Lincoln’s Democrat Generals

George B. McClellan in 1861Some historians have put forward a theory that the Union generals of the early war were lenient in prosecuting the war due to their political leanings. Abraham Lincoln in an effort to garner support for the war appointed a significant number of Democrats as major generals of volunteers at the start of the war.

The most important reason for appointing political generals was to appease important blocs of voters. President Abraham Lincoln used such appointments as a way to get the support of moderate Democrats for the war and for his administration (“War Democrats“). The first three volunteer generals Lincoln appointed, (John Adams DixNathaniel Prentice Banks and Benjamin F. Butler) were all Democrats, and therefore these three officers were the most senior major generals in the Union Army. Republicans were also appointed including Richard James Oglesby of Illinois.

John Adams Dix was a New York politician who had served in the Senate and as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan for less than two months in 1861. He is best known for the telegram that he sent to all Treasury agents in New Orleans. “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” Although the telegram was intercepted by Confederates, and was never delivered, the text found its way to the press, and Dix became one of the first heroes of the North during the Civil War.

Dix was the most senior major general of volunteers in the Union Army because his was the first appointment. He served in a variety of commands in the Eastern Theater. He is best known for the Dix-Hill Cartel for the exchange of prisoners of war.

Nathaniel Prentice Banks was a Massachusetts politician who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives as both a Member and then as Speaker. He left the House and ran for the governorship which he won. He was the second major general of volunteers to be appointed by Lincoln. During his career, Banks held commands in Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley and the Department of the Gulf.

He had the bad fortune to have to face Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley during his memorable Valley Campaign of 1862. Jackson bested Banks at Winchester and later at Cedar Mountain.In the South, Banks commanded at the Siege of Port Hudson and on the Red River Campaign.

Benjamin Butler was the third ranking major general of volunteers appointed by Lincoln. His policies regarding slaves as contraband so they could have freedom, his administration of occupied New Orleans, his ineffectual leadership in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and the fiasco of Fort Fisher rank him as one of the most controversial political generals of the war. Butler was the first Eastern Union General to declare runaway Virginia slaves “contraband of war”; refusing to return them to their masters.

Then we have the most famous of the Democrat Union generals, George B. McClellan. After the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run in July 1861, McClellan was ordered from his post in western Virginia to take command of the Washington defenses. Based on two somewhat minor victories he was feted by the New York Herald as “…the Napoleon of the Present War.”

On May 14th, McClellan at 34 had been promoted to major general in the Regular Army, outranking everyone but Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. Carl Sandburg wrote, “McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.” He was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington.

On August 20th after consolidating a number of Union formations he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. McClellan considered himself the savior of his country. In a letter to his wife he wrote, “I seem to have become the power of the land.”

McClellan immediately went about reorganizing the Army of the Potomac as a superb fighting force. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. From July to November, the army grew from 50,000 to 168,000 men, a stupendous number for the 19th century.

McClellan was a superb logistics officer who understood the use of rail and steamboat transportation in war. However, he never seemed willing to throw his army into the fires of war. Some would say that he loved it too much to risk it in combat. Others whispered that McClellan was among the Union commanders who wished for conciliation with the South on the conditions that prevailed at the start of the war.

McClellan delivered a memorandum to Lincoln on August 2nd which was read to the Cabinet the following day. In it the general seemed to follow Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. He felt that it was necessary “to display such an overwhelming strength, as will convince all our antagonists…of the utter impossibility of resistance.”

McClellan detailed his military grand strategy calling for attacks down the Mississippi, into Missouri, through East Tennessee into Kentucky and into West Texas. Other Union forces would maintain their hold on western Virginia and Fort Monroe. He also alluded to a substantial amphibious forces for attacks along the Southern coastline.

All of this was to be in support of a massive offensive against the Confederate capital of Richmond which would be followed by a thrust deep into the Deep South. McClellan called for a massive army of 273,000 troops with 600 pieces of artillery. This force would have been 20 times the size of the army that captured Mexico City in 1847.

