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Grant Appointed General-in-Chief of Union Army: March 9, 1864

Fold3 Image - Ulysses S. Grant service record
On March 9, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant general and made general-in-chief of the Union armies. In this position, Grant would ultimately prove the general most responsible for the Union victory in the Civil War.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant—who had previously served in the army—rejoined as the colonel of an Illinois volunteer regiment. He received steady promotions until attaining the rank of major general (in the regular army) in command of the Military Division of Mississippi. Meanwhile, he had likewise been gaining recognition for his capture of Forts Henry and Donelson and victories at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and others.

Grant’s successes led to the introduction of legislation in Congress to revive the rank of lieutenant general (last held by George Washington) so that Grant could be awarded that rank and thus gain command of the entire Union Army. President Lincoln, who had never met Grant but was unhappy with the performance of the previous commanding generals, also threw his weight behind the bill, and it passed and was signed into law in late February 1864.

Grant’s name was shortly thereafter submitted to the Senate for confirmation and his commission was signed by the president. Grant was in Tennessee when he received word of his pending promotion to lieutenant general, and he traveled to Washington DC in early March to accept his new commission. He met President Lincoln for the first time on the 8th at a reception at the White House, and then the following day, March 9th, he returned to the White House for an acceptance ceremony.

Grant's headquarters attached to Army of the Potomac
President Lincoln wanted a commanding general who would take initiative and responsibility and act independently, freeing Lincoln from having to make military decisions. Grant was happy to oblige. He quickly put his senior command in place and set his basic strategy. Rather than commanding from the capital, Grant decided he would command from the field—attaching his headquarters to the Army of the Potomac—and commenced a course of action based on attrition.

Though Grant’s path to victory was far from easy—and his detractors would accuse him of being a butcher for his heavy casualties—he successfully destroyed the Confederates’ ability to fight and kept their armies on the defensive, ensuring the eventual success of Union forces and the preservation of a unified nation.

Learn more about Ulysses S. Grant by searching Fold3.


  1. Hi – I have been with Fold3 since it’s attached to Ancestry but I’ve never gone on a search of my many military men. I’m not sure how Fold3 works.

    Do I actually search for my many names, one-by-one, or do I just learn about what/who you put up for the day? I don’t see a search form or search engine box.


  2. Joe Mackler says:

    Using the link at, I cannot access Fold3. Neither can I log on to the web site directly. I tried previously to send a message, but have never received an email to help!

    • Richard Bullington says:

      You must have a separate Fold3 membership. If you have the “everything and the kitchen sink” membership in Ancestry, you get Fold3 and Newspapers. Otherwise Fold3 is $60 per year or something like that.

      Bottom line is that you need a separate membership in it.

      So far as querying, they have a reasonably good Advanced Search. You can do time by “era” (“Revolutionary War”, “War of 1812” etc) or you can drag the limits on the time line to a shorter or longer period. You can search by Unit, if you know it. That’s pretty cool.

      They don’t have the SAR things that Ancestry has, but they do have things like monthly payroll chits, which are pretty amazing to page through.

      If you have a “military family” it’s definitely worth joining at least for a year or so. But sure to download all the backup records and store them on at least a couple of hard drives. If you quite your membership you lose access to the images.

  3. Vera McHale says:

    I have a set of 8 encyclopedias from the 1800s. My favorite page is the story of Lincoln having to address General Grants drinking problem. With due thought he asked the general what his favorite alcohol was. Grant’s response was that he didn’t think the president drank. Lincoln responded that he didn’t. He just wanted to send a case to Sherman so we win the war. The point it is said was well taken.

  4. David Harding says:

    My great-grandfather, George Canady Harding, offered an interesting perspective on Grant. George was a newspaper man, in turn printer, writer, editor, and publisher. I haven’t seen the original in the Indianapolis “Mirror”, but this story was picked up by many other newspapers. From the Memphis “Public Ledger” of 21 Jan 1869:

    First Look at Grant
    George C. Harding writes to the Indianapolis “Mirror”, from Mattoon, Ill., as follows:
    “It was here I first saw General U.S, Grant. It was in June 1861. I had just come down from Chicago, where the dead Douglas was lying in state, and stopped here long enough to wait an hour or two for a train bound east. Matoon at the same time didn’t offer many attractions to the stranger, and I strolled out to a field to look at a lot of wild human beings there corralled, for the purpose of being converted into defenders of their country. In sooth they were a measly set, the dirtiest and barefootedest I ever saw — some of them with pantaloons slit up the leg clear to the knee, and the ribbons flapping in the breeze as they went through the double quick. They looked as if they had been run down with hounds in the wilds of Effingham county, and the wild men of Borneo never gave vent to such blood-curdling yells as came from the lungs of these savages. A deadbeat by the name of Goode had been in command of the regiment, but had been relieved by Grant, who was reviewing his ragamuffins when I strolled into the camp. Writing at this late day, and in the light of after events, I ought to chronicle first impressions of greatness. I oughht to have then and there, in the countenance of that reticent, stolid-looking man, have seen traces of the genius which smashed the rebellion at Vicksburg, and received the capitulation of Lee at Appomattox. I am ashamed to say I saw nothing of the kind. I only saw a little man with a square jaw, who stood square upon his legs, was dressed in a shabby suit of slops, and smoked a villainous cigar — two for five, I could swear, as I stood near him, ad the wind wafted the infernal odor of cabbage right into my face. The only thing that impressed me favorably was his standing square upon his feet, without shifting his weight from one leg to the other, and a certain steel-gray glitter in his eyes, which augured of nerve enough to go his last dollar on a “queen-full.” If I had been called upon to pick from that motley crowd the future hero of the war, I would as likely have chosen any other man than Ulysses. All of which goes to show that appearances are deceitful — that phrenology is a humbug, etc.

