I F you had been in Georgetown, Ohio, any school day about 1835, and had stepped into the little frame schoolhouse there, you would have seen thirty boys and girls bending busily over their slates, and at the desk the teacher standing, probably with a long beech switch in his hand. Little did he dream that behind one of those slates sat a boy who in coming years was to lead the armies of the Union to victory, and was to sit for eight years in the Presidential chair. That boy was Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses Grant's father was a tanner in Georgetown and owned considerable land outside of the city. Ulysses disliked the tanning business, but loved the farm, especially when he could use the horses. When only eight years old he hauled all the wood used in the house and in the shops. And from the time he was eleven until he was seventeen, he did all the plowing and hauling, besides taking care of the cows and horses, sawing the firewood, and going to school. For play he used to go fishing, swimming, and skating; and sometimes he rode on horseback to visit his grandparents fifteen miles away.
Just before Ulysses was seventeen, he received an appointment as a cadet to the United States Military Academy and, in May, 1839, went to West Point.
The four years at West Point passed rather slowly but pleasantly enough for Grant. He never stood very high in his classes. In French his work was such that he himself said, "If the class had been turned the other end foremost, I should have been near the head." On being graduated from West Point, he was commissioned an officer in the United States Infantry.
In 1844 the regiment to which Grant belonged was ordered to Louisiana. The young soldier was soon to have his first taste of real war.
Some years before, the great state of Texas had made herself independent of Mexico, to which she had formerly belonged. She now asked to become a part of the United States and, in 1845, was taken into the Union. But the Mexicans were not willing to grant her as much land as she claimed. Texas said that her territory extended to the Rio Grande River. Mexico denied this, and said that it extended only to the Nueces River, about one hundred miles north of the Rio Grande. An American army then seized the disputed land—a step which the Mexicans naturally resented. Blood was shed, and the result was war declared between the United States and Mexico in 1846. This war, General Grant said in later years, was "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation."
However, whether Grant thought the war was just or unjust made no difference. It was his duty as a soldier to fight at his country's call. Late in the summer of 1846, the army under General Taylor was headed for Monterey, one of the important places on the road to the City of Mexico.
Monterey was built on a high plane, at the entrance to a pass in the Sierra Madre Mountains. The town was well defended. Upon the low flat-roofed houses were soldiers, protected by rows of sand bags. Over the tops of these sand bags the Mexicans could shoot with but little danger of being struck themselves. And it was only after a four day battle that the American troops succeeded in taking the town.
During this battle Lieutenant Grant performed a most daring feat. Ammunition was getting low, and some one had to go for more. It was a dangerous ride; and as the General in command did not like to ask anyone to take the risk, he called for a volunteer. Grant promptly responded. Hanging over the farther side of his horse he galloped through the streets so fast that the enemy's shots were always too late to strike him.
At another time, when near the City of Mexico, he caught sight of a church with a high steeple. With a few men he took a cannon up into the belfry and showered shots upon the enemy.
The city was finally taken, and a treaty was arranged between the United States and Mexico. By the terms of this treaty Texas extended her territory to the Rio Grande, as she had claimed, and New Mexico and California were secured to the United States. In return, the United States paid Mexico $15,000,000.
For the next few years Grant remained in the army. In the meantime he married. Finding that he could not support a family on the pay of an army officer, he resigned his position and became a farmer near St. Louis, Missouri. Here he lived for four years, working hard in good weather and bad, until fever and age forced him to give up farm life.
In 1860 he went to Galena, Illinois, where his father had a store; and in this store he clerked until President Lincoln's first call for volunteers.
The night that the call reached Galena, Grant presided over a great meeting of the citizens, at the Court House. He never wrapped another package after that meeting. He was selected to take charge of the volunteers of the town, drill them, and take them to Springfield, where they would be assigned to a regiment.
One thing that made Grant a great commander was his power to drill and manage men. He could take men who knew nothing about handling guns or about military discipline and could make fine soldiers of them in a few weeks. He said very little, but thought a great deal, and did his thinking at the right time. When he did speak, he always said something worth hearing.
