Although General Grant was reported to be a small man, in actuality he was five feet, eight inches tall. This was above average for the mid-nineteenth century man who was about five feet, seven inches. General Grant did not start life as a small baby, however, weighing ten and three quarters pounds at birth.
Unlike many of his predecessors who were born in log cabins, Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in a small frame cottage along the banks of the Ohio River in a small village named Point Pleasant, to a leather tanner, Jesse Grant and his wife Hannah Simpson Grant on April 27, 1822. Although named Hiram, his family called him by his middle name Ulysses, or Lyss for short.
At the age of seven, young Ulysses nearly drowned while fishing in White Oak Creek, near his home in Georgetown, Ohio. His friend and fishing partner, nine year old Daniel Ammen, reached down and pulled him to safety after a thorough dunking.
At nine years of age young Ulysses was so adept at breaking horses to pace that many farmers in the region came to him for assistance in training their animals. His intense love for horses continued throughout his life. He set a high jump record at West Point that lasted for more than twenty-five years.
Upon graduation, Grant had no intention of keeping the military as his career and planned instead on being a professor of mathematics.
While serving in the Mexican War, under Generals Taylor and Scott, Grant was in every battle except Buena Vista. Grant was twice breveted for bravery and gallantry for services at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec.
On August 22, 1848, Grant married Julia Dent from St. Louis, whose family held slaves. Grant himself owned a slave named William Jones, acquired from his father-in-law. At a time when he could have desperately used the money from the sale of Jones, Grant signed a document that gave him his freedom.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Grant was working in his father's leather store in Galena, Illinois. The rise from clerk to General of the Armies, to President of the United States in seven years, was an unprecedented feat of accomplishment.
On casting his first vote for president in 1856, Grant, the future republican president, voted for James Buchanan, a democrat. His explanation being that "I didn't know him and voted against Fremont because I did know him."
Grant's life in Galena was not as drab and poverty stricken as reported. He and his family lived in a seven-room house high on a hill in the best neighborhood in town. Julia had a servant, and did none of the housework herself.
Ironically, although Grant had fifteen years in the regular military, his initial offer to serve in the Civil War was overlooked by the War Department. His letter was not found until after the war was over.
Grant was very thin during the war, weighing only one hundred and thirty-five pounds. He was a very sparse eater. He abhorred red meat of any kind, and the sight of blood made him ill. Consequently, he insisted on his meat being cooked on the verge of being charred. He would not eat any kind of fowl, but was fond of pork and beans, fruit, and buckwheat cakes.
Grant was tone deaf and could not recognize any of the light airs of the time; military music was especially annoying to him.
Reticence has long been associated with Ulysses Grant. Although he was an avid listener, in the relaxed company of friends, he could actually be a raconteur.
Throughout his life General Grant had a superstition of retracing his steps. Throughout the war, this superstition turned into an asset in leading troops in battle.
In the heat of battle, when his staff officers were full of anxiety, Grant calmly smoked his cigar and never lost his composure. His nerves of steel were a wonder to all around him. He could write dispatches while shells burst around him and never flinch.
Since boyhood, General Grant had an aversion to any kind of profanity, noting that it was a waste of time. No off color stories were allowed to be told in his presence.
Grant did not believe in holding formal councils of war. He felt that they "divided a responsibility that would at times prevent a unity of action." He listened to the advice of his staff, and then, upon reflection, made the final decision himself. No one knew of his decision until it was put into effect.
During his lifetime General Grant suffered intense migraine headaches which were sometimes reported as bouts of drunkenness.
Before the Battle of Fort Donelson, Grant was a light smoker. During the battle a reporter spotted him holding an unlit cigar given him by Admiral Foote, and soon ten thousand cigars were sent to him in camp. Although giving away as many as he could, he started the habit of cigar smoking that became one of his trademarks.
During the War, General Grant wrote most of his own dispatches. His style was clear and concise and no one ever had to be told twice what his wishes were.
Ulysses Grant was a devoted family man and had his family with him whenever he could during the War. His oldest son Fred was with his father often. During the Battle of Black River Bridge, thirteen year old Fred was wounded when a musket ball struck him in the left thigh.
On the day Lincoln was assassinated, Grant's wife Julia was stalked by John Wilkes Booth. If the general had accepted the invitation to go to Ford's Theater with the presidential party, there may have been a double tragedy. They went instead to Burlington, New Jersey, to see their children.
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