Lee and Grant were career polar opposites: Lee graduated from West Point with high honors in 1829 and in his long, distinguished record personified the ideals of the Corps of Cadets and the army; Grant excelled only in horsemanship and washed out of the army amid charges of alcoholism. Lee became known as the greatest general of the American military; Grant won his war of attrition with an endless supply of raw cannon fodder provided by Lincoln.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Hammering Lee on the Anvil of Richmond
“Impelled by the relentless policy of total subjugation of the secessionist States, [Grant’s] movements took the form of four major attacks that gradually gathered headway along the front of Federal deployment from the Mississippi River to Chesapeake Bay. Poorly coordinated in their incipiency and pressed without guidance of objectives stating in military terms the long range plans of political policy . . . while slowly strangling the economic life of the South in the tightening grip of the blockade . . .
The Federal striking force aggregated in round numbers 300,000 effectives. The Confederates mustered some 145,000 troops for defense of threatened areas. The aggregate strength of the United States armies as estimated on the basis of returns during April 1864 . . . was 745,000. A similar computation gives a Confederate total of 303,367.
[Meade’s army] (a total of 120,000) were to advance under personal direction of the supreme commander [Grant] . . . and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (63,000) . . . [and] the Army of the James [33,000 under Butler] occupying the Confederate capital, if possible, or containing enemy troops that might otherwise move toward Lee.
Commanding a field force of 23,000 in the Shenandoah Valley, Major-General Franz Sigel was to act as a sort of flank guard on the right of the [Meade’s army] by advancing toward the Confederate rail center at Lynchburg. [The center] column under Sherman (100,000) would push from Chattanooga down the mountain corridor, destroying Joseph E. Johnston’s army (64,000) and breaking up the enemy’s war resources in Georgia.
On the right, [Gen. Nathaniel P.] Banks would disengage his column operating on the Red River, for assembly at New Orleans [and] deliver the rear attack through Mobile so insistently urged by Grant during the past year.
Grant was deprived of the dislocating effects of a rear attack through Mobile by Banks’ mismanagement of the Red River campaign, and was denied the assistance that should have been given by the supporting movements of Butler and Sigel, both of whom bungled their assignments within two weeks after his own crossing of the Rapidan [River].
Grant then had no other alternative but to hammer Lee on the anvil of Richmond while Sherman’s devouring host swept through the heartland of the South.”
(The Wilderness Campaign, The Meeting of Grant and Lee, Edward Steere, Stackpole Books, excerpts, pp. 14-18)