Almost Yesterday: Ulysses Grant Becomes a Brigadier General

Apr 30, 2019

It seems like Almost Yesterday that the city of Ironton, Missouri installed a series of historical markers to identify Civil War sites in the community.

Of all the important historic sites in the Arcadia Valley, one that has great significance is where Ulysses S. Grant, on August 8, 1861, received notice of his promotion to the rank of brigadier general.

Colonel Grant had been ordered to Pilot Knob and Ironton to control the terminus of the Iron Mountain Railroad used to transport essential iron ore to smelters in St. Louis, seventy miles to the north.  When the thirty-nine year old brigadier assumed his command, he found that he was in charge of three thousand untrained and disorganized troops.

His first challenge was to impose military discipline – and he moved quickly.  Many officers had limited command of their troops.  Many men still wore the clothes they had on when they enlisted in May and June.  By August they were an ill-equipped and ragged force.

Grant sent hundreds of them home, closed all saloons, directed officers to instruct their men in the rules of war, required extensive drill, and harsh punishment, and sought to identify the location of rumored confederate units.

But, when the bloody Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield occurred, plans changed.  Grant was called back to St. Louis, re-directed to the state capitol in Jefferson City, and replaced at Ironton by General Benjamin Prentiss.

By early September of 1861, General John Fremont was convinced that Grant’s demeanor and character justified further promotion, and when the Union Army moved south in late 1861 and 1862, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant was in command.