Ulysses S. Grant: The General and his Cigar

As we look deeper into the world of famous military cigar smokers, one name rings loud and clear – Ulysses S. Grant. It’s no wonder the U.S. Mint put Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill, because he’s so money. The 18th President of the United States, he actively supported the Civil Rights Movement, restored political rights to the south with the Amnesty Act, and supported Native American rights. He was also one of the most bad-ass Generals the United States has ever known, forcing Confederate General Robert E. Lee to surrender, thus securing the win for the North.

Ulysses S. Grant graduated from West Point in 1843. He snuck off from his quartermaster post during the Mexican-American War to fight on the front lines under Whig party war hero Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States and unless you’re really into the history of Southern secession, a guy you’ve probably never heard of. That’s not your fault: Taylor died only sixteen months into office. Grant eventually resigned from the military after the Mexican-American War; but as the Civil War engulfed the nation and its territories, it compelled him to rejoin the military in 1861. Of course, that was after he received some encouragement to do so from Northern leaders. The rest is history, as they say, with Grant being successful in training and leading volunteers for the Union Army and becoming one of the most successful Generals of the War, all while chomping down on a cigar.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Grant wasn’t much of a cigar smoker, preferring a pipe instead. But after his first few victories, a newspaper published him with a cigar in his mouth instead of a pipe; this led the Union citizenry to send him upwards of 10,000 cigars as a “thank you” after the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862. The capture of the Fort by Union forces opened a route for the invasion of the South, and boosted then-Brig. Gen. Grant not only in rank (now a Major General) but also in national prominence – even earning him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Afterwards he was rarely caught without a stogie in his mouth, sometimes going through 20 a day, typically chewing on one rather than puffing it. After all, it would be a waste to let them all go stale. In the words of Grant: “There is one good thing about being the Commanding General, beyond the pageantry, the ridiculous vanity, something few of them would ever understand. You can get the best cigars.”

Grant’s known love of cigars even made its rounds in the presidential campaign with his Republican Party penning the song “A Smokin’ His Cigar.” Of course, the Democrats tried to turn the tables on him by coming up with a verse in their own campaign song – which went a little something like, “I smoke my weed and drink my gin, playing with the people’s tin.” Politics were dirty even back then, but Grant prevailed and became a two term President.

In a rare glimpse of Grant’s “wild side,” it has become urban legend that he tried to trick Dean Horace Norton, founder of Norton College, by giving him an exploding cigar in the 1860s. Only problem is the Dean didn’t smoke the cigar, choosing to preserve it as a memento instead. It wasn’t until 1932 when Winstead Norton, Horace’s grandson, was giving a speech at Norton College that the cigar was lit. During the speech, Winston took a few puffs and BAM! In front of a massive crowd, the cigar went off, nearly 75 years after the cigar was gifted. Of course, this is legend and not 100% validated. But if it’s true, then kudos to Grant.

No matter what Grant was doing, he was always found with his trusty cigar. He took solace in them and used them as a way of relaxation, just like many of us loyal stogie heads. He is regarded as one of the greatest Generals the United States has ever known, and was integral in keeping the United States together after the Civil War. As we celebrate the greatest military Brothers of the Leaf, we can’t help but raise a stogie and glass of whiskey to General and President Ulysses S. Grant.