Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

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Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, under the name Hiram Ulysses Grant. Grant was the son of Jesse Root Grant, a tanner. His mother, Hannah Simpson, was the granddaughter of a John Simpson, a Scots-Irish immigrant that settled in Pennsylvania. During his early years, Grant detested working at his father’s tannery, and instead opted do chores around the farmstead, quickly developing a fondness and a talent for working with horses. Recognizing that his son had no interest in following the family business, Grant’s father set him up to attend West Point during the year of 1839.

Despite finding little appeal in the idea of military life, Grant entered West Point. Grant changed his name on paper to “Ulysses Hiram Grant” to avoid the acronym H.U.G. being embroidered into his uniform for school. The congressional appointment, however. was mistakenly made to the name of Ulysses S. Grant. To ensure his enrollment in the academy, Grant once again changed his name. Initially stating that the “S” stood for nothing, he eventually adopted his mother’s maiden name, Simpson, to represent the middle initial. From then on, Grant was known as Ulysses S. Grant.

At the academy, Grant performed poorly in his courses, except for mathematics and horsemanship. He was disinterested in the military curriculum, and preferred to study the arts and literature. Graduating 21st out of a class of 39, he was then assigned to the 4th U.S. Infantry division in St. Louis, Missouri. While stationed there, he met his future wife, Julia Dent, the sister of his West Point roommate. Before the two could marry, however, Grant was deployed to fight in the Mexican War.

Grant initially served under the command of General Zachary Taylor, who, like Grant, would later become president of the United States. Several campaigns later, Grant was transferred to General Winfield Scott’s army, where he first served as regimental quartermaster and commissary. The position gave him extensive knowledge about the army’s supplies and their significance to a successful campaign. Soon after, during a battle in September of 1847, Grant distinguished himself and was promoted from a brevet second lieutenant, to brevet first lieutenant and captain; however, his permanent rank was only that of first lieutenant.

In 1852, Grant was assigned to the Pacific coast, and had to leave his wife and two children behind while he sailed with the 4th infantry. Using his military pay, Grant attempted several failed business ventures to try and reunite with his family, but achieved little. It is said that Grant took up the habit of drinking during this time, and with his Irish heritage, was quickly stigmatized as a drunk, despite the lack of hard evidence to confirm Grant as an alcoholic. He certainly may have drank, but not as much as was believed; close acquaintances often described him as having debilitating migraines from stress, which to others may resemble an exacerbated hangover.

A promotion to captain relocated Grant from Fort Vancouver in Oregon to Fort Humboldt, California. A dull post and an unpleasant commanding officer eventually led Grant to resign from his position. Quickly reuniting with his family, Grant purchased an 80-acre farm in Missouri. The farm was a failure, however, as was a real estate venture in St. Louis 1859. After the collapse of his business ventures, Grant moved to Illinois and worked in the leatherworking business owned by his father. Not long afterward, the Civil War broke out. Grant volunteered to help equip, drill, and recruit troops in Galena, and then convoyed them to the state capital, Springfield. Initially denied re-entry for service due to the allegations of alcoholism (and possibly anti-Irish prejudice), it took the help of Governor Richard Yates to have him reinstated.

Grant was given command of an unruly regiment known as the 21st Illinois Volunteers in 1861, and quickly wrangled them into a formidable fighting force. Before even seeing combat as a colonel, Grant was promoted to brigadier general thanks to the influence of U.S. congressman Elihu B. Washburne. By 1862, Grant was dissatisfied how his forces were used for defensive or diversionary tactics and requested to pursue a more offensive campaign against Confederate troops. Soon after Grant had the permission he needed, as well as his first victory. Fort Donelson surrendered, and when asked what his terms were, Grant responded, “No terms except unconditional surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works”. From then on, Grant was also known by the moniker “Unconditional Surrender Grant.”

Throughout the war, Grant received harsh criticism for the heavy Union casualties under his command. These numbers did little to change his effectiveness, however, as Grant was one of the only generals to press the advantage the Unions’ superior numbers gave them. As his victory at the battle of Shiloh proved, Grant understood that war meant casualties, and he was willing to suffer them. After a demotion, Grant was quickly promoted again, and quickly finished his campaign to divide the Confederacy by the Mississippi River. Not long after, Grant forced the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee at the battle of Vicksburg in 1865, which signified the end of the Civil War.

Idolized by the Union as a war hero, he took a tour of the South at the behest of President Andrew Jackson. During his travels, he was greeted with respect and friendliness he did not expect from a recently defeated South. Thanks to this positive reception, he strongly recommended a lenient Reconstruction policy to aid the recovery of the war-torn southern states. Grant was then promoted to general of the armies in 1866, and then to Secretary of War after President Johnson’s questionable removal of Edwin M. Stanton. Grant resigned in 1868 at the request of Congress, however, much to the displeasure of Andrew Johnson. This became a dividing factor between the two men, which pushed Grant further into the Republican Party. Within the year Grant was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate.

Grant assumed office at the age of 46 on March 4th, 1869, making him the youngest president elected at the time, and easily won a second term. To great dismay of the president, however, Grant's administration was riddled with scandals that, while Grant himself had no part in, smeared his reputation nonetheless. These scandals are the best-known aspects of his presidency, despite passing bills such as the Klu Klux Klan Act, the ratification of the 15th Amendment, and increased the amount of legal tender in circulation to reduce the Currency Crisis.

After Grant’s presidency, he and his family embarked on a world tour, stopping in Ireland, Germany, and Japan. During their travels, the Grants were hailed as heroes and conquerors. Upon returning to the U.S., however, tragedy struck the family. In 1884, a law firm owned by Grant’s son collapsed, and his son’s partner Ferdinand Ward swindled the family of their fortune. These events impoverished the Grant family and further tarnished president Grant’s reputation.  In a last-ditch effort to help his family, Grant wrote down his experiences in memoirs, and despite excruciating throat pain due to cancer, finished and published them with the help of his friend Mark Twain. Written in an excellent fashion that was befitting of his character, the memoirs were genuine and humorous, and are ranked among some of the best military autobiographies written of all time.

Within a few days of finishing the memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant passed away on July 23rd, 1885, on Mount McGregor in New York. The books essentially saved the Grant family, and helped to further etch Ulysses S. Grant as one of the most influential men of Irish-American descent of the 19th century. Without Grant, the Civil War’s outcome may have been drastically different, or the South could still exist in a state of disarray. Ulysses S. Grant contributed to the reputation of Irish-Americans as well, leading by example that the slanderous papers and cartoons about the inherent nature of Irish were unjust.



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Simon, John Y. "Ulysses S. Grant." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 June 2006. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

“Ulysses S. Grant." Bio.com. Ed. Biography.com Editors. A&E Networks Television. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.