The Union and the Confederacy had many important leaders during the Civil War. Examples include Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. The lesson below discusses some of the many important Civil War leaders in more detail.
Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election of 1860 and became the 16th president of the United States when he took office in 1861. As the leader of the Union during the American Civil War, Lincoln stated that his primary goal was to keep the country united. Though many historians argue that the disagreement over slavery was a primary cause of the war, for Lincoln, bringing the southern states back to the Union was more important than ending slavery, at least at the beginning of the war. In order to protect the unity of the country, Lincoln decided to suspend the writ of habeas corpus because of riots and local militia actions, particularly in the state of Maryland. Due to this action, many leading dissenters of Lincoln's actions were imprisoned, held, and refused the right to petition for release.
Lincoln was initially hesitant to enlist African Americans in the army in the early years of the Civil War, fearing the slave states who remained loyal to the Union, known as border states, would secede from the Union if he allowed African Americans to fight. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, however, African Americans were allowed to join the Union Army.
In 1863, President Lincoln gave what is probably his most memorable speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during a dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Abraham Lincoln wanted to bring states back into the Union with as little hostility or punishment as possible. In 1863, Lincoln proposed a 10% plan, which meant that once 10% of a state's voters from the 1860 election had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Union, then the state could be readmitted to the Union. His plan would have quickly brought the southern states back to the Union, but it was never passed by Congress. In 1864, Lincoln was re-elected as president but was assassinated soon after his inauguration in April of 1865.
George McClellan was a major general in the Union Army. He gained some small victories at the same time that the Confederate Army won the First Battle of Bull Run. He then commanded the troops in and around Washington, D.C., and became the Commanding General of the United States Army in November 1861. His cautiousness made him fail to take Richmond in the Peninsular Campaign, and he then suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Antietam. Lincoln removed McClellan from his command in 1862. In 1864, McClellan ran for president during that year's election as the Democratic candidate. He was strongly supported by his home state of New Jersey, gaining all seven of their electoral votes in the election. This support was not enough, however, and Abraham Lincoln was re-elected as president.
George Meade was a Union officer who fought many battles in the East, including the Battle of Chancellorsville. In 1863, Meade was made commander of the Army of the Potomac—the same army that McClellan led at the beginning of the war. Meade defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the Battle of Gettysburg, but his failure to pursue Lee and his forces angered President Lincoln. When Ulysses S. Grant took command of the entire Union Army in 1864, Meade effectively lost control of the Army of the Potomac.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was a graduate of West Point who became a brigadier general in the Union Army in 1861. He led the army to several important victories, including the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863. After that, Lincoln put him in command of all the Union armies. Grant focused on dividing and destroying the Confederate armies. In 1865, Grant defeated Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, who surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House.
William Tecumseh Sherman was a Union general who led a campaign called the March to the Sea, in which his army created a path of destruction between Atlanta and the Atlantic Coast. Sherman's army destroyed anything that they thought might be beneficial to the South's war effort, including crops, bridges, and railroad tracks.
Jefferson Davis had been a U.S. senator from the state Mississippi, but he left the Senate after Mississippi seceded from the Union. He then was elected president of the Confederate States of America. Davis managed the army very closely and believed that the South needed a strong, centralized government, which many of the states did not agree with. He appointed Robert E. Lee as the leader of the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, Davis was arrested for his leadership role in the Confederacy.
Joseph Johnston commanded the Army of Northern Virginia (the Confederacy's main eastern army) until he was wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862. After he recovered, Johnston took control of the Confederacy's western armies. He commanded the Confederates at several battles, but he was unable to prevent the fall of Vicksburg. Johnson was then ordered to stop General Sherman's invasion of Atlanta, which he also could not prevent.
Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee was the most famous Confederate general in the Civil War. He took command of the Army of Northern Virginia after Joseph Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines, and he later had control of the entire Confederate Army. Lee led the Confederate troops to many victories from 1862 to 1865, though he lost the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Lee surrendered to Grant in April 1865 at Appomattox Court House without Confederate President Davis's permission.
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was a brigadier general in the Confederate army. At the First Battle of Bull Run, he earned his nickname by making sure his brigade stood "like a stone wall." Jackson was then made a general and took his army into Maryland and Virginia, where he won several battles before losing a battle in May 1862 and retreating. He joined Lee in the Seven Days Battles and led the Confederate Army into the Battle of Fredericksburg. He died after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, when he was accidentally shot by Confederate soldiers.