Ulysses S. Grant Part 1

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Ulysses S. Grant.

by Walter Allen.



Since the end of the civil war in the United States, whoever has occasion to name the three most distinguished representatives of our national greatness is apt to name Washington, Lincoln, and Grant.

General Grant is now our national military hero. Of Washington it has often been said that he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” When this eulogy was wholly just the nation had been engaged in no war on a grander scale than the war for independence. That war, in the numbers engaged, in the mult.i.tude and renown of its battles, in the territory over which its campaigns were extended, in its destruction of life and waste of property, in the magnitude of the interests at stake (but not in the vital importance of the issue), was far inferior to the civil war. It happens quite naturally, as in so many other affairs in this world, that the comparative physical magnitude of the conflicts has much influence in moulding the popular estimate of the rank of the victorious commanders.

Those who think that in our civil war there were other officers in both armies who were Grant’s superiors in some points of generalship will hardly dispute that, taking all in all, he was supreme among the generals on the side of the Union. He whom Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, and Meade saw promoted to be their commander, not only without envy, but with high gratification, under whom they all served with cordial confidence and enthusiasm, cannot have been esteemed by them unfit for the distinction. If these great soldiers then and always acclaimed him worthy to be their leader, it is unbecoming for others, and especially for men who are not soldiers, to contradict their judgment.

Whether he was a greater soldier than General Robert E. Lee, the commander-in-chief of the army of the Confederate States, is a question on which there may always be two opinions. As time pa.s.ses, and the pa.s.sions of the war expire, it may be that wise students of military history, weighing the achievements of each under the conditions imposed, will decide that in some respects Lee was Grant’s superior in mastery of the art of war. Whether or not this comes about, Lee can never supplant Grant as our national military hero. He fought to destroy the Union, not to save it, and in the end he was beaten by General Grant. However much men may praise the personal virtues and the desperate achievements of the great warrior of the revolt against the Union, they cannot conceal that he was the defeated leader of a lost cause, a cause which, in the chastened judgment of coming time, will appear to all men, as even now it does to most dispa.s.sionate patriots, well and fortunately lost.

In the story of Grant’s life some things must be told that are not at all heroic. Much as it might be wished that he had been what Carlyle says a hero should be, a hero at all points, he was not a worshipful hero. Like ourselves all, he was a combination of qualities good and not good. The lesson and encouragement of his life are that in spite of weaknesses which at one time seemed to have doomed him to failure and oblivion, he so mastered himself upon opportune occasion that he was able to prove his power to command great and intelligent armies fighting in a right cause, to obtain the confidence of Lincoln and of his loyal countrymen, and to secure a fame as n.o.ble and enduring as any that has been won with the sword.



This hero of ours was of an excellent ancestry. Until lately, most Americans have been careless of preserving their family records. That they were Americans and of a respectable line, if not a distinguished one, for two or three generations back, was as much of family history as interested them, and all they really knew. This was especially true of families which had emigrated from place to place as pioneers in the settlement of the country. Family records were left behind, and in the hard desperate work of life in a new country, where everything depended on individual qualities, and forefathers counted for little in the esteem of men as poor, as independent, and as aspiring as themselves, memories faded and traditions were forgotten. It was esteemed a condition of the equality which was the national boast that no one should take credit to himself on account of distant ancestry. Not until Abraham Lincoln had honored his name by his own n.o.bility did anybody think it worth while to inquire whether his blood was of the strain of the New England Lincolns.

All that was known of the Grants in Ohio was that Jesse, the father of Ulysses, came from Pennsylvania. Jesse himself knew that his father, who died when he was a boy, was Noah Grant, Jr., who came into Pennsylvania from Connecticut, and he had made some further exploration of his genealogical line. But this was more than his neighbors knew or cared to know about the family, until a son demonstrated possession of extraordinary qualities, which set the believers in heredity upon making investigation. The Grants are traced back through Pennsylvania to Connecticut, and from Connecticut to the Ma.s.sachusetts Bay Colony, where Matthew Grant lived in 1630. He is believed to have come from Scotland, where the Grant clan has been distinguished for centuries on account of its st.u.r.dy indomitable traits and its prowess in war. The chiefs of the clan had armorial crests of which the conspicuous emblem was commonly a burning mountain, and the motto some expression of unyielding firmness.

