Lee and Grant at Appomattox Analysis
by MacKinlay Kantor

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Lee and Grant at Appomattox Analysis

(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 was given a brigade and then a division to command. For three years, he campaigned along the Mississippi River, capturing forts considered impregnable and breaking up whole Confederate armies. In contrast, Kantor shows Lee in a grievous mood, agonizing over loyalty to his state or loyalty to his nation. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Lee chose to go with his state. He was given the command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the largest and most important Confederate army in the eastern part of the country. In April, 1865, he became supreme commander of all the Confederate forces.

The book shows that the fortunes of war altered the military careers of the generals. Kantor, in describing the conditions of the Confederate forces, begins to build up sympathy for Lee, a proud man who must face the decision of surrender. The Confederate soldiers had little or no food and ammunition, and a train carrying large quantities of rations for at least eighty thousand Confederate soldiers was about to be captured at Appomattox by the Union forces. Lee was a lifetime veteran and had heroically fought Mexicans, Native American tribes, and Yankees: It was against his nature to entertain the notion of surrender.

Lee’s pride is clearly demonstrated by Kantor. While Lee wanted to stop...

(The entire section is 894 words.)