Happy 200th Birthday, Ulysses S. Grant!

I think we sometimes forget the magnitude of what Ulysses S. Grant did: he saved the United States of America. That’s no small thing, saving the country. And he did so in a way that ensured the end of slavery, giving force to the political vision laid out by Lincoln through victory on the battlefield.

The nearly 160 years since Appomattox hasn’t always been kind to Grant, unfortunately. To prop up the vanquished Robert E. Lee, Lost Cause apologists had to tear Grant down. His presidency, tarred by the scandals of subordinates, was long considered one of the worst—a legacy that ignored the fact that Grant was the most important Civil Rights president until LBJ.

Today marks Grant’s birthday—born 200 years ago in Point Pleasant, Ohio. As our friend Patrick Young, author of The Reconstruction Blog, was kind enough to compile for us, events are being held all across the country to commemorate the day. (See Patrick’s list here.)

In 2019, I visited Point Pleasant to finally see Grant’s birthplace for myself (you can read about that visit here). This year, I’ll commemorate the day with an afternoon visit to the site of Grant’s headquarters in the Wilderness. (Keep an eye on Facebook–hint, hint.)

If you’re not able to get out and about today to take advantage of any of the Grant-related activities, consider spending some time with Grant by checking out some of the many resources ECW has shared over the years.

From the ECW YouTube page:

You can also check out Curt’s blog series at ECW, “Being Grant: Now and Then.” And be sure to check out Curt’s fantastic series with the Civil War Roundtable Congress called “Fridays with Grant.” 

We have a TON of Grant stuff on the blog. I urge you to explore by typing “Ulysses S. Grant” into the search bar and then scrolling through the results that pop up. Here are a few favorite Grant pieces I’ve written:

And here is a list of other EXCELLENT content from ECW contributors:

Eastern Theater vs. Western Theater: Where The Civil War Was Won And Lost – Series

Ulysses S. Grant’s Long Road from Donelson to Lowell

Surprise at Shiloh

Grant Takes Command In The West

An Adventure With Dad

Grant Ascending . . .

Scenes from Vicksburg – Series

Rosecrans Out; Grant In

In the Wake of Vicksburg, U. S. Grant as Commander of the Army of the Potomac?

Grant’s Command Post

ECW Weekender: Where Grant Turned South

Eye of the Storm

On the Road to Guiney Station

Camp at Mangohick Church

“If You Realized What Is Going To Happen in the Morning…”

A Farewell to Arms

Not the Only Lemon Lover: A Couple of Recipes from Ulysses S. Grant

Grant Sets Sail

Grant (center in the helmet) with Julia

and the entourage at Karnak, Egypt.

Grant In Egypt

Wilderness and Ward and Ulysses S. Grant

ECW Weekender: The U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego

Cancer and Bitterness: Ulysses S. Grant Nurses His Sickness

Grant Memorial Poetry – Series

CW & Pop Culture: Breaking Down the “Truths” of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

A Conversation with Author Robert Conner on Grant’s Dying Days

“Grant” by Ron Chernow – A Review

Book Review: “Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War”

Meeting Grant’s Great-Great-Grandson

And, for our Patreon subscribers, we have exclusive content on the ECW Patreon page. To become a subscriber is easy and only costs a couple bucks, and your financial support there helps support our podcast production. (click here!)


6 Responses to Happy 200th Birthday, Ulysses S. Grant!

  1. Sorry, Chris. The application of superior force at multiple points utilizing superior logistics and resources to achieve victory is not the sign of military genius. It is really just common sense, a factor which had somehow been beyond the Union’s leadership capacity until Lincoln promoted Grant. His true genius in 1864 lay in part in his ability to maintain Lincoln’s confidence and support in spite of the appalling casualties of the Overland Campaign. He was able to minimize Lincoln’s often hamfisted military involvement. Perhaps Lincoln felt a measure of guilt in the failures of Banks, Butler and Sigel, men whose continued military appointments derived from political considerations. Regardless, it is also hardly Lost Cause mythology to point out the obvious, that the Grant of the Vicksburg Campaign was not the Grant of the Overland Campaign. The tortuous command structure of the Army of the Potomac, coupled with Grant’s insistence on “pitching in” with insufficient reconnaissance led to frequent self inflicted wounds. Even his arguably finest tactical maneuver, his “change of base” south of the James was wasted by an inexplicable failure to follow up. The tactically deft AOP of Bristoe’s Station, Kelly’s Ford and Rappahannock Station bled off on the Road to Petersburg. Grant’s own commanders noted this, Gordon Rhea, hardly a Lee acolyte, has written brilliantly about it. Part of this was due to the obvious fact that Grant was not facing the indecisive Pemberton and Bragg, and the misled Army of Tennessee. And George Thomas wasn’t there to rescue him at a crucial moment! Regardless, what arguably should have been victory in 1864 was not.

    That being said, I believe Grant in 1865 grew into a superior commander, fully justifying Lincoln’s confidence. His quick grasping of the fruits of Lee’s desperate failure at Fort Stedman, and his rapid pursuit after Lee’s evacuation are signs of it. His moral superiority was clearly demonstrated in the terms of surrender he granted Lee, and later, as you noted, in his Civil Rights record. But he tragically squandered this achievement through poor and sometimes corrupt political appointments, which had the effect of splitting the Republican Party. The depth of the animus he created is demonstrated by the opposition to his third term efforts in 1880.

    Still, this uncommon Common Man was the man needed at the time, and through tenacity, rose to the occasion. He was a gentle soul, even if the Grant Cause mythology did screw with George Thomas! And unlike most Great Men, he loved and was loyal to his wife! So HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAM!

    1. I would agree with your opening premise (and, in fact, I don’t think I said anywhere that Grant was a military genius, although he did seem to hit upon and successfully execute a strategy none of his predecessors had managed to figure out).

      I think Grant’s genius was his stick-to-it-iveness and confidence in his own abilities. That allows him to survive setbacks, learn from them, and then advance when opportunities arose (and not just military opportunities but opportunities made possible by other forces, such as political forces). Grant’s rise is due to those factors happening in concert with the learning curve Lincoln and the armies are all going through, too. Had Lincoln meddled with Grant in 1864 the way he had meddled with, say, Burnside in 1862, would Grant have been able to “be” Grant? I doubt it.

      1. Totally agree. Somehow that stolid Midwesterner engendered in the melancholic Lincoln a persistent trust he lost after McClellan. Grant did what he said he’d do. I just wish he had done it better, and quicker. But then Lee might not have said the hell with it as he did at Appomattox.

  2. You’re right, Chris. Recent scholarship has shown Grant to be the right man at the right time. No one is perfect, but he did the job. Happy Birthday, General!

    By the way, I like the new look on this page.

  3. Wishing the guy happy 200th, too. The article rings true, that we all run out of time, whether it be in a day, or on vacation, or beyond, we rarely accomplish all we set out to. Grant could overcome adversity. His creative attempts to solve the Vicksburg dilemma with limited resources, trying a canal, a calvary raid, among other non-stop actioned ideas, and then crossing below and, between two enemy armies in enemy territory, attacking Champions Hill, showed he was not a one trick pony. And had he not been in challenging circumstances necessitating a fair financial foundation for the future of his family he may have been so circumspect as to not have benefited us with his memoirs.

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