The Opponents at Appomattox, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert Edward Lee
Greetings, this episode relates the biographies of the two principal adversaries at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert Edward Lee
Ulysses S. Grant (April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885)
The son of Jesse Root and Hannah Simpson Grant, Hiram Ulysses Grant was native to Point Pleasant, Ohio. The family moved to Georgetown, Ohio in 1823. Grant attended private schools and later Maysville Seminary. His father was a tanner, however Ulysses hated working in the tannery so his father put him to work driving wagons. Grant liked working with horses and became quite adept in managing the animals. He attended John Rankin’s academy, beginning in 1837. Rankin was an ardent abolitionist who was quite active in the Underground Railroad movement.
When Grant showed an interest in attending college, his father arranged an appointment to the military academy, West Point. After receiving his approval, Grant noticed that his enrollment paper listed him as Ulysses Simpson Grant. He tried to have the mistake corrected, however a school official informed him that to get it changed he would need to obtain another appointment. He left the mistake in place, leading his classmates to soon dub him United States Grant or Uncle Sam Grant which in turn led to his nickname Sam. During his years at West Point he displayed his prowess with horses, spent time reading classic literature and studied art. He painted several artworks, nine of which survive. He graduated 21 out of 39 in his class on June 30, 1843.
Grant received assignment to the Army’s largest western garrison, Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. While stationed here he visited the home of a classmate from West Point, Fred Dent. While at Dent’s home, Grant met his sister, Julia. The two fell in love and became engaged. The outbreak of the Mexican-American War created an interlude in their relationship.
The war proved to be a pivotal event in Grant’s military development. Assigned to the force led by General Zachary Taylor and later with Major General Winfield Scott. Initially he served as a regimental quartermaster, a position that taught him the importance of supply lines to an army in the field. He longed for combat, though, and was rewarded by seeing his first exposure to combat during the May 8, 1846 Battle of Palo Alt. He successfully led a charge against Mexican troops. His superior horsemanship skills, gallantry in battle and grasp of military logistics led to his promotion from lieutenant to first lieutenant and later to captain. Though he enjoyed military life, he felt that the United States waged the war to expand the practice of slavery, a policy he detested. Even though he felt that it was an unjust war, he learned much from both Taylor and Scott that would serve him later in life.
At the conclusion of the war, Grant returned to St. Louis to marry Julia, after which he received assignment to several different military posts. The assignments included posts in Panama, California and Oregon. Julia, now having young children, did not accompany him on these deployments. Separated from his family, Grant began to drink heavily. Faced with a reprimand over his drinking, or resignation, Grant resigned from the Army on July 31, 1854. After his resignation he returned to Missouri where he tried his hand at farming. During this time he did have two slaves, however he had difficulty compelling another man to work, so he manumitted his slaves. His farming ventures eventually failed, leading him to try his hand at real estate, which also failed. He and his family moved to Galena Illinois, where he worked at his father’s leather goods business. He and Julia established themselves favorably in Galena, however his wife’s sympathies for the Democratic party and its increasingly pro-slavery stance troubled him. He tended to favor Democratic candidates, however it was a lukewarm sympathy.
When hostilities began with the Confederate capture of Fort Sumpter, Grant immediately offered his services. At first rebuffed by General McClellan, when Illinois Governor Governor Richard Yates mustered ten regiments into the Illinois militia, he appointed Grant as a colonel in command of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
After a series of key promotions and assignments Grant Major General John C. Frémont granted him command of the District of Southeastern Missouri as a Brigadier General. Grant engineered the Confederate surrender of Paducah, Kentucky, which he followed up with taking Fort Donelson, a key Confederate stronghold on the Cumberland River. His demand that the Confederate commander submit to an “unconditional and immediate surrender,” spawned another of Grant’s nicknames, “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”
Grant, whom Abraham Lincoln had promoted to major general, next moved, in concert with the Army of the Tennessee, to positions southwest of Savannah, Tennessee near the Tennessee River. Grant, with 42,000 inexperienced Union Troops, wanted to capture Corinth, Tennessee, which was a major rail center. On April 6, 1862 a Confederate force composed of 45,000 troops led by Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston. The surprise attack drove Grant’s forces back to Pittsburg Landing, which is on the west bank of the Tennessee River. Grant’s troops held this position at great cost before the day’s fighting ended at nightfall. At the end of the day General William Sherman, during a meeting with General Grant, said, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day of it, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”
The prophecy proved true, as Grant, reinforced by an army led by Major Generals Buell and Lew Wallace’s combined force of 18,000 fresh troops drove the Confederates back to Corinth. During the fierce fighting both armies suffered a combined 23,746 casualties. The costly victory, in addition to charges that Grant had been drunk during the attack, led many to demand that Lincoln dismiss him. Grant even considered resigning afterwards, however Lincoln said, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” The battle did convince Grant that the North could not win the war by winning one or two battles. He now knew that the South was prepared to fight a protracted war. Lincoln next gave Grant command of the District of the Tennessee.
Lincoln signed his initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 23, 1862, and issued the final draft on January 1, 1863. Grant agreed with Lincoln about emancipating the slaves. He took immediate steps to arm the blacks and form regiments of former slaves. Additionally, Grant ensured that any slaves that escaped and passed behind Union lines were protected and cared for.
To win the war, the Union needed to gain complete control of the Mississippi River. To do this, Grant needed to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. Called the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy,” the city was located on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi and constituted a major shipping, communications and rail center for the south. If Grant could take Vicksburg, it would sever the south and seriously impede communications and shipping in the south. He initiated his campaign against Vicksburg in December of 1862 with the December 26–29, 1862 Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. After a series of intense military battles and operations, Grant positioned his army around Vicksburg and began the Siege of Vicksburg on May 18, 1863. Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863. The victory enabled Union gunboats to navigate freely on the Mississippi and gave them access to the Red River.
After his successful Vicksburg Campaign, Lincoln promoted Grant to major general and gave him command of the newly formed Division of the Mississippi on October 16, 1863. Grant conducted the successful Chickamauga campaign, which gave Union control to Tennessee and opened the way to the invasion of Georgia.
President Lincoln next promoted Grant to a rank not held since General George Washington held during the Revolutionary War, lieutenant general on March 2, 1864. The promotion made him the general in chief of all Union Armies. Grant determined that he would defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee and end the war. Grant began a series of campaigns to bludgeon Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Starting with the Overland Campaign, he followed with the brutal Wilderness campaign and the Appomattox Campaign, which led to the Battle of Appomattox Court House and Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865. Even though there were scattered battles after this, the surrender effectively ended the Civil War.
Grant, deeply sorrowed over the assassination of Lincoln, wept and called him “the greatest man I have ever known.” Congress created a new military rank, General of the Army of the United States, and bestowed it on Grant. Grant went on a tour of the South. After this tour he issued a report indicating that the South was not yet ready for self-rule and continued using the Army to maintain order.
Dissatisfaction With Johnson
Johnson needed Grant’s favor, so he invited the general to take part in Johnson’s tour of the south that he called his “Swing Around the Circle” tour. Grant became disenchanted with the President’s call for lenient treatment of the south and left the tour. The Republican Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 over Johnson’s veto. The Congress followed suit with the passage of the Reconstruction Acts, which Grant enforced. Johnson opposed Grant’s policy, so the Congress passed the Command of Army Act, which forced Johnson to issue all orders through the general. This act also prevented Johnson from removing Grant without Congress’ approval. The conflict between Grant and Johnson eventually led to Congress’ impeachment of Johnson, which the President escaped by one vote. The Republicans eventually abandoned Johnson and nominated Grant as their presidential candidate in 1868.
Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870)
The son of Henry Lee III and Anne Hill Carter Lee, Robert was native to his parent’s plantation, Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His father suffered financial losses which led to his imprisonment for debt, after which the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia. Lee’s father, suffering severe injuries at the hands of a mob attack during the unrest during the War of 1812, went to the West Indies to recover. He died in 1818 while returning to the United States. A relative of Anne’s, William Henry Fitzhugh, provided support for the family. In 1825 he sent a letter to United States Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, suggesting that Robert be admitted to the United States Military Academy. Lee entered the Academy later that year. Lee’s course of study focused on military engineering.
After his graduation from West Point in 1829 he received a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the period after his graduation to the Mexican-American War Lee worked on several engineering and mapping projects for the United States. He helped survey the state line between Michigan and Ohio, engineering work for St. Louis harbor on the Mississippi River and performed mapping projects on the Upper Mississippi River. His work led to several promotions, gaining the rank of captain in 1842. He and Mary Custis married in 1831. The couple would have seven children.
