Hiram Ulysses Grant, the son of a tanner, was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on 27th April, 1822. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839. An outstanding horseman, he was unable to join the cavalry after graduating 21st in a class of 39. He joined the 4th Infantry Regiment as a second lieutenant and served as a regimental quartermaster during the Mexican War (1846-48).
After the war he was stationed on the Pacific Coast. It was during this period he developed a drink problem. This resulted in his being forced to resign from the United States Army in 1854.
Grant worked as a firewood peddler, real estate salesman and as a farmer near St. Louis, before becoming a clerk in his family's tannery and leather store in Galenta, Illinois.
An opponent of slavery, on the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant offered his services to the Union Army. He was commissioned as colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteers. Even before he had engaged the Confederate forces, Grant was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general and placed in charge of the District of South-East Missouri.
On 4th September General Leonidas Polk and a large Confederate Army moved into Kentucky and began occupying high ground overlooking the Ohio River. Grant now moved his troops into Kentucky and quickly gained control of the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers as they flowed into the Ohio. The Union Army now controlled the main waterway into the heartland of the Confederacy.
In February, 1862 Grant took his army along the Tennessee River with a flotilla of gunboats and captured Fort Henry. This broke the communications of the extended Confederate line and Joseph E. Johnston decided to withdraw his main army to Nashville. He left 15,000 men to protect Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River but this was enough and Grant had no difficulty taking this prize as well. With western Tennessee now secured, Abraham Lincoln was now able to set up a Union government in Nashville by appointing Andrew Johnson as its new governor.
The Confederate Army now regrouped and Albert S. Johnston and Pierre T. Beauregard reunited their armies near the Tennessee-Mississippi line. With 55,000 men they now outnumbered the forces led by Ulysses S. Grant. On 6th April the Confederate Army attacked Grant's army at Shiloh. Taken by surprise, Grant's army suffered heavy losses until the arrival of General Don Carlos Buell and reinforcements.
Rumours reached President Abraham Lincoln that Grant was responsible for the Union Army's high casualty rate. Grant was defended by his commanding officer, General Henry Halleck. In early 1863, Halleck convinced Lincoln that Grant was the right man to direct the Vicksburg Campaign.
Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, heard that Grant was drinking heavily and sent newspaperman, Charles Dana, to spy on him. However, Dana found the rumours were untrue and Grant remained in control of the campaign.
General John Pemberton was placed in charge of defending the fortifications around Vicksburg. After two failed assaults, Grant decided to starve Pemberton out. This strategy proved successful and on 4th July, 1863, Pemberton surrendered the city. The western Confederacy was now completely isolated from the eastern Confederacy and the Union Army had total control of the Mississippi River.
President Abraham Lincoln described Grant's campaign as "one of the most brilliant in the world." He wrote to Grant that he had disagreed with Grant's tactics but added: "I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong." Grant was promoted to the rank of major general. In October, Lincoln put Grant in control of all armies from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi.
Lincoln rejected Grant's plan to invade Alabama and Georgia. He also complained about Grant's willingness to keep the president informed of his actions. Lincoln commented that "General Grant is a copious worker, and fighter, but a very meagre writer, or telegrapher." Despite his doubts about Grant, in March, 1864, he was named lieutenant general and the commander of the Union Army.
Grant joined the Army of the Potomac where he worked closely with George Meade and Philip Sheridan. They crossed the Rapidan and entered the Wilderness. When Lee heard the news he sent in his troops, hoping that the Union's superior artillery and cavalry would be offset by the heavy underbrush of the Wilderness. Fighting began on the 5th May and two days later smoldering paper cartridges set fire to dry leaves and around 200 wounded men were either suffocated or burned to death. Of the 88,892 men that Grant took into the Wilderness, 14,283 were casualties and 3,383 were reported missing. Robert E. Lee lost 7,750 men during the fighting.
After the battle Grant moved south and on May 26th sent Philip Sheridan and his cavalry ahead to capture Cold Harbor from the Confederate Army. Lee was forced to abandon Cold Harbor and his whole army well dug in by the time the rest of the Union Army arrived. Grant's ordered a direct assault but afterwards admitted this was a mistake losing 12,000 men "without benefit to compensate".
Grant now headed quickly towards Richmond and was able to take Petersburg before Robert E. Lee had time to react. However, Pierre T. Beauregard was able to protect the route to the city before the arrival of Lee's main army forced Ulysses S. Grant to prepare for a siege.
Grant gave William Sherman the task of destroying the Confederate Army in Tennessee. Joseph E. Johnson and his army retreated and after some brief skirmishes the two sides fought at Resaca (14th May), Adairsvile (17th May), New Hope Church (25th May), Kennesaw Mountain (27th June) and Marietta (2nd July). President Jefferson Davis was unhappy about Johnson's withdrawal policy and on 17th July replaced him with the more aggressive John Hood. He immediately went on the attack and hit George H. Thomas and his men at Peachtree Creek. Hood was badly beaten and lost 2,500 men. Two days later he took on William Sherman at the Battle of Atlanta and lost another 8,000 men.
Grant continued to have disagreements with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Grant defended generals such as Benjamin Butler, Nathaniel Banks and Henry Thomas, who Lincoln wanted to remove from power. Grant and Lincoln also disagreed about the strategy employed in the Shenandoah Valley.
In the summer of 1864 General Robert E. Lee sent Major General Jubal Early up the Shenandoah Valley to threaten Washington. President Abraham Lincoln demanded that Grant personally took command of the army defending the capital. In his memoirs Grant made it clear that he disagreed with this policy: "The Shenandoah Valley was very important to the Confederates, because it was the principal storehouse they now had for feeding their armies about Richmond. It was well known that they would make a desperate struggle to maintain it. It had been the source of a great deal of trouble to us heretofore to guard that outlet to the north, partly because of the incompetency of some of the commanders, but chiefly because of the interference from Washington. It seemed to be the policy of General Halleck and Secretary Stanton to keep any force sent there, in pursuit of the invading army, moving right and left so as to keep between the enemy and our capital".
In August 1864, Grant sent Philip Sheridan and 40,000 soldiers into the Shenandoah Valley. Sheridan soon encountered troops led by Jubal Early and after a series of minor defeats Sheridan eventually gained the upper hand. His men now burnt and destroyed anything of value in the area and after defeating Early in another large-scale battle on 19th October, the Union Army, for the first time, held the valley. William Sherman removed all resistance in the valley when he marched to Southern Carolina in early 1865.
In August 1864 the Union Army made another attempt to take control of the Shenandoah Valley. Philip Sheridan and 40,000 soldiers entered the valley and soon encountered troops led by Jubal Early who had just returned from Washington. After a series of minor defeats Sheridan eventually gained the upper hand. His men now burnt and destroyed anything of value in the area and after defeating Early in another large-scale battle on 19th October, the Union Army, for the first time, held the Shenandoah Valley.
On 1st April, 1865, Grant sent Philip Sheridan to Five Forks. The Confederates, led by Major General George Pickett, were overwhelmed and lost 5,200 men. On hearing the news, Robert E. Lee decided to abandon Richmond. President Jefferson Davis, his family and government officials, was forced to flee from Richmond. The Union Army took control of Richmond and on 4th April Abraham Lincoln entered the city.
Robert E. Lee was only able to muster an army of 8,000 men. He probed the Union Army at Appomattox but faced by 110,000 men he decided the cause was hopeless. He contacted Grant and after agreeing terms on 9th April, surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House. Grant issued a brief statement: "The war is over; the rebels are our countrymen again and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations in the field."
Grant attended the Cabinet meeting on 14th April, 1865. However, he declined the offer of accompanying Abraham Lincoln to the Ford Theatre that night as he wanted to see his sons in New Jersey. This decision probably saved his life as John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators were planning to kill Grant as well as Lincoln.
In August 1867, President Andrew Johnson sacked Edwin M. Stanton and appointed Grant as his Secretary of War. When Congress insisted upon Stanton's reinstatement, Grant resigned. Johnson was furious as he believed Grant would stay in office despite the expected objections of Congress.
In 1868 the Republican Party nominated Grant for president. His running mate was Schuyler Colfax, a man associated with the Radical Republican. Grant and Colfax won 26 states out of 34. Three states, Virginia, Mississippi and Texas, had no vote as they had not been yet admitted to the Union. However, Grant only won 52.7 per cent of the popular vote and only narrowly beat his Democratic opponent, Horatio Seymour.
At 46, Grant was the youngest man to be elected president. His first administration included Elihu Washburne (secretary of State), George Boutwell (Secretary of the Treasury), William T. Sherman (Secretary of War), John Creswell (Postmaster General) and Ebenezer Hoar (Attorney General). Later additions included Hamilton Fish (Secretary of State), George H. Williams (Attorney General), William Belknap (Secretary of War) and Zachariah Chandler (Secretary of the Interior).
Politically inexperienced, he had problems dealing with Congress. However, he was popular with the people of America and in 1872 easily defeated his opponent, Horace Greeley. Grant's second term was plagued by corruption and scandal. He announced that he intended to "Let no man escape" but he was criticized for the way he dealt with the situation when Orville Babcock, his private secretary, and William Belknap, his Secretary of War, were accused of corruption. Although loyally defended by his friend, Thomas Nast, the political cartoonist, the "maker of presidents", these events severely damaged his reputation. When Grant's period of office came to an end in 1877, he announced to the American people, "Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent."
In 1881 Grant and his son became involved in the investment firm of Grant & Ward. Grant encouraged others to invest in this company and his reputation was again damaged when the firm collapsed and it was discovered that his partner, Ferdinand Ward, was guilty of corruption. With the support of his friend, Mark Twain, Grant began work on his memoirs. Suffering from throat cancer, Grant completed his autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, shortly before his death on 23rd July, 1885.