A Victor Not a Butcher

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I posted this review at Amazon.com.


One of my favorite figures from American history is Ulysses S. Grant.  He was the greatest general of the Civil War, and perhaps in American history, with three Confederate armies surrendering to him. He was not such a great president, though better than most give him credit for being. The corruption in American politics during his administration was not his fault and, in fact, was endemic throughout the country.  He did stand up for the rights of the freedmen and the native Americans, and this perhaps along with his victory over Lee accounts for the hostility with which many contemporary and Southern sympathizing historians have treated him. It is all too commonly believed, even today, that Grant was a butcher who defeated Lee by sheer weight of numbers, without regard to the casualties he inflicted.

Therefore, it was a real treat to read Edward H. Bonekemper’s Ulysses S. Grant:  a Victor, Not a Butcher. Bonekemper shows conclusively that far from being a butcher, Grant was, in fact a master of strategy and misdirection. In his western campaigns, Grant skillfully achieved his goals; the capture of Vicksburg and the Mississippi, driving the Confederates out of Tennessee, etc. with a minimum of casualties. The toll was heavier in the east, against Lee, but as Bonekemper points out, while Grant suffered as many deaths in the eighteen months he commanded the Army of the Potomac as all of the previous commanders had in three years, nevertheless, Grant had developed a winning strategy on a national level, which coordinated with Sherman’s march to the sea brought the South to its knees.

Some reviewers have commented that Bonekemper  brings nothing new in this book, no new research or any revelations to one already familiar to the course of the Civil War. This is true, but I think it serves as a helpful introduction to a sometimes-neglected military genius.

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