December 9, 2022

Ulysses S. Grant’s Pivotal Moment of Alternate History

Ulysses S. Grant was the commanding
General of the Union Army during the American Civil War. After leading the Union to victory, he briefly served as the Secretary of War and was then elected as the 18th President of the United States. Hiram Ulysses Grant was born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. As a child he learned to be a really good horseman. His father suggested that he
attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. At first Grant didn’t want to since he had no interest in becoming a soldier, but
he realized this was his chance to get a college education.

Grant went to West Point where he was registered as Ulysses Simpson
Grant. In 1843 he would graduate ranked 21st out of 39 in his class and
was assigned to Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Around this
time he met his future wife Julia Dent and often visited her family estate at White Haven. They ended up getting married in 1848 and had four children, three boys and a girl.

Ulysses S. Grant served in the Mexican American War from 1846 to 1848 under future President Zachary Taylor. Grant was a quartermaster, responsible for providing quarters, rations, clothing, and supplies to soldiers. He volunteered to go into combat and famously rode hanging off the side of his horse through a field of snipers to carry an important dispatch.

Following the war, Grant was moved to various posts and eventually California where he was separated from his wife and children. He grew lonely and eventually resigned from the Army in 1854 to return to his family. After this, he tried different jobs to try and make money for his family. He farmed, he sold his father’s leather goods, and he was a real estate bill collector.  After a number of unsuccessful years in his new endeavors, Grant realized that he was unable to support his family and thought about rejoining the Army.  One interesting thing to ponder is how the Civil War outcome may have differed had Grant been successful in the business world.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Grant rejoined the Army and was appointed to command the Illinois Volunteer Regiment. In 1862 Grant had his first major victory when he captured Fort Donelson in Tennessee. When the Confederate commander asked for terms, Grant said, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” He was promoted to Major General of volunteers and became known as Unconditional Surrender Grant.

His next battle at Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Grant won the battle but at a horrific cost of about 20,000 casualties. Grant lost popularity as some accused him of not caring how many men he lost due to his “win at all costs strategy.” His next battle was the battle of Vicksburg, and he knew he needed to redeem himself. He cut off the Confederate supply lines to the city and laid siege for seven weeks until they surrendered. This victory helped to split the South’s forces in two and gave the Union considerable momentum.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln would eventually promote Grant to Commanding General of all Union Armies.  Previous generals had vexed Lincoln since they were not aggressive enough to do whatever it took to win the war.  Grant thereupon became the Army general who led the Union Army against Robert E. Lee. They battled for over a year, with Grant eventually defeating Lee and the Confederate Army. Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.

A week later Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and Andrew Johnson became president. He was an unpopular president and almost got impeached. Ulysses S. Grant would be nominated as a candidate in the election of 1868 and easily defeated Johnson. Grant would serve as President for two terms from 1869 to 1877.

President Grant backed efforts for expanding civil rights for Native Americans and African Americans. He also supported the 15th amendment which granted African American men the right to vote. He established the first national park at Yellowstone. He also was known for some minor scandals including the Whiskey Ring and the Black Friday Gold Ring. Ironically, as a man who espoused total warfare, Grant’s greatest challenge and success was in slowly healing a nation torn apart by a vicious and costly war that had resulted in over 600,000 men killed.  An alternate history of the United States in which negotiation and compromise overcame the urge for bloodshed would be an interesting historical thought experiment.

At the end of his second term in office, Grant went on a worldwide tour to great acclaim. After the world tour he became a partner in a financial firm that went bankrupt. Grant lost a lot of money and got throat cancer. He decided to write his memoirs to help his family financially. His book was published by Mark Twain and Grant earned around $450,000. A few days after completing his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant died at the early age of 63 on July 23, 1885, at his cottage in New York. He is buried in Grant National Memorial, also known as Grant’s Tomb in New York City.