The Civil War and Ulysses Grant

The United States of America was engulfed in civil battles for four years, from 1861 to 1865. There was already a conflict between the North and South regarding slavery, but the situation was made even worse after the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in 1860. It would later turn out to be one of the bloodiest civil wars in American history. After Lincoln’s election, some eleven states from the South seceded from the Union. Lincoln never took this rebellion lightly, declaring the move illegal. Therefore, he ordered some half a million soldiers to quash the impending rebellion. The first shots were fired in April 1861. What was supposed to be a simple operation turned into a full blown war, nationally fought with grave consequences. Finally, after four years of one of the darkest moments in American history, peace was restored with the surrender of Lee and his Confederate army. The war took a terrible toll: some 620,000 Americans had lost their lives, millions had been injured and the Southern landscape had taken a beating. This paper pays special attention to one of the major protagonists of the war: Hiram Ulysses Grant.

Early Life

Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant Ohio on April 17, 1822. His father was a tanner      and taught his son to handle equestrians, a practice that came in handy later in life when he was appointed to West Point. He graduated in 1843 before serving in the Mexican War. He was to join the 4th infantry Regiment as a lieutenant. He was under the command of Zachary Taylor at Monterey and also Winfeild Scott at Mexico City. The war was pretty much a one-sided affair and it did not impress Grant.

Grant’s Role in the Civil War

When the war broke out in April 1861, Ulysses Grant was working in Illinois at his father’s leather store. He was quickly drafted as Governor to be in charge of an unruly volunteer regiment. He proved to be quite efficient in that regard and five months later, he had moved up the ranks to brigadier general of volunteers. Grant was now in command of the district of South East Missouri.

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Grant’s first assignment came on September 4, 1861, when the Confederate Army led by General Leonidas Polk moved into Kentucky near the Ohio River. To counter this, Grant led his troops to the mouths of Tennessee and Cumberland rivers that flowed into the Ohio and set up a base there. He was now in control of the primary waterway into the territory held by Confederates. Grant was later to engage in some bloodier battles during the Civil War. The next section analyses the battles that he was actively engaged in.

The Capture of Fort Henry

This battle was fought in February 1862. Ulysses Grant, still a brigadier general, had not yet distinguished himself in the Civil War. On February 6, the Union Army used gunboats to travel along the Tennessee River to FortHenry. Grant was under the command of Flag Officer Andrew Foote during this mission. Grant’s men approached the enemy by land as Foote continued to use gunboats. The gunboats were to engage the Confederate Army led by Lloyd Tilghman, before Grant and his troops launched an assault. The plan worked to perfection before the soldiers had even joined up. The Confederates were pounded so much by the gunboats that they were forced into submission. Less than a hundred of them, including the commander of the garrison Brig. General Tilghman, actually surrendered, with the rest fleeing to FortDonelson. This was Grant’s first real success in the war. Encouraged, he pursued the Confederates to Donelson.

It took Grant five days, though, to start the short journey to Donelson, a far much dangerous proposition than FortHenry. He also had to ready his troops for the battle that awaited them. On February 13, Grant and his men, numbering 15000, had surrounded FortDonelson. There was no heavy fighting that day, though. The battle began in earnest the following day as the gunboats engaged 11 big guns of the Confederates. After less than two hours, the big guns had inflicted so much damage on the gunboats that the Unionists and Grant had to retreat, much to the delight of the Southern soldiers.

Having lost the first round of fighting, the Union Army needed reinforcements, and they were duly delivered on a daily basis. Grant now had a large enough army under his command that completely surrounded the Confederates. The battle was reignited on February 15, but then again the Southerners were proving too strong for Grant and his men. Though the Confederates were originally supposed to go out to Nashville, the confusion in their ranks caused them to remain in Donelson. Grant seized the opportunity to launch a well-marshaled offensive that had the Confederates on the back foot. They were now completely surrounded with no route of escape. However, the Confederates broke up into small groups and managed to escape somehow. Some of the Confederate army men, under the command of Buckner, remained behind. On February 16, Buckner and his troops surrendered to the Union Army, now under the undisputed command of Ulysses Grant.

Ulysses Grant had led the Union Army to the capture of Henry and Donelson forts. The North had just scored their first major victory of the Civil War. This was a new dawn for the Northerners; and with a new hero in the person of Ulysses Grant. The Confederates gave up Kentucky and most parts of Tennessee. Grant’s legacy had just began; a legacy that was to stand the test of time.

The Battle of Shiloh

This battle was fought in April 1862. After the capture of Henry and Donelson forts, the Confederate General in command of the forts, Albert Johnson, had retreated. However, he regrouped his troops in Mississippi where he would launch a counter attack on the troops led by Major General Ulysses (of Tennessee) before they were joined by Major General Don Carlos Buell and his troops (from Ohio). Johnson and his troops attacked the Union troops led by Ulysses on April 6, taking them by surprise. Many of the Union forces were killed in the process. Confederate forces surrounded the Union troops at the Hornets Nest after getting a massive support from their large collection of artillery. Cornered and having nowhere to run to, most of the Union army men were wounded, captured and killed. After the death of Johnson, his second in command, the aforementioned Beauregard, took control of the Confederate Army.

