Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

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.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Ulysses Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885)

Up to the Mexican War there were a few out and out abolitionists, men who carried their hostility to slavery into all elections. They were noisy but not numerous. But the great majority of people of the North, where slavery did not exist, were opposed to the institution, and looked upon its existence in any part of the country as unfortunate. They did not hold the States where slavery existed responsible for it; and believed that protection should be given to the right of property in slaves some satisfactory way could be reached to be rid of the institution.

There were two political parties, it is true in all the States, both strong in numbers and respectability, but both equally loyal to the institution which stood paramount in Southern eyes to all other institutions in state or nation. The slave-owners were the minority, but governed both parties.

(2) General Henry Halleck, letter to Benjamin F. Butler about the behaviour of Ulysses S. Grant (4th March, 1862)

A rumour has just reached me that since the taking of Fort Donelson Grant has resumed his former bad habits. If so, it will account for his repeated neglect of my often-repeated orders. I do not deem it advisable to arrest him at present, but have placed General Smith in command of the expedition up the Tennessee. I think Smith will restore order and discipline.

(3) General Henry Halleck, letter to Ulysses Grant (6th March, 1862)

General McClellan directs that you report to me daily the number and position of the forces under your command has created great dissatisfaction and seriously interfered with military plans. Your going to Nashville without authority, and when your presence with your troops was of the greatest importance, was a matter of serious complaint at Washington, so much so that I was advised to arrest you on your return.

(4) Ulysses Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885)

Some two or three miles from Pittsburg landing was a log meeting house called Shiloh. It stood on the ridge which divides the waters of Snake and Lick creeks, the former emptying into the Tennessee just north of Pittsburg landing, and the later south. This point was the key to our position and was held by Sherman. His division was at that time wholly raw, no part of it ever having been in an engagement; but I thought this deficiency was more than made up by the superiority of the commander.

The nature of this battle was such that cavalry could not be used in front; I therefore formed ours into line in rear, to stop stragglers - to whom there were many. When there would be enough of them to make a show, and after they had recovered from their fright, they would be sent to reinforce some part of the line which needed support, without regard to their companies, regiments or brigades.

General Albert Sidney Johnson, who commanded the Confederate forces at the beginning of the battle, was disabled by a wound on the afternoon of the first day. This wound, as I understood afterwards, was not necessarily fatal, or even dangerous. But he was a man who would not abandon what he deemed an important trust in the face of danger and consequently continued in the saddle, commanding, until so exhausted by the loss of blood that he had to be taken from his horse, and soon after died.

General Beauregard was next in rank to Johnson and succeeded to the command, which he retained to the close of the battle and during the subsequent retreat on Corinth, as well as in the siege of that place. His tactics have been severely criticized by Confederate writers, but I do not believe his fallen chief could have done any better under the circumstances. Some of these critics claim that Shiloh was won when Johnson fell, and that if he had not fallen the army under me would have been annihilated or captured. Our loss in the two days' fight was 1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 missing. Of these, 2,103 were in the Army of the Ohio. Beauregard reported a total loss of 10,699, of whom 1,728 were killed, 8,012 wounded and 957 missing. This estimate must be incorrect. We buried, by actual count, more of the enemy's dead alone than is here reported, and 4,000 was the estimate of the burial parties for the whole field.

(5) Ulysses Grant, Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885)

Vicksburg was important to the enemy because it occupied the first high ground coming close to the river before Memphis. From there a railroad runs east, connecting with other roads leading to all points of the Southern States. A railroad also starts from the opposite side of the river, extending west as far as Shreveport, Louisiana. Vicksburg was the only channel, at the time the only channel connecting the parts of the confederacy divided by the Mississippi. So long as it was held by the enemy, the free navigation of the river was prevented. Hence its importance. Points of the river between Vicksburg and Port Hudson were held as dependencies; but their fall was sure to follow the capture of the former place.

(6) In his memoirs Ulysses Grant described the capture of Vicksburg in July, 1863.

On 3rd July, about ten o'clock a.m. white flags appeared on a portion of the rebel works. It was a glorious sight to officers and soldiers on the line where these white flags were visible, and the news spread to all parts of the command. The troops felt that their long and weary marches, hard fighting, ceaseless watching by night and day, in a hot climate, exposure to all sorts of weather, to diseases and, worst of all, to the gibes of many Northern papers that came to them saying all their suffering was in vain, that Vicksburg would never be taken, were at last at an end and the Union sure to be saved.

