"Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. "
Ulysses S. Grant (April 27, 1822 - July 23, 1885) was a Union general in the American Civil War, serving as general-in-chief (1864 - 1869), and the 18th President of the United States (1869 - 1877).
Grant has been described by military historian J. F. C. Fuller as "the greatest general of his age and one of the greatest strategists of any age." He won many important battles, rose to become general-in-chief of all Union armies, and is credited with winning the war.
Despite the views of many historians that consider his presidency to be one of America's less successful, Grant's presence in the White House unquestionably had a stabilizing influence at such a sensitive time as Reconstruction. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was respected both North and South. A perception of retribution on the part of the government could easily have provoked an insurgency in the South. In addition to the problems of lingering bitterness that Grant had to deal with, the abolition of slavery marked the beginning of a new national struggle, dealing with race, which would last generations and eventually lead to the American Civil Rights Movement.
Although he led an administration plagued by scandal and corruption, historians agree that Grant was not personally corrupt; it was his subordinates in the executive branch who were at fault. He is instead mostly criticized for not taking a strong stance against the corruption, and not acting to stop it. More recent treatments have emphasized the accomplishments of his administration, including his struggle to preserve Reconstruction. His support for the legal rights of blacks to vote and hold public office were unpopular at the time, but have gained him more respect in modern times.
Birth and early years
Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Clermont County, Ohio, 25 miles (40 km) east of Cincinnati on the Ohio River, to Jesse Root Grant (1794-1893) and Hannah Simpson (1798-1883). His father, a tanner, and his mother were born in Pennsylvania. In the fall of 1823 they moved to the village of Georgetown in Brown County, Ohio, where Grant spent most of his time until he was 17.
At the age of 17, and having barely passed West Point's height requirement for entrance, Grant received a cadetship to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, through his U.S. Congressman, Thomas L. Hamer. Hamer erroneously nominated him as Ulysses Simpson Grant, and although Grant protested the change, it was difficult to resist the bureaucracy. Upon graduation, Grant adopted the form of his new name with middle initial only, never acknowledging that the "S" stood for Simpson. He graduated from West Point in 1843, ranking 21st in a class of 39. At the academy, he established a reputation as a fearless and expert horseman. Grant drank distilled liquor and, during the American Civil War, began smoking huge numbers of cigars (one story had it that he smoked over 10,000 in five years) which may well have contributed to his throat cancer of later life.
Grant married Julia Boggs Dent (1826 - 1902) on August 22, 1848. They had four children: Frederick Dent Grant, Ulysses S. (Buck) Grant, Jr., Ellen (Nellie) Grant, and Jesse Root Grant.
Grant served in the Mexican-American War under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, taking part in the battles of Resaca de la Palma, Palo Alto, Monterrey, and Veracruz. He was twice brevetted for bravery: at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec.
Between the Wars
After the Mexican war ended in 1848, Grant remained in the army and was moved to several different posts. He was sent to Fort Vancouver in the Washington Territory in 1853, where he served as regimental quartermaster of the 4th U.S. Infantry regiment. His wife could not accompany him because his salary could not support a family (she was eight months pregnant with their second child) on the frontier. In 1854, he was promoted to captain and assigned to command Company F, 4th Infantry, at Fort Humboldt, California. Despite the increase in pay, he still could not afford to bring his family out West. He tried some business ventures while in California to supplement his income, but they failed. He started drinking heavily because of money woes and missing his wife. Because his drinking was having an effect on his military duties, he was given a choice by his superiors: resign his commission or face trial. He resigned on July 31, 1854. Seven years of civilian life followed, in which he was a farmer, a real estate agent in St. Louis, and finally an assistant in the leather shop owned by his father and brother in Galena, Illinois. He went through serious debt at this time, and once sold his gold pocket watch to get Christmas presents for his family.
Western Theater of the Civil War
On April 24, 1861, ten days after the fall of Fort Sumter, Captain Grant arrived in Springfield, Illinois, with a company of men he had raised. The governor felt that a West Point man could be put to better use and appointed him colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry (effective June 17, 1861). On August 7, Grant was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers.
In February of 1862, Grant gave the Union cause its first major victory of the war by capturing Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. Grant not only captured the forts' garrisons, but also electrified the Northern people with his famous demand, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works".
