After the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863, Union control of the Mississippi River was mostly complete. Except for some spotty partisan fighting, the federal control of the river pushed the larger war for the Deep South toward Chattanooga and Atlanta. The Confederate victory at Chickamauga in September was the first of the major battles in that region, and it was followed by the battle for Chattanooga on November 25, 1863. Quickly thereafter, Confederate general James Longstreet made a pithy and unsuccessful attempt at besieging Knoxville in late November and early December.
The Union victory at Chattanooga went a long way in making up for the loss at Chickamauga. Those players who had served to bottle up Vicksburg now found themselves in east Tennessee, looking to further shred the Confederacy. Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were two of those generals, and they would both play pivotal roles in the Southern demise over the next sixteen months. Grant, who had been tallying up victories since early 1862, would be made overall commander of the Union armies, while Sherman (below) would serve under him as commander of the armies in the West.
Sherman’s record was marginal. He was a colonel at Bull Run in July 1861. Against strong Confederate forces, he had rallied his men during the battle and his pluck was noted by his superiors, though ultimately his brigade left the field in much the same way as the rest of the Union troops—fleeing from the rebel onslaught.
His first large command in Kentucky was a colossal failure, and many journalists accused him of having lost his mind. Sherman performed well at Shiloh in the spring of 1862 but managed a disastrous attack at Chickasaw Bluffs a few months prior to the 1863 siege of Vicksburg. His march to Chickamauga was plagued with logistical problems, and his performance in the battle for Chattanooga was questionable. However, he was one of Grant’s most trusted men, and that relationship would continue well after the end of the war.
On the Southern side, Longstreet (above) was a career soldier who had found himself at odds with his commander, Robert E. Lee, the previous July. He had disagreed with Lee’s decision to attack the Union center at Gettysburg, and he later he had been sent south.
Like his Union counterpart, Sherman, James Longstreet maintained an enduring presence as a leader in the Confederate army; Longstreet had also served in the opening salvos of the Virginia campaign at First Bull Run. He also fought at Chickamauga, attempted to take Knoxville, and was at Lee’s side again by the end of the war—at the very end, actually. Longstreet was witness to the surrender at Appomattox. Unlike Grant and Sherman, Longstreet and Lee would never see each other after the war’s conclusion.
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery