Jesse Grant moves his family to Georgetown, Brown County, Ohio. Here their oldest son receives his earliest education.
Ulysses attends the school of Richeson and Rand at Maysville, Kentucky.
Ulysses attends the Presbyterian academy at Ripley, Ohio.
On March 3, 1839, Ulysses is appointed to West Point.
Ulysses arrives at West Point on May 29 and discovers that the congressman who appointed him, in doubt about his name, has used his middle name first and has used his mother's maiden name (Simpson) for a middle name. In time, Ulysses will accept U. S. Grant as his true name, insisting that his middle initial stands for "nothing."
After graduating from West Point ranked 21 in a class of 39 in June, Grant learns that he is assigned to duty, beginning September 30, with the Fourth U. S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, just outside St. Louis, Missouri. His rank, established automatically by his West Point graduation, will be brevet second lieutenant.
Grant had often visited the Dent family farm, White Haven, south of St. Louis. Frederick Dent had been Grant's West Point roommate. In February, Fred's sister, Julia Dent, returns from St. Louis. "After that I do not know but my visits became more frequent; they certainly did become more enjoyable."
While on a visit to his parents in Ohio, Grant learns that his regiment has been ordered to Louisiana. When he returns to White Haven, Julia agrees to marry him.
Grant arrives at the camp of the Fourth Infantry near Natchitoches, Louisiana. "There was no intimation given that the removal of the 3d and 4th regiments of infantry to the western border of Louisiana was occasioned in any way by the prospective annexation of Texas, but it was generally understood that such was the case."
Grant obtains leave for 20 days. He travels to St. Louis to see Julia, and to gain her parents' consent to an engagement. Colonel Dent doubts that Grant can support a family on a lieutenant's pay, but he likes Grant and cannot deny his daughter's obvious determination.
The Fourth Infantry is sent to New Orleans to await orders.
Grant sails from New Orleans, bound for Corpus Christi on the Nueces River in Texas. Soon, Grant is promoted to full second lieutenant.
The land between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers is claimed by both the United States and Mexico.
Grant begins to march across the disputed territory. General Zachary Taylor's force reaches the Rio Grande on March 28. Small clashes between U. S. and Mexican units lead to a Mexican declaration of war on April 23. "Even if the annexation itself could be justified, the manner in which the subsequent war was forced upon Mexico cannot . . . The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions."
Taylor wins the battle of Palo Alto as Grant finds himself under fire for the first time. "You want to know what my feelings were on the field of battle! I do not know that I felt any peculiar sensation. War seems much less terrible to persons engaged in it than to those who read of the battles... During that night I believe all slept as soundly on the ground at Palo Alto as if they had been in a palace. For my own part I don't think I even dreamed of battles."
Taylor begins to move toward Monterey. Grant is detailed as regimental quartermaster.
During the battle of Monterey, Quartermaster Grant is expected to remain behind the lines. Without orders, he rides to the front and charges with his regiment. Grant now replaces the regimental adjutant.
Heavy fighting continues in Monterey through September 23rd. Short of ammunition, General Garland asks for a volunteer to carry a message to General Twiggs through streets occupied by Mexican forces. Grant runs the gauntlet, riding on the side of his horse with one foot hooked on the cantle of the saddle and an arm around the neck of his horse.
Grant's Fourth Infantry is ordered to leave General Taylor's force and join that of General Winfield Scott. The troops retrace their route across Mexico to Camp Page on the Gulf.
Grant participates in the assault on Molino del Rey.
During the assault on San Cosme Garita, outside Mexico City, on September 13, Grant orders a howitzer placed in a church belfry where it can be fired effectively. This comes to the favorable attention of General Worth. During the night, civic officials of Mexico City ask for surrender terms.
The occupation of Mexico ends for Grant as Worth's division marches out of Mexico City. Grant's transport will sail from Vera Cruz on July 16.
