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Whomever was selected would likely emerge a war hero and presidential candidate, because, as Grant wrote, “nothing so popularizes a candidate for high civil positions as military victories” (56). Polk obviously favored a Democratic choice, but his options were limited. Among the Democratic major generals, Robert Patterson was unsuitable because of his foreign birth, and William Butler was an unknown quantity as an army commander. John Wool had been the third-ranking officer in the prewar army and was a Democrat, but for some reason appears to have escaped consideration.

It was engaged in a war of conquest which must be carried to a successful issue, or the political object would be unattained. Yet all the capable officers of the requisite rank belonged to the opposition, and the man selected for his lack of political ambition had himself become a prominent candidate for the Presidency. It was necessary to destroy his chances promptly. The problem was to do this without the loss of conquest and without permitting another general of the same political party to acquire like popularity.

As previously noted, the development of the rifle altered the relationship between the offense and the defense. Now the defender, especially when protected by breastworks, could destroy the attackers as they advanced across open terrain. Consequently, protected defensive positions would become critical in the Civil War. For example, at Fredericksburg, Confederates took positions on a sunken road behind a four-foot-high stone wall. The Federals made six major assaults, fourteen in total, against the nearly impregnable position.

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