Ulysses S. Grant: Significant Facts and Brief Biography

Engraved portrait of Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant. Getty Images

Life span: Born: April 27, 1822, Pleasant Point, New York.

Died: July 23, 1885, Mount McGregor, New York.

Presidential term: March 4, 1869 - March 4, 1877.

Accomplishments: The two-term presidency of Ulysses S. Grant has often been dismissed as a period of corruption. Yet Grant was a very successful president. And he did a commendable job of helping the country recover from the Civil War, in which, of course, he had played a major role.

Grant presided over most of the period of Reconstruction following the war, and he was sincerely concerned about the interests of former slaves. His interest in civil rights led him to try to protect freed blacks, who were, after the war, often put in situations little better than they had endured under slavery.

Supported by: Grant had not been involved in politics prior to running for president on the Republican Party ticket in the election of 1868. Viewed by many as something of a successor to Abraham Lincoln, and following the tumultuous presidency of Andrew Johnson, Grant was enthusiastically supported by Republican voters.

Opposed by: As Grant had virtually no political history, he did not have strong political enemies. He was often criticized while in office by southerners, who felt he dealt with them unfairly. And the perceived corruption within his administration was often criticized by newspapers.

Presidential campaigns: Grant participated in two presidential campaigns. He was opposed by the Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour in the election of 1868, and by the legendary newspaper editor Horace Greeley, running on a ticket by the name of Liberal Republican, in 1872. Grant won both elections handily.

Personal Life and Biography

Spouse and family: Grant married Julia Dent in 1848, while serving in the U.S. Army. They had three sons and a daughter.

Education: As a child Grant worked with his father on their small farm, and became especially adept at working with horses. He attended private schools, and at the age of 18 his father, without his knowledge, secured an appointment for him at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Attending West Point reluctantly, Grant did reasonably well as a cadet. He did not stand out academically, but impressed his classmates with his horsemanship. Graduating in 1843, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army.

Early career: Grant, early in his Army career, found himself sent to postings in the West. And in the Mexican War he served in combat and received two citations for bravery.

After the Mexican War, Grant was again sent to outposts in the West. He was often miserable, missing his wife and seeing no great purpose to his Army career. He took to drinking to pass the time, and developed a reputation for drunkenness which would haunt him later.

In 1854 Grant resigned from the Army. For several years Grant tried to make a living and faced countless obstacles and hardships. By the time the Civil War began, he was working as a clerk in his father's leather store.

When the call went out for volunteers for the Union Army, Grant stood out in his small town as he was a graduate of West Point. He was elected to be an officer of a company of volunteers in 1861. The man who had resigned in frustration from the Army years earlier took to being back in uniform. And Grant began what soon became an illustrious military career.

Grant showed skill and tenacity under fire, and gained a national reputation following the epic Battle of Shiloh in early 1862.

President Lincoln eventually promoted him to command the entire Union Army. When the Confederates were finally defeated, in April 1865, it was to General Ulysses S. Grant that Robert E. Lee surrendered.

Though he had been struggling to make a living a few years earlier, Grant, at the end of the war, was considered a true national hero.

Later career: Following his two terms in the White House, Grant retired and spent time traveling. He had invested money, and when the investments went bad, he found himself in financial peril.

With the help of Mark Twain, Grant obtained a publisher for his memoirs, and he raced to finish them as he was suffering with cancer.

Nickname: For having asked the Confederate garrison to surrender at Fort Donelson, Grant's initials were said to stand for "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.

Death and Funeral

Funeral procession for President Ulysses S. Grant
The funeral procession for President Grant was a massive public gathering in New York City. Getty Images

Death and funeral: Grant died of throat cancer on July 23, 1885, just weeks after finishing his memoirs. His funeral in New York City was a major public event, and the many thousands who lined up to watch his funeral procession on Broadway was the largest gathering of people in the city's history to that time.

The enormous funeral for Grant, coming just months after the 20th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, seemed to mark the end of an era. Many Civil War veterans viewed his body as it lay in state in New York's City Hall before his coffin was carried up Broadway to Riverside Park.

In 1897 his body was moved into an enormous tomb along the Hudson River, and Grant's Tomb remains a famous landmark.

Legacy: Corruption in the Grant administration, though it never touched Grant himself, has tarnished his legacy. But when Grant's Tomb was dedicated in 1897, he was considered, by Americans in the North and South, a hero.

Over time Grant's reputation has strengthened, and his presidency is generally considered to have been quite successful.