The Fourth Regiment lands at Pascagoula, Mississippi. As soon as another officer is assigned to the quartermaster's duties, Grant hurries on leave to White Haven.
Grant and Julia Dent are married.
Grant reports at Detroit, Michigan. He learns that he has been assigned to duty at the dreary outpost of Madison Barracks at Sackett's Harbor, New York, on Lake Ontario. By spring of the following year, Grant has obtained a transfer to Detroit.
Julia and Ulysses Grant's first child, Frederick Dent Grant, is born.
Grant spends a full year at Sackett's Harbor. Then the Fourth Infantry is ordered to the Pacific Coast. Grant says goodbye to his wife and son, who will be staying with his parents, and reports at Governor's Island, New York, for embarkation on the steamer Ohio.
The Ohio anchors off Aspinwall (now Colon) on the isthmus of Panama. The trip across steamy and deadly Panama begins.
While Ulysses is still in transit, his and Julia's second child, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., whom they call Buck, is born.
Grant arrives at Fort Vancouver, Oregon (later Washington) Territory. Prices are inflated on the Pacific Coast, and Grant's attempts to supplement his captain's pay are unsuccessful. Discouraged and unhappy about the long separation from his family, which now includes the second son he has never seen, and with no prospect of reunion, Grant finds consolation in drink, as fellow officers will later recall. He begins to consider resigning.
Grant receives notice that he has been promoted to captain as of August 5, to take the place of an officer who had died, along with orders to report at Fort Humboldt, California.
Grant receives his official commission as captain and writes his resignation from the army the same day. On June 2, the resignation is accepted by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.
After living for nearly a year at White Haven with Julia's parents, the Grant family moves to Wish-ton-wish, another farm on the Dent estate. Here their third child, Ellen Grant, whom they call Nellie, is born on July 4.
The Grant family moves into its own home, built largely by Grant alone. Almost every farm in the neighborhood has a name, often a pretentious one; Grant calls his Hardscrabble.
Grant casts his only presidential ballot prior to the time he is himself elected. The nation is deeply divided over the issue of slavery. "It was evident to my mind that the election of a Republican President in 1856 meant the secession of all the Slave States, and rebellion. Under these circumstances I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunged into a war the end of which no man could foretell. With a Democrat elected by the unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years. I very much hoped that the passions of the people would subside in that time, and the catastrophe be averted altogether; if it was not, I believed the country would be better prepared to receive the shock and to resist it. I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President."
Grant pawns his watch, presumably to buy Christmas gifts for his family. The Panic of 1857 has withered crop prices. Only a few weeks later, February 6, 1858, the fourth Grant child, Jesse Root Grant Jr., is born.
Grant rents out his Hardscrabble farm and himself rents White Haven from his father-in-law. Following another poor season, plagued by poor health, he enters the real estate business in St. Louis.
Grant moves into a back room in St. Louis rented from his business partner, while his family temporarily remains at White Haven. In March, his family joins him in a rented cottage in St. Louis.
Despite the financial troubles of the Grant family, there is one remedy Grant refuses to consider. He sets free his slave, William Jones, who had come to him through his wife's family.
Grant submits his application for the position of County Engineer of St. Louis. Although qualified, Grant will be passed over by politicians who prefer a Republican.
After many years of financial disappointment in Missouri, Grant turns to his father for help. He takes a clerkship in a leather goods store owned by his father and operated by his brothers Orvil and Simpson in Galena, Illinois.
The Republicans of Galena, supporters of Abraham Lincoln, hold a victory celebration in the Grant store. Grant helps his Republican brother Orvil serve oysters and liquor. Grant has not lived in Illinois long enough to be eligible to vote, and is apparently undecided about the merits of Lincoln and his opponent, Stephen Douglas.
The local Republican congressman, Elihu B. Washburne, favorably impressed by Grant, arranges for him to preside over a public meeting held in Galena to respond to Lincoln's call for troops after war breaks out between the North and the South at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Grant drills the company of Jo Daviess Guards raised at the meeting, but declines the captaincy. Instead he travels to Springfield, Illinois to offer his services to Governor Richard Yates. Grant finds temporary employment as a clerk in the adjutant's office.
Grant is appointed mustering officer. It is a temporary job which ends within two weeks.
While Grant is in St. Louis seeking a commission, he witnesses the disorder following the capture of Camp Jackson by Unionists under Nathaniel Lyon and Frank Blair.
Grant finishes his mustering and returns to Galena. Two days later he writes to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas: "I feel myself competant to command a Regiment if the President, in his judgement, should see fit to entrust one to me." The letter is never answered.
Grant visits the headquarters of General George B. McClellan in Cincinnati, seeking a staff appointment. McClellan does not receive him.
Grant returns to Springfield and accepts Governor Yates' offer of the colonelcy of the Seventh District Regiment, an unruly group which has driven its first colonel into retirement.
Grant boards a streetcar in Springfield to ride out to his regiment at Camp Yates.
Following patriotic oratory from two Illinois Democratic congressmen, John A. Logan and John A. McClernand, 603 members of the regiment volunteer to enter the U. S. service as the Twenty-First Illinois.
The Twenty-First Illinois begins its first march on July 3 from Springfield to Quincy, Illinois, on the Mississippi River.
Grant is ordered to proceed from the Salt River against Colonel Thomas Harris, some 25 miles south at Florida, Missouri. "As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see Harris' camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on. When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted. The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there and the marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards." Grant's regiment is soon located at Mexico, Missouri.
President Lincoln appoints Grant a brigadier general of volunteers following the recommendations of a caucus of Illinois congressmen. Grant is now in command at Ironton, Missouri.
As Grant prepares to move against the enemy, General Benjamin M. Prentiss arrives to claim command, wrongfully asserting that he outranks Grant. Without prolonged argument, Grant departs for St. Louis, where General John C. Frémont reassigns him to Jefferson City.
Replaced by General Jefferson C. Davis at Jefferson City, Grant again returns to St. Louis. This time he is given command of all troops in southeast Missouri (August 28), with headquarters temporarily at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Grant establishes headquarters at Cairo, Illinois. On September 3, Confederate General Leonidas Polk had violated the self-proclaimed neutrality of Kentucky by occupying Columbus. News reaches Grant on September 5. Grant then occupies Paducah (September 6). His quick action prevents the Confederates from consolidating their defense line in Kentucky.
Grant leads his troops to Belmont, Missouri, across the Mississippi River from Columbus, Kentucky, in a diversionary movement to prevent Confederate reinforcement of General Sterling Price. The Union troops overrun a Confederate camp and begin to celebrate victory. Then the Confederates return with a superior force. Grant's men scramble for their transports, and the general himself barely escapes death or capture.
Dissatisfied with the use of his force solely for defensive and diversionary purposes, Grant asks Major General Halleck, now in command in the West, for permission to begin a campaign on the Tennessee River. On February 1, he gets it.
Grant's forces advance from Cairo.
Naval forces under Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote capture Fort Henry in Tennessee. Grant's forces are on their way in the combined operation. The victory is one of maneuver rather than battle, for almost all of the Confederates have been withdrawn to Fort Donelson, about 11 miles away on the Cumberland River. The following day, Grant makes a reconnaissance to within one mile of Donelson. "I intend to keep the ball moving as lively as possible," he writes his sister.
Although Halleck prefers to have Grant consolidate his position, Grant begins to move his troops towards Fort Donelson. They arrive the following day, and General John A. McClernand leads his division in a reckless premature assault on the Donelson lines. The next day (February 14), Grant watches an assault on Donelson by the gunboats of Foote's flotilla which is equally unsuccessful. The Confederates are now emboldened to make an assault of their own (February 15) aiming to break out of the siege, which has temporary success, but then the Confederates are forced back to their lines. "I heard some of the men say that the enemy had come out with knapsacks, and haversacks filled with rations. They seemed to think this indicated a determination on his part to stay out and fight just as long as the provisions held out. I turned to Colonel J. D. Webster, of my staff, who was with me, and said: 'Some of our men are pretty badly demoralized, but the enemy must be more so, for he has attempted to force his way out, but has fallen back: the one who attacks first now will be victorious and the enemy will have to be in a hurry if he gets ahead of me." Grant's men advance immediately.
During the night, Confederate Generals John Floyd and Gideon Pillow flee from Fort Donelson. Nathan Bedford Forrest saves his cavalry. General Simon B. Buckner, now in command, requests an armistice to arrange terms of surrender. To this, Grant responds: "Yours of this date proposing Armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of Capitulation is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." The surrender of Donelson destroys the entire Confederate line in the middle theatre of war. It confirms the loss of Kentucky and the imminent threat to Tennessee. As the first major Union victory of the war, it touches off great celebrations in the North, in the course of which Grant's words provoke as much enthusiasm as the victory itself. The happy coincidence of the phrase with his initials earns him the nickname, "Unconditional Surrender Grant."
Lincoln signs the papers for Grant's promotion to major general of volunteers.
Halleck orders Grant to turn his forces over to General C. F. Smith. Due to telegraph failures, Halleck believes that Grant is failing to obey orders to report to his superior. On March 13, Grant is restored to command. On March 17, he resumes his Tennessee River campaign, beginning to mass his troops at Pittsburg Landing for a thrust against the vital rail center at Corinth, Mississippi, some 20 miles away.
Confederate forces under Albert Sidney Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard attack the Union position at Shiloh Church, near Pittsburg Landing. Grant is breakfasting some miles away at Savannah, preparing to meet additional troops scheduled to arrive with General Don Carlos Buell, when he hears the firing and hurries to the front. A stubborn defense of an area known as the Hornets' Nest by General Benjamin M. Prentiss wins valuable time for Grant, but by the end of the day, his army has been pushed back to the river. "During the night rain fell in torrents and our troops were exposed to the storm without shelter. I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred yards back from the river bank. My ankle was so much swollen from the fall of my horse the Friday night preceding, and the bruise was so painful, that I could get no rest. The drenching rain would have precluded the possibility of sleep without this additional cause. Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy's fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain."
Aided by reinforcements brought by Buell, Grant is able to drive the Confederates from the field. It has been a costly victory for the North, and there are angry public reactions in the North to the great loss of life and the lack of preparation for a Confederate attack. "Shiloh was the severest battle fought at the West during the war, and but few in the East equalled it for hard, determined fighting. I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground."
General Halleck takes personal command of the army, and very slowly moves against Corinth. Grant serves unhappily as second in command. Corinth is occupied on May 30; the Confederates have decided to evacuate. Disgusted by Halleck's unwillingness to engage the enemy, Grant considers resigning. General William T. Sherman persuades him to remain.
Grant leaves Halleck at Corinth to establish separate headquarters as district commander at Memphis.
Halleck is ordered to Washington to serve as general-in-chief. Grant is ordered to Corinth to take command of the army, and arrives on July 15.
Confederate General Braxton Bragg orders General Sterling Price to prevent Grant from sending reinforcements to General Don Carlos Buell. Grant sends troops under William S. Rosecrans and E. O. C. Ord to drive Price from Iuka, Mississippi, before he can be reinforced by General Earl Van Dorn or go east to join Bragg. Rosecrans encounters the enemy, and although the battle is inconclusive, the Confederates retreat.
While Grant is at Jackson, Tennessee, Van Dorn attacks Rosecrans at Corinth. Grant sends reinforcements as soon as he learns of the attack, but Rosecrans repels the assault before they arrive, and Van Dorn withdraws with his army largely intact.
My American Experience
Do you admire Ulysses S. Grant? Or perhaps Robert E. Lee? Tell us who is your favorite and why.