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Ulysses Simpson Grant
Napoleon I. was a genius; General Grant was not. But the earnest, persistent, and determined efforts of men only moderately endowed by nature with intellectual gifts, sometimes surpass what is accomplished by the spasmodic flashes of those born to be conquerors. So far as the successful career of the most prominent hero of the War of the Rebellion may be used to "point a moral," it forcibly emphasizes the results of energy, perseverance, and a determination to succeed in spite of all obstacles. As a military strategist he was doubtless surpassed by others who were engaged in the gigantic struggle with him; but he accomplished, by adding to his soldierly abilities, his personal attributes, which seemed not to have been within the power of any other of the able commanders associated with him in the mighty conflict.
It is not claimed that General Grant was born into the world with brilliant, or even superior, intellectual powers, and his greatness was in the combination of his individual qualities, and the fact that, like Wellington, he was "rich in saving common-sense." He was a soldier in the most comprehensive sense; and if he did not overtop his colleagues in a knowledge of the science of war, he was at least their equal. The career of its greatest hero illustrates the manner in which the loyal nation gave to posterity a victorious Union.
Grant was born in humble circumstances at Point Pleasant, a village on the Ohio River, and there were no accidents of family to gild or cloud his coming into the world. He was descended from Puritan stock, and one of his ancestors, a captain in the Old French War, was killed in battle. The general's grandfather served through the Revolutionary War. His father was a tanner in Ohio, but his son was not inclined to follow that occupation, though he was willing to do so if his father insisted upon it until he was of age, but not a day longer. He stated his preferences in regard to his future employment, desiring to be a farmer, a trader on the river, or to obtain an education. The first was not practicable, and the second was not regarded as very reputable. His father wrote to the representative of his district in Congress, who obtained for the young man a nomination to the Military Academy at West Point.
All the education the young candidate for military honors had was only such as he had obtained at the district school, and the examination for admission was considered a very trying ordeal, though it included only the branches taught in the common schools. He "brushed up" his studies, and as he was always cool and self-possessed, he did not fail from embarrassment, as many do on such occasions, but was passed and admitted. Of the class of eighty-seven only thirty-nine were graduated. In rank Grant was the twenty-first, indicating about the average ability.
As a cadet he was popular with his comrades. He was honest, fair, and square, and was especially careful of the rights of others. The horse had been a favorite with him from his early childhood, and at the Academy he was distinguished as a bold and fearless rider. He was sober and rather dignified in his manner. The name given to him by his parents was "Hiram Ulysses;" but the Congressman had made a mistake in presenting the nomination, and at West Point he was known as "Ulysses Sidney." Failing to correct the error, he accepted the initial S., but made it stand for "Simpson," after his mother. The first name was suggested by an elderly female relative, who appears to have read the Odyssey, and appreciated its hero. The initials of his name as it finally stood had a national significance, which the newspapers were not tardy in using at the time of his first decided victory.
He was graduated in 1843, and appointed brevet second lieutenant in the Fourth Regiment of Infantry. The engineers and the cavalry are considered more desirable arms of the service than the infantry, and the best scholars at the Military Academy are assigned to them. Grant's rank placed him in the latter. His regiment was sent to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis. Frederick T. Dent, his classmate, was in the same command, and resided in the vicinity. He was invited to the house of the Dents, where he made the acquaintance of Miss Julia T. Dent, who became his wife five years later.
In 1845, the events which led to the Mexican War assumed form, and Grant's regiment was ordered to Corpus Christi, where he was commissioned as a full second lieutenant. His post was situated at the mouth of the Rio Nueces, between which and the Rio Grande was a triangular section of territory claimed by both governments; and this was the nominal subject of dispute between the United States and Mexico. General Taylor, commanding about four thousand troops, was ordered to move his force to the Rio Grande, on which the Mexicans had concentrated an army. A body of United States dragoons, commanded by Captain Thornton, was surprised by an overwhelming force of the enemy, and all of them killed, wounded, or captured. This event fired the blood of the soldiers, as well as of the people of the country, and Taylor crossed the river with the main body of his little army.
The Mexican generals declared that the advance of Taylor into the disputed territory was an act of war, and active hostilities had commenced. While the general was hastening to reinforce one of the forts attacked, he came upon the Mexicans drawn up in order of battle at Palo Alto. An action, mostly with artillery, followed, and the enemy were defeated and driven from the field. It was the first battle fought in thirty-one years with any foe other than Indians, by American soldiers. Grant was in that first conflict of half a century, as he was in the last ones.
