Famous Us Generals Of The Civil War

Famous Us Generals Of The Civil War

There were over a thousand men who were generals in the Civil War. These figures, both from the Union and the Confederacy, became legends, their names forever etched in the annals of American history. This article covers the careers of six of the greatest.

It is easy, when thinking about the Civil War, to surmise that there were only a few generals, or only a few of those who head up the Union and Confederacy. Names such as George Meade, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant are marked as historical generals; however, there are others whose bravery benefited and contributed to the war. Both the historical icons and the unnoted are briefly discribed throughout this article.

Union General Ulysses S Grant

Union General Ulysses S Grant

Union General Ulysses S Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822. He was christened with the name Hiram Ulysses, but a mix-up at his West Point registration found him adopting the name by which we all know him.

Grant graduated from West Point in 1843, ranking 21st of 39. He was not happy while at West Point and did not speak of his time there fondly. His first trip into battle found him fighting the Mexican War from 1846 until 1848.

Grant’s first Civil War battle after being appointed Brigadier General was the Battle of Belmont. Some of his battles to follow included Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga.

On March 9, 1864, Grant was commissioned Lieutenant General and just three days later was appointed by Lincoln to be the General in Chief of the U.S. Armies.

Grant’s first face-to-face with Robert E. Lee came at the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864. First, the Spotsylvania battle began and then The Battle of Cold Harbor.

In April of 1865, Grant accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, and the Civil War was at an end. Not so for Grant’s career, however. He became President of the United States in 1869 and remained so for eight years. Ulysses S Grant died of cancer in July of 1885.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807, in Virginia. He attended West Point and graduated in 1829 with the ranking of 2nd in his class.

Lee entered the Mexican War as a Captain. General Scott called Lee the best soldier he had ever seen.

With the commencement of the Civil War, Lincoln offered Lee control of the Union Army. Although Lee was against secession and slavery, he could in no way be involved in the invasion of the South. He resigned and, on June 1, 1861, took command of the Army of Northern Virginia in Richmond.

Lee fought many of the major battles of the Civil War, including Richmond, Sharpsburg, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.

Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, in the spring of 1865. After the war, he took on the role of president of Virginia’s Washington College. He died on October 12, 1870, as a much loved and respected man.

Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in Brewer, Maine, on September 8, 1828. His given name was Lawrence Joshua, but he started calling himself Joshua in 1848.

Before becoming involved in the Civil War, Chamberlain taught college classes. He had been studying to become a minister and, in 1856, became a professor of oratory and rhetoric. He was fluent in nine languages due to his desire to be a missionary.

He fought the war with the 20th Maine and was appointed Brigadier General in June of 1864 and Major General in March of 1865. Chamberlain was involved in the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, among others.

Chamberlain was wounded six times in the war. It was a great honor to him when General Grant chose him to receive the flag of surrender at Appomattox.

Joshua Chamberlain chose a political career after the war, and became governor of Maine in 1866 and served four terms. He died in February of 1914 in Portland. He had lived to the age of 86.

Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson

Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was born on January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia. He was orphaned, and a formal education was not afforded to him until he was accepted to West Point at age 18. Jackson was not a very good student at first, but he paid full attention to his schooling and succeeded.

Jackson resigned from the Army after some time of fighting in the Mexican War and became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. The subject was physics. His students did not relate well to him until he began to teach artillery tactics.

When the Civil War began, Jackson was involved in the battles of Harper’s Ferry, First Manassas, Antietam, Shenandoah Valley, Groveton, and Second Manassas. More campaigns followed with Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. It was at the battle of First Manassas that he got the name that was to follow him from that point on Stonewall.

This tremendously brilliant military strategist was accidentally shot by one of his own soldiers in May of 1863. The wound resulted in the loss of his left arm. However, he died the following week of pneumonia at age 39. Stonewall Jackson’s last words were “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Union General George Gordon Meade

Union General George Gordon Meade was born on December 31, 1815, in Spain. He graduated from West Point in 1835, ranked 19 of 56. Meade didn’t want to stay in the Army and turned his sights to a civil engineering career in 1836; however, he found himself back in the service in 1842.

First, Meade served in the Mexican War, and then in 1861, the Civil War.

The battles that Meade was involved in include Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, and Glendale, which resulted in his being wounded. After he recovered, he found himself at Second Manassas, South Mountain and Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Meade was made Commander of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863, just three days before the Battle of Gettysburg. Following a Union victory at Gettysburg, Meade was criticized for permitting Lee’s Army to get back to Potomac. He offered to resign at the hearing. Lincoln was not satisfied, but instead of resigning, he was appointed Brigadier General just days after the Gettysburg battle and again promoted to Major General in 1864.

George Meade died of pneumonia on November 6, 1872, in Philadelphia.

Confederate General James Longstreet

Confederate General James Longstreet was born in South Carolina on January 8, 1821. He graduated from West Point in 1842.

Longstreet participated in the Mexican War and was promoted to Captain and then Major in 1858. He was commissioned as Brigadier General on July 1, 1861, and ordered to Manassas. He was later promoted again, this time to Major General.

In addition to Manassas, Longstreet fought valiantly at the battles of Williamsburg, Gaines’ Mill, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Wilderness, Richmond, and Petersburg.

Longstreet disagreed with Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg. over the plan, Pickett’s Charge. Longstreet was sure such an attack would never work. Of course, Lee outranked him, and orders had to be followed.

After the war, Longstreet was appointed to be the U.S. Minister to Turkey under President Grant. James Longstreet died in Georgia in January of 1904.

The Legacy of Leadership

The generals of the Civil War were more than military leaders; they were symbols of the causes for which they fought and the men they led into battle. Their strategies, victories, and defeats shaped the course of the war and, by extension, the nation’s history. The lessons learned from their leadership, both in successes and failures, continue to be studied by military strategists, historians, and leaders in various fields.

Moreover, the Civil War generals’ legacies extend beyond their military achievements. They remind us of the complexities of leadership, the burdens of command, and the profound impacts of war on a country and its people. Figures like Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Jackson are remembered not just for the battles they fought but for their contributions to the American narrative, embodying the courage, conflict, and eventual reconciliation of a nation divided.

In examining the lives and careers of these famous generals, we gain insight into the strategic considerations and human dimensions of the Civil War. Their stories underscore the importance of leadership, strategy, and moral conviction in shaping the outcomes of historic conflicts. As we reflect on their legacies, we are reminded of the enduring impact of the Civil War on the United States, shaping its values, its laws, and its collective memory. The famous generals of the Civil War, with their distinct personalities, strategies, and moral dilemmas, continue to fascinate and inspire, serving as enduring symbols of a pivotal era in American history.

Nancy Vawter
Nancy Vawter

Nancy Vawter has been a reporter and writer since shortly after her graduation from the University of Arizona. She spent seven years with the New York Post, working as a national feature writer in New York. She later taught journalism as an assistant professor at American University in Washington.