Leaders and Generals You Should Know

Listed below are some of the more important/infamous leaders of the Civil War.

The Union

Abraham Lincoln was born on 12 February 1809 on a farm near Hodgenville, Kentucky. His parents were Thomas and Nancy Lincoln. They had 3 children, Sarah, Abraham and Thomas. However Thomas died in infancy. When Abraham was 7 his father moved to southwestern Indiana. However his mother died in 1818. Before the end of the year his father married a widow named Sarah Bush Johnston who had 3 children of her own. Abraham had little schooling but he did learn to read and write and he was an avid reader.

In 1830 his father moved the family to Illinois. In 1831 Abraham settled in New Salem and he tried a variety of jobs. He became a storekeeper but the business failed. He became a postmaster then a surveyor. In 1834 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. He studied the law to become a lawyer and he began to practice in 1836. He was also re-elected in 1836 and again in 1838 and 1840. Meanwhile he moved to Springfield in 1837. In 1842 he married a woman named Mary Todd. The couple had 4 sons.

Lincoln was a successful lawyer and in 1847-1849 he served in the US House of Representatives. In 1856 Lincoln became a Republican. In 1858 he stood for election as a senator but lost to a man named Stephen Douglas. Nevertheless in 1860 Lincoln became the Republican nomination for president. He duly won the presidential election in November 1860. In the months after the election some southern states ceded from the union. Civil war began shortly afterwards.

An able administrator, a good organizer, and a popular leader, George B. McClellan had one flaw that ruined his career as a general. He was reluctant to fight.

George Brinton McClellan was born on Dec. 3, 1826, in Philadelphia and was graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1846. He was made a captain during the Mexican War, and in 1855 the United States government sent him to Europe to study the Crimean War.

At the beginning of the Civil War, in May 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed McClellan a major general in the United States Army. Immediately he was sent into western Virginia, where he rendered valuable assistance to the loyal Unionists who were seceding from Virginia to form what is now West Virginia. He was then called to Washington to reorganize the Army of the Potomac after its defeat at Bull Run. McClellan’s aptitude for this work was soon apparent. In a short time order appeared where confusion had reigned. In November 1861 Lincoln appointed him commander of the United States Army. McClellan had built a wonderful military machine, but he hesitated to use it. Summer and winter passed, and still he made no move against the enemy.

Finally in April 1862, under direct orders from the president, he entered upon his disastrous Peninsular Campaign between the York and James rivers of Virginia. He advanced within a few miles of Richmond. On July 1, after a terrible week of fighting known as the Seven Days battles, he was driven back and was directed to abandon the peninsula. A large part of his army was ordered to reinforce Gen. John Pope’s troops, and the order was reluctantly obeyed.

Pope’s disastrous defeat in the second battle of Bull Run gave McClellan a new chance to retrieve his fame. Again in supreme command of the Army of the Potomac, he met Lee along Antietam Creek, Md., where on Sept. 17, 1862, there occurred one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Lee was forced to withdraw from Maryland, but McClellan, instead of driving forward at once, allowed Lee to re-cross the Potomac unmolested. In November McClellan was relieved of his command.

Lincoln was bitterly criticized for his action because McClellan still had many devoted admirers. In the election of 1864 all who were dissatisfied with Lincoln’s conduct of the war supported McClellan for president, but he carried only three states—New Jersey, Kentucky, and Delaware. McClellan had resigned his commission in the Army before the election took place. The rest of his life he worked as an engineer, except from 1878 through 1881 when he was governor of New Jersey. He died in Orange, N.J., on Oct. 29,

George Armstrong Custer was born December 5, 1839, in New Rumley, Ohio. Although born in Ohio, Custer spent part of his youth in the home of his half sister and brother-in-law in Monroe, Michigan. After graduating from McNeely Normal School (later Hopedale Normal College) in Ohio in 1856, he taught school before enrolling in the U.S. Military Academy, from which he graduated last in his class in June 1861. Having entered the army as a second lieutenant at the start of the Civil War, Custer saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). Later, catching the eye of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, Custer joined that important officer’s staff and developed contacts with many senior commanders. In 1863, at age 23, he became a brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers, leading the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, which consisted of four regiments from his adopted home state. Dubbed the “Boy General,” Custer distinguished himself in numerous encounters, including the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863), the Battle of Yellow Tavern (May 11, 1864), and the Third Battle of Winchester (September 19, 1864), which led to his rise to division command and promotion to major general before he turned age 25. During the closing days of the war, his relentless pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia and Gen. Robert E. Lee helped to hasten their surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865.