The Mexicans had fled from this first considerable battle of the war to Resaca de la Palma, where they had established themselves in a strong position. Taylor attacked them the next day, and though their force was triple that of their assailants, they were again defeated and routed. The Mexicans fought with dogged courage, however they may be judged from the events of the war. Three months later, General Taylor marched upon Monterey with an army reinforced to 6,000 men. It was strongly fortified, but the city was captured after a hard-fought battle.
In the midst of the conflict in the town, while the Mexicans were disputing its possession from the windows of the strongly constructed houses, the ammunition of the brigade to which Grant was attached was exhausted, and it became necessary to send for a fresh supply. It was a service of extreme peril, and a volunteer was called for to perform it. Grant was a bold rider, and he promptly offered himself to execute the dangerous mission. Mounting a very spirited horse, he resorted to the Indian fashion of hanging at the side of his steed so that the body of the animal protected him against the shots from the windows, and he passed safely through the street. With a sufficient escort he succeeded in conveying a load of ammunition to the point where it was needed.
Soon after the battle of Monterey, Grant's regiment was sent to Vera Cruz to reinforce the larger army that was to march under General Scott to the "Halls of the Montezumas." Lieutenant Grant, as a careful, substantial, and energetic officer, was selected for the important position of quartermaster of the Fourth Regiment. The army proceeded on its uninterrupted career of victory till the capital of Mexico was in its possession. The heights of Cerro Gordo were stormed and carried, and Grant, as usual, was in the thickest of the fight.
The first considerable obstacle after the capture of Vera Cruz having been removed, the army proceeded on its march to the City of Mexico, occupying Jalapa and Castle Perote on the way; but at Puebla the forces were so reduced by sickness, death, and the expiration of enlistments as to compel a halt. For three months General Scott was compelled to wait for reinforcements; but when he could muster 11,000 effective men, a very small number for the conquest of a country, he resumed his march, and in August arrived in the vicinity of the capital. Outside of the causeways leading to the city were the strongholds of Chapultepec and Cherubusco, and batteries mounting a hundred guns.
Chapultepec was a fortification one hundred and fifty feet above the average level of the ground. A front of nine hundred feet bristled with cannon. Behind it was a mill called El Molino del Rey, fortified and garrisoned, which defended the approach to the castle. The capture of this work was assigned to General Worth, to whose command the Fourth Regiment belonged. The assault was a desperate one, for it was "the last ditch" of the Mexicans; but it was carried, though the assailing force lost one-fourth of its number in the assault. "Second Lieutenant Grant behaved with distinguished gallantry," is the official report of his conduct. Though custom and the precedents of the service permitted the quartermaster to remain at a safe distance from actual fighting in charge of the baggage trains, Grant never availed himself of this immunity from personal peril, but retained his place with the regiment.
When the strong places which defended the city fell, Scott and his army marched into the capital. The Mexican forces fled, and the United States flag floated over the "Halls of the Montezumas." The country was conquered, and the war was ended. Grant had been engaged in all the battles near the Rio Grande, and in most of them from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico, and he had won the brevet rank of captain for his gallantry.
After the ratification of the treaty of peace, by which California was acquired, the army evacuated Mexico, and Captain Grant was sent to New York with his regiment. Its companies were separated and sent to various military stations. After serving at Detroit and Sackett's Harbor, the Fourth Infantry was sent to Oregon in 1851, the discovery of gold in California having attracted an immense immigration to the shores of the Pacific. The battalion of which Grant's company was a part was stationed at Fort Dallas, and had some experience in Indian warfare. In 1848 he had been married to Miss Dent; but in the wilds of Oregon he was separated from his family. There was nothing there to satisfy his reasonable ambition, no hope of rising in his profession, and he became discontented. In 1853 he was commissioned as a full captain; but this did not reconcile him to his situation, and he resigned his position in the army to enter upon an untried life as a civilian.
Grant was now thirty-two years of age; he had a wife and two children, and it was necessary for him to provide for their support. His first choice of an occupation had been that of a farmer, and he went back to that in the present emergency. His wife owned a farm about nine miles from St. Louis, and Grant located himself there. He built a house upon it of hewn logs, working upon it with his own hands. He was not a "gentleman farmer" in any sense, for he drove one of his teams with wood to the city. He wore an old felt hat, a seedy blouse, and tucked his trousers' legs into the tops of his boots. His habits were very simple, and the lack of means compelled him to live on the most economical scale.
