Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Principles of War: US Grant

Yesterday I covered Albert Sidney Johnston in the Shiloh campaign based on a modern list of principles of war. Today its Grant's turn.

Objective: Did he direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective? Yes. On the first day it was more about holding ground when possible so that other parts of the army were not opened up to attack. This worked well with the exception of the Hornets' Nest and there Prentiss had an earlier opportunity to leave, he just held on to late. On the second day the objective is clear, recapture what was lost, this was attainable and was decisive.

Offensive: Did he seize, retain, and exploit the initiative? His opportunity for this comes on the second day and he does a wonderful job of doing this. On the first day Sherman and McClernand lead a counter attack that seizes and exploits the initiative but they do not retain it. They also act on their own so we cannot credit Grant with this.

Mass: Did he concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time? This one is a little tough to answer. He does do a good job of parceling out his reserve units on the first day sending Hurlbut to the far left and WHL Wallace into the center. A few other regiments and brigades are separated from their parent unit and are sent out to other portions of the field. But what is the decisive point on the battlefield? Yesterday I said for the Confederates it was the Peach Orchard as that then led to the fall of the Hornets' Nest. But perhaps the decisive point on the battlefield is the final line at Pittsburg Landing. In that case Beauregard did a poor job (Johnston was dead by this time) in that he did not commit to the attack and canceled the attack that was naturally being made. And then Grant does a good job because the final line has all available men ready for the attack. On the second day Grant really doesn't concentrate his men for a decisive blow, he simply swamps the Confederates with too many men (many of them fresh from Lew Wallace and Don Carlos Buell) all along the line. Overall I guess I would say that Grant did a good job with this principle.

Economy of Force: Did he allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts? In a sense there was no secondary efforts. Grant faced Confederates everywhere on both days so he had his men spread out roughly evenly both days. Not sure what he could have done differently on this front.

Maneuver: Did he place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power? Not sure what is meant by flexible application, Grant surely didn't shuffle men to overpower one particular point. On the first day he reinforced areas that needed it. On the second day his men were spread out everywhere, in about the same strength everywhere, there was just too many Union soldiers to be held back forever. I think I'll answer no for this one. After the battle he had an opportunity at Fallen Timbers to do more, especially if he had sent out more men than he did, so we should probably mark him down a bit for that as well.

Unity of Command: Did he ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander, for every objective? I think he did okay on this one and it was more by luck than be design. He did not assign a commander to an area he just ended up with relatively good commanders in each area. Sherman and McClernand did a good job on the right. WHL Wallace and Prentiss did not face as rough a task in the center as post battle writings would indicate but they did good with the task they faced. They stayed in the position longer than they needed to but they were following Grant's orders to the fullest ("hold at all hazards") I think Hurlbut did a good job on the left although he hardly seems to get any acclaim for it.

Security: Did he permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage? One of Grant's failings. The Confederates gained the unexpected advantage with the early morning attack. Grant and Sherman may later claim that they were prepared but the manner (slightly foreshadowing the next principle) definitely was a surprise.

Surprise: Did he strike the enemy at a time or place, or in a manner, for which he is unprepared? As I just mentioned Grant was on the receiving end on this one. The manner definitely surprised him and caught him unprepared. One could argue that the place was not so much a surprise as there was only a limited front the Confederates could attack, unless they went for Lew Wallace well north of the main camp. The place was unprepared as there were no entrenchments made prior to April 6th, some will be made that night. And the timing was a bit of a surprise. The evidence had been mounting that the Confederates were more active near the camps, so I think realistically Grant figured there would be some sort of fight in the coming week. But I think he imagined it as a fight between a few companies or regiments, not 100,000 men engaged for two full days. Grant's attack on the second day doe snot catch the Confederates unprepared, the only way he could have accomplished this is if he had made a flank attack, that would have meet the manner portion of the principle. But a flank attack would have been nearly impossible to make due to the creeks and swamps that defined the edges of the battlefield.

Simplicity: Did he prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding? A bit of both. Certainly Lew Wallace did not receive clear orders or there would not have been any controversy over his march. Most everyone else did get clear orders but those orders were rather simple, hold on as best you can and retreat slowly. Prentiss was told to hold to the last when Grant might have meant hold until it really didn't need to be held any more, but Grant probably hoped his final line might not be right at the Landing. If Hurlbut, Sherman and McClernand had been able to create a final line that connected to the Hornets' Nest position than those earlier orders were perfect. But once everyone else had retreated Prentiss should have joined them, he waited too long and it cost the army about 2000 men captured. As army commander Grant deserves some blame for Prentiss staying too long; once it was clear Prentiss was alone Grant probably should have sent orders to join everyone at the Landing.

In all I think Grant did a good job on four of the principles with one that was a bit of both. Yesterday I rated Johnston as good on three with two mixed. I'm not sure any commander fought a battle and met all nine principles. It'll be fun to tackle some other battles in the future, I hope to make a series of this, maybe doing a battle every other week, or as the mood strikes.

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