With the end of the Civil War, the citizen soldiers of the U.S. Volunteers disbanded. Custer reverted to the rank of captain in the regular army, though he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and became acting commander of the newly formed 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. In 1866 Custer and his 7th Cavalry reported to western Kansas to take part in Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s expedition to subdue hostile Plains Indians with the military strength of the U.S. Army.

In November 1868, his command surprised and destroyed the Southern Cheyenne chief Black Kettle’s village on the Washita River. (Black Kettle and his people had already been the target of a controversial surprise attack by the army in 1864 known as the Sand Creek Massacre.) This somewhat dubious success—the majority of the Indians are thought to have been women, children, and older people rather than warriors—was the army’s first major victory over the Southern Plains tribes following the Civil War, and it established Custer’s reputation as America’s top Indian fighter, which he retained well after other army officers’ exploits had surpassed his.

Many of the Plains Indians came under the leadership of the charismatic Sioux leader Sitting Bull, who advocated resistance to U.S. expansion and inspired his people with impressive religious visions. When the hunting season arrived in the spring of 1876, many more Native Americans left their reservations and headed out to join Sitting Bull, whose growing number of followers eventually made camp on the Little Bighorn River (a branch of the Bighorn River) in southern Montana.

Custer opted for an immediate attack by the 7th Cavalry into the Little Bighorn Valley. At noon on June 25, to keep the Sioux and Cheyenne from escaping, Custer divided his regiment into three battalions, sending one to charge the village head on, a second to swing south to intercept any Indians fleeing in that direction, and a third under his personal command to strike the village from the north. This turned out to be a disastrous decision that fragmented Custer’s regiment and placed its three main components too far apart to support each other.

On June 25, 1876, the unfolding battle, which came to be known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, confronted Custer and the 7th Cavalry with a series of unpleasant surprises. Rather than seek safety in flight, the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians stood their ground, determined to either live or die in freedom. Earlier army intelligence estimates credited the bands loyal to Sitting Bull with a force of 800 fighting men, but Custer actually found himself facing some 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, many of them armed with superior repeating rifles and all of them resolved to defend their women, children, and older relatives.

In a desperate battle that may have lasted nearly two hours, the Indians cut off the 210 soldiers who had followed Custer toward the northern reaches of their village and killed them all. Not one cavalry trooper lived to tell the story of “Custer’s Last Stand.” Two days later a scouting party from General Terry’s column discovered Custer’s nude, unscalped body lying amid a ring of dead cavalry horses where he and 40 other men had rallied for a final stand. General George Custer was 37 years old.

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was the oldest of six children born to Jesse and Hannah Grant. Jesse Grant was a tanner. It was hard smelly work but he made a good living at it. Young Grant worked for his father in the tannery but hated the work. He went to local schools. In 1838 he attended the Presbyterian Academy in Ripley, Ohio. In 1839 he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was not the best student though he was good at math. When he graduated, he was placed in the infantry.

When Grant arrived at West Point and discovered that the Academy had him registered under the wrong name as Ulysses S. Grant, he tried to get the error corrected. He was told that it didn’t matter what he or his parents thought his name was, the official government application said his name was “Ulysses S.” and that application could not be changed. If Hiram Ulysses Grant wanted to attend West Point, he would have to change his name, which he did.

Before becoming the president, Grant was an officer in the Union Army (North). He fought in the Mexican War and became a general at the start of the American Civil War. He served as head of the Army of Tennessee and won victories at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. He became the top general in the Union Army from 1864 to 1865, and fought several battles against Robert E. Lee.

Since he was able to do well fighting in the American Civil War, he gained popularity which helped him to become president. Even though he was a respected general and supported civil rights for African Americans, historians criticize his presidency because he appointed his friends into high political positions and tolerated their corruption (even though Grant himself was innocent). Grant was the first President of the United States to have both living parents attend his inauguration.

After his two terms as U.S. president, Grant was poor and was suffering from throat cancer. He wrote a book about his life that sold millions of copies. He died three days after he finished writing the book. He is buried with his wife Julia in Grant’s Tomb, New York City, New York.

This is what Charleston, South Carolina looked like after Sherman's "March to the Sea."

William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio, February 8, 1820. Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator, and author. He served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861–65), for which he received recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the “scorched earth” policies he implemented in conducting total war against the Confederate States.

