General Ulysses S. Grant Takes Charge: His Strategic Plan for Ending the War

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  • 0:07 A String of Mediocrity
  • 1:04 Victorious in the West
  • 2:03 Promotion
  • 2:59 Grant's Plan
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the promotion of Union General Ulysses S. Grant to the prestigious rank of Lieutenant General. We will also study Grant's plan to end the Civil War.

A String of Mediocrity

During the first three years of the Civil War, the Union was plagued by a string of mediocre (at best) generals. Irvin McDowell, for example, lost the first battle at Bull Run due to overconfidence, inexperience, and a lack of preparation. George McClellan was notorious for his hesitancy and his tendency to pull his troops back even when they had a chance at victory. John Pope was more aggressive, but he wasn't much of a strategist. George Meade defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg but failed to pursue the enemy.

By the beginning of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln knew that he needed a different kind of general, someone aggressive, someone experienced, someone who could plan, and especially someone who was willing to fight. He studied his list of officers and noticed General Ulysses S. Grant.

Victorious in the West

Grant was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican War. When the Civil War started in 1861, he was working as a clerk in his family's store in Galena, Illinois, but he immediately signed up for service and rose quickly through the ranks in the war's western theater.

As a major general in the West, Grant led the army to victory more often than not. Victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson in Tennessee earned him the nickname 'Unconditional Surrender' Grant. After a long siege, Grant's men managed to take the strategic Mississippi River city of Vicksburg. He was also successful at Chattanooga, driving the Confederates away from the city. Even when he struggled, as he did at Shiloh (which was a costly victory for the Union), he still proved to be a valuable general. After Shiloh, some Northerners clamored for Grant's removal, but Lincoln refused. 'I can't spare this man,' the president explained. 'He fights.'

Promotion

As Lincoln surveyed the war effort in early 1864, he took careful note of Grant's victories and persistence. Congress had recently reactivated the rank of Lieutenant General, a rank that had not been permanently held by anyone since George Washington. Lincoln decided that Grant was the best man for the job. The president officially appointed Ulysses S. Grant as Lieutenant General of the United States army on March 10, 1864.

This new rank placed Grant in charge of all Union ground troops. He immediately traveled east to meet with the president and take over control of military operations. After observing the situation, Grant decided to remain in the East. He allowed General George Meade to continue in a leadership role as his chief of staff, and he appointed General William T. Sherman to act in his former position in the West. The new Lieutenant General was ready for action.

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