Ulysses Grant West Point, Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was the 18th president of the United States (1869-1877) following his success as a commander in the American Civil War. Under Grant, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military; the war, and secession, ended with the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox. As president, he led the Radical Republicans in their effort to eliminate vestiges of Confederate nationalism and slavery, protect African American citizenship, and defeat the Ku Klux Klan. Grant was the first president to reform the civil service, creating a Civil Service Commission in 1871.
In foreign policy, Grant revealed an “unexpected capacity for deliberation and consultation” that promoted the national interest. His reputation was marred by his defense of corrupt appointees, and by the United States’ first industrial age economic depression (called the Panic of 1873) that dominated his second term. Although his Republican Party split in 1872 with reformers denouncing him, Grant was easily reelected. By 1875 the conservative white Southern opposition regained control of every state in the South and as Grant left the White House in March 1877 his policies were being undone.
A career soldier, Grant graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Mexican-American War. When the Civil War began in 1861, Grant trained Union volunteer regiments in Illinois. In 1862, he fought a series of battles and was promoted to major general after forcing the surrender of a large Confederate army and gaining control of Kentucky and most of Tennessee. Grant then led Union forces to victory after initial setbacks in the Battle of Shiloh, earning a reputation as an aggressive commander. In July 1863, after a long campaign, Grant defeated five uncoordinated Confederate armies and seized Vicksburg. This famous victory gave the Union full control of the Mississippi River, dividing the Confederacy, and opening the way for more Union triumphs. After another win at the Battle of Chattanooga in late 1863, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to lieutenant general and commander of all of the Union armies. As commanding general, Grant confronted Robert E. Lee in a series of bloody battles in 1864 known as the Overland Campaign, which ended with the bottling up of Lee at Petersburg outside the Confederate capital. During the siege, Grant coordinated a series of devastating campaigns launched by generals William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and George Henry Thomas. Finally breaking through Lee’s trenches, the Union Army captured Richmond in April 1865. Lee surrendered his depleted forces to Grant at Appomattox as the Confederacy collapsed. Although pro-Confederate historians attacked Grant as a ruthless butcher who won by brute force, most historians have hailed his military genius.
Grant served two terms as president and worked to stabilize the nation after the Civil War and during the turbulent Reconstruction period that followed. He enforced civil rights laws and fought Ku Klux Klan violence. Grant encouraged passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, giving protection for African-American voting rights. He used the army to build the Republican Party in the South, based on black voters, Northern newcomers (“Carpetbaggers”) and native white supporters (“Scalawags”). As a result, African-Americans were represented in the Congress for the first time in American history in 1870. Reformers praised Grant’s Indian peace policy, which sought to reform western Indian agencies and keep Indians from being exterminated by military or settler encroachment. Grant’s reputation grew during his second term with his previous veto of the Inflation Bill, the passage of the Specie Payment Resumption Act, and the raids that shut down the Whiskey Ring. However, after the Democrats gained control of the House in 1875, Grant had to respond to a series of Congressional investigations into bribery charges of his Secretary of War William W. Belknap and his Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson.
Grant’s foreign policy, led by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, settled the Alabama Claims with Britain and avoided war with Spain over the Virginius Affair, but his attempted annexation of the Dominican Republic failed. Grant’s response to the Panic of 1873 gave some financial relief to New York banking houses, but was ineffective in stopping the five-year industrial depression that followed. More than any other president, Grant had to respond to Congressional investigations into financial corruption charges of all federal departments. After leaving office, Grant embarked on a two-year world tour that included many enthusiastic receptions. In 1880, he made an unsuccessful bid for a third presidential term. His memoirs were a critical and popular success. Historians have, until recently, ranked Grant as nearly the worst president, focusing on scandals of corrupt appointees and by an unstable economy. While still below average, his reputation among scholars has significantly improved in recent years because of greater appreciation for his commitment to civil rights, moral courage in his prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan, and enforcement of voting rights.
Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822 to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and businessman, and Hannah (Simpson) Grant. In the fall of 1823, the family moved to the village of Georgetown in Brown County, Ohio. Raised in a Methodist family devoid of religious pretentiousness, Grant prayed privately and was not an official member of the church. Unlike his younger siblings, Grant was neither disciplined, baptized, nor forced to attend church by his parents. One of his biographers suggests that Grant inherited a degree of introversion from his reserved, even “uncommonly detached” mother (she never took occasion to visit the White House during her son’s presidency). Grant developed an unusual ability to work with, and control, horses in his charge, and became known as a capable horseman.
When Grant was 17, Congressman Thomas L. Hamer nominated him for a position at the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York. Hamer mistakenly wrote down the name as “Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio.” At West Point, he adopted this name with a middle initial only. His nickname became “Sam” among army colleagues at the academy, since the initials “U.S.” also stood for “Uncle Sam”. The “S”, according to Grant, did not stand for anything, though Hamer had used it to abbreviate his mother’s maiden name. He graduated in 1843, ranking 21st in a class of 39. Grant later recalled that his departure from West Point was of the happiest of his times, and that he had intended to resign his commission after serving the minimum term of obligated duty. Despite his excellent horsemanship, he was not assigned to the cavalry, as assignments were determined by class rank, not aptitude. Grant was instead assigned as a regimental quartermaster, managing supplies and equipment in the 4th Infantry Regiment, with the rank of brevet second lieutenant.