In early April of 1862, he was surprised by Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston at the Battle of Shiloh. The sheer violence of the Confederate attack sent the Union forces reeling. Nevertheless, Grant refused to retreat. With grim determination, he stabilized his line. Then, on the second day, with the help of timely reinforcements, Grant counterattacked, turning a serious reverse into a victory.
Despite Shiloh being a Union victory, it came at a high price; it was the bloodiest battle in United States history up until then, with over 23,000 casualties. Henry W. Halleck, Grant's theater commander, was unhappy by Grant being surprised and the disorganised nature of the fighting. In response, Halleck took command of the Army in the field himself. Removed from planning strategy, Grant decided to resign. Only by the intervention of his subordinate and good friend, William T. Sherman, did he remain. When Halleck was promoted to general-in-chief of the Union Army, Grant resumed his position as commander of the Army of the Tennessee.
In the campaign to capture the Mississippi River fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Grant spent the winter of 1862 - 63 conducting a series of operations, attempting to gain access to the city, through the region's bayous. These attempts failed. Then in the spring of 1863, Grant launched a new plan, and the subsequent operation is considered one of the most masterful in military history.
Grant marched his troops down the west bank of the Mississippi and crossed the river by using the U.S. Navy ships that had run the guns at Vicksburg. (This was the largest amphibious operation in American military history and would hold that record until the Battle of Normandy in World War II.) There, he moved inland and, in a daring move, defying conventional military principles, cut loose from most of his supply lines. Operating in enemy territory, Grant moved swiftly, never giving the Confederates, under the command of John C. Pemberton, an opportunity to concentrate their forces against him. Grant's army went eastward, captured the city of Jackson, Mississippi and severed the rail line to Vicksburg.
Knowing that the Confederates could no longer send reinforcements to the Vicksburg garrison, Grant turned west and won at Champion Hill. The defeated Confederates retreated inside their fortifications at Vicksburg, and Grant promptly surrounded the city. Finding that assaults against the impregnable breastworks were futile, he settled in for a six-week siege. Cut off and with no possibility of relief, Pemberton surrendered to Grant on July 4, 1863. It was a devastating defeat for the Southern cause, effectively splitting the Confederacy in two, and, in conjunction with the Union victory at Gettysburg the previous day, is widely considered the turning point of the war.
In September of 1863, the Confederates won the Battle of Chickamauga. Afterwards, the defeated Union forces under William Rosecrans retreated to the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The victorious Confederate forces, led by Braxton Bragg, followed closely behind. They took up positions on the hillsides, overlooking the city and surrounding the Federals.
On October 17, Grant was placed in overall charge of the besieged forces. He immediately relieved Rosecrans and replaced him with George H. Thomas. Devising a plan known as the "Cracker Line", Grant's chief engineer, William F. "Baldy" Smith, launched the Battle of Wauhatchie (October 28 - 29, 1863) to open the Tennessee River, allowing supplies and reinforcements to flow into Chattanooga, greatly increasing the chances for Grant's forces.
Upon reprovisioning and reinforcing, the morale of Union troops lifted. In late November, they went on the offensive. The Battle of Chattanooga started out with Sherman's failed attack on the Confederate right. He not only attacked the wrong mountain, but committed his troops piecemeal, allowing them to be defeated by one Confederate division. In response, Grant ordered Thomas to launch a demonstration on the center, which could draw defenders away from Sherman. Thomas waited until he was certain that Hooker, with reinforcements from the Army of the Potomac, was engaged on the Confederate left before he launched the Army of the Cumberland at the center of the Confederate line. Hooker's men broke the Confederate left, while Thomas's men made an unexpected, but spectacular, charge straight up Missionary Ridge and broke the fortified center of the Confederate line. Grant was initially angry at Thomas that his orders for a demonstration were exceeded, but the assaulting wave sent the Confederates into a head-long retreat, opening the way for the Union to invade Atlanta, Georgia, and the heart of the Confederacy.
Grant's willingness to fight and ability to win impressed President Abraham Lincoln, who appointed him lieutenant general -- a new rank recently authorized by the U.S. Congress with Grant in mind -- on March 2, 1864. On March 12, Grant became general-in-chief of all the armies of the United States.
