Weird History

How The Commander Of The Union Army Died Broke  

Zach Seemayer
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Since his passing, Ulysses S. Grant has been one of the most revered and controversial figures in the history of American politics. He led the Union Army to victory against Confederate secession during the Civil War, he brokered peace between the divided fractions of the United States, and he was swept into the Oval Office on a wave of popularity after Andrew Johnson's impeachment.

During his time in office, Grant accomplished a great deal with regards to civil rights and reconstruction, however, his presidency was also rife with financial scandals that were committed by exploiting his well-known lack of business acumen and his ineptitude with money, finance, and investments. 

Despite his reputation a Civil War general and president, it was his trust in others and lack of financial skills that proved to be his downfall. After leaving office, Grant was hustled by a smooth-talking con man who ended up leaving the beloved politician in financial ruin shortly before he passed. However, it was this awful setback that put him on a path to writing his best-selling memoirs and ensuring financial safety for his family - but not before he passed nearly penniless.

Grant Had Dreams Of Joining The Ranks Of The Financial Elite
Grant Had Dreams Of Joining Th... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list How The Commander Of The Union Army Died Broke
Photo: Frederick Gutekunst/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Throughout his presidency, Grant had befriended and taken economic advice from a number of wealthy industrialists and business tycoons, some of whom used that friendship to manipulate Grant without his knowledge. However, after leaving office, and nearing his 60s, Grant had dreams of becoming a famous investor and joining the circles of the wealthy friends he had made while in politics.

With a long list of wealthy friends and admirers, including banking mogul J.P. Morgan, Grant hoped he would be able to use his experience and connections to secure a healthy income in different ventures and establish his fortune. Unfortunately, as he'd proven time and again both during his time in office and with his failed business before the start of the fighting, Grant simply was not skilled in matters of finances. This made his ambitious desire to try his hand at investing all the more disastrous.

He Went Broke Traveling The World To Promote The United States
He Went Broke Traveling The Wo... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list How The Commander Of The Union Army Died Broke
Photo: Liang Shitai/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After leaving the White House, Grant decided to take his wife, Julia, on a two-year world tour, traveling abroad on a trip funded, in part, by the returns on a $25,000 investment he'd made in a mining company. The tour took the couple across all of Europe, parts of the Middle East, Africa, and India, and Grant became the first US president to ever visit Jerusalem.

Grant, however, miscalculated how much the trip would cost, and despite President Rutherford B. Hayes allowing the pair to use federal transportation on US Navy ships several times, they ran out of money and were forced to borrow a great deal from their son, Ulysses "Buck" Grant Jr., to complete their journey and return home.

Grant Invested $100,000 In Ferdinand Ward’s Ponzi Scheme

Grant's son, Buck, had teamed up with a financial whiz kid named Ferdinand Ward, who was referred to as the "Young Napoleon of Wall Street" and was one of the fastest up-and-comers in the banking world at the time. Together, Ward and Grant Jr. formed Grant & Ward Co., and it was an extremely attractive opportunity for the former president.

Borrowing $50,000 from an old buddy and another $50,000 from his wife and younger son, Grant invested a total of $100,000 in Grant & Ward Co. becoming an equal partner and thus lending his esteemed credibility to the firm. Little did he, or his son, know that Ward was running the company as a Ponzi scheme.

By Taking On Grant As A Partner, Ward Made His Banking Business Appear More Legitimate
By Taking On Grant As A Partne... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list How The Commander Of The Union Army Died Broke
Photo: Constant Mayer/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

After Grant's world tour, and in his role as the man who won the Civil War, he'd become something of a hero in the eyes of many Americans after leaving office, and was held in high esteem by those in every circle of society. This proved to be a lucrative opportunity for Ward and the company's additional partner, James D. Fish, who were the real masterminds behind the secret aims of the firm.

According to an editorial written by Ward in 1909, "Mr. Fish insisted that if the General came in with us it would be the best thing in the world for us. While the General was not experienced and must perforce be a silent partner, Mr. Fish argued that the use of his name would be of inestimable value to us. Often when we needed money quickly the General could get it in the street when it would have been impossible for any of the rest of us to get it."

Not only did they use Grant for his connections, but they used his involvement to legitimize and advertise their business and bring in new clients and investors by leveraging his reputation without his knowledge.