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THBT: Over the course of the American Civil War, US Grant's generalship proved to be superior to the generalship of RE Lee

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With 2 votes and 6 points ahead, the winner is ...

oromagi
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THBT: Over the course of the American Civil War, US Grant's generalship proved to be superior to the generalship of RE Lee.

DEFINITIONS:
The AMERICAN CIVIL WAR was "a civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865, fought between the northern United States (loyal to the Union) and the southern United States (that had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy)."

ULYSSES S. GRANT was "an American soldier and politician who served as the 18th president of the United States from 1869 to 1877. Before his presidency, Grant led the Union Army as Commanding General of the United States Army in winning the American Civil War."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_S._Grant

ROBERT E LEE was "an American and Confederate soldier, best known as a commander of the Confederate States Army. He commanded the Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until its surrender in 1865."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Lee

GENERALSHIP [noun] is "the skills or performance of a good general; military leadership, strategy."
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/generalship

SUPERIOR [adjective] is "higher in quality."

BURDEN of PROOF
Burden of Proof is shared.
PRO must prove that Grant was superior to Lee in military leadership.
CON must prove that Lee was superior to Grant in military leadership.

No alternative approaches are invited (i.e.' Sherman was superior to both', or 'Jackson was the only true leader of men', etc)

PRO is requesting sincere and friendly engagement on this subject.

No trolls or kritiks, please.

- RULES --
1. Forfeit=auto loss
2. Sources may be merely linked in debate as long as citations are listed in comments
3. No new args in R3
4. For all relevant terms, individuals should use commonplace understandings that fit within the rational context of this resolution and debate

Round 1
Pro
Thanks to christianm for accepting this debate!

THBT: Over the course of the American Civil War, US Grant's generalship proved to be superior to the generalship of RE Lee.

I.  GRANT WON the WAR

  • Grant was the winningest general of the war, defeating six confederate armies.
  • Only three entire armies surrendered during the war's course from Bull Run to Appomattox:
    • Buckner’s at Fort Donelson,
    • Pemberton’s at Vicksburg, and
    • Lee’s at Appomattox.
      • All three surrenders were Confederate surrenders to  US Grant.
"As the byproduct of a string of battlefield victories, he forced the unconditional surrender of three enemy armies something no other general officer in American history ever accomplished." [1]
  • The number one job of any general is to be victorious in the event of war. 
    • Grant did his job.
    • Lee did not.
II. GRANT BEAT LEE in the HEAD-to-HEAD CONTEST

  • After Lincoln gave Grant command of the whole Union army in March 1864, Grant chose to stay with Meade's Army of the Potomac.
    • Grant did not underestimate Lee as an enemy
    • Grant coordinated six simultaneous attacks to keep Lee and Johnston from reinforcement
      1. Meade & Grant occupied Lee
      2. Butler occupied the defenses at Richmond
      3. Sigel marched up the Shenandoah Valley
      4. Crook flanked in WV
      5. Sherman faced Johnston over Atlanta
      6. Banks captured Mobile, AL
  • Unlike all previous Union commanders of the Army of the Potomac, Grant did not pause after battle with Lee
"Although previous Union campaigns in Virginia targeted the Confederate capital of Richmond as their primary objective, this time the goal was to capture Richmond by aiming for the destruction of Lee's army. Lincoln had long advocated this strategy for his generals, recognizing that the city would certainly fall after the loss of its principal defensive army. Grant ordered Meade, "Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.""  [2]

"Although disappointed by the tactical setbacks, Grant refused to accept defeat, and in doing so transformed the battle into a strategic victory for the Union. When a general worried about Lee's next move, Grant tersely replied, "I am heartily tired of hearing what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land on our rear and on both our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do. And what Grant did, instead of retreating as the Army of the Potomac had always done in the past, was march south. When the troops realized what was happening, they wildly and spontaneously cheered Grant. The Northern press followed suit, praising the general-in-chief's determination to confront Lee." [3]
  • Grant's maneuver proved irresistible: Four times, Grant engaged Lee with his right while sending whatever he could left (South) to try to get between Lee and Richmond.  In the space of six weeks Lee was forced to Petersburg, where he could either maneuver or keep Richmond but he could not do both. 
    • That is, in just over 6 weeks, Grant's strategy and initiative achieved what McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade could not accomplish in the 3 years prior.  Victory was inevitable after this although the siege lasted another nine months.
III. EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS of GENERALS, "MONEYBALL" STYLE

"Inspired by baseball sabermetrics, I opted to use a system of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR is often used as an estimate of a baseball player’s contributions to his team. It calculates the total wins added (or subtracted) by the player compared to a replacement-level player. For example, a baseball player with 5 WAR contributed 5 additional wins to his team, compared to the average contributions of a high-level minor league player. WAR is far from perfect, but provides a way to compare players based on one statistic.  

I used Wikipedia’s lists of battles as a starting point. While not comprehensive, Wikipedia’s lists include 3,580 unique battles and 6619 generals, which provided a sufficient sample to create a model. I then developed a function that could scrape key information for each battle, including all of the commanders involved in the battle, the total forces available to those commanders, and the outcome of the battle. The resulting dataset provided a large sample of battles to create a baseline (replacement-level) performance, against which I would compare the performance of individual generals." [4]
"Grant's performance commanding Union troops in 16 battles earned him the seventh spot on the list – and the U.S. presidency. Although his performance on the battlefield is clearly much better than those of his contemporaries, it should be noted that his Civil War arch-rival, Robert E. Lee, is so far below him on the list that he actually has a negative score." [5]
"Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army, finished with a negative WAR (-1.89), suggesting an average general would have had more success than Lee leading the Confederacy’s armies. Lee was saddled with considerable disadvantages, including a large deficit in the size of his military and available resources. Still, his reputation as an adept tactician is likely undeserved, and his WAR supports the historians who have criticized his overall strategy and handling of key battles, such as ordering the disastrous ‘Pickett’s Charge’ on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. In the words of University of South Carolina professor Thomas Connely, “One ponders whether the South may not have fared better had it possessed no Robert E. Lee.”  [6]
IV.  GRANT ADAPTED TACTICALLY; LEE DID NOT

  • The Civil War is correctly characterized as a tactically transitional war.
    • The war began with generals on both side who read  their Von Clausewitz and emulated Napoleon. 
      • Wars were won by speed and aggression:
        • Summed up in Forest's axiom: "I always make it a rule to get there first with the most men
        • However, significant improvements in
          • musket and cannon range and accuracy due to rifling,
          • reload rates due to percussion caps, and
          • lethality due to ease with which minie ball ammunition shattered bone and penetrated flesh
            • increased the range at which an infantry line could deliver destruction five-fold,
              • making direct charges increasingly less successful. 
      • A generation of generals who learned to succeed by constant offensive failed to adapt to the new, profound advantage to well-entrenched defenders.
      • Grant acquired an reputation as a butcher who favored frontal assaults but should remember that Grant was always on the offensive,
        • he fought every battle as an invader not a defender. 
      • Lee chose the offensive even when the overall strategic goal should have been preserve the Confederacy until the US gave up- a defensive objective. 
      • Grant should have the far higher casualty rate as the attacker but in fact Grant's losses in terms of real numbers and percentages are far better than Lee's.
By imposing 191,000 casualties on his opponents, Grant achieved a plus-37,000 margin. Considering the breadth and depth of Grant’s successes in a necessarily offensive mode, even a negative-37,000 margin would have been expected and militarily acceptable. What he achieved with his tolerable losses was amazing.  Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson, who shed light on Grant and Lee’s casualties in their book Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage, point out that an average of “only” 15 percent of Grant’s Federal troops were killed or wounded in his major campaigns over the course of the war, a total of slightly more than 94,000 men. In contrast, Lee had greater casualties both in percentages and real numbers: An average of 20 percent of his troops were killed or wounded in his major campaigns, a total of more than 121,000 (far more than any other Civil War general). Lee had 80,000 of his men killed or wounded in his first 14 months in command (about the same number he started with)." [7]
        • Grant saw the entire theater of war and his strategies reflect national perspectives, particularly the prioritization of Vicksburg and the coordinated attacks of 1864. 
        • Lee's strategic scope seldom ranged beyond his beloved state and army of Virginia and Richmond.
"Grant is considered Americas' first modern general, leading from a central command center, using common sense, and delivering coordinated attacks on the enemies armies." [8]

V.  CONCLUSION

  • Grant's reputation garnered less of the romantic deification that Lincoln and Lee acquired during the war.  Grant had little of Lee's charisma or McLellan's erudition but
  • Grant won the Civil War through
    • stubborn single-mindedness,
      • an absolute focus on his target
    • Clarity of purpose
      • Grant's objectives and orders were famously laconic, direct and unmistakable
    • superior resourcefulness,
      • Grant practiced a policy of maximum utilization,
        • particularly demonstrated by the use of all available soldiers on every front.
      • Less than any other Civil War general, Grant saw little value in reserves
    • unshakeable fortitude and guts
"A famous anecdote encapsulates Grant's unflinching attitude to temporary setbacks and his tendency for offensive action. Sometime after midnight, Sherman encountered Grant standing under a tree, sheltering himself from the pouring rain and smoking one of his cigars, while considering his losses and planning for the next day. Sherman remarked, "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" Grant looked up. "Yes," he replied, followed by a puff. "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though. [9]
“In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten. Then he who continues the attack wins.” [10]

  • In spite of popular reputation, Grant merits full credit for the Union victory and was the best general of the Civil War.
I look forward to CON's R1

SOURCES in COMMENTS

Con
Thanks to oromagi for starting this debate.

Reasons for Union Victory

Grant won the war—but hardly due to his ability as a tactician. The Union had a larger population, an industrial economy, and more natural resources [1]. In 1863, at the peak of troop strength, the Union army had twice as many soldiers as the Confederates [2].

Grant's Ability as a General

Pro's empirical Analysis of Generals comes from a blog post from someone named Ethan Arsht [3]. This amounts to little more than one man's opinion, and we have only Arsht's word to go on—he gives us only a general overview of his method and his results, but not a comprehensive list of data used. As such, it's impossible to recreate his results. It's important to note that this ranks Napoleon as the top general of all time despite his huge tactical blunder of invading Russia without adequately preparing for the winter [4]. Furthermore, the data used to calculate each general's score also factors in only the size of each division in their army. This leads to obvious problems, since the importance of a navy or an air force varies greatly depending on where and when a battle occurrs.

