GRANT AND LEE: A COMPARISON AND CONTRAST
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee are two of the most effective military leaders in American history. These men have become symbolic of the two nations at conflict during the Civil War. Both had very different backgrounds and personalities that caused them to differ in their military leadership and accomplishments. Even though General Lee would surrender his army to General Grant, Lee throughout the course of the war proved himself to be a better military leader. The childhood of Robert Edward Lee played a pivotal role in the way he would see the world as a man. Lee was born into an aristocratic family of Virginia with a deeply rooted American history. Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, Robert E. Lee’s uncles, helped draft resolutions that would lead to the Declaration of Independence, both would sign it1. Lee’s father, Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee III was a revolutionary war hero and one of George Washington’s most dependable fellow countrymen. In 1771, Washington, also from Virginia, wrote: “ I know of no country that can produce a family all distinguished and clever men, as our Lees.”2 Lee’s mother and father were strong influences in his life for very different reasons. Lee’s father would define everything Lee did not want to be. Lighthorse Harry lacked self-control and failed to take care of the family. Ruined by failed financial ventures, Lee’s father would be sent to debtor’s prison. His mother, Anne Hill Carter Lee would raise young Robert to love God, to serve God and to serve his country. Lee’s rearing helped him to develop the highest standards of honor, self-denial, self-control and duty that would earn respect from both friends and enemies.3 Ulysses S. Grant came from a more humble upbringing. Like Lee, Grant traces his ancestry deep into American history in his memoirs. Grant’s ancestors settled in Massachusetts in 1630.4 Grant’s father, Jesse R. Grant came from a broken family and was fostered by the parents of John Brown.5 The same John Brown that would attempt to start a slave rebellion by attacking the United States armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Men under the leadership of then Colonel Robert E. Lee ended that raid.6 Grant, was not born into the land owning aristocracy like Lee, his family was frontier men. Grant “…had come up the hard way…No man was born to anything, except perhaps to a chance to show how far he could rise. Life was competition (Catton, para 5).”7 Grant’s competitive upbringing would give him the motivation to push forward and the demand results needed to defeat Lee. Robert E Lee would carry the lessons he learned as a child with him to the Military Academy at West Point. While attending West Point, Lee was very studious and did not join 8other cadets for evenings at the local taverns. General Lee graduated second in his class at West Point and received no demerits for misconduct. This record has never been matched and will not likely ever be achieved again. By graduating with honors, Lee was assigned to the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The time Lee spent with the Army Corps of Engineers gave him valuable knowledge of different types of terrain and fortification constructions that would serve him well in the Civil War.9 The childhood of Ulysses S. Grant would also affect him at West Point. Grant was not interested in a military career; he was more interested in agriculture.10 It was Grant’s father who requested his appointment to West Point.11 Grant stated in his memoirs, “A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even if I should be graduated, which I did not expect (Grant p19).”12 Grant spent most of his time at West Point reading novels and avoiding “…books related to the course of studies (Grant pg 20).”13 Unlike Lee, Grant would not excel at West Point. Grant graduated 21 out of 39...
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