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President Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States. He was also the commander of the Army of the Tennessee and later lieutenant general of the Army during the U.S. Civil War. Although acknowledged as being a good general, his legacy as President is not a great one.
Born 22 April 1822, Hiram Ulysses Grant hailed from Point Pleasant, Ohio. He grew up in a large family, with five siblings. Ulysses S. Grant apparently led a quietly normal life until he was nominated as a candidate to attend the U.S. Military Academy, in West Point, New York. He took the name "Ulysses S. Grant" because his congressman had nominated him under that name, knowing Grant's mother's maiden name was Simpson. Grant had to register under that name and kept it after graduating in the middle of his class as a solidly mediocre student.
Mediocre, in fact, characterized a great deal of Ulysses S. Grant's life when not associated with the military. Although, as Lt. Ulysses S. Grant, he was decorated for bravery in the Mexican-American War, after resigning from the Army in 1854, he worked several jobs, failing at all of them. He had married Julia Dent in 1848, and needing to support his family, Ulysses S. Grant went to his father's home in Galena, Illinois and asked for a job in the leather shop. His father was a tanner.
Ulysses S. Grant was still working for his father in the spring of 1861, and when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers after the attack on Fort Sumter, Grant recruited a company of volunteers and went with them to Springfield, Illinois. The governor of Illinois was impressed and offered Ulysses S. Grant a position to recruit and train new volunteers. Grant excelled at this task and by August 1861, found himself a brigadier general of volunteers — appointed by Abraham Lincoln himself.
As Brigadier Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, he went on to achieve initial fighting glory at the Battle of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. He was very nearly defeated at the Battle of Shiloh, but reinforcements arrived in time and he forced the Confederate Army into retreat. His victory at the Battle of Vicksburg assured his lasting fame as a hard-nosed fighter and sterling tactician.
After Ulysses S. Grant received Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Appamattox Courthouse in Virginia, he entered the world of politics. President Andrew Johnson appointed him Secretary of War, but the two disagreed on many points and Ulysses S. Grant ran for President in 1868 and was elected.
Grant was a personally honest man. However, he associated himself with dishonest men who gave him bad advice, and for whom he vouched, even when their corruption became apparent. The American economy suffered under his tenure and the Panic of 1873 also occurred under his watch.
No doubt Grant had a difficult situation where the South was concerned, but his insistence on pursuing Radical Reconstruction made bad matters worse. While a military presence was necessary to help control the Ku Klux Klan, the infrastructure of the region was in shambles, and the federal government did little to improve the situation. The people suffered, regardless of their former affiliations.
President Grant did sign the order to form Yellowstone National Park, created the Department of Justice, the Army Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) and the office of the Surgeon General. His foreign policies were somewhat successful, but overall his presidency was rife with corruption and ineffectual.
Ulysses S. Grant died from throat cancer on 23 July 1885. He had written his memoirs to help provide for his family. He forfeited his military pension when he became President, and no pension was provided to former presidents at that time.
Grant is best remembered for his military achievements. He was a tenacious and canny fighting man. In all likelihood, that would be how he would want to be remembered.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Ulysses S. Grant and why is he a significant figure in American history?
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States, serving from 1869 to 1877. He is a significant figure primarily for his role as Commanding General of the Union Army during the American Civil War, where his leadership was instrumental in defeating the Confederate forces. Grant's presidency later focused on Reconstruction and the enforcement of Civil Rights for freed slaves. His efforts in both military and civil leadership have left a lasting impact on the nation's history.
What were some of Ulysses S. Grant's major accomplishments as president?
As president, Ulysses S. Grant's major accomplishments include the enforcement of Civil Rights through the passage of the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed African-American men the right to vote. He also worked to crush the Ku Klux Klan, supported the Amnesty Act of 1872 to restore rights to former Confederates, and advocated for Native American rights. Additionally, Grant's administration was responsible for improving foreign relations, exemplified by the Treaty of Washington in 1871, which settled disputes with Great Britain.
What were Ulysses S. Grant's contributions to the Union victory in the Civil War?
Ulysses S. Grant's contributions to the Union victory in the Civil War were pivotal. He won crucial battles at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, gaining control of the Mississippi River. His strategy of attrition against Confederate armies, particularly under Robert E. Lee, eventually led to their surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865. Grant's leadership was characterized by his determination and willingness to engage in relentless combat to achieve victory.
How did Ulysses S. Grant's early life influence his later military and political career?
Ulysses S. Grant's early life, including his time at West Point Military Academy and his service in the Mexican-American War, provided him with valuable military experience and leadership skills. His exposure to the realities of war and command prepared him for the challenges he would face during the Civil War. His humble beginnings and struggles with civilian life before the war also shaped his resilience and pragmatic approach to both military and political challenges.
What is Ulysses S. Grant's legacy today?
Ulysses S. Grant's legacy today is multifaceted. He is remembered as a key military leader who helped preserve the Union during the Civil War and as a president who worked to integrate newly freed African Americans into the political and social fabric of the country. Despite his administration being marred by corruption scandals, modern scholarship often highlights his commitment to civil rights and efforts to reconcile the nation post-war. His memoirs, written as he was dying of cancer, are also celebrated for their clarity and depth.