Better Living Through Chemistry- Ulysses S Grant

This is a short blog entry about one of the most iconic figures in American military history and politics in the 19th century. Ulysses S Grant was the man who won the war for Lincoln in the Civil War. His idea of creating a total war and a war of attrition against the Confederacy and General Lee decimated the south. The sheer industrial might and manpower of the North was used on every front to overwhelm the arguably better but under equipped southern commanders like Lee. Grant would also become president in 1868 and help put the nation on a path of modernization and at least attempted to reintegrate the south after the disaster that was the presidency of Andrew Johnson. But, all of these things almost did not happen.

 You see in 1854 Grant actually resigned his commission in the U.S. Army after a nearly 15 year career that while it was rocky had shown promise. He had not excelled at West Point, but he had shown some promise in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. But after the war he became a fan of whiskey and was not a man who had a high tolerance nor handled his liquor well. He would often drink around the wrong people and soon enough it all got him in trouble and he as caught twice being drunk on duty. He was forced into either resigning or face a court marshal. He decided to bow out of the army and for the next 6 years failed at most jobs and ventures.

However the election of Abraham Lincoln by a plurality in 1860 lit the powder-keg that was sectionalism in the USA and in short order state by state in the south began to secede from the United States ultimately forming the Confederate States of America (CSA). After the attack on the union held Fort Sumter by the confederate forces of South Carolina war was imminent and the Union would need more troops and more officers(many of the best officers had left with their states to the CSA such as Robert E. Lee). Grant saw an opportunity to get back in and wrote a letter to Major General George B McClellan, who was in charge of the Ohio militia at the time. Grant offered his services, but he never received a reply. Undeterred, Grant wrote another letter to Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon who was stationed in Saint Louis. Again, he never got a response. The officer corps was small and likely Grant's reputation as a drunk with poor self control had made the rounds. Most men would have given up but Grant sought a political patron instead and found two...a congressman and the Governor of Illinois. Using his gubernatorial powers, the governor appointed Grant as a commander in the militia at the rank of Colonel.

Grant however never did shake his reputation as a drunk, and indeed all accounts show he did still drink heavily off duty. He was said to medicate himself with it as a relief for pain from an old injury. At the time alcohol was used for that purpose, but likely it was only a half truth. But he was a hard fighter in the Union at a time when most commanders were more cautious and it this led to President Lincoln ultimately taking a shine to Grant. His enemies often used his weakness in an attempt to undermine him to the President. At one point, frustrated with Grant's detractors and his conservative officer corps Lincoln is said to have proclaimed "I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals."  And another story says he once said in response to rumors Grant fell off his horse drunk "At least he fights! Find out what kind of medicine the good general likes to drink and send him two cases". By the way, Grant preferred Old Crow Bourbon

Grant in the Civil War


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