Ulysses Simpson Grant, 1822–85, commander in chief of the Union army in the Civil War and 18th President (1869–77) of the United States, b. Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was originally named Hiram Ulysses Grant.
Grant spent his youth in Georgetown, Ohio, was graduated from West Point in 1843, and served creditably in the Mexican War. He was forced to resign from the army in 1854 because of excessive drinking. Grant failed in attempts at farming and business, and was working as a clerk in the family leather store in Galena, Ill., when the Civil War broke out. He was commissioned colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteers, and in Aug., 1861, became a brigadier general of volunteers.
Grant assumed command of the district of Cairo, Ill., in Sept. and fought his first battle, an indecisive affair at Belmont, Mo., on Nov. 9. In Feb., 1862, aided by Union gunboats, he captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. This was the first major Union victory, and Lincoln at once made Grant a major general of volunteers. In April at Shiloh (see Shiloh, battle of), however, only the arrival of the army of Gen. Don Carlos Buell may have saved him from defeat.
The Vicksburg campaign (1862–63) was one of Grant's greatest successes. After repeated failures to get at the town, he advanced in cooperation with a fleet and finally took Vicksburg by siege. The victory of Braxton Bragg, the Confederate general, at Chickamauga (see Chattanooga campaign), led to Grant's accession to the supreme command in the West, Oct., 1863. At Chattanooga in November his forces thoroughly defeated Bragg. The President, in Mar., 1864, made Grant commander in chief with the rank of lieutenant general, a grade especially revived by Congress for him.
Grant himself directed George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac against Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Wilderness campaign. His policy of attrition against Lee's forces was effective, though it resulted in slaughter at Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. Failing to carry Petersburg by assault in June, 1864, Grant had that city under partial siege until Apr., 1865. Philip H. Sheridan's victory at Five Forks made Petersburg and Richmond no longer tenable. Lee retreated, but was cut off at Appomattox Courthouse (see under Appomattox, where he surrendered, receiving generous terms from Grant, on Apr. 9, 1865.
Grant went about the distasteful business of war realistically and grimly. He was a skilled tactician and at times a brilliant strategist (as at Vicksburg, regarded by many as one of the great battles of history). His courage as a commander of forces and his powers of organization and administration made him the outstanding Northern general. Grant also was notably wise in supporting good commanders, especially Sheridan, William T. Sherman, and George H. Thomas. Made a full general in 1866, he was the first U.S. citizen to hold that rank.
Grant at first seemed to favor the Reconstruction policy of President Andrew Johnson. In Apr., 1867, Johnson appointed him interim Secretary of War, replacing Edwin Stanton. Johnson expected him to hold the office against Stanton and thus bring about a test of the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act, but Grant turned the office back to Stanton when the Senate refused to sanction Stanton's removal. It was apparent then that the general had thrown his lot in with the radical Republicans. The inevitable choice of the Republicans for President, Grant was victorious over the Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour, in 1868.
Characterized chiefly by bitter partisan politics and shameless corruption, his administrations remain notorious. The punitive Reconstruction program was pushed with new vigor, and legislation favorable to commercial and industrial interests was passed (see greenback). The President associated with disreputable politicians and financiers; James Fisk and Jay Gould deceived him when they tried to corner the gold market in 1869 (see Black Friday). In foreign affairs, however, much was accomplished by the able Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish.
The party unanimously renominated Grant in 1872, and he was reelected easily over Horace Greeley, the candidate of the Liberal Republican party and the Democrats. Toward the end of his second term his Secretary of War, William W. Belknap, and his private secretary, Orville E. Babcock, were implicated in graft scandals. Through the loyalty of the deceived Grant, both escaped punishment.
The two years following his retirement from the White House were spent in making a triumphal tour of the world. In 1880 the Republican
led by Roscoe Conkling, tried to secure another nomination for Grant but failed. He took up residence in New York City, where he invested money in a fraudulent private banking business. It collapsed in 1884, leaving him bankrupt.
Dying of cancer of the throat, he set about writing his Personal Memoirs (2 vol., 1885–86) in order to provide for his family. He died a few days after the manuscript was completed. These memoirs are ranked among the great narratives of military history. The remains of the general and his wife lie in New York City in Grant's Tomb.
See, in addition to his memoirs, his papers ed. by J. Y. Simon (5 vol., 1967–73); biographies by U. S. Grant 3d (1969), W. McFeely (1981), G. Perret (1997), B. D. Simpson (2000), J. E. Smith (2001), J. Bunting 3d (2004), M. Korda (2004), and H. W. Brands (2012); J. F. C. Fuller, The Generalship of U. S. Grant (1929, repr. 1968); W. B. Hesseltine, Ulysses S. Grant, Politician (1935, repr. 1957); B. Catton, U. S. Grant and the American Military Tradition (1954), Grant Moves South (1960), and Grant Takes Command (1969); A. Nevins, Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration (2 vol., rev. ed. 1957); J. H. Marshall-Cornwall, Grant as Military Commander (1970); F. J. Scaturro, President Grant Reconsidered (1998); G. Perret, Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier and President (1998); C. B. Flood, Grant and Sherman (2006); J. Waugh, U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (2009).