Ulysses Simpson Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 22, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, where his father worked as a tanner. Grant excelled at horsemanship at an early age. In 1839, he received an appointment to West Point from Congressman Thomas Hamer, graduating 21 out of 37 in 1843.
Grant was assigned to the 4th Infantry and saw service in the Mexican War. His main job in the war was Quartermaster General for the regiment, where he performed well above average. However, he did see some action, occasionally serving as a company commander. He received two brevets for his bravery at the battles of Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. After the war, Grant was assigned to duty on the west coast, resigning his commission in 1854 to return home to his wife Julia Dent Grant. He tried his hand at farming and real estate, failing at both, and eventually ended up working in his father’s store in Galena, Illinois.
When Civil War broke out, Grant offered his services as a colonel to the state of Illinois but was rebuffed. Eventually he did receive an appointment from the governor of Illinois as a colonel and entered service. He served first as the Colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry regiment and was quickly promoted to Brigadier General. He led a raid on the Confederate positions at Belmont, Missouri. The Union troops surprised the Confederates, but the Confederates rallied, and, reinforced, drove Grant’s men back up the river. His first major success was the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862. It was at Fort Donelson where Grant received the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, for when the Confederates asked Grant what his terms were for surrendering, he just replied “unconditional surrender.” After the success at Forts Henry and Donelson, Grant suffered the embarrassment of being surprised by Confederate forces at Shiloh. He secured a victory on the second day of the battle, but his critics, and there were many, claimed he was caught unprepared.
In 1863, Grant secured the surrender of Vicksburg by crossing the Mississippi from the Arkansas side and working his was back up the Mississippi side through a series of battles at Jackson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River Bridge, and laying siege to the city. On July 4, 1863, just one day after the defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, General Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg and his army to Grant. The surrender of Vicksburg, along with the Confederate surrender at Port Hudson, brought the entire Mississippi River under Union control and cut the Trans-Mississippi off from the rest of the Confederacy. After the surrender, Grant was promoted to Major General.
After Vicksburg, Grant oversaw the Union victory at Chattanooga, and was promoted to the newly reinstated rank of Lieutenant General. President Lincoln brought him east and gave him command of the Army of the Potomac and direction of the whole Union forces. As commander of the Army of the Potomac, Grant pursued a policy of constant attacks against Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, but not without costs. He suffered severe casualties at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. He finally forced Lee into defensive trenches around Petersburg in 1864. When Lee left the Petersburg trenches in 1865 in an attempt to unite with Confederate forces in North Carolina, Grant followed, eventually surrounding Lee and the remnants of his army at Appomattox Court House, forcing Lee to surrender.
In 1868, Grant was elected President of the United States on the Republican ticket and served two terms noted for slack administration and corruption. He died on July 23, 1885 and is buried in Grant’s Tomb in New York City.
Content provided by:
Eicher, John H. & David J. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2001.
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue - Lives of the Union Commanders.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.