Grant didn’t amount to much as a farmer, businessman or even a peacetime soldier. As a commander-in-chief after the Civil War, he ranks among the nation’s worst presidents.
But Grant excelled at war. His superiors during the Mexican-American War commended him for battlefield bravery. They included a captain named Robert E. Lee.
“The art of war is simple enough,” Grant would later say. “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”
Grant learned a lesson early in the war he said he never forgot: Opponents feared him as much he feared them.
His friend and fellow general William Tecumseh Sherman would later write: "I'm a darned sight smarter than Grant; I know a great deal more about war, military histories, strategy and grand tactics than he does. ...
“I know more about organization, supply and administration and about everything else than he does. But I'll tell you where he beats me and where he beats the world; he don't care a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight, but it scares me like hell." In February 1862, Grant’s gift for war led to the capture of Fort Henry and nearby Fort Donelson in western Tennessee. After Grant's forces encircled the Southerners at the latter, along the Cumberland River, Southern Commander Simon Bolivar Buckner petitioned for terms of surrender.
“No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted,” came Grant’s famous reply. “I propose to move immediately upon your works.”
Grant forced 12,000 Confederate soldiers to surrender.
Those conquests gave a dispirited North its first victories. “The shame of Bull Run was erased,” historian Shelby Foote noted.
Grant’s victories in February of 1862 did more than lift the spirits of the North. They helped keep Kentucky in the Union and opened up river routes that would allow Union armies to penetrate Tennessee that spring. For his victories, the people of the North bestowed upon Grant a new nom de guerre: The U.S. in U.S. Grant, they said, stood for “Unconditional Surrender.” As for Grant, who was promoted to Major General after the capture of Fort Donelson, his gift for war was only beginning to emerge.
He would go on to do something unparalleled in the annals of the Civil War: He would capture two more Southern armies, the next at Vicksburg in 1863 and finally that of Lee – the same man who once singled out Grant for recognition – at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.
Quick Fact: Father and Son
Simon Bolivar Bucker is remembered as the man who surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Fort Donelson. His son, Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., was a lieutenant general who died during World War II at Okinawa, the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed by enemy fire in that war. Photos