Ulysses S. Grant

General Grant and his family. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # pga 02649

Perhaps no Union general contributed more to the defeat of the Confederacy than Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). Born into a middle-class family at Point Pleasant, Ohio, Grant was an 1843 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1848, he married Julia Dent, who often traveled with Grant throughout his military career. Despite his distinguished service during the Mexican War, Grant’s career in the U.S. Army began to decline. He resigned his commission in 1854. Following seven unsuccessful years as a civilian, Grant reentered the army at the outbreak of the Civil War as a colonel in the 21st Illinois Infantry. From this modest command, Grant quickly rose in rank following his contributions to a string of Union victories in the West, including Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and the battles involved in breaking the Confederate siege of Union forces in Chattanooga, notably Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. In March 1864, President Lincoln elevated Grant to the newly revived rank of lieutenant-general and placed him in supreme command of all Union forces. Making his headquarters in the East with the Army of the Potomac, Grant coordinated the actions of all Union forces. At the same time, he relentlessly pursued General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a series of fierce confrontations at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor. Grant was subjected to a torrent of criticism for the high rate of Union casualties sustained in these battles. Criticism turned to celebration, however, after his aggressive strategy of attrition culminated in the fall of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender of Lee’s badly depleted forces at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Widely regarded by the public as the savior of the Union, Ulysses S. Grant was elected president of the United States in 1868. Although his administration was marked by corruption, he easily won a second term in 1872. Battling throat cancer in his final years, Grant completed his memoirs just days prior to his death. First published in 1885-1886 as The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, the general's personal account of his military career remains among the most highly regarded military memoirs.

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