Most Americans today could use a history lesson about the Northern general who won the Civil War. By the time of his death in 1885, Ulysses S. Grant had earned the gratitude of millions who believed he was both the general who saved the Union and the president who made sure that it stayed together.
Grant was born in modest circumstances, graduated from West Point in 1841 and enjoyed brief acclaim during the Mexican-American War. In 1861, he answered President Abraham Lincoln‘s call for volunteers and rapidly won fame in the Western Theater, scoring decisive and morale-raising victories at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg and Chattanooga.
When Lincoln tapped him in early 1864 to be the leading general, Grant directed victories that vindicated his strategic vision, guaranteeing his president’s re-election. The Union’s hero was praised for the magnanimous terms of surrender that he offered, and Gen. Robert E. Lee accepted, at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Shortly afterward, he became the first four-star general in U.S. history, remaining as head of the Army until nominated for president by the Republican Party in 1868. Grant swept to victory with his famous campaign slogan, “Let us have peace,” and was re-elected in 1872.
Later, stricken ill with cancer, Grant wrote his “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant.” With those volumes, Grant ensured his legacy as one of America’s greatest generals and most essential presidents.