Career Before the Presidency
Upon his graduation from West Point, Grant was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. He then was on frontier duty in Louisiana and participated in the military occupation of Texas.
In 1846, the United States went to war with Mexico. Grant was sent to fight and served with Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. He proved himself a valuable officer and by the end of the war was promoted to first lieutenant.
He had been involved in the major battles of the war including the assault and capture of Mexico City.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS…
Grant disagreed with the war in Mexico. He saw ultimate retribution for it in the tragedy of the Civil War: “The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”
Life Away from the Military
After the war ended, Grant was stationed in New York and Michigan before being sent out west for frontier duty again. In 1854, he decided to resign from the military. According to Grant, he did not think that he would be able to support his family out of his pay as an army officer. He moved to St. Louis to work a farm that his wife owned. By 1858, he decided to give up on farming and sold it. He then went into different forms of business, including real estate, to try to support his family.
U.S. Civil War
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant rejoined the military. As the colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Infantry, he captured Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February 1862. This was the first major Union victory, and as a result he was promoted to major general of the U.S. volunteers. It was also at Fort Donelson that he earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant” because he would only accept “unconditional and immediate surrender.”
Grant went on to other important victories at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and the Siege of Vicksburg from May 22 until July 4, 1863. At that point, he was a made a major general in the regular army. He continued to have victories over Southern forces until March 1864, when President Lincoln named him commander of all Union forces.
Grant accepted General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, allowing for generous terms. He continued to serve as a general in command of the armies of the United States until 1869. He was also secretary of war under Andrew Johnson from 1867 until 1868.