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General Grant

Grant during and after the Civil War, 1861 - 1869

Grant in the West (1861 - 1863)

  1. After Fort Sumter was attacked (April 12, 1861), President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, and Grant rejoined the army on April 23.
  2. Grant was appointed Colonel of the 21st Illinois Regiment of Volunteers on June 17.
  3. Established headquarters in Cairo, Illinois, in command of the district of southern Illinois and southeastern Missouri (September 4).
    1. Occupied Paducah, Kentucky, giving the Union a strong foothold in the West without bloodshed (September 6).
  4. In his first Civil War battle, Grant defeated a Confederate force at Belmont, Missouri, and then withdrew (November 7).
  5. February 6, 1862: captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

Fort Donelson (February 12 – 16):

  1. Along with Fort Henry, first major Union victory of the war.
  2. Grant wrote to Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner on February 16, 1862, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” This earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.
  3. Surrender of about 13,000 Confederates marked the largest capture of men in the history of the Western Hemisphere up to that time.
  4. Named (two-star) Major General of Volunteers.

Shiloh (April 6 – 7):

  1. Grant faced General Albert Sidney Johnston, widely considered at the time the finest soldier in the Confederate army; Johnston was killed during the battle and replaced by P.G.T. Beauregard.
  2. After initially being attacked and driven back, Grant won a staggering (but bloody) victory, demonstrating that the war would last much longer than many initially predicted.

After victories at Iuka (September 19) and Corinth (October 4) in Mississippi, Grant was named commander of the Department of the Tennessee (October 25).

The Vicksburg Campaign (November 2, 1862 – July 4, 1863):

  1. One of the most brilliant displays of generalship in history.
  2. Vicksburg was considered a virtually impenetrable fortress and was the largest obstacle to Union control of the Mississippi, a critical aim of the war.
  3. After the seemingly dormant Campaign of the Bayous, Grant made a daring move across the Mississippi River with inferior numbers (1863).
  4. Won five battles in 17 days: Port Gibson (May 1), Raymond (May 12), capture of Jackson (May 14), Champion’s Hill (May 16), and Big Black River Bridge (May 17).
  5. Two unsuccessful assaults on Vicksburg (May 19 and May 22).
  6. Siege of Vicksburg (May 19 – July 4).
  7. July 4, 1863: Surrender of Vicksburg to Grant by Confederate General John C. Pemberton. Largest capture of men and arms in history up to that point: 30,000 troops (including 15 generals) and 172 cannon surrendered.
  8. The Confederacy was now virtually divided in half, and the South had suffered perhaps its worst strategic blow in the entire war.

Named commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, which placed him in command of the Western theater of the war (October 16).

Chattanooga (Tennessee):

  1. Victory at Orchard Knob (November 23).
  2. Victory at Lookout Mountain (November 24).
  3. Victory at Missionary Ridge (November 25), a position held by the Confederates and thought to be impregnable, but taken by Grant’s troops in one of the most remarkable tactical victories of the war.
  4. These victories gave the Union control of Chattanooga, a major east-west railroad junction, and marked the successful completion of Grant’s western campaigns.

Grant in the East (1864 - 1865)

Commissioned (three-star) Lieutenant General March 9, 1864, the first man to hold that rank since George Washington, and named supreme commander of the Union armies by President Lincoln (March 12).

Grant as a modern general:

  1. An innovator by nature, Grant grew as a general during his three years in the West.
  2. The lessons he learned throughout his campaigns contributed to his development as the first of the world’s truly modern generals.
  3. The Wilderness Campaign is often regarded as opening the first full modern campaign of warfare.
    1. Grant as general-in-chief began a new period of Union command.
    2. Instead of armies acting independently in the western and eastern theaters, with battles individually deciding the fate of campaigns, Grant coordinated Union armies throughout the Confederacy, engaging the enemy at important points simultaneously and continuously.
    3. Union offensives in different regions were interdependent upon each other for ultimate Union success.
    4. Armies became principal targets rather than cities.
    5. Armies were to be decisively defeated whenever possible, but where that could not be accomplished, constant force and attrition would maintain the strategic initiative and prevent Confederate armies from upsetting Union efforts in other areas.
    6. Unlike generals before him, Grant had a unique understanding of the relationship between war and politics and applied it to his strategy.

The Wilderness Campaign (May 5 – June 17):

  1. The Wilderness (May 5-7).
    1. Acting as de facto commander of the Army of the Potomac, Grant faced Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, for the first time.
    2. After Grant crossed the Rapidan River on May 4, the two armies engaged in heavy, sometimes desperate, fighting, with severe losses on both sides (17,000 for the Union, 11,000 for the Confederates).
    3. The battle could be considered a tactical stalemate but a strategic victory. Lee failed to halt Grant’s progress southward, and Grant had taken control of the strategic initiative. Within three days, he had brought the Union initiative in the East to greater heights than it had reached in three years.
  2. Spotsylvania (May 8-12).
    1. Another tactically indecisive battle marked by heavy fighting but progress for the Union.
    2. Battle of the Bloody Angle (May 11): although he did not break through Lee’s lines, Grant incurred heavy losses on Lee (9-10,000) and strategically crippled him.
    3. Grant declared (May 11), “I…purpose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”
  3. Operations on the North Anna River (May 23-26): Lee withdrew to powerful entrenchments south of the river, and instead of pursuing a frontal assault, Grant decided on another maneuver southward.
  4. Cold Harbor (June 1-3): Grant suffered heavy losses (5-7,000) during a disastrous June 3 frontal assault.
  5. Grant’s crossing of the James River (June 15-18): one of the great maneuvers of the war, Grant moved over 100,000 troops south of the river before Lee could learn of the movement in time.

The Petersburg Campaign (June 18, 1864 – April 2, 1865):

  1. Grant besieged Lee in Petersburg, the “breadbasket” of Richmond, the Confederate capital.
  2. Campaign of attrition.
    1. Trench warfare.
    2. Often viewed as a precursor to World War I.
  3. Grant captured Fort Harrison in a surprise attack on September 29.
  4. Treatment of black soldiers:
    1. Grant was a supporter of the recruitment of black soldiers during the Civil War.
    2. Upon learning that Confederates were enslaving, murdering, and otherwise brutalizing black prisoners of war, Grant demanded equal treatment of all captured troops.
    3. Lee refused, so Grant refused to engage in further prisoner exchanges, leading to heavy buildups in prisoner-of-war camps.
  5. Lee made a failed attack on Fort Stedman as a last-ditch effort to launch an offensive (March 25, 1865).
  6. Battle of Five Forks (April 1) forced Lee to abandon Petersburg as Grant broke through his lines.
  7. Capture of Petersburg (April 2).

The Appomattox Campaign (April 2 – April 9, 1865):

  1. Capture of Richmond (April 3).
  2. Victory at Sayler’s Creek (April 7).
  3. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House (April 9).
    1. Grant’s generous terms set the tone for peace: 21,000 prisoners paroled, officers allowed to keep their sidearms, and those with horses could keep them for the spring plowing.
    2. The Civil War was virtually ended and the nation reunited. Surrenders of other armies followed.

General-in-Chief (1865 - 1869)


  1. Andrew Johnson had become president upon Lincoln’s assassination and faced the issue of restoring the nation.
  2. A central question involved the status of former slaves. Johnson’s opposition to civil rights measures to advance the rights of former slaves led to a major conflict with Radical Republicans in Congress who favored full civil equality regardless of race.
  3. Grant was commissioned the first full (four-star) General in American history (July 25, 1866).
  4. Conflict with Radicals in Congress led to passage of the Tenure of Office Act, which required Senate approval for the removal of a cabinet member.
    1. Convinced that the act, which clearly undermined his authority, was unconstitutional, Johnson arguably defied the law by removing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton without Senate approval.
    2. Johnson appointed Grant Secretary of War ad interim (August 12, 1867).
    3. Troubled by Johnson’s attempts to create the impression that he supported his course of action, Grant served until 1868 but declined to become a part of Johnson’s further plans that year.
    4. Johnson was impeached, escaping removal by one vote.

Nomination and election of 1868.

  1. Grant was clearly the most popular figure in the country.
  2. Although he had had a soldier’s aversion to politics, Grant became concerned that Johnson’s Reconstruction policies were detrimental to the country and had come to support the Radical platform.
  3. Nominated the Republican candidate for president (May 21, 1868).
  4. Declared “Let us have peace,” later the inscription on his tomb, in his letter of acceptance upon his nomination for president.
  5. Elected to his first term as president, defeating Governor Horatio Seymour of New York (November 3).
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