18. ULYSSES S. GRANT
Late in the administration of Andrew Johnson, Gen.
Ulysses S. Grant quarreled with the President and aligned
himself with the Radical Republicans. He was, as the symbol of
Union victory during the Civil War, their logical candidate for
President in 1868.
When he was elected, the American people hoped for an end to
turmoil. Grant provided neither vigor nor reform. Looking to
Congress for direction, he seemed bewildered. One visitor to the
White House noted "a puzzled pathos, as of a man with a problem
before him of which he does not understand the terms."
Born in 1822, Grant was the son of an Ohio tanner. He went to
West Point rather against his will and graduated in the middle
of his class. In the Mexican War he fought under Gen. Zachary
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant was working in his
father's leather store in Galena, Illinois. He was appointed by
the Governor to command an unruly volunteer regiment. Grant
whipped it into shape and by September 1861 he had risen to the
rank of brigadier general of volunteers.
He sought to win control of the Mississippi Valley. In
February 1862 he took Fort Henry and attacked Fort Donelson.
When the Confederate commander asked for terms, Grant replied,
"No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be
accepted." The Confederates surrendered, and President Lincoln
promoted Grant to major general of volunteers.
At Shiloh in April, Grant fought one of the bloodiest battles
in the West and came out less well. President Lincoln fended off
demands for his removal by saying, "I can't spare this man--he
For his next major objective, Grant maneuvered and fought
skillfully to win Vicksburg, the key city on the Mississippi,
and thus cut the Confederacy in two. Then he broke the
Confederate hold on Chattanooga.
Lincoln appointed him General-in-Chief in March 1864. Grant
directed Sherman to drive through the South while he himself,
with the Army of the Potomac, pinned down Gen. Robert E. Lee's
Army of Northern Virginia.
Finally, on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Lee
surrendered. Grant wrote out magnanimous terms of surrender that
would prevent treason trials.
As President, Grant presided over the Government much as he
had run the Army. Indeed he brought part of his Army staff to
the White House.
Although a man of scrupulous honesty, Grant as President
accepted handsome presents from admirers. Worse, he allowed
himself to be seen with two speculators, Jay Gould and James
Fisk. When Grant realized their scheme to corner the market in
gold, he authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to sell enough
gold to wreck their plans, but the speculation had already
wrought havoc with business.
During his campaign for re-election in 1872, Grant was
attacked by Liberal Republican reformers. He called them
"narrow-headed men," their eyes so close together that "they can
look out of the same gimlet hole without winking." The General's
friends in the Republican Party came to be known proudly as "the
Grant allowed Radical Reconstruction to run its course in the
South, bolstering it at times with military force.
After retiring from the Presidency, Grant became a partner in
a financial firm, which went bankrupt. About that time he
learned that he had cancer of the throat. He started writing his
recollections to pay off his debts and provide for his family,
racing against death to produce a memoir that ultimately earned
nearly $450,000. Soon after completing the last page, in 1885,