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Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th president of the United States. He’s remembered as a stoic war hero who helped lead the Union Army to victory in the Civil War, but there is much more to this man than his accomplishments on the battlefield.
He might not be as famous as President Abraham Lincoln, but he lived a fascinating life worthy of recognition. So, without further ado, a few of these interesting facts about Ulysses S. Grant might surprise you.
17 Interesting Facts About Ulysses S. Grant
Whether you’re a history buff or not, these facts about Ulysses S. Grant are sure to entertain and intrigue you.
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1. According to Grant Himself, He Had an Uneventful Childhood
Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822. The oldest of six children, he grew up in Georgetown, Ohio. Later in life, he remembered his upbringing as an “uneventful” one, noting that he attended school, did chores around the house, and rode horses.
2. Ulysses Wasn’t His First Name
Ulysses S. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant. When he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, a benefactor mistakenly listed Ulysses as his first name. For whatever reason, the mistake wasn’t corrected, and it stuck.
It’s a good thing, as U.S.G. has a better ring than his previous initials, H.U.G.
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3. The “S” in His Name Didn’t Stand For Anything
It wasn’t just Ulysses’ first name that was messed up during his enrollment at West Point. The same benefactor mistakenly added an ” S ” to his name, too.
The confusion came from Grant listing his mother’s maiden name as Simpson, which the benefactor then mistook for Grant’s middle initial. So an “S” was listed for Grant’s middle name.
Fun Fact: Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, also has a single letter initial. Although the “S” was added on purpose when his parents named him, it doesn’t stand for an actual name. According to Truman, it represented the names of his grandfathers, who were Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.
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4. Grant Was a Mediocre Student at West Point
As noted, Ulysses S. Grant attended the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point. During his time there, he was an average student who was 21st in his class out of 39 cadets. The program ran for four years, and Grant graduated in the class of 1843.
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5. Grant Was an Excellent Horseman
Ulysses S. Grant was a skilled horseman. He had a natural ability with horses, having grown up around them. From an early age he rode, trained, and managed them. His father placed extreme confidence in his son’s ability to handle them.
It’s noted that even in boyhood, Grant was already able to perform stunts and guide teams of horses for long distances. Throughout his military career, he also had a reputation for training and managing these large creatures. It’s said he could train even the most stubborn horse.
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6. Grant Fought in the Mexican-American War
Ulysses S. Grant served as a regimental quartermaster officer in the Mexican-American War, fought from 1846 to 1848. Later in life, he criticized the war and the Polk administration for their decision to wage a war against Mexico.
Grant considered the war to be an unjust one, with a weak nation on one side (Mexico) and a strong nation on the other (the U.S.). He didn’t see it as equally matched, so he considered it oppressive and overpowering.
7. Grant Married Julia Boggs Dent
Julia Boggs Dent Grant was the wife of Ulysses S. Grant. She grew up on a plantation near St. Louis in an affluent Southern atmosphere. The two met through Julia’s brother and became engaged in 1844. However, Grant was fighting in the Mexican-American war, so they had to postpone their nuptials until 1848.
Julia’s father initially opposed the marriage, stating Grant was “too poor.” But he eventually changed his mind. The two had four children together and, from all accounts, enjoyed a loving and respectful relationship.
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8. Grant Helped Lead the Union Army to Victory in the Civil War
Grant was a commanding general in the Civil War who helped lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. He was a natural leader who could inspire great bravery from his troops on the battlefield.
He won the first major victory for the Union in the Civil War. In February of 1862, he forced the surrender of roughly 15,000 Confederate soldiers at Fort Donelson in Tennessee. It was the first time that an entire Confederate squad was captured. During this battle, he famously stated, “No terms except complete and unconditional surrender can be accepted,”
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865, which ended the Civil War.
Fun Fact: General Robert E. Lee also attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He finished second in the class in 1829.
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9. Grant Was Not a Fan of Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant was a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln. However, he did not get along well with Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln’s vice president and went on to assume the presidency when Lincoln was assassinated.