In one case it was, “Stand Fast, Craig Ellarchie!” in another, simply “Stand Fast;” in another, “Stand Sure.” Sometimes Latin equivalents were used, as “Stabit” and “Immobile.” It is said that, as late as the Sepoy rebellion in India, there was a squadron of British troops, composed almost entirely of Scotch Grants, who carried a banner with the motto: “Stand Fast, Craig Ellarchie!”

If it be true that our General Grant came from such stock, his most notable characteristics are no mystery. It was in his blood to be what he was. Ancestral traits reappeared in him with a vigor never excelled.

But they had not been quite dormant during the intermediate period. His great-grandfather, Captain Noah Grant, of Windsor (now Tolland), Conn., commanded a company of colonial militia in the French and Indian war, and was killed in the battle of White Plains in 1776. His grandfather Noah was a lieutenant in a company of the Connecticut militia which marched to the succor of Ma.s.sachusetts in the beginning of the Revolution. He served, off and on, through the war.

Regarding the circ.u.mstances of the removal to Pennsylvania little is known. The home was in Westmoreland County, where Jesse R. Grant was born. Soon afterwards the family went to Ohio. When Jesse was sixteen he was sent to Maysville, Ky., and apprenticed to the tanner’s trade, which he learned thoroughly, and made the chief occupation of his life. Soon after he reached his majority he started in business for himself in Ravenna, Portage County, Ohio. In a short time he removed to Point Pleasant, on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, about twenty miles above Cincinnati. Here he lived and prospered for many years, marrying, in 1821, Hannah Simpson, daughter of a farmer of the place in good circ.u.mstances. The Simpsons were also of Scotch ancestry, and of stout, self-reliant, industrious, respectable character, like the Grants. Thus in the parents of General Grant were united strains of one of the strong races of the world,–sound in body, mind, and soul, and having in a remarkable degree vital energy, the spirit of independence, and the staying power which enables its possessors to work without tiring, to endure hardships with fort.i.tude, and to acc.u.mulate a competence by patient thrift. This last ability General Grant lacked.

These parents, like those of the majority of Americans of the old stock, thought it no dishonor to toil for livelihood, cultivating their souls’

health by performance of daily duty in fidelity to G.o.d, their country, and their home. Jesse R. Grant had slight opportunities of schooling, but he had no contempt for knowledge. Throughout his life he was a diligent reader of books and newspapers, and was rated a man of uncommon intelligence and of sound judgment in business. He was an entertaining talker, and a newspaper writer and public speaker of local celebrity.

Through his early manhood, while he lived in Ohio, he was a farmer, a trader, a contractor for buildings and roads, as well as a tanner. When he reached the age of sixty, having secured a comfortable competence, he retired from active business. In his declining years he removed to Covington, Ky., near Cincinnati. Mrs. Grant was a true helpmate, a woman of refinement of nature, of controlling religious faith, being from her youth an active member of the Methodist Church, of strong wifely and maternal instincts. Her life was centred in her home and family. Both these parents lived to rejoice in the high achievement and station of their son Ulysses.



Of such ancestry General Grant was born April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and was named Hiram Ulysses Grant. A picture of the house in which he was born shows it to have been a small frame dwelling of primitive character. Its roof, sloping to the road in front, inclosed the two or three rooms that may have been above the ground floor. The princ.i.p.al door was in the middle of the front, and there was one small window on each side of it. Apparently there was a low extension in the rear. This manner of house immediately succeeded the primal log cabins of the Western States, and such houses have sufficed for the happy shelter of large families of strong boys and blooming girls, as sound in body and soul, if not so refined and variously accomplished, as are reared in mansions of more pretension. Love, virtue, industry, and mutual helpfulness made true homes and bred useful citizens.

In the next year his parents removed to the village of Georgetown, Ohio, in Brown County, where the father continued his business of tanner.

There young Grant lived until he became a cadet in the Military Academy at West Point. His life was that of other boys of like condition, with few uncommon incidents. Being the eldest of an increasing family, it naturally happened that he was required to perform a share of work for its support, and to bear responsibilities. In his early youth his employment was in the farm work, and this he always preferred. He had a native liking for the open air, and enjoyed the smell of furrows and pastures and woods more than that of reeking hides in their vats. He was fond of all animals, and especially delighted in horses, early demonstrating a surprising power in managing them. He was locally noted for his success in breaking colts, and as a trainer of horses to be pacers, those having this gait being esteemed more desirable for riding, at a time when a large part of all traveling was done on horseback. As General Grant became famous at a comparatively early age, a large crop of stories of his early feats in the subjection and use of horses was cultivated by persons who knew him as a boy. Many of these, doubtless, are entirely credible; few of them are so extraordinary that they might not be true of any clever boy who loved horses and studied their disposition and powers.

He was a lad of self-reliance, fertile in resources, and of good judgment within certain limitations. Before he was fairly in his teens his father intrusted to him domestic and business affairs which required him to go to the city of Cincinnati alone, a two-days’ trip. His own account of this period of his life is: “When I was seven or eight years of age I began hauling [driving the team] all the wood used in the house and shops…. When about eleven years old, I was strong enough to hold a plow. From that age until seventeen, I did all the work done with horses…. While still young, I had visited Cincinnati, forty-five miles away, several times alone; also Maysville, Ky., often, and once Louisville…. I did not like to work; but I did as much of it while young as grown men can be hired to do in these days, and attended school at the same time…. The rod was freely used there, and I was not exempt from its influence.”

But his knowledge of horses, of timber, and of land was better than his knowledge of men. He had no precocious “smartness,” as the Yankees name the quality which enables one person to outwit another. His credulity was simple and unsuspecting, at least in some directions. This is ill.u.s.trated by a story which he has told himself, one which he was never allowed to forget:–

“There was a Mr. Ralston, who owned a colt which I very much wanted. My father had offered twenty dollars for it, but Ralston wanted twenty-five. I was so anxious to have the colt that … my father yielded, but said twenty dollars was all the horse was worth, and told me to offer that price. If it was not accepted, I was to offer twenty-two and a half, and if that would not get him, to give the twenty-five. I at once mounted a horse and went for the colt. When I got to Mr. Ralston’s house, I said to him: ‘Papa says I may offer you twenty dollars for the colt, but, if you won’t take that, I am to offer twenty-two and a half, and if you won’t take that, to give you twenty-five.'” This nave bargaining was done when he was eight years old. Some persons have thought it betokens a defect in business ac.u.men which was never fully cured.

He learned his school tasks without great effort. His parents were alive to the advantages of education, and required him to attend all the subscription schools kept in the town. There were no free schools there during his youth. He was twice sent away from home to attend higher schools. It is not recorded that he especially liked study or disliked it. Probably he took it as a part of life, something that had to be done, and did it. He was most apt in mathematics. When he arrived at West Point he was able to pa.s.s the not very severe entrance examination without trouble. He seems to have had good native powers of perception, reasoning, and memory. What he learned he kept, but he was never an ardent scholar. He had no enthusiasm for knowledge, nor, indeed, so far as appears, for anything else except horses. He used to fish occasionally, but never hunted. The sportsman’s tastes were not his, nor were his social tastes demonstrative. Possibly they may have been restrained in some measure by his mother’s strictness of religious principles. He was neither morose nor brooding,–not a dreamer of destiny. He yearned for no star. No instinct of his future achievements made him peculiar among his companions or caused him to hold himself aloof. He exhibited nothing of the young Napoleon’s distemper of gnawing pride. He was just an ordinary American boy, with rather less boyishness and rather more sobriety than most, disposed to listen to the talk of his elders instead of that of persons of his own age, and fond of visiting strange places and riding and driving about the country. His work had made him acquainted with the subjects in which grown men were interested. The family life was serious but not severe. Obedience and other domestic virtues were inculcated with fidelity; but he said that he was never scolded or punished at home.



