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"Overland campaign numbers and effectiveness." Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Sep 2022 9:33 p.m. PST

"In Rhea's forward to Young's Overland Campaign: a numerical study, he says,

"The implications that follow from Young's analysis are profound. Lee's numbers at the campaign's outset were greater than historians have formerly assumed, and his casualties by its end were considerably larger than anecdotal accounts have led us to believe. When compared against the respective sizes of the armies at the campaigns outset, Confederate losses approximate 50 percent, while Federal losses were about 45 percent, suggesting that Grant lost soldiers at a lower overall rate than did Lee. As Young convincingly demonstrates, the campaign thoroughly gutted many of the Army of Northern Virginia's veteran units."

This statement appears to confirm the purpose of Grant's strategy to win by attrition, a gradual grinding down accomplished by spending more union troops than confederates but in a favorable proportion. However, it is clearly shown that the new data on numbers and losses brings the attrition strategy into some question as an advisable approach. With union losses being 45% and Lee's just under 50% this approach produced a result only roughly 10% overall more favorable to the Union. Also, since the new data shows Lee had more troops available the efficacy of the attrition approach is also less viable. Given the new data showing Lee's total force in the campaign was as much as 96,000, nearly 20,000 more than previously documented, Grant's advantage was reduced and attrition likely to be less effective. Recognizing that Grant in no way had access to this new and more complete data, the marginal effect of the strategy is clarified. The new data set shows that Lee lost some 34 thousand of 96 thousand total available forces for an over all loss of about 35%. Taking about 162 thousand as the most favorable (lower) number of total force available to Grant, his percent loss was about 33%. The overall principle in the new data set is that Lee's numbers of troops and losses are under reported in the Livermore data. The new data increases Lee's force from 62,000 at the beginning of the Overland Campaign to 66,000; a 7% increase only. Lee's losses rise from about 30,000 to 33,500 or about 12% more casualties. Both of these numbers may be seen as marginal increments and not large increases. The force ratio of 162 to 96 is about 2 to 1 (1.7) which has always been the generally stated proportion understood at the beginning of the campaign. Stated in the inverse Lee employed 58 men for each 100 available to Grant. Yet, the respective percent losses of 45% to 50% represent a loss of 500 in each 1000 for Lee and 450 in each 1000 for Grant. With a 2 to 1 advantage a net gain of only 50/1000 was achieved. This can only be seen as a very low gain for very substantial losses. .."

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Blutarski23 Sep 2022 1:57 p.m. PST

I would suggest that Grant's campaign of attrition was rather more complicated and broad in scope.
He did not require a numerically superior casualty exchange rate; he only required that the fighting resulted in the Confederate Army suffering losses which they could not replace (so long as the numerically superior Union Army did not fall into the same predicament).

Example: if the Union/Confederate force ratio started at 4:3 and the two sides exchanged losses of 1 factor each in a campaign, the force ratio would improve to 3:2 in favor of the Union. If the Union was able to replace its losses and the Confederacy was unable to do so, the force ratio advantage in favor of the Unior would become 4:2.

Grant also altered Union strategy to one of non-stop 365 day per year warfare, forcing the Confederate Army to remain constantly in the field consuming ever dwindling supplies and greatly limiting its ability to release men to return home to help with the harvests or simply rest/recover from stress of combat.


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2022 4:29 p.m. PST



donlowry23 Sep 2022 5:04 p.m. PST

The whole thing depends on a false assumption: That Grant's strategy was to win by attrition. I have never seen any proof of that.

His overall strategy was to keep Lee so busy defending himself that he could not 1) seize the initiative and cross the Potomac again or 2) detach forces to interfere with Sherman's campaign in the West, or Butler's on the James (in the latter case, at least not until Grant could join Butler).

He tried to draw Lee into an all-out field battle, for a quick knock-out, and came close in the Wilderness -- after which battle could not be had with Lee outside of field fortifications. (Even so, he smashed Lee's 2nd Corps at Spotsylvania.)

As for numbers, Horace Porter pointed out that Grant lost fewer men in capturing Richmond that his predecessors had lost in trying to capture it and failing.

Personal logo gamertom Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2022 5:32 p.m. PST

It's a very interesting thread to read through. I couldn't help but notice that only one participant mentioned the elephant in the room and then it was never mentioned again: Lee's numbers had been revised by a very well researched method, but where has the same been applied to the Union numbers? Official returns may or may not be accurate and there are questions posed in the discussion that might be answered by such effort (and a mighty effort it would be). Until a similar effort is conducted for the Union side, I think any numerical comparisons should be taken as assumptions rather than being factual.

Murvihill24 Sep 2022 6:09 a.m. PST

Does he mention the relative positions of the armies before and after the campaign?
Before the campaign the Union army was blocking Washington, After the campaign the Confederate army was blocking Richmond.
That seems significant to me.

donlowry24 Sep 2022 9:04 a.m. PST

Both of you have good points.

Trajanus24 Sep 2022 9:25 a.m. PST

I agree with Don on the overall strategy.

Its not just about the big numbers either as Rhea takes pains to point out. The effects of the ongoing toe to toe fighting decimated the ANV command structure.

I can't recall if its in the first or second volume, but he points out in detail Lee's struggle to find suitable candidates to take Corps, Division and Brigade commands due to their losses. With repeated instances of promoting X to take over from Y only to find they are also now out of action and Z who would be next in line had just been killed.

The losses at Field Officer level were also phenomenal. The key thing being that in previous years battles had pauses between them that enabled Lee to juggle personnel and Grant's insistence of keeping in contact would not allow that. At one point Lee was the Army Commander and acting commander of all three of his Infantry Corps. Literally only having a couple of hours sleep per day, for two weeks.

Yes the AoP was suffering too but Lee was fishing in a smaller pond and couldn't allow Grant pass him even if he had wanted to.

A quote from Rhea:

Grant was less reckless with his soldiers' lives than his predecessors had been. No single day of Grant's pounding saw the magnitude of Union casualties that McClellan incurred in one day at Antietam, and no three consecutive days of Grant's warring proved as costly to the Union in blood as did Meade's three days at Gettysburg.

donlowry25 Sep 2022 8:32 a.m. PST

Wow! Someone agreed with me!

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2022 4:08 p.m. PST



Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2022 4:58 p.m. PST

Wait… I agree with Don too!!

I never believed that Grant thought of it as trading lives in an attrition war. I think he planned to stay in Lee's face and fight him until it was over, and the sooner the better.

I also think that Lee could have and/or should have surrendered sooner. At the latest right after Lincoln's re-election. Maybe even sometime after Gettysburg when his army was more or less reduced to a mostly defensive force in general, still powerful, but pitted a growing opponent. Not much hope even then, but none after the election.

Bill N25 Sep 2022 8:39 p.m. PST

Gettysburg fell far short of deciding the fate of the war in the east. In the fall of 1863 Lee's army, short one corps, chased the Army of the Potomac back to the fortifications at Centreville. At Wilderness and again at North Anna Lee probably felt cheated of the opportunity to inflict major damage on Meade/Grant's command. After Cold Harbor Lee detached first Breckinridge's division and the the Second Corps Early. In early July Early was knocking on the door of Washington and later in the month the Confederates administered a stinging defeat to the U.S. forces in the Shenandoah Valley. Grant had been forced to detach the VI Corps and a portion of the Cavalry Corps, and 2 divisions of XIX Corps, intended as reinforcements for Grant/Meade had also been diverted to the Valley. Until Sheridan took command in the Valley things did not look that bad for Lee's army. Elsewhere in the Confederacy OTOH….

Also it is very unlikely that Lee would have surrendered his army until compelled by military necessity or until authorized by the Confederate government.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2022 7:06 a.m. PST

I agree it was very unlikely. More likely wishful thinking on my part. The last years fighting was especially bitter and deepened the wounds.

The actions you describe always seem defensive in nature to me. Early had almost no real chance to take and hold Washington. Lee did inflict major damage on Grant at Wilderness, a ground especially chosen by Lee to even the odds. But Grant did not quit like Lees earlier opponents. And it soon became clear that Grant was not going to quit.

An early surrender was not part of Lees character. But there was really only one end in sight after the election. It would have been no dishonor to stop the killing, in my wishful thinking.

