Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary

By Charles F. Ritter; Jon L. Wakelyn | Go to book overview

ULYSSES SIMPSON GRANT
(April 27, 1822–July 25, 1885)

John T. Hubbell

Ulysses S. Grant, general in chief of the Union Army, was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822, in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio. His great-grandfather was killed in the French and Indian War, and his grandfather, Noah Grant, served six years in the Revolutionary War, reaching the rank of captain. His father, Jesse Grant (1794–1873), married Hannah Simpson on June 24, 1821. Jesse and Hannah were attentive parents to “Lyss” and encouraged an independence in him that bordered on the indifferent. Grant learned to ride early and well. He trained horses and by age twelve drove teams and wagons long distances, sometimes 200 to 250 miles. He also became an excellent marksman, although he never liked to kill animals.

When Grant entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1839, he stood five feet one and weighed 117 pounds. He was a casual student who tended toward slouchiness in dress and military bearing, but he excelled at horsemanship and long carried the reputation as one of the best riders in the army.

Grant graduated in 1843, twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. He still weighed 117 pounds but had grown to five feet seven. His first assignment was to the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, where he met and became engaged to Julia Dent, the sister of Frederick Dent, his West Point roommate.

In June 1844, the 4th Infantry was deployed to Louisiana and then to Texas, whose annexation to the United States became a political issue and a cause for war with Mexico. In early 1846, Grant was a company officer in the army of Zachary Taylor, which pushed to the Rio Grande, opposite Matamoros. He believed that “a better army, man for man, probably never faced an enemy” (Memoirs 1:168). Some 90 percent of the 3,000 enlisted soldiers were regulars, and most of the junior officers were West Point graduates. In their first action, at Palo Alto, on May 8, 1846, Grant did not remember “any peculiar sensation,” although he appreciated the effectiveness of the American artillery and reflected on “what a fearful responsibility General Taylor must feel, commanding such

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