Ulysses S. Grant rose to command all the Federal armies in the Civil War and lead
them to victory. He was respected so much that he went on to be president of the United
States for two terms. His time of glory didn’t last forever though, he developed cancer and
Ulysses Hiram Grant was born April 27, 1822, in a two room frame house
at Point Pleasant, Ohio(Ulysses S. Grant 1). His father, Jesse Root Grant, was foreman in
a tannery and a farmer. His mother, Hannah Simpson Grant, was a hard working frontier
woman. When Ulysses was a year old, the family moved to Georgetown. There his father
bought a farm, built a house, and set up his own tannery. Jesse and Hannah had five more
children there, two boys and three girls(Ulysses S. Grant 1).
Grant love horses and learned to manage them at an early age. When he was seven
or eight he could drive a team and began hauling all the wood used in the house and shops.
From that point on until he reached seventeen, Grant did all the work done with horses;
such as breaking up the land, furrowing, plowing corn, bringing in the crops when
harvested, and hauling wood(Ulysses S. Grant 1). Three months each winter when work
was minimized Grant went to a one room schoolhouse, and that’s how he was educated
until he went to West Point at age seventeen.
When Grant turned seventeen, his father got him an appointment to the United
States Military Academy at West Point. The congressman who made the appointment did
not know Grants’ full name, so he left out Hiram and added Simpson. Simpson, was
Grants’, mothers’ maiden name(Ulysses S. Grant 1). He was pleased with his new name
because he disliked his old initials H.U.G.
Cadet Grant did not care for military life and never expected to stay in the army.
He was good in mathematics and hoped sometime to teach it. In other subjects he was
about average. He was, however, the finest horseman at the academy. Quiet and shy, he
made few friends(The Civil War).
When he was commissioned, Ulysses was ordered to Jefferson Barracks, near St.
Louis, Missouri. While stationed there he met Julia Dent, daughter of a slave owning
Southern family(Ulysses S. Grant 2). Within three months he proposed to her and was
accepted. Since he had only his pay as lieutenant, the wedding was postponed(Ulysses S.
Grant was in almost every battle of the Mexican War. He fought on foot,
observing many different commanders and how they lead their troops. This experience, he
said, was of great value to him, because he became acquainted with nearly all the officers
of the regular army. Some of them including the great soldier Robert E. Lee were to be on
the Confederate side in the Civil War(Krick 15).
Grant came back from Mexico a captain, with favorable mention. He at once
married Julia and took her to his new station, Sackett’s Harbor, New York. During the
Mexican War Grant formed the habit of drinking. At Sackett’s Harbor he joined a
temperance society, but he forgot the pledge the next year when he was sent to
Detroit(Ulysses S. Grant 1).
In 1852 Grant’s regiment was ordered to the Pacific coast by way of the Isthmus of
Panama. Mrs. Grant stayed with her parents because she didn’t want to take their two year
old child on a trip like that. Cholera attacked the regiment in Panama. Grant showed great
leadership and resourcefulness in getting the mules to carry the delirious men across the
isthmus(Krick 16). He kept his cool and showed how he could lead men when times got
Grant spent two years on the Pacific coast. He missed Julia and wasn’t there when
his second child was born. He turned again to drink and wore slovenly uniforms. His
colonel asked for his resignation, and Grant borrowed money to return home(Ulysses S.
Julia’s father gave Grant 80 acres to farm, near St. Louis. Grant called the place
Hardscrabble(Ulysses S. Grant2). He cleared the land, built a log cabin, and worked hard
but could not make farming pay. Two more children were born and Grant couldn’t
support his family. Grant sold his stock and implements and turned to selling real estate in
St. Louis. He failed again and walked the streets looking for something to do. Finally his
father persuaded his younger sons to take Grant into their leather business at Galena,
Illinois. Grant worked as a clerk, selling hides to saddle makers and cobbles. When the
Civil War broke out he was 39 years old and was generally regarded as a failure(Ulysses S.
After Fort Sumter was fired on April 12, 1861, President Lincoln issued a call to
arms(The Civil War). Within two weeks Grant was drilling volunteers in Galena, because,
as he said, there was no one else to do the job. He went with the volunteers to Springfield,
Illinois, wearing his threadbare citizen’s clothes(The Civil War).
At Springfield, the governor made him first a clerk, then a mustering officer. When
the gathering was completed Grant left. A few weeks later the governor telegraphed him to
come back and accept the rank of colonel because the men he had recruited had asked for
him. Officers were expected to supply their own uniform and horse, but Grant didn’t have
either one. Still, he enforced discipline on the rough farm youths and in a month had a
trained regiment(The Civil War). He marched his men into Missouri, and in St. Louis he
read in a newspaper that he had been made a brigadier general of volunteers.
Grant reached his headquarters at Cairo, Illinois, September 4, 1861(Ulysses S.
Grant 1). Two days later, without firing a shot, he occupied Paducah, Kentucky. In
November his raw recruits made an unsuccessful attack on a Confederate camp at
Belmont, Missouri. Grant then set to work to prepare his men for a long, hard struggle.
Volunteers poured in until he had nearly 20,000 men(The Civil War).
In February 1862 Grant advanced into Tennessee. With the aid of Commodore
Foote’s gunboats, he captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River(The Civil War). Then he
moved against the more formidable Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River. While he
was invading this fort, the Confederate general, Simon B. Buckner asked for a truce. This
was the same officer who in had loaned Grant money to rejoin his family in 1858(Ulysses
S. Grant 2). Grant’s answer became famous in American history: “No terms except an
unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately
upon your works”(The Civil War). Buckner surrendered the fort with 14,000 prisoners.
Newspapers in the North were filled with praise of “Unconditional Surrender”(Ulysses S
Grant 2). Lincoln named him a major general.
The objective of the campaign in the West was to cut the Confederacy in two by
winning the Mississippi Valley. The first major success came during1862 in the battle of
Shiloh in southern Tennessee. In two days of desperate fighting, Grant pushed the
Confederate forces back to Corinth in Mississippi(The Civil War).
Losses on both sides were heavy. Grant was severely criticized for his conduct in
this battle because he had failed to anticipate an attack by the enemy, but President Lincoln
said, “I can’t spare this man–he fights”(The Civil War). Grant made no excuses but spent
the rest of 1862 making plans to take Vicksburg, the stronghold on the Mississippi River
that served as a major transportation point for the Confederacy.
Vicksburg was a brilliant operation and showed Grant at his best. The fort
surrendered unconditionally on July 4, 1863, a day after the battle of Gettysburg(The Civil
War). Five days later Port Hudson fell. Grant’s son Frederick, 13 years old, was with him
in the Vicksburg campaign. Fredrick said, “He looked out for himself in every
battle”(Ulysses S. Grant 1).
As a reward for his victory at Vicksburg, Grant was given supreme command of all
the armies in the West(The Civil War). When he returned to Tennessee, he set out to
relieve a Federal army penned up in Chattanooga. The Confederates occupied Lookout
Mountain and Missionary Ridge, those two locations were the only things in the way
approaching the city. On November 24 and 25, the Federal troops stormed the heights, and
the Confederates fled into Georgia(Ulysses S. Grant 2). All Tennessee was now captured,
and the power of the Confederacy was effectively broken.
In the final battle of the Civil War, Grant found himself up against Robert E. Lee.
Lee was the only general left in the south who had a chance of beating Grant and the
North. With troops outnumbering Lee’s two to one, Grant sought out to destroy the
Southern army. Grant’s strategy was simply to send all his men into battle at once, never
letting them rest until victory prevailed. Lee saw that Grant wouldn’t back down, so he
surrendered in order to save lives of the all ready bloodthirsty war(Krick 26).
Grant went to Washington to disband the army. In April 1866 congress revived for
him the rank of full general, a title not used since George Washington had held it(The Civil
War). The pay gave Grant financial security, and he became a familiar figure in the streets
in his light buggy, driving a spirited horse. Gifts were showered on him. Galena and
Philadelphia both presented houses to him. New York City gave him $100,000(Ulysses S.
Grant had never been interested in politics and belonged to no political party.
President Johnson hoped to put through Lincoln’s mild plan of “reconstructing” the
seceded states(Ulysses S. Grant 1). The Radical Republicans in Congress demanded a
harsh policy. Johnson hoped to have Grant’s support, but Grant quarreled with him and
was won over by the Radicals.
While the Senate was impeaching Johnson, the Republican convention in Chicago
unanimously nominated Grant for president, with Schuyler Colfax of Indiana for vice-
president. Grant received 214 electoral votes as against 80 for the Democratic candidate,
Horatio Seymour(Ulysses S. Grant 1). Grant received great support from the black people
in the Southern states.
Grant moved into the White House with Julia and his beautiful daughter Nellie. His
sons were also there from time to time, and his old father, now a postmaster in Covington,
Kentucky, made brief visits. Grant’s brothers stayed with their business and were too busy
to visit him(Ulysses S. Grant 2).
Serious problems confronted the nation. The war had brought poverty and
desolation to the South, but it brought the North prosperity. There was widespread
corruption in both political and business life. Grant’s presidency contributed to corruption
In 1869 two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, attempted to corner gold and
brought pressure on Grant to keep the United States treasury from selling it(Ulysses S.