Despite ignoring the consensus from most historians in favor of the data plot he likely made in less than a week, Arsht admits:

Lee was saddled with considerable disadvantages, including a large deficit in the size of his military and available resources.
Again, the north had more natural resources and an industrial economy. By failing to account for these factors, Arsht's plot is mere speculation that would only be taken seriously in a middle school science fair. He also quotes Thomas L. Connely, but this is just an argument from authority. A quote from one professor doesn't prove anything one way or another.

Grant also made a series of decisions that were fairly obvious, especially after the failures of earlier generals [4]. He was aggressive and used as many of his forces as he could against a smaller army, but this is hardly anything clever. Lincoln had already advised his general to move quicker, and we could just as easily credit the win to him.

Grant's overland campaign required a great number of troops [5]. He told Lincoln that "It was necessary to have a great number of troops to guard and hold the territory we had captured, and to prevent incursions into the northern states." The north, with its huge population advantage, had no trouble adopting such a strategy. Meanwhile, Lee had to make the best of a smaller army and inferior equipment.

The Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed as the turning point of the war [6]. George Meade won this battle, not Grant. In fact, Grant wasn't even promoted to General-in-Chief until a year later [7]. Similarly, General Winfield Scott devised the Anaconda plan to blockade the Confederacy years before [7]. It's easy to give Grant credit for doing an average job when the Union generals before him had done a horrendous job of implementing Lincoln's basic objectives—after all, an average job is all that was required. But it's all that Grant did; he was far from exceptional.

Lee's Ability as a General

As historian David C. Ward states [8]:

Lee is usually accounted the superior commander. He scored outrageous victories against the Army of the Potomac up until Gettysburg 1863, fighting against superior numbers and better supplied troops. His victory at Chancellorsville, where he divided his army three times in the face of the enemy while being outnumbered three to one, is a master class in the use of speed and maneuver as a force multiplier.
When numbers were more even (and often when they weren't), Lee pulled ahead. In the battle of Antietam, Lee was outnumbered but forced a draw [9]. Lee won at Chancellorsville despite being outnumbered two to one, managing to surround Union troops [10].

Grant was prepared for a decisive victory due to his greater numbers and believed he would have an advantage in a war of attrition with more resources to resupply from [11]. When Grant tried to sneak around Lee's forces in order to attack the Confederate Capitol, Lee surprised him, and the Union army suffered 700 more casualties than the Confederates [12].

Ward also states:

Lee also had the difficult task of implementing a strategy to win the war that required him to invade the northern states, which he did twice. Lee also had the difficult task of implementing a strategy to win the war that required him to invade the northern states, which he did twice. He knew the South couldn’t just sit back and hold what it had: the North was too strong and some sort of early end to the war had to be found, probably a negotiated peace after a shock Union defeat in Pennsylvania or Maryland.
Lee's invasion of the North failed—but the war was a losing one for the Confederacy anyway. When Union troops invaded the South, they engaged in total war, burning homes and destroying civilian property [13]. No shock victory in the north occurred—but pursuing one was a strategy with better odds than anything else.

The Big Picture

Lee's accomplishments consisted of outmaneuvering greater forces with far greater resources. Grant won battles where he had a clear advantage in numbers. Proponents of Grant argue that he looked at the "big picture," utilizing his array of resources to his advantage. But the "big picture" was already there. Grant didn't pass the Civil War Conscription Act [14]. Grant didn't sign the Emancipation Proclamation [15], causing southern slaves to run to the north and join the Union army. Lincoln had repeatedly told his generals to be more aggressive [16]. All Grant did was not screw things up the way earlier Union generals had. A trained monkey could've done what Grant did. On the other hand, Lee's superior tactical and strategical abilities allowed him to hold off the Union army as long as he did.

Conclusion

The Confederate Army was holding off a vastly superior military force, and Lee dragged out what should have been a swift defeat for four years. Grant had twice as many resources, and he was simply willing to use them. Was Grant a tactical genius? No. Did he have to be? Of course not. If emancipation had relied on the tactical abilities of one Union general, we would be living in a very different world.
Round 2
Pro
Thanks christianm!


I.  GRANT WON the WAR

Grant won the war—but hardly due to his ability as a tactician.
  • More due to Grant's strategic talents than tactics.  Lee lost because of his overreliance on tactics.  
    • Grant saw the big picture.  Lee did not.
    • CON does not dispute that WINNING the WAR is the ultimate test of success as a general.
The Union had a larger population, an industrial economy, and more natural resources. In 1863, at the peak of troop strength, the Union army had twice as many soldiers as the Confederates
  • But as Marathon, Agincourt, the Winter War and Vietnam teach us, geography is not destiny.  Lee had the advantages of interior lines across incredibly difficult and defendable terrain, superior morale, food supplies, and home field advantage.  Lee forgot what Grant never did:  the South was a fortress that the North had to conquer, whereas the South only needed to survive that siege.  Lee overdefended Virginia and invaded the North at the expense of the crucial Western theater, which neglect Grant exploited to divide the South twice, first along the Mississippi and then again at Atlanta.  Grant's bigger picture thinking won the war.
II. GRANT BEAT LEE in the HEAD-to-HEAD CONTEST

  • CON dropped all of these arguments, particularly:
    • Grant's grand, coordinated six point offensive
    • Grant made Lee the goal, not Richmond
    • Grant did in 6 weeks what 5 previous US generals couldn't do in 3 years: confine Lee
III. EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS of GENERALS, "MONEYBALL" STYLE

