Seven American Generals Who Shaped How We Wage War

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Ulysses S. Grant

The work and military strategy of Ulysses S. Grant helped to turn the tide of the Civil War, leading to an eventual Union victory. While Grant is often remembered for his work near the end of the war, he also played a key role in 1863, in the Battle of Vicksburg. Grant split his forces after crossing the Mississippi River, sending General Sherman onto Jackson, Mississippi. He and his army set out to take Vicksburg, a key supply post for the Confederacy. The post was well-defended, but after a nearly two-month siege, Confederate General John Pemberton’s force of 30,000 surrendered to Grant. This paved the way for Grant’s promotion.

Ulysses S. Grant was appointed General-in-Chief of the Union Army in February 1864. As a general, Grant’s strategy differed from those used previously; before, the goal had been the Confederate capitol. For Grant, the goal was the decimation of the Confederate army, at nearly any cost. Unlike the Union commanders of the past, Grant was fully willing to accept massive casualties to achieve this goal and to take advantage of the Union advantage of numbers over the South.

In May of 1864, Grant’s efforts began in earnest to force his way further south and destroy the Confederate Army. During the course of May, the Union suffered massive losses, totaling approximately 50,000 men. This total was half the entire total of the Confederate force at the time. Congress petitioned for Grant’s removal and U.S. President Lincoln refused. While the Union was sustaining immense losses, Grant was winning the battles against General Lee of the Confederacy.

The battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and the eventual siege of Petersburg functionally destroyed the rebel army. In the last year of the war, Grant lost nearly half of the Union army, but it was the last year; and in 1865, General Lee surrendered and the city of Richmond fell to the Union.

Grant’s willingness to accept that a Union victory would only come at great cost was essential to the Union’s win in the Civil War.