lysses S. Grant was the 18th president of the United States, a
Union general, and the commander of the Union army during the final year of the
Civil War. He was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, to Hannah Simpson Grant and
Jesse Grant, and spent his boyhood in Georgetown, Ohio, where his father ran a
tanning business. Young Grant attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point,
graduating in 1843 near the middle of his class. At this point, Grant did not
want a military career, but an education, followed by a college professorship.
Instead, he was sent to Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri. He saw
duty in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) under the command of General
Zachary Taylor and General Winfield Scott. During the war, Grant was twice
promoted in recognition of his bravery and talented leadership. The war with
Mexico proved to be a training ground for him as well as other future Civil War
After the war, Grant was stationed at Sacketts Harbor, New York, Detroit,
Michigan, and Fort Vancouver, Washington. At Fort Vancouver, dearly missing his
wife and bored by the monotonous duty, he began drinking. He resigned his
commission in 1854 and returned to Missouri where he unsuccessfully tried his
hand at farming and real estate before moving to Galena, Illinois, to work in
his father’s tannery.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was appointed commander of the 21st
Illinois Regiment and saw service fighting Confederate guerrillas in Missouri.
In August 1861, he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers by President
Abraham Lincoln. He quickly led his troops to capture Paducah, Kentucky, but
had to retreat after a Confederate counterassault at Belmont, Missouri. In
February 1862, Grant captured Forts Donelson and Henry in Tennessee, handing the
Union its first major victories and earning himself national recognition and a
promotion to major general.
In October 1862, he was named commander of the Department of Tennessee and
placed in charge of the Vicksburg, Mississippi, campaign. The surrender of
Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 was one of the turning points of the Civil War. In
March 1864, Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and commander of all Union
armies. Giving the Confederates no rest, Grant pressed Robert E. Lee throughout
Virginia, while Union General Sherman advanced through Atlanta to the Atlantic.
Finally on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, ending the
In July 1866, Grant received the rank of full General of the Army, the first
American to hold that distinction since George Washington. His postwar duties
included overseeing Indian Affairs and protection of the transcontinental
railroad workers in the west and the enforcement of Reconstruction policies in
the South. Although he had doubts about Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction
policies, he accompanied the President on his infamous “swing ‘round the circle”
during the 1866 campaign.
Grant became an integral part of the battle between Congress and the White
House over control of Reconstruction policy. In August 1867, President Johnson
suspended Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had been working with the
congressional Republicans against the president, and appointed Grant as
Stanton’s ad interim replacement. The general was uncomfortable being
placed in that awkward position, but he dutifully served for five months. When
the Senate refused to consent to Stanton’s removal, Grant resigned. Thereafter,
Grant sided with the congressional Republicans and supported Johnson’s
impeachment after the president violated the Tenure of Office Act in 1868.
Although previously a nominal Democrat, Grant became the Republican
presidential nominee in 1868. He easily defeated his Democratic challenger,
Horatio Seymour, and was soundly reelected in 1872, running against maverick
newspaper editor Horace Greeley. The successes of the Grant administration,
including the Treaty of Washington (1871), were tarnished by a series of
scandals (which did not involve the president). Other important events during
his tenure include the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, the Panic of
1873, and the Resumption of Specie Act (1875).
When he left office, Grant embarked on a triumphant two-year world tour. In
1880, he was the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
After leading on 35 ballots, he finally lost to James Garfield, a compromise
candidate, thus ending his hopes for a third term. In 1881, he moved to New
York City and invested in a brokerage firm run by his son, Ulysses S. Grant Jr.,
and Ferdinand Ward. The firm went bankrupt in 1884, and Ward was incarcerated
for illegal business practices. Left virtually penniless, and battling terminal
cancer, Grant supported himself and his family through a cash advance on his
autobiography provided by Mark Twain’s publishing firm of Webster and Company.
Completed shortly before his death in July 1885, Grant’s Personal Memoirs
are well respected for both content and literary style.