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Ulysses S. Grant,(April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was an American general and the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877). He achieved international fame as the
leading Union general in the American Civil War.
Grant first reached national prominence by taking Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862 in the first Union victories of the war. The following year, his celebrated campaign ending in the surrender of Vicksburg secured Union control of the Mississippi and—with the simultaneous Union victory at Gettysburg—turned the tide of the war in the North's favor. Named commanding general of the Federal armies in 1864, he implemented a coordinated strategy of simultaneous attacks aimed at destroying the South's ability to carry on the war. In 1865, after conducting a costly war of attrition in the East, he accepted the surrender of his Confederate opponent Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House. Grant has been described by J.F.C. Fuller as "the greatest general of his age and one of the greatest strategists of any age." His Vicksburg Campaign in particular has been scrutinized by military specialists around the world.
In 1868, Grant was elected president as a Republican. Grant was the first president to serve for two full terms since Andrew Jackson forty years before. He led Radical Reconstruction and built a powerful patronage-based Republican party in the South, with the adroit use of the army. He took a hard line that reduced violence by groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Presidential experts typically rank Grant in the lowest quartile of U.S. presidents, primarily for his tolerance of corruption. In recent years, however, his reputation as president has improved somewhat among scholars impressed by his support for civil rights for African Americans. Unsuccessful in winning the nomination for a third term in 1880, bankrupted by bad investments, and terminally ill with throat cancer, Grant wrote his Memoirs, which were enormously successful among veterans, the public, and the critics.
Military career Edit
At the age of 17, Grant entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, after securing a nomination through his U.S. Congressman, Thomas L. Hamer. Hamer erroneously nominated him as "Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio," knowing Grant's mother's maiden name was Simpson and forgetting that Grant was referred to in his youth as "H. Ulysses Grant" or "Lyss." Grant wrote his name in the entrance register as "Ulysses Hiram Grant" (concerned that he would otherwise become known by his initials, H.U.G.), but the school administration refused to accept any name other than the nominated form. Grant adopted the form of his new name with middle initial only. Because "U.S." also stands for "Uncle Sam," Grant's nickname became "Sam" among his army colleagues. 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. Although this made him seem a natural for cavalry, he was assigned to duty as a regimental quartermaster, managing supplies and equipment.
Mexican-American War Edit
Lieutenant Grant served in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848) under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, where, despite his assignment as a quartermaster, he got close enough to the front lines to see action, taking part in the battles of Resaca de la Palma, Palo Alto, Monterrey (where he volunteered to carry a dispatch on horseback through a sniper-lined street), and Veracruz. Once Grant saw Fred Dent, his friend and later his brother-in-law, lying in the middle of the battlefield; he had been shot in the leg. Grant ran furiously into the open to rescue Dent; as they were making their way to safety, a Mexican was sneaking up behind Grant, but the Mexican was shot by a fellow U.S soldier. Grant was twice brevetted for bravery: at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. He was a remarkably close observer of the war, learning to judge the actions of colonels and generals. In the 1880s he wrote that the war was unjust, accepting the theory that it was designed to gain land open to slavery. He wrote in his memoirs about the war against Mexico: "I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation".
Between Wars Edit
After the Mexican-American 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 quartermaster of the 4th Infantry Regiment. His wife, eight months pregnant with their second child, could not accompany him because his salary could not support a family on the frontier. In 1854, Grant was promoted to captain, one of only 50 still on active duty, and assigned to command Company F, 4th Infantry, at Fort Humboldt, California. However, he still could not afford to bring his family out West. He tried some business ventures, but they failed. Grant resigned from the Army with little advance notice on July 31, 1854, offering no explanation for his abrupt decision. Rumors persisted in the Army for years that his commanding officer, Bvt. Lt. Col. Robert C. Buchanan, found him drunk on duty as a pay officer and offered him the choice between resignation or court-martial. Some biographers discount the rumors and suggest Grant's resignation, and his drinking, were both prompted by profound depression. According to this view, Buchanan hated Grant and concocted the drunkenness story years later to protect Buchanan's action in removing the man who became one of the most famous generals in history. The War Department stated, "Nothing stands against his good name."
A civilian at age 32, Grant struggled through seven lean years. From 1854 to 1858 he labored on a family farm near St. Louis, Missouri, using slaves owned by his father-in-law, but it did not prosper. Grant owned one slave (whom he set free in 1859); his wife owned four slaves (two women servants and their two small boys). In 1858-59 he was a bill collector in St. Louis. Failing at everything, in humiliation he asked his father for a job, and in 1860 was made an assistant in the leather shop owned by his father and run by his younger brother in Galena, Illinois. Grant & Perkins sold harnesses, saddles, and other leather goods and purchased hides from farmers in the prosperous Galena area.
Although Grant was essentially apolitical, his father-in-law was a prominent Democrat in St. Louis (a fact that lost Grant the good job of county engineer in 1859). In 1856 he voted for Democrat James Buchanan for president to avert secession and because "I knew Frémont" (the Republican candidate). In 1860, he favored Democrat Stephen A. Douglas but did not vote. In 1864, he allowed his political sponsor, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, to use his private letters as campaign literature for Abraham Lincoln and the Union Party, which combined both Republicans and War Democrats. He refused to announce his political affiliation until 1868, when he finally declared himself a Republican.
Civil War Edit
Western Theater: 1861–63 Edit
Shortly after Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 militia volunteers. Grant helped recruit a company of volunteers and accompanied it to Springfield, the capital of Illinois. Grant accepted a position offered by Illinois Governor Richard Yates to recruit and train volunteers, which he accomplished with efficiency. Grant pressed for a field command; Yates appointed him a colonel in the Illinois militia and gave him command of undisciplined and rebellious 21st Illinois Infantry in June 1861.
Grant was deployed to Missouri to protect the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Under pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne Jackson, Missouri had declared it was an armed neutral in the conflict and would attack troops from either side entering the state. By the first of August the Union army had forcibly removed Jackson and Missouri was controlled by Union forces, who had to deal with numerous southern sympathizers.
In August, Grant was appointed brigadier general of the militia volunteers by Lincoln, who had been lobbied by Congressman Elihu Washburne. At the end of August, Grant was selected by Western Theater commander Major General John C. Frémont to command the critical District of Southeast Missouri.
Battles of Belmont Edit
Grant's first important strategic act of the war was to take the initiative to seize the Ohio River town of Paducah, Kentucky, immediately after the Confederates violated the state's neutrality by occupying Columbus, Kentucky. He fought his first battle, an indecisive action against Confederate Brig. Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, at Belmont, Missouri, in November 1861. Three months later, aided by Andrew H. Foote's Navy gunboats, he captured two major Confederate fortresses, Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. At Donelson, his army was hit by a surprise Confederate attack (once again by Pillow) while he was temporarily absent. Displaying the cool determination that would characterize his leadership in future battles, he organized counterattacks that carried the day. Both General Floyd and Pillow, the two senior Confederate commanders fled. The Confederate commander, Brig. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, an old friend of Grant's and a West Point classmate, and senior commander with Floyd and Pillow fleeing, yielded to Grant's hard conditions of "no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender." Buckner's surrender of over 12,000 men made Grant a national figure almost overnight, and he was nicknamed "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. The captures of the two forts with over 12,000 prisoners were the first major Union victories of the war, gaining him national recognition. Desperate for generals who could fight and win, Lincoln promoted him to major general of volunteers. Although Grant's new-found fame did not seem to affect his temperament, it did have an impact on his personal life. At one point during the Civil War, a picture of Grant with a cigar in his mouth was published. He was then inundated with cigars from well wishers. Before that he had smoked only sporadically, but he could not give them all away, so he took up smoking them, a habit which may have contributed to the development of throat cancer later in his life; one story after the war claimed that he smoked over 10,000 in five years.
Despite his significant victories (or perhaps because of them), Grant fell out of favor with his superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck. Halleck had a particular distaste for drunks and, believing Grant was an alcoholic, was biased against him from the beginning. After Grant visited Nashville, Tennessee, where he met with Halleck's rival, Don Carlos Buell, Halleck used the visit as an excuse to relieve Grant on March 2 of field command of a newly launched expedition up the Tennessee River. Personal intervention from President Lincoln caused Halleck to restore Grant to field command of the expedition, and on March 17 he joined his army at Savannah, Tennessee. At this juncture, Grant's command was known as the Army of West Tennessee; soon, however, it would acquire its more famous name as the Army of the Tennessee.
In early April 1862, Grant was surprised by Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard 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 and turned a serious reverse into a victory.
