On this Date in History: One thing that I have learned in researching history is that, in order to really understand a subject, one must look at the complete historiography. So often, you find people referring to one author as the authority on a particular subject when, the truth is, two or three people can have different perspectives. Beyond points of view, authors can also have biases such that they will enhance data that fits their worldview and suppress any documentation that may bring an eye of skepticism. For instance, there is no doubt about the fact that the 18th President of the United States and Union Commander Ulysses S. Grant was born as Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 near Point Pleasant, Ohio. So, the quesiton arises as to how Hiram Ulysses Grant became Ulysses S. Grant?
One pretty reliable source that I use quite often claims that on May 29, 1839 that Hiram Ulysses Grant enrolled at West Point as Ulysses S. Grant because he wanted to avoid the intials H.U.G. However, in the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Grant says that he “reported at West Point on the 30th or 31st of May.” Obviously, something is amiss. Grant biographor William S. McFeely indicates that Grant had checked in to the Roe Hotel in West Point prior to actually reporting. Grant had always been known by his middle name, Ulysses, and he signed in as U.H. Grant, flipping his first and middle initial on the hotel register. He used the name Ulysses H. Grant and probably would have continued to do so had it not been for the sloppiness of a Congressman.
You see, it was Grant’s father’s idea for him to go to West Point. Jesse Grant had thought that the military academy would provide a secure future for his son and , after all, it was free. The richest boy in their hometown, Bartlett Bailey, had been dismissed and that provided an opportunity for Jesse Grant to gain his son’s admission. He initially went to Senator Thomas Morris for an appointment but he was denied. So, he then turned to Congressman Thomas Hamer, which was difficult for Jesse since Hamer was from the oppposing political party. Now, Hamer had known the boy as Ulysses and when he made the appointment falsely assumed that was his first name. Hamer needed to provide a middle initial and most likely recalled that Grant’s mother’s maiden name was Simpson. On this date in 1839, when the young lad walked from the hotel to register at the academy, he found on the roster two Grants: Elihu Grant from New York and U. S. Grant from Ohio. From that point forth, he was forever known as U. S. Grant.
Grant had success in the military in the Mexican War but, after he left the army, he was somewhat adrift. When the war began, he was working as a clerk in the family store in Galena, IL. He gained a position as a colonel in the Illinois volunteers but quickly rose through the ranks. He gained the moniker Unconditional Surrender Grant due to his lack of desire to negotiate with the enemy for terms of surrender. At Fort Donelson, Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner was left to surrender the fort to Grant after the two officers in charge of the garrison had fled. Buckner had known Grant from the Mexican War and had even lent him money when Grant was in one of his numerous financial potholes. It had been assumed that Buckner could use his friendship with Grant to secure favorable terms. But, when Buckner offered an armistice on February 16, 1862 for the purpose of convening a commission to discuss terms of capitualtion, Grant responded, “No terms except and unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner was forced “to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you (Grant) propose.”
On July 3, 1863 Grant received a message from Confederate General John C. Pemberton who commanded the garrison at Vicksburg, MS which had been under seige by Grant since mid-May. Grant had made one of the most daring and brilliant moves in US military history when, instead of attempting to attack Vicksburg from the north, he crossed the Mississippi River, moved south through Lousiana and then recrossed the Mississippi, putting his army south of Vicksburg. This totally went against all the rules of warfare put forth by Jomini, whose tactics were taught at West Point. Grant had cut off his own supply and communications lines and put his army in a position that put two enemy armies between him and his base and also put the Mississippi River at his back. Grant himself said in Memoirs that he was a poor student and it is probable that he never read the theories of de Jomini, which is why he stood out above all other Union generals. Anyway, Pemberton offered an armistice for the purpose of a commission just like Buckner did and Grant responded similarly: ” “The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by the unconditional surrender of the city and garrison.” Pemberton accepted and Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863. It was militarily probably the most significant victory of the Civl War but it fell on the same day as the conclusion of Gettysburg, so publically its been lost to much historical commentary.
Unfortunately, the presentation of Ulysses S. Grant has been rather lousy in American history classes. We are told that he was a drunk, that he was the “butcher” as a general due to the large losses his armies sustained and that his presidency was one of the most corrupt in history. Most of the time, the Grant administration is listed near the bottom of all presidential lists. However, US Grant rose to the level of Lt. General of the United States Army. No one since Washington had such power. He was re-elected for a second term and, in 1880, very nearly gained the nomination for a 3rd term as President. He was wildly popular in the US and around the world as he took a two year journey around the world from 1878 to 1880 in which he literally was the guest of the crowned heads of Europe and other parts of the world. His speeches were always short, but in total he spoke to millions of people around the world who came to see him.
It was President US Grant who destroyed the Ku Klux Klan when he sent troops into the South and the organization did not rise again until the early 20th century. He remains on the 50 dollar bill today, though some want to replace Grant with Reagan. In Memoirs, Grant does not mention drinking once. Biographers such as McFeely mention some drunken escapades. But, given that he could not stand the site of blood and he presided over the deaths of so many men whom he saw die, it’s probably more surprising that he survived at all. He was seen by his men as cool under fire and decisive. U.S. Grant was not perfect, but he was far from the worst. In fact, a good argument can be made that the American Way of War in the late 20th and early 21st centuries was invented by US Grant. His tactics were used by Rommel and Montgomery as well as Norman Schwartzkoph in the Gulf War and the “Shock and Awe” tactics of the US in its invasion of Iraq. The main difference was that Grant used cannon fire while the Americans in Iraq used bombers and missiles. One can also argue that the command and control structure of the modern US military was invented by Abraham Lincoln and US Grant.
Grant’s father more or less made him go to West Point. His appointment came about due to the dismissal of someone else. He rose to prominence in spite of his failings in civilian life and in spite of the fact that he was constantly opposed by his superior officer, Henry W. Halleck. And is truly fitting name, US Grant came about due to a Congressman not doing his homework. It was almost as if it were destiny. Although historians continue to try to bury him the way Halleck tried to bury him, US Grant lives today on the $50 bill and lives on in the tactics of the United States military. A great man who continues to fight to this day. As a side note….The Personal Memoirs of US Grant are considered the greatest presidential memoir of all and is still in print today. The original publisher was none other than Mark Twain.
Weather Bottom Line: Same song. Look for more numerous thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon. Not everyone will get wet but if you find yourself under a storm, it could drop a pretty fair amount of rain. Monday afternoon will feature probably more numerous thunderstorms than on Sunday…lets say excessively scattered. Same story though…could have some heavy down pours in spots though a few people may get no rain at all, but might hear some thunder or feel the cool breezes from nearby storms. Go to Cave Hill Cemetery for the Memorial Day services at 11AM. Should be dry. If you see towering cumulous clouds by noon time, then its a fair bet that it will be active in the afternoon.