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Everyone has heard the name Ulysses S Grant and may know he was “The General” most connected to the Confederate States of America being defeated in the American Civil War. But who was he and what kind of a soldier was he? Some thoughts from historians and contemporaries.

Shelby Foote:
“Grant the general had many qualities but he had a thing that’s very necessary for a great general. He had what they call “four o’clock in the morning courage.” You could wake him up at four o’clock in the morning and tell him they had just turned his right flank and he would be as cool as a cucumber. Grant, after that first night in the Wilderness, went to his tent, broke down, and cried very hard. Some of the staff members said they’d never seen a man so unstrung. Well, he didn’t cry until the battle was over, and he wasn’t crying when it began again the next day. It just shows you the tension that he lived with without letting it affect him… Grant, he’s wonderful.”

T. Harry Williams, Military Historian:
“There is no difficulty in composing a final evaluation of Ulysses S. Grant. With him there be no balancing and qualifying, no ifs and buts. He won battles and campaigns, and he struck the blow that won the war. No general could do what he did because of accident or luck or preponderance of numbers and weapons. He was a success because he was a complete general and a complete character. He was so complete that his countrymen have never been able to believe he was real…Grant was, judged by modern standards, the greatest general of the Civil War. He was head and shoulders above any other general on either side as an over-all strategist, as a master of global strategy. Fundamentally Grant was superior to Lee because in a modern total war he had a modern mind, and Lee did not. Lee was the last of the great old-fashioned generals, Grant was the first of the great moderns.”

General William T. Sherman:
It will be a thousand years before Grant’s character is fully appreciated. Grant is the greatest soldier of our time if not all time… he fixes in his mind what is the true objective and abandons all minor ones. He dismisses all possibility of defeat. He believes in himself and in victory. If his plans go wrong he is never disconcerted but promptly devises a new one and is sure to win in the end. Grant more nearly impersonated the American character of 1861-65 than any other living man. Therefore he will stand as the typical hero of the great Civil War in America.”

General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A., to someone who had slandered Grant:
“Sir, if you ever again presume to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this University. (Yet Lee had a slightly different opinion in 1864, when he wrote his son: “His talent and strategy consists in accumulating overwhelming numbers.”)”

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain:
“Grant was necessary to bring the war to a close… his positive qualities, his power to wield force to the bitter end, much entitle him to rank high as a commanding general. His concentration of energies, inflexible purpose, imperturbable long-suffering, his masterly reticence, ignoring either advice or criticism, his magnanimity in all relations, but more than all his infinite trust in the final triumph of his cause, set him apart and alone above all others. With these attributes we could not call him less than great.”

General John B. Gordon, C.S.A.:
“The strong and salutary characteristics of both Lee and Grant should live in history as an inspiration to coming generations. Posterity will find nobler and more wholesome incentives in their high attributes as men than in their brilliant career as warriors. General Grant’s truly great qualities – his innate modesty, his freedom from every trace of vain-glory or ostentation, his magnanimity in victory, his genuine sympathy for his brave and sensitive foemen, and his inflexible resolve to protect paroled Confederates against any assault… will give him a place in history no less renowned and more to be envied than any other man.”

Abraham Lincoln, in conversation, 1864:
“He’s the quietest little fellow you ever saw. He makes the least fuss of any man you ever knew. I believe he had been in this room a minute or so before I knew he was here. Grant is the first general I have had. You know how it’s been with all the rest. As soon as I put a man in command of the army, they all wanted me to be the general. Now it isn’t so with Grant. He hasn’t told me what his plans are. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I am glad to find a man who can go ahead without me. He doesn’t ask impossibilities of me, and he’s the first general I’ve had that didn’t.”

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