Born April 27, 1822, into a Methodist family in Ohio, he was nominated at age 17 for a position at West Point by Congressman Thomas Hamer, who mistakenly added the middle initial “S” to his name. At West Point, Ulysses S. Grant set an equestrian high-jump record that lasted for nearly 25 years. After graduation in 1843, Grant was stationed at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. While visiting the family of a West Point classmate he fell in love with the classmate’s sister, Julia Dent, and they secretly engaged. Fourteen years before Grant graduated, Robert E. Lee graduated from West Point, second in his class.
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were both sent to fight in the Mexican-American War. They participated together in General Winfield Scott’s march from the coast city of Vera Cruz to Mexico City.
Afterwards, Grant was stationed in Detroit, then Sackets Harbor, New York, then he was sent across the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco which was in midst of a gold rush and cholera epidemic.
Grant was at Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory and then Fort Humboldt in northwest California, but intemperance in drinking led to his forced resignation in 1854. Returning to his wife Julia in Missouri, Grant unsuccessfully attempted farming and struggled financially pursuing various business endeavors.
When the Civil War began, Grant responded to the call for volunteers. He was quickly promoted to brigadier general and in February of 1862, he captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, gaining the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.
Grant won the battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, which was the costliest battle to that date, with 23,000 casualties. He won the battle of Iuka, Sept. 19, 1862, and defended Corinth. He captured Mississippi’s Port Gibson, won the battle of Raymond, captured Mississippi’s state capital of Jackson, and won the battle of Champion Hill. After a seven week siege, Grant captured Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, giving the Union control of the Mississippi and geographically splitting the Confederacy.
The loss of Vicksburg was especially devastating to the South as it was just one day after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg.
After capturing Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain in November of 1863, Grant was promoted by Lincoln to lieutenant general commanding all the Union Armies. With the South having limited manpower, and the North having a continual flow of immigrants, the war became one of attrition. Immense casualties followed the Overland Campaign in May of 1864, with the battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, battle of the Bloody Angle, North Anna, and Cold Harbor.
A nine month siege began at Petersburg, pinning down Lee’s forces, and allowing Union forces to decimate the Shenandoah Valley, destroying Confederate supplies. Atlanta surrendered to Union General Sherman on Sept. 2, 1864, and the subsequent march to Savannah devastated the Confederate heartland. In March of 1865, Grant captured Petersburg and Richmond
Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, with Grant saying, “The war is over. The Rebels are again our countrymen.”
Five days later, , April 14, 1865, Lincoln had invited Grant and his wife to the theater, but the Grants had plans to travel to Philadelphia. That night, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. At Lincoln’s funeral, Grant wept, saying of Lincoln: “He was incontestably the greatest man I have ever known.”
In 1868, Grant was elected the 18th U.S. president.
Considered a radical Republican, Grant worked to end the Democrat policies of racial discrimination in the South. Grant fought the Democrat-affiliated Klu Klux Klan. Grant supported the 15th Amendment guaranteeing freed slaves the right to vote.
Grant stated in his second inaugural address, March 4, 1873: “Under Providence I have been called a second time to act as Executive over this great nation. … The effects of the late civil strife have been to free the slave and make him a citizen. Yet he is not possessed of the civil rights which citizenship should carry with it. This is wrong, and should be corrected. To this correction I stand committed.”
Grant defended natural marriage, stating Dec. 4, 1871: “In Utah there still remains a remnant of barbarism, repugnant to civilization. … Neither polygamy nor any other violation of existing statutes will be permitted.”
Grant ended the Democrat policy of Indian removal. He appointed the first Native American to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely S. Parker of the Seneca Tribe.
Grant continued his second inaugural: “My efforts … will be directed … by a humane course, to bring the aborigines of the country under the benign influences of education and civilization. … Wars of extermination, engaged in by people pursuing commerce and all industrial pursuits … are demoralizing and wicked. …”
Grant continued: “Our superiority of strength and advantages of civilization should make us lenient toward the Indian. The wrong inflicted upon him should be taken into account and the balance placed to his credit. … If the effort is made in good faith, we will stand better before the civilized nations of the earth and in our own consciences for having made it.”
Grant’s “Quaker Policy” removed entrepreneurs from being Indian agents and replaced them with missionaries, stating in his first annual message, Dec. 6, 1869: “The Society of Friends Quakers) … succeeded in living in peace with the Indians in the early settlement of Pennsylvania. … These considerations induced me to give the management of a few reservations of Indians to them.”
President Grant stated in his second annual message, Dec. 5, 1870: “Such religious denominations as had heretofore established missionaries among the Indians … are allowed to name their own agents … and are expected to watch over them and aid them as missionaries, to Christianize and civilize the Indians, and to train him in the arts of peace.”
President Ulysses S. Grant addressed Congress, Jan. 1, 1871: “It would seem highly desirable that the civilized Indians of the country should be encouraged in establishing for themselves forms of Territorial government compatible with the Constitution of the United States. … and it is highly desirable that they become self-sustaining, self-relying, Christianized, and civilized.”
President Grant stated in his third annual message, Dec. 4, 1871: “Through the exertions of the various societies of Christians to whom has been intrusted the execution of the policy … many tribes of Indians have been induced to settle upon reservations, to cultivate the soil, to perform productive labor of various kinds, and to partially accept civilization. They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination. I recommend liberal appropriations to carry out the Indian peace policy, not only because it is humane and Christian-like … but because it is right.”
During the Siege of Vicksburg, Grant issued his notorious General Order 11 expelling Jews from the military, which Lincoln immediately cancelled. Later as president, Grant appointed more Jews to high offices than any of his predecessors, including governor of the Washington Territory. He was the first president to openly condemn the persecution of Jews, specifically the anti-Jewish pogroms in Romania. He even sent a Jewish consul-general from America to Bucharest to “work for the benefit of the people who are laboring under severe oppression.”
On June 26, 1876, President Grant proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to commemorate America’s 100th anniversary: “The founders of the government, at its birth and in its feebleness, invoked the blessings and the protection of a Divine Providence. … The thirteen colonies … have expanded into a nation of strength and numbers … for which fervent prayers were then offered. It seems fitting that on the occurrence of the hundredth anniversary of our existence as a nation a grateful acknowledgment should be made to Almighty God for the protection and the bounties which He has vouchsafed to our beloved country. I therefore invite the good people of the United States…to mark its recurrence by some public religious and devout thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings which have been bestowed upon us as a nation during the century of our existence, and humbly to invoke a continuance of His favor and of His protection.”
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A president whose policies were guided by faith