Ulysses S. Grant’s ancestors first came to America in 1630, Englishman Mathew Grant landing in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Grant was always extremely proud of his forebears, but the most important individuals in his lineage were his mother and father.
His father Jesse spent part of his early years living in the home of the father of the famous abolitionist, John Brown. His quiet mother Hannah Simpson Grant came from Pennsylvania parents who were die-hard Jacksonian Democrats. The two married in June of 1821, and their first born, Hiram Ulysses Grant, was born on April 27, 1822. It was only later when the congressman who nominated him for West Point erroneously recorded him as Ulysses S. Grant that he was able to shed the embarrassment of his true initials: H.U.G.
Grant’s father sent him to the United States Military Academy where he graduated 21st out of a class of 39, excelling in mathematics. The last year at West Point he roomed with Frederick Dent the son of a slave-holding family from St. Louis, Missouri. Grant, whose family was opposed to slavery, regularly rode to the Dent plantation and there he met Julia Dent. They agreed to marry in May of 1844, but the Mexican-American War intervened, and the marriage did not happen until August 22, 1848.
The marriage resulted in four children: three boys and a girl. Because Grant remained in the army, the family was frequently separated, and Grant suffered from depression. When he was stationed far from his family at Fort Humboldt in the wilds of California, it is rumored that he drank so heavily that his commanding officer forced him out of the army. He returned to St. Louis and unsuccessfully attempted to earn a living in a variety of occupations. Finally in 1860, his overbearing father gave him a job as store clerk in his Galena, Illinois tannery business.
While he was living in Galena, the Civil War exploded, but Grant had difficulty getting into the conflict. Finally, his success as an Illinois records clerk resulted in the state’s governor giving him command of an undisciplined regiment, to reform them. He did and from that point on, his track was upward. He gained success at places like Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. Lincoln named him commander of all Union armies in 1864. His fight against Robert E. Lee in Virginia and his mild surrender terms at Appomattox, made him a national hero.
When the presidential election of 1868 came along, Grant had no real rival for the office as he soundly defeated Horatio Seymour. He was re-elected in 1872, easily defeating newspaper editor Horace Greeley. He was also the only president between Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson to try to insure full rights as citizens for the former slaves. He worked hard to destroy the Ku Klux Klan and also tried to deal with the difficult economic Panic of 1873. As is often the case after a war, Grant had to deal with corruption during his time in office, although he himself was never accused of any wrong doing.
When he completed his term in office, Grant became the first American president to make a world tour, being received by enthusiastic crowds and world leaders throughout Europe and Asia. Upon his return, there were numerous calls for him to run for the presidency again in 1880, but this attempt proved unsuccessful.
Grant then became president of a Mexican-American Railroad Company. All sorts of publishers also wanted him to write his memoirs, but he repeatedly refused. Then in 1883, he fell on the ice outside his New York home and permanently damaged his left leg. A charlatan fleeced him out of all his money, forcing him to agree, finally, to write his memoirs. He agreed to work with publisher-business agent Mark Twain. Then because of years of smoking cigars, he developed throat cancer. In spite of his terrible pain, he was able to finish his memoirs, dying just days after finishing them in July 1885. His 1885 funeral was and remains the largest such event in American history, and “Grant’s Tomb” remains an important fixture in American popular consciousness.
Ulysses Grant was immensely popular during his lifetime, but, for a time, was considered a butcher general and a corrupt president. He was regularly ranked at the bottom of all American presidents. He is today considered one of the most significant people in American history.