The son of an Appalachian Ohio tanner, Grant entered the United States Military Academy at age 17. In 1846, three years after graduating, Grant served as a lieutenant in the Mexican–American War under Winfield Scott and future president Zachary Taylor. After the Mexican-American War concluded in 1848, Grant remained in the Army, but abruptly resigned in 1854. After struggling through the succeeding years as a real estate agent, a laborer, and a county engineer, Grant decided to join the Northern effort in the Civil War.
Appointed brigadier general of volunteers in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln, Grant claimed the first major Union victories of the war in 1862, capturing Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee. He was surprised by a Confederate attack at the Battle of Shiloh; although he emerged victorious, the severe casualties prompted a public outcry. Subsequently, however, Grant's 1863 victory at Vicksburg, following a long campaign with many initial setbacks, and his rescue of the besieged Union army at Chattanooga, established his reputation as Lincoln's most aggressive and successful general. Named lieutenant general and general-in-chief of the Army in 1864, Grant implemented a coordinated strategy of simultaneous attacks aimed at destroying the South's armies and its economy's ability to sustain its forces. In 1865, after mounting a successful war of attrition against his Confederate opponents, he accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.
Popular due to the Union victory in the war, Grant was elected President of the United States as a Republican in 1868 and re-elected in 1872, the first President to serve two full terms since Andrew Jackson 40 years before. As President, Grant led Reconstruction by signing and enforcing Congressional civil rights legislation. Grant built a powerful, patronage-based Republican Party in the South, straining relations between the North and former Confederates. His administration was marred by scandal, sometimes the product of nepotism; the neologism Grantism was coined to describe political corruption.
Grant left office in 1877 and embarked upon a two-year world tour. Unsuccessful in winning the nomination for a third term in 1880, left destitute by a fraudulent investor, and near the brink of death, Grant wrote his Memoirs, which were enormously successful among veterans, the public, and critics. However, in 1884, Grant learned that he was suffering from terminal throat cancer and, two days after completing his writing, he died at the age of 63. Presidential historians typically rank Grant in the lowest quartile of U.S. presidents for his tolerance of corruption, but in recent years his reputation has improved among some scholars impressed by his support for civil rights for African Americans.
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