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Last Best Hope of Earth

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Ulysses Grant

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

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The Bloody Angle. By: Mort Künstler.

At Spotsylvania, Virginia, within miles of the Confederate capital, the rebels had constructed the strongest defensive position yet in the war. Robert E. Lee, despite any evidence of a Union movement in that direction, presciently ordered his men to the town as it was the “best strategic point” for the federals.[i] Ulysses S. Grant, continuing his offensive into southern territory, opted to divide his men for both a flank maneuver around the fieldworks and a direct attack on them. Continue reading “The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House”

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The Battle of the Wilderness

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Robert E. Lee Leading the Texans. By: Don Troiani.

By the spring of 1864, changes were abound on the Union side. Three generals—Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan—had become the preeminent leaders of the northern army. With Congress having revived the rank of lieutenant general, a rank last held by George Washington, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to that rank and bestowed on him the title of general in chief.[i] While the North was in the ascendancy, the Confederate army had suffered through the winter. The Confederate Congress had eliminated substitution, which had allowed wealthy southerners to avoid conscription, and “required soldiers whose three-year enlistments were about to expire to remain in the army.”[ii] Even with Congress taking the extraordinary step of adjusting the draft age range to seventeen years old through fifty years old, the rebels still numbered fewer than half their opponents.[iii] Nonetheless, hope was not lost: a camaraderie pervaded the Southern army—particularly amongst the many veteran soldiers—which was perhaps best encapsulated in General Robert E. Lee’s saying that if their campaign was successful, “we have everything to hope for in the future. If defeated, nothing will be left for us to live for.”[iv] Continue reading “The Battle of the Wilderness”

The Battle of Gettysburg

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The Battle of Gettysburg. By: Mort Künstler.

By the spring of 1863, the Union had given the Confederacy every reason to remain defensive: for the duration of the war, federal troops had invaded points throughout the south forcing the rebels to shift to the location of each incision. Allowing this dynamic to continue to play out meant the only way for a Confederate success was a negotiated peace. On May 15, the southern brain trust, including General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis, convened in Richmond to discuss strategy. Lee proposed that he lead an effort that would remove the threat to Richmond, throw the Yankees on their heels, spell political doom for the Republicans (led by Abraham Lincoln in the White House), open up the possibility of Britain or France recognizing the Confederacy, and, at worst, an armistice that resulted in the Confederate States of America coexisting with the United States.[i] While Postmaster-General John Reagan and other Confederates felt that Lee should have sent troops to protect Vicksburg and the west from the trouble Ulysses S. Grant and his men were causing, Lee did not want to oblige the Confederacy to remain on the defensive but instead introduce the “prospect of an advance” as it would change “the aspect of affairs.”[ii] Continue reading “The Battle of Gettysburg”

The Siege of Vicksburg

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Grant at Vicksburg. By: Mort Künstler.

In the western theater of war, Ulysses S. Grant had set his sights on a goal early in his campaigning: Vicksburg, a town hugging the Mississippi River on the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Taking the city would not only secure the Mississippi River; taking it would give the Union a lasso around the Confederacy. Just as spring of 1863 was getting underway, Grant had drawn up a plan to take the town and tighten the Union grip on the Confederacy. Continue reading “The Siege of Vicksburg”

The Emancipation Proclamation

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The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. By: Laura Era.

American history is replete with instances of the public pressuring a president to take action on an issue. On far fewer occasions, presidents, through speaking to voters, calling for congressional action, or issuing executive orders, have risked political capital to lead the public to advance on a prominent issue. In the middle of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln convened his Cabinet to discuss taking action on an issue that had been consuming him for weeks but was likely to endanger his bid for reelection in 1864 and was certain to change the direction of the ongoing and increasingly bloody Civil War. Continue reading “The Emancipation Proclamation”

The Battle of Shiloh

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Nathan Bedford Forrest Attacking Union Cavalry. By: Mort Künstler.

Two of the greatest Confederate generals in early 1862, Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard, rendezvoused in Corinth, Mississippi with a combined 42,000 men.[i] The city not only could serve as an origin point of a campaign into nearby Tennessee; it also was the meeting point for the Confederacy’s “main north-south and east-west railroads.”[ii] Given Corinth’s importance, Henry Halleck ordered Ulysses S. Grant to march his men to Pittsburg Landing, wait for his fellow general Don Carlos Buell to arrive with his army, and then move on Corinth as a combined force numbering approximately 75,000.[iii]

Continue reading “The Battle of Shiloh”

The Battle of Fort Donelson

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The Battle of Fort Donelson. By: Kurz and Allison.

Sited on the banks of the Cumberland River and only a matter of miles from Fort Henry, Fort Donelson was slated for Union assault even before General Ulysses S. Grant’s taking of Fort Henry. The close proximity between the two forts ensured that the Confederates would not be taken by surprise when Grant went onto Fort Donelson, but both sides knew that the ceding of Donelson would be a swift second defeat in a matter of days and inspire the Union to make further advances into Tennessee and Kentucky.

Continue reading “The Battle of Fort Donelson”

Grant’s Taking of Fort Henry

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The Bombardment and Capture of Fort Henry, Tenn. By: Granger.

In early 1862, heartened by his troops’ performance at the Battle of Belmont, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant had determined that he was capable of making inroads into the Confederacy. Securing the network of rivers feeding into the Mississippi River as well as the Mississippi itself would hinder the Confederacy’s mobility and economy, and accomplishing this objective would bring him into two states that did not officially join the Confederacy but parts of which were Confederate-controlled: Kentucky and Tennessee. Bordering those states, on the banks of the Tennessee River, Grant saw a Confederate fort ripe for the plucking: Fort Henry. Continue reading “Grant’s Taking of Fort Henry”

The Battle of Belmont

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Painting of the Battle of Belmont.

When fighting erupted between Confederate and Union forces in Mississippi County, Missouri, few could have expected that one man, a newly-promoted Brigadier General, would emerge from obscurity and tragedy and begin his upward trajectory to the heights of American myth and legend. Nonetheless, at the end of the Battle of Belmont, that man—Ulysses S. Grant—had secured himself admiration from his commanders and established a brand of warfare that would later elevate him up the ranks and define the Union’s conduct of the war. Continue reading “The Battle of Belmont”

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