Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

(1822-1885)

Ulysses S. Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio. His early schooling was limit¬ ed, but his fine horsemanship helped him win entrance to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated and was commis¬ sioned a lieutenant.

When the Civil War began, Grant became a brigadier general of volunteers in 1861. He showed both strategic brilliance and personal resolve by capturing Confederate forts Donelson and Henry (1862), thereby open¬ ing Tennessee to Union forces. This, the first major Union victory of the Civil War, cata¬ pulted “Unconditional Surrender” Grant to national recognition.

That same year, Grant went on to fight the Confederates to a standstill at Shiloh, and he led a remarkable campaign to capture the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg, located on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. The surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, brought about great rejoicing in the north. Grant was promoted to major-general of the army, and then was elevated to the post of general of all the Union armies in March 1864.

In the spring of 1864, Grant marched south from Washington, D.C., seeking to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. He fought a set of grueling battles against General Robert E. Lee (see no. 73) at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Cold Harbor.

Having lost 17,666 men, Grant continued to press southward, leading news reporters in the North to call him “Butcher Grant.” Knowing he had the confi¬ dence of President Abraham Lincoln, Grant continued to apply vise-like pressure to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant besieged Lee in a circle around the cities of Richmond and Petersburg for 10 months (June 1864—April 1863). When Lee escaped from Richmond, Grant pursued him relentlessly. Lee finally surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, ending the war. Grant gave generous terms to the Confederates and returned home the hero of the war.

His military success led to political success. Grant ran for and easily won the White House for two terms. As U.S. president from 1869 to 1877, he often lacked the diplomacy and subtlety required for the position. He also was deceived by many of his political favorites, who indulged themselves in corrup¬ tion and scandal.

After his second term ended, Grant fell on such hard economic times that he actually sold his swords and souvenirs from the Civil War. Learning he had throat cancer, Grant rushed to write his Personal Memoirs, pub¬ lished posthumously by Mark Twain. Grant finished the book just in time; it earned over $400,000 in royalties, providing for his family after his death.