Ulysses Simpson Grant was an American military leader and the eighteenth President of the United States. He was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio. In 1823, his family moved to Georgetown, Ohio. Grant lived there until he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839. The congressman who appointed Grant submitted his name as Ulysses Simpson Grant rather than Hiram Ulysses Grant. It was because of this mistake that Grant changed his name.
Grant graduated from West Point in 1843. He ranked twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine students. His first assignment was in the Southwest. Grant served under General Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War. He remained in the American West following the war. In 1852, after quarreling with a higher-ranking officer, Grant resigned his commission.
In the years before the American Civil War, Grant lived much of the time in St. Louis, Missouri, working as a real estate agent and as a farmer. He failed in both of these businesses. Grant also assisted his father in a tannery business. After the Battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Grant volunteered for military duty. He first served as colonel of the Twenty-First Illinois Infantry but soon was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general due to his previous military experience. In February 1862, Grant led a Union force that captured Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. He earned the nickname "Unconditional Surrender Grant" for demanding the unconditional surrender of the Confederate soldiers inside of these fortifications. These were the first major victories of the war for the Union military. Grant continued to advance through western Tennessee in the spring of 1862. In April 1862, at the Battle of Shiloh, a Confederate army surprised Grant and his men. While the North won the battle, Grant's poor performance in the fight's first day led to pressure from politicians and civilians to remove Grant from his command. President Lincoln refused and, during the summer of 1862, gave Grant command of all Northern soldiers operating in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
Grant spent the remainder of 1862 and the first seven months of 1863 trying to seize Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. In May 1863, Grant succeeded in defeating a Confederate army under John C. Pemberton. The Confederates retreated into Vicksburg, and Grant's force surrounded the city. After a lengthy siege, the Confederate forces surrendered on July 4, 1863. The Union military now had access to the entire Mississippi River and the Confederacy was split into two parts. Due to this victory, Grant was given command of all Union forces in the West. In October 1863, Grant's forces captured an important Tennessee railroad junction in the Battle of Chattanooga.
In March 1864, President Lincoln promoted Grant to lieutenant general and named him supreme commander of all Union forces. Grant focused his attention on General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, leaving the war in the West to his close friend General William T. Sherman. Grant quickly took the offensive. During the war's first several years, other Union commanders had tried to capture Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. After being defeated by the Army of Northern Virginia, the Union soldiers would retreat to the relative safety of Washington, DC. Grant refused to retreat. He realized that the North had a much larger number of men available for duty. He believed that the most effective way to defeat the South was to attack repeatedly. The South did not have the men and supplies to reinforce the soldiers already in the field. To end the war, Grant repeatedly attacked during the summer of 1864. At battles such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Grant lost more men than the Confederates, but he replaced these soldiers with new ones. By early June 1864, Grant had surrounded Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, Virginia. A ten-month siege ensued. The Northerners finally drove the Confederates from Petersburg in early April 1865. The Army of Northern Virginia surrendered on April 9, 1865.
Following the Civil War, Grant remained in the United States Army. On July 25, 1866, he was appointed General of the Army. He was the first person since George Washington to hold this rank. Grant also became involved in the conflicts between the United States Congress and President Andrew Johnson. Johnson sought a lenient policy towards Southern states that had seceded from the Union, while a majority in Congress wanted a harsher approach. Congress succeeded in repudiating Johnson's plan for Reconstruction, but the president retaliated by firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. By doing so, Johnson did not follow the recently passed Tenure of Office Act. This act stated that the president could not fire any officeholder that had received Senate approval before being hired until the Senate approved a successor. Johnson violated this act by firing Stanton and replacing him with Ulysses S. Grant. Grant quickly resigned this office, preferring to remove himself from the dispute.
In 1868, the Democratic Party chose Horatio Seymour as its presidential candidate. Seymour, a former governor of New York, supported states' rights and opposed equal rights for African Americans with whites. The Republican Party selected Grant, a defender of equal opportunities for blacks with whites and a supporter of a strong federal government. Grant easily won the Electoral College vote, capturing twenty-six of the thirty-four states. In the popular vote, Grant received only fifty-three percent. The Republican Party, however, maintained a firm hold over the United States Congress. Grant's first term as president was troubled with corruption. Numerous political leaders, including Grant's vice president, were accused of providing political favors for monetary compensation. Grant remained above the corruption, but many Americans faulted him for his poor leadership and his inability to control his cabinet. In the South, violence was also increasing between whites and the African-American population. The nation seemed no closer to healing its wounds from the Civil War.
Grant sought reelection in 1872. He won easily, receiving fifty-six percent of the popular vote. Grant promised to end the violence in the South but did little about it during his second term. A growing number of Republicans began to oppose equality for blacks and encouraged Grant to withdraw Union troops from the South. An economic depression in 1873 further alienated the American people from Grant. More than eighteen thousand businesses closed over the next five years, leaving thousands of workers unemployed. Due to Grant's declining popularity, the Republican Party nominated Rutherford B. Hayes as president, although Grant had desired to seek a third term. Grant also sought the party's candidacy in 1880, but the Republicans selected James Garfield instead.
Grant spent his last years in New York, writing his memoirs. When he was elected president, Grant had resigned his commission in the military. In 1885, the United States Congress reappointed Grant as General of the Army. His salary helped him pay rising bills. He died on July 23, 1885, from throat cancer.