Happy Birthday Ulysses S. Grant!

On this day in 1822 Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant was born. Were there indications in his early life what Grant would achieve as an adult? Read more and consider the question for yourself.

Jesse Root Grant

The life of a young boy is seldom indicative of the story to come in adulthood. Such is the case with Ulysses S. Grant. However, perhaps the coincidences of his ancestry were a sign of what was to come. Grant’s father Jesse became an orphan in 1805 and went to live with the Tod family. One of the Tod sons, David would later become a war-time governor of Ohio. When he struck out on his own, Jesse Grant moved to Maysville, Kentucky to learn the trade of leather making from a friend. Once trained, he returned to Ohio and went to work for and live with Owen Brown and his family in Deerfield. While there, Jesse came to know one of Owen’s young sons, John who would go on to great fame at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

Boyhood home of Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant in Georgetown, Ohio.

Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio on April 27, 1822, Grant’s given name was Hiram Ulysses. A later misunderstanding at West Point led to the more known, Ulysses S. The family moved to Georgetown in Brown County before he was two years old. His father Jesse was a successful tanner, leather always in great demand for daily life in the 19th century. Young Ulysses did not care for the business, in fact stating in his memoirs that he, “detested the trade, preferring almost any other labor.” And, if that labor included horses, Ulysses was all the happier. As young as seven, Grant would drive the wood wagon back and forth from forest to home. By eleven he was in charge of all the horses in the family, tilling fields, harvesting crops and whatever work would keep him away from the tannery. When not in the fields, Grant was at school through the winters. His father insisted his children receive an education, something he did not have the opportunity to acquire in his youth. In the winter of 1838-39, Grant attended school in the nearby town of Ripley, home to Reverend John Rankin, a renowned abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Reproduction of a daguerreotype depicting Lt. Ulysses S. Grant at the time of his marriage to Julia Boggs Dent.

One of Grant’s boyhood friends was Bartlett Bailey who lived just up the street from the Grant’s in Georgetown. Bartlett had received an appointment to West Point in 1937, but by December of 1838, the young Bailey had left the Academy, leaving a spot open from Ohio. Jesse heard of the opportunity and lobbied for his son to receive the appointment. Word came in late December that Ulysses had been appointed to fill the slot. Upon hearing from his father of the appointment, Grant informed him that he would not go. Jesse asserted some fatherly authority and Grant relented. He didn’t really oppose going, but was not confident in his ability to graduate from the prestigious institution, the fear of failure weighing more than the opportunity. Arriving at West Point on May 29, 1839, Grant would commence a military career that would ultimately conclude with worldwide fame and the rank of Lieutenant General. Not bad for a boy who couldn’t stand the sight of blood at the tannery or the thought of studying at the nation’s Army college.

Mark Holbrook
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