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Name:  Ulysses Simpson Grant  

Born:  April 27, 1822
Died:  July 23, 1885
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th president of the United States, a Union general, and the commander of the Union armed forces during the final year of the Civil War. He was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, to Hannah Simpson Grant and Jesse Grant, and spent his boyhood in Georgetown, Ohio, where his father ran a tanning business. Young Grant attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1843 near the middle of his class. At this point, Grant did not want a military career, but an education, followed by a college professorship. Instead, he was sent to Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri. He saw duty in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) under the command of General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield Scott. During the war, Grant was twice promoted in recognition of his bravery and talented leadership. The war with Mexico proved to be a training ground for him as well as other future Civil War officers.

After the war, Grant was stationed at Sacketts Harbor, New York, Detroit, Michigan, and Fort Vancouver, Washington. At Fort Vancouver, dearly missing his wife and bored by the monotonous duty, he began drinking. He resigned his commission in 1854 and returned to Missouri where he unsuccessfully tried his hand at farming and real estate before moving to Galena, Illinois, to work in his father’s tannery.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was appointed commander of the 21st Illinois Regiment and saw action fighting Confederate guerrillas in Missouri. In August 1861 he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers by President Lincoln. He quickly led his troops to capture Paducah, Kentucky, but had to retreat after a Confederate counterassault at Belmont, Missouri. In February 1862 Grant captured Forts Donelson and Henry in Tennessee, handing the Union its first major victories and earning himself national recognition and a promotion to major general.

In October 1862 he was named commander of the Department of Tennessee and placed in charge of the Vicksburg, Mississippi, campaign. The surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, was one of the turning points of the Civil War. In March 1864, Grant was promoted to lieutenant and commander of all Union armies. Giving the Confederates no rest, Grant pressed Robert E. Lee throughout Virginia, while Union General Sherman advanced through Atlanta to the Atlantic. Finally on April 9, 1865 Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, ending the Civil War.

In July 1866, Grant received the rank of full general of the army, the first American to hold that distinction since George Washington. His postwar duties included overseeing Indian Affairs and protection of the transcontinental railroad workers in the west and the enforcement of Reconstruction policies in the South. Although he had doubts about Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, he accompanied the President on his infamous “swing 'round the circle” speaking tour during the 1866 congressional campaign.

Grant became an integral part of the battle between Congress and the White House over control of Reconstruction policy. In August 1867, Johnson suspended Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had been working with the Radical Republicans in Congress against Johnson, and appointed Grant as Stanton’s interim replacement. The general was uncomfortable being placed in that awkward position, but he served dutifully for five months. When the Senate refused to consent to Stanton’s removal, Grant resigned. Thereafter, Grant sided with the Radical Republicans and supported Johnson’s impeachment after the president violated the Tenure of Office Act in 1868. Although previously a nominal Democrat, Grant became the Republican presidential nominee in 1868. He easily defeated his Democratic challenger, Horatio Seymour, and was soundly reelected in 1872, running against maverick newspaper editor Horace Greeley. The Grant presidency had some successes, such as the Treaty of Washington (1871), but is mainly remembered for a series of scandals—Credit Mobilier, the Sanborn contracts, the Whiskey Ring, and the Belknap bribery. Other important events during his tenure include the ratification of the 15th Amendment, the Panic of 1873, and the Resumption of Specie Act (1875).

When he left office, Grant embarked on a triumphant two-year world tour. In 1880, he was the top candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. After leading on 35 ballots, he finally lost to James Garfield, a compromise candidate, thus ending his hopes for a third term. In 1881, he moved to New York City and invested in a brokerage firm run by his son, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., and Ferdinand Ward. The firm went bankrupt in 1884, and Ward was incarcerated for illegal business practices. Left virtually penniless, and battling terminal cancer, Grant supported himself and his family through a cash advance on his autobiography, provided by Mark Twain’s publishing firm of Webster and Company. Completed shortly before his death in July 1885, Grant’s Personal Memoirs are well respected for both content and literary style.

Source consulted: David Donald, “Ulysses S. Grant,” on the Grolier’s On-Line Website.








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