Grant is born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822 to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and merchant, and Hannah Simpson Grant. His mother descends from Presbyterian immigrants from Ballygawley, County Tyrone.
Raised in Ohio, Grant possesses an exceptional ability with horses, which serves him well through his military career. He is admitted to West Point, graduates 21st in the class of 1843 and serves with distinction in the Mexican–American War. In 1848, he marries Julia Dent, and together they have four children. He abruptly resigns his army commission in 1854 and returns to his family, but lives in poverty for seven years.
Grant joins the Union Army after the American Civil War breaks out in 1861 and rises to prominence after winning several early Union victories on the Western Theater. In 1863 he leads the Vicksburg campaign, which gains control of the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln promotes him to lieutenant general after his victory at Chattanooga. For thirteen months, he fights Robert E. Lee during the high-casualty Overland Campaign and at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox. A week later, Lincoln is assassinated and is succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who promotes him to General of the Army in 1866. Later he openly breaks with Johnson over Reconstruction policies as he used the Reconstruction Acts, which had been passed over Johnson’s veto, to enforce civil rights for recently freed African Americans.
A war hero, drawn in by his sense of duty, Grant is unanimously nominated by the Republican Party and is elected president in 1868. As president, Grant stabilizes the post-war national economy, supports ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and crushes the Ku Klux Klan. He appoints African Americans and Jewish Americans to prominent federal offices. In 1871, to help reduce federal patronage, he creates the first Civil Service Commission. The Liberal Republicans and Democrats unite behind his opponent in the 1872 presidential election, but he is handily re-elected. His Native American policy is to assimilate Indians into the White culture. The Great Sioux War of 1876 is fought during his term. In his foreign policy, the Alabama claims against Great Britain are peacefully resolved, but his prized Caribbean Dominican Republic annexation is rejected by the United States Senate.
Grant’s responses to corruption charges, in his federal departments rife with scandal, are mixed, often naïvely defending the culprits, particularly his war-time comrade Orville E. Babcock. But he also appoints cabinet reformers, such as John Brooks Henderson, for the prosecution of the Whiskey Ring. The Panic of 1873 plunges the nation into a severe economic depression that allows the Democrats to win the House majority. In the intensely disputed 1876 presidential election, he facilitates the approval by Congress of a peaceful compromise.
In his retirement, Grant is the first president to circumnavigate the world on his tour, meeting with Queen Victoria and many prominent foreign leaders. In 1880, he is unsuccessful in obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for a third term. In the final year of his life, facing severe financial reversals and dying of throat cancer, he writes his memoirs, which prove to be a major critical and financial success.
After a year-long struggle with throat cancer, surrounded by his family, Grant dies at 8:08 AM at his Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Philip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, orders a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland orders a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning. After private services, the honor guard places Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which travels to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people view it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), march with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen black stallions to Riverside Park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. His pallbearers include Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR. Following the casket in the seven-mile-long procession are President Cleveland, the two living former presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur, all of the President’s Cabinet, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court.
Attendance at the New York funeral tops 1.5 million. Ceremonies are held in other major cities around the country, while Grant is eulogized in the press and likened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His body is laid to rest in a temporary tomb in Riverside Park. Twelve years later, on April 17, 1897, he is reinterred in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the largest mausoleum in North America.