The Union troops regrouped and received a major reinforcement after the arrival of Buell and his troops. The battle never stopped even when it was dark. In the morning of the7th, more than 40,000 Union army men were facing less than 30000 Confederates. Having a numerical superiority, the Union forces started to advance from their battle lines as the opponents retreated. This time round, there were more casualties from the Confederate side which forced Beauregard to retreat to Mississippi after realizing that he was losing the battle. The next day, Ulysses ordered some of his troops to pursue Beauregard. However, they were stopped by Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest who proved to be too aggressive and violent but was eventually overpowered After, this episode the Union troops abandoned their mission of pursuing Beauregard.

After this battle was won, Ulysses Grant was in constant pursuit of a handful of the Confederate forces. They retreated further and further, launching occasional counterattacks to thwart Grant’s assault..

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Battle at Vicksburg

By May and June of 1863 (the time the battle was fought), Ulysses had risen to the rank of Major General of the Union army. Grant’s men attacked the city and entrapped the Confederate Army led by Lt. General John Pemberton. However, the two ensuing attempts of the Union Army to take the city by storm failed. A masterful thinker, Grant decided to starve the defenders into submission. This tactic proved to be very successful and the Confederates surrendered the city to Grant. Described by President Lincoln as the best tactic in the world, Grant’s reputation was enhanced. The Confederates were now split into two and had just lost a vital stronghold. While the Confederates were counting their losses, Grant was getting more honors. He was appointed General-in-Chief of the Union Army. His next assignment was the Battle of the Wilderness.

Battle of the Wilderness

This battle was fought near Richmond in the spring of 1864. Richmond was under the command of General Robert Lee. Grant purposed to take over the city which would signal a sure defeat for the Confederates.  He led his troops towards Richmond on May 5, 1864, across the Rapidan River. Fighting broke out that same day when the rival armies clashed in the wilderness.     

The wilderness proved to be harsh for both armies as it consisted of underbrush and brackish water that covered an area of about 2100 square miles. Visibility was poor and the only way to find direction was through the use of a compass. Troops had to wait for gunshots before reacting due to these conditions. The situation was not helped by the frequent fires that always engulfed the brushes and caused deaths of many soldiers. Around 200 men were suffocated or burned to death due to the fires. Initially, Grant had nearly 90000 soldiers, but he lost 14283 of them, while 3383 went missing. The Confederates lost 7750 men in this battle. The battle lasted about two days. Grant and his troops managed to advance to Richmond as Lee retreated to Spotsylvania.

Battle of Petersburg

Robert Lee had so far managed to hold off Grant’s troops. This was due to the fact that he forced the Unionists to fight in unconventional places. The strategy proved successful and the Union Army had been rebuffed at Cold Harbor. Grant had to come up with new and workable strategies. He decided to move his forces south of the River James where he would cut the supply line into Richmond. In cooperation with other commanders, Grant managed to confuse Lee on what strategy they would use in the battle.

Coordinated by General Smith, the Union Army launched its first attack on June 15. It took the Confederate Army by complete surprise and five of its redans were captured in the assault. However, the onslaught was hurriedly prepared and the Unionists’ expectations were not met. On the following day, the Union army attacked again but they never broke through the Confederate lines of defense. Beauregard was massively understaffed and planned an escape route on June 17.

Robert Lee was still in confusion while the Confederates were being attacked. It was only on the morning of 18th that he headed towards Petersburg. However, the Union forces, after learning that Beauregard had escaped, abandoned their planned attack. By that time, Grant’s army was too exhausted to launch a meaningful attack.

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General Grant granted his troops a well-deserved rest, although some small-scale fighting still went on. In late July, Grant and his men embarked on cutting railroad links leading to Petersburg. This led to Lee withdrawing his position to further South.

In the subsequent wars, Grant was not that much actively involved. His main role was to order his juniors to lead their armies in battle fronts. The most decisive command was given to William Sherman who was to attack Five Forks. Led by General William Sherman, the Union Army advanced to South Carolina and they easily overpowered the Confederates leaving nearly all state burnt to the ground. The army then headed to Virginia where they joined up with General Meade and his troops. They were later joined by General Benjamin Butler with his troops. On the first day of April, General Sheridan launched an offensive at Five Forks, a move that overwhelmed the Confederates. 5200 Confederates were killed. Robert Lee retreated from Richmond.

Richmond was now in the hands of Grant after the battle. However, Robert Lee, for his part, was determined to go on fighting. But his army of 8000 soldiers was no match for the more than 100000 soldiers of the Union. It was clear that engaging in fight with the Unionists would be a stupid move. Therefore, he contacted General Ulysses Grant and after a quickly struck deal at Appomattox he surrendered on the 9th of April. The war was officially over.

Post War Grant

Ulysses Grant was the clear winner and hero of the American Civil War. He even attended the cabinet meeting soon after the war. He was held in high regard by Lincoln, although he was not around when Lincoln was assassinated. A staunch opponent of slavery, Grant was at the forefront of fighting for the rights of blacks and former slaves. Grant was an honorable and inspirational man even after the war. His enviable skill of inspiring the Union troops was unmatched. It was this charisma that made him president of the United States later in that century (1869-1877). Although it was generally not a good period in the US history, the efforts he put in fighting for equal rights for all were invaluable. Ulysses Grant Hiram died in 1885.


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