Today is the birthday of U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. He was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Grant’s career is an American success story. Entering the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839, he would graduate 21st of 39 cadets in the class of 1843. After graduating he would serve in the Mexican-American War and would receive two brevet promotions during the war. After the war he would be transferred several times with the Regular Army before resigning his captain’s commission in July 1854.
He would return to his wife, Julia, in Saint Louis, Missouri and would work as a farmer and bill collector. Having fallen on hard times, Grant would move to Galena, Illinois, to work in his father’s dry goods store in 1860.
With the outbreak of the Civil War he would try to obtain an officer’s commission, but was unsuccessful. He traveled to Springfield, Illinois to help organize volunteer troops for governor Richard Yates. Eventually he would be appointed colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Over the next four years he would be promoted to lieutenant general in the Regular Army (first officer of this rank after George Washington) and be victorious at many significant battles: Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Grant would receive the surrender of three Confederate armies, most significantly that of CSA General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, which would affectively bring an end to the Civil War. His terms of surrender with Lee, at Appomattox Court House, would help heal the divided country after the Civil War. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln would brand Grant a “butcher” – a characterization that has survived into the 21st century. However, when Grant is compared to his adversaries, the proportion of casualties in his command are significantly less: 153,600 versus 191,000.(i)
After the Civil War he would continue to serve his country as General of the Armies of the United States with the rank of Full General – equivalent to a five-star general in today’s army. With this rank, Grant would be among an elite group of Army commanders with only two other men achieving the higher rank, General of the Armies: John J. Pershing and George Washington (posthumously).
In 1868, Grant would be elected the 18th President of the United States. While his two terms in office would be marred by scandal and corruption (Black Friday, Whiskey Ring and Credit Mobilier) his legacy has rebounded in recent generations.
After his presidential terms, Grant would travel the world for two years. He and Julia would visit Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, the Holy Land, Burma, China and Japan. Returning to the United States, he would purchase a home in New York City in 1881. Over the coming years, receiving no Army pension, Grant would be wiped out financially, a situation which would be greatly exasperated by the failure of his son’s company, Grant & Ward.
Coinciding with his financial problems was Grant’s diagnosis with terminal throat cancer. A very proud man, he would set out to write his memoirs to repay his debts and provide for his family after his death. Working tirelessly, Grant finished writing his two volume memoir days before his death on July 23, 1885. His memoirs would be published by Mark Twain and would sell over 300,000 copies, which provided Julia, and his estate, with an estimated $450,000. Telling the story of his life, from birth through the conclusion of the Civil War, it is widely considered one of the best books of its type ever written – a book that is still in print today.
Ulysses S. Grant had his faults. Without a doubt his trust of friends during his presidency would tarnish his legacy, setting the stage for scandal and corruption. However, he was one of the most popular men during much of the 19th century. Most importantly, Grant would be instrumental in winning the Civil War and reuniting the Union. His 1868 presidential campaign motto still rings today, “Let Us Have Peace.” Ulysses S. Grant is a true American HERO.
For a narrative on Ulysses S. Grant, check out my previous article by click HERE.
(i) Bonekemper, Edward H., A Victor, Not a Butcher: Ulysses S. Grant’s Overlooked Military Genius, published by Regnery Publishing, Inc. in 2004, Pg. 323.