The War of Attrition
The War of Attrition
Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, Mississippi, organizing the Union troops in commanding strategic position on the bluffs overlooking the river. The siege was successful. On July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union troops gained control of the Mississippi River and effectively cut the western Confederacy off from coming to Lee’s aid. In 1864, Lincoln named General Grant supreme commander of the Union Army.
Because he knew that the Union had the advantage of numbers, Grant’s strategy was to fight a war of attrition. No matter how many men the Union lost, they could be replaced, while the South had no pool from which it could draw reinforcements. Therefore, every casualty was far more costly to the South than to the North. People described Grant as a butcher because so many of his men were lost—60,000 in one month of 1864—but they agreed that he would never back down. The Union was winning the war of attrition.
As Grant marched toward Richmond, General William Tecumseh Sherman marched toward Atlanta, destroying important railroads and factories that lay in his path. Sherman’s men burned the city of Atlanta after they captured it. This Union victory helped to ensure President Lincoln’s reelection. Sherman’s men then continued east, taking the port city of Savannah in December. Because Sherman attacked important economic assets and resources—ware- houses, stores of food, railroads—civilians throughout the South suffered. Sherman’s strategy was effective, but it strengthened the deep hatred southerners felt toward “Yankees.”
In April 1865, Richmond fell. Unable to get his troops through Union lines to regroup, General Lee surrendered to General Grant. The terms of surrender were signed at the courthouse in the little village of Appomattox, Virginia. To look at the two generals on that day, no one would have imagined that Grant was the victor: he wore a creased, stained, common soldier’s uniform that had seen much hard wear in battle, while Lee was resplendent in full-dress Con- federate grays, a ceremonial sword at his side.
Grant was generous in victory. He ordered his troops to share their rations with the Confederate soldiers, many of whom were starving. He also insisted that southern soldiers be allowed to keep their guns, horses, and mules so that they would be able to hunt for food and to rebuild their farms as they returned to civilian life.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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