McClellan had two objectives with his strategy. First, he hoped to detach the bulk of the Southern people from their presumably weak loyalty to the “political leaders of the rebels.” His second objective was to convince the “governing aristocratic class” that resistance was futile. In order to be successful with the first objective there could be no more Union defeats. At the same time he felt that a lenient policy of prosecuting the war was necessary in order not to alienate the Southern population.

Part of this lenient policy required the Union Army “to crush the rebels in one campaign” according to a letter that he wrote to his wife on the same day as he wrote the memorandum to Lincoln. He ordered his troops to rigorously respect private property, including slaves, and crush any attempt at a slave insurrection. These were the same orders that he gave his troops in Western Virginia.

However, McClellan could not be moved. Throughout the late and into the fall the Army of the Potomac continued to train while McClellan engaged in a bureaucratic struggle with Winfield Scott. Eventually Scott became so worn out with the struggle that he resigned as General-in-Chief. McClellan was appointed in his place and when he did he pressed his conciliatory views on each of the Union Army’s major commanders.


General George B. McClellan

General George McClellanMaj. Gen. George Brinton McClellan was the youngest commander of the Army of the Potomac when he was given command by Abraham Lincoln after the First Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run). The Army of the Potomac was his creation. He trained it and led it in to a number of battles on the Peninsula and in front of Richmond in 1862. He commanded this large army at the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan was born on December 3, 1826 in Philadelphia, the son of a prominent surgical  ophthalmologist, Dr. George McClellan (1796–1847), the founder of Jefferson Medical College. His mother was Elizabeth Sophia Steinmetz Brinton McClellan (1800–1889), daughter of a leading Pennsylvania family, a woman noted for her “considerable grace and refinement”.

He graduated from West Point in 1846, second in his class of 59 cadets and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He served in the Mexican War and received brevet promotions twice during the war.

After the Mexican War, McClellan spent several years on various assignments but by January 1857 he resigned his commission to return to civilian life. He became chief engineer and vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad and also president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860. He performed well in both jobs; expanding the Illinois Central toward New Orleans and helping the Ohio and Mississippi recover from the Panic of 1857.

At the start of the war, George McClellan was offered the position of major general of volunteers and command of the Ohio militia on April 23, 1861. On May 3 McClellan re-entered federal service by being named commander of the Department of the Ohio, responsible for the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and, later, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia, and Missouri. On May 14, he was commissioned a major general in the regular army. At age 34 he now outranked everyone in the Army other than Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, the general-in-chief.

McClellan began his wartime service in western Virginia where the residents were anxious to remain in the Union. After several victories in what are considered today as minor battles, McClellan began to be referred to as the Young Napoleon.

After the Union defeat at First Manassas, McClellan was brought East by the Lincoln administration. Carl Sandburg wrote, “McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.”

On July 26, the day he reached the capital, McClellan was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. On August 20, several military units in Virginia were consolidated into his department and he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander.

George McClellan may have a reputation as a cautious battlefield and rightly so but he was a superb logistics officer. He incorporated new recruits into his ever-expanding army. At the same time, he supervised the building of the massive Washington defenses. Under McClellan’s command Washington became the most heavily fortified capital in the world, with 48 forts, 480 guns and 7,200 troops.

Meanwhile the Army of the Potomac grew from 50,000 men to 168,000 by November. But that not enough for George McClellan. He proposed an army of 273,000 men and 600 guns that would crush the Confederates in one battle.

McClellan had developed an irrational belief that the Confederate army that was facing him had 150,000 men. But at First Manassas they had only 35,000. He never explained where they had gotten all of those other troops. This mistaken belief was helped along by the imperfect intelligence-gathering of Allan Pinkerton.

By November 1, 1861, McClellan was appointed general-in-chief with the retirement of Gen. Winfield Scott. Lincoln expressed his concern about the “vast labor” involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, “I can do it all.”

