spacer Ulysses S. Grant Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
Eighteenth President (1869-1877)

In the spring of 1861, Ulysses Grant hardly seemed destined for greatness. Having resigned his army captain's commission in 1854, this West Point graduate was eking out a living as a clerk in his brother's leather shop. But the Civil War marked a dramatic shift in his fortune. Reenlisting in the army, he was soon made a general. By war's end, he was commander of all Union land forces, and as the chief architect of the South's defeat, he had become one of the country's most admired heroes.

Grant's popularity inevitably led to his election to the presidency in 1868. But here he proved less successful, and his weak control over his administration spawned an outbreak of federal corruption that made "Grantism" synonymous with public graft. Nevertheless, Grant's personal charisma waned but little through his two terms. Had he succumbed to talk of running for a third, he perhaps would have won.

Grant posed for this portrait shortly after he returned from a triumphant world tour following his presidency. The largely self-taught artist Thomas LeClear painted two versions. This one was originally owned by Grant himself, while the second one became part of the White House collection.


Thomas LeClear (1818-1882)
Oil on canvas, circa 1880
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the National Museum of American Art,
Gift of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., 1921
NPG.70.16

Enlarged image






Ulysses S. Grant and His Generalsspacer Study for
Grant and His Generals


As the Civil War moved into its final stages in the fall of 1864, the Norwegian artist Ole Peter Hansen Balling and a prosperous New Yorker conceived the idea for a large equestrian painting, to be executed by Balling, depicting the commander of the triumphant Union armies, Ulysses Grant, flanked by an array of the generals who served under him. Once completed, the painting would be used to raise funds for the United States Sanitary Commission, a private organization for aiding sick and wounded soldiers. To obtain likenesses of the twenty-seven figures in the picture, Balling traveled to Union army encampments to make life studies of his subjects. Among the most cooperative was Grant, who gave Balling repeated opportunities to draw studies of him as he rode with staff officers to survey the situation in the forward lines.

The final rendering of Grant and His Generals approached being life-sized. Balling also produced this smaller version, most likely to serve as the template for a colored print of the picture. Today both of these works are in the National Portrait Gallery's collections.


Ole Peter Hansen Balling (1823-1906)
Oil on canvas, circa 1866
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the Library of Congress
S/NPG.76.8

Enlarged image