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Ulysses S. Grant: War hero and devoted husband
Getty Images/Oscar White

Ulysses S. Grant: War hero and devoted husband

Our 18th president was a man who put his country and his family first.

Studying and emulating the lives of great men is a useful practice with a long history. It's especially refreshing these days, when everywhere we turn there's a celebrity, influencer, or guru vying for our attention. An exemplar is an occasional reminder of more timeless virtues.

Ulysses S. Grant was a prolific writer of love letters. He had to be: Not long after winning the hand of Julia Dent, the sister of his roommate at West Point, Grant was called away to fight in the Mexican-American war. The four-year separation was painful for Grant but also inspiring. As he wrote in one letter, "In going away now I feel as if I had someone else than myself to live and strive to do well for.”

Grant's devotion to Julia and their four children would continue to motivate him for the rest of his life. During the Civil War, when Grant's victories prompted President Lincoln to give him command of all Union armies, Julia was a trusted confidante, often joining her husband at the front. And so active a role did Julia take in Grant's 1868 presidential run that he turned to her at his inauguration and said, “And now, my dear, I hope you're satisfied.”

After two terms, the Grants retired from public life. Following a short period of happiness, a bad investment ruined them financially, and Grant was diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer. But his love for his family inspired one last achievement. Hoping to provide Julia and the children with some kind of nest egg, Grant completed his “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” shortly before his death in 1885. The book, still widely read today, became a massive success, netting Julia today's equivalent of some 12 million dollars.

For more on this extraordinary American marriage, see “My Dearest Julia: The Wartime Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to His Wife.”

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Matt Himes

Matt Himes

Managing Editor, Align

Matt Himes is the managing editor for Align.
@matthimes →