Meanwhile, the civilian leadership began to fret that McClellan would never move. Lincoln complained that his commanding general had a case of the “slows”. On January 10, Lincoln met with top generals without McClellan and directed them to formulate a plan of attack, expressing his exasperation with General McClellan with the following remark: “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

After months of exasperation, Lincoln removed McClellan as general-in-chief on March 11, 1862. With this, McClellan proposed his plan to land his army at Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula and attack the Confederate capital of Richmond from the east.

The Union expedition was massive. It was a vast armada that dwarfed all previous American military expeditions, transporting 121,500 men, 44 artillery batteries, 1,150 wagons, over 15,000 horses, and tons of equipment and supplies. They left Alexandria on March 17th and arrived off Fortress Monroe shortly thereafter in stages.

The Union advance up the narrow Peninsula was slow and methodical, befitting McClellan’s reputation as a cautious commander. Starting on April 4th at Yorktown, the Army of the Potomac fought up the Peninsula for nearly two months. The Peninsula was a narrow battlefield that allowed the numerically inferior Confederate force to fight a drawn-out delaying action. The campaign culminated in the Union victory at Seven Pines or Fair Oaks where the Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, was seriously wounded.

Johnston’s replacement was Robert E. Lee who proceeded to engage the Union forces in seven battles over seven days. The Union Army was driven south, away from Richmond and retreated to the James River.

Lincoln, meanwhile, had named Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck as the new general-in-chief. Troops from the Army of the Potomac were transferred to the Army of Virginia under the command of John Pope. The Army of Virginia was decisively defeated at Second Manassas on August 30, 1862.

McClellan was recalled to Washington and on September 2, 1862, Lincoln named McClellan to command “the fortifications of Washington, and all the troops for the defense of the capital.” McClellan was counted upon to reorganize and combine the Army of the Potomac with the shattered Army of Virginia. Within two weeks, they were engaged in combat with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

On the road to Sharpsburg, Maryland, George McClellan was presented with an opportunity that few generals ever receive: a complete set of the enemy’s plans. An Indiana corporal discovered the written instructions from Robert E. Lee to his subordinate commanders: Special Order 191. With this plan, McClellan was given the golden opportunity to defeat the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in detail and surely end the war.

But an army is very hard to move nimbly and McClellan was not used to quick movements. Instead, they gave Lee the opportunity to slip out of the Union trap. The two armies met in a straight forward battle of attrition along Antietam Creek that resulted in a total of almost 23,000 killed and wounded on both sides.

Rather than follow up the Confederate retreat, McClellan did almost nothing, allowing Lee’s battered army to retreat to the safety of Virginia. Although McClellan had achieved a tactical victory by holding the field, President Lincoln and the Washington authorities viewed it as a disappoint. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia was allowed to live and fight another day. On November 7, 1862, Lincoln relieved McClellan of command and replaced him with Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

George McClellan was ordered to return to Trenton, New Jersey to await further orders. They never came. McClellan was nominated by the Democrats to run against Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 U.S. presidential election. Following the example of Winfield Scott, he ran as a U.S. Army general still on active duty; he did not resign his commission until election day, November 8, 1864. He supported continuation of the war and restoration of the Union (though not the abolition of slavery). He was defeated handily by Lincoln, receiving only 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212.

In 1877, McClellan was nominated by the Democrats for Governor of New Jersey, an action that took him by surprise because he had not expressed an interest in the position. He accepted the nomination, was elected, and served a single term from 1878 to 1881, a tenure marked by careful, conservative executive management and minimal political rancor.

McClellan died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 58 at Orange, New Jersey, after having suffered from chest pains for a few weeks. His final words, at 3 a.m., October 29, 1885, were, “I feel easy now. Thank you.” He was buried at Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, New Jersey. He was survived by his wife Ellen and two children George Jr. (known as Max) and Mary (known as May).





