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Thread: May 149 & 150 years ago

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    May 149 & 150 years ago

    As we are now in the midst of the swarm of ACW 150th Anniversary remembrances I am drawn to the time frame of the month of May 1863 & 1864. In each year May was to prove the decisive time on the calendar for all that was to follow.

    In May 1863 at Chancellorsville, Lee’s ANV defeated Hooker’s much larger AOP in central Virginia. The Confederate victory was to have far ranging implications for the coming year. That Lee defeated a force almost twice his size with aggressive tactics, imagination and tenacity goes without saying. However, at what price? He lost over 13,000 men almost 22% of his force including his most able subordinate, Jackson. The Confederacy could scarcely afford such pyrrhic victories and hope to survive. But Lee’s success emboldened him to move northward later that spring once he had reconstituted his army.

    On the same day (30 April 1863) as Hooker crossed the Rappahannock to head into the Wilderness 950 miles southwest Grant crossed the Mississippi with the lead elements of the Army of the Tennessee. Defeating a Confederate force at Port Gibson, MS on 1 May…..on terrain that made the Wilderness look like a parking lot….Grant pushed north towards Vicksburg. As he got close to the city he realized the Confederate defenses were too strong. After 5 months of trying to get Vicksburg he realized the secret was to cut it off from supplies. To do this he engaged in a campaign more audacious than Lee at Chancellorsville….move inland and fall on the Jackson-Vicksburg RR and cut off the city from the east. In a 14 day time span Grant and his army cut themselves free from the their supply line (except for a few wagon trains with ammo and evacuated the wounded) and fought and won 4 battles while moving 200 miles through the Mississippi backcountry. And unlike Hooker’s poor use of Stoneman’s cavalry raid, Grant’s use of Grierson was wildly successful. Vicksburg would fall 6 weeks later 4 July 1863, one day after Gettysburg. Grant’s success would catapult him to overall command in the Western Theater. May would also see the beginning of the Port Hudson siege, which together with success at Vicksburg, would open the Mississippi.

    Go forward a year to 1864. May saw the beginning of the campaigns which were to decide the war. In the East 2 campaigns kicked off within days of each other. The Overland Campaign headed across the Rappahannock on 4 May never to turn back. 5 – 7 May saw the fighting in the Wilderness in which both armies took casualties which were to foretell what would occur for the rest of the war. It also again cost Lee his most capable commander…2 miles almost to the day when he lost Jackson he lost Longstreet, again to a case of fratricide. And he would lose his most able cavalry commander at Yellow Tavern on 11 May. Additional it marked the ascendency of Union cavalry under one of the greatest hard cases in US military history….Phil Sheridan.

    In the Shenandoah Valley a series of fits and stops was to occur starting in May which at first was to come to folly for the Union but was eventually going to result in ultimate Union victory that fall at Cedar Creek.

    In the west Sherman began his campaign which was eventually going to wrest the second most important city from the Confederacy by the end of August. Sherman’s effective maneuver campaign through the mountains of NW Georgia was a masterful application of force in restricted terrain to force an opponent out of entrenched positions.

    Does anyone else have any thoughts or comments to share?
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    Quote Originally Posted by Albany Rifles View Post
    As we are now in the midst of the swarm of ACW 150th Anniversary remembrances I am drawn to the time frame of the month of May 1863 & 1864. In each year May was to prove the decisive time on the calendar for all that was to follow.

    In May 1863 at Chancellorsville, Lee’s ANV defeated Hooker’s much larger AOP in central Virginia. The Confederate victory was to have far ranging implications for the coming year. That Lee defeated a force almost twice his size with aggressive tactics, imagination and tenacity goes without saying. However, at what price? He lost over 13,000 men almost 22% of his force including his most able subordinate, Jackson. The Confederacy could scarcely afford such pyrrhic victories and hope to survive. But Lee’s success emboldened him to move northward later that spring once he had reconstituted his army.

    On the same day (30 April 1863) as Hooker crossed the Rappahannock to head into the Wilderness 950 miles southwest Grant crossed the Mississippi with the lead elements of the Army of the Tennessee. Defeating a Confederate force at Port Gibson, MS on 1 May…..on terrain that made the Wilderness look like a parking lot….Grant pushed north towards Vicksburg. As he got close to the city he realized the Confederate defenses were too strong. After 5 months of trying to get Vicksburg he realized the secret was to cut it off from supplies. To do this he engaged in a campaign more audacious than Lee at Chancellorsville….move inland and fall on the Jackson-Vicksburg RR and cut off the city from the east. In a 14 day time span Grant and his army cut themselves free from the their supply line (except for a few wagon trains with ammo and evacuated the wounded) and fought and won 4 battles while moving 200 miles through the Mississippi backcountry. And unlike Hooker’s poor use of Stoneman’s cavalry raid, Grant’s use of Grierson was wildly successful. Vicksburg would fall 6 weeks later 4 July 1863, one day after Gettysburg. Grant’s success would catapult him to overall command in the Western Theater. May would also see the beginning of the Port Hudson siege, which together with success at Vicksburg, would open the Mississippi.

