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Ulysses S. Grant: 18th President: Celebrated General

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

General-in-Chief of the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant in 1865

General-in-Chief of the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant in 1865

General Grant's Early Years

Ulysses Simpson Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, as Hiram Ulysses Grant. At the beginning of the Civil War, he worked as a store clerk, but by the end of the war, he became one of the most celebrated generals in American history. This noteworthy accomplishment earned him his position as the 18th President of the United States, where he served two terms from 1869-1877.

Although he grew up in a family of farmers and tanners, he disliked both careers and knew he did not want the same for himself. His only real joy was riding horses. He did not have consistent schooling, although his parents did send him to West Point, the United States Military Academy. He graduated in the middle of his class, possibly because he did not desire to be there.

Ulysses Grant: A War Hero

During the Mexican War, Grant fought under General Zachary Taylor. Because of his bravery during battle, he was promoted to captain. Unfortunately, he did not make enough money to support his wife and family; therefore, he resigned from the Army.

He tried farming, although he soon attempted to sell real estate. When neither worked out, he went to work for a family member in a leather shop in Galena, Illinois.

Once the Civil War broke out, he rejoined the Army as a commanding general, where he led Union Armies against the Confederacy. For the first part of the war, he was in charge of a rowdy volunteer regiment fighting in the West, where he had great success. Then in September 1861, he became a brigadier general of volunteers. Unfortunately, the Union was losing many battles in the eastern states.

In February 1862, Grant pursued gaining control over the Mississippi Valley, in which he won Fort Henry, then attacked Fort Donelson. While there, the Confederate commander asked for terms. His reply was, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." The Confederates eventually surrendered, which caused President Abraham Lincoln to promote him again, this time to Major General of volunteers.

In April of the same year, Grant fought one of the bloodiest battles in the West at Shiloh. It was not a significant success, and some requested him to be removed as general. Lincoln defended him, saying, "I can't spare this man--he fights."

He continued to prove the President's loyalty as he won the critical city, Vicksburg, on the Mississippi, which cut the Confederacy into two, a massive success for the Union. His next big victory was soon after when he gained Chattanooga, which the Confederates had previously held.

Because of his great success, in March of 1864, he was put in charge of all Union troops as General-in-Chief. Lincoln appointed Grant to this new position, a turning point for the Union.

Grant's immediate action was to direct General Sherman towards the South while he and the Army of the Potomac pursued General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House.

Grant wanted to prevent treason trials and keep peace within the country; therefore, he wrote out very generous terms of surrender. He took mercy on the now ex-Confederates. Since it was springtime when the Southern soldiers surrendered, Grant allowed them to keep their horses so they could plow their fields.

Late into President Andrew Johnson's administration, he was nominated by the Radical Republicans to run for President because of his great success as a war hero, partly because Grant had disagreed openly with Johnson's politics.

He won.

Lost Painting

This is a copy of the lost White House 1868 painting. From left to right: Sherman, Grant, Lincoln, and Porter aboard the River Queen on March 27th and 28th, 1865.

This is a copy of the lost White House 1868 painting. From left to right: Sherman, Grant, Lincoln, and Porter aboard the River Queen on March 27th and 28th, 1865.

His Presidency and Misaligned Trust

`As President, he employed some of his Army staff within the White House. He oversaw the Government just as he had the Army.

He sought to implement Congressional Reconstruction and remove any traces of slavery. The American people had high hopes for his administration and felt he was the answer to end the tumultuous times.

Unfortunately, Grant did not provide the reform people were looking for. Partially due to his errors in judgment when placing his friends in high political positions. These men cheated, stole, and took bribes. Unfortunately, Grant got blamed for their corrupt behavior. He was very honest, but having been associated with such men, tarnished his reputation. He was even criticized for accepting generous presents from his admirers.

His association with Jay Gould and James Fisk was the most detrimental relationship during his presidency. He didn't realize this until it was too late. They had schemed to gain through the market in gold. Once he realized their plan, he authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to ruin their scheme by selling enough gold. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done to businesses.

Despite his tarnished reputation, he did become re-elected in 1872. His greatest cynics were the Liberal Republican reformers. He had little respect for these men and called them "narrow-headed men," stating that their eyes were so close together that "they can look out of the same gimlet hole without winking."

After retiring from the presidency, Grant used his life savings and became a partner in a financial firm. His partner was crooked, the firm went bankrupt, and Grant lost his entire life savings.

Soon after the firm went bankrupt, Grant learned he had throat cancer. He wanted to make sure his wife had money after he passed away, which was a challenging feat since he was broke and had just learned he would die. Grant decided to write his memoirs in hopes that the proceeds from it would take care of his wife after he was gone. In 1885, four days after finishing the last word, he died. The book ended up making his family $450,000, more than fulfilling his hopes of caring for his wife after he was gone.

Fun Facts

  • He received a $20.00 speeding ticket for riding his horse and buggy too fast in Washington, D.C.
  • Ulysses S. Grant's real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. Ohio Congressman Thomas Hamer accidentally wrote his name as Ulysses S. Grant when he was a general. Though he did try to correct the error, he eventually accepted the moniker, and it stuck, although some rumors state that Grant changed it because he did not want the initials H.U.G. when he attended West Point.
  • He struggled with alcoholism and was forced to resign from the army in the 1850s. Though he did swear it off for almost a decade, some say he sometimes went into battle drunk during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, the president at the time, was not concerned as he hoped others of his generals were as good at their jobs as he was.
  • He was invited to go to the theater with Abraham Lincoln the night Lincoln was assassinated. He and his wife declined the offer to spend time with their children in New Jersey.

Basic Facts



April 27, 1822 - Ohio

President Number



Democratic; National Union; Republican

Military Service

United States Army Union Army

Wars Served

Mexican–American War and American Civil War

Age at Beginning of Presidency

47 years old

Term of Office

March 4, 1869 - March 3, 1877

How Long President

8 years


Schuyler Colfax (1869–1873) Henry Wilson (1873–1875) None (1875–1877)

Age and Year of Death

July 23, 1885 (aged 63)

Cause of Death

throat cancer


  • Andrews, Evan. "10 Things You May Not Know About Ulysses S. Grant." July 23, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2016.
  • Freidel, F., & Sidey, H. (2009). Ulysses S. Grant. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from
  • Sullivan, George. Mr. President: A Book of U.S. Presidents. New York: Scholastic, 2001. Print.
  • U.S. Presidential Fun Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2016, from

© 2017 Angela Michelle Schultz