There were many important Union generals during the American Civil War. Some, like Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George Mclellan and Joshua Chamberlain are household names. Others are less well known but are still important, as the northern generals were the commanders that led the troops and helped decide the ultimate outcome of most civil war battles. Here is a list of important union generals, along with links to more information and articles about each one.
List of Union Generals
Ulysses S. Grant
General Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Army during the later years of the civil war, and later became the President of The United States. Learn more about Ulysses S. Grant
General George Mcclellan led the Army of the Potomac during the early years of the civil war and also ran for President against Abraham Lincoln. Learn more about George Mcclellan
Starting as a Major and ending as a Brigadier General, Robert Anderson is best known for surrendering Fort Sumter, the first engagement of the Civil War. Learn more about Robert Anderson
General Nathaniel Banks was a hapless leader of the Union Army, suffering one defeat after another. Learn more about Nathaniel Banks
General William Tecumseh Sherman
General William Tecumseh Sherman fought in many battles and his best known for taking Atlanta followed by his brutal by effective “march to the sea.” Learn more about William Tecumseh Sherman
General George Armstrong Custer was a United States Army officer who served in the civil war and Indian wars, meeting his famous demise at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Read more about George Custer
Winfield Scott Hancock
General Winfield Scott Hancock was a US Army officer for his entire career and eventually a nominee for the office of President of the US in 1880. Read more about Winfield Scott Hancock
Though there is a myth saying that Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball, he never said that he did. Read more about Abner Doubleday
General Ambrose Burnside Ambrose, besides being a soldier, was an industrialist, railroad executive and an inventor. Read more about Ambrose Burnside
General Arthur Macarthur was one of five men to ever be promoted to the rank of a five star general of the army. Read more about Arthur Macarthur
General Benjamin Butler was not only a soldier but also a lawyer and eventually a politician for the state of Massachusetts. Read more about Benjamin Butler
General Daniel Sickles was a Union general during the Civil War as well as a controversial politician. Read more about Daniel Sickles
General George Gordon Meade was a civil engineer and an army officer before serving as a Union general during the Civil War. He was successful in defeating General Lee but was criticized for not pursuing the Confederate Army when in his grasp. He became a commissioner of Fairmont Park in Philadelphia until his death. He died from a combination of pneumonia and old wounds and now rests at the Laurel Hill Cemetery. Read more about George Meade
General George Thomas served as an army officer throughout his career and a Union general at the time of the American Civil War. Read more about George Thomas
General Irvin Mcdowell was an army officer who is better known for the defeat at First Battle of Bull Run. McDowell had at his disposal the army of Northeastern Virginia which unfortunately was inexperienced and not ready. He launched his attack due to pressure from Washington and though the strategy was imaginative, his troops were not ready to carry it out. McDowell died in 1885 and was buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery. Read more about Irvin Mcdowell
General John Buford was an officer of the Union Cavalry during the Civil War and one of his most important roles took place at Gettysburg. Read more about John Buford
General John Pope was a general for the Union during the Civil War and a career army officer. He is mostly known for the defeat at Second Battle of Bull Run in the east, after which he was sent to Minnesota. Read more about John Pope
General John Reynolds was an army officer and a general during the Civil War. He was a very respected senior commander and is known for committing the Army of the Potomac to Gettysburg. Reynolds was killed early in that same battle. He was buried in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1863. Read more about John Reynolds
General Joseph Hooker was a major general for the Union during the Civil War and a career army officer. Read more about Joseph Hooker
General Joshua Chamberlain was a college professor and eventually a brigadier general and brevet major general for the Union army leading, among others, the 20th Maine Brigade. Read more about Joshua Chamberlain
General Philip Sheridan was a Union general and an army officer throughout his career. He is known for his association with Ulysses S. Grant and for his fast assent to major general. Read more about Philip Sheridan
General Oliver Howard was a Union general in the Civil War and a career army officer. He suffered defeats at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville but at Western Theater his reputation was restored. Read more about Oliver Howard
William Starke Rosecrans
General William Starke Rosecrans was not only a general for the Union during the Civil War, but also a coal and oil company executive, an inventor, a politician and a diplomat.. Read more about William Starke Rosecrans
For a list of southern civil war generals, please see our confederate generals page. For a list of all important generals from the civil war, please see our civil war generals page.
Articles Featuring Union Generals From History Net Magazines
Lincoln’s Political Generals
Lincoln’s Political Generals, by David Work
University of Illinois Press, 2009
Abraham Lincoln made his share of mistakes as commander in chief during the Civil War, but did his politically motivated appointments of nonmilitary men as Union generals help or hinder the war effort? The battlefield failures of the likes of Nathaniel Banks, Benjamin Butler and John Charles Fremont have been documented as part of larger studies, but David Work’s Lincoln’s Political Generals is the first book dedicated solely to examining who these men were, how they were appointed, what their responsibilities were, how they performed and how they influenced the president and the war itself.
Lincoln was quite aware of the strange dynamic created by the need for political generals and supposedly even joked about it one time. When a brigadier general was captured along with some horses and mules, he apparently said: “I don’t care so much for brigadiers; I can make them. But horses and mules cost money.” At the outbreak of the war, Lincoln was indeed besieged by requests for officer appointments, and Work shows that because of the lack of trained, professional officers in the Army, this became both a military and political necessity for him. Lincoln adeptly appointed Republicans, Democrats and men of particular ethnic backgrounds to secure the support of their respective constituencies and thereby unite the North behind the war effort.
Work looks at 16 political generals who fought for the Union—eight Republicans and eight Democrats, including two Germans and two Irishmen—and follows them over all four years to show the effects of Lincoln’s policy. While some of these men are well known today, a number remain relatively obscure—the raw ground Work covers alone makes this a worthy addition to anyone’s library.
Lincoln’s Political Generals will appeal to enthusiasts of Civil War military history, since more than half the book examines how these political generals performed on the battlefield. This includes not only famous failures such as Franz Sigel’s 1861 loss at Wilson’s Creek, Banks’ 1864 Red River Campaign and Daniel Sickles’ incompetency at Gettysburg, but also the lesser-known successes of men such as John A. Logan during the Atlanta Campaign, James S. Wadsworth at Gettysburg and Francis P. Blair Jr. at Vicksburg. As Work shows, political generals who began the war subordinate to professional officers learned to become competent and victorious commanders themselves. Conversely, the “citizen generals” who were given immediate command of their own forces proved incredibly inept and detrimental, even dangerous, to the war effort.
But Work’s book is more than just battlefield history. He also examines how political generals affected the quasi-civil administration of military districts during and after the war; how their particular policies toward slavery and raising black soldiers affected Lincoln’s own policy; and, most pertinent to Lincoln himself, how they exerted their own political influence to support the president and the Union. (After Lincoln’s 1864 reelection, he removed a number of his political generals whose inadequate performance he had been tolerating in order to secure the votes of their constituencies.) The last three chapters covering these topics are in fact the most interesting and enlightening of the book, examining topics generally skimmed in typical war histories.
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