Grant was soon made Colonel of a regiment in General Pope's division of the Union army, and in August was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
At this time the Confederates held forts along the Mississippi River from its mouth to Columbus, Kentucky. They had also Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, and Fort Henry on the Tennessee. General Grant saw the importance of taking these two forts and gaining control of this section of the enemy's country. He talked over his plans with Commodore Foote, who had charge of the gunboats near Cairo. Both telegraphed to headquarters for leave to attack the forts and received permission in February, 1862.
Fort Henry was the first point of attack. Here the gunboats had the advantage. While Grant with his land forces was wading through the flooded creeks and the deep mud of the roads, Commodore Foote sailed up and took the fort.
At Fort Donelson it was different. For three days the land and naval forces carried on a siege. Then the commander of the Confederates asked Grant what terms would be allowed if the fort were given up. Grant replied, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." This was characteristic of General Grant. He was the kindest of men to a conquered enemy, but he was firm and would not budge an inch before he had gained a victory. After the siege of Fort Donelson people said that Grant's initials stood for "unconditional surrender."
The Union Gunboats Attacking Fort Donelson
The surrender of Nashville soon followed the capture of Fort Donelson, and General Grant with his victorious soldiers marched along the Tennessee River to Shiloh. Here they were attacked and driven back. But the next day, more Union troops having come, Grant again won a great victory.
Another post of vast importance held by the South was Vicksburg, and in the spring of 1863 Grant laid siege to that city. Never was a city more nobly defended than was Vicksburg. Week after week Grant and Sherman kept up their attack by day and by night. Within the besieged city the food became so scarce that a soldier had only one cracker and a small piece of pork for a day's rations. During the last days the Confederates were compelled to use cats and rats for food.
In some places the Union and Confederate lines were so close that the Confederates would call across, "Well, Yank, when are you coming into town?"
"We propose to celebrate the Fourth of July there," the Union men would call back.
"The Yankee soldiers say they are going to take dinner in Vicksburg on the Fourth," said the Vicksburg paper. "The best receipt for cooking a rabbit is, 'First catch your rabbit.' " The last issue of the newspaper was printed on the back of wall paper on the Fourth of July and admitted that the Yankees had "caught their rabbit." Vicksburg had fallen.
When the Yankee soldiers entered the city, all hard feelings between the two armies were at an end. "I myself," said General Grant, "saw our men taking bread from their haversacks and giving it to the enemy they had been so recently engaged in starving out." When the Confederate soldiers passed out of the works they had defended so bravely, not a cheer nor an insulting word was uttered by the Union soldiers.
After the battle of Chattanooga in the following November, President Lincoln saw that the one man who ought to be at the head of the whole army was General Grant. So he made him Lieutenant General, with the power to manage the rest of the war according to his own ideas.
When Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Union forces, there were two Confederate armies in the field,—one under General Johnston in Georgia, the other under General Robert E. Lee, in Virginia. General Grant decided that he himself would lead the Army of the Potomac and march against Lee. Sherman was to conquer Johnston, and then push his way through Georgia to the sea. They were to hammer away at the two Confederate armies at the same time.
One of the first things that General Grant did was to look around for the man most fit to take charge of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac. He chose General Philip Sheridan.
General Sheridan made it his business to torment Lee's army as much as possible. He captured its supplies in the Shenandoah Valley. He destroyed miles of railroad and telegraph lines. He defeated Lee's cavalry in several battles. In fact he made the United States cavalry seem like a swarm of hornets, buzzing around the Confederate army. He burned so many barns, and mills stored with grain that some one said, "If a crow wants to fly down the Valley, he must carry his provisions with him."
In the meantime General Grant and General Sherman were "hammering away" at the enemy. Sherman went first to Atlanta, conquering the troops that he met on the way. Then, having taken Atlanta and destroyed everything that might be of use to the Southern army, he began his famous march to the sea. On the 22nd of December, 1864, Sherman telegraphed to President Lincoln, "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah."
