As the Greek mythological choice for his Christian name suggests, President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) was a heroic figure in the birth of modern America. The 18th President of the United States of America served two terms from 1869-1877 having previously served as Commanding General of the US Army reporting to revered President Abraham Lincoln. It was under his watch that the first African-Americans were elected to Congress and the Battle of the Little Bighorn was lost.
Grant was one of the great Unionists fighting in the American Civil War to defeat the Confederacy who were pro the supremacy of a white, land-owning social and economic elite at the cost of a white farming underclass and enslaved black race. Under the Confederates, women were at best ornamental and at worst child-bearing stock while the concept of equal rights for white males was anathema let alone equality amongst the sexes.
In 1843 Ulysses. S. Grant graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point and fought in the Mexican Civil War that toppled Henry Poole & Co customer the Austrian puppet Emperor Maximilian I. Grant had already retired from active service in 1854 but was financially embarrassed by civilian life so re-enlisted when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Within a year his troops had recaptured Kentucky, most of Tennessee and led the Unionist forces to victory in the Battle of Shiloh for which Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named one of their rainbow tribe of children.
Grant’s style as a commander was aggressive to the point of recklessness. As the Confederate states toppled like ninepins, he enlisted the emancipated slaves to serve the Union often rising them through the ranks as an example of the new world order. By annexing the Mississippi River, General Grant split the Confederate troops in two. He was victorious in the Chattanooga Campaign and Lincoln promoted him to Commanding General of the US Army in March 1864.
The crowning glory of Grant’s military career was a series of dog fights with General Robert E. Lee that he won when Grant surrounded Lee’s army in Richmond and demanded their surrender in 1865. Lee’s defeat signified the de facto end of the American Civil War. Brute force and derring-do had defeated tactics and strategy.
Elected as President in 1868, Grant’s primary agenda was to stabilise a nation severely traumatised by the rift between the Confederates and the Unionists still haunted by the Klu Klux Klan and unused to enfranchisement. Being Grant, he used the Army to enforce his new liberties. His Republican Party was made-up of new black voters, northern newcomers (called the Carpetbaggers) and native southern white supporters christened Scalawags.
Like many US presidents elected on the ticket of hope and change, Grant’s administration unravelled in his second term. The Great Sioux War of 1876 culminated in the massacre of General Custer and his troops in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Captain William Cooke, a Poole’s man, was scalped twice: once for the hair on his head and once for his whiskers. Charges of corruption thundering around the Grant administration only compounded the Native American defeat. Like other American presidents with ambitions to change the world, Grant’s attempt to annex the Dominican Republic was rejected by the Senate before a shot had been fired.
Of his practical contributions to stabilising the United States of America Grant could list the implementation of the Gold Standard. However, his administration panicked along with the stock markets in 1873 in the aftermath of the Emperor Napoleon IIIs fall and the subsequent turbulence in European politics. Grant left the political stage and spent the next two years on a laudatory world tour largely garnering praise for his war record. Grant’s tour began in Liverpool in 1877 and he was invited to dine with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.
President Grant travelled Europe meeting worthies such as Pope Leo XVIII and German Iron Chancellor Bismarck. He refused to meet the Guanxu Emperor of China though he did treat with the influential Prince Gong and met the Japanese Emperor Meiji of the Chrysanthemum Throne. It was on the 1877 visit to London that President Ulysses S. Grant paid his only visit to Poole’s for civilian clothing including a black frock coat and herringbone trousers.
When President Grant died in 1885, a public fund was raised to build a magnificent Neo-Classical domed tomb for he and his wife Julia Dent Grant to rest in full public view. The General Grant National Monument was built in Riverside Park in Upper Manhattan and remains open to the public after extensive restoration. It is long-forgotten that Grant considered standing for a third term of the presidency in 1880 and that he died relatively ignominiously of throat cancer having completed memoirs that were a great commercial and critical success. His reputation as President was largely rehabilitated in the 1980s during President Ronald Reagan’s administration; a tribute from one Western hero to another.