Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "General Grant"
He has done more than any other President to degrade the character of Cabinet officers by choosing them on the model of the military staff, because of their pleasant personal relation to him and not because of their national reputation and the public needs…His imperturbability is amazing. I am in doubt whether to call it greatness or stupidity.
James Garfield, criticizing Ulysses S. Grant for his poor judgment of the quality of many of the officials of his Administration which was ravaged by scandals despite President Grant’s personal honesty and lack of complicity, 1874.
ULYSSES S. GRANT

18th President of the United States (1869-1877)

Full Name: Ulysses Simpson Grant (Born: Hiram Ulysses Grant)
Born: April 27, 1822, Point Pleasant, Ohio
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Illinois
Term: March 4, 1869-March 4, 1877
Age at Inauguration: 46 years, 311 days
Administration: 21st and 22nd
Congresses: 41st, 42nd, 43rd, and 44th
Vice Presidents: Schuyler Colfax (1st term: 1869-1873) and Henry Wilson (2nd term: 1873-1875; Died in office)
Died: July 23, 1885, Mount McGregor, New York
Age at Death: 63 years, 87 days
Buried: Grant’s Tomb, General Grant National Memorial, New York City, New York

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 30 of 43 [↑2]

Ulysses S. Grant has long occupied space near the bottom of most rankings of Presidents, but in recent years he is one of those leaders who seems to be inching his way up the ladder as historians begin to view his Presidency differently.  Grant will never be considered a great, or probably even a good President.  His portrait is on the $50 bill because of what he did during the Civil War, not what he did in the White House.  President Grant was a victim of the corruption that infected Washington during his Administration; in no way was he complicit other than perhaps being too loyal or too trustworthy with people who never hesitated to take advantage of the great General’s generosity.  The United States at the time of Grant’s Inauguration was by no means United.  The Civil War had only ended four years earlier and the country had struggled since Appomattox with Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and a painful Reconstruction.  Where Grant shines in retrospect is Civil Rights.  When historians look at instances where Presidents used the power of their office to the fullest, they usually stop at Lincoln during the Civil War, specifically with his suspension of habeas corpus.  Many tend to overlook the fact that Grant also suspended habeas corpus as President in his effort (largely successful) to crush the Ku Klux Klan.  Grant protected the rights of African-Americans, especially those recently emancipated and living free in the South.  Not only did the Grant Administration shepherd the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, but they also used the power of the Presidency and the military to enforce Civil Rights laws and ensure voting rights for blacks.  President Grant was the last President to sign major Civil Rights legislation until another great American General-turned-President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1957. As I mentioned, Grant’s progressive streak has helped inched him a little higher in the rankings over the years, but this is probably about as high as the General will end up climbing.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS:
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  28 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  30 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  30 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  37 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  34 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  33 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  29 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  29 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  23 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  26 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  29 of 40

It is hard to realize that a State or States should commit so suicidal an act as to secede from the Union. Though from all the reports I have no doubt but that at least five of them will do it. And then, with the present granny of an executive [James Buchanan] some foolish policy will doubtless be pursued which will give the seceding States the support and sympathy of the Southern states that don’t go out.

Ulysses S. Grant, on the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union and his doubts about how (or “if”) President James Buchanan might respond, personal letter, December 1860.

Grant had not always had such a harsh opinion of the “granny of an executive”, President Buchanan. While writing his Memoirs in 1885, Grant remembered that, “In 1856…I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunged into a war the end of which no many could foretell. With a Democrat elected by unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years…I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President.”

The honest, simple-hearted soldier had not added prestige to the Presidential office. He himself knew that he had failed…that he ought never to have been made President. He combined great gifts with great mediocrity.
Woodrow Wilson, on Ulysses S. Grant, 1902.
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you believe president who served in the military make better leaders during wars?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

No, not necessarily.  Being Commander-in-Chief in wartime is a lot different than commanding an army in the field or being a soldier.  The situations have to be looked at a lot differently — not merely from a military standpoint, but also politically, diplomatically, and Constitutionally.  A President with extensive military experience — particularly experience as a commander — runs the risk of believing that their military expertise combined with their executive power is infallible.  When that happens, Presidents micromanaging every aspect of operations can become an obstacle to letting qualified people who are on the ground and in the flow of the situation do the jobs that they are trained to do.  That can happen with Presidents who have had little or no military experience, too, as Lyndon Johnson was notorious for personally selecting bombing targets for even minor air sorties when he should have left that for his strategists and commanders and when his time would have been better spent if devoted to something else.

But it was an especially significant problem with the Confederates during the Civil War.  Confederate President Jefferson Davis clashed with most of his generals because he was a micromanager and felt that his military experience was just as good, if not better, than his commanders.  Indeed, Davis did have an impressive military resume — he was a West Point graduate, spent time in the Army on the frontier during the Antebellum Era, served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, and was President Pierce’s Secretary of War from 1853-1857.  But as President of the CSA, Davis fell into the trap of obsessing over almost every military situation during the war and drove his generals mad by insisting that he knew best.  In many cases, that type of insistence can be annoying and frustrating but dealt with by ignoring it and going with your plan anyway.  The President, however, is the Commander-in-Chief and if you’re a soldier an order from the President must be obeyed whether you’re a private or a five-star general, and that’s what can cause problems between Presidents and generals (like the issues Davis had with the Confederate commanders and President Truman’s feud with General MacArthur).  

Plus, oddly enough, most of the Presidents who were in office during our major wars actually didn’t have extensive military experience or command troops in combat while most of those Presidents who did serve as generals (or equivalent rank) in the military were in office during times of relative peace. There may have been smaller scale military intervention — and there were, of course, conflicts between American troops and Native American tribes during the Administrations of most 19th Century Presidents — but American troops were not involved in major foreign wars during the Presidencies of any former Generals.

Check out a breakdown of Presidents who held a rank of General (or its equivalent) and who was President and Commander-in-Chief during our major wars :

•PRESIDENTS WHO HELD THE RANK OF GENERAL•:

George Washington: In 1976, Washington, whose highest rank during his lifetime was Lieutenant General, was posthumously created General of the Armies of the United States with the intent of ensuring that no American military officer would ever outrank him. During World War II, several top American commanders were awarded the new rank of five-star generals to distinguish them from the previous top rank of four stars. In order to set Washington apart from every other American military commander in history, his posthumous promotion is considered the equivalent to a six-star general. During Washington’s Presidency, the United States was not engaged in any significant military action.

Andrew Jackson: Jackson was promoted to Major General of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. Regional conflicts with Native Americans flared up throughout the 19th Century (like 1832’s Black Hawk War), but Jackson’s Presidency didn’t experience in other major wars.

William Henry Harrison: During the War of 1812, Harrison was promoted to Major General and became a hero nationally due to his victorious leadership in the Battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada. As President, Harrison died 31 days after being sworn into office and no serious military action took place while he was briefly Commander-in-Chief.

Zachary Taylor: As a career soldier, Taylor’s service took him all over the young United States — North, South, East, and West — and he spent a lot of time on the frontier of present-day Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Florida. Taylor was brevetted Brigadier General in 1837 during the Second Seminole War and promoted to Major General in 1846, early in the Mexican-American War. Like Harrison, President Taylor died in office and the U.S. wasn’t involved in any significant military action during his Administration.

Franklin Pierce: When the Mexican-American War broke out, Pierce enlisted as a private in the New Hampshire Militia and was quickly promoted at the beginning of 1847, eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General in the regular army and serving until the Mexican surrender. As President from 1853-1857, Pierce’s Administration took place as sectional tensions were heating up and Civil War was on the horizon, but no foreign wars took place during his Presidency.

Andrew Johnson: Johnson was the only Southern Senator who refused to support secession and remain in the Senate, an unpopular move in the South which led to scores of death threats and being denounced as a traitor by people in his home state of Tennessee. Despite the real danger that his life was in back home, President Lincoln appointed Johnson as Military Governor of Tennessee in March 1862. Johnson had near-dictatorial power in Tennessee, which had seceded and was the site of several major battles during the Civil War. With his appointment as Military Governor, President Lincoln had also made Johnson a Brigadier General in the army. Johnson assumed the Presidency upon Lincoln’s assassination just six days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox and sporadic skirmishes ended the next month leaving the rest of Johnson’s Administration relatively peaceful.

Ulysses S. Grant: Grant was the first President to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the army for a decade after his graduation. Grant performed with distinction in the Mexican-American War, but stationed in various outposts afterward including California and Oregon where the distance from his family and loneliness of military life on the frontier allegedly drove him to heavy drinking and forced his resignation. When the Civil War broke out, Grant helped organize volunteers in his hometown and promoted Brigadier General in August 1861. From there, Grant rose steadily through the ranks and became a national hero and in March 1864, President Lincoln appointed him Lieutenant General. In July 1866, Grant became the first American to attain the rank of General of the Army since George Washington. Grant served two terms as President (1869-1877) and the U.S. wasn’t involved in any major wars during that time.

Rutherford B. Hayes: With the outbreak of the Civil War, Rutherford B. Hayes volunteered for an infantry regiment from his home state of Ohio, saw a significant amount of action during the war, and was recognized for his bravery. Hayes was a veteran of over 50 battles, including the Battle of South Mountain, where he was seriously wounded and nearly bled to death after being shot. Hayes’s tenacity and courage in combat resulted in several battle-related injuries during the war and he was remembered fondly by his fellow soldiers as a devoted patriot and caring commander. After the Union victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek, which ended the last Confederate hopes of attacking Washington, D.C., Hayes was promoted to Brigadier General and brevetted Major General of volunteers in March 1865 shortly before the war ended. During Hayes’s single term as President (1877-1881) there was no significant military action.

James Garfield: Garfield spent the first two years of the Civil War in the Union Army, resigning in 1863 when he was elected to the House of Representatives while he was still in uniform. Garfield saw significant action, taking part in the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Chickamuga, among other combat. His leadership skills and bravery in the heat of battle led to a quick promotion to Brigadier General and an appointment as the chief of staff of General William S. Rosecrans who was the Army of the Cumberland’s commander. By the time of his election to Congress and resignation from the service, Garfield had risen to Major General. His Presidency was the second-shortest in history (just over six months long) due to his assassination and no wars took place while he was in office.

Chester A. Arthur: Arthur was serving in the New York State Militia when Civil War broke out and his political connections resulted in a commission as engineer-in-chief by New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan, which came with a rank of Brigadier General. Although Arthur was some distance from being involved in actual combat and in a patronage position, he was extremely effective at his work, which involved organizing supplies, transportation, and lodging for troops volunteering to go to the front. Governor Morgan turned down a request to allow Arthur to join the troops heading to the fight by noting how much he relied on his supreme organizational skills. Arthur also served as Inspector General and, eventually, Quartermaster General. Since Arthur had received his appointment due to political patronage from a Republican Governor, he was replaced in early 1863 when Horatio Seymour, a Democrat, became the new Governor of New York. As President, Arthur didn’t have to deal with any wars.

Benjamin Harrison: Joining the Indiana State Militia in 1862 as a second lieutenant, Harrison saw action in numerous battles and was recognized for bravery and quick-thinking in combat. During the Atlanta campaign, Harrison was an important brigade commander under General Joseph Hooker and was in Atlanta as it fell to Union troops, which setup Sherman’s March to the Sea. By the time he left the Army in June 1865, Harrison held the rank of Brigadier General. Like his grandfather, William Henry Harrison, another General who was elected President (although he only served a month), Benjamin Harrison’s Administration was peaceful.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Eisenhower is the last General to serve as President and one of the few Americans in history to attain the rank of General of the Army or its equivalent rank. Like Grant, Eisenhower graduated from West Point and was a career soldier who held no other political position other than President of the United States. Ike held many positions and was stationed all over the world during his nearly 40-year-long military career and was a Brigadier General when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. As Allied Commander-in-Chief, Eisenhower oversaw the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy before being appointed Supreme Allied Commander and given responsibility for the D-Day landings, which was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of the world. After the successful invasion, Eisenhower was promoted to General of the Army with a five-star rank and, following the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II, succeeded General George C. Marshall as the Army’s Chief of Staff. Eisenhower retired from the Army in 1948 but after being appointed Supreme Commander of NATO by President Truman in 1951. Eisenhower resigned as NATO Commander in 1952 when he decided to run for President. During his campaign, Eisenhower promised to end the Korean War and actually traveled to Korea in the middle of the transition period between his election and inauguration to jump start the peace negotiations which had fallen apart. Once Eisenhower became President, he quickly delivered on his promise to end the war and an armistice was signed six months after his inauguration (although, since only an armistice and truce was agreed on, the United States is technically still at war with North Korea). After he left office, Eisenhower commented on his relatively peaceful Presidency: “The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen.”