 [Arsht] gives us only a general overview of his method and his results, but not a comprehensive list of data used.... the data used to calculate each general's score also factors in only the size of each division
  • As Arsht states, [Moneyball style] "is far from perfect, but provides a way to compare players based on one statistic."
    • CON argues 7 times that the Union had the numerical advantage but then dismisses Arsht's rational approach towards evaluating that advantage.
    • No, Arsht isn't claiming to be comprehensive, but the data gives a pretty succinct picture:
      • In 16 major battles, Grant only lost one and seldom engaged until he he had a numerical advantage
      • In 27 major battles, Lee only won 8 and lost some battles he  clearly should have won (like Cheat Mountain and Malvern Hill, for example)
this ranks Napoleon as the top general of all time despite his huge tactical blunder of invading Russia 
  • If overextension to Russia should cost Napoleon his reputation, why shouldn't Lee's overextension to Antietam and then again to Gettysburg not cost Lee his reputation? 
  • Of course, Lee himself also ranked Napoleon as the top general of all time.
  • Of 43 major battles, Napoleon only lost 5, 23 standard deviations above an average general's performance.
  • Lee is the second most prolific general in history with 27 battles but lost more battles than an average general's performance would suggest.  Unlike Grant or Napoleon, Lee fought some battles he should not have fought and lost some battles he should have won.
  • Lee is more comparable to Hannibal-tactically brilliant while losing his country entirely, except that Hannibal won more often than Lee.
 By failing to account for [natural resources and an industrial economy] Arsht's plot is mere speculation
  • Wouldn't making estimates of the influence of natural resources on  a battle's outcome require even more speculation?
  • Ultimately, win/loss in battle is the most important factor to any army's consideration.
Grant also made a series of decisions that were fairly obvious, especially after the failures of earlier generals. He was aggressive and used as many of his forces as he could against a smaller army, but this is hardly anything clever.
  • That's quite false.  
    • Grant took Paducah, KY four days after being given his first command of untrained volunteers and without waiting for orders.
    • Without orders, Grant raided Belmont against a Confederate force nearly twice that of Grant's
    • Against Halleck's direct orders, Grant ran his volunteers to Fort Donelson, the most heavily fortified position in KY against a superior force during an ice storm and won the first of three total surrenders, won Kentucky for the North permanently, opened up the Mississippi to Federal gunboats and earned the nickname "Unconditional Surrender."  For his trouble, he was demoted but Lincoln insisted he be given command.
    • After Shiloh, Grant was the first US General to understand that the South would not relent given a sufficient punch in the nose but would fight until utterly conquered.  Even Lee wasn't thinking that way, "war to the death" until  after Antietam.
The Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed as the turning point of the war. George Meade won this battle, not Grant. In fact, Grant wasn't even promoted to General-in-Chief until a year later.
  • CON has neglected to read his own source:
    • "[Gettysburg] involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war's turning point due to the Union's decisive victory and concurrence with the Siege of Vicksburg."
  • Almost all historians blame Lee for Gettysburg.
  • As the great Shelby Foote famously declared,
    • "Gettysburg was the price the South paid for Robert E. Lee."
    • Gettysburg was Lee's second attempt to  unwisely force a decisive victory from the Union, rather than settle for stalemate via attrition.
      • " Lee rode out to meet the remains of the division and proclaimed, "All this has been my fault."   He had no choice but to withdraw, and he escaped Meade's ineffective pursuit, slipping back into Virginia."
  • The fall of Vicksburg, however, was entirely Grant's plan and achievement.
    • Particularly, outflanking the heavy defenses at Grand Gulf and frightening Johnston into splitting his remaining forces at Jackson, MS in the week before the siege were brilliant maneuvers entirely credited to Grant.
    • As Lincoln put it,
      • "Vicksburg is the key. ...The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket."
    • On July 5th, Meade still faced a diminished Army of Northern Virginia but Grant has opened the Mississippi.
      • Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas were cut away from the South, isolated by Federal gunboats.
      • Now, corn and cattle and cotton could move from New Orleans to Chicago unimpeded.  Regular trade with France and England could resume and those nations stopped considering any further military or political intervention.
 Grant wasn't even promoted to General-in-Chief until a year later

  • That's because Grant was busy winning at Chattanooga, which secured Tennessee for the North and opened up the road to Atlanta.  
    • Let's note that Grant, the victor of Vicksburg was promoted OVER Meade, the victor of Gettysburg.
    • Let's also note that the only other general given a full field commission of this rank was George Washington and only after Lincoln was certain that Grant would not run for President in 1864. 
    • As Lincoln famously attested after Shiloh, "I can't spare this man, he fights."
IV.  GRANT ADAPTED TACTICALLY; LEE DID NOT

  • CON dropped entirely PRO's argument that
    • Grant was America's first thoroughly modern general and
    • Grant's lasting impact on US warfare in the 20th century
    • Grant lost fewer men than Lee in spite of constant offensive in an age with more modern weapons ranges
V.  CONCLUSION

  • CON dropped entirely PRO's argument that Grant  won the Civil War through
    • stubborn single-mindedness,
      • an absolute focus on his target
    • Clarity of purpose
      • Grant's objectives and orders were famously laconic, direct and unmistakable
    • superior resourcefulness,
      • Grant practiced a policy of maximum utilization,
        • particularly demonstrated by the use of all available soldiers on every front.
      • Less than any other Civil War general, Grant saw little value in reserves
    • unshakeable fortitude and guts
I look forward to CON's R2.

SOURCES in COMMENTS


Con
Reasons for Union Victory

Winning the war is the ultimate goal of a general but doesn't say anything about whether that general is better than his opponent. We can't even infer this from the casualty rate. Pro claims that Napoleon is the best general of all time, but Mikhail Kutuzov beat him in Russia (and Napoleon had a great many casualties). If a great general is fighting a losing war against a decent general, the decent general will win. There are too many other factors at play and wars are rarely won by generals alone.

Pro claims that the south had the upper hand, not the north. Claiming that fighting a defensive war was a big advantage, he cites an opinion article [1] that does not link to any sources or data. The Union, with its superior equipment, could easily turn this into a Northern advantage by blockading southern ports [2] and engaging in total war (stealing food, destroying property, etc.) [3]. The south had food supplies because of its agrarian economy but couldn't trade its main export: cotton [4]. The north, with cotton and iron reserves, as well as an industrial economy, could produce weapons much more easily [5]. The north also controlled the navy [6]. Despite the South having a reason to fight for their homeland, the north was motivated too: America was their homeland, and they wanted to preserve it. Children under 18 broke the law to fight in the war, sneaking into both the Union and Confederate armies [6]. Despite what my opponent claims, both sides were very motivated.

Grant's head-to-head defeat of Lee was inevitable due to greater troop strength, more supplies, and a bigger population to draw from. Grant came in after Meade had already taken Gettysburg [7].

"Moneyball" Analysis

The opinion article my opponent links to [8] is still not a reliable source. Arsht does not provide all the data used so that his results can be recreated. It also ignores the major industrial advantage of the north. Yes, I'm speculating here, but so is Arsht without accounting for a major northern advantage. His data shouldn't be used in this debate at all.

  • If overextension to Russia should cost Napoleon his reputation, why shouldn't Lee's overextension to Antietam and then again to Gettysburg not cost Lee his reputation? 
Invading Russia was a stupid move that never should have happened in the first place. Lee's extension into the North was a necessary effort if there was any hope of a shock victory forcing the northern states into submission, even if it was carried out improperly.

As historian David C. Ward states [9]:

Lee also had the difficult task of implementing a strategy to win the war that required him to invade the northern states, which he did twice. He knew the South couldn’t just sit back and hold what it had: the North was too strong and some sort of early end to the war had to be found, probably a negotiated peace after a shock Union defeat in Pennsylvania or Maryland.
I don't think Napoleon was a terrible general given his other successes, and I don't think Lee was stupid to look up to him. But even if Napoleon was the greatest general of all time, a move like Russia should mean he ranks significantly closer to the second-best, Julius Caesar. Pro states that "winning the war" is the best test of a general's abilities, and then ignores Napoleon's invasion of Russia, which was entirely his fault.

Grant took initiative, yes, but he was also reckless. The battle at Belmont was inconclusive and futile [10]. He also waited to do this until his commanding officer was discharged. Grant also took Fort Donelson mostly due to General Pillow's poor command [11]. Pro's source states that:

the Confederate advance stalled, and Grant was able to rally the Union troops to keep the southerners from escaping.
This was after General Foote had begun attacking the fort, giving time for Grant to surround it. They were already on the run by the time Grant stopped them.

A smart general would have been more conservative when they weren't given orders to attack. However, when in charge of the entire Union army, it would be common sense to be more aggressive as Lincoln had been urging his generals to do already.

Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Jackson and Chattanooga

Gettysburg is a strike against Lee, but it's not a point in favor of Grant. Even so, it's hard to say that a good general would have tried to avoid the situation altogether. The Union won the battle due to artillery fire and superior equipment [12]. If Lee hadn't invaded the North, things would have come out roughly the same as the north had the population and resources to outlast the South. If any alternate history exists where the South came out ahead, it's likely one where a shock victory was won in the North.

The Vicksburg campaign was part of the Anaconda plan [13]. General Grant did not come up with this plan [14]. Grant made five attempts to take Vicksburg by water; they all failed [15]. Grant finally won due to having a superior number of troops [16]:

Preparing for a long siege, his army constructed 15 miles of trenches and enclosed Pemberton’s force of 29,000 men inside the perimeter. It was only a matter of time before Grant, with 70,000 troops, captured Vicksburg.
That Grant couldn't take Vicksburg earlier is embarrassing.

Grant didn't "frighten" Johnston into splitting his forces at Jackson, Johnston had a reputation for defeatism and didn't believe the city could be defended [17]. Grant had nothing to do with this, Johnston was just an idiot.

Lincoln sent Grant specifically to break the siege at Chattanooga; this wasn't any "big picture" thinking on his part. In fact, Grant won this battle due to the actions of his soldiers, not his own tactical ability. Specifically [18]:

On November 25, Grant ordered Thomas's Army of the Cumberland to make a diversionary attack only to take the "rifle pits" on Missionary Ridge. However, after the soldiers took the rifle pits, they proceeded on their own initiative without orders to make a successful frontal assault straight up Missionary Ridge...Although the valiant frontal assault was successful, Grant was initially upset because he did not give direct orders for the men to take Missionary Ridge; however, he was satisfied with their results.
This wasn't Grants accomplishment; he was just in charge and got to take credit.

Grant was promoted over Meade because in most other cases, Meade wasn't very aggressive [19]. He waited for Lee to come to him! Grant was a decent general, I don't dispute that. Compared to other Union generals, he was exactly what Lincoln wanted.

Influence on Modern Warfare

Of course Grant's army was more modern; the north had an industrial economy while the south had an agrarian one. It's important to note that historians don't just study successful strategies; Napoleon's invasion of Russia is often studied as well despite being a complete failure [20]. Due to industry, it makes sense that Grant's tactics would be more applicable today, but there are plenty of articles analyzing Lee's tactics as well [21]. So far, Pro hasn't linked to any source explaining Grant's influence on modern warfare, so there's not much for me to respond to.

Conclusion: Big Picture vs. Tactics

My opponent has focused on two factors: (1) Which General saw the big picture better, and (2) Which General used better tactics. Pro doesn't deny Lee's tactical ability but claims that (1) is more important and that Grant was more focused on his target. But Lee was focused and determined as well. He was willing to take a huge risk and heavy losses attacking the north. He was willing to endure heavy losses and the destruction of civilian property. And he had been losing longer than Grant had been in charge of the Union army. It's easy to have high morale when your army is winning and your economy isn't being crushed. Furthermore, most of Grant's "big picture" thinking was based on plans devised by other people.

Sources in Comments
Round 3
Pro
I.  GRANT WON

Winning the war...doesn't say anything about whether that general is better than his opponent.
  • Disagree.   A general's capacity to win battles, especially against the odds, is a defining quality in good generals.
We can't even infer this from the casualty rate. 
  • Disagree.  Knowing when to reserve forces and when to spend lives for  military advantage is another defining quality in good generals.
Pro claims that the south had the upper hand
  • This is false.
    • PRO argues that the South had significant defensive advantages in terms of geography, agriculture, and morale that ought to have been exploited by a more defensive posture (as Gen. Longstreet continually counselled).
    • Virginia was expendable to the South in a way that the Mississippi blockade, Chattanooga, and Atlanta were not because that was the only trade route by rail across the interior, but Lee deprioritized and lost all of these lynchpins and the with them, the Southern Interior,  before giving up his hometown.  Grant prioritized the destruction of the Southern interior trade routes and so won the war.
II. HEAD-to-HEAD

  • CON dropped all of this argument except to say that Grant's victory was inevitable
"due to greater troop strength, more supplies, and a bigger population to draw from."
  • Let's note that this continually repeated "inevitable" argument fails to forward CON's argument in any way.
    • If defeat was inevitable and Lee knew it then Lee was obliged to surrender and not waste any more lives in pursuit of a lost cause. 
      • An unwillingness to recognize the inevitable is a strike against any general.
    • If defeat was inevitable and Lee did not know it then Lee failed to appreciate the strategic situation.
      • A failure to realistically assess the big picture is likewise a strike against any general.
  • Unlike CON, Grant rejected any arguments of inevitability and as soon as he had full command, hit the South with everything at his disposal in a well-coordinated and simultaneous assault across the South, and did not stop until Lee surrendered. 
    • CON failed to dispute any of  PRO's argument that Grant's strategic assessment and deployment was superior to any other Civil War generals.
      • If victory was so inevitable, why did it take Grant to accomplish in six weeks what 5 Union generals could not accomplish in the prior three years?
III. EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS

The opinion article my opponent links to  is still not a reliable source.
  • Arsht is quite up front regarding the limitations and advantages of his analysis and so CON's claims regarding reliability can be dismissed as meritless.
  •  Using Wikipedia statistics for win/loss and troop size, Arsht creates a model for an average general's performance relative to army size differentials and then compares actual generals' performance when faced with that same differential.   The model demonstrates that while most generals' actual performance is fairly consistent with a average general's performance, Grant is a positive outlier in wins above average while Lee is a negative outlier in wins below average.  A more conservative general  (like Longstreet) likely would have won more of Lee's matchups while a more conservative general (like McLellan) likely would have lost more of Grant's matchups.
  • Not a statement of fact but a rational statistical approach that has proved invaluable to evaluating individual contributions to sports teams.
 Lee's extension into the North was a necessary effort if there was any hope of a shock victory forcing the northern states into submission, even if it was carried out improperly.
  • While this is a popular refrain from the romantic Lost Cause revisionists, Lee made the same argument for invading the North in '62 with the result that
    • Lee very nearly lost the entire war at Antietam
      • "Lee’s and Jackson’s counterattacks at Miller’s Cornfield in the early hours of the battle were acts of tactical suicide, not genius." and
        •  "would have been destroyed by almost any general other than McClellan."
    • Lee lost far more troops than he could spare
    • Accomplished nothing militarily
    • Gave Lincoln the major victory he was looking for to proceed with Emancipation.
  • Almost all of Davis and Lee's advisors (including Longstreet) learned the lesson of Antietam and counseled stasis in Northern Virginia while reinforcing the West against Grant.  Lee stood nearly alone in convincing Davis to try going North again.  This is precisely where the myth of Lee's genius unravels, he was so focused on relieving Northern Virginia and projecting his Army's invincibility that he failed to perceive the unnecessary risk that most other military advisors found obvious.
  • Everybody but Lee understood that advancing while your left flank is collapsing is effectively walking into a pincer maneuver.  The South went to Gettysburg only because Lee wanted it and his magic reputation overcame wiser counsels to the South's great regret.
 it's hard to say that a good general would have tried to avoid the situation altogether
  • Any good general would have avoided attacking a more modern army twice your size entrenched on the high ground even once, much less 3 times.
The battle at Belmont was inconclusive and futile.  He also waited to do this until his commanding officer was discharged. Grant also took Fort Donelson mostly due to General Pillow's poor command.
  • In R1, CON argued 
    • Grant also made a series of decisions that were fairly obvious, but this is hardly anything clever.
    • Grant's independent decisiveness at Belmont, his frontal attack on a force twice his size at Donelson completely disproves CON's R1 argument but rather than acknowledge his misconception, CON just falls back on less convincing reasons to discount Grant's ability.
    • "You [Grant] are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you." Letter from LIncoln to Grant, 1864
 They were already on the run by the time Grant stopped them.
That Grant couldn't take Vicksburg earlier is embarrassing.
  • History credits Grant's performance at Vicksburg with earning him the position of General-in-Chief
    • CON's own source calls Vicksburg "nearly impregnable."
    • In 1861, Grant was a failure working in his Dad's leather shop.  Two years later, Grant delivered the Mississippi River, Texas, Arkansas, and an army of 33,000 to the Union with the fewer than 800 of his own men killed and CON calls this astonishing victory, "embarrassing."
IV.  GRANT ADAPTED; LEE DID NOT

