The American Civil War began in response to the long-standing issue of slavery. Slavery was legal at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Civil War, which broke out in April 1861, was fought between the North (Union) and the South (Confederate States).
Convinced that white supremacy and the institution of slavery were both threatened by the election of Lincoln as President, the Confederacy declared its secession from the United States. Below are the top 10 generals who fought in the American Civil War and led armies on both sides.
Grant served as the Commander-in-Chief to the Union Army and led the North to victory in the Civil War. He later became the 18th President of the United States (he served as President from 1869-1877). He was the only Union general (North) who could match General Robert Lee from the South. His victories at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Chattanooga convinced Lincoln to promote him to the position of Command-in-Chief of Union armies.
At the end of the Civil War, it was Grant’s magnanimous terms at Appomattox that helped the North gain victory over the South while still allowing the South to keep some of its dignity intact.
One of the most talented and successful generals of the Civil War was Robert E. Lee. Although he was against secession, Lee declined Lincoln’s offer to command the Union (North) Army. He instead declared allegiance to his home state of Virginia. He commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia until his surrender to General Grant on April 9th, 1865.
Lee used brilliant and aggressive tactics to defeat his Northern enemies. He daringly divided his army at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 and clinched a victory. This paved the way for a second invasion of the North. He is today remembered as a notable Southern hero.
General Jackson was one of the bravest Confederate generals in the Civil War. He played a prominent role in nearly all the engagements of the war until the time of his death.
During the war, the heaviest fighting took place at the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). It was the first major battle of the Civil War. It was there that General Jackson earned the nickname ‘Stonewall’.
General Jackson led a victorious campaign against Major General Nathaniel’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. In this campaign, he won five significant victories with an army of just 17,000 men against a combined force of 60,000 soldiers.
Initially just a soldier, he quickly rose the ranks of the Confederate Army to become one of the most underrated Confederate generals during the entire Civil War. He sided with the Southern States out of a deep love for the people who had accepted him after he immigrated to the United States from Ireland.
Cleburne successfully withstood vastly superior forces during the heaviest fighting. This earned him the nickname ‘Stonewall Jackson of the West’. Under William Sherman, he repeatedly repulsed Union forces at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. In spite of being outnumbered ten-to-one, his tactics forced General Ulysses (of the Union Army) to order a desperate frontal assault.
A friend of General Grant’s, he absorbed the initial confederate assault at Shiloh. During the campaign in Atlanta, he outflanked Joe Johnston and took Atlanta before the Election of 1864. He led a further 60,000 men from Kingston all the way to Fort McAllister in Atlanta and began to move north to join General Grant’s army.
The Confederate Army of General Robert Lee, upon learning of his crossing the Nottoway River in Virginia, then surrendered to his army. This ultimately led to the decisive surrender at the Appomattox.
A General of the Confederate Armed Forces, Forrest made his fortune as a cotton planter and slave trader. During the war, he allegedly allowed the massacre at Fort Pillow, and was afterwards also associated with the Klu Klux Klan, also known as the KKK.
While his forces experienced some victories and some defeats during the course of the war, Forrest finally chose to surrender his forces in May 1865. His decision came about after hearing of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.
He served in the Union Army in spite of his Southern heritage. General G.H. Thomas led a small force at the Battle of Mill Springs, giving an early victory to the Union Army. He absorbed the Confederate attack at Peachtree Creek, and managed to obliterate John Bell Hood’s Army at the Battle of Nashville.
General McClellan was one of the earliest generals of the Union army. He played a vital role in the Union Army of the Potomac. McClellan would later lead the Union army during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. The campaign sought to take the war to the South, aiming to capture the southern capital. Although the Peninsula Campaign failed to achieve its objective, McClellan’s forces were able to inflict heavy casualties on Confederate forces.
Although a very talent and promising general, McClellan lost the trust of President Lincoln. He was subsequently removed from Union command.
General Robert Lee considered him to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of Confederate forces. Stuart was a Confederate General known for his use of cavalry in offensive operations during battles. At the Battle of Chancellorsville, he managed to distinguish himself as temporary commander of the wounded Stonewall Jackson’s infantry corps. He arrived late at the Battle of Gettysburg, but managed to bring essential supplies for the Confederate Army. He was fatally wounded at the battle of Yellow Tavern.
He served as an Infantry Commander in the Battle of Stone’s River. He led a successful assault on Missionary Ridge before turning to free Shenandoah Valley from Confederate control. Finally, Sheridan distinguished himself after he masterfully ended General Robert Lee’s campaign. He achieved this by intercepting his orders to the quartermaster and instead met his supply train at Appomattox Station, effectively ending the campaign.