Thursday, July 23, 2015

American History 101: Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant is one of the famous military figures in American history... period.  Not only was he the 18th President of the United States, but he is credited with picking up a sagging Union Army and leading it to victory over the Confederates and accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th, 1865.  Grant died in 1885 from throat cancer.  But everyone knows these things... but here are a few things about the great General that you may not know.

Ulysses S. Grant had a middle name... it was Ulysses.
Everyone always called him Ulysses, but that was his middle name.  His given name was Hiram Ulysses Grant.  He
became Ulysses S. Grant when Ohio Congressman Thomas Hamer nominated him to West Point as Ulysses S. Grant through a clerical error.  Grant is said to have made every attempt to fix the typo, but the name persisted and he eventually just accepted it.

Without the military, Grant was lost and poor.
Even though we think of him as a great military leader today, his personal and business affairs were anything but "great".  After serving with some distinction in the Mexican-American War, Grant resigned his post in 1854.  He spent the next seven years bouncing between being a farmer, real estate agent and collecting rent in buildings.  He even had to sell firewood on street corners for a time, just to make some money.  When the Civil War began, Grant was working in his family's leather business.  After he left the White House, he once again sunk into abject poverty when a business partner stole money from investors and left him bankrupt.

Grant didn't start off a winner -- but won the first big victory.
Grant wasn't just given a field command when he jumped back into the uniform in 1861.  But by the beginning of 1862, he lucked into the command of a ragtag bunch of Illinois volunteers, and within weeks was promoted to Brigadier General.  And the, in February of 1862, his aggressive battle field style forced the surrender of 15,000 Confederate soldiers at Fort Denelson in Tennessee.  This was the first unconditional surrender of an entire Confederate force.  This is also the battle in which his reputation for smoking cigars during battle was born.

Everyone has demons... alcohol was Grant's.
It was not uncommon for 19th century American men to drink... to excess.  Alcoholism was, and would become an national epidemic into the early 20th century, which led to Prohibition.  Ulysses S. Grant was no exception, in fact, he was a full blown alcoholic.  It is thought that in 1854 he was forced to resign from the army for being caught drunk while on duty.  He swore off alcohol after this incident, but the Civil War brought it all back again.  It was no secret that Grant was a binge drinker, however his adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins was not in favor of drinking and often was able to keep Grant straight.  That being said, rumors swirled and persisted claiming that Grant would often ride into battle three sheets to the wind.  Alcohol would plague Grant until his death.

Grant prevented Robert E. Lee from being charged with treason
Upon accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9th, 1865, Grant offered generous terms.  The terms paroled Confederate soldiers and officers, allowing them to return to their homes.  He also allowed then to keep their horses and mules for use on their farms.  Grant believed that leniency was the key to creating an environment of peace, and the future of the country.  He was outraged when a federal grand jury later threw out the terms of the agreement and charged Lee, along with sever other generals, with treason.  Grant met with President Johnson and told him in no uncertain terms that he would resign his command rather than execute any order to arrest Lee and his generals.  President Johnson forced the grand jury to drop the cases in order to preserve General Grant's support.

Grant took down the KKK.
During reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan began murdering and terrorizing blacks throughout America.  The late-1860's was a time of growth for the KKK.  President Grant pushed the Justice Department to bring thousands of indictments against the KKK and its leaders.  In 1871, he pushed the so-called "Ku Klux Klan Act", which gave him the power to declare martial law and suspend habeas corpus in areas that he said were in a "state of insurrection".  And in late 1871, Grant sent troops into South Carolina and ran out thousands of Klansmen.  His aggressive handling of the KKK is credited with pushing the Klan into relative obscurity in subsequent years.  They would then resurface after 1910.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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