Sherman began his Civil War career serving in the First Battle of Bull Run and Kentucky in 1861. He served under General Ulysses S. Grant in 1862 and 1863 during the battles of forts Henry and Donelson, the Battle of Shiloh, the campaigns that led to the fall of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, and the Chattanooga Campaign, which culminated with the defeating of the Confederate armies in the state of Tennessee. In 1864, Sherman succeeded Grant as the Union commander in the western theater of the war. He proceeded to lead his troops to the capture of the city of Atlanta, a military success that contributed to the re-election of Abraham Lincoln. Sherman’s subsequent march through Georgia and the Carolinas further undermined the Confederacy’s ability to continue fighting. He accepted the surrender of all the Confederate armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida in April 1865, after having been present at most major military engagements in the western theater.

When Grant assumed the U.S. presidency in 1869, Sherman succeeded him as Commanding General of the U.S. Army, an office he served from 1869 until 1883. As such, he was responsible for the U.S. Army’s engagement in the Indian Wars over the next 15 years. Sherman advocated total war against hostile Indians to force them back onto their reservations. He refused to be drawn into politics and in 1875 published his Memoirs, one of the best-known first-hand accounts of the Civil War. You can read this book online–Click Here

During the later years of his life, General Sherman was much in demand as a public speaker that talked about his time in the Civil War. He delivered the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame on June 7, 1865, in South Bend, Indiana.

General William T. Sherman died of pneumonia in New York City at 1:50 PM on February 14, 1891, six days after his 71st birthday.

The Confederacy

While Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America. Davis was born on June 3, 1808, in Kentucky. His parents were farmers who owned enslaved people. Jefferson grew up in Mississippi and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828.

Davis served in the Army until 1835. He then returned to Mississippi and ran a plantation.

In 1845 Davis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He left Congress in 1846 to command Mississippi troops in the Mexican War. He won a great victory at the Battle of Buena Vista.

Davis returned from the war as a hero and became a U.S. senator from Mississippi in 1847. From 1853 to 1857 he served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce. Davis again became a senator in 1857. At the time, Northerners and Southerners were arguing about many issues. Davis tried to get the two sides to work together, but they became more and more divided.

In January 1861, Mississippi seceded, or left the Union. Several other states did the same. Representatives of those states chose Davis to be their president. He took office on February 18, 1861. Davis ordered an attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12. The attack began the American Civil War.

As president, Davis had a hard job. The United States had more people and more resources than the Confederacy. After four years of fighting the Confederate troops were forced to surrender. This brought an end to the Confederate States.

Davis then left Richmond, Virginia, which was the Confederate capital. On May 10 he was captured in Georgia. He was put into prison for disloyalty to the United States. But he was not placed on trial. After two years he was released.

Davis spent time in Canada and Europe and then ran an insurance company in Memphis, Tennessee. He died in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 6, 1889.

Robert E. Lee was an American military officer best known for commanding the Army of Northern Virginia supporting the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. Lee was born on January 19, 1807 in Stratford Hall, Virginia. His father Henry ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee III was a Revolutionary War hero and governor of Virginia (1791-94). He joined the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1825 and upon graduation in 1829 he joined the Corp of Engineers in U.S. Army.

Robert Lee had a distinguished military career as a combat engineer in U.S. Army. His career spanned over 32 years. During his service he saw action in the Mexican-American War and served as the superintendent of U.S. Military Academy. He was also the commander of the marine detachment sent to stop John Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Robert personally was against secession and made it clear on more than one occasion. However, he was also a staunch supporter of his home state of Virginia. After Virginia seceded from the United States in February, 1861, Lee resigned his commission and joined the Northern Virginia army in April, 1861. Prior to his resignation he was offered an important military position in Union Army by President Lincoln. He however, chose to stand by his home state.

Robert Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. Under his command the Virginia forces fought many important battles on the eastern front. He commanded Confederate troops in the famous battles of Antietam, Gettysburg, Appomattox, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor. Every time he faced Union forces, he was usually always outnumbered. He however, snatched victory on numerous occasions despite all the odds. Even when he could not win, he was able to retreat successfully. For the entire duration of war Lee was the best military commander of the Confederacy and the biggest threat to Union forces.

After the war Robert E. Lee was not punished but lost the right to vote and some of his property was taken by the federal government. He served as president of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University) from 1865 till his death. He also joined the Democratic Party and opposed radical Republicans’ efforts to impose severe punishment against Southern states. He supported bringing the North and South back together. He died on October 12, 1870, of pneumonia.

He is remembered as an honorable man and a brilliant soldier who commanded his men with courage and honor and turned the tide in many battles against a superior enemy. After his death his popularity in the North soared. In 1975, President Gerald Ford restored Lee’s citizenship after documents were found that showed he had taken oath of loyalty to the Union.