Another View of George McClellan at Antietam

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series The Maryland Campaign

General George McClellanMaj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, has come in for withering criticism from most historians for his actions at the Battle of Antietam.

There are some who question his timidity and say that he may not have had the will to destroy the Confederate army because he was a Democrat. As a Democrat, they say, he was opposed to Lincoln’s war aims of freeing the slaves. However, only a select few knew that Lincoln would issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after the next Union victory.

Others say that McClellan was loathe to hazard the Army of the Potomac in pitched battle. He had created the army over the previous year and the troops worshiped their young commander.

Here are some known facts about George McClellan. He was superb when it came to military logistics. We must remember that at the start of the war no officer had commanded a regiment in peacetime, much less an army in combat. The two army’s were simply armed mobs in the fighting of 1861, intent upon bludgeoning the other side into submission.

McClellan took the Union armed mob and made it into the Army of the Potomac. At the start of the Peninsula Campaign, he made sure that his vast army of 100,000 all arrived on the Peninsula in reasonable order with proper supplies, equipment and support. It was a feat that many historians overlook.

However, George McClellan was not a great battlefield commander like Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant. His skills on the battlefield suffer by comparison to these two superb field commanders.

McClellan’s reputation for timidity was set for all time by the events surrounding his actions before, during and after the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. Perhaps, it’s time to take another look at the underlying facts surrounding the events.

First and foremost is the question of troop strength for both armies. The Union Army of the Potomac had been in flux for at least two months before Antietam. The army had been on the Peninsula where it fought a series of battles culminating in the Seven Days Campaign. McClellan had retired after the Battle of Malvern Hill and after his failure to resume operations the Union high command shifted many of his troops to the Army of Virginia, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope.

Pope was beaten badly at the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) and withdrew back to the Washington defenses. Lincoln hesitated to act but finally on September 1st, he returned the shattered formations of Pope’s army to McClellan’s command. Ever the egotist, McClellan wrote to his wife that he was once more asked to save the nation.

But what did McClellan have? The Union army was composed of four separate commands, thousands of untrained recruits and other small units scattered around the area. Three of his commanders had been relieved of command, charged with insubordination by Pope. His cavalry command had been reduced from a paper strength of 28 regiments to a mere 1,500 troopers. Opposing them were 5,000 Confederate veterans led by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.

Most historians number the Union army at 87,000 men and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at 40,000. Sometimes the Confederates are credited with starting the campaign with 55,000 men in the belief that by the day of the battle some 15,000 straggled off. Five days after the battle, Lee reported that he had 36,418 infantry. He did not include his cavalry or artillery units in his counts. Adding in 5,000 men for the missing components, it appears that he had 41,000 men at the end of the campaign.

Eighteen days later, on Oct. 10, Lee filed his first complete report, which showed 64,273 present for duty.  Lee had not received a single additional regiment in the interim time. When his campaign losses of 13,417 are added to this total, we have a figure of 77,690 men at the start of the campaign, a far cry from 40,000-41,000. Eyewitness accounts corroborate the estimate of 77,000 men.

Special Order Number 191 holds a primary place in the McClellan reputation of timidity. For many years it was believed that McClellan waited an inordinate amount of time before he acted on the contents of Lee’s “lost” orders. Special Order Number 191 was Robert E. Lee’s plan for the entire Maryland Campaign.

It revealed that Lee had dangerously split his army into five parts. Three columns had converged on Harpers Ferry to capture the Federal garrison there, a fourth column was in Hagerstown, and a fifth column was acting as a rear guard near Boonesboro, Md. It was discovered on September 13, 1862 by an Indiana corporal who passed it up the chain of command.

For many years it was believed that McClellan waited 18 hours before acting on the intelligence the order contained. Stephen Sears in his bestselling work Landscape Turned Red cites a telegram that McClellan sent to Abraham Lincoln at “12 M”, which Sears says stands for meridian or noon, in which McClellan confidently informs the president that he has the plans of the enemy and that “no time shall be lost” in attacking Lee.

After the book was published, the receipt for the telegram was discovered among the Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. It shows that the telegram was sent a midnight, hence the “12 M” notation. This casts a totally different light on McClellan’s response to the “Lost orders” intelligence.

The revised timeline should read like this. The orders were found at about noon, according to the Indiana unit’s commander. McClellan had them by 3:00 PM. McClellan ordered his cavalry commander to begin a reconnaissance to determine the validity of the information. At about 3:30 PM, he ordered Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside to begin to move his IX Corps in pursuit of Lee. At about 6:20 PM, the rest of the army received orders to commence their movement at sunrise on the 14th.

By 9:00 AM the Union army began to climb South Mountain and clashed with the Confederate rear guard. After an all-day battle, the Union army captured the heights and the Confederates had retreated back to the west. They established defensive positions on Antietam Creek on the 15th, pursued by the Union army.

When these two pivotal factors are included in the narrative, it would appear that McClellan did not dawdle as many historians contend. It would also appear that the armies were more evenly matched than it has been previously reported.

We still cannot excuse George McClellan for his timidity as a battlefield commanders. His refusal to send in his reserves after the bloody struggle in the center of the line is inexcusable. Doing so would have split the Army of Northern Virginia in half and invited its defeat in detail. With its primary army defeated and destroyed, the Confederate government would have been forced to surrender.



George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series McClellan Takes Command

George McClellan and

the Army of the Potomac

The First Battle of Bull Run was such an embarrassment for the Union that Lincoln called Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to Washington and placed him in command of the Union forces around Washington.Eventually, this would lead to his creation of the Army of the Potomac.

George B. McClellan in 1861His actions in West Virginia had given the Union the only victories of the early war. Traveling by special train through Pennsylvania and Maryland, he was greeted at each stop by wildly cheering crowds. Quite simply, he was seen as the savior of the nation.

McClellan arrived in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 1861 where he was immediately appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington. McClellan wrote to his wife Ellen on that day: “I find myself in a new and strange position here—Presdt, Cabinet, Genl Scott & all deferring to me—by some strange operation of magic I seem to have becomethe power of the land. … I almost think that were I to win some small success now I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me—but nothing of that kind would please me—therefore I won’t be Dictator. Admirable self-denial!” He was five months shy of his 35th birthday.

On August 20 several units in Virginia were consolidated under his command. He formed the Army of the Potomac with himself as its commander.  During the next several months McClellan continued to train and increase the strength of the Army of the Potomac. From July to November it grew from 50,000 men to a massive force of 168,000. It was considered the largest military unit that the world had seen in modern times.

McClellan was a superb engineer. He had graduated second in his class from West Point, considered one of the country’s finest engineering schools.  The Lincoln administration suffered from an inordinate fear of Confederate attack on the national capital, a fear that would affect military strategy well into the war.

McClellan assuaged this fear somewhat by supervising the construction of an extensive system of forts, strongpoints and artillery redoubts aroundFort Stevens the city. Washington became one of the most heavily defended cities in the world with 48 forts, equipped with 480 artillery pieces, manned by 7,200 soldiers.

McClellan, however, took serious issue with the overall strategy put forward by General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. Scott’s famous Anaconda Plan was the basis of the Union strategy of naval blockade and multiple attacks on the Confederacy.

McClellan on the other hand saw himself as the new “Napoleon of the West”. He envisioned a still-larger army of 273,000 men with 600 guns. His goal was to “crush the rebels in one campaign”. He favored a Napoleonic-style campaign with set-piece battles that would have very little impact on the general populace. He goal was to settle the conflict quickly and without the abolition of slavery.

The tension between the two competing approaches would lead to constant conflict between McClellan and his military and civilian superiors. While McClellan wished to increase the size and strength of his force, Lincoln was constantly prodding him to action. Eventually, Lincoln’s patience would snap.

