by Eric Byrd
On Facebook I follow a number of the US Department of the Interior's National Battlefield Parks, National Battle Sites, and Military Parks. In the progress of the Civil War's sesquicentennial each of these sites has had their day in the social media sun, their special anniversary posts with pictures of the commemorative ceremonies. In May and June it was the turn of the parks that memorialize the battles of Grant's Overland Campaign.
In the spring of 1864 Ulysses Grant came east, to personally oversee the destruction of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the veteran force that had in the previous two years baffled and humiliated every Federal drive on the rebel capitol of Richmond. Though baffled and humiliated – but never demoralized or destroyed, a distinction apparently lost on the aristocratic Lee – the eastern armies of the Union came on in early May and fought continuously for six weeks, chewing and choking “with a bulldog grip,” as Lincoln would exhort via telegraph.
By the end of June, when the exhausted armies began to dig in for a long siege of the last rail hub supplying Richmond, Grant had lost 55,000 men and Lee 33,000. About half of each army. Lincoln said Grant was the general who could “face the arithmetic.” Meaning he could fight all out, lose half his army while costing Lee half of his, replace his losses just when Lee could not, and then resume the offensive and finish the war. Grant, reflected one of his staff officers, “was assigned one of the most appalling tasks ever intrusted to a commander.”