Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) was the 18th president of the United States. Unlike former commanders in chief, he did not have a background in politics and was elected more because of his military achievements during the war than anything else. His life was fraught with scandal and failed adventures, but he did have the distinction of being great friends with the renowned Mark Twain.

Born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio to Jesse Root Grant – a tanner – and Hannah Simpson Grant, the future president was a shy and reserved boy. The idea of working at his father’s tannery was upsetting so his father arranged for him to get into the military academy at West Point. A clerical error resulted in his name being listed as Ulysses S. Grant, and afraid they’d take away his acceptance, he changed his name right then and there.

Unfortunately, Grant was not a very good student and even earned demerits for dressing in a slovenly way and being late. He graduated 21st out of 39 in his class.

On July 31, 1854, Grant resigned from the Army after being accused of heavy drinking that would lead to disciplinary action. He moved his family back to Missouri and tried to farm his land, another unsuccessful adventure. He tried his hand at real estate and failed, then was denied employment as an engineer and clerk. The former military man was reduced to selling firewood on the street and then finally went to work for his father, supervised by his two younger brothers.

On April 12, 1861, the Civil War broke out. Grant tried to volunteer his military services but was denied until an Illinois congressman helped him to get approved. He eventually became general, and on April 9, 1865, accepted the surrender of General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army. He allowed the defeated general and his men to retain their pride and honor by letting them keep their horses and return home without taking any as prisoners of war.

In 1868, the now general was elected president. Unfortunately, the people he appointed for his cabinet were not of “good character” and that damaged his presidency. He was able to ratify the 15th Amendment and establish the National Parks Services before ending his term in office.

After the White House, the former president tried his hand again at business ventures but his partner embezzled money from their financial firm and bankrupted the company as well as Grant. Then he found out he had throat cancer and, trying to make financial ends meet, he started selling short magazine articles about his life. That was when he approached his friend Mark Twain to publish his memoirs. The two-volume set earned his family nearly $450,000 and sold about 300,000 copies, but Grant died on July 23, 1885, just as the memoirs were being published.