“If Grant had a drinking problem, the answer to your question could be that he was willing to sacrifice thousands of more men due to the fact his judgment was impaired by alcohol.” – Richard Williams [scroll down for comment]
Thousands of more men compared to what exactly? Compared to someone who is best remembered as the embodiment of civilized warfare?
Robert E. Lee’s Casualties (1862-1865)
Seven Days battles – 20,204
Second Manassas – 9,000
Sharpsburg – 13,000
Chancellorsville – 13,000
Gettysburg – 21,000
Overland Campaign – 31,000
Petersburg Campaign – 28,000
Ulysses S. Grant’s Casualties (1861-1865)
Battle of Belmont – 3,100
Forts Henry and Donelson – 2,700
Shiloh – 13,000
Vicksburg – 4,800
Chattanooga – 5,800
Overland Campaign – 38,000
Petersburg Campaign – 42,000
Yesterday I mentioned that beliefs about Grant and alcohol typically have something to do with larger issues. Williams’s comment is a case in point. If it can be shown that Grant had a serious enough problem with alcohol it might provide evidence for another long-standing belief, which is that he needlessly sacrificed his men in battle. The image of “Grant the butcher” provides the perfect foil against Robert E. Lee who embodies the martial characteristics of the Virginia cavalier. Does anyone doubt that this is exactly who Williams had in mind in his implicit comparison. As the argument goes Lee fought a traditional war of virtuous generals and civilized tactics while Grant and Sherman ushered in a new era of warfare that anticipated the blood baths of the twentieith century.
My noting Lee’s casualty statistics should not be interpreted as an attack of any kind. I tend to agree with Gary Gallagher’s analysis of Lee as a modern general who understood the importance of offensive, but costly operations as representing the best strategy given issues related to infrastructure, manpower, and the expectation of the civilian population. Still, one might conclude that Grant’s casualty figures demonstrate that he did indeed needlessly sacrifice his men in battle. Of course, you do not have to be an alcoholic to order large numbers of young men to their deaths. You could just as easily be a Virginia gentleman.