Almost everyone has at least a passing familiarity with Ulysses S. Grant, the military, and political figure — the general who helped win the Civil War for the Union and later became president of the United States.
But there is much more to Grant than the military and the presidency. Just a little research into his past reveals that he was born, not Ulysses S. Grant, but rather Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio.
So, where did the “S” come from?
The story begins with Grant’s childhood, which was quiet for such a historic figure. Really quiet. He was shy and didn’t stand out, taking after his mother, Hannah. Grant’s father, Jesse, was an outgoing businessman who ran a farm and a tannery.
Grant’s association with the farm of his boyhood was love/hate. He loved horses, but he hated the tannery. His work with horses began at a young age and was soon helping others care for their horses. Being the eldest son, Grant was groomed to go into the family business. His father sent him to subscription schools, schools paid for by those who wanted their children to be educated, in Georgetown, Ohio. But Jesse knew that young Grant wanted no part of the tannery.
That’s why Jesse arranged for Grant to go to West Point when he turned 17, and that’s where the “S” came from in Grant’s name.
A simple clerical error listed Grant as “Ulysses S. Grant.” Instead of correcting the error, because he was afraid he would be kicked out of the school, Grant changed his name. The “S” became “Simpson,” his mother’s maiden name.
That change would affect the lore of Grant, as many nicknames rose from the initials “U.S.,” including “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. But at West Point, Grant was far from the legend he was to become. He had average grades, was often tardy and was usually quite sloppy. However, one aspect of his boyhood did carry over: his love of horses. Grant excelled at horsemanship.
That, briefly, is the beginning of Grant’s story. From an ordinary, and sometimes less than average boyhood, Grant grew to become a heroic figure in the Civil War.
And that’s where the “S” came from in Ulysses S. Grant.
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