Genealogy Trails

Ulysses S. Grant



Ulysses Grant portrait
The Le Clere portrait in the Lincoln National Bank, N. Y.
Painted in Paris in 1878
Copied by permission of Mrs. Grant

HIRAM ULYSSES was the name given to the son of Jesse Grant, an Ohio farmer. He was born on the 27th of April, 1822, at Point Pleasant, on the Ohio River, about twenty-five miles from Cincinnati; but his boyhood was passed in Georgetown, the county seat of Brown County, whether his father removed when the lad was a year old. No signs of his extraordinary military genius showed themselves in the manly boy, who accustomed himself to outdoor work at an early age, and became an expert horseman. His elementary education was received at the district school, supplemented by a term at the Maysville Academy, in Kentucky, in his fifteenth year. When seventeen years old, an unexpected opportunity offered itself for him to enter West Point as a cadet. The nominating Congressman, through inadvertence or ignorance, sent his name as Ulysses S. Grant and the tyranny of red tape having rendered futile all efforts to correct the error, the new initial kept its place ever afterward, and was supposed to stand for Simpson, the family name of Grant's mother.

Cadet Grant made fair progress in his studies, was slightly deficient in discipline, but committed no serious offences, was the pride of his class as a rider, and in June, 1843, stood twenty-first among the thirty-nine graduates. He was then assigned to the Fourth Infantry, at St. Louis, as a supernumerary Second Lieutenant by brevet, and soon afterward his regiment was ordered into the Indian country, with its headquarters at Natchitoches, La. Two years of monotonous camp life passed away, and, in the summer of 1845, the regiment joined Taylor's Army of Occupation at Corpus Christi in Texas. On the 30th of September, Grant received his Second Lieutenant's commission, and he received his baptism of fire at Palo Alto, May 8, 1846. He served under General Taylor until early in 1847, when his regiment was withdrawn to strengthen General Scott's army at Vera Cruz. At Monterey, September 24, 1846, he displayed great bravery by running the gauntlet of the enemy's fire from the windows and housetops as he rode through the street, hanging from his horse Indian fashion, to bring a fresh supply of ammunition for his brigade. After his arrival at Vera Cruz, he was appointed quartermaster of his regiment, and might have remained at the rear when the troops were in action; but he was eager for the fray, and twice in rapid succession he was brevetted for his gallantly and sagacity; lieutenant at Molino del Rey, September 8, captain at Chapultepec, September 13, 1847. He was commissioned First Lieutenant in the City of Mexico.

After the close of the war he continued to perform the duties of quartermaster, being stationed at different points on the Northern frontier for about three years. He was married in 1848 to Miss Julia Dent of St. Louis, the sister of one of his classmates at West Point. In 1851 he was ordered to the Pacific coast, and with the greater portion of his regiment, made the voyage by way of the Isthmus, where one hundred and ten men out of the seven companies died of cholera. For a year or more he was stationed at Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, and having abundance of leisure time, he engaged, with a brother officer, in various speculations, all of which resulted disastrously owing to that utter lack of commercial talent which was destined to bring him sorrow in hi3 closing years and which probably shortened his days. He was commissioned Captain, August 5, 1853, but being transferred soon after to Fort Dallas in Oregon, he became so dissatisfied with the duties of the camp and the ungraciousness of the Post Commander, that on July 31, 1854, he resigned his commission, and quitted the army after eleven years of honorable service.

From this time until the beginning of the Rebellion his history contains little of anything worthy of special notice. He farmed on a piece of land given him by his father-in-law, became a real estate agent and held a small custom-house appointment; but had not sufficient political influence to secure the county surveyorship. It is not to be wondered at that all these attempts to gain a livelihood in occupations for which he was ill-fitted either by nature or education, should result in failure. In 1859 he resumed the avocation of his boyhood, and joined his father at Galena, Illinois, in the business of tanning and dealing in leather. He was no politician, and took but slight interest in the discussions on slavery and kindred topics, although in his younger days he had expressed a desire to become a planter at the South. But the insult to his country's flag at Sumter aroused his patriotism as it did that of myriads of his fellow-citizens, and during the war which followed, the world beheld with amazement the transformation of this quiet and un-ambitious tanner into the grandest military leader of the age.

On the 18th of April, 1861, Captain Grant was called upon to preside over a "war meeting" of the citizens of Galena, and on the following day began drilling a company of volunteers, which he soon afterward took to Springfield; but the command was given to another and Grant was put in charge of instruction camps. A letter which he addressed to the War Department offering his services to the Government which had educated him was never answered, and he found it impossible even to obtain an interview with General McClellan, then at Cincinnati. He was beginning to be discouraged at such neglect, when early in June he was appointed Colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois. He led his regiment into Missouri, and at St. Louis on the 23d of August, he was commissioned Brigadier-General of Volunteers. He was placed in command at Cairo, where the Ohio enters the Mississippi, and his first move was the seizure of Paducah and Smithland in Kentucky, whereby the national troops gained control of the Ohio, and of the lower Tennessee and Cumberland.

