Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and spent
his boyhood in Georgetown, Ohio, where his father had 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 service 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 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 general and commander of all
Union armies. Giving the Confederates no rest, Grant chased Robert E. Lee across
Virginia, while Union General Sherman advanced through Atlanta to the Atlantic.
Finally on April 9, 1865 Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, ending the
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" during the 1866 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 ad interim replacement. The general was uncomfortable being
placed in that awkward position, but he dutifully served 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 a dark-house candidate, James Garfield, ending his hopes for a third term.
His business ventures in retirement were no more successful than in his earlier
days, and in 1884 he was forced to take bankruptcy. In his final years, he
penned his Personal Memoirs, which are well respected for both content and
literary style. He died at Mount McGregor, New York.