Gen. Ulysses S. Grant quarreled with President Andrew Johnson and aligned himself with the Radical Republicans. He was, as the symbol of Union victory during the Civil War, their logical candidate for the18th President of the United States in 1868.
The American people who were responsible for electing him hoped for an end to the turmoil caused by the Civil War and Reconstruction. However, Grant provided them with neither vigor nor reform. Looking to Congress for direction, he seemed overwhelmed. One visitor to the White House made the remark that Grant was “a puzzled pathos, as of a man with a problem before him of which he does not understand the terms.”
Born in 1822, Ulysses Grant was the son of an Ohio tanner. He went to West Point against his will, and he graduated in the middle of his class. He went on to fight in the Mexican War under Gen. Zachary Taylor.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was working in his father’s leather store in Galena, Illinois. He was appointed by the Governor to command an untrained and unruly volunteer regiment. Grant worked hard to bring his troops up to the standard necessary and by September 1861 he had earned he rank of brigadier general of volunteers.
He sought to win control of the Mississippi Valley, and in February 1862, Grant took Fort Henry and attacked Fort Donelson. When the Confederate commander asked for terms of surrender, Ulysses Grant replied, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” The Confederates finally agreed and surrendered, which caused President Lincoln to promote Grant to major general of volunteers.
At Shiloh in April, Grant fought one of the bloodiest battles in the West and found himself out of favor with the public and politicians. President Lincoln defended the choice to keep him in service by saying, “I can’t spare this man–he fights.”
For his next major objective, Grant planned and fought skillfully to win Vicksburg, the key city on the Mississippi, and thoroughly devastated the Confederacy by dividing it in two. His next move was to successfully break the Confederate hold on Chattanooga.
Lincoln promoted Ulysses Grant again and named him General-in-Chief in March 1864. Grant directed Sherman to drive through the South while he himself, with the Army of the Potomac, pinned down Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Finally, on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Lee surrendered. Grant wrote out the honorable terms of surrender and made sure that trials for treason would be avoided.
As President, Grant presided over the Government the same way as he had run his troops. He even placed part of his Army staff in the White House positions.
Although a man of unbreakable honesty, Ulysses Grant, as American President, accepted presents from admirers. Worse, he was witnessed in the company of two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk. When Grant realized that their plan was to corner the gold market, he supported the Secretary of the Treasury in selling off enough gold to see their plans ruined, but the speculation had already started to bring chaos to the business sector.
During his campaign for re-election in 1872, Liberal Republican reformers loudly opposed Grant. He retaliated by calling them “narrow-headed men,” their eyes so close together that “they can look out of the same gimlet hole without winking.” The General’s friends in the Republican Party came to be known proudly as “the Old Guard.”
Grant allowed Radical Reconstruction to run its course in the South, supporting it at times with military force if needed.
After retiring from the Presidency, Grant became a partner in a financial firm doomed later to end in bankruptcy. About that time, he learned that he had throat cancer. He started writing his memoirs to pay off all of his debts and provide for his family. He was trying to beat death to produce a collection that ultimately earned nearly $450,000. Soon after completing the last page, in 1885, he died.
The graphic reveals highlights and accomplishments during Ulysses S. Grant’s life: