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Civil War Trust

Dispatches

Letters to the Skirmisher

Grant with his war horse
General Grant and his war horse, "Cincinnati," in June of 1864. (Library of Congress)

What major rights and responsibilities did General Ulysses S. Grant have during this war?

As a young man, Grant attended West Point to learn how to be a military officer. After the Mexican War ended in 1848, he resigned to avoid charges of drunkenness.

When the Civil War began, Grant had to re-enter the army as a low-level officer.  This meant that at first, he was responsible for a thousand or so soldiers in the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

As Grant proved his ability, he earned promotions. Eventually, he became a Lieutenant-General, commander of all Union armies. This position was originally created for George Washington during the American Revolution.

Grant’s high rank gave him great responsibility. He earned the right to issue orders that could cost men their lives. By the end of the war, he commanded more than one million soldiers. His decisions influenced the outcome of the war and the lives of Southern civilians.

How did Grant remain calm in battle?

Read Grant’s words describing his experience as a low-level officer in the Civil War:

“As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see [the enemy’s] camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on.

Grant composite
This photo is an interesting 1902 composite of General Grant at Cold Harbor and a Confederate prison camp, in the background. (Library of Congress)

When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted. The place where [the enemy] had been encamped a few days before was still there and the marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place.

It occurred to me at once that [the enemy] had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. The lesson was valuable.”

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