Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) – Born Hiram Ulysses Grant at Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822, Ulysses was the oldest of six children born to Jesse and Hannah Simpson Grant.
At the age of 17, Grant entered the United States Military Academy at West Point graduating in 1842. It was then that his name was changed to “Ulysses S. Grant,” when the member of Congress who appointed him to a cadetship at West Point, by accident, changed the name to U. S. Grant.
At West Point he was said to be a “plain, common-sense, straightforward youth, shunning notoriety, taking to his military duties in a very business-like manner. He graduated in 1843, receiving an education that fitted him for his work in life.
After graduating from West Point, Grant served bravely in the Mexican-American War, winning the approval of his superior officers for distinguished bravery under fire, and reaching the rank of a captain.
He resigned from the army on July 31, 1854 and retired to a farm near St. Louis, Missouri. He then worked as a farmer, a real estate agent, and a bill collector before moving to Galena, Illinois. There, he worked for his father and brother in a leather shop.
When Fort Sumter, South Carolina was fired on by the Confederates, he said to a friend: “The government educated me for the army. What I am I owe to my country. I have served her through one war, and, live or die, will serve her through this.” He raised a company of volunteers at once, and tendered his services to the Governor of Illinois, who made him adjutant-general of the State. He rendered efficient services in this position, and was then made a colonel of an regiment on June 15, 1861. In August of the same year, he was made a brigadier-general, sent to the front, and had a number of successes in the Western Theater. In December, 1861, he was appointed commander of the department of Cairo, Illinois. He captured Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, and then Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, acting in connection with the Union gunboats. Both of them were brilliant affairs, and Grant was made a major-general.
Grant fought the great Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April 7, 1862, and in a two days’ fight, routed the enemy. On September 19, 1862, he fought and won the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi and then besieged Vicksburg, Mississippi. This stronghold of the Confederacy surrendered to him on July 4, 1863. In November of the same year, he won a victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee over General Braxton Bragg.
On March 1, 1864, General Grant was made lieutenant-general and commander of all the armies of the United States. He then planned his last great campaign, against General Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia and the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor followed. He besieged Petersburg and took it, and then Richmond fell into his hands. He then compelled General Robert E. Lee and his whole army to surrender at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, and the great Civil War was over.
Grant’s success and war-hero status propelled him to the White House in 1868, when he was elected as the 18th president. However, his two terms were some of the rockiest in American History. As a soldier, Grant had been superb; as a statesman he did not fair nearly as well.
Politically inexperienced, he had problems dealing with Congress almost immediately and was so simple, direct, and innocent himself, that he failed to understand the duplicity and fraud that were practiced under his very nose. Like all untrained men in public positions, he made his personal likes and dislikes the test of his political judgments, and it was only necessary to win his friendship to have his official support. Unfortunately, his early struggle with poverty and his own failure in business had led him to set too high a valuation on monetary success, making him unduly susceptible to the influence of wealthy men. He was easily managed by the astute Republican politicians in Congress, who could, by their plausible arguments, make the worse cause appear to him to be the better.
In his treatment of the South, for example, Grant was changed by his radical Republican associates. In a visit to the Southern states, a few months after the close of the war, he wrote, that “the mass of thinking men of the South accepted in good faith” the outcome of the struggle. Yet, as Act, and constantly furnished troops to keep the carpetbag and scalawag officials in power in the South, in order to provide Republican votes for congressmen and presidential electors.
During these years, the tone of public morality was never so low in all our country’s history, although a more honest never sat in the White House. The unsettled condition of the country during the Civil War and the era of Reconstruction furnished a great opportunity for dishonesty.
Large contracts for supplies of food, clothing, ammunition, and equipment had to be filled on short notice and men grew rich on fraudulent deeds. Our state legislatures and municipal governments fell into the hands of corrupt “rings” and corruption reached the highest offices of state. Secretary of War, William Belknap resigned in order to escape impeachment for sharing the graft from the dishonest management of army posts in the West.
The President’s private secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was implicated in frauds which robbed the government of its revenue tax on whisky. Western stagecoach lines, in league with corrupt post office officials, made false returns of the amount of business done along their routes, and secured large appropriations from Congress for carrying the mail. Members of Congress went so far in losing their sense of official propriety, as to accept large amounts of railroad stock as a “present” from men who wanted legislative favors for their roads.