Ulysses S. Grant: West Point & the Mexican-American War

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Learn more about the early life of Ulysses S. Grant! This lesson covers the early life of Ulysses S. Grant's childhood to his time at West Point through his service in the Mexican-American War.

Hiram Grant

Hiram Ulysses Grant was born April 27, 1822. Young Hiram's main duties as a young man were helping his father tan hides in his tannery (a job he hated passionately) and caring for the family's horses (a job he loved). Hiram was a quiet child who didn't excel at much other than taming unmanageable horses. Nevertheless, Grant would become not only the general who won the Civil War for the Union, but also became president of the United States.

Young Hiram was able to attend local public schools such as they were at the time, which didn't really give him the fundamental skills needed to attend college. Hiram hated tanning hides and promised himself that he wouldn't follow in his father's footsteps. The Grant family was industrious but poor, and Hiram's plans to take on another profession required a higher education of some sort.

Where there is a will there is a way. The United States Military Academy at West Point has always made welcome future cadets who are willing to enlist in the Army upon graduation, offering them a free education in the process. Hiram's father, Jesse believed in his son as much as anyone, and without telling his son, asked his Congressman to put forth Hiram's name for acceptance.

Ulysses Simpson Grant
Ulysses Simpson Grant

Ulysses Simpson

Young Hiram's application for enrollment to West Point had the incorrect name, Ulysses Simpson (his mother's maiden name) when he arrived there in 1839. He tried to fix the error, but West Point informed him that in order to change his name, he would have to leave immediately and reapply the following year. Hiram made the choice to accept his name as it appeared on his enrollment papers. For the duration of his life, he went by the more commonly known moniker Ulysses S. Grant.

His lack of education, or the possession of only a fundamental education garnered in the Midwest, did him no favors at West Point. Academically, Ulysses struggled to keep up with the other cadets in his class and looked for ways to distinguish himself. One thing about his Midwest upbringing that benefited him at West Point was his relative ease with horses. Ulysses' skills on horseback were second to none, and in this way, he did eventually set himself apart from his fellow cadets.

At some point in Cadet Grant's time at West Point, his shyness dissipated and he became friends with several of his fellow cadets. He also acquired the nickname ''Uncle Sam,'' which derived from his new initials U.S. Throughout the rest of his life, his fellow West Pointers would refer to him simply as '' Sam''. One of these friends by the name of Fred Dent would go on to be a lifelong friend of Grant's, as he would later marry Dent's sister, Julia in 1848.

Grant spent four years at West Point, and graduated in the summer of 1843. He was 21st in a class of 39 cadets. Ironically, Grant's class began about 70 strong, but half discontinued their tenure before they could graduate. Grant had hoped and expected to be named to the U.S. Cavalry due to his horse riding skills, but the Army had other plans for the young graduate. In the fall of 1843, Grant was attached to the 4th infantry in St. Louis.

Ulysses S. Grant, Mexican-American War
Ulysses Grant

Mexican-American War

May 1844 was a very busy time for the newly promoted Lieutenant Grant. He proposed to Julia, and then joined the 4th infantry in Louisiana to prepare for the coming war with Mexico. From 1844 through 1846, Grant fought in the U.S. Army against Mexico and rose to the rank as Quartermaster.

Grant was placed under the command of Zachary Taylor (future president) and General Winfield Scott. Grant had hoped to get into the thick of things and fight, but as quartermaster he was simply charged with the distribution of goods and supplies to soldiers. Luckily for the battle-starved Grant, he was positioned close to the front lines and was allowed to fight. Grant saw action in skirmishes like the battles of Resaca de la Palma and Monterrey.

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