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President Ulysses S. Grant

Updated on January 7, 2017

Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822-85) was commander of the Union forces in the Civil War and 18th president of the United States (1869-1877).

Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio (original Christian name: Hiram Ulysses) he attended and graduated from West Point in 1843. In 1848 he married Julia Dent; they had four children. Grant served with distinction in the Mexican War but in 1854 he was forced out of the army for alcoholism. He remained in private life until the Civil War began; in 1861 the governor of Illinois named him commander of a volunteer regiment.

Grant rose swiftly in rank and assignments and won the first major Union victory at Fort Donelson (February 16, 1862). He barely escaped defeat at the battle of Shiloh but the Vicksburg Campaign (1862-63) was one of his greatest triumphs. In October 1863 he became commander of the West. In March 1864, President Lincoln, after a long search, named him commander in chief of the Union forces. Grant personally took command of the forces in the Wilderness campaign (May-June, 1864), which was supposed to destroy the Confederate forces of General Robert E. Lee. It was the bloodiest campaign of the war but failed to defeat Lee. Grant next confronted Lee at the siege of Petersburg (June 1864-April 1865); its fall, on April 3, resulted in Lee's surrender to Grant and the end of the war.

Still in charge of the army after the war, Grant was responsible for administering the Reconstruction policies of the government toward the South. At first a moderate, he tended to side with President Andrew Johnson against the Radical Republicans. In 1867, Johnson named Grant as secretary of war. The incumbent secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, with the backing of other Radicals, refused to vacate the office, and instituted impeachment proceedings against Johnson.

Grant eventually became secretary, but by that time he had joined the Radicals, and his relations with Johnson had deteriorated.

Grant's popularity as a war hero made him attractive as a political figure. In 1868 the Republican party, under the control of the Radicals, nominated Grant unanimously for president. He was easily elected over his Democratic rival, Horatio Seymour.

Grant was almost totally lacking in political ability and judgment; from the beginning, his administration was a failure. With the exception of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, his cabinet and staff consisted of old friends, political hacks, and wealthy contributors to the party. Graft and corruption, none of which immediately touched the president, were rife. Grant, with the backing of the Radicals, entered on a punitive Reconstruction policy toward the South.

Grant was easily renominated and reelected in 1872.

His second four years were no better than the first; numerous members of his administration were involved in the scandals. He retired from office totally discredited as a politician. He retained his renown as a great general, however, and enjoyed the esteem of the public.

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