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Grant And Lee: A Study In Contrasts Essay

Wars and conflicts may determine the rise or fall of great leaders. Even today, such leaders are portrayed as martyrs for their impeccable courage and valor on the battlefield. In Bruce Catton’s essay, Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts, he reveals the different leadership styles of both generals and then presents the strength of two conflicting currents that entered into a final collision, the Civil War. Catton introduces a sentiment of excitement and change in his beginning paragraphs by introducing comradeship and amnesty. These concepts represent the pinnacle of American history and its new foundations. Catton uses literary techniques of diction, contrast, and juxtaposition to reveal the situation that was presented to both generals.

Two great Americans, General Grant and General Lee, fought for their respective, regional beliefs. Despite their regional differences, they were very much alike. It was April 9, 1865, when Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met in the parlor in Appomattox Court House to determine the fate of the fugitive South (the former Confederacy). To the South, General Lee was the cornerstone of motivation. He represented the notion that the old, aristocratic concept should dominate American life, in order for the South to maintain its unique culture. Lee deeply grounded in the ideals of family, culture, and tradition, was a Virginian. He was proud that America had the right to pronounce inequality in the social structure and believed that land should be the principal source of wealth and influence. General Lee personified the traditional, Southern, aristocratic ideals. Through him, the Southern states fought a desperate war to uphold the ideals to which he was dedicated.

Hence, if there were no justification for fighting the war, the Confederates were able to rationalize it because of Lee. The justification for combat was the Virginian who lived in a static society that endured everything, except change. Lee’s rationalization for fighting this war was that he was defending everything that gave his life meaning.Grant was the exact opposite of Lee. Born the son of a tanner on the Western frontier, he revered no one; he cared very little for the past, yet had a keen vision for the future. Grant’s ideals of America were summed up in paragraph eight of Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts, “No man was born to anything, except perhaps to a chance to show how far he could rise, life was competition.”

However, these feelings would not dissuade his patriotic outlook towards the national community. He upheld the idea that the only way to prosper was through the prosperity of the community. Thus, all of the communities that ran from the Atlantic to Pacific, which had accessible markets and towns, encouraged a man to thrive. Fate clenched Grant’s views of the nation as a whole; he saw his own fate in terms of the entire nation’s destiny. Grant’s justification for combat was a broader concept of society: growth, expansion and a constantly widening horizon.

Although Grant, an industrial fanatic, and Lee, a man of aristocratic ideals, adopted different philosophies during the Civil War, they were very much alike in essence. These two soldiers were stunning fighters who similarly entered the war with firmness and loyalty. Grant fought towards the Mississippi Valley despite military handicaps, and Lee stayed in the trenches at Petersburg even after all hope had died. In addition, both generals had the optimistic attitude and were able to forgive and forget in order to turn a conflict into a binding truce. At Appomattox, the men reconciled, which was crucial in uniting the North and the South.

In my opinion, to fight against neighbor and brother is unacceptable. However, such an ironic situation as this one places great men before the eyes of critics and these critics must value and uphold their loyalty to their respective regional views. Catton uses diction and juxtaposition to reveal that despite their different characteristics, Grant and Lee were both great men, who stood fast for their beliefs. These, two, unforgettable men represented the weakness and the strengths of both sides of the Civil War, and displayed the most noble patriotism that can be expected during war-time- love for one’s community. Two great Americans, Grant and Lee, may appear different, yet at the end of the day, they are very much alike.


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