In 1864 General Grant had risen to command of all the Union armies when this photograph was taken at Cold Harbor, Virginia.

General Grant's surprising rise from cadet to commander

Early in the Civil War, Union forces were struggling in the East but winning in the West, where a relentless Ulysses S. Grant scored victory after victory to ascend through the ranks.

In command

In 1864 General Grant had risen to command of all the Union armies when this photograph was taken at Cold Harbor, Virginia.
Encyclopaedia Britannica/Getty Images

When the U.S. Civil War began the morning of April 12, 1861, no one would have identified Ulysses S. Grant as the man who would lead the Union Army to victory. A former army officer, Grant had left the military in 1854. He and his family lived in Missouri before relocating to Galena, Illinois, in 1860. When war broke out, Grant was working as a clerk in his father’s leather store.

Galena was a small farming town in 1861, and it took six days after the attack on Fort Sumter, for news of the war to reach it. The citizens were galvanized to fight against secession, and a town meeting was held to rally to the cause. Grant led the proceedings where, after several rousing speeches by representatives of different political parties, the unified people volunteered to form a company of soldiers.

Born April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, Hiram Ulysses Grant was the eldest of Jesse and Hannah Grant’s five children. In 1823 the Grant family moved to Georgetown, Ohio, where young Ulysses would grow up. His father was a tanner, a profession in which Ulysses had no interest. In his memoirs Grant wrote, “I detested the trade . . . but I was fond of agriculture, and of all employment in which horses were used.” He began schooling at age five and continued through his teens when he was surprised to learn that his father had secured him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

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