At the beginning of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant served as a brigadier general until his victory at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in 1862, when his terms were “unconditional surrender.” President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to lieutenant general in 1864, granting him command of all the Union armies. Grant created the Army of the Shenandoah, which protected the capital and routed the Confederates out of the Virginia valley. He also supported the service of approximately two hundred thousand Black men—close to ten percent of the Union army. Black soldiers were, he declared, “the heaviest blow yet given the Confederacy.”
Norwegian-born artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling briefly served as a Union soldier at the start of the Civil War but returned to painting after being wounded. This portrait depicts Grant in a trench during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg; the map on the table beside him shows the area along the Mississippi River.