General-in-chief and strategy for victory
Grant's fighting style was what one fellow general called "that of a bulldog". Although a master of combat by out-maneuvering his opponent (such as at Vicksburg and in the Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee), Grant was not afraid to order direct assaults or tight sieges against Confederate forces, often when the Confederates were themselves launching offensives against him. Once an offensive or a siege began, Grant refused to stop the attack until the enemy surrendered or was driven from the field. Such tactics often resulted in heavy casualties for Grant's men, but they wore down the Confederate forces proportionately even more and inflicted irreplaceable losses. Grant has been described as a "butcher" for his strategy, particularly in 1864, but he was able to achieve objectives that his predecessor generals had not, even though they suffered similar casualties over time.
In March 1864, Grant put Major General William T. Sherman in immediate command of all forces in the West and moved his headquarters to Virginia where he turned his attention to the long-frustrated Union effort to destroy the army of Lee; his secondary objective was to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, but Grant knew that the latter would happen automatically once the former was accomplished. He devised a coordinated strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions: Grant, George G. Meade, and Benjamin Franklin Butler against Lee near Richmond; Franz Sigel in the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman to invade Georgia, defeat Joseph E. Johnston, and capture Atlanta; George Crook and William W. Averell to operate against railroad supply lines in West Virginia; Nathaniel Banks to capture Mobile, Alabama. Grant was the first general to attempt such a coordinated strategy in the war and the first to understand the concepts of total war, in which the destruction of an enemy's economic infrastructure that supplied its armies was as important as tactical victories on the battlefield.
Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and Appomattox
The Overland Campaign was the thrust needed by the Union to defeat the Confederacy. It pitted Grant against the great commander Robert E. Lee in an epic contest. It began on May 4, 1864, when the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River, marching into an area of scrubby undergrowth and second growth trees known as the Wilderness. It was a terrible place to fight, but Lee sent in his Army of Northern Virginia anyway because the close confines would prevent Grant from fully exploiting his numerical advantage.
The Battle of the Wilderness was a stubborn, bloody two-day fight. It was an inauspicious start for the Union. Grant was leading a campaign that, in order to win the war, had to destroy the Confederacy's main battle armies. On May 7, with a pause in the fighting, there came one of those rare moments when the course of history fell upon the decision of a single man. Lee backed off, permitting Grant to do what all of his predecessors, as commanders of the Army of the Potomac, had done in this situation, and that was retreat. Grant, ignoring the setback, ordered an advance around Lee's flank to the southeast, lifting the morale of his army.
Siegel's Shenandoah campaign and Butler's James River campaign both failed. Lee was able to reinforce with troops used to defend against these assaults.
The campaign continued, but Lee, anticipating Grant's move, beat him to Spotsylvania, Virginia, where, on May 8, the fighting resumed. The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House lasted 14 days. On May 11, Grant wrote a famous dispatch containing the line "I propose to fight it out along this line if it takes all summer". These words summed up his attitude about the fighting, and the very next day, May 12, he ordered a massive assault that nearly broke Lee's lines.
In spite of mounting Union casualties, the contest's dynamics changed in Grant's favor. Most of Lee's great victories had been won on the offensive, employing surprise movements and fierce assaults. Now, he was forced to continually fight on the defensive. Even after suffering horrific casualties at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Grant kept up the pressure. He stole a march on Lee, slipping his troops across the James River.
Arriving at Petersburg, Virginia, first, Grant should have captured the rail junction city, but he failed because of an overly cautious subordinate, William F. "Baldy" Smith. Over the next three days, a number of Union assaults were launched, attempting to take the city. But all failed, and finally on June 18, Lee's veterans arrived. Faced with fully manned trenches in his front, Grant was left with no alternative but to settle down to a siege.
Grant approved an innovative plan by Ambrose Burnside's corps to break the stalemate. Before dawn on July 30, they exploded a mine under the Confederate works. But due to last-minute changes in the plan, involving the reluctance of Meade and Grant to allow a division of African-American troops to lead the attack, the ensuing assault was poorly coordinated and lacked vigor. Given an opportunity to regroup, the Confederates took advantage of the situation and counterattacked, winning the Battle of the Crater, and the Federals lost another opportunity to hasten the end of the war.
As the summer drew on and with Grant's and Sherman's armies stalled, respectively in Virginia and Georgia, politics took center stage. There was a presidential election in the fall, and the citizens of the North had difficulty seeing any progress in the war effort. To make matters worse for Abraham Lincoln, Lee detached a small army under the command of Major General Jubal A. Early, hoping it would force Grant to disengage forces to pursue him. Early invaded north through the Shenandoah Valley and reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C.. Although unable to take the city, but by simply threatening its inhabitants, Early embarrassed the Administration, making Abraham Lincoln's reelection prospects even bleaker.
In early September the efforts of Grant's coordinated strategy finally bore fruit. First, Sherman took Atlanta. Then, Grant dispatched Philip Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley to deal with Early. It became clear to the people of the North that the war was being won, and Lincoln was reelected by a wide margin. Later in November, Sherman began his March to the Sea. Sheridan and Sherman both followed Grant's strategy of total war by destroying the economic infrastructures of the Valley and a large swath of Georgia and the Carolinas.
At the beginning of April 1865, Grant's relentless pressure finally forced Lee to evacuate Richmond and after a nine-day retreat, Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. There, Grant offered generous terms that did much to ease the tensions between the armies and preserve some semblance of Southern pride, which would be needed to reconcile the warring sides. Within a few weeks, the American Civil War was effectively over, although minor actions would continue until Kirby Smith surrendered his forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department on June 2, 1865.
Immediately after Lee's surrender, Grant had the sad honor of serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of his greatest champion, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had been quoted after the massive losses at Shiloh, "I can't spare this general. He fights." It was a two-word description that completely caught the essence of Ulysses S. Grant.
After the war, Congress authorized Grant the newly created rank of General of the Army (the equivalent of a four-star, "full" general rank in the modern Army). He was appointed as such by President Andrew Johnson on July 25, 1866.
Grant was the 18th President of the United States and served two terms from March 4, 1869 to March 3, 1877. He was chosen as the Republican presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois on May 20, 1868, with no real opposition. In the general election that year, he won with a majority of 3,012,833 out of a total of 5,716,082 votes cast.
Grant's presidency was plagued with scandals, such as the Sanborn Incident at the Treasury and problems with U.S. Attorney Cyrus I. Scofield. The most famous scandal was the Whiskey Ring fraud in which over $3 million in taxes were taken from the federal government. Orville E. Babcock, the private secretary to the President, was indicted as a member of the ring and escaped conviction only because of a presidential pardon. After the Whiskey Ring, Grant's Secretary of War, William W. Belknap, was involved in an investigation that revealed that he had taken bribes in exchange for the sale of Native American trading posts.
Although there is no evidence that Grant himself profited from corruption among his subordinates, he did not take a firm stance against malefactors and failed to react strongly even after their guilt was established. He was weak in his selection of subordinates. He alienated party leaders by giving many posts to his friends and political contributors, rather than listen to their recommendations. His failure to establish adequate political allies was a factor in the scandals getting out of control.
Despite all the scandals, Grant's administration presided over significant events in U.S. history. The most tumultuous was the continuing process of Reconstruction. He favored a limited number of troops to be stationed in the South—sufficient numbers to protect rights of southern blacks and suppress the violent tactics of the Ku Klux Klan; not so many that would harbor resentment in the general population. In 1869 and 1871, Grant signed bills promoting voting rights and prosecuting Klan leaders. The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, establishing voting rights, was ratified in (1870).
A number of government agencies were instituted during the Grant administration:
Department of Justice (1870)
Post Office Department (1872)
Office of the Solicitor General (1870)
"Advisory Board on Civil Service" (1871); after it expired in 1873, it became the role model for the "Civil Service Commission" instituted in 1883 by President Chester A. Arthur, a Grant faithful. (Today it is known as the Office of Personnel Management.)
Office of the Surgeon General (1871)
In 1876, Colorado was admitted into the Union. In foreign affairs the greatest achievement of the Grant administration was the Treaty of Washington negotiated by Grant's best appointment, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, in 1871. In 1876 Grant helped to calm the nation over the Hayes-Tilden election controversy by appointing a federal commission that helped to settle the election.
Grant was known to visit the Willard Hotel to escape the stress of the White House. He referred to the people who approached him in the lobby as "those damn lobbyists," possibly giving rise to the modern term lobbyist.