After two months of vexatious inaction at Cairo, he was ordered by General Fremont, his immediate superior at St. Louis, to make a demonstration against the enemy, which he did by attacking and destroying their camp at Belmont on the Mississippi, on November 7th.
In this affair he had a horse shot under him. General Halleck, who succeeded General Fremont, enlarged Grant's command; but he was inclined to be over-cautious, and at first rejected Grant's plan for the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson. Grant, conscious of the importance of his proposed movement, ventured to persist, and at length received the desired orders. Leaving Cairo on the 2nd of February, 1862, with seventeen thousand men in transports and seven gunboats commanded by Commodore A. H. Foote, he proceeded up the Tennessee and landed his troops for the attack on the 4th. The gunboats opened fire on the 6th and before the land force could be brought up, Fort Henry surrendered to Commodore Foote. On the 12th General Grant marched to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, and invested it. On the night of the 15th, the cowardly rebel chiefs, Floyd and Pillow, made their escape, leaving Buckner in command, who, on the following day, displayed a flag of truce. To Buckner's request for an armistice, Grant made his famous reply of "unconditional surrender," which became a watchword at the North. The victory at Fort Donelson was the foundation of General Grant's fame, and in recognition of its importance, he was raised to the rank of Major-General of Volunteers.

The new military district of Tennessee was now assigned to him, but General Halleck, on the 4th of March, virtually, though not formally, suspended him. The "they says" which had reported Sherman crazy, brought charges of drunkenness against Grant, but the falsehood of both allegations has been a thousand times made manifest. Grant resumed command on March 13, the main body of his army having been moved to Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee. Its outposts at Shiloh were attacked by the enemy on April 6, and driven back to the river, after one of the most terrible fights of the war. Although suffering from an injury which prevented him from mounting his horse without assistance, Grant held the actual command, visiting each of his subordinate generals, and encouraging them to renewed efforts. On the following day the battle was continued. General Grant led a charge of Ohio troops in person, and throughout the entire action shared in all the dangers of his brave soldiers, inspiring them with courage to stand firm, until the arrival of Buell changed what threatened to be a defeat, into a glorious victory. Envious and meddlesome tongues again busied themselves in attempting to deprive General Grant of the honors most justly his due. General Halleck came into the field, assumed control of the army, and for two months treated his second in command with scant courtesy. Of course this was trying to General Grant, but he loyally ignored his personal injuries for the good of the common cause, trusting to time for his vindication.

In the operations before Corinth, Miss., Grant took no prominent part, although nominally a division commander.

In July, General Halleck was called to Washington, and made Commander-in-chief, and the Army of the Tennessee was left under Grant's command. The battles of Iuka and Corinth were directed by him, although he was not present in person. They relieved Western Tennessee from immediate danger, and left General Grant free to prepare for the most important movement in which he had yet been engaged - the reduction of Vicksburg.

He advanced southward through Mississippi, while Sherman went down the river, the intention being to make a simultaneous attack; but on the 20th of December, Holly Springs, an important depot on his line of communication, was surrendered to the rebels without a blow by its cowardly commander, and Grant deemed it necessary to fall back, Sherman's expedition resulting in failure in consequence. He subsequently regretted that he had not pressed on, regardless of his severed communications, and so materially shortened the campaign.

Late in January, 1863, General Grant assumed control of the direct operations against Vicksburg, in which he had the hearty support of Commodore Porter, with his naval armament. Between this time and the last of April, four attempts to gain the rear of the rebel fortress by as many different routes were made in vain; but Grant was determined to know no such word as fail. While Porter braved the murderous fire from the batteries with his gunboats and transports, Grant moved his army down the western shore of the Mississippi, leaving Sherman to amuse the rebels awhile on the Yazoo, and then follow after him. On April 30, he crossed the river at Bruinsburg, sixty-five miles below Vicksburg, and at once began his march Northward. He was opposed by the enemy with desperate bravery, but at Port Gibson, at Champion Hill, at Black River Bridge they were hurled back, and finally forced to take refuge in the doomed city. Vicksburg was invested on the 19th of May. Its defenders repulsed two assaults, but, weakened by hunger, accepted on the 4th of July the terms offered by the victor, which were again Unconditional Surrender. Words fail to express the joy felt at the North at this signal success. Grant was hailed as the great hero of the nation, honors of every kind were bestowed upon him, and he was commissioned Major-General in the regular army.

At the end of August, 1863, General Grant went to New Orleans to consult with General Banks, leaving Vicksburg in charge of Sherman, ever his warm friend and most trusted subordinate. While in New Orleans he was thrown from his horse, and hurt so badly as to be completely helpless for twenty days. As soon as he was able to leave his bed he was made Commander of the Division of the Mississippi, which now included Chattanooga in East Tennessee, where Rosecrans was being slowly starved by Bragg. To the day of his death General Grant was accustomed to speak of the relief of Chattanooga as the most perplexing problem he ever encountered, yet when he took command there in person on the 23d of October, his great mind quickly grasped the situation, and in three days he had the army well supplied with provisions and began to prepare for an aggressive movement.

From this time forward he was allowed to pursue his operations with little interference from Washington, the authorities there having tardily come to the conclusion that it was impossible to direct the movements of distant armies successfully from the offices and parlors of the Capital. The campaign of Chattanooga, with the romantic battle above the clouds at Lookout Mountain, and the subsequent relief of Burnside, demonstrated to the American people that in General Grant they possessed a military leader in every way the peer of Bonaparte or Wellington. A day of national thanksgiving was proclaimed, Congress voted the victor a gold medal with its thanks, and on the 9th of March, 1864, having been summoned to Washington, he was presented with the commission of Lieutenant-General, and as such, invested with the supreme command of the armies of the nation.

While the plans for the campaign which brought the great rebellion to a close were all conceived and elaborated by General Grant, he gave his personal attention to the movements of the Army of the Potomac, which were directed against Richmond, the capital of the insurgents. On the 4th of May, Grant and Meade, with their giant army, crossed the Rapidan, and were attacked by Lee. Nearly a- year was to pass away before the object of the Union commander was accomplished. The events of that time form a history of themselves and can only be alluded to here in the merest outline. After endeavoring for two months to turn Lee's flank, Grant relinquished the attempt to reach Richmond from the North, and transferred his army south of the James, making his headquarters at City Point. During these two months occurred the bloody battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania and the Chickahominy - Union victories indeed, but purchased at the terrible cost of seventy thousand of the boys in blue. Then followed the nine months' siege of Petersburg and Richmond, carried on by General Grant with wonderful self-reliance and dogged pertinacity. At length, discouraged and exhausted, every port closed against foreign aid, the Southern leaders were fain to give up the struggle which they had begun in their madness, and Lee, with all his hopes of reinforcement blasted by Sherman's victories, fled from his strongholds. Petersburg and Richmond were evacuated on the 3d of April, 1865, and six days later Grant received Lee's submission at Appomattox.

Great in war, Grant was also great in peace. During the unfortunate controversy between President Johnson and Congress, he bore himself with consummate prudence. He fixed his headquarters at Washington and busied himself in reducing the army to a peace footing, in the latter part of the year 1865 making a tour of observation through the South. The people, almost as with one consent, began to look upon him as President Johnson's successor. On the 26th of July, 1866, he was commissioned General, a rank which having been subsequently held in succession by his two most illustrious subordinates, has now been abolished. On the 12th of August, 1867, President Johnson having removed Secretary of War Stanton from office, ordered General Grant to assume charge of the War Department as Secretary ad interim. Obeying the command of his chief, he administered the affairs of the department with ability and economy until the 13th of the following January, when he resigned his office into the hands of Mr. Stanton, whose removal was not concurred in by Congress. In 1868, General Grant reluctantly accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency, and was elected by two hundred and fourteen votes against eighty over Governor Horatio Seymour, of New York.

President Grant took the oath of office March 4, 1869, declaring in his inaugural that on all subjects he should have a policy to recommend, but none to enforce against the will of the people. All of the States lately in rebellion had been restored to their former standing as members of the Union excepting Virginia, Texas and Mississippi, and these were admitted before the close of the first Congress of his administration. But society at the South continued to be in an unsettled condition; lawless outrages were perpetrated upon the freed men in many districts, and the presence of a strong armed force was still necessary.

Especially was this true in Louisiana, which was in a condition bordering on civil war during nearly the whole of President Grant's term. On the 10th of May, 1869, the Pacific railroad was brought to completion. Hostile expeditions fitted out by residents of the United States against Canada and Cuba were repressed. President Grant warmly advocated the annexation of San Domingo, according to the expressed wishes of the people of the Island, but the treaty for that purpose was rejected by the Senate. But what will probably be considered the crowning glory of the administration, was the settlement of the Alabama claims, and the establishment of the principle of arbitration for terminating international disputes without bloodshed. The remissness of the British Government in allowing the Alabama and other rebel pirates to be fitted out in the ports of the United Kingdom, from 1861 to 1865, had caused a direct loss of many millions to American shipping, and indirectly entailed a much greater loss to the nation by the prolongation of the war. On the 27th of February, 1871, a Joint High Commission, composed of representatives of the governments of England and the United States, met at Washington to consider questions relating to the fisheries, and through the influence of President Grant, its powers were enlarged, so as to include the Alabama matter. The treaty of Washington was signed on May 8, and by one of its provisions, the Alabama claims were referred to an international tribunal. This tribunal, consisting of five members, appointed one each by the President, the Queen, the President of Switzerland, the King of Italy, and the Emperor of Brazil, met at Geneva on December 15, and after a series of sessions which lasted until September 14, 1872, rendered a decision that England should pay to the United States, fifteen and one-half million of dollars.

As President Grant assumed his office with little or no experience in civil affairs, it is not surprising that in a few instances he erred in judgment in making appointments. The misdeeds of some who held office under him were laid to his charge by certain disaffected Republicans, who in 1872, nominated Mr. Greeley for the presidency, and the nomination was ratified by the Democratic National Convention; but the President's popularity was still great, and he was in November, 1872, elected for a second term. He received two hundred and eighty-six electoral votes - the largest number ever given to any candidate. President Grant's second administration was marked by serious troubles with the Indian tribes of the Black Hills, culminating in the massacre of the gallant Custer and his command. In 1876 a member of the Cabinet, W. W. Belknap, Secretary of War, was impeached for bribery; the President's private secretary had been implicated in the so-called "whiskey fraud," and though both of these persons were acquitted, many people believed them guilty, and made their faults the foundation for bitter abuse of the President himself. On the other hand, some of the more enthusiastic of his friends urged his third election, a thing which is contrary to the unwritten law of the land. Owing to extreme financial depression, the public debt, which had been reduced over three hundred and fifty millions during the first administration, was reduced only twenty-nine millions during the second. On the 16th of May, 1876, President Grant opened the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. On March 4, 1877, his term expired, and he yielded up the chief magistracy of the nation, to become its most illustrious private citizen. The Centennial State, Colorado, was added to the Union during General Grant's presidency.

In May, 1877, General Grant sailed from Philadelphia accompanied by his wife for a tour around the world, a royal progress of two and a half years such as no other man ever made. Prince and people alike welcomed the greatest of living soldiers. Sovereigns met him as an equal, universities conferred degrees upon him, cities gave him their freedom in caskets of gold. Through England, France, Switzerland and Italy; thence back to England and Scotland. Next, Paris and then the countries bordering on the Mediterranean arriving in Egypt in January, 1878. Up the Nile, through the Holy Land, Turkey and Greece, to Rome. Then, seven months in Central and Northern Europe. January, 1879, found him in Ireland, from whence, by way of Paris, Marseilles, and the Isthmus of Suez, he proceeded to India. Then Siam, Burma, China (where he was honored as the "King of America") and Japan, and all amid a constant round of presentations at court, balls, reviews, dinners and special honors, that amazes one to read of; but through all of which he ever remained the quiet, genial, unassuming citizen, a credit to the country that he saved. He arrived in San Francisco, September 20, 1879, visited the Yosemite Valley, and then returned East through the principal cities, not forgetting his old home at Galena. In 1880 he visited Cuba and Mexico, and upon his return, made New York his home. In that year also, his name was presented to the Republican National Convention as a candidate for the presidential nomination, and three hundred and six of the delegates voted for him upon every ballot. He would not, however, lift a finger in aid of the scheme for a third term, and he heartily supported Mr. Garfield.

He now invested his entire capital in the banking firm of Grant & Ward; but in May, 1884, he suddenly found his partner to be a scoundrel and himself robbed of his all. Everything he possessed, even his medals and valuable presents, were given up to satisfy the creditors and then bankrupt, he set about writing his "Personal Memoirs" as a means of providing for his family. About the same time a cancer made its appearance at the root of his tongue; but although his malady was soon seen to be a fatal one, and caused him intense suffering, he labored with desperate energy to complete his book. We all remember his long sickness, watched by the nation with an eagerness which has only once been equaled, and terminating in death on the 23rd of July, 1885, at Mount McGregor, four days after the last line of his memoirs was written. So passed away the great man whom the people loved, and will ever honor - "Who fought for freedom, not glory - made war that war might cease."

[Source: Biographical sketches of preeminent Americans, Volume 4; By Frederick G. Harrison; Publ. 1893; Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Andrea Stawski Pack.]




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