This news, with the victory at Gettysburg won the same day, lifted a great load of anxiety from the minds of the President, his Cabinet and the loyal people all over the North. The fate of the Confederacy was sealed when Vicksburg fell. Much hard fighting was to be done afterwards and many precious lives were to be sacrificed; but the morale was with the supporters of the Union ever after.

(7) In his memoirs Ulysses Grant was highly critical of General Henry Halleck, his Commander-in-Chief in 1863.

Having cleaned up about Vicksburg I suggested to the General-in-Chief the idea of a campaign against Mobile. Halleck disapproved of my proposition so that I was obliged to settle down and see myself put again on the defensive. It would have been an easy thing to capture Mobile at the time I proposed to go there. The troops from Mobile could have inflicted inestimable damage upon much of the country from which Bragg's army and Lee's were yet receiving their supplies. I was so much impressed with this idea that I renewed my request later in July and again about the 1st August. Both requests were refused.

After the capture of Corinth a movable force of eighty thousand men, besides enough to hold all the territory required, could have been set in motion for the accomplishment of any great campaign for the suppression of the rebellion. If Buell had been sent directly to Chattanooga as rapidly as he could march, leaving two or three divisions along the line of the railroad from Nashville forward, he could have arrived with but little fighting, and would have saved much of the loss of life which was afterwards incurred in gaining Chattanooga. Bragg would then not have had time to raise an army to contest the possession of Tennessee and Kentucky; the battles of Stone River and Chickamauga would not necessarily have been fought. These are the negative advantages, if the term negative is applicable, which would probably have resulted from prompt movements after Corinth fell into the possessions of the National forces. the positive results might have been: a bloodless advance to Atlanta, to Vicksburg, or to any other desired point south of Corinth in the interior of Mississippi.

(8) In his memoirs Ulysses Grant described his disagreements with the government over the Shenandoah Valley.

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; and, generally speaking, they pursued this policy until all knowledge of the whereabouts of the enemy was lost. They were left, therefore, free to supply themselves with horses, beef cattle, and such provisions as they could carry away from Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. I was determined to put a stop to this.

I had previously asked to have Sheridan assigned to that command but Mr. Stanton objected, on the ground that he was too young for such an important a command. On 1st August, 1864, I sent the following orders to Major-General Halleck: "I am sending General Sheridan for temporary duty whilst the enemy is being expelled from the border. Unless General Hunter is in the field in person, I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to death. Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also."

(9) Benjamin F. Butler met Ulysses S. Grant for the first time in April, 1864.

Lieutenant-General Grant visited Fortress Monroe on the 1st April. To him the state of the negotiations as to exchange of prisoners was communicated, and most emphatic verbal directions were received from the lieutenant-general not to take any steps by which another able-bodied man should be exchanged until further orders from him.

He then explained to me his views upon these matters. He said that I would agree with him that by the exchange of prisoners we get no men fit to go into our army, and every soldier we gave the Confederates went immediately into theirs, so that the exchange was virtually so much aid to them and none to us. For we gave them well men who went directly into their ranks and we had but few others, as the returns showed. Yet we received none from them substantially but disabled men, and by our laws and regulations they were to be allowed to go home and recuperate, which few of them did, and fewer still came back to our armies.

Now, the coming campaign was to be decided by the strength of the opposing forces, for the contest would all centre upon the Army of the Potomac and its immediate adjuncts. His proposition was to make an aggressive fight upon Lee, trusting to the superiority of numbers and to the practical impossibility of Lee getting any considerable reinforcements to keep up his army. We had twenty-six thousand Confederate prisoners, and if they were exchanged it would give the Confederates a corps, larger than any in Lee's army, of disciplined veterans better able to stand the hardships of a campaign and more capable than any other. To continue exchanging upon parole the prisoners captured on one side and the other, especially if we captured more prisoners than they did, would at least add from thirty to perhaps fifty per cent to Lee's capability for resistance.

(10) Carl Schurz wrote about the relative merits of Ulysses S. Grant, William Sherman and Robert E. Lee in his autobiography published in 1906.