    Go forward a year to 1864. May saw the beginning of the campaigns which were to decide the war. In the East 2 campaigns kicked off within days of each other. The Overland Campaign headed across the Rappahannock on 4 May never to turn back. 5 – 7 May saw the fighting in the Wilderness in which both armies took casualties which were to foretell what would occur for the rest of the war. It also again cost Lee his most capable commander…2 miles almost to the day when he lost Jackson he lost Longstreet, again to a case of fratricide. And he would lose his most able cavalry commander at Yellow Tavern on 11 May. Additional it marked the ascendency of Union cavalry under one of the greatest hard cases in US military history….Phil Sheridan.

    In the Shenandoah Valley a series of fits and stops was to occur starting in May which at first was to come to folly for the Union but was eventually going to result in ultimate Union victory that fall at Cedar Creek.

    In the west Sherman began his campaign which was eventually going to wrest the second most important city from the Confederacy by the end of August. Sherman’s effective maneuver campaign through the mountains of NW Georgia was a masterful application of force in restricted terrain to force an opponent out of entrenched positions.

    Does anyone else have any thoughts or comments to share?
    By the end of May 1864, while the ANV still had fight left in it (the counterattacks against Grant's offensives around Petersburg and Richmond would demonstrate that the ANV still had sting), it no longer had offensive capability. Some of that was due to the bloodletting at the hands of the hard battles at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Some of it was due to the loss of Jackson in May 1863 and Longstreet and Stuart in 1864, all of which exposed Lee as a general who depended upon independent minded subordinates to execute his intricate and risky offensive plans.

    What is still curious to me is why Lee continued to fight following November 1864. While the fall of Atlanta indicated success in the upcoming election, once Lincoln was reelected, it was clear that continuing to fight signed them up for at least four more years of war, with the obvious fact that the CSA didn't have four more years of war to give.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Great point Shek. I believe it was because he was loyal to the civilian government. The Confederate government insisted on fighting so did Lee.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    Lee and just about every southerner knew that losing the war wasn't just going to be a matter of people going home with bruised egos-- it was the end of their society and their way of life.

    somewhat akin to the nazis by january 1945.

    going back to the chancellorsville option, though, if you were Lee in May 1863 what could you, or would you, have done?
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    "Let's throw a couple of thousands more lives so we can keep our way of life"?
    No such thing as a good tax - Churchill

    To make mistakes is human. To blame someone else for your mistake, is strategic.

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    doktor,

    "Let's throw a couple of thousands more lives so we can keep our way of life"?
    tens of thousands, rather.

    not a surprise. using another war, by any rational observer's estimate, the nazis were doomed by may 1943, yet how long did they fight on? and by jan 1945 it was pretty obvious to even the most fervent nazi that they were doomed.

    rationality plays only a small part when it comes down to it. for that matter, had Lee not told his troops in no uncertain terms that it was time to surrender, there would almost certainly have been a long, bloody, and futile guerilla war for years.
    Last edited by astralis; 07 May 13, at 15:41.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Doktor,

    To that same point, after the invasion of the Phillipines and absolute final desruction of their fleet the Japanese had to know by late 1944 it was over. Yet they caused more casualties and suffered more casulaties on the battlefield from 15 NOV 44 to 9 AUG 45 than the entire war up to that point (excluding Chinese mainland). Same mindset.

    As to Lee in May 63....Hooker had stolen they march on him so the AOP had the initiative at first. That said there was nothing that compelled Lee to accept battle on Hooker's terms. What prevented Lee from withdrawing farther south and establish defensive positions along the line of what became Spotsylvania a year later? He could have dug in and called the 2d Corps back from Suffolk (where they were wasting time & resources.)

    Lee was aggresive by nature and that aggressiveness gave him great success...but at what cost?