Blutarski26 Sep 2022 8:02 a.m. PST

Agree re Lee's choice of terrain. IIRC, Grant left behind all his rifled artillery upon crossing into the Wilderness. There was no place to make use of its long range capability.


donlowry26 Sep 2022 8:43 a.m. PST

At Hunt's suggestion, Grant did trim down his batteries, to reduce the size of his columns, but I'm not aware that they specifically removed rifled guns.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2022 11:54 a.m. PST

One of the more chaotic fights. It also left Grant pondering how good Meade was as an overall commander. Losses were terrible, but I think this is when Grant told Lincoln that he intended to fight it out along this line if it took all summer and started planning the next action immediately.

Trajanus27 Sep 2022 11:35 a.m. PST

I'm not aware that they specifically removed rifled guns

I'd be mightily surprised if they did, for no better reason than they represented 60% of the available pieces at Gettysburg. I doubt if there was much difference in ratio at the start of the Overland Campaign.

Blutarski27 Sep 2022 8:19 p.m. PST

Looked through my references and could find no confirmation of rifled artillery batteries left behind at the Wilderness. Neither Naisawald nor Tidball make mention.

Apologies for my lapse of memory.


Trajanus28 Sep 2022 8:53 a.m. PST

As I recall, weren't the key words "trim down his batteries". That's to say cut the actual number of guns down from six to four per battery.

Every six guns you cut, saved 186 yards of road way on just the guns, limbers and caissons.

donlowry28 Sep 2022 9:05 a.m. PST

Yes, Trajanus, they cut the batteries down to 4 guns -- it was after the Wilderness, IIRC.

Trajanus28 Sep 2022 9:49 a.m. PST

It was, on the 11th May Grant told Meade to get rid of his two Reserve Brigades and Burnside to remove his single one as well. For a total of eighteen batteries!

Henry Hunt suggested that this would be more effective if the overall allocation of batteries was examined at the same time and suggested that it would be an idea to send back all the worn out and defective equipment as part of the process.

He also suggested that each battery that remained with the Army should be reorganised on a four gun basis.

Grant decided that this made good sense and approved the overall idea, it was enacted within a day.

This is covered in the third volume of Rhea's books on the Campaign – "To the North Anna River" on Page 119.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP28 Sep 2022 4:13 p.m. PST



ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Sep 2022 5:42 a.m. PST

For me, the bottom line is that Grant won in the end.

Marcus Brutus29 Sep 2022 5:44 a.m. PST

I think it was Lee who was committed to a battle of attrition the thinking being that by bleeding the AoP he could possibly effect the 1864 Presidential election. A perfect example of a military strategy attempting to bring about a political outcome. By the spring of 1864 is pretty obvious to everyone that only a political faltering in the North would change the final outcome of the war.

Marcus Brutus29 Sep 2022 5:48 a.m. PST

<For me, the bottom line is that Grant won in the end.>

It is amazing to me the patience of older societies. The Romans endured a 17 year war against Carthage and Hannibal. The slow pace of Union victories in the ACW would tax modern societies. Even in 1864, Union advances in Virginia were painfully slow and costly. It is amazing to me that the North didn't give up after Chancellorsville.

Bill N29 Sep 2022 9:09 a.m. PST

Early had almost no real chance to take and hold Washington.

I think Early was just a storm in the Chesapeake away from capturing Washington, although he could have held it for long. The political impact of even a few days occupation would have been significant. Had Wallace chosen to withdraw on Washington rather than Baltimore, the danger of Washington falling would have been diminished.

I think it was Lee who was committed to a battle of attrition

At both Wilderness and North Anna Lee was looking for wins on the order of Second Manassas. Pulling another Fredericksburg would not give Lee the initiative.

the bottom line is that Grant won in the end

That may be all that matters in the end. It doesn't mean though that we cannot argue whether another course of action might have achieved the same results sooner, or at a lower cost. Grant said "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." It ended up taking him considerably longer than that.

Bill N29 Sep 2022 11:59 a.m. PST

Sorry. Meant to say "couldn't have held it for long".

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2022 4:20 p.m. PST

Marcus Brutus, I feel that if Lee had not made the disastrous Gettysburg Campaign, he may well have had the troops and qualified officers, left to have dragged the war on another 6 months. What would the outcome of the 64 election have been then?

