Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822. His father Jesse Root Grant was a self-reliant tanner and businessman from an austere family. His mother Hannah Simpson Grant was of Scottish ancestry. Both were natives of Pennsylvania. In the fall of 1823, the family moved to the village of Georgetown in Brown County, Ohio. Grant is said to have inherited a degree of introversion from his reserved, even "uncommonly detached" mother (she never took occasion to visit the White House during her son's presidency).
Grant assumed the duties expected of him as a young man at home, which primarily included maintaining the firewood supply; he thereby developed a noteworthy ability to work with, and control, horses in his charge, and used this in providing transportation as a vocation in his youth. At the age of 17, with the help of his father, Grant was nominated by Congressman Thomas L. Hamer for a position at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Hamer mistakenly nominated him as "Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio." At West Point, he adopted this name with a middle initial only. His nickname became "Sam" among army colleagues at the academy, since the initials "U.S." stood for "Uncle Sam". Grant, then standing at 5 feet 2 inches and weighing 117 lbs., graduated from West Point in 1843, ranking 21st in a class of 39. Part of Grant's demerits were due to his refusal, at times, of compulsory church attendance, then a West Point policy that Grant viewed as anti-republican.
Trained under Prussian horse master, Herschberger, Grant established a reputation as a fearless and expert horseman, setting an equestrian high jump record that lasted almost 25 years. Grant later recalled that his departure from West Point was of the happiest of his times, and that his intent had been to resign his commission after serving the minimum term of obligated duty. Although naturally suited for cavalry, he was assigned to duty as a regimental quartermaster, managing supplies and equipment in the 4th U.S. Infantry, and achieved the rank of brevet second lieutenant.
Very few people are aware of General Grant's artistic ability. He was a very accomplished painter and paid a lot of attention to detail. While he was a cadet at West Point, he completed many paintings and sketches which still survive. Though self-effacing, Grant was proud of his ability to paint, and as President spoke of the satisfaction he derived from producing something "artistic." In the 1870's, he told his neighbor, George Childs, that he had liked painting and drawing while he was at West Point. Grant always used watercolors in his work. Many of his works are privately owned and there are several others on display in museums.
After graduating, Grant was assigned to an infantry company in Missouri. His company soon moved south to prepare for the conflict brewing with Mexico over the Texas territory. From 1846 to 1848, Grant fought in the Mexican War and was twice cited for bravery.
After the war, Grant moved to various Army postings in Detroit, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. He resigned suddenly from the Army in 1854 and returned to the Midwest to be with his family. Grant then attempted a variety of jobs, including farming and insurance sales, before finding work in his family's leather goods store in Galena, Illinois. Through these difficult times, he relied on his wife, Julia Dent Grant. The two were a devoted couple and adoring parents to their four children.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant was working in his father's leather store in Galena, Illinois. He was appointed by the Governor to command an unruly volunteer regiment. Grant whipped it into shape and by September 1861 he had risen to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. He sought to win control of the Mississippi Valley. In February 1862 he took Fort Henry and attacked Fort Donelson. When the Confederate commander asked for terms, Grant replied, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." The Confederates surrendered, and President Lincoln promoted Grant to major general of volunteers. At Shiloh in April, Grant fought one of the bloodiest battles in the West and came out less well. President Lincoln fended off demands for his removal by saying, "I can't spare this man--he fights."
For his next major objective, Grant maneuvered and fought skillfully to win Vicksburg, the key city on the Mississippi, and thus cut the Confederacy in two. Then he broke the Confederate hold on Chattanooga. Lincoln appointed him General-in-Chief in March 1864. Grant directed Sherman to drive through the South while he himself, with the Army of the Potomac, pinned down Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Finally, on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Lee surrendered. Grant wrote out magnanimous terms of surrender that would prevent treason trials.
Lincoln's tragic assassination at the end of the Civil War was followed by the ineffective leadership of President Andrew Johnson. Johnson urged a moderate approach to Reconstruction that would not punish the South or protect the rights of the newly freed slaves. Radical Republicans wanted to protect the civil and political rights of African Americans. In the election of 1868, postwar social and economic policies were the major campaign issues. The Republicans backed Grant, who concluded his acceptance speech with "Let us have peace." The popular general won the election to become the nation's eighteenth President.
In his first inaugural address, Grant spoke of his desire for the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which sought to grant citizens the right to vote regardless of race or previous servitude. He lobbied hard to get the amendment passed, angering many Southern whites in the process. He also, on occasion, sent in the military to protect African Americans from newly formed terrorist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, which tried to prevent blacks from participating in society. Grant incurred the wrath of citizens who blamed him for the economic woes that plagued the nation in the aftermath of the war. In 1872, however, Grant won reelection.
During his second term, a depression in Europe spread to the United States, resulting in high unemployment. Scandals also diverted attention from the administration's efforts. Although Grant was never personally implicated in any of the scandals, he did not disassociate himself from the members of his administration who were guilty. His inability to clean up his administration tarnished his reputation in the eyes of the American public. In 1875, he announced that he would not seek a third term.
George Washington |
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