When the boy was about seventeen years old he had made up his mind upon one matter,–he would not be a tanner for life. He told his father, possibly in response to some suggestion that it was time for him to quit his aimless occupations and begin his lifework, that he would work in the shop, if he must, until he was twenty-one, but not a day longer. His desire then was to be a farmer, or a trader, or to get an education; but he seems to have had no definite inclination except to escape from the disagreeable tannery. His father treated the matter judiciously, not being disposed to force the boy to learn a business that he would not follow. He was unable to set him up in farming. He had not much respect for the river traders, and may have had little confidence in the boy’s ability to thrive in compet.i.tions of enterprise and greed.

Without consulting his son, he wrote to one of the United States Senators from Ohio, Hon. Thomas Morris, telling him that there was a vacancy in the district’s representation in West Point, and asking that Ulysses might be appointed. He would not write to the congressman from the district, because, although neighbors and old friends, they belonged to different parties and had had a falling out. But the Senator turned the letter over to the Congressman, who procured the appointment, thus healing a breach of which both were ashamed. General Grant gives an account of what happened when this door to an education and a life service was opened before him. His father said to him one day: “‘Ulysses, I believe you are going to receive the appointment.’ ‘What appointment?’ I inquired. ‘To West Point. I have applied for it.’ ‘But I won’t go,’ I said. He said he thought I would, _and I thought so too, if he did_.” The italics are the general’s. They make it plain that he did not think it prudent to make further objection when his father had reached a decision.

Little did Congressman Thomas L. Hamer imagine that in doing this favor for his friend, Jesse Grant, he was doing the one thing that would secure remembrance of his name by coming generations. It did not contribute to his immediate popularity among his const.i.tuents, for the general opinion was that many brighter and more deserving boys lived in the district, and one of them should have been preferred. Neighbors did not hesitate to shake their heads and express the opinion that the appointment was unwise. Not one of them had discerned any particular promise in the boy. Nor were they unreasonable. He was without other distinctions than of being a strong toiler, good-natured, and having a knack with horses. He had no aspiration for the career of a soldier, in fact never intended to stick to it. Even after entering West Point his hope, he has said, was to be able, by reason of his education, to get “a permanent position in some respectable college,”–to become Professor Grant, not General Grant.

In the course of making his appointment, his name by an accident was permanently changed. When Congressman Hamer was asked for the full name of his protege to be inserted in the warrant, he knew that his name was Ulysses, and was sure there was more of it. He knew that the maiden name of his friend’s wife was Simpson. At a venture, he gave the boy’s name as Ulysses Simpson Grant. Grant found it so recorded when he reached the school, and as he had no special fondness for the name Hiram, which was bestowed to gratify an aged relative, he thought it not worth while to go through a long red-tape process to correct the error. There was another Cadet Grant, and their comrades distinguished this one by sundry nicknames, of which “Uncle Sam” was one and “Useless” another.

When he arrived at West Point, in July, 1839, he was not a prepossessing figure of a young gentleman. The rusticity of his previous occupation and breeding was upon him. Seventeen years old, hardly more than five feet tall, but solid and muscular, with no particular charm of face or manner, no special dignity of carriage, he was only a common sort of pleb, modest, good-natured, respectful, companionable but sober-minded, observant but undemonstrative, willing but not ardent, trusty but without high ambitions,–the kind of boy who might achieve commendable success in the academy, or might prove unequal to its requirements, without giving cause of surprise to his a.s.sociates.

He had no difficulty in pa.s.sing the examination at the end of his six months’ probationary period, which enabled him to be enrolled in the army, and he was never really in danger of dismissal for deficient scholarship. He seems to have made no effort for superior excellence in scholarship, and in some studies his rank was low. Mathematics gave him no trouble, and he says that he rarely read over any of his lessons more than once, which is evidence that he had unusual power of concentrating his attention, the secret of quick work in study. This power and a faithful memory will enable any one to achieve high distinction if he is willing to toil for it. Grant was not willing to toil for it. He gave time to other things, not in the routine prescribed. He pursued a generous course of reading in modern English fiction, including all the works then published of Scott, Bulwer, Marryat, Lever, Cooper, and Washington Irving, and much besides.

The thing for which he was especially distinguished was, as may be surmised, horsemanship. He was esteemed one of the best hors.e.m.e.n of his time at the academy. But this, too, was easy for him. He appears to have been on good terms with his fellows and well liked, but he was not a leader among them. He has said that while at home he did not like to work. It must be judged that his mind was affected by a certain indolence, that he was capable enough when he addressed himself to any particular task, but not self-disposed to exertion. He felt no constant, p.r.i.c.king incitement to do his best; but was content to do fairly well, as well as was necessary for the immediate occasion. One of his comrades in the academy said in later years that he remembered him as “a very uncle-like sort of a youth…. He exhibited but little enthusiasm in anything.”

He was graduated in 1843, at the age of 21 years, ranking 21 in a cla.s.s of 39, a little below the middle station. He had grown 6 inches taller while at the academy, standing 5 feet 7 inches, but weighed no more than when he entered, 117 pounds. His physical condition had been somewhat reduced at the end of his term by the wearing effect of a threatening cough. It cannot be said that any one then expected him to do great things. The characteristics of his early youth that have been set forth were persistent. He was older, wiser, more accomplished, better balanced, but in fundamental traits he was still the Ulysses Grant of the farm–hardly changed at all. No more at school than at home was his life vitiated by vices. He was neither profane nor filthy. His temperament was cool and wholesome. He tried to learn to smoke, but was then unable. It is remembered that during the vacation in the middle of his course, spent at home, he steadily declined all invitations to partake of intoxicants, the reason a.s.signed being that he with others had pledged themselves not to drink at all, for the sake of example and help to one of their number whose good resolutions needed such propping.

At his graduation he was a man and a soldier. Life, with all its attractions and opportunities, was before. Phlegmatic as he may have been, it cannot be supposed that the future was without beckoning voices and the rosy glamour of hope.



He had applied for an appointment in the dragoons, the designation of the one regiment of cavalry then a part of our army. His alternative selection was the Fourth Infantry. To this he was attached as a brevet second lieutenant, and after the expiration of the usual leave spent at home, he joined his regiment at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis. Duties were not severe, and the officers entertained much company at the barracks and gave much time to society in the neighborhood. Grant had his saddle-horse, a gift of his father, and took his full share in the social life. A few miles away was the home of his cla.s.smate and chum during his last year at the academy, F. T. Dent. One of Dent’s sisters was a young lady of seventeen, educated at a St. Louis boarding school.

After she returned to her home in the late winter young Grant found the Dent homestead more attractive than ever.

This was the time of the agitation regarding the annexation of Texas, a policy to which young Grant was strongly hostile. About May 1 of the next year, 1844, some of the troops at the barracks were ordered to New Orleans. Grant, thinking his own regiment might go soon, got a twenty-days leave to visit his home. He had hardly arrived when by a letter from a fellow officer he learned that the Fourth had started to follow the Third, and that his belongings had been forwarded. It was then that he became conscious of the real nature of his feeling for Julia Dent. His leave required him to report to Jefferson Barracks, and although he knew his regiment had gone, he construed the orders literally and returned there, staying only long enough to declare his love and learn that it was reciprocated. The secret was not made known to the parents of the young lady until the next year, when he returned on a furlough to see her. For three years longer they were separated, while he was winning honor and promotion. After peace was declared, and the regiment had returned to the States, they were married. She shared all his vicissitudes of fortune until his death. Their life together was one in which wifely faith and duty failed not, nor did he fail to honor and esteem her above all women. Whatever his weaknesses, infidelity in domestic affection was not one of them. In all relations of a personal character he reciprocated trust with the whole tenacity of his nature.

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