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Ulysses S. Grant


Grant, Ulysses S.

Ulysses Simpson Grant, the best-known Federal general in the Civil War, served also as 18th president of the United States. He was born in the Ohio River village of Point Pleasant, Ohio, on Apr. 27, 1822, the son of a tanner. Although baptized Hiram Ulysses, Grant was listed by the congressman who secured his appointment to West Point as Ulysses Simpson, the latter being his mother's maiden name.

Grant made some mark as an equestrian at the United States Military Academy; otherwise his performance there was undistinguished. He graduated 21st in a class of 39 in 1843. In the Mexican War, Grant served effectively with Zachary Taylor's army at Monterrey and then with Winfield Scott's army in the campaign for Mexico City; he won two brevets for meritorious conduct at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec.

After the war Grant was assigned to garrison duty. His early postings in the Great Lakes region were happy because he was with his new wife, Julia Dent Grant (1826 - 1902), whom he married on Aug. 22, 1848. In 1852, however, he was sent to the Pacific Northwest, where he was unable to have his family with him. He apparently so overindulged in alcohol that he was impelled to resign from the army in 1854. For six years he struggled in Missouri as a farmer, real estate salesman, unsuccessful candidate for county engineer, and agent in a customhouse. In 1860 he was obliged to accept a clerkship in his brothers' leather-goods store in Galena, Ill.

Civil War

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant tried in vain to obtain a position on the staff of Gen. George B. McClellan. He initially received the colonelcy of an Illinois regiment, but his effective leadership of that soon brought him appointment (Aug. 7, 1861) as a brigadier general of volunteers. Grant's Civil War career revealed him as a man of serious, self-contained, determined bearing. Confident yet humble, he demonstrated consistent, unflinching courage, both physical and moral. In November 1861 he launched an ill-prepared attack on Belmont, Mo., where, after an initial advantage, he was forced to fall back, with losses. A few months later, however, with considerable help from the Federal navy, Grant captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on respectively, the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This success of February 1862 brought him new prominence, and he was advanced to major general.

In early April, Grant moved incautiously southward along the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing, or Shiloh, Tenn. There his carelessly disposed army was surprised by a sudden and shattering attack by Albert Sidney Johnston, who was mortally wounded at the height of the Confederate advance. Near defeat on the first day of battle, Grant was reinforced by Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell and counterattacked the following day. The Unionists were able to turn the tide and slowly to push the enemy back toward Corinth. Grant's army was just one of three that made the snail-paced advance on Corinth, which the Southerners evacuated. Gen. Henry Halleck had taken personal command and Grant was largely ignored. He was subsequently shelved for several months as unfounded rumors to the effect that he was again drinking caused several of his superiors to hesitate in giving him another important command.

On Oct. 25, 1862, Grant was restored to a vital position. Appointed commander of the Department of Tennessee, he was instructed to take Vicksburg, Miss., the great enemy bastion on the east bank of the Mississippi River. The Vicksburg Campaign began badly for Grant. An enterprising cavalry raid by the Confederate major general Earl Van Dorn captured Grant's base at Holly Springs and compelled his retreat in December. Grant's approaches to the north of Vicksburg were also ineffective and resulted in the abortive "Bayou Expeditions" in the spring of 1863. Then, however, in a masterpiece of planning and bold execution, Grant crossed the Mississippi south of Vicksburg, marched northeastward to insert his army between John C. Pemberton's at Vicksburg and Joseph E. Johnston's at Jackson, and fought five victorious battles. This permitted his investiture of Vicksburg, which, after a stern 47-day siege, capitulated on July 4, 1863.

In September 1863, Grant went to the rescue of the beleaguered Union army under William Rosecrans at Chattanooga, Tenn. He reinforced this army, replacing Rosecrans with George H. Thomas, and opened up new lines of supply and communication. Then, in battles at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in November 1863, he defeated Braxton Bragg and opened the way toward Dalton, Ga., and eventually for William T. Sherman's advance on Atlanta and Savannah. (See Chattanooga, Battles of; Atlanta campaign.)

