Pieces People Ask For/Grant's Strategy
Who had thought, until Grant said it, that the crisis comes in battle when both armies are nearly exhausted, and that usually the one wins which attacks first? When did he ever fail to attack first? Who had thought, until he suggested it, that the trouble with the Potomac army, the pride of the nation, was, that it had not fought its battles through? Who then living has forgotten the utter downfall of hope, the absolute despair throughout the North, as the moan from the Wilderness came rolling up on the southern breeze? Is the task hopeless? Is this last mighty effort only more disastrous than that of McClellan, of Pope, of Burnside, of Hooker? No! listen to the assurance, "I'll fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." Every loyal heart in the land is inspired. That telegram to the President was the death-knell of rebellion.
But the test-hour of Grant had not yet come. Meade was glorious, Sherman magnificent; but Sigel is routed, Butler has not succeeded, Banks utterly failed. Shall Grant unloose his grip? Never! Was it, then, less than the inspiration of genius? Sheridan, take the Sixth Corps, and clean out the valley so a "crow must take his rations when he flies over it." Meade, absorb the army of the James, and never let Lee escape. Sherman, march to the sea as a cyclone of devastation. Thomas, play with Hood until you draw him to destruction. Stoneman, take your bold riders across the mountains, into Virginia and the Carolinas, right across every line of supply to the enemy. Wilson, push your twelve thousand mounted men into the heart of Alabama. Canby, capture Mobile.
Such was the new combination, audacious in strategy beyond precedent; but, if faulty in any respect, military critics have not discovered it. Its perfection, and the result of the execution, stamp it forever with the insignia of genius. Masterly tactics, brilliant manœuvring, bold fighting, though essential to success after the combinations have produced the strategical situation, yet rarely cure material defect in the latter. If cured at all, it is generally by blunders of the enemy. Lee and Johnston, as defensive generals, were not blunderers. I pity the man who, in the face of the record, attacks General Grant as a master of grand strategy. I need not speak of his tactics. I believe mankind are agreed, that the history of war discloses no display of tactical skill and vigor superior to Grant's about Vicksburg, and from the 3d to the 9th of April, 1865, being directed to prevent General Lee's attempted escape from Petersburg and junction with Johnston in North Carolina. The annals of other wars seem tame when read by the side of the story of that week's work. It resulted in the despatch to Secretary Stanton, so simple and modest in language, yet the most momentous of all history: "General Lee surrendered the army of Northern Virginia this afternoon on terms proposed by myself." The work was done, and how completely done,—done precisely as planned; not an element, not a vestige, of luck in it. Every army was at the precise place designed, with the exact work accomplished that was marked out for it. Method, plan, design, exclude the idea of luck. Let us in humble reverence say, as the truth was, the God of nations blessed General Grant in his awful undertaking.