One must remember that George B. McClellan was a life-long member of the Democrat Party, many of whom were now fighting for the other side. Lincoln, of course, was a Republican. Many of the Republicans in Washington were Radical Republicans who saw one of the main goals of the war being the emancipation of the slaves. Lincoln, himself, did not reach that conclusion until August of 1862.

Army of the Potomac in reviewThe Radical Republican wing of the party was opposed to McClellan’s appointment as army commander.  He told his wife, Ellen, “I will not fight for the abolitionists.” This placed him at an obvious handicap because many politicians running the government believed that he was attempting to implement the policies of the opposition Democrat party.

Early on McClellan began to develop an overwhelming fear that the Confederates had a massive army. In early August he declared a state of emergency in Washington believing that the Confederates were about to attack the city with a force of 100,000 men. In reality, the Confederate army of 35,000 never budged from around Manassas and Centreville. By August 19th his estimate had grown to 150,000.

McClellan rarely had less than a 2-to-1 advantage over the confederates. In the latter half of 1861 their army facing Washington was between 35,000 and 60,000 men while the Army of the Potomac in September numbered 122,000 men; in early December 170,000; by year end, 192,000.

By October all sorts of rumors began to swirl through the capital. The tensions between Scott and McClellan had reached such a point that Scott, worn out by age and infirmity, offered to resign. At first Lincoln refused to accept his resignation but finally at a cabinet meeting on October 18th it was accepted. On November 1, 1861 General Scott retired and George B. McClellan, not yet 35, became General-In-Chief of the Union armies. The president expressed his concern about the “vast labor” involved in the dual role of army commander and general-in-chief, but McClellan responded, “I can do it all.”





Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

From the beginning of the war Abraham Lincoln had searched for a military commander in the East. He was looking for a fighting general, one who had the ability to lead the Federal forces to victory in the East and end the war. It take him until March 1864 to find one: Ulysses S. Grant.

At first he appointed Irvin McDowell. McDowell was a professional soldier of no great ability. He led the Federal army to a crushing defeat at the First Bull Run (Manassas).

General George McClellanLincoln then replaced him with George B. McClellan who had served in western Virginia at the beginning of the war. He was a dashing, charismatic leader who forged the Army of the Potomac from the shattered fragments of McDowell’s army. However, McClellan was a perfectionist who did not wish to take his creation into battle under less than ideal conditions.

After a great deal of pressure McClellan embarked on a campaign to take Richmond. He embarked his massive force, moved them by water to Yorktown and marched them up the narrow Virginia Peninsula. After a number of battles, first against Joseph Johnston and then when he was wounded, against Robert E. Lee, McClellan forces where back where they began at Harrison’s Landing.

Rather than sacking McClellan Lincoln took the indirect approach and appointed a western general John Pope who was given the command of the Army of Virginia. Pope immediately blundered into a Confederate trap and was crushed at Second Bull Run. The Confederates then invaded Maryland.

Lincoln swallowed his pride and asked McClellan to resume complete command of the Army.  At Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland the Army of the Potomac fought what was to be the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. At Antietam McClellan was exposed as a timidBloody Lane at Antietam commander. Failing to use his overwhelmingly superior forces in a coordinated attack, he fed his forces into the battle piecemeal. The Confederates were able to blunt all of his assaults. He then compounded his mistakes and allowed the battered enemy to withdraw back to Virginia. Lincoln replaced McClellan for the final time.

He was replaced by Ambrose Burnside who in December 1862 tried to force the Confederate lines at Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Showing his inability to improvise in the field Burnside persisted in frontal assaults on the main Confederate positions resulting in horrendous casualties. Burnside was replaced by debonair, self-promoting “Fighting Joe” Hooker.

Hooker proclaimed that his headquarters would be in the saddle. One newspaper said that Hooker had his headquarters in his hindquarters. At Chancellorsville Hooker was completely out-maneuvered and defeated by Robert E. Lee with a Confederate army half his army’s size. Lincoln was in complete despair saying: “My God! What will the country say?”