The victory at Shiloh came at a high price; with over 23,000 casualties, it was the bloodiest battle in the history of the United States up to that time. Halleck responded to the surprise and the disorganized nature of the fighting by taking command of the army in the field himself, on April 30 relegating Grant to the powerless position of second-in-command for the campaign against Corinth, Mississippi. Despondent over his awkward position, Grant explored the possibility of obtaining an assignment elsewhere and might have left the army altogether after the Union forces occupied Corinth on May 30. However, the intervention of his subordinate and good friend, William T. Sherman, caused him to remain. He was thus in position to play an increasingly important role in the West when, in July 1862, Halleck was promoted to general-in-chief of the Union Army and called to Washington. Grant commanded the Army of the Tennessee for the battles of Corinth and Iuka that fall.
In an attempt to capture the Mississippi River fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Grant spent the winter of 1862–1863 conducting a series of operations to gain access to the city through the region's bayous. These attempts failed.
However, his strategy to take Vicksburg in 1863 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 United States Navy ships that had run the guns at Vicksburg. There, he moved inland and—in a daring move that defied 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 the Battle of Champion Hill. The 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. For this victory, President Lincoln promoted Grant to the rank of major general in the regular army, effective July 4.
A distinguished British historian has written that "we must go back to the campaigns of Napoleon to find equally brilliant results accomplished in the same space of time with such a small loss." Lincoln said after the capture of Vicksburg and after the lost opportunity after Gettysburg, "Grant is my man and I am his the rest of the War."
After the Battle of Chickamauga Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Confederate Braxton Bragg followed to Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, surrounding the Federals on three sides and besieging them. On October 17, Grant was placed in command of the Military Division of Mississippi, which included Chattanooga. He immediately relieved Rosecrans and replaced him with Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. Devising a plan known as the "Cracker Line", Thomas's chief engineer, William F. "Baldy" Smith opened a new supply route to Chattanooga, helping to feed the starving men and animals of the Union army.
Upon reprovisioning and reinforcing, the morale of Union troops lifted. In late November, they went on the offensive. The Battles for Chattanooga started out Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker's capture of Lookout Mountain on November 24 and the with Sherman's failed attack on the Confederate right the following day. He occupied the wrong hill and then committed only a fraction of his force against the true objective, allowing them to be repulsed by one Confederate division. In response, Grant ordered Thomas to launch a demonstration on the center, which could draw defenders away from Sherman. 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 reportedly said afterward, "Damn, I had nothing to do with this battle," according to Hooker.
Grant's willingness to fight and ability to win impressed President Abraham Lincoln, who appointed him lieutenant general in the regular army—a rank not awarded since George Washington (or Winfield Scott's brevet appointment), recently re-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.
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 Northern Virginia; 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; and 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 Edit
The Overland Campaign was the military 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 such difficult terrain that the Army of Northern Virginia was able to use it to prevent Grant from fully exploiting his numerical advantage.
The Battle of the Wilderness was a stubborn, bloody two-day fight, resulting in advantage to neither side, but with heavy casualties on both. After similar battles in Virginia against Lee, all of Grant's predecessors had retreated from the field. Grant ignored the setback and ordered an advance around Lee's flank to the southeast, which lifted the morale of his army. Grant's strategy was not just to win individual battles, it was to fight constant battles in order to wear down and destroy Lee's army.
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 next day, May 12, he ordered a massive assault by Hancock's 2nd Corps that broke a portion of Lee's line, captured 30 artillery pieces, took 4,000 prisoners, and broke forever the famous Stonewall Division. In spite of mounting Union casualties, the contest's dynamics changed in Grant's favor. Most of Lee's great victories in earlier years had been won on the offensive, employing surprise movements and fierce assaults. Now, he was forced to continually fight on the defensive without a chance to regroup or replenish against an opponent that was well supplied and had superior numbers. The next major battle, however, demonstrated the power of a well-prepared defense. Cold Harbor was one of Grant's most controversial battles, in which he launched on June 3 a massive three-corps assault without adequate reconnaissance on a well-fortified defensive line, resulting in horrific casualties (3,000–7,000 killed, wounded, and missing in the first 40 minutes, although modern estimates have determined that the total was likely less than half of the famous figure of 7,000 that has been used in books for decades; as many as 12,000 for the day, far outnumbering the Confederate losses). Grant said of the battle in his memoirs "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. I might say the same thing of the assault of the 22nd of May, 1863, at Vicksburg. At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained." But Grant moved on and 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 the overly cautious actions of his subordinate William Smith. Over the next three days, a number of Union assaults to take the city were launched. 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.
