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Ulysses S. Grant

By

John T. Marck

 



 

 

Ulysses S. Grant, His Life, Family, the Civil War, and his Home

By John T. Marck

 

The man, who would grow to be one of the best generals during the Civil War and President of the United States, was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822.  He was christened Hiram Ulysses Grant, but his name change came as a result of an error a congressman made when appointing him to West Point.  

The town of Point Pleasant is located near the mouth of Big Indian Creek at the Ohio River. The structure sits on 4.75 acres at the junction of U.S. 52 and S.R. 232. Big Indian Creek is just east of the homestead. The village of Moscow is about a mile upstream.  

Grant's birthplace is a restored one-story, three-room cottage, which was built in 1817, and was next to the tannery where Grant's father worked. The small cottage is furnished with period items. At one time the birthplace made an extensive tour of the United States on a railroad flatcar and was also temporarily displayed on the Ohio State fairgrounds.  

Grant's Birthplace as it looked when he was born

The house had only one room when Grant was born. Many of the possessions in the house are original belongings of the Grant family. The entire family lived in one room; the bed was stuffed with straw and sits on a rope frame. The china cabinet belonged to Grant's mother, and there is a pair of boots in the room that his father made. The original house had two rooms added on after the Grants moved. The Clermont County birthplace of President Ulysses Grant was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 1998. Owned by the Ohio Historical Society, Point Pleasant is operated by the group Historic New Richmond.  

The Birthplace as it looks today

 

Grant's family descended from Puritans who had come to New England in the seventeenth century.  His father was a hardworking tanner, but Ulysses was a quiet boy, who appeared to most as one who was lethargic, almost lazy.  Because of this observation, his father, Jesse Root Grant believed him not suited for business and secured an appointment for him to West Point, with the help of a friend in Congress.  Entering West Point in 1839, Grant did graduate in 1843, ranking twenty-one in a class of thirty-nine cadets.  Considered an average student, he exhibited poor study habits, preferring romance novels to military tactics, but had strong skills math and horsemanship. 

His expertise with and love of horses took him in the direction of joining the U. S. Army Cavalry Division, but he became a lieutenant in the 4th Infantry instead.   In 1847 he fought in the Mexican War, and although he believed the war was strictly fought for politicians who desired territorial gains, he did have an admiration for his commanders, including Zachary Taylor.   Grant fought well in the war, gaining respect and winning brevets for heroism at Molino de Ray and Chapultepec. 

On August 22, 1848, Ulysses married Julia Boggs Dent, and they made their home in St. Louis, Missouri, Julia's hometown.  Together they would have four children; Frederick Dent (1850-1912); Ulysses Simpson (1852-1929); Ellen Wrenshall (1855-1922); and Jesse Root (1858-1934).

After the Mexican War, Grant was assigned to several remote forts including Fort Humboldt in California.  Here, in 1854, without his family, boredom and loneliness be fell him and as a result he started drinking.  Although he did indulge many times throughout his life, he drank less than his legend would have one believe.  Still, it seemed that he would not stop his drinking until his family, friends or events in which he was involved, intervened.  In 1854, criticized by his regimental commander as a result of his drinking at Fort Humboldt, Grant resigned his commission as captain, and returned to his wife and family in St. Louis. 

Back in St. Louis, Grant led a haphazard life and career, whereby he was reduced to selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis to earn an income.  Unable to find suitable work, he was then forced to move his family to Galena, Illinois, and relied on charity from his father, arriving in the spring of 1860. Here Grant and his family rented a small Federal style brick house for $100.00 a year. He had hoped to reverse his economic misfortune by moving here, where he would work in the Galena store owned by his father and managed by his younger brothers, Simpson and Orvil. Grant was a clerk in name only; he spent considerable time away from the store, traveling through the Northwest during the winter of 1860-61. They had customers in all the little towns in southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, and northeast, Iowa.  Although in Galena he worked at a number of different jobs, none was a success for him.  Unfortunately for the country the Civil War began, and with it Grant would finally find his calling. Initially Grant tried to join the volunteer army but was refused.  Then, thanks to a congressman named Elihu B. Washburne, and Governor Richard Yates, Grant was appointed a colonel in the 21st Illinois Infantry in June 1861.   An outstanding commander, Grant soon took the disorganized 21st and whipped them into fighting trim.  For his efforts, Grant was promoted to brigadier general. 

