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Grant's state of mind at Donelson

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  • aldrichr@dsmo.com
    I am reading Grant s Memoirs side by side with Buell s Warrior Generals (Western Theater 1861-62 chapters). There is quite a contrast between the two
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 17, 2000
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      I am reading Grant's Memoirs side by side with Buell's "Warrior
      Generals" (Western Theater 1861-62 chapters). There is quite a
      contrast between the two portrayals of Grant. Unfortunately, while
      Buell writes very well, he doesn't footnote, so it's difficult to
      evaluate his opinions. Buell's description of Grant's mental state
      on the eve of the surrender of Fort Donelson is diametrically opposed
      to Grant's.

      (This part I'm giving from memory, so some details may be wrong.)
      The two books generally agree on the physical facts: On the day
      before the surrender, Grant left his troops in front of Fort Donelson
      to go consult with Commodore Foote at the gunboats. (The previous
      day, the gunboats had been badly shot up by cannon and Foote was
      wounded.) While Grant was gone the Confederates tried to cut their
      way out, attacking McClernand's division on the Union right.
      Wallace's division eventually came to their assistance from the
      center and stopped the breakout. When Grant returned in late
      afternoon, he sized up the situation and ordered Smith to advance on
      the left, where Smith's division took over the enemies' ill-defended
      outer fortifications on his front.

      Where Grant's Memoirs and Buell's book differ is in their portrayal
      of Grant's state of mind. According to Grant, after Smith's success
      on the left flank - and knowing the ineptness of Floyd and Pillow -
      Grant was confident he had the battle won. By contrast, Buell
      portrays Grant as depressed, almost panicky - feeling that, with the
      damage to the gunboats, the almost-successful breakout attempt, and
      bad weather, the mission was on the brink of failure.

      In fact, the failure of the breakout - and the quick Union
      counterpunch - had so demoralized the Confederate command that Gens.
      Floyd and Pillow (the commander and second in command of the
      Confederate forces) slipped away, leaving the third in command, Gen.
      Buckner, in charge. The next morning, Buckner asked for terms (and
      was compelled to offer "unconditional surrender").

      I'm left wondering, was this a result that Grant expected as the
      natural outcome of his persistent strike at a known weak point
      (Grant's version), or was he totally surprised by a stroke of
      (undeserved) good luck after a mismanaged campaign? Is there any way
      of establishing the truth?

      Sincerely,

      Bob Aldrich
    • aldrichr@dsmo.com
      I am reading Grant s Memoirs side by side with Buell s Warrior Generals (Western Theater 1861-62 chapters). There is quite a contrast between the two
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 17, 2000
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        I am reading Grant's Memoirs side by side with Buell's "Warrior
        Generals" (Western Theater 1861-62 chapters). There is quite a
        contrast between the two portrayals of Grant. Unfortunately, while
        Buell writes very well, he doesn't footnote, so it's difficult to
        evaluate his opinions. Buell's description of Grant's mental state
        on the eve of the surrender of Fort Donelson is diametrically opposed
        to Grant's.

        (This part I'm giving from memory, so some details may be wrong.)
        The two books generally agree on the physical facts: On the day
        before the surrender, Grant left his troops in front of Fort Donelson
        to go consult with Commodore Foote at the gunboats. (The previous
        day, the gunboats had been badly shot up by cannon and Foote was
        wounded.) While Grant was gone the Confederates tried to cut their
        way out, attacking McClernand's division on the Union right.
        Wallace's division eventually came to their assistance from the
        center and stopped the breakout. When Grant returned in late
        afternoon, he sized up the situation and ordered Smith to advance on
        the left, where Smith's division took over the enemies' ill-defended
        outer fortifications on his front.

        Where Grant's Memoirs and Buell's book differ is in their portrayal
        of Grant's state of mind. According to Grant, after Smith's success
        on the left flank - and knowing the ineptness of Floyd and Pillow -
        Grant was confident he had the battle won. By contrast, Buell
        portrays Grant as depressed, almost panicky - feeling that, with the
        damage to the gunboats, the almost-successful breakout attempt, and
        bad weather, the mission was on the brink of failure.

        In fact, the failure of the breakout - and the quick Union
        counterpunch - had so demoralized the Confederate command that Gens.
        Floyd and Pillow (the commander and second in command of the
        Confederate forces) slipped away, leaving the third in command, Gen.
        Buckner, in charge. The next morning, Buckner asked for terms (and
        was compelled to offer "unconditional surrender").

        I'm left wondering, was this a result that Grant expected as the
        natural outcome of his persistent strike at a known weak point
        (Grant's version), or was he totally surprised by a stroke of
        (undeserved) good luck after a mismanaged campaign? Is there any way
        of establishing the truth?

        Sincerely,

        Bob Aldrich
      • Chris Huff
        Dear Bob, I m glad to hear that I m not the only one who finds Thomas Buell s assessments a little disturbing. I checked in the Bibliographical notes in the
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 17, 2000
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          Dear Bob,

          I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who finds Thomas Buell's
          assessments a little disturbing. I checked in the Bibliographical notes in
          the rear of his book and he cites Grant Papers v4 and volume 7 of O.R. 7 as
          his references for this section.

