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INFOGRAPHIC: The Postbellum Careers of Civil War Generals

The end of 2015 brings to a close many of the sesquicentennial (150 year) commemorations of the American Civil War. From the shelling of Fort Sumter in 1861 to the quiet surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, the American Civil War lasted four years, three weeks and six days—a fleeting span in the timeline of a life. And yet, this brief and terrible conflict elevated, and in many cases cut short, the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women.

As with all wars, the leadership on both sides played a pivotal role in the unfolding events. The call to arms, like a siren song, roused men of commanding presence. It made officers out of politicians, educators and farmers. It drew career soldiers out of obscure outposts on the frontier. It sealed the fates of many and raised the fortunes of a few.

In October of this year, I toured many of the major battlefields of the Civil War with Ben Vogel, a good friend and fellow armchair historian. Throughout our tour, we read plaques, watched visitor center movies and traced the movements of thousands of ghosts. In between, when some fact or piece of information piqued our curiosity, we’d grab our phones and scroll through Wikipedia to find answers. For me, I came to wonder about the lives these men led at the conclusion of the war. What did they do with their remaining years? It became a bit of an obsession. So when I returned to Minnesota, I gathered the stories and timelines to create an infographic. I wanted to create a scrolling side-by-side view of the final years of these important figures. I wanted to find connections and discover how their paths continued to cross. I wanted to know how their careers and ambitions factored into the reconciliation of our nation.

There are 48 general officers included in the graphic. My baseline was Major Generals (Corp Commanders) for the Union Army and Lieutenant Generals for the Confederate Army (and still, I left out a few). I made a couple of exceptions to the rank criteria (Chamberlain and Mahone—because they had such interesting post-war lives) and included Jefferson Davis as he was the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces. When the war ended, the average age of these generals was 44.08. According to government studies, a white male at age 40 in 1860 could expect to live another 26.8 years. This sampling of Civil War generals seems to bear that out with an average age at death of 69.08 years.

As you scroll through the timelines, it’s interesting to note the patterns in career paths. The majority of the generals, of course, continued in their military careers. The second most popular career path was higher education. Many of these men founded colleges and universities and held positions as professors, presidents, regents, and chancellors. The burgeoning railroad industry also beckoned. Several former generals were presidents of railroad companies—in some cases running multiple companies at once (Beauregard and Malone). Politics was also a welcoming environment for these lauded men. We all know Ulysses S. Grant was elected the 18th president of the United States while his greatest lieutenant, William Tecumseh Sherman flat out refused to run. Some generals became state governors while others joined the ranks of the House and Senate on Capitol Hill. Still others held posts such as international ambassadors, government inspectors and public works engineers. Finally, a great number of these men committed their memories to the written word. Memoirs and reminiscences abound throughout the final decades of the 19th century. Reputations were reclaimed (Porter and Warren), tarnished (Hooker, Pope and Thomas), and embellished (Butler, McClellan and Sickles).

I hope you enjoy exploring my little obsession. There are some fun facts and surprising twists in these stories. The men below were friends, rivals, opponents and enemies—notwithstanding the color of their uniforms. After the war, some contributed to the nation’s healing, while others seethed with hatred. Some sought vindication for stolen honor, while others used their wartime exploits to expand their power and wealth. Some died of their wounds. Some faded into obscurity. Some fell ill. Some died by accident. Some lived to see the twentieth century. All of them were forever altered by four violent years.