Lincoln’s Relentless Quest for Victory

Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant were each genuinely honest, decent, compassionate men. But each of them could be utterly ruthless when it came to military decisions. Early in 1864, Lincoln decided that he and Grant, bound by their powerful wills, together could increase the Union’s chances of ending the Civil War.

Lincoln’s alliance with Grant was forged out of his disappointment in the weak resolve of other Union generals. A newly discovered letter shows in Lincoln’s own handwriting the elation he felt at Maj. Gen. George Meade’s victory at Gettysburg—and his expectation that Meade would bring the rebellion to a close by crushing Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army before it escaped across the Potomac (story, P. 34). A week later, after Lee and his army slipped away, Lincoln vented his anger by writing a scathing missive to Meade. But the same leader who would expect a worn-out army to engage the Confederate army right on the heels of Gettysburg also realized his damning letter could do no possible good, and he permanently filed it away, unsent.

Nine months later, sensing a kindred spirit in Grant, Lincoln brought him East to take command of the Union armies, essentially moving Meade to the sidelines. With the commander in chief’s full backing, the new general in chief relentlessly hammered away at Lee. When innovative tactics such as Emory Upton’s battering ram at the Muleshoe resulted in a bloody stalemate (story, P. 26), Grant was undeterred. With the full support of his equally iron-willed commander in chief, Grant just kept on hammering.