Lee and Grant at Appomattox Critical Essays

MacKinlay Kantor


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

While his book deals in general with the last few days of the Civil War, Kantor concentrates on the views and feelings of the supreme commanders. His book covers a span of three days, and during this period Kantor relates the different careers and attitudes of Lee and Grant, including their views on the question of surrender. With the final days of the war as background, Kantor brings out the human side of the generals.

Grant is described as having an average background and being a failure in his early military career. He came from a family of tanners. As a cadet at the United States military academy at West Point, Grant maintained an average grade but was forced to resign his commission in 1854 because of a drinking problem. Kantor is careful to mention that the drinking problem was gossip spread throughout Grant’s hometown and that it was more of a yarn than an actual fact. On the eve of the Civil War, Grant, as a civilian, was living on money given to him by his brothers. When his hometown’s militia company marched off to war, he simply walked along side it. Kantor builds sympathy for Grant, such as when his requests to Washington, D.C., pleading his case for a command on the basis of his training at West Point, are ignored.

On the other hand, Kantor discusses Lee’s aristocratic background and successful military career. Lee’s father was a general in the American Revolution, and Lee married the great-grandchild of Martha Washington. During the Mexican-American War, Lee served on the staff of General Winfield Scott, and afterward he served as the superintendent of West Point.

Kantor attempts to show that circumstances and the decisions of these two men altered their lives and careers. Lee and Grant at Appomattox reads like a Greek tragedy. On the eve of the Civil War, Grant was a failure and a civilian, but Lee had a successful military career. Although Grant was ignored by the government his persistence and eagerness to serve his nation prevailed. The colonel of the Illinois volunteer regiment resigned, and Grant was offered the command. Grant was successful in training the group of ruffians, who had ignored orders. Before long, he...

(The entire section is 894 words.)