Grant 1). Foreign trade was almost stopped. On Black Friday, September. 24, 1869, the
United States treasury, with Grant’s approval, suddenly put 4 million dollars in gold up for
sale(Ulysses S. Grant 2). The price plunged, causing the ruin of many speculators.
In 1870, the Radical Republicans hoped to gain Black votes in the South by adding
the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “the right of citizens of the
United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race, color, or
previous condition of servitude”(Ulysses S. Grant). The immediate result of the
amendment was an increase of terroristic acts against Blacks to prevent their voting.
Led by Carl Schurz and other reformers, a group in the Republican party set out to
defeat Grant for reelection. They organized the Liberal Republican party, which called for
civil service reform, an end to corruption in government, and the withdrawal of troops
from the South(The Civil War). The Democratic party joined with them in supporting
Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, for the presidency . The regular
Republicans, renominated Grant. Grant received 286 electoral votes(Ulysses S. Grant 2).
Greeley died shortly after the election, and his 63 electoral votes were divided among other
candidates(Ulysses S. Grant 1).
Grant’s popularity declined as evidence of serious political corruption came to light.
The government had given money and land grants to the new railways in the West. In 1873
it was found that certain members of Congress had been bribed to vote in the interests of
the Union Pacific Railroad(Krick 32). The bribes were in the form of stock in a railway
construction company, the Credit Mobilier. In 1874 the Whiskey Ring scandal was
uncovered. The ring was a combination of distillers and tax officers who defrauded the
treasury of the revenue tax on whiskey(Ulysses S. Grant 2). Grant was not personally
implicated in the scandals, but he gave appointments to unfit people and stood by them
after they had been shown to be dishonest.
The wartime boom ended with the great panic of 1873. Five years of hard times
followed. Businessmen urged the government to return to a sound currency and call in the
“greenbacks”–paper money issued during the Civil War. The greenbacks were not based
on gold or silver in the treasury and had therefore declined in value, causing a steep rise in
prices(The Civil War). Grant vetoed a bill calling for more paper currency. In 1875 he
signed the Specie Resumption Act, which made greenbacks redeemable in gold or silver
coin(Ulysses S Grant 1).
Grant reluctantly announced that he would not be a candidate for a third term
because he knew that the scandals of his administration had turned the voters against him.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats nominated “reform” candidates(Ulysses S. Grant
2). The election was so close that the results were disputed until March 2, when a
Congressional committee decided in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes .
For the next two years Grant, with his wife and son Jesse, toured Europe and Asia.
He returned home with many gifts, but his money was nearly gone. In 1880 the
Republicans tried to have him nominated for a third term, but the Democrats prevailed and
nominated James A. Garfield(Ulysses S. Grant 2). Grant, however, was still the people’s
hero, and his friends raised a large fund for him by popular subscription. Grant went to
New York City and bought a house with the money.
Grant’s children had become adults and been successful in living their lives. Nellie,
had been married at the White House to a wealthy Englishman. Frederick was a lieutenant
colonel in the army, Jesse was a lawyer, and Ulysses, Jr., was in a Wall Street brokerage
firm, Grant and Ward(Ulysses S. Grant 2).
Grant unwisely invested all his money in Grant and Ward. He paid no attention to
its operations, and his son apparently knew little about the business. Ferdinand Ward was
a dishonest speculator. The firm crashed in 1884 and left Grant penniless and
humiliated(Ulysses S. Grant 1). Ward was sent to the state penitentiary.
To earn money, Grant turned to writing. Samuel L. Clemens, better known as
Mark Twain, was then a subscription book publisher. He offered Grant a high royalty for
his memoirs, and in 1885 Grant began to dictate them(Ulysses S. Grant 1). A pain in his
throat was finally diagnosed as cancer, but Grant went on, writing with a pen, to provide
for his wife after he was gone.
In the summer of 1885 Mrs. Grant took her husband to the Adirondacks near
Saratoga. There he finished his `Personal Memoirs’ about a week before he died on July
23(Krick 12). Written frankly, the work ranks high among military biographies. It was so
popular that Mrs. Grant received nearly $450,000 from its sale(Krick 12). A granite tomb
to Grant’s memory was built on Riverside Drive in New York City, in 1959 it became a
national memorial(Krick 45).
Grant’s life was like a roller coster, in the beginning he started low and was
regarded as a failure. He worked his way to the top, became the most honored general in
the U.S., and was elected President of the United States. Then suddenly his life went
downhill, his firm crashed, he developed cancer and died bankrupt.
The Civil War. Videocassettes. PBS. PBS Documentary, date unknown. 6 hours
Krick, Robert. Civil War Chronicles. 1994, 64 pages
“Ulysses S. Grant.” Compton’s Multimedia Encyclopedia. Compton’s. Newsmedia, Inc.,
“Ulysses S. Grant.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Electronic Publishing Inc.