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Today in history: July 23
Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant dies, and nearly 100 years later President Nixon refuses to release White House recordings
The man who led the Union army to victory went on to become president.
The man who led the Union army to victory went on to become president. Getty Images

On this day. 1885: Ulysses S. Grant died. He was the 18th president, serving between 1869-77, and an Ohio native.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Grant was working in his father's leather store in Illinois. He was appointed by the governor to command a volunteer regiment; within months he had risen to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers.

Grant led his men to seize the Mississippi Valley. In February 1862, when a Confederate commander asked for terms, Grant replied, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." The Confederates surrendered, and President Lincoln promoted Grant to major general of volunteers.

Two months later came one of the war's most important battles: Shiloh. After two days of brutal fighting, Confederate forces retreated, ending hopes that they could block the Union advance into northern Mississippi. Despite this success, some called for his removal. President Lincoln disagreed: "I can't spare this man — he fights."

Grant then won another Union victory at Vicksburg, Miss., which cut the Confederacy in two. Lincoln appointed him general-in-chief in March 1864. Grant directed Gen. William Sherman to storm through the South — while he himself, with the Army of the Potomac, pinned down Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. On April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, in Virginia, Lee surrendered, ending the Civil War.

After President Lincoln was assassinated — just days after the war ended — Andrew Johnson became president. He and Grant ultimately did not get along, and Grant aligned himself with a group of radical Republicans. As a Civil War hero, he became their candidate for President in 1868.

Grant won, and was sworn in in 1869. But Grant proved to be a better general than president. He often deferred to Congress and looked to it to provide leadership. One visitor to the White House noted "a puzzled pathos, as of a man with a problem before him of which he does not understand the terms."

As president, Grant presided over the government much as he had run the army. Indeed he brought part of his army staff to the White House.

Grant was an honest man who possessed great integrity. But he allowed himself to accept gifts from admirers. Two were rather shady speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, who had a scheme to corner the gold market. When Grant realized this, he ordered his treasury secretary to sell enough gold to ruin Gould and Fisk's scheme.

Grant was re-elected in 1872, but other than overseeing postwar reconstruction of the South, the next four years were not distinguished by any substantive achievements. He retired in 1877.

In his later years, Grant became a partner in a financial firm, which went bankrupt. About that time he learned that he had cancer of the throat. He started writing his memoirs to pay off his debts and provide for his family, racing against death to produce a work that ultimately earned nearly $450,000. he died in 1885, shortly after it was completed. Ulysses S. Grant was buried in New York City.

On this day. 1973: President Nixon refused to release White House tape recordings related to the Watergate investigation.

Quote of the day

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most.” -Ulysses S. Grant

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