A West Point graduate who served under Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott in the Mexican War, Ulysses S. Grant enjoyed his military assignments until he was transferred to the Pacific Northwest, where he was unable to have his family with him. He resigned his commission in 1854 and struggled in civilian life in Missouri and Illinois.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, he sought to return to the military and was named a colonel of an Illinois regiment. His record fluctuated with successes and failures, although he continued to show courage and planning ability. The tide began to turn for him in 1863, when Vicksburg was captured on July 4. In September, he rescued the Union army under William Rosecrans at Chattanooga and won battles at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, setting the stage for Sherman's advance on Atlanta and Savannah.
President Lincoln then named him commander in chief of all the Union armies. The war was slow but successful, with Robert E. Lee finally surrendering on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House. Following the war, Grant was promoted to full general and also served as interim secretary of war after President Andrew Johnson suspended Edwin M. Stanton in 1867. Grant won the Republican nomination for president in 1868, and then won the election.
In office, he pushed for the unconditional readmission of Virginia to the Union and strongly opposed the Ku Klux Klan. His hard-money policy pleased banking and business interests and helped him win reelection in 1872. During that term, he was able to block the attempts of Jay Gould and James Fisk to corner the gold market. After leaving office, he again failed in business. Terminally ill, he wrote his memoirs to get his family out of debt. They not only brought considerable income to the family, but have become an American classic.