I know his reasons for doing it, but do not agree.

1) by moving North he forced the change in command. What would have happened if he stayed? How much longer would Hooker have been in command? Who would have replaced him?
2) Grant would not have been moved East as soon. We will assume he would have eventually still.
3) we can assume the TAOTP would have been as slow to move as before and fought in the same ways. After all, it was still the same group of officers.
4) in Pennsylvania he drained off his best troops and many of his best officers.
5) TAONV would have stayed undefeated and that elan would have still been with them. Add to that their opponents still would have never have truly defeated them.

Add 6 months to the war and a draining of more casualties… what would November of 64 have brought?

Just my opinion

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2022 8:32 p.m. PST

I agree 35th, great points. Although Hooker was a better soldier than he got credit for. His problem was army politics. He would not have remained. But the army was getting better, better division commanders rising up. And it was getting bigger, had better artillery ammo, food, transport, all kinds of logistical advantages.

But if Lee had keep his army as an offensive force in being, the strategic situation could have stayed the same until the election.

Trajanus30 Sep 2022 8:35 a.m. PST

The problem Lee and Davis had was that Chancellorsville failed to solve a major problem.

Yes it got rid of Hooker's Army but the cost to the ANV was high, regardless of the tactical brilliance of the the battle. In fact the difference in terms of Killed, wounded and missing really only favoured Lee's army in terms of the number of prisoners taken. There were plenty more where they came from.

Even more importantly, the Confederates had been stuck watching the river line for months, at the end of a single track railroad from Richmond, they were literally starving.

The need to move prompted the invasion of the North, in order to take the burden of feeding the ANV off Confederate resources. This had to be dealt with before any future considerations. Beating the Army of the Potomac and pre Election year pressure on Lincoln would have been a bonus.

The eternal question is if you don't head North, with these considerations in mind, where do you go, because you can't stay in Virginia.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP30 Sep 2022 2:44 p.m. PST

Traj, I would agree that Lee was free with casualties by going on the offensive. But as far as going to PA because of food. They left in June and returned in late July. I doubt that made much if any difference in the area being able to resupply the army.

I think Lee wanted a decisive battle and having it in the North was the added cherry on top, especially close to Washington DC. The problem is, in my opinion, his army because of its size and other Inadequacies, was never capable of a decisive victory over the Army of the Potomac. By holding on in Virginia, avoiding costly large offensive operations, and draining the AOTP, with nothing concrete achieved, he may have changed that 1864 election and gotten a negotiated peace.

The only other hope would have been England or France coming in and I don't believe that was ever a real possibility.

Tort, based on Lincoln leaving Hooker in for the time he did after Chancellorsville, I believe he would have left him in longer if Lee had not gone on the offensive. But even if he immediately replaced him with Meade, I don't think Meade was any great advancement, offensively.

Hooker was a good Corp commander, but I think a Army of more than 2 Corp was above his capability. Plus there was a phobia of Lee in the upper Echelon of the army of The Potomac. IMO

Trajanus01 Oct 2022 6:23 a.m. PST

But as far as going to PA because of food. They left in June and returned in late July. I doubt that made much if any difference in the area being able to resupply the army.

Don't forget that timetable wasn't through choice and standing still on the river line that summer would still have meant the same number of men and horses having been in need of Confederate supply.

The decisive battle was very much the "cherry on top" it just didn't work out that way.

The only other hope would have been England or France coming in and I don't believe that was ever a real possibility.

Not a chance, certainly not by 1864 and probably not even earlier.

One other possibility was moving Longstreet's Corps after Chancellorsville, in the way it was sent West after Gettysburg.

Longstreet was supposed to have suggested it to Davis but the whole right and wrong of it all has been wrapped in anti Longstreet – trying to undermine Lee – sentiment, so who knows what the viability of that would have been.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2022 6:47 a.m. PST

Moving the corp West, unless it could have Miraculously stopped the fall of Vicksburg, would probably have been Squandered. As was proved later. The commanders in the west for the Confederacy, were let us say, inadequate. It was only blind luck that Rosecrans moved a division and left an opening in his line, just as Longstreet attacked that spot. Bragg was incapable of following it up.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2022 7:33 a.m. PST

Good points 35th. Hooker had been beaten by Lee already in spectacular fashion. You are right about the phobia, but some of the good commanders were beginning to become more visible.

