Best and Worst Generals of the American Civil War

The American Civil War produced some of history's most famous (and infamous) generals. Can you name 20 of the most significant?
Quiz by Frankthetriviaman
Last updated: February 23, 2016
First submittedDecember 30, 2014
Times taken529
Average score55.0%
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Regarded as one of the most effective Confederate Generals of the war, he was killed by friendly fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Robert E Lee said of his death "He may have lost his left arm, but I have lost my right."
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
This Union general is often regarded as a hero, or a villain, depending on who you ask. Known for his "scorched earth" tactics, arguably his most famous feat was the March to the Sea
William Tecumseh Sherman
The most famous of the Confederate Generals, he commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, and historians often note that he lost "a third of his men, and half his battles."
Robert E. Lee
This Union General was made General in Chief of the Union Armies in March 1864, and later on became President of the United States
Ulysses S. Grant
This Confederate General was a man Robert E Lee would often consult for advice, even though this man was a lower ranking General. Commanding the first Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, his "tactic of choice" counterattack.
James Longstreet
This Confederate General was arguably the most effective Cavalry General of the war. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in May 1864, and died the next day
J.E.B. Stuart
This Union General is remembered as the "Rock of Chickamauga" for his gallant defense at the Battle of Chickamauga. Arguably, the most effective defensive general of the war
George H. Thomas
This Union General was responsible for the victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek; ending the Confederacy's last attempt at invading the North.
Philip H. Sheridan
This Confederate General, although his performance at the beginning of the war was poor, by the end his performance had greatly improved, such as successful offences at the Battle of Stones River, and famously held his ground at Missionary Ridge while outnumbered and outgunned. Known as the "Stonewall of the West."
Patrick Cleburne
This Confederate General, although he lacked a formal education, his men always knew what he wanted to do because he said it simply ("get there first with the most" versus "attain the high ground with superior forces.") However, he is also remembered for his infamous actions at the Battle of Fort Pillow.
Nathan Bedford Forrest
This Confederate General is regarded by many as the worst general (in terms of effectiveness) of the Civil War. Despite failures at major battles such as Stones River and Chattanooga, he never acknowledged his mistakes and frequently blamed his subordinates. When he was removed from his position as general, he later served as Jefferson Davis' chief military adviser.
Braxton Bragg
This Union General, although among the best when it came to supply and organization, had little success on the battlefield, and ran against Lincoln for President in 1864.
George McClellan
This Union General, although a friend of Abraham Lincoln, is really only famous for three things: his disaster at the Battle of Fredericksburg, his failure at the Battle of the Crater, and his facial hair
Ambrose Burnside
This Confederate General, despite a successful career as a clergyman, showed next to no talent as a general on the battlefield. In June 1864, he was killed by a cannonball to the chest at the Battle of Marietta
Leonidas Polk
This Confederate General, although a friend of Jefferson Davis, was responsible for two major confederate losses: The Battle of Pea Ridge, and the Second Battle of Corinth
Earl Van Dorn
This Union General's declaration of Martial law in Missouri enraged many in the border states, prompting Lincoln to reassign him to the Shenandoah Valley. Subsequent failures there eventually led to his resignation
John C. Fremont
This Union General, although a successful industrialist, is remembered for his failed Red River Campaign
Nathaniel Banks
This Confederate General, although Successful at the Seven Days Battles, he later lost a leg at the battle of Chickamauga, and was responsible for the Confederate loss at the Battle of Jonesborough
John Bell Hood
This Union General, despite being a respected politician, had two great failures: his failed invasion of Richmond, Virginia in May 1864, and his failed assault on Fort Fisher, in North Carolina
Benjamin Butler
This Confederate General, although respected by Grant and Sherman, his preferred method was the "strategic withdrawal" and frequently lost land he otherwise could have held.
Joseph Johnston
Level 55
Mar 20, 2017
Interesting clues.
Level 59
Mar 14, 2022
I think Longstreet was the Confederacy’s best tactical general. His early understanding of the power of the defensive and making your opponent face the new killing power of massed artillery would have made him fit in well in World War I 50-years after the Civil War. He was against Pickett’s Charge.

Longstreet was viciously attacked by the Lost Cause movement because of 2 crimes:

1.) He joined the Republican Party to support the Administration of his great friend Ulysses Grant.

2.) He had the audacity to critique Lee and say that things like Pickett’s Charge were bad decisions.

But I believe Old Pete was a fantastic general, and he’d be the first Confederate I’d take if making some legendary general staff made up of great commanders throughout history.

Level 36
Mar 22, 2022
Interesting insight; I only went off of what was in the source I used (i.e. Longstreet's use of counterattack as his preferred tactic), but glad to hear someone else weigh in on this.

Personally, I'd respectfully argue that George Thomas was the most effective general if we are talking about Battlefield tactics; at Missionary Ridge he used a frontal attack to shatter the Confederate center... a feat all the more impressive considering the Confederacy were both entrenched and had the high ground.

That said- every general had their strengths and weaknesses, so we can't call any one general the best