Ulysses Simpson Grant
Ulysses Simpson Grant, ranking general of the armies of the United States and eighteenth President, was born April 27, 1822, in the Ohio River hamlet of Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was baptized Hiram Ulysses; however, upon his admission to West Point in 1839 he was reported by the Congressman who had authored his appointment as Ulysses Simpson, Simpson being his mother's maiden name. In his four years at the Academy he was outstanding only in equestrianism, a proficiency gained at his father's farm, where at the age of seven he had begun to haul wood with a team. "Sam" Grant was graduated twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine and on July 1, 1843, was brevetted a second lieutenant of infantry, there being no vacancy in any of the cavalry regiments for the best horseman at West Point. During the Mexican War he rendered distinguished service in the army of Zachary Taylor, whom Grant greatly admired. After the battle of Monterey, Grant's 4th Infantry was transferred to Winfield Scott's army of invasion at Vera Cruz, and as regimental quartermaster Grant discharged his staff duties with great ability and also took part in the fighting at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, which won him the brevets of first lieutenant and captain. Assigned to the Pacific Northwest, he seems to have at times taken to the bottle, and after a warning from his commanding officer, resigned his army commission as of July 31, 1854. During the next six years he was successively (and unsuccessfully) a farmer, real estate salesman, candidate for county engineer (at St. Louis), and customhouse clerk. At length he was reduced to a clerkship in a leather store conducted by his two brothers in Galena, Illinois. At this point Grant's career started upward: within three years he commanded the armies of the United States, and within seven he was elected Chief Executive. Few army officers in American history have achieved such rapid advancement from relative obscurity. However, even at the outbreak of war Grant found no ready market for his talents and it was not until June 17, 1861, that he was appointed colonel of the 21st Illinois—despite his having offered his services to the adjutant general in Washington and to General George B. McClellan, then considering applications in Cincinnati. Grant's regiment was ordered to Missouri, where on August 7 he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers to rank from May 17. The appointment stemmed from Grant's connection with Elihu B. Washburne, an important member of the Illinois Congressional delegation which parceled out the four Illinois brigadier ships. After having been in command at Cairo for a time and having survived the ill-advised attack on Belmont, Missouri, Grant prepared to assault the center of the Confederate line protecting Nashville. The resulting surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson in February, 1862, won him vast stretches of Confederate-held territory, the acclaim of the nation, the sobriquet of "Unconditional Surrender," and a commission as major general of volunteers. Next followed the bloody battle of Shiloh, in which Grant and W. T. Sherman were surprised by Albert Sidney Johnston and nearly driven into the Tennessee River, before the arrival of D. C. Buell and the death of Johnston helped turn the tide. Until July, 1863, Grant occupied himself with plans to take the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, which would split the Confederacy in two and give the Union control of the last railroad leading east from the Mississippi. After one abortive attempt in the fall of 1862, Grant determined to march his troops down the west bank of the river to a rendezvous with David Porter's gunboats which were to run the batteries and then ferry Grant's men to the east bank. The plan was successful; after interposing between the forces of Joseph E. Johnston and John C. Pemberton, Grant defeated Johnston with his right, driving him out of Jackson, and with his left drove Pemberton into his fortifications at Vicksburg, after inflicting defeats on him at Baker's Creek (Champion's Hill) and Big Black River Bridge. The Confederate garrison capitulated July 4, 1863, and Grant was acclaimed and rewarded with the appointment to major general in the Regular Army. In November came the relief of William S. Rosecrans' beleaguered forces in Chattanooga, the replacement of Rosecrans by George H. Thomas in command of the Army of the Cumberland, and the routing of Braxton Bragg's army by the combined forces of Thomas, Sherman, and Joseph Hooker. A gold medal, the revived grade of lieutenant general carrying with it command of all the armies, and the adulation of the Union were now bestowed upon Grant. At this juncture a coordinated plan was devised to bring about the downfall of the Confederacy: hurling George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Benjamin F. Butler's Army of the James against Lee's communications, and Sherman's forces (Armies of the Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland) against Johnston's Confederate Army of Tennessee—which was entrenched ninety miles northwest of Atlanta. Making his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac, Grant directed the sanguinary struggles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna, and Cold Harbor in May and June of 1864. Union losses were staggering and equaled the entire strength of Lee's army at the beginning of the campaign. Following the failure to take Petersburg by assault, the siege was on from June 18 until the breakthrough the following spring; the campaign was a gradual extension of the Federal lines to the left to gain possession of the rail lines which supplied Petersburg and Richmond, highlighted by numerous assaults which in the main were successfully resisted by Lee. Sheridan's victory at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and the penetration of the main Confederate line the following morning compelled Lee to evacuate the two cities and march westward hoping to unite with Johnston. But he was brought to bay at Appomattox and on the morning of April 9 surrendered to Grant. On April 26 the war was virtually over when Johnston surrendered to Sherman in North Carolina. The following year Congress revived the grade of full general, unused since the days of Washington, and conferred it upon the general in chief. His siding with the Congressional Radicals and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton against President Andrew Johnson during the Tenure of Office Act imbroglio made Grant the inevitable Republican candidate for President in 1868. He was easily elected over his opponent Horatio Seymour. Grant doled out Cabinet positions with little regard for fitness; criticism was not brooked; and gifts were loosely accepted. However, Grant's abundance of simple honesty weathered the storms of the 1873 panic, the earlier factionalism which had impeached a President, the dispute with England, and the threat of crisis during the disputed election of 1876. Following his retirement from the presidency, Grant traveled abroad for two years and in 1880 was a leading contender for nomination to a third term—306 delegates remaining loyal until the end, when a coalition of Grant's opponents agreed upon James A. Garfield as the candidate. The last years of Grant's life were marked by want, misfortune, and agonizing illness. He lived in New York in a house and on a trust fund donated by admirers for a time, but the income failed and he entered a business in which his name could be exploited. The insolvency of the brokerage firm of Grant 8c Ward threw Grant into bankruptcy and his swords and souvenirs were lost as security for a loan which he had been unable to repay. At length his friends succeeded in having his name restored to the retired list of the army, carrying with it a salary for life. In his last months he wrote his memoirs which were published by Mark Twain. The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant proved to be one of the greatest successes in the annals of publishing, earning nearly $450,000 for his family. Toward the end, speechless and racked by throat cancer, Grant wrote notes on slips of paper in order to finish the manuscript. He died on July 23, 1885, at Mount McGregor, New York, and his remains lie in a mausoleum on Riverside Drive in New York City.
Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.