Of course Grant's army was more modern; the north had an industrial economy 
  • More to the point, Grant is considered the first modern American general:
    • "Through his use of distributed operations, theater-wide logistics, and what today we call “mission command,” he is considered to be the American military’s first operational artist. Importantly, throughout the Civil War, Grant also maximized the cooperation of the Army and the Navy at tactical, operational, and strategic levels, most notably during the Vicksburg campaign and the campaigns of 1864."
      • Grant changed the tempo of the war from seasonal campaigning with returns to base for refits and resupply to a full time field operation with head
      • The US Marine Corp credits Grant with their fighting style- small, highly capable units spread across a large area of operations will create an advantage over an adversary through the deliberate use of separation and coordinated, independent tactical actions. 
        • Marine FOBs in Afghanistan, for example
  • Longstreet described trying to talk Lee out of Picket's Charge:
    •  "I thought that it would not do; that the column would have to march a mile  under concentrating battery fire, and a thousand yards  under long-range musketry; that the conditions were different from those in the days of Napoleon, when field batteries had a range of six hundred yards  and musketry about sixty yards.  I asked the strength of the column. He stated fifteen thousand. Opinion was then expressed that the fifteen thousand men who could make successful assault over that field had never been arrayed for battle; but he was impatient of listening, and tired of talking, and nothing was left but to proceed."
      • Clearly, Longstreet credited Lee's failure at Gettysburg to a lack of appreciation for how the rapid increase in weapons range had made the Napoleonic  formations under fire obsolete.  Many commanders during WW1 likewise failed to appreciate this very shift in advantage from offense to defense but Grant understood the change as his tactical innovations and surprisingly low casualty numbers bear out.
V.  CONCLUSION

  • "Now, I have carefully searched the military records of both ancient and and modern history, and have never found Grant's superior as a general. I doubt his superior can be found in all history" -Robert E Lee
Thx to CON for a good debate and 
thx to VOTERS for their kind consideration. 

Please VOTE PRO!

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Con
Thanks to PRO for his response.

A general's capacity to win battles, especially against the odds, is a defining quality in good generals.
Grant had the odds on his side. Lee did not. Conserving men and supplies relied heavily on industry, and the north had that in boatloads [1].

Does Pro really think that Lee decided to lose men or that Grant decided to have the upper hand from the start? Both men inflicted more casualties than they suffered. Pro agrees that the North had the upper hand, despite some advantages in the South. As such, we would expect the north to win. Of course Grant prioritized destroying trade routes, as other generals before him had already come up with this plan [2] [3].

Northern Advantages

It was clear from the start of the war that the north had many advantages. But just because a southern defeat was inevitable doesn't mean that Lee (or anyone else, for that matter) knew, or could have known, that a southern defeat was inevitable. It's easy with hindsight to see the advantages that industry gives an invading force [4]. Grant was one of the first modern generals, but hardly due to any new decisions he made. No one knew exactly what kind of advantage new technological developments would give the north. It's easy to see in hindsight that Britain wouldn't be able to openly support the Confederacy [5]. At the time it was apparent to many that they might have an economic interest in supporting the south. More intervention before the Emancipation Proclamation could have made a difference.

Plenty of southerners supported secession, and fighting for them was a matter of principle [6]. Holding off an invading force for so long is what made Lee a superior general.

Pro states that "Grant's strategic assessment and deployment was superior to any other Civil War general," and links to an opinion article from historyonthenet.com [7]. The only evidence provided is that Lee focused mainly on Virginia while Grant focused on a broader array of land. First of all, the north had more resources, allowing them to cover more ground. Second, the Confederate capital was located in Richmond it was Lee's primary duty to defend this location. Northern forces tried to capture Richmond several times but were held off for quite a while by Lee's forces [8]. The eastern theater was bounded by the Appalachian Mountains to the west, and capturing the capital was the focus of the north [9]. It was the most important location to defend if the south hoped to outlast the north.

