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General Grant vs. General Lee
Two of the most successful and well-known Generals in the Civil War would go face to face with one another towards the war’s very last days. General Lee’s surrender would eventually mark the end of his war efforts at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Having that said, he still produced some of the most challenging strategic battlefield plans that would trouble General Grant and every Commanding General before him. The two General’s background and ideology during the Civil War encompass multiple similarities. To the public, these men had achieved and accomplished far more than any other military leader during the Civil War. Their efforts are recognized and honored to this very day. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee showed both similarities and differences from their upbringing, their experiences in war, and their accomplishments while in command of their troops.
Robert E. Lee, born on January 19, 1807, is from Stratford, Virginia. Robert E. Lee’s family would have highly notified members that would be successful in the state of Virginia. Raised in an aristocratic household, Lee was not as wealthy as his other family members were. Similar to Grant, Lee did not have the finances within his family to attend school. Lee was given the opportunity to attend the United States Military Academy, West Point, after following an appointment with admissions.
Lee was a strong, kind, and a religious man who led the Confederate Armies. Contrary to his counterpart Grant, Lee was second in his class at West Point. He definitely proved to be a valuable General during his time. He was able to successfully lead Confederate Soldiers through four bloody years of combat. He had a great ability to measure an enemy’s strength and location. Lee knew how to move an army quickly over many miles. He had a superb sense of when to attack and when to withdraw. All in all, he has been judged one of the greatest military leaders in U.S. history. Although he was a Commanding General during the whole Civil War, he was a Southerner against slavery, and he did not like the idea of the South seceding from the Union.
Ulysses S. Grant, born on April 22, 1822, is from Point Pleasant, Ohio. His parents would end up relocating the family to Georgetown, Ohio. Ulysses S. Grant was known, in his early childhood, to be quite shy and to himself. By the time Ulysses S. Grant turned seventeen, he was accepted to the United States Military Academy West Point after his father had assisted with the admissions process. Ulysses S. Grant was mediocre during his attendance at West Point, proving to not be anything out of the ordinary from his classmates. He did not put much effort in his school work and was careless with his dressing when arriving to class, which we would see later on in his career where he did not dress as a Commanding General in theory. This was shown when he was given disciplinary action. Ulysses S. Grant graduated 21st out of the 39 people in his class at West Point. His intentions following school would be to only complete his mandatory four years of military service and not continue.
Grant was not as well-known at the start Civil War as Lee but managed to be just as valuable. Grant had a decent record during the Mexican War, but when the Civil War broke out, he was selling wood as a civilian on the side of the road trying to provide for his family. It wasn’t until 1861 when Grant decided to try and rejoin the Army. With some pleading for his former rank in the Mexican War, he was later accepted in the Army and served as a Colonel. He won fame for demanding unconditional surrender from the Southern commanders he was fighting. In fact, people in the North began saying Grant’s initials, “U.S.,” stood for “Unconditional Surrender.” In battle, Grant was tough, hard and a ruthless leader. He was not “a retreating man.” As cannons roared, he sometimes carved wood or smoked big cigars. It was also said that he was given twenty cigars at the battle of Vicksburg, by the end of the battle he gave out two of his cigars and saved the last one for himself, smoking eighteen of the cigars himself. As a result, Grant ultimately died of throat cancer due to his smoking habits.
Once Grant was made General, he became the leading figure of the war in the West. Fighting multiple battles within just several weeks and winning them all changed the tide in the war. When he captured the city of Vicksburg, he was able to do so by starving the city to surrender. Cutting off all their resources proved to be extremely successful. These successes led to him being called to the white house by Lincoln. Unlike Lee, Grant didn’t care about his appearance, often appearing sloppy in his dress uniform. His posture wasn’t straight, and he had a rough, untidy beard. Just like at West Point, the disciplinary actions he took for not looking in standards made him a man that was different from any other General at this time. Not taking any of these details into consideration, Lincoln still promoted Grant to the highest rank of the Army even though many officers believed he didn’t deserve it. Lincoln knew Grant was the leader that he needed and even said “Whatever type of whiskey Grant drinks, let me know so I can get some for the rest of the General Officers.
Lee and Grant were two one of a kind Generals with many differences, but who also had similar traits. Both men were extremely stubborn, yet faithful to their cause and beliefs. They refused to give up and were very tenacious. They were both willing to take massive risks in order to win their battles. Each man rose to greatness in his ability to turn to peace at the war’s end. Both Lee and Grant behaved with enormous graciousness when they met briefly in Appomattox Court House to finalize the South’s surrender that ultimately led to peace and to the start of a united country.
Throughout their lifetimes, Grant and Lee both had very different up bringing’s, which lead to a multitude of characteristic, differences and even some similarities. It is safe to say that their performances at West Point showcased what types of leaders they would be later in their lives. Due to their personalities and traits, both of their career paths eventually lead to them becoming Generals. Both these great Generals, fighting through many battles, have paved the way for all future leaders in our Army.
- “Ulysses S. Grant.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/ulysses-s-grant-1
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