Chapter 1:

    • Ancestry.
    • -- removal of his grandfather to Ohio. -- parents and Birth. -- at school and at home. -- characteristics of his boy-hood. -- love of horses. -- skill in managing them. -- too much for vicious Ponies. -- persistency. -- the load of logs. -- prefers being a soldier to being a tanner. -- appointed a cadet at West Point. -- his name. -- U. S., “Uncle Sam,” and “unconditional surrender.” -- career at West Point. -- solid Acquirements and medium rank. -- brilliant scholars not the ablest generals. -- too plucky to be imposed upon. -- respects himself, and compels the respect of others. -- patriotism. -- Graduates at West Point.

The ancestors of General Ulysses S. Grant came from Scotland, and probably belonged to the Scottish clan named Grant, whose ancient motto was, “Stand fast, Stand firm, Stand sure.” The clan has never afforded a better illustration of that motto than the distinguished subject of this sketch. They first settled in Connecticut, from which state General Grant's grandfather, who was a soldier through the whole war of the revolution, removed to Westmoreland County, in Pennsylvania, and was a thrifty farmer there. About [2] the year 1799, however, he emigrated with his family to what was then the North-western Territory, and became one of the pioneer settlers of Ohio, to the rich but wild lands of which the tide of emigration from the older states was then beginning to set. At the time of this removal Jesse R. Grant, the general's father, was a boy, who grew to manhood under the genial influences of that magnificent country, and the inuring difficulties of pioneer life. He added to the occupation of a farmer that of a tanner, and settling at Point Pleasant, in the County of Clermont, married Hannah Simpson, the daughter of another pioneer settler, also from Pennsylvania. He had learned his trade of tanner in Kentucky, but his aversion to slavery led him to settle in Ohio.

Hiram Ulysses Grant, now known to the world as General Ulysses S. Grant, was the eldest of six children, and was born on the 27th of April, 1822. His parents were quiet and unpretending, but persevering and thrifty, possessed of good sense, and governed by good principles. Grant felt their influence for good through all his early life; and his successful career is due, in no small degree, not only to his inherited temperament, but to his early training, and the influences of his home in the formation of his character. It was a humble home in which labor was necessary, but in which, also, the dignity of labor was justly appreciated and adorned with many virtues. In it Grant acquired habits of industry and fidelity to all his duties, of self-reliance, perseverance, and straightforward honesty. The influence of his mother, who was a woman of genuine strength of character, was very great, and was [3] always well directed in moulding the elements of his character for future usefulness.

The early settlers of Ohio, especially those from New England and New York, carried with them a just appreciation of the advantages of education, and made provision for common schools. At one of these young Grant received such education as was then afforded. He was not a brilliant scholar, but he was faithful and persevering, and by dint of application and encouragement at home he mastered all the lessons required of him more successfully, and to better purpose, than boys of quicker and more showy abilities. He exhibited at school, and in all his youthful life, those qualities of faithfulness, patience, and perseverance, and a persistency in doing what was to be done, which have characterized him in after life, and have given him that success which has made him famous. In lessons he accomplished with credit all that was required of him, especially in mathematics, and at least acquired so much as enabled him, when appointed a cadet at West Point, to pass an examination as successfully as many who had enjoyed superior advantages, or were endowed with more brilliant mental qualities.

Nor was he idle at home. Like most boys in a similar condition of life, he had many duties to perform about his father's house and tannery; and to these duties, even if they were not always agreeable, he was always faithful. He was not afraid to work, or to lend a helping hand when anything was necessary to be done, and was especially apt at driving team or taking charge of horses. His work done, he applied himself to his lessons, receiving generous encouragement from [4] his parents, and such assistance as they could render. He learned much by experience and observation, and acquired the habit of making practical application of what he learned by study. Thus his education at school and at home laid the foundation for the accomplishment of great deeds in his manhood, when his country imposed upon him the necessity.

When men have become famous, it is quite usual to find recorded numerous anecdotes of their sayings and doings in boyhood, which are characteristic of the qualities they exhibited in maturer years. If these are not readily found in family traditions or neighborly gossip, they are sometimes invented, or enlarged from some trivial occurrence which the subsequent fame of the subject alone would cause to be remembered. It is not proposed to repeat or to create any such myths concerning the boyhood of Grant. Doubtless many things occurred to him, and he did many things, which might, if duly recorded, add interest to his biography. But such things occur to all boys, and most of them do something characteristic, only there are but few whose after career renders it worth while to remember or enlarge upon such things to point a moral or adorn a biography.