•PRESIDENTS IN OFFICE DURING MAJOR AMERICAN WARS (excluding small-scale interventions, peacekeeping missions, and Indian Wars)•

•Barbary War (1801-1805): Thomas Jefferson

•War of 1812 (1812-1815): James Madison

•Mexican-American War (1846-1848): James K. Polk

•Civil War (1861-1865): Abraham Lincoln

•Spanish-American War (1898):William McKinley

•Philippine-American War (1899-1902): William McKinley/Theodore Roosevelt

•World War I (1914-1918; U.S. involvement: 1917-1918): Woodrow Wilson

•World War II (1939-1941; U.S. involvement (1941-1945): Franklin D. Roosevelt/Harry S. Truman

•Korean War (1950-1953): Harry S. Truman

•Vietnam War (1959-1975; U.S. involvement: 1961-1973): John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson/Richard Nixon

•Persian Gulf War (1991): George H.W. Bush

•Afghanistan War (2001- ): George W. Bush/Barack Obama

•Iraq War (2003-2011): George W. Bush/Barack Obama

On April 9, 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant of the United States Army and General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America’s Army of Northern Virginia gathered along with their officers in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. After four bloody, tragic years and several punishing months that saw General Lee’s movements shadowed at every turn by General Grant’s Army, the venerable Confederate commander realized that further resistance was futile and began the long process of healing the broken nation by surrendering his beloved Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant.

When dramatic, world-changing events in history take place, we rarely get firsthand accounts from the principals involved. Fortunately for us, Ulysses S. Grant spent the last weeks of his life putting the finishing touches on his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (BOOKKINDLE), which spotlight many of the most important moments of the Civil War through the eyes of one of that war’s biggest heroes. Grant finished writing his book just a few days before he died in 1885, but what’s most amazing about Grant’s Memoirs is that, nearly 130 years later, they remain one of the most readable books ever written by an American President. Grant’s insight into the proceedings at Appomattox are valuable because it isn’t secondary material from a journalist, or the memories and a junior officer with opinion and prejudices that might cloud reality. Instead, the Memoirs are Grant’s remembrances of a monumental event in American History, and Grant’s honesty — for better and worse — has rarely been challenged.

In the Memoirs, Grant remembers suffering from a blinding migraine headache in the hours before his meeting with General Lee as representatives attempted to set conditions for the meeting between the two generals. As Grant later wrote, when an officer brought a note to from Lee that confirmed the Confederate general’s interest in meeting and setting terms for surrender, “the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.”

As Grant prepared to meet Lee at Wilmer McLean’s home, the Union commander almost certainly thought about the vast differences between him and his Confederate counterpart. Lee was 15 years older than Grant, and while they both attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, their records couldn’t have been more different. Lee wanted nothing more than to be a great career soldier, graduated 2nd in his class, and made it through four years at West Point without a single demerit. Grant had dozens of demerits, many of which came from refusing to attend church services, and graduated 21st out of 39 cadets in his class. That he graduated at all was an accomplishment in Grant’s eyes. As he later wrote, “A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the Army even if I should be graduated.”

After the men graduated from West Point (Lee in 1829, Grant in 1843), they embarked on military careers that took them to very different places, but on April 9, 1865, General Grant was thinking about the first time he had actually met General Lee. Their paths had crossed in the Mexican War (1846-1848) when they served together for some time under General Winfield Scott. Later in life, Grant was particularly outspoken about the injustice of the Mexican War, but he fought bravely during his time in Mexico under General Scott and, especially, under General Zachary Taylor. Grant and Lee were both decorated for their service in Mexico, along with many fellow junior soldiers whose names would become famous in the North and South during the Civil War. In his Memoirs, Grant wrote about his memories of his earlier meeting with Robert E. Lee, but doubted Lee would remember him:

"I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me; while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War."

Ulysses S. Grant wouldn’t make it easy for General Lee to recognize him, either. One of the only positives to come out of the Mexican War for Ulysses S. Grant was his admiration of Zachary Taylor, who was Grant’s commanding general for most of the war. Taylor — later the 12th President — was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” and remembered fondly by his soldiers for his casual, comfortable manner. General Taylor was a sloppy dresser who often wore an odd mix of military dress and civilian clothing, loved to shade his face a large sun hat, and was unorthodox in almost every manner. While Grant may not have been a good student at West Point, he had no problem picking up on the lessons he learned from General Taylor. Robert E. Lee was always impeccably dressed, much like his Mexican War commander, General Winfield Scott. In fact, Grant’s comparison of Scott and Taylor would just as easily work with Lee and Grant:

"I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit his horse side-ways — with both feet on one side — particularly on the battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed. On these occasions he wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, sabre and spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his staff — engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared — followed, also in uniform and in prescribed order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the view that they should be a history of what followed…But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Both were pleasant to serve under — Taylor was pleasant to serve with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history."

While Robert E. Lee was not insufferable like Winfield Scott, he was still, even after several brutal weeks of fighting, dressed in a way that would have led any outside observer to believe he was receiving the surrender on that day. The messages that Grant and Lee had exchanged that day had resulted in a meeting quicker than Grant had expected, so the Union general was wearing his usual battlefield dress as he prepared to meet the dashing General Lee. In his Memoirs, Grant acknowledges feeling a bit self-conscious about his “rough garb”. “I was without a sword,” Grant remembered, “as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with (only) the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was.” If the war had been decided with a fashion contest between Grant and Lee, we’d all be singing “Dixie”. According to Grant:

"General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form."

Upon entering McLean’s home, Grant and Lee shook hands and the officers who accompanied the two generals were silent. Grant, who had been elated earlier to meet with Lee and bring the war to a close, found himself feeling “sad and depressed”. “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.” Grant had so much respect for Lee that simply meeting him face-to-face in such a moment left the Union general nervous. As they sat in the silent and still parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home, Grant tried to break the ice by mentioning their previous service — on the same side — in Mexico. To Grant’s surprise, Lee remembered him well:

"We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting."

General Lee didn’t forget, however. Lee steered the conversation back towards the terms of his army’s surrender. Grant’s initials “U.S.” had gained him the nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant throughout the war, but the truth was that he didn’t have a template for the conditions required of his vanquished opponents. Grant was aware of President Abraham Lincoln’s hope for a smooth reconciliation as the country began healing in the wake of the Civil War. With this in mind and his deep respect for General Lee’s leadership, Grant set terms so generous that Lee was surprised. Lee’s soldiers would have their names recorded, surrender any weapons that were supplied by the Confederate government, and take an oath to not take up arms against the United States. After doing that, they would be free to return to their homes peacefully and without threat of prosecution for insurrection or treason. When Lee mentioned that most of the horses in his army were the personal property of the soldiers who rode them, Grant allowed soldiers to take any horses or personal belongings back home with them. Grant even allowed the defeated Confederate soldiers keep their sidearms. When General Lee saw the generous terms set forth by General Grant, he was astonished. With emotion, he thanked Grant for his generosity, telling the Union commander, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.”

With the surrender signed, General Lee mentioned to Grant that many of his soldiers had gone without food except for dried corn for several days and were in bad shape. Grant immediately authorized enough food to feed 25,000 men and gave orders to a nearby quartermaster to provide Lee’s army with as much food as they needed for their return to their homes. After exiting the McLean home, Lee climbed on to his beloved horse, Traveller, and observers noted that Lee, for the first time anyone could remember, looked as if he was having a hard time controlling his emotions. Grant was preparing to mount his horse, Cincinnati, when the two generals locked eyes once more. In a show of deep respect, Grant removed his hat and saluted Lee — and every Union soldier in proximity followed their commander’s example. Lee raised his hat and saluted Grant and rode off.