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was a Confederate general in the American Civil War. He often is considered the best general under the command of General Robert E. Lee.

Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born on January 21, 1824, in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). His parents were poor, and they both died when he was young. Relatives then raised him.

Jackson graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1846. He then went to Mexico to serve in the Mexican War. In 1851 he left the army and became a teacher at the Virginia Military Institute. His students saw him as serious and strict.

The Civil War began in 1861. Virginia was on the side of the Confederacy. Jackson offered to serve in the armed forces of his home state. He soon gathered many volunteers for a Confederate brigade (army unit).

Jackson successfully led his brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. Another general noticed that Jackson’s soldiers formed a strong line, holding back the enemy. He is said to have declared, “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall.” Because of that compliment, Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall.”

Jackson had several more successes in battle. He was a demanding and stern leader. Nevertheless, his men trusted and admired him.

On May 2, 1863, Jackson led his soldiers in a surprise attack on Northern forces at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Jackson’s bold move helped the Confederates to win the battle. But on his return to camp, Jackson was shot accidentally by his own men. He was treated for his wounds but later developed pneumonia. Jackson died at Guinea Station (now Guinea), Virginia, on May 10, 1863.

Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is still considered today as one of the most brilliant commanders in American warfare history.

James Longstreet was born on January 8, 1821, in Edgefield district, South Carolina. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1842. When his home state seceded from the Union in December 1860, he resigned from the U.S. Army and was made a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He fought in the first and second battles of Bull Run. Longstreet was a division commander in the Peninsular Campaign (March–July 1862). In the Battles of Antietam (September 1862) and Fredericksburg (November–December 1862), he commanded what was soon called the I Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Promoted to lieutenant general in 1862, Longstreet participated in the Battle of Gettysburg as General Robert E. Lee’s second in command. Critics of Longstreet attributed the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg to what they claimed was his delay in attacking and his slowness in organizing the attack known as “Pickett’s Charge.” Others, however, pointed to the failure of the Confederate forces supporting General George Edward Pickett’s troops during the charge or placed the blame for the defeat on Lee. In September 1863 Longstreet directed the attack at Chickamauga Creek that broke the Union lines. He was severely wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 1864). In November 1864, despite having a paralyzed right arm, he resumed command of his corps. He surrendered with Lee at Appomattox in April 1865.

After the war Longstreet became unpopular in the South—partly because of his admiration for President Ulysses S. Grant and partly because he joined the Republican Party. He served as U.S. minister to Turkey from 1880 to 1881 and commissioner of Pacific railways from 1898 to 1904. He died in Gainesville, Georgia, on January 2, 1904.

Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart was the South’s most brilliant cavalry leader. His nickname, Jeb, came from the initials of his given names. Stuart’s hard-riding troopers formed a screen between Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces and the Union armies. Behind that screen Lee secretly moved his armies at will. Stuart also spied out movements of the Northern Army and kept Lee, his superior, well informed.

The South loved Stuart for his daring and his colorful personality. He had a long brown beard and often wore a red-lined cloak, a yellow sash at his waist, and a plumed hat. He loved dancing and parties.

Jeb Stuart was born on Laurel Hill plantation, in Patrick County, Va., on Feb. 6, 1833. An encounter with hornets when he was 10 years old gave an indication of the courage he later showed as a general. While an older brother fled, young Jeb narrowed his eyes against the angry insects and with a stick dashed the hornets’ nest to the ground.

He received his early schooling from his mother and tutors. He entered Emory and Henry College when he was 15 years old. Two years later he was appointed to West Point. A popular cadet, he was noted for his eagerness to fight all comers. As a lieutenant he served against the Indians in the West. Stuart was Lee’s aide at the capture of John Brown at Harpers Ferry. When the Civil War broke out, he resigned his commission and joined the South.

The Confederates made Stuart a lieutenant colonel. In 1861 at the first battle of Bull Run his cavalry protected the Southern left and drove forward in a charge that aided victory. In 1862, at the age of 29, Stuart became a major general. His raids were famous. In 1862, with 1,200 troopers, he circled McClellan’s army before Richmond. The same year, with 1,800 men, he drove north into Chambersburg, Pa. In 1863, when Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded during the battle of Chancellorsville, Stuart took over the command of his troops and gained a notable victory.

Stuart, outnumbered, was mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern when he and his troops sought to keep Sheridan’s cavalry from reaching Richmond. He died in Richmond on May 12, 1864, leaving a widow and three children. After his death Lee said of him: “He was my ideal of a soldier.”

Resource Used:

Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2021, from https://kids.britannica.com/