A civilian at age 32, Grant struggled through seven lean years. From 1854 to 1858 he labored on a family farm near St. Louis, Missouri, using slaves owned by his father-in-law, but it did not prosper. Grant owned one slave (whom he set free in 1859); his wife owned four slaves (two women servants and their two small boys). In 1858-59 he was a bill collector in St. Louis. Failing at everything, in humiliation he asked his father for a job, and in 1860 was made an assistant in the leather shop owned by his father and run by his younger brother in Galena, Illinois. Grant & Perkins sold harnesses, saddles, and other leather goods and purchased hides from farmers in the prosperous Galena area.
Although Grant was essentially apolitical, his father-in-law was a prominent Democrat in St. Louis (a fact that lost Grant the good job of county engineer in 1859). In 1856 he voted for Democrat James Buchanan for president to avert secession and because "I knew Fr?mont" (the Republican candidate). In 1860, he favored Democrat Stephen A. Douglas but did not vote. In 1864, he allowed his political sponsor, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, to use his private letters as campaign literature for Abraham Lincoln and the Union Party, which combined both Republicans and War Democrats. He refused to announce his political affiliation until 1868, when he finally declared himself a Republican.
Western Theater: 1861-63
The home of President Grant while he lived in Galena, Illinois.
Shortly after Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 volunteers. Grant helped recruit a company of volunteers and accompanied it to Springfield, the capital of Illinois. Grant accepted a position offered by Illinois Governor Richard Yates to recruit and train volunteers, which he accomplished with efficiency. Grant pressed for a field command; Yates appointed him colonel of the undisciplined and rebellious 21st Illinois Infantry in June 1861.
Grant was deployed to Missouri to protect the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Under pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne Jackson, Missouri had declared it was an armed neutral in the conflict and would attack troops from either side entering the state. By the first of August the Union army had forcibly removed Jackson and Missouri was controlled by Union forces, who had to deal with numerous southern sympathizers.
In August, Grant was appointed brigadier general of volunteers by Lincoln, who had been lobbied by Congressman Elihu Washburne. At the end of August, Grant was selected by Western Theater commander Major General John C. Fr?mont to command the critical District of Southeast Missouri.
Battles of Belmont, Henry, and Donelson
Grant's first important strategic act of the war was to take the initiative to seize the Ohio River town of Paducah, Kentucky, immediately after the Confederates violated the state's neutrality by occupying Columbus, Kentucky. He fought his first battle, an indecisive action against Confederate Brig. Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, at Belmont, Missouri, in November 1861. Three months later, aided by Andrew H. Foote's Navy gunboats, he captured two major Confederate fortresses, Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. At Donelson, his army was hit by a surprise Confederate attack (once again by Pillow) while he was temporarily absent. Displaying the cool determination that would characterize his leadership in future battles, he organized counterattacks that carried the day. Both General Floyd and Pillow, the two senior Confederate commanders fled. The Confederate commander, Brig. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, an old friend of Grant's and senior commander with Floyd and Pillow fleeing, yielded to Grant's hard conditions of "no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender." Buckner's surrender of over 12,000 men made Grant a national figure almost overnight, and he was nicknamed "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. The captures of the two forts with over 12,000 prisoners were the first major Union victories of the war, gaining him national recognition. Desperate for generals who could fight and win, Lincoln promoted him to major general of volunteers.
Although Grant's new-found fame did not seem to affect his temperament, it did have an impact on his personal life. At one point during the Civil War, a picture of Grant with a cigar in his mouth was published. He was then inundated with cigars from well wishers. Before that he had smoked only sporadically, but he could not give them all away, so hetook up smoking them, a habit which may have contributed to the development of throat cancer later in his life; one story after the war claimed that he smoked over 10,000 in five years.
Despite his significant victories (or perhaps because of them), Grant fell out of favor with his superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck. Halleck had a particular distaste for drunks and, believing Grant was an alcoholic, was biased towards him from the beginning. After Grant visited Nashville, Tennessee, where he met with Halleck's rival, Don Carlos Buell, Halleck used the visit as an excuse to relieve Grant of field command on March 2. Personal intervention from President Lincoln caused Halleck to restore Grant, who rejoined his army on March 17.
General Grant at Cold Harbor, photographed by Mathew Brady in 1864
In early April 1862, Grant was surprised by Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard at the Battle of Shiloh. The sheer violence of the Confederate attack sent the Union forces reeling. Nevertheless, Grant refused to retreat. With grim determination, he stabilized his line. Then, on the second day, with the help of timely reinforcements, Grant counterattacked and turned a serious reverse into a victory.
The victory at Shiloh came at a high price; with over 23,000 casualties, it was the bloodiest battle in the history of the United States up to that time. Halleck responded to the surprise and the disorganized nature of the fighting by taking command of the