There are a host of things about the president that are objectionable, but perhaps the greatest is his disdain for education, history and factual accuracy.
In this address at a rally in Ohio Trump explains that Robert E. Lee was a great general, that he was so great that Abraham Lincoln had a “phobia” about the problem. Union generals were all in the top of their class at West Point, but couldn’t beat Robert E. Lee. So, Abraham Lincoln reluctantly went to Ulysses S. Grant – despite warnings from everyone that Grant had a drinking problem – and told him to win and Grant “kicked the hell out of everyone” and won.
This will be the version of the war that Trump’s supporters remember. It is simple. It involves rejection of West Point “elites”. It champions a general who fought for white supremacy and a general who was a drunk who won, apparently, by being a bully to other generals.
One thing that needs to be remembered about the Civil War is that rank was determined differently then, and officers often recruited their own army units.
List of Confederate Generals who attended the U.S. Military Academy is here.
List of Union Generals who attended the U.S. Military Academy is here.
The numbers of West Point generals on both sides of the war appear about equal and include those who graduated and those who dropped out.
So, what was the class standing of Union Army Civil War generals?
There is something to what Trump said in the respect that the most recognizable names were outstanding cadets, except U.S. Grant.
Winfield Scott, “Hero of the Niagara” in 1812, was commander of the Federal Army in 1861 and at age 75 offered the job to Robert E. Lee (Number 1 in his West Point class) who refused and resigned. At that point Scott turned command over to General George McClellan. Scott had 47 years of military service and fought in 6 wars. He retired to West Point and is buried there. Scott said of Robert E. Lee that he was “the finest soldier I have ever seen”.
George McClellan, Major General and Commander-in-Chief from Nov. 1, 1861-May 11, 1862 was 2nd in the West Point class of 59.
Major General Irvin McDowell, Class of ’38 and classmate of P.G.T. Beauregard. Class standing unknown.
Major General Henry Halleck, General-in-Chief July 23, 1862- March 9, 1864, was 3rd in the class of 39.
Lieutenant General, Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief March 10, 1864 – March 3, 1869 was 21st in the class of 39.
He defeated Lee through continuous contact of attack and siege effectively destroying the Army of Virginia.
Major General, William Tecumseh Sherman, 6th of 42 in Class of 1840. Perhaps the most hated Union General by the South due to his march across the South during which he burned everything, destroying the South’s will to win.
The distribution of generals between the North and South was about the same. Some of the Confederate generals were also ranked high in their class.
This wasn’t about Robert E. Lee or Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant.
This was about putting someone with a drinking problem in charge. Trump mentioned six times in his history lesson that Grant had a problem with alcohol. One can’t help finding a parallel between Lincoln’s choice and Trump’s choice of nominating a man with at least a one time drinking problem on the Supreme Court.
Yale Law School does not give grades or give class rankings to its students. Several of his classmates remember his as “a serious, but not showy student.” They remember him more as a good basketball player. The point is, Trump’s claim that Brett Kavanaugh was tops in his class is without merit.