The generals of the civil war are all
interesting, and they each have a different story. Many of them have corresponding parts of the
story, like the Mexican-American War, and West Point Military academy. One of the things they do not have in common
is their names, which, in order, are Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, William
T. Sherman, and Thomas J. Jackson.
Ulysses S Grant was born April 27, 1822
as Hiram Ulysses Grant, to Jesse Root Grant and Hannah Simpson Grant. He attended West Point Military Academy, but
an accidental clerical error accidentally changed his name. Not wanting to be rejected by the Academy, he
changed his name on the spot. After
graduation, he was stationed in St. Louis, Missouri, where he met his future
wife, Julia Dent. Before they could get married, Grant was
dragged off by the army to serve in the Mexican-American War. He proved his bravery under fire there, as
well as the feeling that the war was only being waged to spread slavery. He returned after the war and finally married
in 1848. Then, shoving aside all the
warnings of disciplinary action about his drinking problem, he resigned from
the army on July 31, 1854. He moved back
to Missouri with his family and tried to farm the land granted to him by his
father-in-law, but the land wasn’t farmable.
Some of his other failed business ventures were real estate,
engineering, and clerkship.
Finally, he had nothing to sell but
firewood on a St Louis Street. Eventually,
in 1860, he decided to work as a clerk (supervised by his younger brothers) in
his dad’s tannery. When the Confederates
attacked the Union-occupied Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861, Ulysses S Grant
immediately decided to join the army and fight.
However, the Army rejected his
application, and he only got in because of an Illinois Congressman. He was assigned the command of an unruly
volunteer regiment, and immediately got to work.
Evidence: Under Grant’s leadership, the 21st
Illinois Regiment was ready for battle.
Evidence: When Kentucky left the Union in 1861, Grant
got ready for the first few battles, and in a joint operation with the Navy in
1862, attacked Forts Henry and Donelson, with sweeping victories. These battles gave Grant the nickname “US
Grant”, standing for “Unconditional Surrender Grant”. With these battles, he was promoted to major
general of volunteers.
He quickly took Shiloh, fended off
Johnston and Beauregard’s surprise attack, and sieged Vicksburg,
Mississippi, and captured the whole
Mississippi River for the Union. He then took command at Chattanooga and
decimated the Confederates [in Tennessee] in the Battles of Chattanooga. After the war, Grant served as the 18th
president, and in an attempt at a business, agreed to a partnership in the
financial firm Grant and Ward only to have his co-partner, Ferdinand Ward, line
his own pockets with the money, and completely wreck Grant’s career. (He had some really bad business luck!) He died just as his memoirs were published by
Mark Twain, on July 23, 1885.
The other major general at the time,
Robert Edward Lee, was born on January 19, 1807 to Colonel Henry Lee
“Light-Horse Harry” and Anne Hill Carter Lee.
He enrolled at West Point and
applied himself wholly to the work. He
finished without a single demerit and with perfect scores in all of his
classes. After West Point, he met and married George
Washington’s great-granddaughter, Mary Custis.
They had seven children together, three boys and four girls, but Lee
could never stay long to see them, for his Army obligations sent him all over
Finally, the break he’d been waiting for
happened, in the form of the Mexican-American War. In the war, he proved himself as brave and
brilliant, a perfect combination in a battle commander. After the war, he had some trouble,
though. He couldn’t deal with the little
things in life, and when his father in law died, he returned to the plantation
to try to manage it. The place had gone
bad and became a sinkhole for money.
Eventually he got a break and was sent to end John Brown’s revolt; the orchestrated attack ended the fight in
less than an hour, and this success put him on the call list for Union Army
Generals if it were ever needed. But when Virginia seceded, he turned down an
offer from Lincoln to lead the Union army and agreed to lead the
In the first part of the war Lee was doing
great, holding off the Union near Richmond, until he decided to move
north. That was really his fatal
decision, and it probably doomed the Confederacy. The result of his attempt to take a wedge out
of the North was the bloody battles of Antietam and Gettysburg. These obliterated whatever was left of his
army before said battles, and really turned around the war effort for the
Union. The fate of the war was clear
when Grant erased from existence the majority of Richmond, the capital of the
Confederacy, as well as some of Petersburg, Virginia. About
a week later, Lee surrendered to Grant at a private home in Appomattox,
Virginia. Since Grant and Lincoln were
very generous and did not hang Lee as a traitor, he was sent home to his wife
and kids in April of 1865. He took a job
as a college president, and kept his mouth shut on the subject of politics.
died of a massive stroke, surrounded by family, on October 12, 1870.
William Tecumseh Sherman, born to
Charles Sherman and Mary Hoyt, was one of eleven children. (That’s a handful!) His dad was a good lawyer and Ohio Supreme
Court Justice. However, he died
suddenly, and left the poor family with next to nothing. A family friend, however, raised William, and
he was sent to West point when he came of age.
