What kind of peace could the Confederates have negotiated in 1864/65?

I’m not saying pacifist leaders. I’m saying that the combination of Grant and Sherman was unique among the Union generals for their strategic and tactical vision, their willingness to take casualties to achieve it, and in the case of Sherman, the sheer audacity to target the CSA economy and infrastructure as a war aim by marching through Georgia without guaranteed supply chains.

If Grant and Sherman die in mid 1864, they won’t be replaced by pacifist generals, but who amongst the Union generals would have been so competent and driven?

Lincoln had already gone through six commanders of the main Union Army in the east, who were too cautious like McClellan or too aggressive like Pope. He was unlikely to find the equal of Grant or Sherman in his other commanders.

I was thinking particularly of McClellan and the comment attributed to Lincoln: “If General McClellan isn’t planning on using the army, I wonder if I could borrow it for a while?”

Too aggressive could be as bad as too cautious. Pope wanted to prove how aggressive he could be compared to previous commanders, but his bravado exceeded his strategic abilities.

I feel Grant and Sherman were fighting the war at a different level than other American generals (and other Confederate generals, including Lee). Other generals were fighting the war at an operational level - they were trying to win battles. Grant and Sherman were fighting at a strategic level - they were trying to win the war.

Scott may have been working at that level but he seems to have been unable to execute the plans he made. And there may have been other generals at lower ranks who had the potential to do this but never had the opportunity.

Grant understood that the key to victory was to destroy Lee’s army, not to capture Richmond. Lee was forced to remain between Grant and Richmond, so Grant could continue to target him. Even though the Union lost more casualties than the Confederates in each of the battles of the Overland Campaign, Grant could replace them while Lee could not.

McClellan’s failure to pursue Lee after Antietam, and Meade’s failure after Gettysburg, left him free to fight another day.

Luck at least is a key attribute of a winning general. Often so is a bullheaded stupidity.

I wouldn’t say it’s a key attribute. Sometimes a general can be helped by luck, but the best ones make their own luck. Sometimes a general’s luck is due to having an idiot as an adversary.

Examples? Being bullheaded and tenacious can be good attributes, but not when you are pursuing a stupid course. Grant’s worst battle during the Overland Campaign was at Cold Harbor when he repeatedly had his troops assault entrenched Confederates, a strategy that had been disastrous in other battles; he confessed that he wished the second fruitless assault had never been made. (My great-great grandfather was in those suicide charges at Cold Harbor.)

I think Grant’s biggest insight that led to American victory was that the Americans outnumbered the Confederates and he could incorporate this into his plans. Previous generals had essentially made no coordinated plans between the various fronts. Each local commander conducted his operations on a schedule that was determined by local conditions. This allowed the Confederates, who had the advantage of interior lines, to shift forces around to where they were immediately needed.

Grant coordinated attacks along all of the fronts to occur at the same time. He knew that the Confederates might be able to concentrate their forces and stop one attack but they couldn’t stop attacks everywhere.

Grant further this philosophy by refusing to engage in prisoner swaps. He realized be could afford the prisoners, but the Confederates couldn’t.

My great-great grandfather, who was captured at Petersburg, died of scurvy in Andersonville Prison Camp due to this policy.

To coin a phrase, war is hell. Generals have to make decisions that cause other people, including their own troops, to suffer and die. They have to balance the pain caused by their decisions against the pain caused by the prolongation of a war.

The policy happened largely because the Confederates utterly refused to exchange African-American PoW’s, more or less considering them all slaves in revolt even if they had been born free. The Davis administration, adamant about never giving an inch no matter the advantage to doing so, willing consigned its own soldiers to languish in prison and its armies to shrivel for the sake of pride.

Edit: Gen. Grant noted one of the advantages of the no-exchange policy, and many people assume that he made the decision exclusively, and on that basis. In reality, Grant was noting a salutary strategic advantage derived from the policy, not a reason for its adoption.