I am now sending back to Belle Plain all my wagons for a fresh supply of provisions and ammunition, and purpose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.
Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant wrote this line to the Chief of Staff of the Army on May 11, 1864 shortly after the battle of the Wilderness and during the opening days of the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. In the previous six days of fighting, Grant estimated he had lost roughly twenty thousand men.
In similar engagements under different commanders earlier in the war, the Army of the Potomac had retreated after experiencing such devastating losses. But Grant kept moving south and fully intended to keep fighting Lee until the war was over. Some called Grant a “butcher” but he would eventually win the war in less than a year from the opening of his Overland campaign.
Grant respected Robert E. Lee, but he didn’t fear him and also recognized Lee’s weaknesses. The Army of Northern Virginia lacked supplies and reserves and could only fight defensively. As a result, Grant was supremely confident of victory and intended to achieve it “if it takes all summer.” One observer said of Grant, “he habitually wore an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall and was about to do it.”
Grant’s ability to see the end game despite near-term setbacks made him a remarkable military leader. After the war, he felt his army wasn’t given enough credit for defeating Lee. As Americans begin reconsidering the legacy of Confederate leaders, perhaps we should also take a closer look at Grant’s achievements. Ron Chernow's forthcoming biography of Grant might provide us with that opportunity.