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05/5/15

After the War: Ulysses S. Grant

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series After the War: Military Leaders

Ulysses S. GrantMany of the men who fought on both sides during the Civil War became prominent politicians and businessmen after the war. In this series we are going to take a look at them. We’ll start with the Union General-in-Chief, Ulysses S. Grant.

At the end of the war Grant was approaching 43 years old, not very old for a man of his high position, even in the 19th century. He continued as the Commanding General of the United States Army until March 4, 1869 when he was succeeded by his good friend William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman held the position until November 1, 1883.

Grant stepped down because he was elected the 18th President of the United States. Grant won the election by 300,000 votes out of 5,716,082 votes cast, receiving an electoral college landslide, of 214 votes to Seymour’s 80. Grant, at the age of 46 was (at the time) the youngest president ever elected. He held that position for two terms leaving in 1877.

Grant stabilized the nation during the turbulent Reconstruction period, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, and enforced civil and voting rights laws using the army and the Department of Justice.

He used the army to build the Republican Party in the South, based on black voters, Northern newcomers (“carpetbaggers”), and native Southern white supporters (“scalawags”). After the disenfranchisement of some former Confederates, Republicans gained majorities and African Americans were elected to Congress and high state offices.

In his second term, the Republican coalitions in the South splintered and were defeated one by one as redeemers (conservative whites) regained control using coercion and violence.

Grant’s Indian peace policy initially reduced frontier violence, but is best known for the Great Sioux War of 1876, where George Custer and his regiment were killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Throughout his presidency, Grant faced congressional investigations into corruption in executive agencies, including bribery charges against two of his Cabinet members. Grant’s administration implemented a gold standard and sought to strengthen the dollar.

In foreign policy, Grant sought to increase American trade and influence, while remaining at peace with the world. His administration successfully resolved the Alabama Claims with Great Britain, ending wartime tensions. Grant avoided war with Spain over the Virginius Affair, but Congress rejected his attempted annexation of the Dominican Republic. His response to the Panic of 1873 gave some financial relief to New York banking houses, but was ineffective in halting the five-year economic depression that produced high unemployment, low prices, low profits, and bankruptcies.

After he left the White House Grant and his wife embarked on a two-year world tour. The trip began in Liverpool in May 1877, where enormous crowds greeted the ex-president and his entourage. The Grants dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, and Grant gave several speeches in London.

After a tour on the continent, the Grants spent a few months with their daughter Nellie, who had married an Englishman and moved to that country several years before. Grant and his wife journeyed to France and Italy, spending Christmas 1877 aboard USS Vandalia, a warship docked in Palermo.

A winter sojourn in the Holy Land followed, and they visited Greece before returning to Italy and a meeting with Pope Leo XIII. They toured Spain before moving on to Germany, where Grant discussed military matters with Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, telling him that in final stages of the Civil War, the Union Army fought to preserve the nation and to “destroy slavery”.

The Grants left from England by ship, sailing through the Suez Canal to India. They visited cities throughout the Raj, welcomed by colonial officials. After India, they toured Burma, Siam (where Grant met with King Chulalongkorn), Singapore, and Cochinchina (Vietnam). 

Traveling on to Hong Kong, Grant began to change his mind on the nature of colonization, believing that British rule was not “purely selfish” but also good for the colonial subjects. Leaving Hong Kong, the Grants visited the cities of Canton, Shanghai, and Peking, China.

He declined to ask for an interview with the Guangxu Emperor, a child of seven, but did speak with the head of government, Prince Gong, and Li Hongzhang, a leading general. They discussed China’s dispute with Japan over the Ryukyu Islands, and Grant agreed to help bring the two sides to agreement. After crossing over to Japan and meeting the Emperor Meiji, Grant convinced China to accept the Japanese annexation of the islands, and the two nations avoided war.

Both of the Grants were homesick and in 1879 they returned to the United States by way of San Francisco where they were greeted by cheering crowds. By the end of the year the were back in Philadelphia. Grant’s new-found popularity encouraged the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party to press him to run for a third term. The 1880 convention became in a bitter contest that lasted 36 ballots until James Garfield, a compromise candidate was nominated.

Grant tried several business but eventually they were all unsuccessful. The ventures depleted Grant’s savings and he was forced to sell  his Civil War mementos and the sale or transfer of all other assets. By 1884 he was bankrupt and destitute.

After writing several articles about the war which were well received, Grant began to write his memoirs at the urging of the editor, Robert Underwood Johnson.

By late 1884 Grant had received a diagnosis of throat cancer. Despite his debilitating illness, Grant worked diligently on his memoirs at his home in New York City, and then from a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor, finishing only days before he died.

Century magazine offered Grant a book contract with a 10 percent royalty, but Grant accepted a better offer from his friend, Mark Twain, who proposed a 75 percent royalty. His memoir ends with the Civil War, and does not cover the post-war years, including his presidency.

The book, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, was a critical and commercial success. In the end, Julia Grant received about $450,000 in royalties. The memoir has been highly regarded by the public, military historians, and literary critics.

After a year-long struggle with the cancer, Grant died at 8 o’clock in the morning in the Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Phillip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, ordered a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland ordered a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning.

After private services, the honor guard placed Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which traveled to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people viewed it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) or other veterans’ organizations, marched with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen horses to Riverside Park in Manhattan. His pallbearers included Union generals Sherman and Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR.

Grant’s body was laid to rest in Riverside Park, first in a temporary tomb, and then—twelve years later, on April 17, 1897—in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb”. The tomb is the largest mausoleum in North America. Attendance at the New York funeral topped 1.5 million.Ceremonies were held in other major cities around the country, and those who eulogized Grant in the press likened him to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Ulysses S. Grant had come a long way from Galena, Illinois to the height of fame. His main character trait as a general was highlighted by Abraham Lincoln. When he was pressed to remove Grant after the Battle of Shiloh, Lincoln told the critic: ‘I can’t spare this man; he fights.'”