Friday, December 6, 2013

The Wilderness of War

Dear Readers,

For the last week or so I have been working my way through Gordon C. Rhea's series about the Overland Campaign.  I finished the first volume which is about the Battle of the Wilderness and have now turned to the second volume concerning Spotsylvania.  I'm not sure what drew my attention in that direction, other than the fact that I haven't read his series before.  When I teach about the Civil War, the last lecture day covers 1864-5 which includes those campaigns plus the March to the Sea, etc.  Maybe that is why.

You know, Grant's casualty rates in that campaign were staggering.  I can't help but thing that we would never allow a general today to lose soldiers at the rate that Grant did.  My how times have changed.  I guess it stirs up the old debate.  Was Grant a good general?  Yes, he lost large numbers of soldiers but he still bled Lee's Army dry.  Of course, the flip side to that is tactically, he seemed to follow a relatively simple plan, "Hey Diddle, Diddle, Straight Up the Middle!"

I have ancestors who fought on both sides during that campaign.  Let me rephrase, I have ancestors on the Confederate side and ancestors on the Union side.  They stayed loyal to their respective causes until the end. Unlike some of the ancestors of my little redhead who seemed to favor whichever side was winning at that particular moment.  My Union ancestors were not "Yankees" in the traditional sense of the word as they all hailed from the Emerald Isle, as did my other ancestors who wore the gray.  Still, they collided in some of the worse bloodletting this country has ever seen.

I often wonder what kept my Irish Confederate ancestors in the ranks at a time in which they had to have known that the cause was lost.  Before you tell me that slavery was why they stayed in the ranks so long, I would suggest that you look into the types of jobs available to the Irish in New Orleans at the time.  They left Ireland to escape English oppression only to end up fighting here in a hopeless war in the land of the "free".  Did they ever have second thoughts about why they came here?  I can only imagine that they stayed the course because of a combination of pride, comradeship, and the desire to not let their families down.  But who knows, really.  They arrived here with nothing and the war also left them with nothing.  (Other than a few of them that were nice enough to donate a limb or two to the Cause.)

My Irish-Union ancestors had their enlistments expire in the midst of the Overland Campaign.  They could have gone home!  But they chose to reenlist and see the war through to the end.  Plenty of other men did too.  Was that an endorsement of Grant's generalship or was that simply a desire to finish what they had started?  I wish I could say one way or the other with certainty, but I feel it was more the latter than the former.

Sorry to break slightly off topic, but here is my question for you, Dear Readers.  Was Grant a good general or simply a butcher who cared nothing for the lives of his soldiers?

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who should be grading papers instead of writing blog posts.