Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

“I intend to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Before the Civil War made him the most famous man in America and a two-term president, Grant seemed headed nowhere fast. Like many of the generals he would command and fight, Grant was a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War, in which he served with competence if not distinction. His modestly successful career in the peacetime army ended abruptly when the president demanded his resignation over charges of drinking on duty, and Grant headed to Missouri and several failed businesses. By 1860, he was reduced to working for his father in the family leather goods business in Illinois.

Once the war broke out and it became clear how desperately the North needed battle-hardened officers, Grant found his way to the fighting. While McClellan’s Army of the Potomac sat unused in Washington, Grant’s spectacular captures of two Mississippi River forts in quick succession turned him into a national celebrity, earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, and put him on the fast track to high command. When he eventually gained command of all Union armies, his direct leadership style and plain-speaking manner did as much to endear him to Lincoln as his military successes.

It was Grant whom the public expected as the guest of honor on April 14, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre, but his natural avoidance of the limelight and personal tensions between his wife and Mrs. Lincoln led them to arrange a trip out of the city. The conductor of the Ford’s orchestra reluctantly postponed the advertised premiere of a new piece written to honor Grant, and the Lincolns spent their last hours together seated with a young couple hastily recruited to fill in.

His two controversial terms as president in a scandal-riddled administration damaged his post-war reputation, but his upright conduct in the face of bankruptcy and public humiliation won back the public’s esteem. By the time he died from a painful form of cancer while completing his now-classic memoirs, he was once again the most famous and admired man in his country. More than one-and-a-half million attended his New York funeral, and tens of thousands lined the streets of New York as the funeral hearse carried him to his final resting place overlooking the Hudson River.

On War

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”

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