The men clashed on policies, especially those related to Reconstruction following the Civil War. Historians often remember Andrew Johnson as being one of the worst U.S. presidents; he was also the first president to have articles of impeachment brought against him. It’s safe to say that he probably had solid grounds for not liking the man.
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10. Grant Was Supposed to Be at Ford’s Theater When Lincoln Was Shot
Grant was supposed to accompany President Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theater the night John Wilks Booth assassinated him. Advertisements for the performance even stated that Grant would accompany President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, to the performance.
At the last minute, Grant backed out, stating that he and his wife were going to travel to see relatives instead. Although, it’s believed the real reason he backed out was that his wife Julia disliked Mary Todd Lincoln and did not want to spend the evening with the first lady.
Regardless, it’s believed by many historians that Grant was also the target of Wilkes Booth’s assassination plot that night. If Grant had attended the performance, he would have been shot along with Lincoln.
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11. Grant Was the Youngest Person at the Time to Become U.S. President
When Grant was elected president, he was 46, which made him the youngest president elected at the time.
As of now, the youngest president to ever take office is Theodore Roosevelt, who became the 26th President of the United States when he was 42 years old. He assumed the presidency following the assassination of President William McKinley.
The youngest person to become president through an election was John F. Kennedy. He was inaugurated at age 43.
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12. Grant Had No Political Experience Before Becoming President
Although Ulysses S. Grant was a celebrated war hero, he had no political experience when he was nominated for the presidency in 1868. The U.S. was still dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War. Because Grant was credited with helping to keep the U.S. together, most Americans were willing to elect him to lead the nation.
He went on to serve two terms in office, from 1869 to 1877. He left office on a high note and went on a world tour with his wife, Julia. They met with top leaders from around the world, including Queen Victoria.
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13. President Grant Wanted to Annex the Dominican Republic
In 1869, President Grant attempted to annex the Dominican Republic as a U.S. territory with the pledge of eventual statehood. He wanted to annex it for several reasons, including having it as a military base and as a refuge for freed slaves.
Although the Dominicans approved the treaty, the bill failed in the U.S. Senate.
14. Grant Helped Dismantle the KKK During the Reconstruction
Starting in the 1860s, the newly formed Ku Klux Klan waged a murderous campaign of terror against black Americans. President Grant marshaled the Justice Department to secure thousands of indictments against leaders of the extremist organization.
In 1871, he also oversaw the passage of the “Ku Klux Klan Act.” This gave the President the power to declare martial law and suspend habeas corpus in locations considered to be in a state of insurrection.
The same year the law was enacted, Grant dispatched troops to South Carolina and ousted thousands of Klansmen from the state. Because of the efforts of Grant and his administration, the KKK was subdued into submission for the following few years.
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15. President Grant Established Yellowstone National Park
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed an act into law that established Yellowstone National Park. It was called the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, and it essentially created the first national park. The act protects over two million acres of mountain wilderness for future generations to enjoy.
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16. Mark Twain Published Grant’s Personal Memoirs
Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant were close friends. During the last years of Grant’s life, the former president wrote his two volumes of autobiographies, The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. Shortly after his death, Twain published the set.
The sale of the books was extremely important for Grant, as his wife and family needed the finances that were expected to come from the book’s profits. Luckily, the books were a huge success and helped provide for his family for the rest of their lives.
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17. Grant’s Reputation Is Often Debated Among Historians
Grant’s reputation as President has been a contentious topic among historians. His administration experienced fraud, governmental mismanagement, and corruption. It was also marred by scandal — although not as bad as the Watergate scandal in the 20th century.
However, Grant’s presidency also helped reunite the nation after the Civil War, prosecute the Ku Klux Klan, and provide protection and legal support for Black Americans. Historians seem to portray him in a more positive light in recent years. After reading this list of interesting facts about Ulysses S Grant, what side of history do you think he belongs on?