But Grant's boyhood was not very remakable, and gave no special promise of future greatness, though a phrenologist once said he would be President of the United States. He was a downright, earnest, honest boy, quiet and unassuming, with indications of reserved power to meet emergencies. He was no boaster, but he exhibited self-reliance, persistency, and courage which could not but win the respect of his associates. [5] He was generous and good-natured, but his firmness did not allow him to be imposed upon. He was not disposed to quarrel or — to fight on his own account, but it is related of him that he once fought and punished a Canadian boy who insulted the memory of Washington. He was not without ambition, but it was by no means the only motive of his actions, or led him to do more than faithfully and persistently attend to the duty in hand. He was patriotic, and had a laudable desire to serve his country as a soldier rather than as a politician. Though exhibiting no special aptitude for military life, except firmness and fidelity to duty, his modesty and reticence saw no attractions in the political field.

One of the traits of his character earliest to be developed was his love for horses, and his faculty of managing them. From his infancy he loved a horse, and learned to ride one long before he learned to read. When only seven and a half years old, during his father's absence, he harnessed to a sled a three-year-old colt, which had never been broken except to the saddle, and drove the animal all day, carrying loads of brushwood. He was afraid of no horse, and not only became an expert driver, but an excellent tamer and trainer of horses even before he was twelve years old. He taught them to pace with remarkable facility, and his neighbors, near and far, were very desirous of having his service in this line, though he was not inclined to become a mere horse-trainer. He rode with more than the skill of a circus-rider, for his rides were in the rough and open fields without the advantages of the “ring;” but his feats were for his own amusement and his own satisfaction, and not for the eye of any one [6] else. He once or twice balked a tricky showman by safely riding a mischievous pony which was trained to throw all venturesome boys who mounted it, but was completely mastered by young Grant.

He not only loved a horse and knew how to tame, ride, and train him, but he early learned to know the points of a good horse, so that he could, even at twelve years old, judge of the quality and value of one. This love for and power over a horse, manifested, as in young Grant's case, in useful and practical ways, show both a genial side to his nature and a power to dare and to command.

His love of a good horse now is well known, and it is one of the homebred affections of his boyhood, which, with homebred habits and virtues, have adhered to him through all his life. He can “talk horse” with any-body, and has often evaded the questions of too inquisitive visitors, or concealed his plans and purposes, by a ready resort to that fruitful topic of conversation.

Another of his traits, which was early developed, was his perseverance, which was shown not only in his mastery of horses while yet a mere child, but was abundantly illustrated by labors which would have discouraged almost any boy of his age. When but twelve years old, and small for his age, he gave a remarkable example of practical application of his observation and of patient and persistent labor. He had gone to the woods expecting to find the men cutting timber and ready to load; but they were not there, and the young teamster had no idea of returning with an empty wagon if he could help it, though it required several men to lift the huge logs he was to carry. He looked around, [7] and seeing a felled tree which lay with the trunk elevated at one end at a moderate angle with the ground, he at once thought of an expedient, and with self-reliance and perseverance set himself to work to put it in practice. With one of his horses he drew up the slope of the felled tree one end of a log he proposed to carry, and that being properly placed high enough for him to back the wagon under it, he in the same way drew, one at a time, two or three others, which made a load. That done, and the wagon being placed under the elevated ends, with his horse and chains he drew each log into it, and, securing his load, went quietly home, doubtless well pleased with his work, though making not the slightest boast.

His father could hardly believe the boy's assertion, that he and the horse loaded the wagon; but he knew that Ulysses was never guilty of falsehood, and he soon had the work explained so that he was satisfied of its truth, though he still could not but wonder at his son's achievement. Such practical knowledge and persistent labor he exhibited all through his boyhood, and they furnish the key to some of the great successes of his after career.

That Grant was a boy of capacity and character, is proved by the fact that, without any special political or family influence, he received the appointment of cadet in the National Military Academy at West Point. He preferred being a soldier to being a tanner, and the country now knows that he chose wisely. He was nominated for admission to the Academy in 1839, by Hon. T. L. Hamer, member of Congress from the district in which he resided. By some mistake Mr. [8] Hamer gave his name as Ulysses S. Grant, probably confounding his name with that of a brother who bore the name of Simpson, his mother's maiden name. Grant applied to the authorities at West Point, and subsequently to the secretary of war, to have the error corrected, but those parties apparently did not think the matter of sufficient importance to demand their attention; or possibly they thought that the initials U. S. were very appropriate for a cadet educated at the expense of the United States, and destined to be an officer in the army of the United States. At any rate, the request was not complied with, and it was fated that Hiram Ulysses Grant was henceforth to be known as Ulysses S. Grant.

These initials were highly popular with the cadets, who soon gave Grant the nickname of “Uncle Sam,” which he always retained in the army among the associates of his youth. They have proved popular with the people, too, who have delighted to associate with his the abbreviation of the national name, which he did so much to preserve. His first great victory, when he dictated terms to the rebels, gave other popular names to his initials, and he was enthusiastically hailed as “unconditional surrender” Grant. The name which a blunder assigned to him has thus become so identified with the history of the country, and with the love and admiration of the people, that neither he nor they could change it, or would desire to if they could.

At West Point, as at school, young Grant was not a brilliant scholar; but he was diligent in his studies, and by his persistency overcame all difficulties, and thoroughly [9] mastered what it was necessary to learn. He was faithful co all his duties, and to the details of military life, though by no means placing too high an estimate upon the strict observance of such matters. His ambition was to perform his duties, and to acquire the knowledge for which he was sent to the Academy, and not to make a show either as a brilliant scholar or a punctilious martinet.

His characteristic persistency was illustrated at West Point not only by his application to studies, but by his playing the game of chess, of which he was fond. When he found a player who was at first more than a match for him, he persisted in playing till he “tired out” his antagonist, and at last beat him.

During the war of the rebellion West Point has abundantly proved that the most brilliant scholars do not make the ablest generals, and that great attainments in science, though they may produce skilful engineers, do not always lead to successful operations in the field, either in the way of strategy or the handling of troops. At the same time it has proved that the knowledge and training acquired there are not to be depreciated, but afford the surest basis for military success, and that those who attain only to a medium rank as cadets, if they profit by what they learn, may in war achieve great things for the country, and earn a wider and more enduring fame than that of brilliant scholars or accomplished engineers. Before the war, and for a long time after it commenced, old army officers and boards of examiners could not comprehend this; and it was vainly imagined that high scholars must make brilliant generals, and that able engineers [10] would crush the rebellion. But stubborn facts and hard experience have shown the folly of such conclusions; and among those stubborn facts are the failure of George B. McClellan, the first scholar, and the signal success of Ulysses S. Grant, who ranked even below the middle of his class.

Grant's genial though retiring disposition, and quiet and unassuming manners, gradually made him many friends among the cadets; and when he became known, “Uncle Sam” was one of the most esteemed of his class, though not so popular, perhaps, as more talkative, rolicking, and demonstrative fellows. At first there were some who were disposed to make fun of the western country boy; and there were others, scions of southern aristocracy, who looked down upon him and his comparatively humble origin with contempt. He was one of the “mudsills” whom they despised. He proved, however, by his conduct, that he was worthy of respect even from these young aristocrats, and he taught those who made fun at his expense to cease their jokes. Though never disposed to quarrel, it is said that he found it necessary to maintain his own self-respect and dignity by punishing one or two who carried their jests too far. What was to be done in this line was, of course, done promptly and thoroughly, according to his manner of doing all things. Such rebukes were effectual; they established his pluck, and made him more generally respected, and esteemed. His comrades found that he was not ashamed of his origin or any want of superficial polish; that he had no false pride which their jests could wound, but that he had a just self-respect; and this, coupled with his firmness [11] and known perseverance, soon secured good conduct and respect towards him on their part.

Grant appreciated the advantages he enjoyed at West Point, and he was grateful to the country which afforded them. His youthful patriotism, too, received a new impulse from the associations with which he was surrounded, and the places celebrated in revolutionary history which lay all about him. Patriotism and duty to the country, which, as a cadet, he specially owed, were always acknowledged by him, and were the inspiring motives of his conduct in the day of the nation's peril. There were those with him there who never experienced such emotions; who daily saw the records of their country's heroes, and moved amid the scenes hallowed by the services and sacrifices of Washington and his compatriots, and yet never felt a throb of genuine patriotism, of love for the whole country, and never breathed a vow of fidelity to the government which educated them for its defence. Their pride was in their narrow states, and in the institution which made them rulers over an “inferior race.” When the hour of the country's trial came, these men were found on the side of the rebellion, false to their country, false to their early associations, false to their oaths. If they have not gone down to traitors' graves, they may learn from the nobler career of Grant that patriotism and fidelity are their own great reward, and are gratefully acknowledged by a loyal people.

On the 1st of July, 1843, Grant, having passed the final examination at West Point, graduated the twenty-first scholar in his class, which numbered thirty-nine. It was not a high rank, but he had profited by what he [12] had acquired there; and his natural characteristics of persistency and fidelity had been strengthened, so that he was better qualified for the duties of active service than many who possessed more showy attainments or a higher scientific knowledge. He was commissioned as brevet second lieutenant, and assigned to the Fourth Regiment of Infantry. His love of horses would probably have led him to select the cavalry arm of the service, but his comparative low rank as a scholar consigned him to the infantry.

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