Thus far during the war, Grant, although ambitious for advancement in the army, had remained largely disinterested in politics. He had, however, impressed Abraham Lincoln with his self-reliance, bulldog tenacity, and confidence in final victory; so, early in 1864 he was promoted to lieutenant general and named general in chief of all the Federal armies. Grant did well in this top command; he was able to see the big picture of the war as well as its parts and skillfully coordinate the movements of the many armies of the Union. Leaving Sherman in command in the West, Grant established his headquarters with George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac in the East. In effect, he commanded that army in its driving campaigns of 1864 against Robert E. Lee's army in Virginia. Although the command structure was at times awkward, Grant and Meade were usually able to work together harmoniously and to complement each other's activities.

With troops outnumbering Lee's almost two to one, Grant launched the so-called Wilderness Campaign in early May 1864. He tried to bludgeon his way through the Virginia Wilderness, but he was checked and forced to sidestep toward Spotsylvania Court House (see Spotsylvania, Battle of). There, in several days of desperate fighting, Grant's gains were negligible and he suffered numerous casualties. At Cold Harbor he was massively repulsed, again with high losses, as morale sagged in the Army of the Potomac. Finally outguessing Lee and stealing a march on him across the James River (June 12 - 18), Grant and his subordinate generals missed an opportunity to take Petersburg, the railroad key to Richmond, by surprise. After the 9-month Petersburg campaign (June 18, 1864, to Apr. 2, 1865), conducted while Philip Sheridan cleared the Shenandoah Valley of Jubal Early's forces, Grant was finally able to force Lee back from Petersburg and Richmond. A 142-km (88-mi) pursuit to the west-southwest ended in final triumph when Lee was obliged to surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on Apr. 9, 1865. Grant's generous terms were accepted immediately by Lee.


After the war Grant was advanced to full general and served not only as general in chief but also, briefly, as interim secretary of war after President Andrew Johnson suspended Edwin M. Stanton in 1867. Grant's attempts to protect the army of occupation in the South deflected him from Johnson and toward the Radical Republicans and their more rigorous Reconstruction policies. This helped secure for him the Republican presidential nomination in 1868. In the election of that year he defeated the Democrat Horatio Seymour and began an 8-year administration in the White House.

As president, Grant seemed at times torpid and irresolute, and many of his appointments left much to be desired. He had 25 men in his small cabinet in eight years. Despite campaign pledges for civil service reform, Grant was largely responsible for scuttling such a program. At first conciliatory toward the South, he pushed for the unconditional readmission of Virginia to the Union. He relentlessly opposed the Ku Klux Klan, however, in which effort he was aided when Congress passed the so-called Force Acts of 1870 - 1871.

Grant's hard-money stand delighted business and banking interests and helped him win reelection over Horace Greeley in 1872. Although at first slow to react, he had been able in 1869 to block the attempts of Jay Gould and James Fisk to corner the gold market. However, his second term came under a cloud of graft, scandal, and corruption. The scandal that came closest to the White House itself was that of the Whiskey Ring, in which Grant's private secretary, Orville Babcock, was implicated. Grant's chief successes, due largely to his capable secretary of state, Hamilton Fish, were scored in the field of foreign affairs. They included favorable settlement of the Alabama Claims dispute with Britain.

Later Years

After leaving office, Grant made a 2-year cruise. In 1880 he was unsuccessful in securing the Republican nomination for a third-term bid as president. Subsequently, he was exploited in business and failed. To get his family out of debt he undertook to write his memoirs. These were completed while he was dying of throat cancer and were published in two volumes as the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885 - 1886). Not only were they profitable, netting his family $450,000, but they also have become an American classic. Grant died at Mount McGregor, N.Y., on July 23, 1885, and his body was finally laid to rest in an imposing tomb on Riverside Drive in New York City.

Biography from The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia