Ulysses S. Grant was an American soldier, general, politician, and the 18th President of the United States from 1869 to 1877. Prior to serving as president, Grant commanded the Union Army as Commanding General of the United States Army during the American Civil Wars, effectively winning the conflict. As president, Grant ran as a Radical Republican during Reconstruction to help protect former slaves and their families and re-establish public credit and the U.S. Navy. Although his life story is often tied controversy, there’s little doubt he played a major role in the history of the United States.
He Despised The West Point Uniform
Although Ulysses S. Grant is known for his military prowess as a general and one of the best students to come out of West Point, he strongly disliked the school’s uniform. Along with his mind for combat, he was also remembered for his inability to follow directions regarding the school’s uniform, something that would continue into the Civil War.
In a correspondence to his cousin, 17-year-old Grant wrote, “My pants set as tight to my skin as the bark to a tree,” and that if he bent over, “they are very apt to crack with a report as loud as a pistol.”
He Won The First Major Union Victory During The Civil War
Unknown to most, Grant actually struggled to find a commanding position at the outbreak of the Civil War. However, he was eventually placed in charge of a regiment of Illinois volunteers and found himself quickly promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He proved his worth in February 1862, when he captured a force of 15,000 Confederate soldiers at Tennessee’s Fort Donelson.
His success was the first time in the war that a full Confederate force was captured. Before the war ended, he would go on to accept the surrender of two more armies at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
He Was Supposed To Be With Abraham Lincoln The Night He Was Assassinated
On the night of April 14, 1865– the night that Lincoln was assassinated– Grant had been invited to join the president at Ford’s Theater. However, he had to decline, as he and his wife had made plans to visit their children in New Jersey.
Grant would later go on to describe the death of the president as “one of the darkest days of my life,” and cursed himself for not having been there. Although he likely would have been a target himself, he was convinced he would have been able to stop the assassination.
Mark Twain Published His Memoirs
During the mid-1880s, Grant began writing his memoirs, including a series of articles about his experience during the Civil War. At the time, he was close to signing a book deal with a magazine when acclaimed author Mark Twain offered a better contract.
Grant took the deal and finished his book just days before he died of cancer in July 1885. Twain published The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant later that year. The book was so successful, that after its publication, Grant’s widow, Julia, received an incredible amount of $450,000 in royalties.
He Had Little To No Political Experience Before Becoming President
Although Grant had proven himself as a capable and successful military commander, he knew little about the politics of the country before he was inaugurated as the 18th President of the United States in 1869. At that point, he had never held any electoral position and had no intention to until the Republican Party nominated him as their candidate.
Historians blame his lack of experience as the result of the issues that plagued his administration with Grant himself claiming that “It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training.”
He Stopped Robert E. Lee From Being Charged With Treason After The Civil War
When Grant accepted Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, Grant was generous and allowed the Confederate soldiers and officers to return to their homes without any punishment. On top of that, he even allowed them to keep their mules, horses, and other livestock as farm animals. When General Robert E. Lee was charged with treason, in a meeting with President Andrew Johnson, Grant opposed.
He stated that he intended to “resign the command of the army rather than execute any order to arrest Lee or any of his commanders so long as they obey the law.” This resulted in Johnson dropping the case.
He Was Introduced To His Wife By Her Brother
Grant’s wife was named Julia Boggs Dent and was born on January 26, 1826, in St. Louis. She was introduced to her future husband by her brother Fred who attended West Point at the same time as Grant.
In a letter to his sister, Julia’s brother noted, “I want you to know him. He is pure gold.” After graduating from West Point, Grant spent some time at the Dent’s home and asked Julia to be his wife just a few months later in 1844. After receiving approval, the Mexican-American War broke out, and the two weren’t married until 1848.
The “S” In His Name Didn’t Mean Anything
While he was referred to as “Ulysses” in his youth in Ohio, his actual birth name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. His middle initial is actually an error by Congressman Thomas Hunter, who actually wrote his name as “Ulysses S. Grant,” when he nominated him to attend West Point.
Nevertheless, even though Grant attempted to remedy this mistake, the name remained unchanged, and he adopted it as his own. In an 1844 letter, he wrote, “Find some name beginning with “S” for me.” He contained saying, “You know I have an “S” in my name and don’t know what it stands for.”
He Was Not A Businessman
While Grant might have been an excellent military commander and questionable leader of the country one thing was for sure, and that’s he wasn’t good with business. After the Mexican-American War, in 1854, he spent the following years failing to succeed as a real estate agent, farmer, rent collector, and more.
After leaving the presidency, he started a financial firm with his son called Ferdinand Ward that went under, leaving Grant bankrupt by 1884. His family only came into money after his memoir was posthumous.
He Suffered A Hard Loss At Shiloh
After his success at Henry and Donelson, Grant faced criticism for his command at the Battle of Shiloh, one of the most gruesome battles in American history up to that point. At the end of the fight, the Union came out victorious, although the battle resulted in 23,746 casualties, the majority of which were Union soldiers.
After the battle, politician Alexander McClure contacted President Abraham Lincoln regarding Grant’s removal. He stated, “I appealed to Lincoln for his own sake to remove Grant at once, and, in giving my reasons for it, I simply voiced the admittedly overwhelming protest from the loyal people of the land against Grant’s continuance in command.”
He Had A Rough Time After His Presidency
Although the 22nd Amendment declared an official president two-term limit, Grant attempted to run for a third term just four years after leaving the position. However, he couldn’t get enough votes at the Republican convention, and James Garfield won the presidency.
After his time in politics, Grant invested his savings in a financial firm with his son, which unfortunately went bankrupt in 1884. Soon after, he also learned that he had throat cancer on top of his mounting debts.
He Fought Alongside Another Future President
While fighting in the Mexican-American War, Grant was stationed under General Zachary “Old Rough and Ready” Taylor, who would later go on to be the 12th President of the United States in 1849. At the Battle of Palo Alto, Taylor led Grant into his first battle, and nearly every major battle after.
In his memoirs, Grant noted how much he admired Taylor, stating that Taylor “knew how to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words” and that he “met the emergency without reference to how they would read in history.”
At The Time He Was The Youngest Elected US President
As the runner for the Republican Party under a platform for civil rights, his reputation as a Civil War hero, and the slogan “Let us have peace,” Grant won the hearts of the country. In 1869, Grant was elected as the 18th President of the United States.
He won by 214 to 80 in the Electoral College, with 52.7% of the popular vote. At the time, he became the United State’s youngest president ever elected at 46 years old.
Grant Wrote The Surrender Terms At Appomattox
The Battle of Appomattox Courthouse lasted on a few hours after the Confederate Army was cut off from their provisions and support. At this time, Lee sent Grant a message informing him of his surrender, and the two generals met in the front parlor of the Wilmer McLean homestead. During the two general’s meeting, Grant wrote up a single paragraph term of surrender.
When terms of the surrender reached the nearby Union troops, they began firing gun salutes. However, Grant ordered the celebration to stop, stating that “The war is over, The rebels are our countrymen again; and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstration in the field.”
He Owned A Slave
During the time when Grant lived with his father-in-law’s family, who were slave owners, Grant found himself under the possession of a man named William Jones.
Coming from an abolitionist family, Grant’s father didn’t approve of his slave-owning lifestyle, although Grant’s personal ideas on slavery were quite complex. After a year, Grant freed him even though Grant was struggling financially. In 1863, he wrote, “I was never an abolitionist, not even what could be called anti-slavery.”
He Struggled With Alcoholism
Grant’s alcoholism caught up with him in the early 1850s after he was supposedly forced to resign from the army after being caught drunk on duty. Over the next decade, Grant did his best to swear off drinking, although he, unfortunately, found himself falling off of the wagon at the start of the Civil War.
Although Colonel John Rawlins somewhat controlled his drinking, rumors that he was under the influence during battle began to spread throughout the army. When Abraham Lincoln caught wind of these rumors, he was unaffected, and instead, asked what kind of whiskey he drank to distribute it if it made other men like Grant.
He Made An Effort To Stop The Klu Klux Klan During The Reconstruction Era
When the newly formed Ku Klux Klan attacked black Americans in the late 1860s, President Grant called upon the Justice Department to put an end to it. This resulted in the indictment of numerous cult leaders.
Furthermore, in 1871, he passed the “Ku Klux Klan Act,” in which he declared martial law against the group. Due to his actions, the group was effectively forced into submission and wouldn’t re-emerge in full force until the 1910s.
He Went On A World Tour After The Second Term Of His Presidency
Following his second term, in 1877, Grant went on a world tour that lasted an impressive two-and-a-half-years. During this time, he met with other world leaders including Queen Victoria, Otto von Bismark, Pope Leo XIII, and Emperor Meiji.
He was encouraged to do this by President Hayes, his successor, and was involved in resolving several international disputes. The world tour acted as a way to increase the international reputation of the United States, as well as Grant himself.
His Legacy Is Controversial
Although Grant’s presidency was plagued with corruption and scandals, for his success during the Civil War, during most of his lifetime, he was seen as a national hero by a majority of the American population.
Yet, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that certain schools of history began portraying him as an excellent general, although a less-than-impressive statesman. Some negative descriptions even went so far as to refer to him as a “butcher.” However, in the 21st century, his reputation was restored, with historians viewing him in a more positive light.
He Didn’t Want To Be A Soldier
Although many biographers claim that Grant chose to attend West Point himself, his Memoirs claims that he had no intention of having a military career, and that he was surprised when his father told him that he had been accepted.
After leaving West Point, he made it clear that he wanted to only serve his four year commission and then retire. However, later in his life, he wrote a letter to a friend, claiming that the Academy and the presidency were some of the best days of his life and that “there is much to dislike, but more to like.”