Shortly after Grant and Lee parted ways, the news of Lee’s surrender began to spread throughout the Union encampments. Union soldiers began cheering and firing salutes while their defeated Confederate opponents were well within earshot. Grant immediately ordered an end to the celebration. “The Confederates were now our prisoners,” wrote Grant, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

The next day, General Lee sent a brief, but eloquent, order to his Army of Northern Virginia in which he acknowledged that they had “been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources” and that he was “determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen”. Lee’s order informed the men of their freedom to return to their homes, and closed by thanking his soldiers for their service and bidding them “an affectionate farewell.” Before Grant returned to Washington, D.C. on April 10th for a meeting with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the Union commander stopped by where Lee’s army had set up camp. Grant and Lee sat atop their horses between the lines of their respective armies and talked for nearly an hour, both generals expressing their hope that the Confederate armies still in the field in pockets of the South would follow Lee’s lead so the nation could begin the difficult work of healing. Within a few hours, they were on their way home, heading in opposite directions, Grant to the North and Lee to the South.

Robert E. Lee died in 1870, and despite the cause that most people think he fought for (Lee abhorred slavery; the State of Virginia came before the Union in Lee’s mind), the Confederacy’s commanding general has largely become an American hero throughout the entire country. Maybe it was due to Lee’s support of the abolition of slavery or maybe it is because Lee is considered an American ideal of an honest and honorable warrior with quiet strength, but somehow Lee has made it to the Pantheon of American leaders that Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson will likely never reach. In the last five years of his life, General Lee served as the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia — a school that was renamed Washington and Lee University after Lee’s death.

Grant lived until 1885, but his later life was a bit more star-crossed than Lee’s. Grant turned down a request to accompany President Lincoln to the theater less than a week after Appomattox. Lincoln was killed that night. Grant feuded with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, after the Civil War, and sought the Presidency himself in 1868. Grant served two terms as President (1869-1877), and his Administration was riddled with corruption, although Grant himself was not personally corrupt. Grant’s reputation as President has begun to improve over the past few years due to his work on the only meaningful Civil Rights legislation passed until the mid-20th Century. After his Presidency, Grant went on a 2-year-long world tour with his wife and was greeted around the world by adoring fans interested in seeing an American President who also happened to be the hero of the Civil War. In 1880, Grant sought an unprecedented third term as President, but narrowly lost the Republican nomination to James Garfield. Sadly, Grant’s finances were liquidated by crooked financial partners in the 1880’s and he was forced to sell historic artifacts from his Civil War service in order to survive. In 1884, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer, and became determined to make money for his wife’s benefit in case of his death. Mark Twain signed a deal with Grant to write his Memoirs, and Grant finished the book just a few days before his death in July 1885. Grant’s book was a critical and commercial success, and left his wife with financial stability.

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words. Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another. There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times. What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House. Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept. After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House. Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee. They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other. Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship. A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 — 110 years after the Civil War ended — and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways. We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted. The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other. It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward — leading the way just like they did while waging war — to model for Americans how to wage peace.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did Grant and Lee ever meet after Appomattox?? Either socially or at an official function? Thanks!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, Grant and Lee had one brief encounter after Appomattox, when Grant was President, and I wrote about it in an essay that I titled “Grant and Lee" becomes I’m obviously a creative genius.  Here’s the part about their post-Appomattox encounter:

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words.  Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another.  There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times.  What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House.  Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept.  After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House.  Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee.  They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other.  Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship.  A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 — 110 years after the Civil War ended — and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways.  We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted.  The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again.  Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other.  It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward — leading the way just like they did while waging war — to model for Americans how to wage peace.

I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General [Zachary] Taylor never wore uniforms, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit on his horse side-ways — with both feet on one side — particularly on the battle-field.

