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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Was Grant more Intelligent than Lee?

Recently I was reading Wilson' Greene's excellent history of the VI Corps breatkthrough that ended the Siege of Petersburg on April 2, 1865.  Greene does a fine job of summarizing the action on the Petersburg front from the arrival of VI Corps to the breakthrough.  Just before reading his summary, I had finished reading four books on the battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864.  After reading his summary, I wondered, what possessed General Lee to approve Major General John Brown Gordon's proposed attack on Fort Stedman, which ended in disaster March 25, 1865?

General Grant recognized almost immediately after the battle of the Crater that fortifications almost held themselves.  Apparently Lee failed to come to the same conclusion.  Why not?

Was this a matter of his perspective?  That is, was this a matter of how he physically looked on the battle of the Crater, from the Gee house a few hundred yards to the west of the Crater, waiting for reinforcements to come up and seal the breachin his lines?

Or was this related to his general failure to understand the change that the rifled musket had made on the battlefield?  That is, was it related to Lee's failure to grasp that the defense now had a much bigger advantage over the offense than in Napoleonic (musket) times?

I fear it was the latter.  Gordon deserves no blame for his unrealistic plan.  He did not participate in the Siege of Petersburg in 1864.  He was fighting in the open in the Shenandoah Valley.  Lee, on the other hand, had personally observed the fighting at the Crater.  He ought to have known better.

One might say that Grant, despite his knowledge of the power of fortifications, ordered an assault all along his lines on April 2, 1865, but he knew that his enemy did not fully man those lines.  Lee and Gordon could not have labored under the illusion that they faced undermanned IX Corps lines at Fort Stedman.