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American Civil War: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant

"Unconditional Surrender" Grant

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American Civil War: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Ulysses Grant - Early Life & Career

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born April 27, 1822, at Point Pleasant, Ohio. The son of Pennsylvania natives Jesse Grant and Hannah Simpson, he was educated locally as a young man. Electing to pursue a military career, Grant sought admission to West Point in 1839. This quest proved successful when Representative Thomas Hamer offered him an appointment. As part of the process, Hamer erred and officially nominated him as "Ulysses S. Grant." Arriving at the academy, Grant elected to retain this new name, but stated that the "S" was an initial only (it is sometimes listed as Simpson in reference to his mother's maiden name). Since his new initials were "U.S.", Grant's classmates nicknamed "Sam" in reference to Uncle Sam.

Ulysses Grant - Mexican-American War

Though a middling student, Grant proved an exceptional horseman while at West Point. Graduating in 1843, Grant placed 21st in a class of 39. Despite his equestrian skills, he received an assignment to serve as quartermaster of the 4th US Infantry as there were no vacancies in the dragoons. In 1846, Grant was part of Brigadier General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation in southern Texas. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he saw action at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Though assigned as a quartermaster, Grant sought out action. After taking part in the Battle of Monterrey, he was transferred to Major General Winfield Scott's army.

Landing in March 1847, Grant was present at the Siege of Veracruz and marched inland with Scott's army. Reaching the outskirts of Mexico City, he was brevetted for gallantry for his performance at the Battle of Molino del Rey on September 8. This was followed by a second brevet for his actions during the Battle of Chapultepec when he hoisted a howitzer to a church bell tower to cover the American advance on the San Cosmé Gate. A student of war, Grant closely watched his superiors during his time in Mexico and learned key lessons that he would apply later.

Ulysses Grant - Interwar Years

After a brief postwar stint in Mexico, Grant returned to the United States and married Julia Boggs Dent on August 22, 1848. The couple ultimately had four children. Over the next four years, Grant held peacetime posts on the Great Lakes. In 1852, the he received orders to depart for the West Coast. With Julia pregnant and lacking funds to support a family on the frontier, Grant was forced to leave his wife in the care of her parents in St. Louis, MO. After enduring a harsh journey via Panama, Grant arrived at San Francisco before traveling north to Fort Vancouver. Deeply missing his family and the second child who he had never seen, Grant became discouraged by his prospects. Taking solace in alcohol, he attempted to find ways to supplement his income so that his family could come west. These proved unsuccessful and he began to contemplate resigning. Promoted to captain in April 1854 with orders to move to Fort Humboldt, CA, he instead elected to resign. His departure most likely was accelerated by rumors of his drinking and possible disciplinary action.

Returning to Missouri, Grant and his family settled on land belonging to her parents. Dubbing his farm "Hardscrabble," it proved financially unsuccessful despite the assistance of a slave provided by Julia's father. After several failed business endeavors, Grant moved his family to Galena, IL in 1860 and became an assistant in his father's tannery, Grant & Perkins. Though his father was a prominent Republican in the area, Grant favored Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 presidential election, but did not vote as he had not lived in Galena long enough to obtain Illinois residency.

Ulysses Grant - Early Days of the Civil War

Through the winter and spring after Abraham Lincoln's election sectional tensions heightened culminating with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. With the beginning of the Civil War, Grant aided in recruiting a company of volunteers and led it to Springfield, IL. Once there, Governor Richard Yates seized on Grant's military experience and set him to training newly arriving recruits. Proving highly effective in this role, Grant used his connections to Congressman Elihu B. Washburne to secure a promotion to colonel on June 14. Given command of the unruly 21st Illinois Infantry, he reformed the unit and made it an effective fighting force. On July 31, Grant was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers by Lincoln. This promotion led to Major General John C. Frémont giving him command of the District of Southeast Missouri at the end of August.

In November, Grant received orders from Frémont to demonstrate against the Confederate positions at Columbus, KY. Moving down the Mississippi River, he landed 3,114 men on the opposite shore and attacked a Confederate force near Belmont, MO. In the resulting Battle of Belmont, Grant had initial success before Confederate reinforcements pushed him back to his boats. Despite this setback, the engagement greatly boosted Grant's confidence and that of his men.

Ulysses Grant - Forts Henry & Donelson

After several weeks of inaction, a reinforced Grant was ordered to move up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers against Forts Henry and Donelson by the commander of the Department of Missouri, Major General Henry Halleck. Working with gunboats under Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, Grant began his advance on February 2, 1862. Realizing that Fort Henry was located on a flood plain and open to naval attack, its commander, Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, withdrew most of his garrison to Fort Donelson before Grant arrived and captured the post on the 6th.

After occupying Fort Henry, Grant immediately moved against Fort Donelson eleven miles to the east. Situated on high, dry ground, Fort Donelson proved near invulnerable to naval bombardment. After direct assaults failed, Grant invested the fort. On the 15th, Confederate forces under Brigadier General John B. Floyd attempted a breakout but were contained before creating an opening. With no options left, Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner asked Grant for surrender terms. Grant's response was simply, "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted," which earned him the nickname "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.

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