Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/United States/Grant, Ulysses Simpson

See also Ulysses S. Grant on Wikipedia, the 11th edition, and the disclaimer. This appears in a biographical appendix of Section I (History and Constitution) of the United States article. The section was written by Alexander Johnston.

Grant, Ulysses Simpson (1822-1885), lieutenant-general in the United States army and president of the United States from 1869 to 1877, was born at Point Pleasant, O., April 27, 1822. He had but a slight education in his early youth, but graduated at West Point in 1843. He served in the Mexican war with credit, and in routine service until 1854, when he resigned, having then the rank of captain. His attempts to engage in farming near St Louis and in the leather trade at Galena, Ill., were not successful; and, when the civil war broke out, he was the last man whom his brother officers would have picked out as the coming hero of the war. With some difficulty he obtained a commission as colonel of an Illinois regiment, but was soon advanced to the rank of brigadier-general, having his head-quarters at Cairo, Ill. From this point he made incursions into the hostile territory, his first serious affair being at Belmont, Mo., Nov. 7, 1861, which was at best a drawn battle. The Confederate line ran through southern Kentucky, and was penetrated by the Tennessee river, of whose mouth Grant had possession. Estimating the opportunity correctly, he obtained permission, with much difficulty, to attempt to secure control of the whole Tennessee river. Flag-officer Foote, with seven gunboats and a number of transports, conveyed Grant's force up the river and captured Fort Henry, which commanded the point where the Confederate line crossed the Tennessee river (Feb. 6, 1862). A distance of but seven miles separated the rifle-pits around this fort from those of Fort Donelson, which commanded the point where the Confederate line crossed the Cumberland river. Marching overland with about 15,000 men, Grant invested Fort Donelson, and began the first Federal siege of the war. The surrender of the fort (Feb. 16) broke up the Confederate line and forced it back into southern Tennessee. Grant was more popular with the general public than with his superiors, and his experience with them was so unpleasant that he asked to be relieved. Matters were patched up, and he was allowed to push southward. Here the battle of Pittsburgh Landing, in which Grant seems to have been taken by surprise, intensified the doubts his superiors had of his capacity, and he was for some time under a cloud, Halleck assuming command himself, and really retiring Grant for some months. A fully counterbalancing result of the battle was the establishment of perfect sympathy between Grant and Sherman, who had shared its dangers and what odium had come out of it. Grant himself has written that, in the Mexican war, his service “gave no indication that he would ever be equal to the command of a brigade,” and that in 1861 he “had never looked at a copy of tactics since his graduation.” His training for supreme command was now completed, and it had qualified him for the defence of Corinth, to which all his subsequent successes may be directly traced. Left there almost in isolation, and exposed to the attacks of all the forces which the Confederates chose to bring against him, his successful battles of Iuka (Sept. 19, 1862) and Corinth (Oct. 3-5) left him master of the route along the Mississippi. In January 1863 Grant and Sherman succeeded in taking the west bank of the Mississippi to a point opposite Vicksburgh. Failing to reduce the city from this point, Grant crossed the river below Vicksburgh in April, and began the remarkable campaign which ended with the surrender of Pemberton. It showed that he had strategic ability as well as fighting power, and that he was able to discern the characteristics of his opponents and to calculate on their probable errors, and it gave him an official as well as a popular respect which he never lost. Followed by the victories of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, it made him the acknowledged leader of the United States armies, and his appointment as lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief was a foregone conclusion. When Grant assumed command in Virginia in March 1864, Lee's unaccustomed tendency to maintain a strict defensive showed his underlying consciousness that he had before him at last a man who was ready and willing to answer an attack by a counter-attack. Grant's military ability had now reached its highest developments: he handled his 120,000 men with as complete control as he had shown with his 15,000 at Donelson. It is not probable that anything but the vigour and intensity of Grant's operations could have met successfully the problem offered to any commander by Lee behind intrenchments arranged by himself and manned by the army of northern Virginia, or could have reduced that army to the condition which it presented in the winter of 1864-65. The end of the war and the death of President Lincoln left Grant the foremost man of the North and West, and it was really inevitable that he should be elected president in 1868. From the moment of Lee's surrender the people had shown a disposition to put upon his shoulders any work which called for prompt completion. The Republican leaders relied on him to hold all that had been secured by the war until the Congressional plan of reconstruction should be fully carried out, and he did the work as probably no other man could have done it. His public life is really the history of the country for the eight years after 1869, and its errors were largely the result of the intrusion of some of his best personal qualities into it. The rule in the civil service still was that of appointment by favour of the political leaders of the dominant party; Grant, bewildered by the constant and tremendous pressure for appointments, undoubtedly selected some men who were no credit to his administration; when the appointment had been made, his own bitter experience of unjust criticism led him to look with suspicion on any accusation against those whom he had appointed; and his military habits of unquestioning obedience gave him a tendency to expect the same thing from men in politics, and to regard independence as a sort of treason, disqualifying the man guilty of it for any useful criticism. His second term was therefore filled with scandals which are likely to overshadow the solid and enduring achievements of his first. Retiring to private life, he found needed rest in a tour of the world; he was, however, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1880, and engaged in business in which he had no experience, and in which he lost his all. Attacked by an incurable disease, he spent his last few months of life in the preparation of his autobiography, knowing that its sale would be so large as to put his family out of reach of pecuniary distress. He died at Mount M‘Gregor, N.Y., July 23, 1885.