Ulysses S. Grant
Secretary of State
Elihu B. Washburne
Secretary of the Treasury
George S. Boutwell
Lot M. Morrill
Secretary of War
John A. Rawlins
William T. Sherman
William W. Belknap
James D. Cameron
Ebenezer R. Hoar
Amos T. Akerman
George H. Williams
John A. J. Creswell
James W. Marshall
James N. Tyner
Secretary of the Navy
Adolph E. Borie
George M. Robeson
Secretary of the Interior
Jacob D. Cox
Supreme Court appointments
Grant appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
William Strong - 1870
Joseph P. Bradley - 1870
Ward Hunt - 1873
Morrison Remick Waite (Chief Justice) - 1874
States admitted to the Union
Colorado - August 1, 1876
After the end of his second term, Grant spent two years traveling around the world. He visited Sunderland, where he opened the first free municipal public library in England. Grant also visited Japan. In the Shibakoen section of Tokyo, a tree still stands that Grant planted during his stay.
In 1879, the Meiji government of Japan announced the annexation of the Ryukyu Islands. China objected, and Grant was asked to arbitrate the matter. He decided that Japan's claim to the islands was stronger and ruled in Japan's favor.
In 1880 Grant contemplated a return to politics and sought the Republican nomination once more. However he failed to gain sufficient support at the party convention that year, which instead selected James Garfield as its nominee.
In 1883, Grant was elected the eighth president of the National Rifle Association.
In 1881, Grant placed almost all of his financial assets into an investment banking partnership with Ferdinand Ward, as suggested by Grant's son Buck (Ulysses, Jr.), who was having success on Wall Street. Ward was known as the "Young Napoleon of Finance." Perhaps Grant should have taken that name seriously; as with the other Young Napoleon, George B. McClellan, failure was in the wings. In this case, Ward swindled Grant in 1884, bankrupted the company, Grant and Ward, and fled. And to make matters worse, Grant found out at the same time that he was suffering from throat cancer. Grant and his family were left destitute (this was before the era in which retired U.S. Presidents were given pensions).
In one of the most ironic twists in all history, Ward's treachery led directly to a great gift to posterity. Grant's Memoirs are considered a masterpiece, both for their writing style and their historical content, and until Grant bankrupted, he steadfastly refused to write them. Only upon his family's future financial independence becoming in doubt, did he agree to write anything at all.
He first wrote a couple of articles for The Century magazine, which were warmly received. Afterwards, the publishers made Grant an offer to write his memoirs. It was a standard contract, one which they issued to most any new writer. Independently of the magazine publishers, the famous author, Mark Twain, approached Grant. Twain, who was suspicious of publishers, was appalled by the magazine's offer. He rightly realized that Grant was, at that time, the most significant American alive, and he offered Grant a generous contract, including 75% of the book's sales as royalties. Grant accepted Twain's offer.
Now, terminally ill and in what many historian's believe was his greatest struggle, Grant fought to finish his memoirs. Although wracked with pain and unable to speak at the end, he triumphed, finishing them just a few days before his death. The memoirs succeeded, selling over 300,000 copies and earning the Grant family over $450,000 ($9,500,000 in 2005 dollars). Twain called the memoirs "the most remarkable work of its kind since the Commentaries of Julius Caesar," and they are widely regarded as among the finest memoirs ever written.
Ulysses S. Grant died at 8:06 a.m. on Thursday July 23, 1885, at Mount McGregor, Saratoga County, New York. His body lies in New York City, beside that of his wife, in Grant's Tomb, the largest mausoleum in North America.
Grant's legacy has been marred by the possibility of anti-Semitism. The most frequently cited example is the infamous General Order No. 11, issued by Grant's headquarters in Oxford, Mississippi, on December 17, 1862, during the early Vicksburg Campaign. The order stated in part:
The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department, and also Department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky].
The order was almost immediately rescinded by President Lincoln. Grant and his supporters (originally those who endorsed his bid for the White House) maintain that he was unaware that a staff officer issued it in his name. It also was portrayed as being outside the normal inclinations and character of the man, an aberration that was at most a temporary failure of judgment. And it was meant to apply to certain businessmen ("peddlers") with whom Grant had personal and professional difficulties over the years, not an entire religious class. There is evidence in other personal correspondence that this was Grant's focus.
The issue of anti-Semitism was raised during the 1868 presidential campaign and Grant consulted with a number of Jewish community leaders, all of whom he was able to convince (at least according to their public reactions) that Order 11 was an anomaly and he was not an anti-Semite. He won the majority of the Jewish vote in his two election campaigns and maintained good relations with the community throughout his administration, on both political and social levels.