Hiram Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822. His family called him by his middle name Ulysses, or sometimes just “Lyss”, for short.
A clerical error changed the name of the future Commander-in-Chief during his first days at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He didn’t seem to mind, though, probably thinking that “US Grant” was preferable to “H.U.G.”. Predictably, Grant became known as “Uncle Sam” or simply “Sam.” It was as good a name as any, though, as with future President Harry S. Truman, the “S” doesn’t actually stand for anything.
The 1862 Civil War Battle of Fort Donelson secured the name, when then-Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant received a request for terms from the fort’s commanding officer, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Grant’s reply was that “no terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately, upon your works.” The legend of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant, was born.
Grant had been a light smoker before Donelson, generally preferring a pipe, if anything. A reporter spotted him holding an unlit cigar during the battle, a gift from Admiral Foote. Soon, ten thousand cigars were sent to him in camp. He gave away as many as he could, but it started the habit of smoking cigars that became one of his trademarks, and probably led to his death of throat cancer, in 1885.
On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a document promoting Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General of the United States Army, officially putting then-Major General Grant in charge of all Union armies. Lincoln preferred Henry Wagner Halleck for the promotion, at the time fearing that Grant would challenge him for the 1864 Republican Presidential nomination. Lincoln submitted to the will of Congress only after Grant publicly dismissed the idea of running for President.
46 year old U.S. Grant would be elected the 18th President of the United States four years later, going on to serve two terms after becoming, at that time, the youngest man ever so elected.
Grant was a gifted writer. The penning of his autobiography is a story in itself. Gravely ill at the time and financially destitute, Grant knew with certainty that he was dying of throat cancer. The proceeds from his unwritten memoirs were his only means of supporting his family after his death.
Grant was in constant pain in his last year, as the cancer literally throttled the life from his body. He wrote at a furious pace despite his suffering, often finishing 25 to 50 pages a day. No re-writes, no edits. There was no time for that. The writing of Grant’s two volume memoir was literally a race with death. Many of his wartime contemporaries felt that they received too little credit in Grant’s retelling of events, but that may be understood under the circumstances.
In June 1885, as the cancer spread through his body, the family moved to Mount MacGregor, New York, to make him more comfortable. Propped up on chairs and too weak to walk, Grant worked to finish the book as friends, admirers and even former Confederate adversaries, made their way to Mount MacGregor to pay their respects.
He finished the manuscript on July 18, 1885. Five days later, he was gone. On release, the book received universal critical praise. Mark Twain, who published the memoir, compared them to the Commentaries of Julius Caesar. Gertrude Stein admired the book, saying she could not think of Grant without weeping. Ulysses Grant’s memoirs quickly became a best seller, his family receiving 75% of the net royalties after expenses. The book would earn $450,000, over $10 million in today’s dollars, comfortably re-establishing the Grant family fortune.
Grant’s wife Julia died on March 4, 1877, and was buried with her husband in Grant’s monumental tomb overlooking the Hudson River, in New York City.
Next time someone asks you who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, you can tell them that it’s Hiram Ulysses Grant. If you really want to show off, don’t forget to include his wife, Julia.
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