General [Winfield] Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed.

In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals contrasted quite as strongly as in their other characteristics. General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a style peculiarly his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking without the least embarrassment. Taylor was not a conversationalist, but on paper he could put his meaning so plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words, but would not sacrifice meaning to the construction of high-sounding sentences.

But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history.

Ulysses S. Grant, contrasting his two commanders during the Mexican-American War, General Winfield Scott and General Zachary Taylor, in his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, 1885.

During the Civil War, Grant’s own style as a military commander was far more similar to that of General Taylor’s, particularly when it came to his simplicity and lack of vanity in respect to his uniform and his direct, straightforward method of communication.

Grant had come out of the war the greatest of all. It is true that the rebels were on their last legs, and that the Southern ports were pretty effectually blockaded, and that Grant was furnished with all the men that were needed or could be spared after he took command of the Army of the Potomac. But Grant helped more than any one else to bring about this condition. His great victories at Donelson, Vicksburg, and Missionary Ridge all contributed to Appomattox…Grant has treated me badly; but he was the right man in the right place during the war, and no matter what his faults were or are, the whole world can never write him down.
Andrew Johnson, paying tribute to Ulysses S. Grant despite the notoriously difficult relationship that the two men had with each other.
General Franklin Pierce had joined the army in Mexico, at Puebla, a short time before the advance upon the capital commenced. He had consequently not been in any of the engagements of the war up to the Battle of Contreras. By an unfortunate fall of his horse on the afternoon of the 19th he was painfully injured. The next day, when his brigade, with the other troops engaged on the same field, was ordered against the flank and rear of the enemy guarding the different points of the road from San Augustin Tlalplan to the city, General Pierce attempted to accompany them. He was not sufficiently recovered to do so, and fainted. This circumstance gave rise to exceedingly unfair and unjust criticisms of him when he became a candidate for the Presidency. Whatever General Pierce’s qualifications may have been for the Presidency, he was a gentleman and a man of courage. I was not a supporter of him politically, but I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals.

Ulysses S. Grant, writing about his experience with Franklin Pierce during the Mexican-American War in his autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, 1885.

Grant’s defense of Pierce’s courage was in response to rumors that had dogged Pierce following the Mexican-American War and were amplified during Pierce’s successful campaign for the Presidency in 1852. Pierce’s opponent in 1852 was Winfield Scott, who won glory as a military hero due to his service commanding the army in Mexico, and Scott’s supporters claimed that Pierce fainted in combat due to cowardice. In reality, Pierce had suffered a serious knee injury at the Battle of Contreras that was reinjured at Churubusco. To make matters worse, Pierce was also stricken by dysentery in the closing weeks of the war.

While the charges of cowardice (inaccurate) and alcoholism (significantly more accurate) leveled against Pierce by Scott’s supporters were painful and embarrassing, Pierce routed his former commanding general in the Electoral College to win the 1852 Presidential election.

Faithful and fearless as a volunteer soldier, intrepid and invincible as Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the Union, and confident as President of a reunited and strengthened nation, which his genius has been instrumental in achieving, he has our homage and that of the world; but brilliant as was his public character, we love him all the more for his home life and homely virtues.
President William McKinley, paying tribute to Ulysses S. Grant at the dedication ceremony for Grant’s Tomb in New York City, 1897.
Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means for peace.
Ulysses S. Grant, post-Presidential speech in London, England during Grant’s world tour
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Which two-term president do you think would have benefitted most from a third term legacy wise?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

If Grant had been elected to an unprecedented third term in 1880 (as he nearly was — he surprisingly lost the GOP nomination to dark horse James Garfield), I think he’d be remembered as a better President than he is.  I think Grant would have learned from his first two terms, recognized whom he could and could not trust, put the right people in place for his third term, and been a better Administrator.  Grant’s successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, had ended Reconstruction as part of the Compromise of 1877 and that reversed some of the early progress that had been made in the South when it came to protecting the rights of the recently-freed slaves and other African-Americans.  Grant probably would have been the most accomplished President in the area of Civil Rights between Lincoln and LBJ if he had a third term.  He might have been anyway.