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The Challenge of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant, Prisoners of War, and the Evolution of Union Strategy
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General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of three major Confederate armies across the American Civil War at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, and Appomattox Court House. Grant’s victories presented new challenges from the burdens of having to guard, feed, house, and transport tens of thousands of prisoners of war. Moreover, Grant often found that his decisions made as a field commander in the aftermath of battle contained larger ramifications for strategy and national policy. So, how did Grant manage the chaos of victory? Should he parole the prisoners or send them to Union prisons? How did the development of POW policy affect his strategic planning? This study explores how Grant managed the prisoners he captured and the implications this had for the development of POW policy and military strategy. From analyzing Grant’s major campaigns throughout the war, it is clear that he incorporated POW policy into his strategic calculations and vice versa. Grant’s approach to the development of policy and strategy was pragmatic, expedient, and subject to the context of the moment. Though, due to a notable lack of guidance on POW policy throughout the war, Grant often relied on custom and precedence to help guide him. Overall, this study demonstrates the importance of POWs to the development of military strategy.
Dilday, Aaron (2019). The Challenge of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant, Prisoners of War, and the Evolution of Union Strategy. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from