People have asked why we started our map book series with Grant Rising, a profile of Ulysses S. Grant. After all, Robert E. Lee was a much more dynamic figure. Let’s just say there are more people wearing Lee t-shirts these days, and he is seen as a noble, Christian gentlemen, despite the fact he was fighting for the Confederacy.
Grant, on the other hand, could never shake his image as a drunkard, and a president whose administration was marred by corruption. His tomb was covered in graffiti until restored in the 1990s, and few people would step forward these days to defend him.
Yet at one time, right after the Civil War, Grant was enormously popular with the American public. Mark Twain adored him, and Grant was respected the world around for his success in the war. His strategic and battlefield efforts were credited with saving the American democracy. Our book takes you back to the public sentiment of that time.
You have to understand how bad it was for the Union Army in the first year of the war, from July 1861-July 1862. In the east, they were losing battle after battle; they had put all this money and effort into armies that were just not delivering for President Lincoln.
Because they eventually won the war, a lot of people forget how critical that time period was and how the North’s morale was suffering. People were talking about cutting a deal with the Confederacy instead of losing more lives to keep the war going.
The battles that Grant was fighting in the western theater during this time really buoyed morale for the North and helped Lincoln keep people going with a sense of optimism.
Grant Rising talks about this remarkable man who, unlike Lee, wasn’t born into aristocracy on a plantation. He had a lower middle class background, went to West Point, and served in Mexico. He had postings all over the country, and being separated from his family was hard on him.
When the Civil War broke out, Grant was out of work and offered his services to his state, Illinois. Because both sides were so short of professionally-trained military men, he was immediately assigned to important military positions. Exceeding his orders, he conducted a raid that really put the fear into the Confederates.
At a time when Lincoln was desperately trying to get his eastern generals like McClellan to do operations, Grant conducted an operation in February. Most armies never did winter operations, because it was so hard on the men and horses. Grant and his men succeeded in capturing a key fort that the Confederates built on the Cumberland River – Fort Donelson. This was a spectacular victory. He captured at least 15,000 Confederate troops and when this fort fell, the Confederate Army had to abandon Nashville, the capital of Tennessee. This was the fist state capital captured by the Federal forces in the Civil War.
That victory, in the middle of winter, really helped Lincoln finally motivate McClellan to start operations in the east. Grant was showing up everybody on the Union side, as the only general being aggressive and successful, winning the greatest victories at that time for the North.
Psychologically, politically and militarily, what Grant was doing in the west was essential to the North ultimately winning the war. His story needs to be told, and this is the first time it will be told in such a spectacular series of maps.