Grant and

As Grant moved his army into Virginia, he clashed repeatedly with Lee's army. The first of these battles took place in early May 1864 in a region of dense, tangled woods known as the Wilderness. In two horribly bloody days of fighting, Grant lost approximately seventeen thousand men. But unlike earlier Union generals who had always retreated when challenged by Lee, Grant expressed grim determination to continue his campaign. "I'm heartily sick and tired of hearing what Lee is going to do," he snapped at one of his worried officers during the Wilderness battle. "Go back to your command and think about what we're going to do to Lee instead of worrying about what he's going to do to us."

Instead of returning to Washington, Grant pushed deeper into Virginia. Again and again, he tried to maneuver his army around the right flank of Lee's army in order to destroy it and then move on the Confederate capital of Richmond. Grant knew that if he could break Lee's army and capture Richmond, the South would have to give up. But Lee anticipated Grant's strategy and successfully fended off every Union attack. The struggle continued for six long weeks, as the two weary armies met in bloody combat at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and countless other places in the Virginia countryside.

By mid-June, Grant had pushed Lee's army back to Petersburg, where the Confederate general erected a final defensive position to keep the Union forces out of nearby Richmond. By this time Grant's army had lost fifty thousand men, an average of about two thousand casualties a day. These high casualty numbers shocked Union communities, and some Northern critics charged that Grant was a poor general who did not value human life. "Grant is a butcher and not fit to be at the head of an army," First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882; see entry) declared at one point. President Lincoln remained loyal to his general, though. He recognized that Grant's campaign had immobilized (brought to a halt) Lee's forces and put the Army of Northern Virginia into a situation where it would have to try and outlast a Union force that was far larger and better supplied.

Grant Robert Lee Better General
Confederate general Robert E. Lee. (Painting by John Adams Elder. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Grant laid siege to Petersburg for ten long months. During this time, Lee stood by helplessly as other Union armies further west posted a string of major victories. By the spring of 1865, Lee's army remained bottled up in Petersburg and Richmond. Outside of Virginia, meanwhile, Union armies led by Sherman and others had torn the Confederacy apart.

In April, Lee decided to abandon Petersburg. Leaving Petersburg and Richmond to Grant's army, the Confederate general fled south with the hungry and battered remnants of his army in a desperate bid to gain supplies and continue the fight. But Grant chased Lee down. On April 9, 1865, the Civil War came to an end when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia.

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