Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Ulysses Simpson Grant

When a man is energetic and determines to be somebody in the world—which is praiseworthy so long as that energy is guided by propriety and a just conception of right—there are always scores, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who endeavor to depreciate that man’s reward.

No other excuse can be assigned for the slander and vituperation which has from time to time been heaped upon the fair reputation of General U. S. Grant.

Born in obscurity at Point Pleasant, Ohio, April 27th, 1822, his life is a fitting type of the possibilities of our glorious institutions. Through the influence of Hon. Thomas L. Hamer he was admitted at West Point in 1839. Personally, at this early age, he detested war and was opposed to accepting the opportunity, but his father persuaded him to go, and his name was blunderingly registered as U. S., instead of H. U., hence he was ever after known as U. S. Grant.

In 1843 he graduated, ranking twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. It will be remembered that Lee and McClellan each ranked second when they graduated. At this time Grant was not taken with war, and probably evinced little interest in army tactics. The Mexican war came on and Grant here distinguished himself, rising to the rank of captain. After the war he was stationed at Detroit, and Sacketts Harbor, but this kind of inactivity was ill-suited to the restless nature of Grant; he therefore resigned.

Having married a Miss Dent, of St. Louis, he accordingly moved onto a farm near that city. The next few years he was engaged on the farm, in a real estate office in St. Louis, and at the outbreak of the civil war was in business with his father, dealing in leather. When the news of the fall of Fort Sumter reached Galena he immediately raised a company and marched to Springfield where they tendered their services to the governor. Grant acted as mustering officer until, being commissioned colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, he took the field. His first great victory was the captureof Fort Donelson with 15,000 prisoners. When asked by the Confederate general what terms of surrender was expected his answer was, “No terms other than an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move upon your works at once.” The fall of Fort Donelson and the capture of its garrison being the first substantial victory that had crowned the Union cause, together with the above described answer to General Buckner, brought the name of General Grant prominently before the country.

Pittsburgh Landing followed and then Grant determined to take Vicksburg. All his generals declared the plan he proposed unmilitary and impossible, but after several unsuccessful attempts the Gibraltar of the Mississippi was captured, and this time 27,000 prisoners taken. Now came the battle of Chattanooga. General Halleck in speaking of this battle said:

“Considering the strength of the rebel position, and the difficulty of storming his intrenchments, the battle of Chattanooga must be considered the most remarkable in history. Indeed it is so. After Grant had turned the Confederate right flank, Sherman was intercepted between Longstreet and Bragg, thus cutting Longstreet entirely out, and preventing another junction being possible. Resolutions of thanks were passed in Ohio and New York, and Congress created Grant a Lieutenant-General, a commission which had been held by no one since General Scott resigned. Indeed, if ever a General deserved honor, Grant had won it; he had opened the Mississippi to navigation, and had captured nearly 100,000 prisoners and arms.”

He was now commander of all the Federal forces. He at once inaugurated two campaigns to be carried on at once. One under Sherman, against Atlanta commanded by the skillful rebel General Johnson; the other under Meade, directed against Lee and the Confederate capitol. Sherman advanced upon Atlanta, and the success of his famous march to the sea is well-known.

The capture of Lee was a far more difficult undertaking. After various flanking movements and costly assaults, the problem of taking Lee narrowed itself down to a siege of Petersburg. Grant perceived that his only hope lie in literally starving the Confederate army out by cutting off all resources as far as practicable. Lee attempted to draw off attention toward Washington, but General Sheridan drove Early out of the Shenandoah Valley, devastating the country to such an extent that it was impossible to forage an army there should Lee attempt such a maneuver again. Time wore away, and on the 9th of April, 1865, Grant captured the Confederate army under Lee, thus virtually ending the war.

On July 25, 1866, he was made general of the United States army; the rank having been created for him, he was the first to hold it. At the next Republican Convention, Grant was nominated for President on the first ballot, and was elected over Seymour, and was re-elected a second term by an increased majority.

When his public services were finished he started in company with his wife, son Jesse, and a few friends. They set sail from Philadelphia on the 17th of May, 1877. They visited nearly all the countries of Europe, and part of those of Africa and Asia. On this trip the Grant party were the guests of nearly all the crowned heads of those foreign countries, everywhere receiving the most exalted honors it has ever been the pleasure of an American to enjoy, and on his return to the United States they were the recipients of an ovation in many of the principal cities of this country.

His success seems to have been the outgrowth of hard study and ability to perform the most exhaustive labor without fatigue. The scenes of his later days were clouded with the intrigues of a stock gambler, but the stain that the Grant-Ward failure seemed likely to throw on the spotless reputation of General Grant was wiped away when the facts were brought to light, and a new lustre was added to his fame by the self-sacrifice shown in the final settlement.

General Grant proved to be a writer of no low order, and his autobiography is a very readable book. On July 23rd, 1885, the General surrendered to a loathsome cancer, and the testimonials of devotion shown the honored dead; and the bereaved family throughout the civilized world, indicated the stronghold upon the hearts of the people held by the dead General.