Ulysses S. Grant

nited States presidents have always been fond of pointing out their humble beginnings.  The presidential candidate of the nineteenth century who was fortunate enough to have been born in a log cabin would have been foolish to permit the fact to be lost on the voting public.  Ulysses S. Grant, eighteenth president of the United States, was not born in a log cabin.  However, his birth on April 27, 1822 in a quiet and unpretentious Ohio River hamlet and early childhood in nearby Georgetown, Ohio, established in him a kinship and identification with the people he would one day serve as President.

The small frame cottage in Point Pleasant was the birthplace of the first child of tanner Jesse Grant and his wife, Hannah.  Hiram Ulysses Grant was the christened name of the child. It would later be mistakenly changed at West Point to Ulysses S. Grant.

The cottage was the home of the Grant family for less than a year before Jesse, having saved the money he earned as a tanner, built a tannery of his own in the Brown county seat, Georgetown. With the new tannery, Jesse built a comfortable brick house, and in the fall of 1823, he moved his small family there from Point Pleasant.

Young Ulysses led a happy life as a boy in a stable home, surrounded by an affectionate family.  He worked in his father’s tannery and attended school in the little two-room brick schoolhouse in Georgetown.  At age 14, he was sent to an academy in Maysville, Kentucky.  The following year he attended Rev. John Rankin’s Presbyterian academy at Ripley, Ohio.  Jesse Grant obtained a West Point appointment for his son in 1839, and when the young Ohio boy passed the entrance examination he began his military career.

Cadet Grant excelled in mathematics, horsemanship and painting.  He was prone to reading the popular novels of the day rather than a full devotion to his course work.  Grant graduated 21st in a class of 39 at West Point in 1843.  He began his service with the 4th U.S. Infantry, garrisoned at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis.  The family of Fred Dent, Grant’s roommate at West Point, befriended the young soldier, and out of this friendship and his many visits to the Dent home grew the courtship of Julia Dent, the woman who would become Grant’s bride when he returned from the Mexican War in 1848.  He and Julia eventually had four children – Frederick, Ellen, Ulysses, Jr., and Jesse.

Grant was assigned to the west coast in 1852, but resigned from the army as captain and returned to his family in Missouri in the summer of 1854.  He cleared a small farm near St. Louis, built a log house and tried his hand at farming.  He then tried selling real estate, and for a brief time held a job in the St. Louis customs house.  Finally, in 1860, Jesse Grant gave his son a job in his leather store in Galena, Illinois.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Illinois Governor Richard Yates appointed Grant colonel of the 7th District Regiment, a volunteer outfit from the heart of Illinois known as “Governor Yates’ Hellions.”  After brief service in Missouri, Grant was appointed brigadier general of volunteers by President Lincoln and given charge of southern Illinois and southeastern Missouri, with headquarters at Cairo.

Grant began the campaign to open the Mississippi River with a successful independent action against Paducah, Kentucky, and occupied this strategically important town.  In February 1862, he moved against Confederate troops in western Tennessee and captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland.  The capture of Fort Donelson, with 15,000 prisoners and General Simon Buckner, was a decisive victory for the Union.  It led northern newspapers to proclaim that the “U.S.” in Grant’s name stood for “unconditional surrender”.  Lincoln immediately made Grant a major general.  He was in command at Shiloh and a year later broke the Confederate control of the Mississippi River by capturing Vicksburg and 30,000 troops. In the campaign from Cairo to Vicksburg, Grant proved himself a brilliant military organizer, administrator and strategist.

Given charge of all military operations between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River, Grant stormed Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain in November 1863, driving the Confederates from Chattanooga in southeastern Tennessee.  After this success, he was appointed lieutenant general and in March 1864 he was called to Washington where Lincoln appointed him supreme commander of the armies of the Union. Grant then forced the war on the South.  The Confederacy, with manpower and industries already severely taxed, gave way before the Union armies.

With his army beaten and dejected, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.  In final victory, Grant bound his countrymen to the promise that the Confederate army officers and men were “not to be disturbed by the United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they reside.” This promise prevented the jailing and execution of Confederate leaders by vengeance-seeking politicians.  His magnanimity did much to heal the wounds of a war torn nation.    With Grant’s victory, Lincoln’s legacy of preserving the Union and freeing four million enslaved Americans was assured.

Following the war, the popular general was elected president in 1868 and again in 1872.  In face of opposition in both the North and South, Grant successfully advocated the ratification of the 15th Amendment (1870) The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  On April 20, 1871, at the urging of President Grant, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act designed to give the federal government additional power to protect African American voters in the Reconstruction South.  As a result, the original Ku Klux Klan was crushed and lied dormant for decades.  Despite these unprecedented Civil Rights accomplishments his second term was tainted by scandals.  Grant was overly trusting of politicians hungry for power and business interests pushing to expand.  Though personally honest and desirous of reform, Grant lacked the political finesse to lead the people and the congress to follow his vision of equal opportunity for all citizens.  As if to add misery to the difficulties of the administration, a great economic depression struck the country in September 1873.

Grant left the presidency in 1877 a less popular man than the famous general who was elected in 1868.  The people did not forget his services during the war.  When a disastrous business partnership with con man Ferdinand Ward ruined him financially and when cancer attacked his throat, the nation expressed heartwarming sympathy.

With Grant penniless, in debt, and facing certain death from cancer, he accepted an offer from writer and publisher Mark Twain to publish his memoirs.  Grant spent the final months of his life fighting his last great battle.  If successful, his Memoirs would help pay off his debtors and provide for his family after his death.  His heroic struggle with illness and pain won the acclaim of the American people. Congress restored him to his generalship in the army with the pay of a retired officer.  Shortly before Grant’s death, Mark Twain came to his home to inform him that advanced sales of the Memoirs had assured royalties of at least $300,000 (they would eventually earn $450,000 in royalties for Julia Dent Grant and her family).

Grant died on July 23, 1885.  An estimated 1.5 million people lined Broadway to attend Grant’s funeral procession that stretched over seven miles long.  He is entombed with his wife, Julia, on Riverside Drive in New York City.  Grant’s Tomb is the largest memorial mausoleum in North America and is operated by the National Park Service.

The frame cottage in which Grant was born on April 27, 1822 can be seen in Point Pleasant on the banks of the Ohio River.  At one time, the cottage was shipped around the United States on a railroad flat car during a tour and was later displayed at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus.

Twenty minutes from Point Pleasant in Georgetown, Ohio you may visit the home where Grant lived from 1823 to 1839 with his parents and five brothers and sisters.  Also in Georgetown, see the school Grant attended from 1829 to 1836.

While in the area, be sure to visit the John Rankin House in Ripley, Ohio.   Rankin was a leader in the abolitionist movement in Ohio and one of the first and most active “conductors” of the Underground Railroad.  His one-and-a-half-story brick house is said to have sheltered 2,000 freedom seekers during the period from 1825-64.