As the Civil War moved into its final stages in the fall of 1864, the Norwegian artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling and a prosperous New Yorker conceived of the idea for a large equestrian painting depicting the commander of the Union armies, Ulysses S. Grant, flanked by an array of generals who served under him. Upon completion, the painting would be used to raise funds for the United States Sanitary Commission, a private organization for aiding sick and wounded soldiers. To obtain likenesses of the twenty-seven figures in the picture, Balling traveled to Union army encampments to make life studies of his subjects. Among the most cooperative was Grant, who gave Balling repeated opportunities to draw him as he rode with staff officers to survey the forward lines near his headquarters at City Point, Virginia.
The final rendering of Grant and His Generals approached being life-sized. Balling also painted this smaller version, most likely to serve as the template for a color lithograph of the picture. Today both paintings are in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection; the large version is on display in a nearby stairwell.