The retired captain was not successful as a farmer; but he was known as an honest, upright man, faithful in all his obligations. In his need of a remunerative occupation he applied for the position of city engineer in St. Louis; but he failed to obtain it. As a real estate agent and as a collector he was equally unsuccessful, and his fortunes were at a very low ebb. He obtained a place in the custom-house, but at the end of two months the death of the collector compelled him to retire. But while fortune seemed to have completely deserted him, subjecting him to the fate of thousands of others in the struggle to live and care for his family, it was more propitious to his father, who was in comparatively easy circumstances, and had established himself in the leather business in Galena, Ill. It seemed to be incumbent upon him to do something for the relief of his oldest son, and in 1860 the ex-captain became a member of the firm of "Grant and Sons." This was the position in which the opening of the War of the Rebellion found him.
For years the military spirit of the North had been repressed and discouraged. Sober and dignified people regarded the soldier as unnecessary, and military parades were looked upon as childish, and classed in the category with circus shows. But suddenly, when the cannon of the Rebellion began to resound in the South, the people were awakened from their dream of security, and the profession of arms, which had been disparaged and had almost fallen into disrepute, became in the highest degree honorable, for the safety of the nation depended upon it. Millions were ready to fight for the Union, but there were very few trained officers to organize and command those who were eager to uphold the flag and save the nation. Except here and there one who had served in the Mexican or Indian wars, there was not a soldier in the land who had any experience of actual warfare.
To Galena came the intelligence that Fort Sumter had been bombarded, and with it the proclamation of President Lincoln calling for 75,000 volunteers. Grant was profoundly moved by the situation of the country, and without seeking for or thinking of the honors and emoluments that might be reaped, he patriotically desired to serve his country in the present terrible emergency. The nation had educated him for military service, and though he had fought with honor through one war, he did not regard the debt as paid. He was a soldier, but he did not boast of what he had done, or even claim the rank in the gathering armies to which his experience entitled him.
In less than a week he was drilling a company in Galena, whose members wished to make him their captain; but another citizen wanted the place, and he declined it. He consented to go to Springfield, the capital of the State, with the company. On the way he met the Hon. Elihu B. Washburn, and by him was presented to Governor Yates, who, however, did not appear to be greatly impressed, and did not take much notice of him. Then Grant wrote to the adjutant-general of the army at Washington, stating that he had been educated at West Point at the public expense, and considered it his duty to tender his services to the Government. He did not apply for the commission of a brigadier-general; but was willing to serve in any capacity where he might be needed.
No response came to this modest offer, and Grant visited Cincinnati, where George B. McClellan, who had been appointed major-general of volunteers by the governor of Ohio, was organizing the forces. Both had served in Worth's brigade in Mexico; and Grant thought his former friend might tender him a position on his staff. Though he called upon him several times, he failed to find him, and returned to Springfield. While he was waiting at the capital, Governor Yates sent for him, and asked him if he knew how many men belonged in a company, how many companies in a regiment, and similar questions concerning details which were very perplexing to a civilian.
Grant assured him that he was a graduate of West Point, had served eleven years in the regular army, and knew all about such matters. This reply helped the governor out of his embarrassment, and the soldier was invited to take a seat in the State House, and act as adjutant-general. One who knew Grant better than others suggested to the governor that he should appoint him to the command of a regiment. This advice was acted upon, and the patriotic seeker for military employment was appointed colonel of the Twenty-first Regiment of Illinois Infantry. Grant promptly accepted the commission, and hastened to Mattoon, where the regiment was encamped, and assumed the command.
His command was a body of three months' troops, composed of excellent material, but in rather a demoralized condition when the colonel assumed command, for the men were American citizens, jealous of their rights as such, and military discipline was new and strange to them. Grant marched them to Caseyville, where he drilled them for four weeks, and transformed them from a mob of independent citizens into one of the best-disciplined bodies of troops in the country, which became noted for its orderly and excellent bearing. The change was effected so skilfully that no man believed he had sacrificed his citizenship. The strong will of the colonel, dignified by the genuine principle of patriotism, overcame the prevailing idea of equality, and his command was a unit. The men were proud of the leadership of a regular army officer, and admired him to such a degree that they re-enlisted for three years.
