Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, 25 miles east of Cincinnati. The Grant family trace their ancestry back to Matthew Grant who landed in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Over the next two centuries eight generations of the family moved west through Pennsylvania and Kentucky to Ohio. Ulysses' great grandfather was killed in action during the French and Indian War and his grandfather fought at Bunker Hill. At the time of Ulysses' birth, his father, Jesse Root Grant, operated a successful tannery in Point Pleasant. Ulysses' mother, Hannah had married Jesse on June 24, 1821, and Ulysses was their first child. (Jesse and Hannah went on to have five more children - three girls and two more boys.) Hannah's grandfather had immigrated to Philadelphia from Scotland in 1762 and fought with Washington in the Revolution. Hannah's father owned a prosperous farm on the Ohio River near Point Pleasant. At birth, Ulysses was christened Hiram Ulysses Grant. In 1823 Jesse moved his family and their tannery business to nearby Georgetown, Ohio. Ulysses grew up and attended a one room school there. In later years he also attended schools in Maysville, Kentucky, and Ripley, Ohio, but he never excelled as a scholar. Right from childhood he demonstrated a love of horses and by the age of eight was helping his father by driving wagons for the family tannery. By his teens he was being hired to break and train horses for neighbors.
In 1839 Jesse, with the help of his friend, Democratic Congressman Thomas Hamer, obtained an appointment to West Point for Ulysses. When Hamer submitted Ulysses' name to the War Department he mistakenly transcribed it as Ulysses S. Grant. Although Grant attempted to correct the record he was never able to do so. From that point on he was known as Ulysses S. Grant and he never bothered to spell out what the "S" was supposed to stand for. While at West Point he did not do particularly well in any of his studies, did not take to discipline very well, and obviously did not intend to remain in the army as a career soldier. He read a lot, developed a talent for drawing, and continued to excel in horsemanship. In 1843 he graduated 21st in a class of 39, was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant, and assigned as a company officer to the 4th Infantry Regiment at Jefferson Barracks just south of St. Louis, Missouri. The Commandant was Colonel Stephen Watts Kearney. Grant admired Kearney's style of leadership but continued to plan for a career outside of the military. While assigned to Jefferson Barracks, Grant met Julia Dent. Julia's father, "Colonel" Frederick Dent, owned White Haven, a large prosperous farm near St. Louis. Colonel Dent's title was honorific and said more about his lifestyle than his military background (he had none). Grant saw a great deal of Julia until his assignment to Louisiana in May 1844. Before departing St. Louis, Grant and Julia were secretly engaged to be married.
The 4th Regiment's Louisiana deployment was made in the context of the developing political-military situation in the Southwest. Texas had declared itself independent of Mexico and the United States had recognized the Lone Star Republic in March 1837. In the Spring of 1844 President John Tyler began serious negotiations with Texas aimed at annexation. Mexico had not recognized the independence of Texas and was adamantly opposed to it's annexation by the United States. In February 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. James K. Polk had been elected president and believed that the "Manifest Destiny" of the United States required the annexation not only of Texas, but also of the entire Southwest even if it required war with Mexico to accomplish it. The deployment of the 4th Regiment to Louisiana was part of a troop buildup, commanded by Brigadier General Zachary Taylor, that would support Polk's policy. Grant could see what was coming and believed that a conflict with Mexico would be an unjust war, but he also saw it as his duty to follow orders. In April, Grant returned to St. Louis on leave and asked Julia's family for permission to marry their daughter. Colonel Dent was cool to the idea of his daughter marrying a military man, but the rest of the family wholeheartedly supported the union. Julia and Ulysses agreed that the actual marriage would have to await his return from his present assignment.
General Taylor concentrated his force in Corpus Christi where they were reinforced with additional troops and artillery. In March 1846, Grant's unit was part of General Taylor's move to the Rio Grande River across from the town of Matamoros. In April 1845 a clash occurred between Mexican and United States forces triggering hostilities. On May 9, 1846, the United States formally declared war on Mexico. Taylor's first major battle was fought at Palo Alto. It was Grant's baptism of fire and he came to greatly respect General Taylor's leadership style as well as his battlefield tactics. Taylor went on to defeat the Mexican army defending the river in front of Matamoros and crossed the Rio Grande on May 18, 1846, to occupy the city. After Matamoros, Grant, much to his displeasure, was reassigned from company duties with the troops to the position of quartermaster for his regiment. Taylor's force reached Monterrey on September 19, 1846. The battle was difficult, losses were heavy on both sides, and it took three days to subdue the defense. Taylor's surrender terms were generous and politicians (including President Polk) complained, but Grant agreed with Taylor's actions. Grant also wrote to Julia that he detested war and wished that Monterey could be his last battle.
General Taylor's victories generated a ground swell of support for him to run for president. This did not sit well with President Polk. Major General Winfield Scott, Commander of the Army of the United States, had long advocated that the main thrust against Mexico should not be from the north, via Monterey, but rather from the Gulf, via Veracruz. Scott also had presidential ambitions, but was judged by Polk to be less of a threat than Taylor. On December 27, 1846, with Polk's encouragement, Scott transferred much of Taylor's veteran force to his own command and began preparing for Veracruz. Among the units transfered was the 4th Infantry Regiment including Lieutenant Grant. In January 1847, before Scott's force could land at Veracruz, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna moved north with a large army to strike at Taylor's weakened force. The battle was joined at Buena Vista on February 22, 1847. After two days of intense fighting and heavy losses on both sides, General Santa Anna withdrew and General Taylor remained in control of the battlefield. It was declared a victory for Taylor.
Scott and the Army of Invasion arrived off of Veracruz on March 7, 1847, landed on March 9, and had the city surrounded by March 14. Veracruz was well defended and Scott chose not to attack, but rather laid siege to the city. Veracruz capitulated on March 26 and Scott's surrender terms were similar in generosity to Taylor's at Monterey. After the capture of Veracruz, Scott moved on Mexico City only to he held up by Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo. On April 18, 1847, Scott succeeded in getting around Santa Anna's defenses and the ensuing battle resulted in a major defeat of the Mexican Army with minimal damage to Scott's force. In May 1847 volunteer elements of the Army of Invasion were ending their terms of enlistment. Scott chose to cut off contact with Veracruz and entrench in Puebla until replacements could arrive from the United States. His troops lived off of the land and Lieutenant Grant was actively involved in purchasing supplies for his regiment. By August 7, 1847, the replacements had arrived and Scott resumed his march on Mexico City. The fight for the Mexican capital commenced on August 20. Following a short truce the battle was resumed on September 13 and final victory over Santa Anna's remaining forces was achieved on September 14, 1847. Grant participated in some of the heaviest fighting and distinguished himself. Of the 21 officers originally assigned to the 4th Infantry Regiment at the start of the war only Grant and three others had survived.