Ulysses S. Grant is an interesting figure in American history. For many years historians had relegated him to the bottom of the presidential pile. And he still frequently is listed as the worst president of all time.
Laying all of that aside, if it weren’t for his military genius the United States would look very different today from how it looks now. Let’s take a minute and explore how his time remembers him.
Ulysses S. Grant portrayed in Lee’s surrender
Art is used to portray people’s opinions and what they think is important. So, let’s look at how artists of Grant’s time portrayed him.
Look at the drawing and answer a few questions:
- Who is in the light and who is in the shadows?
- Which side has greater numbers? (As a hint General Lee is on the left with the white hair, the Confederate generals are behind him)
- Who is given the focus of this drawing? (One way to tell, where are people facing)
Taking your answers to all of these questions, which side do you think the artist felt was right?
This illustration was commissioned by the owner of the house the surrender took place in. After the surrender soldiers took many of his possessions so they could have a souvenir of the surrender. He attempted to regain some of his money by commissioning and selling this drawing. Does this change some of your answers to the questions?
Ulysses S. Grant’s memorial
After the Civil War, and after Grant’s presidency monuments were erected everywhere in honor of him. When he died thousands contributed money to build him an impressive monument in Washington D.C.
- Look at the statues surrounding President Grant on his horse. What aspect of Ulysses S. Grant do you think they are choosing to emphasize?
- Which statues did the architect put closest to him? What direction are the statues facing? Why do you think they are facing that way?
- Compare the close-ups of the soldiers with Grant’s face? What differences do you see?
- Compare the soldiers on the frieze to the statues flanking Grant’s statue. What are the differences?
Now compare Grant’s Memorial you’ve just been looking at to the Lincoln Memorial. What do the designers of the Lincoln Memorial want to imply about President Lincoln in comparison to President Grant?
Finally let’s look at Ulysses S. Grant’s name
Did you know his name was not originally Ulysses? When he went to West Point the admissions officer wrote his name down wrong, and he decided to keep the name. As a result of his name he earned several different nicknames.
- U.S. Grant (which many said stood for United States Grant)
- Unconditional Surrender Grant (after a battle where he demanded unconditional surrender)
- Uncle Sam Grant
- Useless S Grant (by his brother)
- Of course he also earned the less than positive nickname of “The Butcher.”
Take a moment to look at your name and your initials what nicknames might you earn in your life? Which nicknames might you be proud of? Grant was very proud of being called Uncle Sam Grant, and US Grant.
More resources for Ulysses S. Grant
While these are some fun activities there is a lot more you can learn about US Grant, so here’s some more great places to look
- Ulysses Grant history channel mini-documentaries
- Ultimate Civil War guide
- Disney the American Presidents US Grant
- The Transformation of US Grant from farm boy to president
Another great installment of the ABC’s of American History series. Have you missed a few? Check out the entire series below: