Ulysses S. Grant: Civil War Hero (1869 – 1877)

Professor Dave here, let’s learn about Ulysses Grant. Ulysses S. Grant was the fifth American general
elected as President. As the Commanding General of the Union Army,
Grant led the United States to victory in its costly Civil War. After the war, he was in charge of implementing
Congressional Reconstruction, often pitting him against President Andrew Johnson. He was the first president since Andrew Jackson
to serve two full terms. Grant led the Republicans in their effort
to remove any traces of Confederate nationalism, protect African-American citizenship, and
support industrial expansionism. However, his second term was riddled with
corruption and wracked by the Panic of 1873. For many years he was regarded as a weak president,
whose Administration was infested with dishonest Army cronies, but recently Grant’s historical
stock has risen in light of his vigorous enforcement of Reconstruction and his commitment to African-American
enfranchisement. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, he received his
new initial accidentally when his Congressional patron carelessly wrote down his name as Ulysses
Simpson Grant on the application for the Military Academy at West Point. He adopted the new name, and his fellow cadets
gave him the nickname “Sam” Grant, in reference to his initials “US” and the
American symbol of Uncle Sam. Grant graduated from West Point in 1843 and
served in the Mexican–American War, retiring in 1854. He struggled financially in civilian life,
and when the Civil War began in 1861, he rejoined the U.S. Army. In 1862, Grant launched a vigorous assault
on Fort Donelson in Tennessee on his own initiative, earning him the nickname “Unconditional
Surrender” Grant. His aggressiveness was just the kind that
President Lincoln had been looking for, and he promoted Grant to the rank of major general. He soon gained control of Kentucky and most
of Tennessee, and won a bloody victory at the Battle of Shiloh, where he earned a reputation
as a commander willing to withstand many casualties. In July 1863, after a long siege, Grant took
the fortress citadel of Vicksburg, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River
and dividing the Confederacy in two. Along with the Union victory at Gettysburg
on the same day, Vicksburg was seen as the turning point of the war. Lincoln promoted Grant to Commanding General
of the United States Army in March 1864 when he confronted Robert E. Lee in a series of
bloody battles, trapping Lee’s army in their defense of Richmond. In April 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at
Appomattox, effectively ending the war. Though Grant’s military strategies are featured
in military history texts, a minority contends that he won by brute force rather than superior tactics. After the Civil War, Grant led the army’s
supervision of Reconstruction in the former Confederate states. Elected president in 1868 and re-elected in
1872, Grant stabilized the nation during the turbulent Reconstruction period, prosecuted
the Ku Klux Klan, and enforced civil and voting rights using the army and the newly formed
Department of Justice. He also built a coalition of black voters,
Northern newcomers dubbed “carpetbaggers”, and native Southern white supporters, or “scalawags”
to extend the Republican party’s foothold in the South. In this time, African-Americans were elected
to various offices. In Grant’s second term, the Republican coalitions
in the South continued to splinter and were defeated one by one as redeemers, or conservative
whites, regained control using coercion and violence. Grant’s Indian peace policy initially reduced
frontier violence, though the Great Sioux War of 1876 erupted in the final year of his
presidency, which is famously remembered for Custer’s last stand at the Battle of the
Little Bighorn. Grant was a poor administrator and often chose
men from his Army past instead of experienced administrators to run governmental departments. Corruption charges escalated during his second
term, while his response to the Panic of 1873 proved ineffective in halting a five-year
depression. Grant had to respond to charges of corruption
more than any other 19th Century president. But he also appointed the first Civil Service
Commission and signed legislation ending the corrupt patronage system. Grant left office in 1877 and embarked on
a two-year world tour, which greatly helped to establish the American presence abroad. In 1880, Grant was unsuccessful in obtaining
a Republican presidential nomination for a third term. Facing severe investment reversals and dying
of throat cancer, he composed his memoirs, which proved to be a major literary work and
financial success, completing them only five days before his death in 1885, which prompted
an outpouring in support of national unity. Early historical assessments were negative
about Grant’s presidency, often focusing on the corruption charges and ranking his
presidency below average, but modern research, in part focusing on civil rights, evaluates
his presidency more favorably. His greatest achievement remains his invaluable
contributions to the Union cause during the Civil War.

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