    Longstreet was disgusted by the casualty rolls when he rejoined the ANV after Chancellorsville with his corps. While it is a bit overplayed in the movie Longstreet did want to fight an offensive-defensive war....attack to cause the Union forces to counterattack at prepared Confederate positions. During Chancellorsville Lafayette McLaws division of Longstreet's corps fought under Lee's direct command and were given the mission of stopping the VI Corps coming from F'burg towards Lee's rear. Lee was disappointed that McLaw's was not more aggressive. He praised Jubal Early's aggressiveness. Yet look at the casualty figures of the 2 divisions. McLaws used a strong defense with local counter attacks. Early, and later Anderson conducted a series of uncoordinated attacks against Sedgwick's line which were all turned back. All they did was add to the butcher's bill.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    Senior Contributor Doktor's Avatar
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    Asty, AR,

    I can accept blindness, foolishness, hope, whatever for making bad mistakes.

    I can't accept commanders to sacrifice more and more men just to preserve tea at 5 routine.
    No such thing as a good tax - Churchill

    To make mistakes is human. To blame someone else for your mistake, is strategic.

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    doktor,

    I can't accept commanders to sacrifice more and more men just to preserve tea at 5 routine.
    society and culture is more than just tea at 5.

    it makes up the context of whom you are. everyone needs to believe in a myth to give their lives meaning and structure. strip that myth away and what do you have left?

    in the 1860 southern context, the national myth was the image of the Southerner as a free, noble people descended of English nobility, tasked by God to uphold a just system where the sons of Ham were willingly kept in servitude for the good of everybody.

    take that away and what was the Southerner-- rebels with a society centered around brute force and intimidation to amass ill-begotten wealth. this is such a painful thing to face that even current-day Southerners will get offended by this characterization, and many will seek to explain the Civil War in any way possible to avoid this (see the numerous Civil War reasoning debates we have had on WAB).

    the collapse of Southern society following the civil war was such that it was only until the 1950s when the South finally began to approach its pre-Civil War living standards.

    note that the commanders didn't just sacrifice their men, but for the most part (absent the desertions) the average enlisted men quite willingly obeyed their orders, even though they knew it to be suicidal or futile.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    If I can see there is no way to win, and therefor to lose "the way of life" why sacrifice more men was my original question.

    Making peace when you see you lose, but you are not massacred, gives you better chances. At least more lives would be saved with the same outcome.

    Must be something about the fanaticism or something with the time they lived in that I can't completely grasp.
    No such thing as a good tax - Churchill

    To make mistakes is human. To blame someone else for your mistake, is strategic.

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    doktor,

    Making peace when you see you lose, but you are not massacred, gives you better chances. At least more lives would be saved with the same outcome.
    in a regular "cabinet" war, this would be the case. the side which has obviously lost will give up right away before their situation worsens.

    not the case in these national/ideological wars. BTW, this is why the Union always had a greater level of war weariness than the Confederacy, up until the end. if the Union lost, it would suck but not effectively change the lives of people living in the North.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Doktor,

    It wasn't just a lifestyle change....it was a quantum societal shift.

    The end of the Confederacy meant the end of slavery. The end of slavery resulted in the end of an economy....not just a modification or tweak. A total change.

    That is a lot of incentive right there.

    NOTE: You can ignore this answer (refresh thread before ansering dumbass!)
    Last edited by Albany Rifles; 07 May 13, at 18:22. Reason: Because I am a dumbass
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    note that the commanders didn't just sacrifice their men, but for the most part (absent the desertions) the average enlisted men quite willingly obeyed their orders, even though they knew it to be suicidal or futile.


    And in the Union, large numbers reenlisted in summer 1864 to see it through.
    “We had been hopelessly labouring to plough waste lands; to make nationality grow in a place full of the certainty of God… Among the tribes our creed could be only like the desert grass – a beautiful swift seeming of spring; which, after a day’s heat, fell dusty.”
    ― T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

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    "Fighting the hopeless battle" - In many of these characterizations, there is a (false) hope... "We know we cannot win outright. If we hold out a bit longer, there might be a negotiated settlement." The 3rd Reich always hoped that they'd be able to convince GB and the USA that the Soviets were the real threat. Japan held out hope that they could negotiate a settlement that would leave their military elite + emperor, in power. And I'm sure the Confederates had similar hopes - that the North would tire of the bloodletting, and allow the South to go their own way. In fact, from the beginning, the South had zero plans of conquest or territory; they simply wanted to form the CSA and be left alone.

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    Last stand against overwhelming odds has worked before. A few comes to mind

    Salamis
    Marathon
    The Pusan Perimeter
    Battle of Britain

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