Hiram Ulysses Grant earned the name Ulysses S. Grant when it was incorrectly used for his nomination into the United States Military Academy at West Point. He adopted it and was known to classmates as “Uncle Sam.” Grant graduated from West Point in 1843 and later joined the ranks of West Point graduates who fought during the American Civil War.
But Ulysses S Grant’s claim to military distinction did not come as quickly or as easily as it did for many of his colleagues. He graduated in the lower percentile of his class and was assigned to quartermaster duty in spite of his obvious skill as a cavalryman. His assignments carried him across the growing United States, at times leaving behind his wife, Julia Boggs Dent, whom he married in 1848.
Grant was promoted to captain in 1854. But later that year, in July, he resigned without explanation after a confrontation with a superior officer.
Ulysses S Grant’s post-military life can only be described as a failure. He was unsuccessful at every attempt at business or employment, including work at the family leather shop in Galena, Illinois.
When the American Civil War broke out, Grant raised a volunteer company and accepted an appointment to train military troops. He was later promoted to colonel and given command of the District of Cairo in Illinois. He served primarily in the western theatre until the Vicksburg Campaign.
The Union realized the importance of taking control of the Mississippi River. Admiral David Farragut had managed to defeat every obstacle from the Gulf of Mexicio to Memphis except Vicksburg. Grant put the city under a siege that lasted until July 4, 1863. With the surrender of Vicksburg, the Union gained complete control of the Mississippi River.
The day before the surrender, Robert E Lee had been defeated in the bloodiest conflict of the war at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Abraham Lincoln, as US president, recognized Grant as the general he had been searching for who could end the war. Grant planned the Overland Campaign that led to victory for the North and the fall of the Confederacy. While Grant pushed Lee back toward Petersburg, Philip Sheridan ravaged the Shenandoah Valley, and William T. Sherman pushed across Georgia with the help of George Thomas and his crew of engineers. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, his fellow Confederate generals surrendered one by one.
President of the United States
After the war, Grant was named General of the Army of the United States. He dealt with the invasion of Mexico by the French and the attempt by the Fenian Brotherhood to invade and hold Canada hostage in return for Irish independence. He deployed troops to the South to enforce the rights of loyal white citizens as well as freed slaves. He divided the South into five military districts, where occupying troops enforced civil rights until the Compromise of 1877.
In 1868, the Radical Republicans in Congress nominated Grant for president. He won and served two terms as the eighteenth President of the United States. Grant made advances in both civil and human rights during his presidency. He dealt with the rise of organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan, The Red Shirts and the White League who interfered with the rights of African-Americans.
Grant signed the first civil rights bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which mandated equal rights in public accommodation and jury selection.
In spite of his advances in civil rights, Grant’s administration suffered from no less than eleven scandals and corruption incidents. After leaving office, he traveled the world. But the travel exhausted his savings. He invested in a banking partnership, but was swindled by his partner who fled, leaving Grant to pay debts and facing bankruptcy.
Around the same time, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer. His pension had been forfeited when he became president, leaving him destitute. A series of literary works salvaged his family finances and Congress re-instated his retirement pay. He died only days after completing Memories, his memoir. It sold 300,000 copies and is regarded as one of the most outstanding works of its kind.
Ulysses S Grant died at the age of 63, on Thursday, July 23, 1885 in Mount McGregor, New York. His body lies in Grant’s Tomb in New York City, the largest tomb in North America.
Read more about the Civil War in The American Civil War: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats and audio.
See also articles on Robert E Lee, Abraham Lincoln and Winfield Scott.