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 Lieutenant 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 DC. Although unable to take the city, Early embarrassed the Administration simply by threatening its inhabitants, making Abraham Lincoln's re-election 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 re-elected 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; 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 as saying, "I can't spare this man. He fights." It was a two-sentence description that completely caught the essence of Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant's fighting style was what one fellow general called "that of a bulldog". The term accurately captures his tenacity, but it oversimplifies his considerable strategic and tactical capabilities. Although a master of combat by out-maneuvering his opponent (such as at Vicksburg and in the Overland Campaign against Lee), Grant was not afraid to order direct assaults, often when the Confederates were themselves launching offensives against him. Such tactics often resulted in heavy casualties for Grant's men, but they wore down the Confederate forces proportionately more and inflicted irreplaceable losses. Many in the North denounced Grant as a "butcher" in 1864, an accusation made both by Northern civilians appalled at the staggering number of casualties suffered by Union armies for what appeared to be negligible gains, and by Copperheads, Northern Democrats who either favored the Confederacy or simply wanted an end to the war, even at the cost of recognizing Southern independence. Grant persevered, refusing to withdraw as had his predecessors, and Lincoln, despite public outrage and pressure within the government, stuck by Grant, refusing to replace him. Although Grant lost battles in 1864, he won all his campaigns.
Despite his reputation, deserved or not, as an uncaring butcher, Grant was always concerned about the sufferings of the wounded. Horace Porter who served with him, described a scene of a soldier dying beside a roadside during the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Grant's reaction as the dying young man was splattered with mud by a passing rider:
The general, whose eyes were at that moment turned upon the youth, was visibly affected. He reined in his horse, and seeing from a motion he made that he was intending to dismount to bestow some care upon the young man, I sprang from my horse, ran to the side of the soldier, wiped his face with my handerchief, spoke to him, and examined his wound; but in a few minutes the unmistakeable death rattle was heard, and I found he had breathed his last. I said to the general, who was watching the scene intently, 'The poor fellow is dead,' remounted my horse, and the party rode on. ... There was a painfully sad look upon the general's face, and he did not speak for some time. While always sensitive to the sufferings of the wounded, this pitiful sight seemed to affect him more than usual.
Historian Michael Korda explained his strategic genius:
Grant understood topography, the importance of supply lines, the instant judgment of the balance between his own strengths and the enemy's weaknesses, and above all the need to keep his armies moving forward, despite casualties, even when things had gone wrong—that and the simple importance of inflicting greater losses on the enemy than he can sustain, day after day, until he breaks. Grant the boy never retraced his steps. Grant the man did not retreat—he advanced. Generals who do that win wars.
After the war, on July 25, 1866, Congress authorized the newly created rank of General of the Army of the United States, the equivalent of a full (four-star) general in the modern United States Army. Grant was appointed as such by President Andrew Johnson on the same day.
Allegations of antisemitism Edit
Grant's legacy has been brought into question by allegations of antisemitism. 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 rescinded by President Lincoln on January 3, 1863 and issued on January 7, 1863. Grant maintained that he was unaware that a staff officer issued it in his name. Grant's father Jesse Grant was involved; General James H. Wilson later explained, "There was a mean nasty streak in old Jesse Grant. He was close and greedy. He came down into Tennessee with a Jew trader that he wanted his son to help, and with whom he was going to share the profits. Grant refused to issue a permit and sent the Jew flying, prohibiting Jews from entering the line." Grant, Wilson felt, could not strike back directly at the "lot of relatives who were always trying to use him" and perhaps struck instead at what he maliciously saw as their counterpart — opportunistic traders who were Jewish. Bertram Korn has suggested that the order was part of a consistent pattern. "This was not the first discriminatory order [Grant] had signed [...] he was firmly convinced of the Jews' guilt and was eager to use any means of ridding himself of them."
The issue of anti-Semitism was raised during the 1868 presidential campaign, and Grant consulted with several Jewish community leaders, all of whom said they were convinced that Order 11 was an anomaly, and he was not an anti-Semite. He maintained good relations with the community throughout his administration, on both political and social levels.