| 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 Taylor.
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
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 fights."
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.
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.
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 Old
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, he died.