While Colonel Grant was at Caseyville it was reported that Quincy, on the Mississippi, was menaced by rebel guerillas from Missouri, and he was ordered to the exposed point. In the absence of transportation he marched his regiment one hundred and twenty miles of the distance. From this point his command was sent into Missouri, where the discipline and the morals of the body were improved by quiet and judicious measures. Guarding railroads was the service in which the regiment was employed; and when serving with other commands Grant was the acting brigadier-general, though he was ranked by all the other colonels.
In July of the opening year of the war Grant became a brigadier-general of volunteers. The appointment was obtained by Mr. Washburn, who had befriended him before. The Western Department was at this time under the command of General Fremont. Grant's district was a part of Missouri, with Western Kentucky and Tennessee, and he established his head-quarters at Cairo, a point of the utmost military importance as a depot of supplies and a gunboat rendezvous. Kentucky had proclaimed a suspicious neutrality, and near Cairo, on the other side of the river, were the three termini of a railroad from the South. A Confederate force seized two of them, and Grant hastened to secure Paducah, the third. The enemy hurriedly retired as he landed his force, and Grant issued a temperate and judicious proclamation, for he was on the soil of the enemy. He had acted without orders from his superior, and returning to Cairo after an absence of less than a day, he found Fremont's order, already executed, awaiting him. He also took possession of Smithland, at the mouth of the Cumberland River.
With a force of 3,100 men General Grant made an incursion into Missouri to break up a rebel camp at Belmont, where he fought his first battle in the Rebellion. He had accomplished his purpose, when the enemy was reinforced from Columbus, on the other side of the river, and though he brought off his command in safety he narrowly escaped capture himself. Fremont was superseded by Halleck, and for the next two months Grant was employed in organizing and drilling troops. Columbus, with 140 cannon and full of men and material, closed the Mississippi. The Confederate line of defence against the invasion of the South extended from this point across the country, including Fort Henry on the Tennessee and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, the latter mounting forty guns, with quarters for 20,000 soldiers.
Grant was studying this line of defence, devising a plan to break through it. By order of General Halleck he had sent out a reconnoissance in force, under General Smith, who reported to him that the capture of Fort Henry was practicable. Grant forwarded this report to the commander of the department, and asked for permission to attack it. This was refused in sharp and curt terms. A written application, earnestly seconded by Commodore Foote, who had brought the gunboat service up to a state of efficiency in the West, secured the desired order. With 17,000 men, in connection with 7 gunboats under the command of the commodore, Grant started upon his mission the day after he received the order. Fort Henry was captured, though the army was not engaged. The main body of the Confederate force escaped to Fort Donelson.
The capture of Fort Henry cheered the army and the people. Grant telegraphed the result of the attack to Halleck, and announced his intention to proceed against Fort Donelson. Leaving 2,500 men to garrison the fort, Grant marched with 15,000 from Fort Henry, while a considerable addition to his force came up the river. The fortification was invested, and after three days of persistent fighting in cold, snow, and hunger, the fort surrendered. The gunboats were severely handled by the water batteries of the enemy, and the commodore was badly wounded, so that most of the work fell upon the army.
It was a brilliant victory, and the loyal nation resounded with the praises of Grant. This was the pointer to the fame he afterward achieved. His reply to the rebel general, "I propose to move immediately on your works," was repeated all over the country, and the initials of his name came to mean "Unconditional Surrender," the terms he had demanded of the commander of the fort.
The strategetic line of the Confederates was broken, and new dispositions of their forces became necessary on account of this important victory; Columbus was abandoned, and its men and material sent to Island No. 10. The battle of Pittsburg Landing, or Shiloh, as it is called in the South, followed under Grant's command. It was a bloody and hotly contested action, and not as decisive as that of Donelson. The ground was held, and the arrival of Buell with reinforcements caused the Confederates to retire. Sherman had a command in this battle under Grant, and the strong friendship between these two great commanders, which subsisted to the end, had its origin about this time.
Not such were the relations between Halleck and Grant, for the latter was practically thrown into the shade by the former; but the hero of Fort Donelson continued to do his duty faithfully, making no issue with his superior. At this time he was in command of the Army of the Tennessee. While he remained in this position the Union army and navy had made decided progress in the West and the South; but no real advance was made in the direction of the rebel capital. Then McClellan was removed from his position of general-in-chief, and Halleck was appointed in his place. Grant seemed to be forgotten for the time, or his operations were overshadowed by those in the East. But he had driven the enemy out of West Tennessee, and was turning his attention toward Vicksburg.