He had little respect for the demerit system, but he did very well
academically. There were no real big
troubles on the record, just a million little things. Despite this, however, he topped out sixth in
his class at graduation. He wasn’t shipped
off to the Mexican-American war like the other major generals, he was stationed
in California as an executive officer.
Since he didn’t get any combat, he thought the army was a dead end and
resigned. He made a small fortune in
the gold rush as a banker, right about up until the Panic of 1857, and then he
Evidence: He finally settled down in Kansas to practice
Two years later, in 1859, he was a
well-liked headmaster at a military academy in Louisiana. Sherman warned his friends about the war and
predicted exactly what was going to happen;
the war would be long and bloody, and the Union would eventually
win. He then settled in for the ride,
wanting nothing at all to do with the war.
Then, all of a sudden, after the firing on Sumter, he asked his brother,
Senator John Sherman, to arrange a commission in the army. He was assigned the 13th US Infantry
and commanded under William McDowell. Sherman
was in the First Battle of Bull Run, which made him deeply pessimistic about
the war. He exaggerated the enemy’s strength and
complained about shortages in food and supplies. He was then put on leave,
considered insane and not good enough for duty. He tried to help and provided logistical
support for Grant in the capture of Donelson and was assigned to serve under
him the following month.
His mettle was tested in his first
battle, the battle of Shiloh. Sherman
initially ignored reports of Johnston in the area and wasn’t to too picky with
the picket lines. The next morning, the
Confederates struck with the force of a hammer on a diamond. Strike correctly and the hammer can break the
diamond, hit it wrong and the hammer breaks.
In this case, Beauregard and Johnston are the hammer, and they didn’t
hit the diamond (Grant & Sherman) quite right. The attack was repulsed, and the next
morning, Grant and Sherman routed the Confederates. And yet the newspapers still complained
about both men; as one newspaper says, the “Army was being ruined in mud-turtle
expeditions, under the leadership of a drunkard whose confidential adviser was
After the fall of Vicksburg, Sherman was
given an army to command, and he began his famed “March to the Sea”, tearing
through Georgia with a massive trail of destruction. This effective military tactic, mostly used
in “total war”, was called either “Scorched Earth” or “total war.” When Grant
won the presidency, Sherman took over as the top gun in the Army, until his
retirement in 1884. He said flat-out
no to the presidency, and died February 14, 1891, in New York City. President Benjamin Harrison ordered all flags
to be flown at half-mast that day, the death of the man who recognized war for
what it really was: “War is hell.”
Sherman was Grant’s right-hand man, so
who was Lee’s? The answer comes by the
name of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Born January 21, 1824, to Jonathan Jackson and Julia Beckwith Neale,
along with four siblings. His father and older sister, Elizabeth, were
killed by typhoid fever when he was two years old. His mom then remarried to Blake Woodson, and
when the young ones had quarrels with their new dad, they were sent off to some
Jackson then lost his mother to
childbirth complications; the infant, William Wirt Woodson, survived, only to
die of tuberculosis ten years later. He
eventually enrolled at West Point and was only admitted because the district’s
first choice withdrew his application. He was teased by all the others about his
poorness and modest education, but this only fed the flame of determination,
and he finished 17th in a class of 59 in 1846. He was then carted off the Mexican-American
War, where he met Robert E Lee and the two became close friends.
After two marriages and two stillborn
daughters, he returned to the military, and served as a VMI officer at J.B.’s
execution. He then had another daughter
that lived to adulthood. At first, he
wanted Virginia to stay in the Union, but when they voted to secede, Jackson
showed his approval and agreed to start training troops for the battles. At the time, the cadets were acting as
drillmasters, training recruits for the soon-to-be-called “Stonewall Brigade”. After training his troops for battle he was
promoted to brigadier general under Joseph E Johnston. At the first battle of Bull Run, when
Jackson charged his army ahead to take a gap in the Union line, Barnard E Bee
exclaimed, “Look, men, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall.”
Afterwards, Jackson launched the
Shenandoah Valley campaign, and successfully led the Confederates to victory
and eventually a spot in Robert E Lee’s army.
showed bad leadership at the Seven Days’ Battles but redeemed himself with his
lightning-fast “foot cavalry” at Cedar Mountain. he also held his troops in place at
Antietam, until Lee ordered a withdraw of all his forces from the Potomac. He was extremely successful against Joseph
Hooker in the Battle of Chancellorsville but was sadly shot by friendly fire
and killed by complications. He died
May 10, 1863.
War generals are such interesting
topics, and the have so many things that were alike and things that weren’t
alike at all, such as the Mexican-American War (one exception), West Point, and
their side of the war.