Ulysses Simpson Grant
(President from 1869-1877, 18th)
By Richard E. Noble
Ulysses Hiram Grant was his real name but he changed it because the initials spelled HUG. Could hardly win the Civil War and go on to become Commander and Chief with a nickname like "Hug," Grant thought.
His career at West Point gets no historian's praise. He was sloppy and unkempt. He didn't like the military, or fighting, or killing. He didn't even like hunting. He couldn't or wouldn't keep in step. He didn't want to go to West Point in the first place, but once he got there, he really knew that he didn't want to be there. He wasn't a good student.
When I read what they have to say about U.S. Grant's stay at West Point, it is difficult to understand why they just didn't throw his butt out. But let me be one of the first to point out, that as bad as Ulysses was, there were a good many more in his class that were even worse than he was. What that says about West Point in those days, I don't know.
As much as Ulysses hated West Point he wanted very much to graduate. He felt that if he could just graduate, his economic future would be secure. He was wrong.
It is well known that Grant had a drinking problem. In fact, when he was stationed at Fort Humboldt, California under Colonel Robert C. Buchanan he was told to resign or be Court Martialed. He resigned. Before this event he served in the Mexican War. He was not in support of the Mexican War and felt it to be unjust and a war of aggression on the part of his country. But he fought in it nevertheless. He is quoted as saying, "Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war, in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history."
So he toughed it out at West Point, an organization that he despised or at least had no respect for, because he thought that it would guarantee economic security. He then proceeds to fight in a war which goes against his conscience and principles for what appears to be his notions of social reputation and possible career advancement. He resigns from the military rather than trying to defend himself and all that he has worked for, because of the embarrassment it would cause his wife, Julia Dent, and her socially acceptable family.
So, we have personal reputation, a lack of conscientious moral principle, economic security, a desire to be acceptable, not too bright, an uncontrollable drinking problem, and an inability to earn a living in the real world. All of which seems to spell out a lack of personal self-esteem, failure and possible imprisonment.
What was it about this sorry individual that brought him to become a victorious general and military hero; two term president of the United States, and the author of one of the best selling memoirs in history?
I really don't know enough about the man to say, but it does seem that people, in general, loved and respected him. There is also no question that he was a brave soldier, but like George Washington, I don't read too many historians bragging about his generalship. He was tough and willing to sacrifice a lot of lives.
He did manage to stay married to the same woman for thirty seven years. So we know that he was not only loyal, brave and courageous, but understanding, willing to absorb abuse, and tenacious. These qualities, I know from personal experience, are necessary to any man who can remain married to the same woman for over thirty years.