Grant’s relentless and costly attacks on General Lee in Virginia earned him the title of “Butcher” among his own troops and was kept in command by Lincoln who was unbothered by the vast casualty numbers amassed by Grant. He quickly saw that following the Radicals after his master’s assassination was the proper path, and he was rewarded with election to the presidency, though only with the votes of freedmen herded to the polls in the South. His administration was marked with scandal, and his own vice president indicted for corruption. The following able criticism of General Grant’s claim to great generalship was published in the New York Tribune in July 1883.
Grant Never Faced Stonewall Jackson
“To the Editor of the Tribune:
Sir, — The attitude in which General Grant has so long been posed before the world is likely to receive a severe blow from the publication of General Humphrey’s last volume of “The Campaigns of the Civil War,” of which the Tribune contained a review yesterday.
Colonel Hambley, of the British army, in his great work on the Art of War . . . speaks of General Grant as one “who was successful on a moderate terrain like Vicksburg, but whose Virginia campaign was a failure,” and elsewhere of “Grant’s useless sacrifice of ten thousand men at Cold Harbor.” This judgement is tacitly supported by General Humphrey’s book by what would seem to be a column if indisputable facts.
I understand from him that General Grant was at least seven times conspicuously and with enormous loss defeated by General Lee before the exhaustion of his war materials and the universal collapse of the Confederacy compelled the latter to surrender. These were not reported as defeats in the bulletins of the day, and some of them were even supposed to be victories, as in the case of Hancock’s magnificent attempt to break through Lee’s centre at Spottsylvania Courthouse; but they were defeats nonetheless.
Many things conspired to prevent General Lee’s victories from being decisive: The overwhelming superiority of the Union army in numbers and munitions of war, his own lack of absolutely necessary war materiel . . . and the lack of an able coadjutor like Stonewall Jackson.
One can well believe that had Jackson lived a year longer Grant would not only have been defeated, but, as a consequence of his stubborn adhesion to a single military idea, pretty nearly destroyed. Grant possessed an advantage over all his predecessors in Virginia; that he never had to contend with Jackson. The dry truth of it is that Grant lost more battles in Virginia than he ever won elsewhere.
In the tenacity with which Grant followed out a determination once fixed in his mind, perhaps no man has ever surpassed him; but it was an expensive virtue for his soldiers, as the hundred thousand men he lost in Virginia are a witness. Whether he should have been removed after Cold Harbor, a disastrous blunder only equaled by Burnside’s at Fredericksburg, is a difficult matter to determine.
Yet this man . . . received the credit of having suppressed the Confederacy; without education for or experience in civil affairs was made President for eight years; and finally was carried around the earth and exhibited to the nations as the greatest prodigy of the age.
F.P.S. College Hill, Mass., July 4, 1883”
(A Northern Opinion of Grant’s Generalship, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XII, 1884, J. William Jones, editor, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpts, pp. 21-22)