Ulysses Simpson Grant, USMA 1843.
April 27, 1822 ---
Grant graduated 21st in a class of 39.
His father's moderate circumstances did not permit him giving his son more than a common-school education, but sufficient to fit him to credibly pass the entrance examination to the Military Academy, where, though not studious nor attentive to the discipline of the institution, he was graduated about the middle of his class, but stood much higher in the scientific or more important brances of study (Mathematics, 10th; Natural Philosophy, 15th; and Engineering, 16th), showing excellent capacity." [Cullum, 1891, pp. 172-173.]
Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1822 and when he was two the family moved to Georgetown, Ohio, where he attended the local schools.
The schools, at the time of which I write, were very indifferent. There were no free schools, and none in which the scholars were classified. They were all supported by subscription, and a single teacher--who was often a man or a woman incapable of teaching much, even if they imparted all they knew--would have thirty or forty scholars, male and female, from the infant learning the ABC's up to the young lady of eighteen and the boy of twenty, studying the highest branches taught--the three R's, "Reading, `Riting, `Rithmetic." I never saw an algebra, or other mathematical work higher than the arithmetic, in Georgetown, until after I was appointed to West Point. I then bought a work on algebra in Cincinnati; but having no teacher it was Greek to me. [Grant's Memoirs, Chapter 1]
In 1839, at the age of seventeen, Grant went to West Point.
I reported at West Point on the 30th or 31st of May , and about two weeks later passed my examination for admission, without difficulty, very much to my surprise.
A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even if I should be graduated, which I did not expect. The encampment which preceded the commencement of academic studies was very wearisome and uninteresting. When the 28th of August came--the date for breaking up camp and going into barracks--I felt as though I had been at West Point always, and that if I staid to graduation, I would have to remain always. I did not take hold of my studies with avidity, in fact I rarely ever read over a lesson the second time during my entire cadetship. I could not sit in my room doing nothing. There is a fine library connected with the Academy from which cadets can get books to read in their quarters. I devoted more time to these, than to books relating to the course of studies. Much of the time, I am sorry to say, was devoted to novels, but not those of a trashy sort. I read all of Bulwer's then published, Cooper's, Marryat's, Scott's, Washington Irving's works, Lever's, and many others that I do not now remember. Mathematics was very easy to me, so that when January came, I passed the examination, taking a good standing in that branch. In French, the only other study at that time in the first -year's course, my standing was very low. In fact, if the class had been turned the other end foremost I should have been near head. I never succeeded in getting squarely at either end of my class, in any one study, during the four years. I came near it in French, artillery, infantry and cavalry tactics, and conduct.
Early in the session of the Congress which met in December, 1839, a bill was discussed abolishing the Military Academy. I saw in this an honorable way to obtain a discharge, and read the debates with much interest, but with impatience at the delay in taking action, for I was selfish enough to favor the bill. It never passed, and a year later, although the time hung drearily with me, I would have been sorry to have seen it succeed. My idea then was to get through the course, secure a detail for a few years as assistant professor of mathematics at the Academy, and afterwards obtain a permanent position as professor in some respectable college; but circumstances always did shape my course different from my plans. [Grant's Memoirs, Chapter 2]
Grant reflects on his first year at West Point in a letter to his cousin:
We have tremendous long and hard lessons to get in both French and Algebra. I study hard and hope to get along so as to pass the examination in January. this examination is a hard one they say, but I am not frightened yet. If I am successful here you will not see me fer two long years. [Grant to his cousin R. McKinstry Griffith, Sept. 22d 1839; the complete letter is at http://www.americanpresidents.org/letters/18.asp. Grant arrived at West Point on July 1, 1939, so this letter was written during his first semester.]
In the next chapter of Grant's Memoirs we read:
As already stated, it was never my intention to remain in the army long, but to prepare myself for a professorship in some college. Accordingly, soon after I was settled at Jefferson Barracks, I wrote a letter to Professor Church--Professor of Mathematics at West Point--requesting him to ask my designation as his assistant, when next a detail had to be made. Assistant professors at West Point are all officers of the army, supposed to be selected for their special fitness for the particular branch of study they are assigned to teach. The answer from Professor Church was entirely satisfactory, and no doubt I should have been detailed a year or two later but for the Mexican War coming on. Accordingly I laid out for myself a course of studies to be pursued in garrison, with regularity, if not persistency. I reviewed my West Point course of mathematics during the seven months at Jefferson Barracks, and read many valuable historical works, besides an occasional novel. To help my memory I kept a book in which I would write up, from time to time, my recollections of all I had read since last posting it. When the regiment was ordered away, I being absent at the time, my effects were packed up by Lieutenant Haslett, of the 4th infantry, and taken along. I never saw my journal after, nor did I ever keep another, except for a portion of the time while traveling abroad. Often since a fear has crossed my mind lest that book might turn up yet and fall into the hands of some malicious person who would publish it. I know its appearance would cause me as much heart-burning as my youthful horse trade, or the later rebuke for wearing uniform clothes. [Grant's Memoirs, Chapter 3]
Grant's Memoirs are available on the web. They contain a number of references to mathematics.
Grant wanted to join the mathematics department. COL Arney has the letter where he makes this request.
There was a PBS show about Grant.
His son Frederick Dent Grant (#2406) and grandson Ulysses S. Grant III (#4127) are both graduates.
Page created October 11, 2002.
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