Civil War Battles and Strategy

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Describe General Ulysses S. Grant's somewhat unorthodox-at least for his day-approach to defeating the Confederates.

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Ulysses S. Grant is one of the more controversial figures of the American Civil War.  Different historians look very differently at his strategy and approach to winning the war.

One set of historians tends to be antagonistic towards Grant.  They see him as a butcher more than a real general.  In this view, all that Grant really did was to spend the lives of his soldiers.  The idea is that Grant fought nothing more than a war of attrition.  Because he had more manpower than the South, he was willing to fight battles in which he lost large numbers of men so long as he could inflict equal casualties on the South.  His approach, then, was one of attrition.

Other historians see Grant as a much more militarily adept general.  They argue that he waged real campaigns at a time when this was not usual.  They say that most Civil War generals fought individual battles and then paused because they were not really sure what to do next.  By contrast, they say, Grant had larger strategic goals in mind.  He did things like pressing in on Lee from a variety of directions in many different battles.  This group of historians admires Grand for his coordinated and well-planned campaigns that led large Confederate armies to surrender to him.

The “right” answer to this question depends on what approach your text and/or your instructor takes on the issue of what Grant’s generalship was really all about.

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