H.U.G. - The Transformation of U.S. Grant
On April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, Hannah Simpson Grant gave birth to our future 18th President. Hannah's husband, Jesse Grant, was a self-educated leather producer (tanner) who suggested they draw names from a hat. Having taught himself the classics - and proud of his knowledge - Jesse wrote down several names from ancient Greek history and Latin literature: names like Ulysses, Heracles, Perseus, and many more. Jesse Grant pulled out the name Ulysses from the hat.
Jesse, in a concession to his devout Methodist wife who wanted a more biblical name for their son, agreed to make "Hiram" the first name of their boy. Hiram is the biblical name of the man who built Solomon's Temple. So, Hiram Ulysses Grant became the given name for the man we know today as Ulysses Simpson Grant.
In pre-Civil War America, people often used their initials as their name. If you look at any census prior to 1850 you will see many names written out with initials. For example, Josh Lee would be J.L.; Fred Tinsley Cherry would be F.T.C.; and Hiram Ulysses Grant would be H.U.G.
That's right. H.U.G.
These initials caused a great deal of consternation for our nation's future President when he was a schoolboy in Ohio. "H.U.G. (and) stop it." "Give me (a) H.U.G." "Come here (and) H.U.G." -- The jokes were constant. The family was poor in those early days, and since Ulysses was the oldest child, everyone was unsure how H.U.G. could afford to continue his education after high school. Finally, with the help of an Ohio Senator, H.U.G. received an appointment to West Point, which was the best free education of the day, albeit with a military commitment. Jesse Grant was delighted his son was going to West Point to become a military man because "he will never amount to anything in business."
As Ulysses packed up his belongings to move to New York, the initials H.U.G. were placed on his suitcase. Knowing the razzing that would come his way from his classmates - young men who would later compose the infamous Class of 43 at West Point - Ulysses wiped the initials H.U.G. off his suitcase and never allowed them to be used again. It would simply be Ulysses Grant.
However, when he arrived at West Point and signed his papers Ulysses Grant, the enrollment officer told him that the Ohio Senator had nominated him as Ulysses S. Grant. "You either have to sign these papers as Ulysses S. Grant or go home." The "S." assigned young Ulysses by the Senator stood for "Simpson" - the maiden name of Ulysses' mother. The Simpsons were friends of the Senator. Ulysses signed his name Ulysses S. Grant, but shortly his classmates were calling him U.S. Grant, and later by a knick name they gave to him - "Uncle Sam" or "Sam" for short, a play on the U.S. in Grant's name.
The name U.S. Grant and the nickname "Sam" both stuck. U.S. Grant graduated 21st out of his 39 member Class of 43, but first in horsemanship. He went on to serve in the military with distinction during the Mexican War, and afterwards, as a quartermaster for the Army in California and Oregon. He was forced to resign from the Army on July 31, 1854 because of his struggle with alcohol, accused by his superior officer of being drunk while handing out paychecks.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, U.S. Grant was almost forty years old, out of the Army, financially broke because of multiple business failures, and considered a failure by most people. George McClellan, a classmate at West Point, refused to meet with Grant to discuss a possible readmission into the Army when the Civil War began. U.S. Grant's life as a soldier was over.
Dejected and depressed, U.S. Grant went back to farming and shop keeping in Illinois. It was only when the governor of Illinois asked Grant to get into military shape a ragtag group of state volunteers - many of whom were drunkards and former prison inmates - that U.S. Grant got back into the War. He advanced through the state militia ranks, becoming a state appointed General. After many initial, aggressive victories against the south, he came to the attention of President Lincoln. U.S. Grant would eventually become the General-in-Chief of the United States Army - promoted to the position by Lincoln - and the man Lincoln credited with singlehandedly bringing victory to the Union.
U.S. Grant would later serve two terms as President of the United States (1869-1877). If you were to compare all the Presidents when they were thirty-nine years of age, U.S. Grant would be the one most people would say had no chance of becoming President.
The fact that he did become President was a testament to timing, fortitude in the face of affliction (war and rejection), and of course, Providence. Two things strike me about the story of U.S. Grant:
(1). It is the man who makes the name, not the name that makes the man, and
(2). It is not nearly as important that a man start well as it is that he finishes well.