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Key Civil War Generals The Subject Of New Smithsonian Exhibit

Civil War generals Robert E. Lee (left) and Ulysses S. Grant (right) are in the spotlight in a new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.
Courtesy of Smithsonian
Civil War generals Robert E. Lee (left) and Ulysses S. Grant (right) are in the spotlight in a new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.

As part of its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is featuring a new exhibit on two of the best-known Civil War generals, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

The museum’s senior historian, David Ward, curated the exhibit called "One Life: Grant and Lee," which focuses on the final year of the Civil War.

"The whole conflict between the two generals in the last year of the war just seems to symbolize so much,” Ward says. “They’re two of the most famous and celebrated military men in American history. Grant of course goes on to become president, and Lee becomes the model for the South.”

The southern side of the exhibit is dedicated to Lee, while the northern side pays tribute to Grant. During the last year of the war, Grant went to battle in the South. “From May of 1864 to April of 1865, they basically fought each other every single day,” Ward says. “Grant decided that he wanted to be with the armies in the field because he wanted to avoid the politics of being in the capital."

Ward says that despite their differences, both men shared a steadfast resolve.

“A lot of men during the war broke and failed and couldn't command," Ward says, "but both Grant and Lee turned into really excellent generals."

"One Life: Grant and Lee" is on view through May 31, 2015.

Images: Robert E. Lee by Mathew B. Brady (1865); Ulysses S. Grant by unidentified artist (1865)

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