He was the leading general of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, heading the military effort against Union forces after 11 southern states had seceded from the United States — with slavery one of the major reasons why they separated.
He was also the subject of praise from United States President Donald Trump at a rally in Lebanon, Ohio on Friday.
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Trump had kind words for Lee as he talked of a number of Ohio-born presidents whom he said history hadn’t properly recognized.
He first mentioned Niles, Ohio-born Republican president William McKinley, whom he praised for his achievements “in terms of trade, in terms of war.”
Trump then said that Ohio also gave America a general “who was incredible, he drank a little bit too much, you know who I’m talking about.”
The president was speaking of Point Pleasant, Ohio-born general and former president Ulysses S. Grant, who commanded the Union forces in the American Civil War, and was the man to whom Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in 1865.
Grant was also known for his alcoholism.
As he began talking of Grant, Trump brought up Lee, saying that he “was a great general” about whom then-president Abraham Lincoln developed a “phobia.”
“He couldn’t beat Robert E. Lee, he was going crazy,” Trump said.
“Robert E. Lee was winning battle after battle after battle, and Abraham Lincoln came home, he said, ‘I can’t beat Robert E. Lee!'”
Trump said that Lincoln had generals who were the “top of their class at West Point, they were the greatest people.”
“There’s only one problem: they didn’t know how the hell to win, they didn’t know how to fight,” Trump said.
Turning back to Lincoln, Trump said that the then-president turned to Grant, a man whose name he “hardly knew.”
“They said, don’t take him, he’s got a drinking problem,” he said.
“And Lincoln said, I don’t care what problem he has, you guys aren’t winning. And his name was Grant, General Grant, and he went in and he knocked the hell out of everyone.”
Trump missed a few facts in his recounting of Grant’s military career.
Grant was a West Point graduate who climbed the ranks of the army during the Civil War, winning battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson en route to the Battle of Shiloh, where he succeeded in pushing back the Confederates but was criticized for the losses he took — there were over 23,000 casualties.
At the time, Lincoln was called upon to remove him from command but he said, “I can’t spare this man — he fights.”
Grant would later lead the siege of Vicksburg, a Confederate stronghold, forcing its surrender in 1863. He was named commander of the Union armies the following year.
Lee would surrender on April 2, 1865, and Grant would praise him for having fought “long and valiantly.”
Trump was correct, however, in noting that Grant’s achievements have often gone unnoticed historically.
He gained new prominence last year with the publication of Grant by Ron Chernow, who previously authored the biography Alexander Hamilton.
The nearly 1,000-page biography charted Grant’s time as a Civil War general, as well as his presidency fighting back against groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, who intimidated and killed black people during a period known as “Reconstruction.”
The biography became a New York Times bestseller and it’s now the basis for a six-part docuseries that was greenlit by History earlier this year, Deadline reported.
It’s being produced in part by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions.