The son of a tanner, Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822-1885) graduated from West Point in 1843, his one distinction being a first in horsemanship. After service in Mexico, where he was twice cited for gallantry, Grant rose to the rank of captain in the fourth infantry, and then drifted into depression and alcoholism when a posting to an obscure frontier post separated him from his family. His enforced resignation followed inevitably, in 1854. Rejoining his family, he tried his hand at farming and Real Estate in Missouri but failed in both and at one point was reduced to selling firewood in the streets of St. Louis. Just prior to the outbreak of war, he was rescued from near-oblivion by the offer of a clerkship in the family harness shop in Galena, Illinois.
With the advent of civil war Grant received an entirely unexpected commission as colonel of volunteers from Governor Yates of Illinois. Not only for ‘Sam’ Grant, as his old army friends knew him, but for the nation as well, the commission was a blessing. The new colonel, it transpired, knew how to wage war. Though thoroughly unpretentious and almost naively uncomplicated, Grant, once he had conquered his own fears and dispelled the demons of earlier failures, won battles. For two years he moulded the course of the war in the west, delivering a succession of decisive victories that broke the back of the Confederacy.
In the wake of his near defeat at Shiloh (1862) there were many who called the Grant’s removal. But Lincoln was not to be persuaded, saying, ‘I can’t spare this man. He fights!’ Grant would soon silence his critics with his outstanding capture of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg (1863)-A campaign that effectively split the rebel states in two, and is now considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Tactics by an American General throughout history.
Brought to the Eastern Theatre in 1864, he was made General-in-Chief of the Union armies and directed the final hammering campaigns that sealed the fate of the rebellion.
After the war, having refused an offer of the office of Secretary of War, Grant would be nominated as the Republican candidate for the 1868 Presidential elections, which he won by a landslide. As President, Grant served two terms in office (1869-1877) during which he oversaw the ‘Reconstruction’ of the Federal nation. His Presidency was however somewhat marred by a series of financial scandals among his advisors, and following the conclusion of his second term, Grant retired and for a while traveled widely around the world (1877-1879). Bad investments caused Grant to become bankrupt (1881) which, since he had no Army Pension, left him destitute. At the same time he was diagnosed with throat cancer. His financial position was solved in part by the issue of a Presidential Pension by Act of Congress, and partly by a commission to write his Memoirs-A book he completed just months before his death.
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