          Bob wrote:
          " Unfortunately, while > Buell writes very well, he doesn't footnote, so
          it's difficult to > evaluate his opinions. Buell's description of Grant's
          mental state > on the eve of the surrender of Fort Donelson is diametrically
          opposed > to Grant's."

          Whenever a book is not scrupulously footnoted it raises questions in my mind
          as to the author's intent to create a truly scholarly work or just put their
          understanding of events in print to sell quickly. Buell makes a stab at
          documentation with his notes but he's not real specific.

          And I've found that, while everyone can be guilty of "spin doctoring" their
          role in history in their memoirs, Grant seems to be one of the more candid
          authors. I also have found Buell somewhat inclined to artistic license when
          he deals with his subjects' thoughts. He often quotes his subjects while
          declining to indicate where that quote might be found in any document and
          freely draws his subjects' thoughts as though they were fictional
          characters. This is fine for high drama and entertaining writing, but makes
          for poor history.

          Bob wrote further:

          "> Where Grant's Memoirs and Buell's book differ is in their portrayal
          > of Grant's state of mind. According to Grant, after Smith's success
          > on the left flank - and knowing the ineptness of Floyd and Pillow -
          > Grant was confident he had the battle won. By contrast, Buell
          > portrays Grant as depressed, almost panicky...

          > I'm left wondering, was this a result that Grant expected as the
          > natural outcome of his persistent strike at a known weak point
          > (Grant's version), or was he totally surprised by a stroke of
          > (undeserved) good luck after a mismanaged campaign? Is there any way
          > of establishing the truth?"

          We can't possibly know what was in Gen. Grant's mind other than what he
          chooses to tell us himself. We can make some enlightened second guesses
          though, by reading through the primary sources which can be found in the
          O.R. and in other people's diaries. I'd loved to read the Grant papers but
          that requires a trip to the National Archives (as far as I know those
          documents have not made it to the web or into print). This journey into the
          past is fascinating and it's much more fun to draw my own conclusions about
          these situations after I've read the original stuff. My own limited
          experience has led me to disagree with some of Mr. Buell's assessments so
          it's not a bad idea to withhold judgement until you do some more research on
          your own.

          If you have access to a copy of the O.R., by all means read those dispatches
          and reports. They are, for the most part closest in time to just about
          anything else you will find and they make very entertaining reading giving
          you an insight you would not otherwise have.

          Chris Huff
          Atlanta, GA
        • Chris Huff
          Dear Bob, I m glad to hear that I m not the only one who finds Thomas Buell s assessments a little disturbing. I checked in the Bibliographical notes in the
          Message 4 of 4 , Oct 17, 2000
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            Dear Bob,

            I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who finds Thomas Buell's
            assessments a little disturbing. I checked in the Bibliographical notes in
            the rear of his book and he cites Grant Papers v4 and volume 7 of O.R. 7 as
            his references for this section.

            Bob wrote:
            " Unfortunately, while > Buell writes very well, he doesn't footnote, so
            it's difficult to > evaluate his opinions. Buell's description of Grant's
            mental state > on the eve of the surrender of Fort Donelson is diametrically
            opposed > to Grant's."

            Whenever a book is not scrupulously footnoted it raises questions in my mind
            as to the author's intent to create a truly scholarly work or just put their
            understanding of events in print to sell quickly. Buell makes a stab at
            documentation with his notes but he's not real specific.

            And I've found that, while everyone can be guilty of "spin doctoring" their
            role in history in their memoirs, Grant seems to be one of the more candid
            authors. I also have found Buell somewhat inclined to artistic license when
            he deals with his subjects' thoughts. He often quotes his subjects while
            declining to indicate where that quote might be found in any document and
            freely draws his subjects' thoughts as though they were fictional
            characters. This is fine for high drama and entertaining writing, but makes
            for poor history.

            Bob wrote further:

            "> Where Grant's Memoirs and Buell's book differ is in their portrayal
            > of Grant's state of mind. According to Grant, after Smith's success
            > on the left flank - and knowing the ineptness of Floyd and Pillow -
            > Grant was confident he had the battle won. By contrast, Buell
            > portrays Grant as depressed, almost panicky...

            > I'm left wondering, was this a result that Grant expected as the
            > natural outcome of his persistent strike at a known weak point
            > (Grant's version), or was he totally surprised by a stroke of
            > (undeserved) good luck after a mismanaged campaign? Is there any way
            > of establishing the truth?"

            We can't possibly know what was in Gen. Grant's mind other than what he
            chooses to tell us himself. We can make some enlightened second guesses
            though, by reading through the primary sources which can be found in the
            O.R. and in other people's diaries. I'd loved to read the Grant papers but
            that requires a trip to the National Archives (as far as I know those
            documents have not made it to the web or into print). This journey into the
            past is fascinating and it's much more fun to draw my own conclusions about
            these situations after I've read the original stuff. My own limited
            experience has led me to disagree with some of Mr. Buell's assessments so
            it's not a bad idea to withhold judgement until you do some more research on
            your own.

            If you have access to a copy of the O.R., by all means read those dispatches
            and reports. They are, for the most part closest in time to just about
            anything else you will find and they make very entertaining reading giving
            you an insight you would not otherwise have.

            Chris Huff
            Atlanta, GA
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