In the opinion of many competent persons, he was the ablest commander of them all. I remember a remarkable utterance of his when we were speaking of Grant's campaign. "There was a difference," Sherman said, "between Grant's and my way of looking at things. Grant never cared a damn about what was going on behind the enemy's lines, but it often scared me like the devil." He admitted, and justly so, that some of Grant's successes were owing to this very fact, but also some of his most conspicuous failures. Grant believed in hammering - Sherman in maneuvering. It had been the habit of the generals commanding the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rappahannock, to get their drubbing from Lee, and then promptly to retreat and recross the Rappahannock again in retreat. He sturdily went on, hammering and hammering, and, with his vastly superior resources, finally hammered Lee's army to pieces, but with a most dreadful sacrifice of life on his own part. Now, comparing Grant's campaign for the taking of Richmond with Sherman's campaign for the taking of Atlanta - without losing sight of any of the differences of their respective situations - we may well arrive at the conclusion that Sherman was the superior strategist and the greater general.

(11) In 1867 John Singleton Mosby, was interviewed in the Philadelphia Post about the merits of the different generals in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Whom do you consider the ablest General on the Federal side?" "McClellan, by all odds. I think he is the only man on the Federal side who could have organized the army as it was. Grant had, of course, more successes in the field in the latter part of the war, but Grant only came in to reap the benefits of McClellan's previous efforts. At the same time, I do not wish to disparage General Grant, for he has many abilities, but if Grant had commanded during the first years of the war, we would have gained our independence. Grant's policy of attacking would have been a blessing to us, for we lost more by inaction than we would have lost in battle. After the first Manassas the army took a sort of 'dry rot', and we lost more men by camp diseases than we would have by fighting."

(12) Brigadier General Horace Porter recorded General Robert Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant on 9th April, 1865.

The contrast between the two commanders was striking and could not fail to attract marked attention as they sat ten feet apart facing each other. General Grant, then nearly forty-three years of age, was five feet eight inches in height, with shoulders slightly stooped. His hair and full beard were a nutbrown, without a trace of gray in them. He had on a single-breasted blouse, made of dark-blue flannel, unbuttoned in front, and showing a waistcoat underneath. He had no sword, and a pair of shoulder straps was all there was about him to designate his rank. In fact, aside from these, his uniform was that of a private soldier.

Lee, on the other hand, was fully six feet in height and quite erect for one of his age, for he was Grant's senior by sixteen years. His hair and full beard were a silver-gray, and quite thick, except that the hair had become a little thin in front. He wore a new uniform of Confederate gray, buttoned up to the throat, and at his side he carried a long sword of exceedingly fine workmanship, the hilt studdied with jewels.

(13) Edwin Stanton, comments made to Charles Sumner (1869)

I know General Grant better than any other person in the country can know him. It was my duty to study him, and I did so day and night, when I saw him and when I did not see him, and now I tell you what I know, he cannot govern this country.

(14) John Singleton Mosby, Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby (1887)

I first met General Grant in May, 1872, after Mr. Greeley had been nominated for the presidency by a convention whose members called themselves Liberal Republicans - although, as a matter of fact, many of them had been the most radical element of the party, but had seceded on account of personal grievances.

In common with most Southern soldiers, I had a very kindly feeling towards General Grant, not only on account of his magnanimous conduct at Appomattox, but also for his treatment of me at the close of hostilities. I had never called on him, however. If I had done so, and if he had received me even politely, we should both have been subjected to severe criticism, so bitter was the feeling between the sections at the time.

No doubt, in those days, most Northerners believed the imaginative stories of the war correspondents and supposed that my battalion fought under the black flag. General Grant was as much misunderstood in the South as I was in the North. But time has healed wounds which were once thought to be irremediable; and there is to-day no memory of our war so bitter, probably, as the Scottish recollection of Culloden. Like most Southern men, I had disapproved the reconstruction measures and was sore and very restive under military government; but since my prejudices have faded, I can now see that many things which we regarded as being prompted by hostile and vindictive motives were actually necessary, in order to prevent anarchy and to secure the freedom of the newly emancipated slave.

I had given little attention to politics and had devoted my time to my profession, although I was under no political disability. As we had all been opposed to the Republican party before the war, it was a point of honor to keep on voting that way.

When Horace Greeley was nominated, I saw - or thought I saw - that it was idle to divide longer upon issues which we acknowledged to have been legally, if not properly, settled; and that if the Southern people wanted reconciliation, as they said they did, the logical thing to do was to vote for Grant. I have not changed my opinion, nor yet have I any criticism to make of those who differed with me. We were all working for the same end. Some said they couldn't sacrifice their principles for Grant's friendship; I didn't sacrifice mine.