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President Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States. He was also the commander of the Army of the Tennessee and later lieutenant general of the Army during the U.S. Civil War. Although acknowledged as being a good general, his legacy as President is not a great one.
Born 22 April 1822, Hiram Ulysses Grant hailed from Point Pleasant, Ohio. He grew up in a large family, with five siblings. Ulysses S. Grant apparently led a quietly normal life until he was nominated as a candidate to attend the U.S. Military Academy, in West Point, New York. He took the name "Ulysses S. Grant" because his congressman had nominated him under that name, knowing Grant's mother's maiden name was Simpson. Grant had to register under that name and kept it after graduating in the middle of his class as a solidly mediocre student.
Mediocre, in fact, characterized a great deal of Ulysses S. Grant's life when not associated with the military. Although, as Lt. Ulysses S. Grant, he was decorated for bravery in the Mexican-American War, after resigning from the Army in 1854, he worked several jobs, failing at all of them. He had married Julia Dent in 1848, and needing to support his family, Ulysses S. Grant went to his father's home in Galena, Illinois and asked for a job in the leather shop. His father was a tanner.
Ulysses S. Grant was still working for his father in the spring of 1861, and when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers after the attack on Fort Sumter, Grant recruited a company of volunteers and went with them to Springfield, Illinois. The governor of Illinois was impressed and offered Ulysses S. Grant a position to recruit and train new volunteers. Grant excelled at this task and by August 1861, found himself a brigadier general of volunteers — appointed by Abraham Lincoln himself.
As Brigadier Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, he went on to achieve initial fighting glory at the Battle of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. He was very nearly defeated at the Battle of Shiloh, but reinforcements arrived in time and he forced the Confederate Army into retreat. His victory at the Battle of Vicksburg assured his lasting fame as a hard-nosed fighter and sterling tactician.
After Ulysses S. Grant received Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Appamattox Courthouse in Virginia, he entered the world of politics. President Andrew Johnson appointed him Secretary of War, but the two disagreed on many points and Ulysses S. Grant ran for President in 1868 and was elected.
Grant was a personally honest man. However, he associated himself with dishonest men who gave him bad advice, and for whom he vouched, even when their corruption became apparent. The American economy suffered under his tenure and the Panic of 1873 also occurred under his watch.
No doubt Grant had a difficult situation where the South was concerned, but his insistence on pursuing Radical Reconstruction made bad matters worse. While a military presence was necessary to help control the Ku Klux Klan, the infrastructure of the region was in shambles, and the federal government did little to improve the situation. The people suffered, regardless of their former affiliations.
President Grant did sign the order to form Yellowstone National Park, created the Department of Justice, the Army Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) and the office of the Surgeon General. His foreign policies were somewhat successful, but overall his presidency was rife with corruption and ineffectual.
Ulysses S. Grant died from throat cancer on 23 July 1885. He had written his memoirs to help provide for his family. He forfeited his military pension when he became President, and no pension was provided to former presidents at that time.
Grant is best remembered for his military achievements. He was a tenacious and canny fighting man. In all likelihood, that would be how he would want to be remembered.