Ulysses S. Grant, the famous Union Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States, was born in Ohio to Jesse Grant, a tanner. He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York and surveyed the western frontier alongside many other young officers who would become military leaders in the coming Civil War. However, beyond our knowledge of his achievements before and throughout the Civil War or during his time as President, can we attest to the character of the man behind the larger-than-life figure we constantly see in history books and television programs?
Ulysses S. Grant at Cold Harbor, 1864.
Grant was not always portrayed as kindly as he is today. A little known fact about Ulysses’ family is, while they were well off, his parents did not always give him the affection a child deserves. His mother never visited him in the White House during his presidency and he had a troublesome relationship with his father for most of his life. Even his name conceals hidden facts. Hiram Ulysses Grant became Ulysses S. Grant after Congressman Thomas Hamer made a mistake while writing Grant’s name down for a nomination to West Point. At the age of 17 Grant adopted his new name and embarked on a journey into the military that would change his life. As a Cadet Grant did not enjoy the military lifestyle and was very casual when concerning his studies. He preferred horseback riding and quickly established himself as an expert. Grant, as it turned out, wanted above all to pursue teaching and hoped that his military career would come to an end.
Ulysses Simpson Grant
Unfortunately, a few years after his graduation from West Point in 1843, the Mexican-American war began. Grant was opposed to the war, but duty called and he was engaged in the front lines. He believed the war was unjust and would just spread slavery through the newly gained territory—a sentiment against slavery that would be echoed later in 1859 when he freed a slave given to him by his wife’s father. Moreover, throughout his victories in the Civil War Grant kept a level head not letting his success get the better of him.
General Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Medal
Also a man of morals and civil rights, Grant championed Black and Indian rights after the war and most notably during his presidency when he pushed for congress to pass the 15th amendment. This amendment prohibited any federal or state government from denying the right to vote based on a citizen’s race, color or previous condition of servitude. Grant championed Indian rights during his presidency and appointed a Seneca Indian as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In addition, he started reversing the federal governments past policies of removing Indians in favor of policies that benefitted the Indians and set up relationships between the United States and various tribes. As Grant fought to maintain domestic peace he avoided conflict abroad. He wisely directed the nation away from wars with both Great Britain and Spain, preserving international peace. Grant took economic steps as well to ensure America’s prosperity backing the paper currency with gold. Sadly, this venture led to many corruption scandals within his administration and when Grant left office he was remembered by some as a hero and others as another dishonest political figure.
The Funeral of Ulysses Grant
Today we recognize Grant as one of the America’s great national heroes, but just as with any of our other heroes we should take the time to learn a little bit about the person’s personality and beliefs, not just their overwhelmingly famous feats before we judge their place in history.
To check out more about Grant’s life and his relationship with other famous Civil War figures go to our online exhibition: Grant and Lee in War and Peace