    For what it’s worth, on 14 Jan 1869 the Chicago “Republican” had noted the same piece. You can decide whether their criticism enhances or diminishes the likelihood of George’s account, eight years later, being correct in essence.

    “An account is going the rounds of the newspapers, professedly written by one George C. Harding, describing his “first look at Grant.” which, he says, was at Mattoon, Ill., after Grant had taken command of the Twenty-first Illinois regiment, replacing Col. Goode. Mr. George C. Harding’s report will not receive much credit, when it is remembered that Gen. Grant was never in Mattoon in his life, having been assigned to the command of the regiment after it had been transferred from its thirty days camp at Mattoon to the general rendezvous at Springfield.”

    • Fred E. Barrett says:

      One can only depend on official records & even there are maybe misconceptions of actual facts. The final word on the matter in my opinion is that General Grant finished the job of his Commander in Chief of the United States Military operations becoming the glue that held the Union together.

      It seems today we are edging close to those events in the 1830s thru the 1850s leading up to the civil war with California talking of separating that state from the Union.

  5. Sumra says:

    Thanks for above useful article.

  6. I have never heard of this before, so it is very interesting.
    I strolled out to a field to look at a lot of wild human beings there corralled, for the purpose of being converted into defenders of their country. In sooth they were a measly set, the dirtiest and barefootedest I ever saw — some of them with pantaloons slit up the leg clear to the knee, and the ribbons flapping in the breeze as they went through the double quick. They looked as if they had been run down with hounds in the wilds of Effingham county, and the wild men of Borneo never gave vent to such blood-curdling yells as came from the lungs of these savages.

  7. David Corbin says:

    “I can’t spare that man.. he fights!” President Lincoln’s response to Grant’s critics that he be replaced.

  8. mark nupen says:

    Read Jay Winik’s book, “April 1865, the month that Saved America”, in which he talks about the stunning way Grant met with the surrendering Gen Lee at Grant’s commanding ‘cabin’ near the battlefield he and Lee had been fighting over. Grant sets up the terms of surrender, stunning to Gen Lee, ‘have your men turn in the military weapons (keep their hunting muskets and their horses) and all can go home after we have successfully treated their wounds, hunger, including you Gen. Lee’. There was great public criticism from some of the Northern Public who wanted Revenge!! But Lincoln agreed with Grant’s leadership and in retrospect what a great leader Grant turned out to be! Imagine such decisions and the trust and authority Lincoln gave to Grant to END THE WAR!

  9. Margaret Hoyos says:

    Enter the names into the search option on the home page, one at a time. It takes a little while to get used to using Fold3, but it has information it would take you forever to find elsewhere.

    I wasn’t even looking for my great-great grandfather because we barely knew his name. But searching around for other relatives, I found his military records. He was a Sgt. in the Civil War-Union Army and he was born in Texas. We had no idea! We’re all from Arizona, Mexico and California. It sent my genealogy work in a whole new direction for that part of my family.

    • Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD says:

      WONDERFUL! Makes you wonder just HOW MUCH YOU NEED to know about your family is ENOUGH! Check out my two ‘family history’ books on AMAZON.COM

      Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
      “The Matheson Cove: In the Shadow of the Devil’s Post Office”
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      Both books were awarded the NCSociety of Historians’ AWARD

  10. Deborah Carver says:

    Grant was a serious drinking man when he served in the army in Humboldt County California. Fort Humboldt still exists as an historical site and the interpretation of Grant’s time there does not mince words. He missed his wife and was quite miserable serving in this out of the way rainy outpost.

  11. Jay A. Hacker says:

    This is what a patriot will do for GOD, Country & Family.
    Thank You, Gen.Grant For your serve to the U.S.A.
    Brother in Arms

    • Richard Bullington says:

      Unless you happen to believe that “GOD” loves suffering and gore, He probably had nothing to do with General Grant’s appointment or service. Grant did what he had to do: eviscerate Lee’s army one arm, one leg, one gut shot at at time, and damn the cost to his own men.

  12. Glen Slade says:

    I have always been lead to believe that I am related to Gen Grant, through my mothers side. My great grandmother was a grant. I would like to find out more, so would it help to subscribe to fold3, to clarify this possible link, or are there other sites you may recommend. It is harder to trace my mothers side of the family, than my fathers. It would finally solve the story, one way or the other. I however, as does my brother, resemble him, particularly the nose, and I for one like a drink or two.

  13. Opal Morgan says:

    I observed an article that President Grant left office but due to poor investments made via his son, he was broke. He obtained money for his retirement offered by Mark Twain for President Grant’s life story.

  14. I am looking for any communications for background on Wilkinson Family, McGraw Family, Trautwein Family, Huffine Family, I am trying to trace back some family History for my tree. Thanks for any help that will be able to be sent to me.