gotten a really unfair rap on the “butcher” charge and that when you analyze all of the battles and casualty figures as percentages, etc. that Grant comes off just as well (maybe badly, depending upon your views) as Lee, a bit better in fact, and that Lee has simply enjoyed better PR.
Anyone know where to find that argument or the relevant stats? I know I’ve seen it before in an email years ago, I’ll try to find out more.....
Check out these stats...
Note that at Gettysburg, where Lee was on offense, southern casualties were higher.
At, say, Cold Harbor, where Grant was on offense, northern casualties were much higher.
And while we're at it, I recently had the opportunity to question the experts (Civil War park rangers) about civilian deaths. Typically there were few to none, with the total for the war less than 1,000.
In fact, the biggest single number of civilians who died happened during Sherman's march through Georgia, but it was not of white Georgians. It was freed slaves following Sherman's army, hundreds of whom drowned trying to cross a river where one of Sherman's generals had destroyed the bridge.
It is interesting that this topic came up again. My thoughts when it comes to Grant and Cold Harbor -
Grants true strength was in that he never gave up. Shiloh was a good early example of this. There would be many more such examples before the war was through. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Grant never lost a battle through inaction or inactivity. Grant was not afraid to try different things until he found a winning combination and once he found that combination he held on with the stubbornness and unswerving focus of a pit bull.
Once Grant took over the Army of the Potomac he pursued the Army of Northern Virginia with a dogged tenacity which would not be denied. Cold Harbor was one of the few times where he was forced to admit that he could not win through sheer force of will. The other battles which eluded him were faced during his two terms as president.
It is important to note specifically what Grant admits to in his memoirs when he expresses remorse over Cold Harbor. He doesnt admit that the battle should never have taken place. He doesnt admit that the early charges where so many men fell were ill conceived and which he ordered over the objections of his commanders. The fact that some of his commanders were slow to act likely created a bit of doubt in Grants mind about whether the failure of the charges was due to the fact that his Army was incapable of taking the Confederate positions or whether the earlier failures were the result of a lack of well timed coordination.
What Grant admitted to regretting specifically was the last charge that he ordered. That final charge was ordered over a vehemence of his subordinate commanders which approached mutiny. He seems to recognize that the other charges were necessary for learning and understanding the situation, but the last charge did not serve any other purpose than to confirm the grim reality of the futility of the situation, and that his commanders had been correct all along.
Given the earlier failures of his commanders to coordinate their attacks properly, Grant could have taken this as his excuse for why he ordered that final charge thus passing the blame onto the shoulders of other. The fact that he didnt do this is a great testament to Grants sense of honor and responsibility.
The Siege of Petersburg was approached in the same manner Grant approached his other battles. Grant slowly felt around for his opponents weakness extending his lines day after day till he finally found the point at which Lee could no longer hold on.
Lee had a much higher rate of casualties among his troops than Grant. Grant's Vicksburg campaign was as tactically brilliant as anything Lee ever did and effectively dictated the ultimate outcome. Although some thought him "slow", Grant ended up writing the best book ever penned by an ex-president. In hindsight, what some people called "slow" was really just quiet, calm deliberation and calculation.