The similarities were few between the two great commanding generals of the American Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was the son of a poor tanner from Pennsylvania who had moved to Ohio. Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) was a Southern aristocrat and a member of one of Virginia's most famous families. His father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, was a Revolutionary War hero and Governor of Virginia. Robert E. Lee's wife was the step-daughter of George Washington. Grant was a Methodist who rarely attended church and who "prayed in private." Lee was a pious member of the Episcopal Church who believed that God would favor his Confederate armies.
As for their similarities:
- Both were experienced veterans of the Mexican War: Lee as a captain (breveted to colonel) of engineers and a close aide to commanding General Winfield Scott. Grant was a lieutenant and a quartermaster.
- Both attended West Point: Lee graduated 2nd in his class; Grant was 21st out of 39 students.
- Both Lee and Grant owned slaves. Oddly, however, Lee generally opposed slavery, freeing his slaves at the beginning of the war. Meanwhile, Grant "had no animosity toward slavery."
- Prior to the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln promoted Lee to colonel in the U. S. Army; Lincoln later promoted Grant several times.
- Both men became president: Grant was elected President of the United States in 1868 and 1872; Lee became President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia.
- Both men were beloved figures post-war. Lee was revered throughout the South (as he was during the war) and by students at Washington College. Grant was a highly-popular President, elected twice by landslide votes.
- Both men died when they were 63 years old.