At Belmont, Missouri, Grant received his first command that started off well but ended in a fiasco.  Following this, Grant was placed in an administrative post until he was able to reclaim the honor he lost at Belmont.   Returning to active service, he excelled under the command of General Henry W. Halleck by breaking through the Confederate's defense lines and capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.  At Fort Donelson, his dazzling maneuvers as well as his refusal to accept anything less than an unconditional surrender brought him instant national distinction. 

But Grant's military accomplishments would come and go.  On the heels of his success at Fort Donelson, Grant and his troops were surprised by Rebels and almost defeated at Pittsburg Landing and again at Shiloh Church, Tennessee.  The next day, Grant did drive the Rebels back, but that was not enough to improve his image.  For months, the public condemnation of his personal habits, his dress and drinking, and his military mistakes, damaged his career.  To make matters worse, Grant's failure initially to capture Vicksburg, due to confederate supply-line raiders, further damaged his reputation. 

By the summer of 1863, events started improving for Grant and can be noted as finally a turning point in his career.  Using his tactical skill and relentless attacks, Grant was able in July 1863, to take Vicksburg and the Confederacy's division.  Through this victory Grant was promoted to major general in the Regular Army.   Grant continued his winning ways, when four months later he successfully led a mission in the Siege of Chattanooga, and another victory at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.  Now Grant was considered the Union's celebrated fighter.  The following March 1864, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to general-in-chief, reviving the three-star rank.

Now armed with a monstrous army and supplies, Grant is viewed by many as one who massacred the enemy, regardless of the cost to his men.  This image however is not true.  The Union's multi-theatre operations that would follow were carefully planned and mapped out that included General Sherman with his operations in Georgia, General Benjamin Butler and his operations on the James River, and General Philip Sheridan's operations in the Shenandoah Valley.  It was Grant's plan with others, to outflank the enemy and reach their rear, whereby destroying their communications which in turn would hinder their survival.  What Grant did in the campaigns from the Wilderness to Appomattox (with the exception of a costly defeat at Cold Harbor) was to outmaneuver the Confederates, rather than outfight them.  While attempting to move on Richmond, Grant decided to go around General Lee and did so through a crafty movement, and turned instead toward Petersburg.  From this point, Grant used various incursions that forced Lee to extend his lines so thin that they were at the breaking point.  As a result, Lee had no choice but to surrender on April 9, 1865.  Grant won the war by not using force, but by his speed, coordination, and cunning. 

Compared to being an equal of George Washington for his military abilities, after the war, Grant was once again unable to use those talents he had in wartime.  Upon being elected president of the United States in 1869, and serving two terms, Grant conducted himself in the same simple manner and ethics that he had since his youth.  Being naive politically, his rudimentary view of complicated situations combined with his inability to analyze members of his staff, brought his administration into disrepute, resulting in corruption and scandals.   Following his presidency that ended in 1877, he traveled the world, and then attempted several businesses that resulted in failure.  To provide for his almost destitute family, he began to write his memoirs in the fall of 1884, after being diagnosed with throat cancer. The cancer had spread by March 1885 and Grant moved with his family to New York in June that year. 

 

Despite great pain, he continued to write, in hopes of finishing the memoirs as a future source of income for his family. While suffering from his illness he completed his memoirs only four days before he died on July 23, 1885 at Mount McGregor, New York at the age of sixty-three.  His book titled the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant was published after his death in 1885.  His writings encompass Grant's supreme remembrance, and his words, like his military tactics, display a paradoxical genius.  His classic memoirs sold more than 300,000 copies earning Julia $450,000.00. 

 

Although the pen is mightier than the sword, in Grant's case, the pen brought for him the fame that he had lost by laying down his sword.  

Grant's wife Julia died in Washington, D.C. on December 14, 1902.  Ulysses and Julia are buried in Grant's Tomb in New York.

Quick Biographical Facts

 ULYSSES S. GRANT

18th President

Term- March 4, 1869 to March 4, 1877

Republican Party

 

  

Birth:  Point Pleasant, Ohio, April 27, 1822.

Ancestry:  English-Scotch.