Interior of a Confederate Fort on the Coast
His army had mowed down everything in the way and had reached the coast. He now turned northward to march through the Carolinas and advance upon Lee from the south.
But General Grant did not need Sherman's help. He had met the Confederates in several fierce battles in the "Wilderness," the desolate woody region south of the Rapidan River. His losses had been great; but in spite of everything he would not turn back. "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer," he insisted. Then he turned his attention to Petersburg, south of Richmond; and the city was captured on April 2nd, 1865.
The War in the East
On the fall of Petersburg, Lee withdrew his army along the Appomattox River. The next day, April 3rd, the Union army marched into Richmond; and for the first time in four years the stars and stripes floated over the capital of the Confederacy.
It was at Appomattox Court House, about seventy-five miles west of Richmond, that General Lee, Commander-in-chief of the Confederate army, finally surrendered to General Grant. This was a few days after the fall of Richmond. General Lee was tall, handsome, and noble looking. Dressed in a beautiful new Confederate uniform he looked most splendid beside the plain, round-shouldered, quiet man, in rough soldier's dress, with nothing but the straps on his shoulders to tell that he was Lieutenant General of the Union army.
In the terms of surrender Grant's usual kindness showed itself. He would not take the officers' swords and allowed the soldiers to keep their horses, as they would need them for the spring plowing. The men in the Union lines, hearing that Lee's army had surrendered, were about to fire a salute of one hundred guns in honor of the victory. But Grant would not allow his men to rejoice over a fallen foe, and forbade the firing.
When the news of Lee's surrender reached Sherman's army, the men went nearly wild with joy. They shouted, threw up their caps and turned somersaults. Indeed the whole country rejoiced that the long, hard war was ended. But into the midst of all the joy came the appalling tidings of President Lincoln's assassination. When a new President was to be elected in 1868, there was but one man great enough for the place. That was the Ohio plowboy, the quiet modest soldier, the Commander-in-chief of the Army of the United States.
"Let us have peace," he said in accepting his nomination. And during the eight years of his presidency Grant fought as hard for peace as ever he had fought in war. The Southern States were once more received into the Union; and, in 1871, for the first time in more than ten years, there was a representation of all the states in Congress.
At the end of his second term, General and Mrs. Grant took a trip around the world. Great men gathered to see them off. Crowds lined the shore, greeting them with cheers. Bells rang and whistles sounded.
When the steamer arrived in Liverpool, it was welcomed with even greater display. In France, Germany, on the Mediterranean—everywhere, it was the same. Grant was entertained by kings and emperors and received many beautiful and costly gifts. At last, after traveling through Asia, he sailed eastward across the Pacific to San Francisco, and was received home at the west gate of the country.
But General Grant's fighting days were not over. One more hard struggle lay before him after his trip around the world. Going into business in New York City with a faithless friend, he lost all his property, and found himself penniless and obliged to live on borrowed money. The hand of the last great silent conqueror was already upon him; but he did not falter. Courageously he went to work writing the two big volumes of "Memoirs," the sale of which he hoped would support his family after he was gone.
On General Grant's last Memorial Day, the old soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic in New York City rose early. They unfurled their old battle flags, and formed their lines in the streets. At home, upon his bed, lay the great commander. Suddenly the sound of the drum and the slow heavy tread of many marching feet came to his ears. He could not lie there motionless with the music of Vicksburg and the Wilderness ringing in his ears. With all his strength he dragged himself to the window. He saw the tattered, blood-stained, bullet-pierced battle flags dipped to him in salute. Once more as of old he raised his hand to his brow. It was his last salute to the soldiers and the flag he loved so well.
On July 23, 1885, General Grant died. During the hour of the funeral, services were held over the entire country. Thousands followed his body to the vault where it was laid.
The Tomb of General Grant
April 27th was the anniversary of Grant's birth, and on that day in the year 1897 his casket was removed from the vault and carried to a splendid mausoleum raised by his countrymen on Riverside Drive in New York. Over the portico are his words, "Let us have peace."