Grant could not wait to get rid of Rosecrans later on. Meade was a competent commander who did well at Gettysburg by using his interior lines to shift forces and survive the attacks. But he did not have Grsnts fierce determination and he did not follow-up.

But holding in Virginia in 63 would not necessarily mean Grant would not take command and the war in 64 might have worked out more or less the same before the election.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2022 7:47 a.m. PST

Tort, no there was no guarantee that Grant would have come as early as he did, but I think it much less likely. Lincoln would have given Hookers eventual replacement a longer time to fail, IMO. Agree that Corp and Division command had improved with the AOTP, but none of those who were in Corp command, that would have or could have taken command of the Army, would have made a significant improvement. We can discount Reynolds as he refused it, when offered. Meade was Meade, Adequate, but not an offensive mind. Hancock was to Junior. Sedgwick, Sickles, Howard, Sykes, Slocum? None would inspire me to confidence of leading a decisive campaign against Lee.

Maybe I misjudge them, but I don't think so.

Trajanus01 Oct 2022 9:42 a.m. PST

The commanders in the west for the Confederacy, were let us say, inadequate.

I admire your restraint.

Bragg was incapable of following it up.

There's around four to many words in that sentence!

Trajanus01 Oct 2022 9:47 a.m. PST

Maybe I misjudge them, but I don't think so.

I would suggest that its fair comment but there again after Chancellorsville, when it came to Corps commanders, the ANV was only scoring 1-2 and replacement Army Commanders 0-3!

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2022 9:55 a.m. PST

Traj yes I was probably being kind. 🙂 Cleburne was my favorite over there, but he alienated the upper Hierarchy. Forrest was good, but he could not get along with most.

Agree Ewell and Hill were advanced beyond their abilities.

Marcus Brutus01 Oct 2022 7:58 p.m. PST

It really is impossible to play out what would have happened in the AoP if Lee doesn't come north in 1863. It is possible to imagine Hooker hanging on into the fall of 1863 and being replaced by Grant in early 64. So Meade never does command the AoP. Interestingly, with Meade's conduct at Gettysburg it becomes politically difficult for Lincoln to remove him once it became clear the Meade too has the slows.

Cleburne186302 Oct 2022 9:40 a.m. PST

I thought Lee sent one or two very large wagon convoys full of food and supplies south during the Gettysburg Campaign. Maybe I'm remembering wrong.

35thOVI Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2022 2:07 p.m. PST

It's always speculation, like what would have happened if Ewell had continued on the first of July. I am speculating that Hooker would have remained in command until at least Mid to late July, doing little, but promising much. That Lincoln would have proceeded with a replacement of Hooker from the ranks of the AOTP and waited for him to fail. Grant if and when he comes East, is later then originally and his impact takes place after the election.

But of course only speculation.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2022 3:33 p.m. PST

Yes, but interesting. Of the commanders you named to possibly replace Hooker, only Hancock and Sedgwick, with hindsight, look okay to me. But I always thought Lincoln had had enough. He had seen Grant get results. After Gettysburg, Lincoln had to leave Meade in charge, but I suspect he was thinking he finally knew who could win the war after Vicksburg.

donlowry02 Oct 2022 3:35 p.m. PST

Cleburne, yes, you are correct.

Normal Guy Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2022 7:04 a.m. PST

Several years ago, my son Thomas did a hypothetical TOE for the ANV with the premise that Jackson had not been shot. The changes were dramatic; instead of two corps, three were needed; two of the best division commanders were promoted to corps command; A P Hill's division was split into two parts; two or three additional brigade commanders were promoted. Studying that reorganization, it was readily apparent that after Chancellorsville, Lee's army began to suffer a definite drop in command ability, a slide that continued till the end of the war. Fascinating to look at.

donlowry03 Oct 2022 9:03 a.m. PST

Yes, while the 3-corps organization was more practical, neither Hill nor Ewell was 2/3 of a Stonewall Jackson! Lee would probably have been smart to get Stuart promoted to take Jackson's corps permanently, but he did not witness how well Stuart handled it after the wounding of Jackson.

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