Hooker was replaced by George Gordon Meade in late June 1863 when Lee again led his Army of Northern Virginia on an invasion of the north. At Gettysburg Meade led the Federal army to victory in a three-day defensive battle. Like McClellan at Antietam, Meade failed to follow up his victory and the Confederates returned to the safety of Virginia to rest and refit. Lincoln again despaired for the Union.

That November Meade took his army on a half-hearted offensive that tried to force the Confederate entrenchments at Mine Run. The Army of the Potomac limped back to their encampments with nothing to show for it. Meade was not to answer Lincoln’s need for a fighting general.

Through all of the inept, timid commanders in the East one general in the West stood out as a commander who understood the need to destroy the General Ulysses S. Grantenemy’s army utterly: Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a West Point graduate who had served with some distinction in the Mexican War. After that war he had drifted into civilian life in St. Louis and Galena, Illinois where he worked at his father’s tannery.

At the onset of the war Grant recruited a company of volunteers and led them to Springfield. In the capitol he accepted a position from the governor to train troops. He was good at it but was anxious for a field command. At the end of August 1861 he was given the command of the District of Cairo. He was commanded to make an attack against Confederate forces at Belmont, Kentucky. In an amphibious assault he led 3,100 union troops against Fort Belmont on November 7, 1861. He initially held the fort but was forced to retreat by overwhelming force.

Grant then decided to work his way down the Mississippi River and capture Confederate water fortresses. The lightly manned Fort Henry fell on February 6, 1862. Fort Donelson was a different story. In cooperation with the Navy, his 25,000 man force took this fort ten days later. At Fort Donelson Grant coined what was to be his signature surrender demand:  “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender.” Lincoln promoted Grant to major general of volunteers.

By April the Federal army, known as the Army of the Tennessee, had increased to nearly 50,000 men. At Shiloh, Tennessee they fought a costly battle with Confederate forces number nearly 45,000. On the first day of the battle the Federal army was pushed back to the landing but on the second day Grant ordered a counterattack that defeated the Confederate force. The Confederate commander, Albert Sidney Johnston, was killed. Some 23,700 were killed or wounded at Shiloh making it the costliest battle of the war to date.

Grant was demoted by Henry Halleck to second-in-command of a combined 120,000 man army. It took the persuasions of his friend William T. Sherman to stop him from resigning his commission. Eventually, this massive force was broken up and Grant returned to his command of the Army of the Tennessee.

By December 1862 Grant was resolved to take the Confederate fortress city of Vicksburg on the Mississippi. At first he attempted an overland campaign that became stalled by Confederate cavalry attacks. After a series of unsuccessful river and bayou battles Grant changed his strategy andThe Mississippi River Squadron running the Confederate Blockade at Vicksburg moved his troops down the west side of the Mississippi. He then crossed over to the east side and attempted to take the city by storm. When that was unsuccessful he settled down for a seven week siege. Confederate commander John C. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863.

With the fall of Vicksburg the Mississippi River was completely controlled by the Federal Army and Navy. The Confederacy was now cut in two. Lincoln gave Grant command of the entire Federal war front in the West with the exception of Louisiana.

Grant then commanded his combined armies in a series of battles in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. These resulted in the eventual defeat of Confederate forces in this region. The decisive 1863 Chattanooga battle opened Georgia and the heartland of the Confederacy to Union invasion by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman.

Grant was promoted to Lieutenant-General, only the third man to hold that rank; George Washington and Winfield Scott being the other two. He was given complete command of all Federal armies in the field. Grant traveled to Washington to meet with Lincoln and plan the next moves in the war. After realizing that eventual victory would need to come from the East he decided to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac.

In short order the country would come to learn more about the man that Lincoln had given the entire Federal army to. When some complainers spoke to Lincoln about rumors of Grant’s drinking, he exclaimed: “I can’t spare the man, he fights”.  Over the next year Grant’s armies would batter the Confederate forces on all fronts into utter defeat.