The Civil War in the United States can be considered as the darkest moment in its relatively young history. (Mitgang, 2000) His Gettysburg State of the Union Address is perhaps the shortest in history; but the depth of meaning and the profundity of emotions it invokes should never be forgotten. It starkly contrasts with the inane, self-congratulatory blather of modern presidential administrations.
This hotly contested War had amazing leaders. General Robert E. Lee, for the Confederates, was a gentleman's gentleman, brilliant tactician and wonderful human being. If one were to root for the Unionists as being on the right side of the Civil War, then Lee was a victim of circumstances, who merely happened to lead for the Southerners. (Robert E. Lee, soldier, patriot, educator, 1921) On the other hand, the General Ulysses Grant, the leader of the Union Army, won decisive battle after battle and made the overall outcome of the War possible.
General Grant, who rode his popularity of winning the War to the White House, remains to this day, a much maligned figure. It is true that his Presidency, while not plumbing the depths of the Presidencies of Warren Harding, William Harrison or Andrew Johnson, did not set any standards for leadership. What remains hidden and often distorted is the fact that Ulysses Grant has left behind a spectacular legacy of martial generalship. This work will explore some Grant's role against the backdrop of the Civil War with his achievements and shortcomings.
It is necessary therefore, to set the stage for Ulysses Grant's role in the war by a brief description of the Civil War. On February 9, 1861, the Confederate States of America is formed with Jefferson Davis as president. Hostilities began when General Pierre Beauregard open fire with 50 cannons on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. Five states seceded from the Union forming an eleven state Confederacy. Lincoln then ordered a blockade of the Southern ports to starve the South of supplies. The Congress authorized the formation of an army to counter the Confederates' escalating attacks. Initially, the Union army suffered reverses at the hands of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson; General McClellan was appointed the General of all Union armies and Lincoln officially declared that the War had begun. Soon after, General Grant earned his first victory along with the moniker of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant because of his rapid victories of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. At this point in the Civil War, sub-marine warfare took root. Ironclads were involved. At the battle of Shiloh, Grant suffered his first major reverse. He lost more men (13,000) than the Confederates.
After the Union Army under David Farragut took the port City of New Orleans, Robert E. Lee took over as General of the Confederate Armies. Lee scored his first victory over McClellan in Richmond, staunching the Union Armies advance. At the second battle of Bull Run, the Union Army was routed by a lesser manned Confederate Army who then advanced on Washington. This happened until McLellan summoned more forces and reversed the Confederate advance. And then in the bloodiest battle in U.S. history, in Antietam, Maryland, both armies lost 26,000 men in a single day. (Gallagher, 1999) This forced Lee to withdraw to his capital in Virginia.
Soon Lincoln announced the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. He also replaced McClellan with Ambrose Burnside. This move did not pay dividends as Burnside lost more than twelve thousand men in the battle of Fredricksburg. Burnside was replaced with Joseph Hooker while Grant was placed in charge of the West Army and sent to Vicksburg Mississippi, which would be the last bastion of the Southern resistance. Around this time, the draft was instituted. Hooker was defeated by Lee but Stonewall Jackson was accidentally killed by his own men. Lee lost some confidence at this tragedy. This set the stage for the battle of Gettysburg. Lee launched an all out assault against the Union Army. But Hooker's replacement George Meade defeated Lee. This loss was also accompanied by the news that, a day later, Grant had won the battle of Vicksburg after a six-week siege. This double loss was also compounded by the fact that the Confederate Army was split into two.
The institution of the draft provided another twist in the proceedings. Since $300 could get one an exemption from the draft, the poor were forced into the army. At least 120 persons, including children, are killed and $2 million in damage caused, until Union soldiers returning from Gettysburg restore order.
After another resounding victory at Chattanooga, Grant was appointed commander in chief of all armies of the United States. Grant then coordinated a massive, all-out campaign involving all the Union Armies. In Virginia, Grant with an Army of 120,000 advanced toward Richmond to engage Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, now numbering 64,000, began a war of attrition that included major battles at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. In the west, Sherman, with 100,000 men advanced towards Atlanta to engage Joseph E. Johnston's 60,000 strong Army of Tennessee. In one of the rare mistakes in military campaign Grant lost 7,000 Union soldiers in twenty minutes during an offensive against the rebels at Cold Harbor in Virginia. By this time however, the Union victories were overwhelming the Confederates who did not have much to celebrate. To add insult to injury, the U.S. Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to abolish slavery.
The inauguration speech for President Lincoln's second term included the immortal words: "With malice toward none; with charity for all...let us strive on to finish the work we are in to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." Soon, Grant's forces began a general advance and broke through Lee's lines at Petersburg. The Confederate Capital, Richmond, was evacuated. Fires and looting broke out. The next day, Union troops raised the Stars and Stripes. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate Army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
The Stars and Stripes having ceremoniously been raised over Fort Sumter, Lincoln and his wife Mary watched the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater. At 10:13 P.M., during the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head. He was laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery, outside Springfield, Illinois. Soon the final hold outs on the Confederate side surrendered. The Civil War came to an end. 620,000 Americans died in the battles. Disease took more than twice that. 50,000 soldiers returned home as amputees.
General Grant emerged as the most decorated and accomplished general in the Civil War. This was a great achievement. It demonstrated the faith that Lincoln placed in Grant. As has been shown in earlier paragraphs, Lincoln once replaced five generals in one calendar year because he did not believe they were capable of winning decisively.
Grant's personality was one of extreme civility and politeness. He was remarkably shy and bashful, not making extroverted overtures unless he new a person well and felt comfortable with them. Grant was capable of tremendous devotion and deep affection, and he prized loyalty. If a man once won his trust, Grant stood by him, even when their personal honor had been assailed. He liked Generals Sherman and Sheridan. His excessive praise of them was constant and unceasing. Grant earned the wraths of George Meade and George Thomas when he awarded Sheridan a third star when they thought they were more deserving. On the Confederate side, Grant always expressed tremendous admiration for Joe Johnston, and said he felt "greater fear" when Johnston was facing him instead of Robert E. Lee. It is significant that he never spoke effusively about his greatest and most dangerous opponent, and said little about Lee's merits in later years. But once someone betrayed him, that book was closed and never opened again. Privately, he was an engaging, witty and humorous conversationalist. Though not an intellectual, he was nonetheless highly intelligent and rather well read. He has been described as "prudish," probably because he was self-conscious while undressing in the field, even in a closed tent. Grant was also overly trusting and naive. He expected everyone to be as honest and good as he was himself and was disappointed in others duplicity. (Garland, 1920)
Grant, though not an extrovert enjoyed having company about him. During the Civil War, he spent his evenings sitting around the campfire, listening to other officers. He disliked isolation and didn't function well unless there were people around him. It didn't matter if he interacted with them, their mere presence was satisfactory. Above all else, he preferred the company of his wife and children above all else. In 1864, he wrote to his old West Point roommate, Rufus Ingalls, "Now I have four children, three boys and a girl, in whose society I feel more enjoyment than I…