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As a young man, Ulysses Grant was not interested in military life, but entered West Point in order to secure an education. In 1854 he resigned his army commission and tried several business ventures, all unsuccessful. Fortunately for the Union, Grant reenlisted at the start of the Civil War. Nothing much was expected of him, now a brigadier general, until he began winning victories in 1862, the first at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, where his terms were "unconditional surrender." Although some said he was not fit for high command because he was known to drink, President Lincoln promoted him to lieutenant general in 1864 and gave him command of all the Union armies.

After the war, Grant recommended a lenient policy of reconstruction, and in 1868 he was elected to the first of his two terms as president of the United States.

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