Marriage: St. Louis, Missouri, August 22, 1848 to Julia Boggs Dent who was born in St. Louis, Missouri, January 26, 1826. Julia died in Washington, D.C., December 14, 1902, and is buried in Grant's Tomb, New York, New York.

Children:  Frederick Dent (1850-1912); Ulysses Simpson (1852-1929); Ellen Wrenshall (1855-1922); Jesse Root (1858-1934).

Home:   Galena, Illinois; also a cottage in Mount McGregor, New York.

Education:  Local schools, U.S. Military Academy.

Religion:  Methodist

Occupation before Presidency: Soldier, farmer, real estate agent, customhouse clerk, and leather store clerk.

Military Service: Commissioned 2nd Lt. in 4th U.S. Infantry (1843), resigned at the rank of Captain (1854), re-entered Army in August 1861 as Brig. general became general-in-chief of Union armies on March 12, 1864.

Age at Inauguration: 46

 

First Administration: Vice President: Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, Inauguration March 4, 1869, The Capital, Washington, D.C.

Second Administration: Vice President: Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, Inauguration March 4, 1873, The Capital, Washington, D.C.

Occupation after Presidency: Retired; writer.

Death: Mount McGregor, New York, July 23, 1885.

Cause of Death and Age: Cancer at 63.

Place of Burial: Grant's Tomb, New York, New York.

Interesting Fact:

Following the surrender of the Confederate armies, Grant generously allowed Southern soldiers to keep their personal weapons and horses.  

The room in which Lee surrendered to Grant

 

Ulysses S. Grant Chronology

April 27, 1822: Hiram Ulysses Grant born at Point Pleasant, Ohio and was the son of Jesse and Hannah Grant.                                Ulysses was the oldest of six children having three sisters and two brothers.

May 29, 1839: Arrived at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. A mistake in the records changed Grant's name to Ulysses S. Grant, which he carried the rest of his life.

June 1843: Graduated from West Point.

1846-1847: Fought in the American-Mexican War.

August 22, 1848: Married Julia Dent of St. Louis, Missouri.

May 30, 1850:  Frederick Dent Grant born.

July 22, 1852: Ulysses S. "Buck" Grant Jr., born.

June 11, 1854: Grant resigns from the army. The letter of resignation was written on the same day he was promoted to captain and was accepted by the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis.

July 4, 1855: Ellen "Nellie" Wrenshall Grant born.

February 6, 1858: Jesse Root Grant, born.

Spring, 1860: Grant arrives in Galena, Illinois.

April 18, 1861: Fort Sumter fired upon by Confederates.

June 17, 1861: Grant becomes a colonel for the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

February 17, 1862: Lincoln signed the papers for Grant's promotion to major general of volunteers.

March 1864: Promoted to general-in-chief of the Army.

April 9, 1865: General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, ending the American Civil War.

August 18, 1865: Returns to Galena as a hero and is presented his new home on Bouthillier Street.

July 25, 1866: Grant appointed general of the armies of the U.S.

August 12, 1867: Appointed Secretary of War.

November 3, 1868: Grant and Schuyler Colfax elected President and Vice-President.

March 2, 1872: Signs a bill, which makes Yellowstone the first National Park.

November 3, 1872: Grant and Henry Wilson elected President and Vice-President.

March 4, 1877: Retires from the White House.

May 1877: Ulysses, Julia and Jesse Grant travel on a world tour. They return on September 20, 1879 at San Francisco. They return to Galena in November of that year.

December 1882: President Arthur appointed Grant to negotiate a commercial treaty with Mexico. The treaty; however, was rejected by the U.S. and Mexico.

June 16, 1885: Grant family moves to a cottage at Mount McGregor, New York.

July 19, 1885: Finishes his personal memoirs.

July 23, 1885: Ulysses Grant dies at age 63 of throat cancer at Mt. McGregor, New York.

April 27, 1891: Ground is broken for the construction of Grant's Tomb, Riverside Park, New York City.

April 27, 1897: Grant's Tomb is dedicated.

 

 

Copyright  by  John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved.   Informational assistance from Grant's Birthplace, Point Pleasant, Ohio Historical Site and the Grant Galena, Illinois Historical Site. Additional information from "The Presidents of the United States," by John T. Marck, 1993-2004.

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