General Ulysses S. Grant, USA — Civil War Snapshot

General Ulysses S. Grant. Image Source: Wikipedia.

General Ulysses S. Grant is widely credited for leading the Union Army to victory in the American Civil War. Although he was accused of poor conduct early in the war, he was able to rise above the criticism and led the army to key victories in the Western Theater, including Vicksburg. After another victory at Chattanooga in 1863, Grant was placed in command of all armies of the United States. Grant moved East and implemented his Overland Campaign and pursued Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. By April 1865, the pursuit ended at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865 — the third time an entire Confederate army surrendered to Grant.

When the Civil War started in 1861, Ulysses S. Grant accepted an appointment as a Colonel in the Illinois Militia. In August, he accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the volunteer army, and on September 1, Major General John C. Frémont selected Grant to command the District of Southeast Missouri.

Grant in Command of the District of West Tennessee

Grant’s first Civil War action took place in Missouri at the inconclusive Battle of Belmont in November. One month later, Major General Henry W. Halleck placed Grant in command of the District of Cairo. Grant quickly established his credentials as an able commander by capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1863. Halleck rewarded Grant by assigning him to command the newly created District of West Tennessee.

Battle of Fort Donelson, Painting
Battle of Fort Donelson. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Criticism at Shiloh

Grant’s reputation suffered when Confederate forces surprised him at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Nearly defeated on the first day of the conflict, Grant rallied his troops on the second day and drove the Confederate forces back. Although Grant won the battle, the Northern press criticized him for being surprised by the attack. Rumors circulated Grant was drunk when Confederates bayoneted Union soldiers in their tents as they slept. After two weeks of criticism, Halleck relieved Grant of field command. During the Siege of Corinth, Grant served as Halleck’s second-in-command. Following the Union victory at Corinth, Halleck restored Grant’s command. 

In July 1862, President Abraham Lincoln placed Halleck in charge of all federal armies. Before departing for his new post in Washington, Halleck expanded Grant’s responsibilities as commander of the District of West Tennessee. In October, the War Department created the Department of Tennessee and placed Grant in command of Union forces that came to be known as the Army of Tennessee.

Victory at Vicksburg Leads to Grant’s Promotion to Major General

Grant spent the rest of 1862 and the first half of 1863 trying to capture the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. After several failed attempts to assault the city, followed by a long siege, the Confederate garrison surrendered the city on July 4. Grant’s victory propelled him to new heights. Within a month, he was promoted to Major General in the Regular Army.

Although a great Union victory, the Vicksburg Campaign was not without some controversy for Grant. Frustrated by black-market trade between Northern merchants and Confederates, Grant issued General Order Number 11, on December 17, 1862, expelling all Jews from the Department of the Tennessee. The order created such a protest throughout the North that President Lincoln rescinded it on January 4, 1863.

Victory at Chattanooga Leads to Grant’s Promotion to Command of All U.S. Armies

In October 1863, the War Department merged the departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee under Grant’s command, and ordered him to move as soon as possible to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the Army of the Cumberland was under siege. Within a month, forces under Grant’s leadership lifted the siege and drove the Confederate forces into northern Georgia. Grant’s victory at the Battle of Chattanooga prompted Congress and President Lincoln to confer upon him the rank of Lieutenant General, in command of all of the armies of the United States on March 10, 1864.

Abraham Lincoln, Portrait, Gardner
Abraham Lincoln. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Grant Pursues Lee

Grant drafted a plan to get the various Union armies in the field to act together. He also devised his Overland Campaign to invade east-central Virginia and destroy Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. On May 4, 1864, Grant accompanied the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George Meade, as it launched the Overland Campaign. For the next eleven months, Grant pursued Lee through the Overland Campaign, Petersburg Campaign, and Appomattox Campaign until Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, marking the third time an entire Confederate army surrendered to Grant.

Surrender at Appomattox Court House, Thomas Nast
Surrender at Appomattox Court House by Thomas Nast. Image Source: Wikipedia.

General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War — 1861

  • Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned as a Colonel in the 21st Illinois Infantry on June 17, 1861.
  • President Lincoln appointed Grant as a Brigadier General of Volunteers on July 31, 1861.
  • General Grant commanded troops in his first Civil War engagement at the Battle of Belmont on November 7, 1861.

General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War — 1862

  • General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Henry, in western Tennessee, on February 6, 1862.
  • General Grant captured Fort Donelson, in western Tennessee, on February 16, 1862.
  • After capturing Fort Donelson, Grant acquired the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, because of the terms of surrender that he dictated.
  • Officials promoted Grant to Major General of Volunteers on February 16, 1862.
  • General Grant rallied his men to victory at the Battle of Shiloh on April 7, 1862, after being surprised and driven back by a Confederate attack on April 6.
  • He was criticized by the press and accused of being drunk when Confederates launched a surprise attack on Union forces on April 6.
  • Grant lost his field command when Major General Henry Halleck personally took command of operations in Western Tennessee after the Battle of Shiloh.
  • General Grant was restored to command of the Army of the Tennessee on July 11, 1862, when Major General Halleck was promoted to General-in-Chief of the Union Armies.

General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War — 1863

  • General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863, following a six-week siege.
  • General Grant was promoted to Major General in the Regular Army on July 3, 1863.
  • Grant was promoted to commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi on October 16, 1863.
  • General Grant lifted Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Siege of Chattanooga by establishing the “Cracker Line” and winning the Battle for Chattanooga (November 23-25, 1863).

General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War — 1864

  • General Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Lieutenant General and General-in-Chief of the United States Armies on March 17, 1864.
  • General Grant traveled with Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac and personally oversaw the pursuit of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia toward the end of the Civil War.

General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War — 1865

  • Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865.