Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Biography of Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S. Grant, he of the exalted name but humble background, whose earlier life provided no indication of the greatness that he would achieve. His were meek origins, the son of a leather tanner in Pleasant Point, Ohio; he was a withdrawn boy, short and skinny but with an unnatural ability with horses. His father lobbied their local US Congressman for an appointment to West Point, which was duly obtained, Grant attending in 1839. His time at West Point was an undistinguished one, he spurned academia, being only really content when he was mucking around with horses, he graduated anonymously in the middle of the class, failing to land the cavalry duty which he wanted. Rather he was assigned as a regimental quartermaster and sent to fight in the Mexican - American War (1846-1848) under Generals Taylor and Scott. Although supposed to be in the rearguard, monitoring and administering inventory, Grant in fact saw action and marked himself out as a brave and daring young officer. Equally important to his later career, he was a keen and avid observer of the theatre of war, watching how the generals conducted affairs and directed operations. Also of note, he despised what the war stood for, thinking it unjust and morally questionable, yet he went over and beyond the call of duty. Later he would state, that even if a man disagrees absolutely with the reason and purpose of war, it is better that he partake; that it is better to advocate war, pestilence and famine than to act as an obstructionist to a war already begun.

At the conclusion of the Mexican war, he moved though a number of unremarkable posts, gaining promotion to captain and then in 1854, he resigned his commission and retired to the family farm of his wife, whose father was a Southern plantation owner. He had married Julia Dent in 1848, they would have four children together, three boys and a girl. He failed as a farmer, turning his hand to an array of business activities, including bill collecting, real estate and selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis, all of which failed to take-off. In 1860, almost forty, he was forced to ask his father for a job and found himself clerking in a leather store in Galena, Illinois with his brother as his boss. The outbreak of the Civil War was to completely change his fortunes, being the town's only graduate of West Point, he was elected to preside over a citizen's meeting to discuss raising troops. Something inside of him was awakened, he decided to re-enter the Army, he hoped to receive a new commission but he had to settle for command of the Illinois volunteers. He hit the ground running, winning a small battle at Belmont, Missouri and then capturing two major Confederate fortresses - Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. The latter made him a national figure overnight, the captures of the forts were the first Northern successes since the beginning of the war. He had earned his spurs and his trademark style was born - dogged, fearless, clearheaded and lucid. There were detractors however, many noting that he had not yet faced the best of Southern generals who were operating in the Western Theater of the war, most importantly he had not yet come against General Robert Lee's boys.

Indeed, his first taste of the Western Theater was bittersweet, at the Battle of Shiloh he was taken by surprise and initially driven back, he kept his head however and won on the second day, though the battle was the scene of horrific losses. Initial reaction was very critical of Grant, many reports stating that he had been drunk and that it had in fact been his second-in-command, General Buell who had rallied the troops. Many lobbied the White House for Grant's removal but Lincoln refusesd famously stating - 'I can't spare this man, he fights'. However, Grant was placed down the pecking order, as Halleck took over control of Grant's armies, demoting him to second-in-command. When Halleck was promoted to General-in-Chief of all Union armies, Grant regained control. Many believe in hindsight, that Buell was the thinking behind the Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh, either way, Grant had learned a lesson on being prepared, that would serve him well for the duration of the war. In the winter of 1862-1863, Grant in an effort to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, took his army through the marshlands of the region, for which he was debased in the media, many commentators labelling him a drunkard and his adviser Sheridan, a lunatic. However, his strategy is nowadays perceived as masterful; he marched his troops down the west bank of the Mississippi, crossed the river, moved inland and defying all conventional military principle, cut loose from his supply lines. Operating behind enemy lines, he kept on the move and so did not give Confederate forces a chance to concentrate their forces against him, he captured the city of Jackson, Mississippi and so severed the railway line to Vicksburg. He subsequently defeated the Southerners at Champion Hill forcing them inside Vicksburg, which he laid siege to, taking the city six weeks later. It was a momentous victory, splitting the Confederacy in half, it and the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg the previous day are widely viewed as the turning point of the war.

Lincoln promoted Grant to command all the Union armies between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. His first brief was to remove the Union forces from Chattanooga, Tennessee where they were surrounded on three sides by Braxton Bragg's Confederates. He succeeded, though massive credit as to be given to George Thomas' veterans who heroically and miraculously managed to take Missionary Ridge against all expectations, routing the Confederates and effectively opening up the way for the invasion of Atlanta, Georgia and the heart of the Confederacy. It confirmed Lincoln's belief that Grant was his man, in March 1864 he appointed him as Lieutenant-General, in command of the entire Union Army. Grant devised a strategy that would strike at the heart of the Confederacy from multiple directions. Grant, Meade and Butler would move against Lee at Richmond, Virginia; Sigel would attack the Shenandoah Valley; Sherman would take Atlanta; Crook and Averell were to manoeuvre in West Virginia and Banks was to move against Mobile, Alabama. In co-ordinating such a master strategy, Grant was breaking new ground, developing the first concepts of total war. It also set the two great generals, Grant and Lee, against one another, they were to first meet in May 1864 in what became known as the Battle of the Wilderness. It was to mark the beginning of six weeks of continuous and fierce fighting, with Grant continuously trying to outflank Lee and each time Lee managing to thwart him. For a hundred miles they proceeded as thus before the two exhausted armies set in for a siege at Petersburg. Grant was in the ascendancy, the line stretched for over fifty miles with Lee having only thirty-five thousand men (many old men and young boys) compared to Grant's one hundred and twenty-five thousand men. In addition, Sherman took Atlanta and began his historic march to Savannah. Lee's forces were stretched, no longer able to hold his lines, he went into retreat, Richmond fell to the Yankees. Lee's army moved west with the Union forces hot on their heels, after nine days in retreat, Lee surrendered his army on 9 April 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse. Grant did not put the boot in, he offered generous terms, realising the importance of maintaining Southern pride, that the two would need one another in the re-building of the nation.

Following the war, Congress appointed Grant, General of the United States Army and in 1868 he won the Presidential election, remarkably it was his first elected office. However, his political career was to be far from as glittering as his military one. He appointed many cronies to elevated posts and therefore was left with a cabinet who were inept and unqualified. His administration was riddled with corruption but it was kept largely from the public eye and Grant was successfully re-elected for a second term. However, multiple scandals began to unfold and come to light during his second term, compounding negative criticism of an already weak Presidency. In 1877, he embarked on an epic world tour for two years, on his return he sought the Republican nomination for a third term as President but he failed to secure it. Tragically, he subsequently was swindled of his finances and found himself almost destitute and horrifically at the same time he discovered that he was suffering from throat cancer. However, the steel was still there he set about writing his Memoirs which was completed days before his death, it went onto be a best-seller, thus setting up his family, in addition, it is hailed as a literary masterpiece.

Russell Shortt is a travel consultant with Exploring Ireland, the leading specialists in customised, private escorted tours, escorted coach tours and independent self drive tours of Ireland. Article source Russell Shortt, -


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