Today in 1822, Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio. He was born to parents Jesse Root Grant, a merchant and a tanner, and mother Hannah Grant. Grant would grow up to become an important general in the Civil War, who led the Union to victory over the Confederacy and was elected as the 18th president of the United States.
Hiram was the Grants’ first child, and he was named at a family gathering by placing ballots in a hat. ‘Ulysses’ was the winner, and Jesse added the name Hiram to honor his father-in-law. The boy would be addressed as “Ulysses” for the rest of his life.
Five more children were born to the Grants. Ulysses began his education at age five. He was an intelligent boy, averse to working in his father’s tannery but skilled on horseback. He was also privately religious, a disposition he kept throughout adulthood, never joining a church.
Grant graduated from West Point in 1843 and served in the Mexican-American War. After the War, he married Julia Dent and they had four children. He retired from the military in 1854 and ran into financial troubles. He re-enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the Civil War, ascending to the rank of general quickly. He led Union forces to victory at Shiloh and Vicksburg, seizing the Mississippi River from the Confederacy. These, among other accomplishments, impressed Abraham Lincoln enough that he promoted Grant to Lieutenant General in March 1864. The last man to hold the rank was George Washington.
Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April of 1865, signaling the end of the Civil War. His victory made him international celebrity, and he was elected President on the Republican ticket in 1869.
His presidency was marred by multiple scandals. Historians regard Grant as a generally honest man with good character, whose political naivete created a space for him to be exploited by corrupt individuals. After serving two terms, he retired from the office and shortly thereafter went bankrupt. He spent his last days, terminally ill, writing a memoir that would become a hit after his death and save his family from financial ruin.