This year is the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, so I’m going to talk about some important Generals in the American Civil War. Soldiers may have fought the war, but neither side would have won had it not been for Generals. Generals lead soldiers into war and command and implement strategies to win it. Many Generals had different personalities, too. Some were seemingly born to command and to strategize, while others simply had no idea how to win a battle. Here are some, I think, of the best and worst Generals for both the Union and the Confederacy during the war:
One of the Union’s greatest Generals was:
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
Title: [Major General Ulysses S. Grant]
Date Created/Published: [Cincinnati : E.C. Middleton & Company, c1866]
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
You’ve probably heard this man’s name before. After serving in the Mexican-American War like so many of his comrades and opponents during the Civil War, Grant joined the Union army a colonel in 1861. He would soon win battles that would lead to both the Confederacy’s defeat and his later appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Union army, not to mention his election as President of the United States.
Grant first captured forts Henry and Donelson, establishing his reputation as “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Grant later saw action at Shiloh and later captured Vicksburg, Mississippi, giving the Union access to the Mississippi River. This resulted in Grant’s promotion to Major General. Grant’s further victory at Chattanooga resulted in his promotion as Commander-In-Chief of all Union Armies. Eventually, Grant’s Overland Campaign to trap Lee succeeded, resulting in Lee surrendering at Appomattox courthouse in 1865, effectively ending the Civil War. For more information, see my previous blog post about President Grant here.
One of the Union’s worst Generals was:
Benjamin Butler (1818-1893)
Title: [Portrait of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, officer of the Federal Army]
Creator(s): Brady National Photographic Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.), photographer
Date Created/Published: [Between 1860 and 1865]
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Butler’s failures may have been a result of his lack of Military Experience and his popularity as a politician.
Butler joined the army in 1861 as a Major General. His only successful military campaign was to capture forts Hatteras and Clark. Butler was then assigned to occupy New Orleans in 1862, but it was his controversial acts during his occupation of the city that helps rank him among the worst of the Union generals. He seized cotton from the people of the city, censured the newspapers, and executed William B. Mumford for tearing down a U.S. flag. He also seized the property of foreign consuls, an act criticized by Lincoln because of the Confederacy’s attempt to be diplomatically recognized. Therefore, this could potentially enrage foreign nations. Lincoln hesitated to remove him until after he won re-election. After a failed campaign against Fort Fisher, Butler was officially recalled by Lincoln.
One of the Best Confederate Generals was:
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
Title: Genl. Robt. E. Lee / J.L. Giles lith.
Creator(s): Giles, J. L. (John Lawrence), lithographer
Date Created/Published: New York : Geo. E. Perine, [between 1860 and 1900]
Library of Congress
Lee was the son of the famous “Light horse Harry” Lee, who served in the Revolutionary War and also as the Governor of Virginia. Robert E. Lee entered the army in 1829 and served in the Mexican-American War. Lee was one of the most distinguished U.S. officers, so Lincoln asked him to join the Union army. However, his home State, Virginia, had already seceded, so Lee joined the Confederacy. He would prove to be the most effective of the Confederacy’s Generals.
Lee joined the Confederacy in 1861 as a Full General and as the Commander of all Virginia’s forces. Lee fought in the Seven Day’s Battles, defeating George McClellan in his Peninsula Campaign in 1862, and defeated him again at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Lee fought at Antietam and was at the time the principle Confederate General, working with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, whom Lee called his “Right Arm”. Lee then defeated Ambrose Burnside, appointed to replace McClellan, at Fredericksburg, prompting “Fighting Joe” Hooker to later replace Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac, the Union’s principle army. Lee then smashed Hooker’s army in 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville, but lost his “Right Arm”. Jackson died of a wound from friendly fire days after the Battle ended. George Meade then replaced Hooker, and Lee decided to march up into Pennsylvania and begin an offensive against the Union, designed to scare the Union into surrender. Lee then encountered Meade at Gettysburg, and began the three-day battle that changed the tide of the War. Gettysburg was a disaster for the Confederacy. Meade’s army defeated Lee, forcing Lee to retreat back to Virginia. From this point on, it would be the Union soldiers who would be on the offensive, and would start the beginning of the end of the Civil War that killed over 600,000 soldiers. Also, a new General came forward to battle Lee: Ulysses S. Grant. Grant rivaled Lee in brilliance, and began a siege of Richmond and Petersburg, effectively ignoring Lee until Richmond fell. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, appointed Lee Commander-In-Chief of all Confederate armies in January 1865, but defeat was inevitable, and Lee was forced to surrender on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War.
One of the Worst Confederate Generals was:
Braxton Bragg (1817-1876)
Title: General Braxton Bragg
Date Created/Published: [photographed between 1861 and 1865, printed later]
Library of Congress
Bragg certainly had little to brag about other than his conduct at Shiloh and his record in the Mexican-American War.
Bragg Joined the Confederate army a Major General in 1861 and saw action at Shiloh. Bragg led his units bravely under enemy fire and was later appointed a Full General, one of seven. He was also appointed commander of the Army of the Mississippi. However, Edmund Kirby Smith, another Confederate General, acted independent of Bragg and both generals tried to lead an attack against the Union General, Don Carlos Smith, winning the Battle of Perryville. However, only half of Buell’s army had been committed to this attack. In one of the major blunders of the war, Bragg retreated instead of capitalizing on this victory. Buell was replaced with a general named Rosecrans, who initiated the Battle of Stones River. In the middle of the battle, Bragg withdrew his army yet again while he was winning a battle. At the Battle of Chickamauga, Bragg tried to smash Rosecrans’s army but his subordinates refused to give him more men. Finally receiving reinforcements, Bragg defeated Rosecrans and forced him to retreat. However, Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga temporarily. In a series of battles with Rosecrans, Bragg lost scores of men, until at the final Battle of Chattanooga, Bragg lost decisively and retreated back to Eastern Tennessee. Bragg was then removed from command.
These are just some of the generals of the Civil War. Some performed brilliantly and bravely, some were mediocre, but most were unprepared. The War had a great cost, too: 600,000 men lost their lives, and many families were torn apart. This War pitted, literally, brother against brother.