Lee served in General Winfield Scott’s march to Vera Cruz during the Mexican American War. He provided valuable reconnaissance which provided Scott with virtually undefended routes to the city when Lee’s surveillance uncovered passes that the Mexicans thought impassable and thus did not defend. He exemplary service earned Scott’s praise and a promotion to brevet major in 1847. Ulysses Grant and Lee first met and worked together during this war.
Lee received appointment as superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point. Lee took the post with reluctance. He served in that post for three years. During this time he improved the course curriculum and buildings.
In 1855 he received a promotion to second in command of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Texas in 1855, which was stationed in Texas. He remained in this post until the death of his father in law in 1857. Lee received Arlington Plantation as part of his wife’s inheritance at this point. The difficulty of running this plantation, which was in financial disarray, caused Lee to take a leave of absence to run the plantation.
Arlington Plantation had been poorly managed during the last years of his father in law’s life. His will stipulated that his almost 200 slaves were to be freed within five years of his death. History is not clear on Lee’s treatment of these slaves, however his reportedly harsh treatment of them and their belief that they were supposed to be freed immediately after Custis’ death led to several slave uprisings and other problems. To satisfy the requirements of the will, Lee freed the last of the slaves at Arlington in 1862.
Hoping to incite a slave rebellion, Abolitionist John Brown and a group of his followers captured a Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry Virginia. Lee received the assignment of capturing Brown, which he did. Following Harper’s Ferry Lee’s next post was to take command of Fort Brown in Texas. When Texas seceded from the Union Lee returned to Washington, DC. President Lincoln offered him the rank of major general, however Lee, even though he opposed the Confederacy and secession, resigned his commission.
As the southern states began seceding, Lee faced a difficult decision. Personally, he opposed secession, viewing as a from of rebellion. He opposed the formation of the Confederate States of America. Newly inaugurated President Abraham Lincoln approved Lee’s appointment as Colonel of the First Regiment of Cavalry in the Union Army in March 1861. Lee also received an offer of command as one of five generals appointed to lead the newly formed Confederate Army. Lee accepted the commission from the Union Army and, though still undecided about his future, took an oath to the United States. Meanwhile Virginia voted to secede and sent another offer to Lee. Eventually, after much soul searching, Lee resigned his commission and accepted command of Virginia’s state forces.
After an early loss at the September 15, 1861 Battle of Cheat Mountain in West Virginia, Lee drove the Union Army from the Richmond, Virginia area and into retreat during the Seven Days Battles that lasted from June 25 – July 1, 1862. He followed this up with a victory over Union forces at the August 29 – 30 Second Battle of Bull Run. On September 17, 1862 Lee’s army suffered defeat in the war’s bloodiest battle, the Battle of Antietam. Total casualties at this battle for both Union and Confederate forces totaled 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing. Lee followed this with victories at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 6, 1863. After this battle, Lee began preparing for an invasion of Pennsylvania where his forces would clash with the Union Army at Gettysburg.
Lee decided to invade Pennsylvania to gather supplies his army needed and to convince the North that the Confederacy posed a major threat. General Ulysses S. Grant was chipping away at the Confederate strongholds along the Mississippi. Many wanted to use the Confederacy’s dwindling resources to shore up defenses in the west, however Lee convinced Confederate leaders that a better strategy was to invade the north. Lee invaded southern Pennsylvania in June, 1863. His army met the Union Army, commanded by General George Meade. Meade dealt Lee’s army a significant defeat during the three day Battle of Gettysburg, however Lee managed to avoid having his army captured. The 28,000 casualties dealt his army proved a major setback that he was never able to recover from.
After Gettysburg Lee retreated into Virginia. After successfully subduing Vicksburg, Union General Ulysses S. Grant made the decision to defeat Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia using a war of attrition. He mounted the Overland Campaign, which drove Lee further into Virginia and forced him to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond. Lee eventually surrendered his army to Grants on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House. After the war Washington College in Lexington, Virginia offered Lee the position of President of the college, which he accepted. He passed away on October 12, 1870.
This story is exerpted from my book, A History of United States Presidential Elections Book 2. Listeners can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online retailers in both ebook and softbound formats. You can also purchase the book direct from me on my website, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact me at email@example.com.
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