Arriving at Petersburg, Virginia, first, Grant should have captured the rail junction city, but he failed because of the overly cautious actions of his subordinate William Smith. Over the next three days, a number of Union assaults to take the city were launched. But all failed, and finally on June 18, Lee's veterans arrived. Faced with fully manned trenches in his front, Grant was left with no alternative but to settle down to a siege.
As the summer drew on and with Grant's and Sherman's armies stalled, respectively in Virginia and Georgia, politics took center stage. There was a presidential election in the fall, and the citizens of the North had difficulty seeing any progress in the war effort. To make matters worse for Abraham Lincoln, Lee detached a small army under the command of Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early, hoping it would force Grant to disengage forces to pursue him. Early invaded north through the Shenandoah Valley and reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C.. Although unable to take the city, Early embarrassed the Administration simply by threatening its inhabitants, making Abraham Lincoln's re-election prospects even bleaker.
In early September, the efforts of Grant's coordinated strategy finally bore fruit. First, Sherman took Atlanta. Then, Grant dispatched Philip Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley to deal with Early. It became clear to the people of the North that the war was being won, and Lincoln was re-elected by a wide margin. Later in November, Sherman began his March to the Sea. Sheridan and Sherman both followed Grant's strategy of total war by destroying the economic infrastructures of the Valley and a large swath of Georgia and the Carolinas.
At the beginning of April 1865, Grant's relentless pressure finally forced Lee to evacuate Richmond, and after a nine-day retreat, Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. There, Grant offered generous terms that did much to ease the tensions between the armies and preserve some semblance of Southern pride, which would be needed to reconcile the warring sides. Within a few weeks, the American Civil War was effectively over; minor actions would continue until Kirby Smith surrendered his forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department on June 2, 1865.
Immediately after Lee's surrender, Grant had the sad honor of serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of his greatest champion, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had been quoted after the massive losses at Shiloh as saying, "I can't spare this man. He fights." It was a two-sentence description that completely caught the essence of Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant's fighting style was what one fellow general called "that of a bulldog". The term accurately captures his tenacity, but it oversimplifies his considerable strategic and tactical capabilities. Although a master of combat by out-maneuvering his opponent (such as at Vicksburg and in the Overland Campaign against Lee), Grant was not afraid to order direct assaults, often when the Confederates were themselves launching offensives against him. Such tactics often resulted in heavycasualties for Grant's men, but they wore down the Confederate forces proportionately more and inflicted irreplaceable losses. Many in the North denounced Grant as a "butcher" in 1864, an accusation made both by Northern civilians appalled at the staggering number of casualties suffered by Union armies for what appeared to be negligible gains, and by Copperheads, Northern Democrats who either favored the Confederacy or simply wanted an end to the war, even at the cost of recognizing Southern independence. Grant persevered, refusing to withdraw as had his predecessors, and Lincoln, despite public outrage and pressure within the government, stuck by Grant, refusing to replace him. Although Grant lost battles in 1864, he won all his campaigns.
Historian Michael Korda explained his strategic genius:
" Grant understood topography, the importance of supply lines, the instant judgment of the balance between his own strengths and the enemy's weaknesses, and above all the need to keep his armies moving forward, despite casualties, even when things had gone wrong-that and the simple importance of inflicting greater losses on the enemy than he can sustain, day after day, until he breaks. Grant the boy never retraced his steps. Grant the man did not retreat-he advanced. Generals who do that win wars. "
After the war, on July 25, 1866, Congress authorized the newly created rank of General of the Army of the United States, the equivalent of a full (four-star) general in the modern U.S. Army. Grant was appointed as such by President Andrew Johnson on the same day.
Reconstruction: Grant and Johnson
As commanding general of the army, Grant had a difficult relationship with President Johnson. Although he accompanied Johnson on a national stumping tour during the 1866 elections, he did not appear to be a supporter of Johnson's moderate policies toward the South. Johnson tried to use Grant to defeat the Radical Republicans by making Grant the Secretary of War in place of Edwin M. Stanton, whom he could not remove without the approval of Congress under the Tenure of Office Act. Grant refused but kept his military command. That made him a hero to the Radicals, who gave him the Republican nomination for president in 1868. He was chosen as the Republican presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May 1868, with no real opposition. In his letter of acceptance to the party, Grant concluded with "Let us have peace," which became the Republican campaign slogan. In the general election that year, he won against former New York governor Horatio Seymour with a lead of 300,000 out of a total of 5,716,082 votes cast but by a commanding 214 Electoral College votes to 80. He ran about 100,000 votes ahead of the Republican ticket, suggesting an unusually powerful appeal to veterans. When he entered the White House, he was politically inexperienced and, at age 46, the youngest man yet elected president.