When he had sufficiently informed himself in regard to the situation, he proposed to the general-in-chief a movement upon Vicksburg, which was really the Gibraltar of the Mississippi, and he was invested with full powers to carry out his own plans. Constantly and earnestly supported by Sherman, he battered against this strong fortress for six months. Various expedients were resorted to for the reduction of the place, without success. With the written protest of four of his ablest generals in his pocket, Grant moved his army to a point four miles below Grand Gulf, fought several battles on his way, and came to the rear of Vicksburg. The Confederate engineers were doubtless as skilful as any in the world, and seemed to be justified in regarding the fortress, with its surrounding batteries, fortifications, swamps, and tangled jungles, as impregnable.
Following up his regular siege operations, Grant exercised his indomitable will against those tremendous defences, and Vicksburg fell. The news of its surrender was spread all over the loyal nation with that of the great victory of Gettysburg. The Confederacy had been cut in two, and a decided turn in the struggle for the Union was clearly indicated. The name of the victorious general was again upon the lips of all the people. Grant himself seemed to be the only man who remained unmoved. President Lincoln sent him an autograph letter, acknowledging that Grant was right while he was wrong; and even Halleck was magnanimous enough to send him a very handsome letter of congratulation. The fortunate general had been made a major-general of volunteers after his victory at Donelson; and he was now promoted to the rank of major-general in the regular army.
A new department had been created for Major-General Grant, covering nearly all the territory south of the Ohio. He was worn out and sick after the severe exertions of the summer; but when informed that Rosecrans was shut up and closely besieged by Bragg, in Chattanooga, he set out for this point with only his personal staff. On the way he used the telegraph and the mails, and suggested or ordered such steps as would relieve the place, for the Army of the Cumberland, shut off from supplies, was in desperate straits, sick and famished. Reinforcements were hurried, and the result of his preparations was the decided victory of the battle of Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. In this battle General Sheridan came to his notice for the first time.
General Grant was thanked, and presented with a gold medal by Congress. He had become the idol of the loyal nation; but he bore his honors very meekly. The grade of lieutenant-general was revived, and conferred upon him. All the armies of the United States were now under his command. He was called to Washington, and it is not possible even to mention the honors that were showered upon him. In due time he took his place at the head of the Army of the Potomac, and fought some of the most terrible battles of the war. Richmond was his first objective point, and failing in the direct approach to the capital of the Confederacy, he moved upon it from the south. It was a long struggle, but in the end Richmond fell.
At Appomattox Court House Grant received the surrender of General Lee, granting the most magnanimous terms to the defeated army. The other armies of the Confederacy soon followed the example of the Army of Virginia, and the long and terrible conflict of over four years was ended in a victorious Union. As soon as the surrender was effected, General Grant, without any pomp or parade, proceeded to Washington, not even taking in Richmond on his way, and reported in person to President Lincoln. He advised the immediate reduction of the army, sustained at an enormous expense, and no longer needed.
The war was ended! Perhaps no man ever stood higher in the estimation of his country than Grant, and it was inevitable that he should become a candidate for the Presidency. He had been a Democrat in politics before the war; but he was elected to the first office in the nation by the people, though the candidate of the Republican party. He was hardly as successful in this office as he had been in the field; but he carried with him the respect and admiration of the people to the day of his death. He was re-elected to the Presidency; and the objections of the people to a third term more than anything else, prevented his third nomination.
After his return to private life he visited nearly every country in Europe, and was everywhere honored as no citizen of the Republic had ever been before. In the last years of his life he engaged in a financial and banking business, by which he lost all his property. About the same time an insidious disease was wearing away his life. He had been approached before to write a history of his military life, to which he would not listen. In his financial strait he accepted an offer, and wrote the work, in two octavo volumes, while suffering from the weakness and pain of his malady. He was doing it for his family, for his own days were numbered; and there is nothing on record more heroic than his struggle to finish this task.
Four days after he had finished his literary labor of love, he died of the disease which had been the burden of his last days. He passed away at Mount McGregor, N. Y., July 23, 1885. The loyal people mourned him as the saviour of the nation from disruption, and even those who had been his enemies in war were his friends in death. The whole nation was present in spirit at his obsequies. His remains were interred at Riverside Park, New York, and only await the imposing monument which the metropolis of the nation he saved is to rear above his tomb.
His character can never be as prominent as the victories he won for his imperilled country; but his honesty, his unsullied honor, and his self-abnegation entitle him to another crown of glory.