Lee's Tactical Abilities

Lee's invasion of the north was dangerous but necessary. Lee was fighting a losing battle and would have come out worse if he hadn't invaded the north. Taking the initiative early held important strategical advantages [10]. Specifically:

If he remained in Virginia, Lee would be forced to react to Union movements, whereas in Maryland or Pennsylvania he would hold the initiative...A short thrust into Union territory would not be enough; a protracted stay would be the key to Confederate success...Facing critical shortages of food, Lee knew that a movement into the untouched agricultural regions of Maryland and Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley held significant promise. If positioned northwest of Washington, Lee could force the Federals to remain between him and their capital, thus liberating war-exhausted northern and north-central Virginia, as well as the Shenandoah Valley, from the presence of the contending armies.
Furthermore, the war was very controversial even in the north. A shock victory would increase political pressure to end the war, often one of the only strategies that a smaller force has when countering a larger one.

Beyond maintaining the strategic offensive and improving his logistical situation, Lee sensed an opportunity to affect political events in the United States. He read Northern newspapers carefully and knew that bitter debates raged between Northern Republicans and Democrats about civil liberties, the conduct of the war, and emancipation.
The battle at Antietam ended far more inconclusively than my opponent implies [11]. Lee managed to shift his forces around and keep McClellan from scoring any major victories. Perhaps McClellan was a weak general, but Lee's ability to anticipate this shows his strategic ability.

Lee's tactical abilities clearly exceeded Grant's. He focused on defending Richmond, the most important location in the war and kept the north on the defensive in early parts of the war despite their superior numbers and resources [12]. Again, Lee won at Chancellorsville despite being outnumbered two to one, managing to surround Union troops [13]. When Grant tried to sneak around Lee's forces in order to attack the Confederate Capitol, Lee surprised him, and the Union army suffered 700 more casualties than the Confederates [14].

Pro has not challenged Lee's tactical ability, but note that while most of Grant's victories can be credited to external factors, Lee won plenty of battles that other generals in his position wouldn't have. Lee was facing an industrial titan with a much smaller force. Many defending forces have natural barriers holding off their attackers (like the Atlantic Ocean in the Revolutionary war). But the Union was simply struggling to occupy their own country.

Grant's Tactical Abilities

Arsht is quite up front regarding the limitations and advantages of his analysis 
Just because Arsht is upfront about the limitations in his analysis doesn't mean they don't exist. He cites Wikipedia generally but doesn't give exact numbers. We have only his word to go on.

The model demonstrates that while most generals' actual performance is fairly consistent with a average general's performance, Grant is a positive outlier in wins above average while Lee is a negative outlier in wins below average.
Correlation doesn't equal causation. Grant benefited from heavy industry in the north and tactical plans to harm southern supply chains that had come from generals before him. Robert E. Lee led a weary force that had been relentlessly attacked for years. Sports teams are more controlled, so this analysis works for baseball. But if one team is playing with better equipment and the analysis doesn't account for this, that team will appear to be more skilled.

I've already addressed most of what happened at Belmont and Donelson—neither of these battles demonstrated great strategic ability on Grant's part. I'll address the bit about Grant riding 7 miles and scoring the first significant victory for the Union. The source given doesn't say anything about Grant riding through a sleet storm, just that the roads were icy [15]. The storm in the article started two days earlier, and fighting had resumed, so clearly it had either stopped or gotten to the point that most of the other soldiers could manage it just as well as Grant. This same source indicated that the other generals did most of the work. In fact, one of Grant's biggest contributions was simply saying to C. F. Smith, "You must take Fort Donelson."

Vicksburg was nearly impregnable, but no location is completely impregnable. Grant and the other generals kept amassing troops and supplies, as well as bombing until they took the location [16]. They also assumed Vicksburg would fall earlier than it did, but were not strategic or clever enough to get the job done quickly. There's no evidence that Grant did anything innovative to decrease the supplies needed or make taking the location easier. In fact, his poor communication with McClernand and stubbornness to call a truce to recover his wounded likely just made things harder [17] [18]. Some number of troops could have taken any location in the Civil War, and Grant needed quite a lot.

With regard to Grant being the "first modern general," the sources given by Pro credit this to Grant's ability to attack continually and move quickly. But Grant's aggression should be credited to the Union's larger population, industrial advantages in the north, and Lincoln urging his generals to move faster. Similar levels of aggression could be credited to plenty of other generals. Lee was aggressive as well, attacking the north instead of staying in the south.

Conclusion

Pro has simply restated tactical advantages that Grant had (a greater population to draw from, plans from earlier generals to break up southern supply chains), but hasn't explained anything clever that Grant actually did. Lee used superior tactical abilities to hold the north at bay for four years; a fact that Pro has not disputed.

Pro provides a supposed quote from Robert E. Lee. The only evidence for this is a fourth-hand account [19]. Specifically:

this was a fourth-hand account, supposedly heard by one person two to fourteen months earlier (depending on the meaning of “last April”) in conversation with a second person who had talked to a third person two to four years previously who, in turn, had heard it from General Lee some ten or fifteen years before that.
As long as we're name-dropping and using quotes (or statements of opinion) as evidence, there's a sarcastic quote on the record from Lee that provides a much more accurate conclusion to this debate: "[Grant's] talent and strategy consists in accumulating overwhelming numbers."

Thanks to PRO for initiating this debate.

Please VOTE CON!

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