INTRODUCTORY *** Our newsletter is designed to provide news of the Grant Association, Grant studies, and activities of Grant interest. Contents will include items which turn up in the search for material for the Grant Association edition of the writings of Grant. A running bibliography of recently published Grant items will begin in a subsequent issue. Success is dependent upon finding interested readers and contributors, and we welcome additional names for the mailing list as well as suggestions regarding contents.
LINCOLN SPEAKS OF GRANT *** Robert J. Breckinridge, a Presbyterian minister of Lexington, Kentucky, was a bulwark of the Union in Kentucky during the Civil War. Two of his sons fought for the Confederacy, but though his family was divided, his sentiments were not. The veteran Kentucky emancipationist would allow nothing to obstruct a vigorous prosecution of the war for the Union. Lincoln knew the Breckinridge family through his wife, who had lived in Lexington, and valued the support of Breckinridge, who had done much to prevent the secession of Kentucky. [pg. 2] Breckinridge went to Baltimore in June, 1864, as a member of the Kentucky delegation to the National Union convention, and was appointed temporary chairman. Later he went to Washington with the delegation chosen to inform Lincoln officially of renomination. It was during this visit, not long after the news of the battles at Cold Harbor reached Lincoln, that they discussed Grant.
The Edward D. Mansfield papers, recently acquired by the Ohio Historical Society, include a letter written by Breckinridge on May 11, 1868, ten days before the Republican convention nominated Grant for President, in response to Mansfield’s request for an estimate of Grant. Mansfield, a vigorous Cincinnati Republican who wrote for the Cincinnati Gazette, Railroad Record, and New York Times, also wrote a campaign biography of Grant, but made no use of the letter which follows.
“In the summer of 1864–immediately after the National Convention at which Mr. Lincoln was nominated the second time; I asked him, one day, in a private conversation, what precisely, was his idea of that greatness, on the part of Grant, as a commander–which seemed to have impressed him, so very deeply. After a moment’s hesitation, he said: ‘Nothing could persuade this man, that he was whipped–till he was actually whipped: he could never be made to believe, even under a complete surprise, that fifty men were five hundred: he had as much sense and as complete possessession [sic] of his faculties, when suddenly waked up under attack, as when he plans & leads the attack; in the very crisis of the greatest battle, his senses, his faculties, his knowledge–are as much under his full & instant power of use, as under any other circumstances. And then Mr. Lincoln illustrated, by various great & striking circumstance–these great qualities of Grant–which mustered into professional language–explains so large a part of the grand career he has run–and so large a part of our hopes, for the career still, as I trust, before him.[pg. 3]”Great executive talents, are the rarest of all–and are the most fruitful & the most important of all–in high stations. Good men, in high station–good I mean, even after the standard of nature simply–are not too common. For my own part, and upon both grounds, and using the greatest moderation of speech–it seems to me, that the making of Genl Grant President of the U. S. would be an act full of wisdom; on the part of the American people.”
AWARD TO GENERAL GRANT, 3RD *** On April 27, 1963, the 141st birthday of his grandfather, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, 3rd was presented an honorary life membership by the Ohio Historical Society at its annual meeting. Director Erwin C. Zepp read the following statement concerning the award.
Major General Ulysses S. Grant, 3rd, first grandson of President Grant, graduated from West Point as his father and grandfather before him, and served over forty years in the army. During this time he was in the Philippines, 1903-1904, in Cuba in 1906, in Mexico in 1914 and 1916, a member of the General Staff Corps during the First World War, with the Supreme War Council and the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at Versailles, and in the Office of Civilian Defense during the Second World War.A graduate of the U.S. Engineering School, he has maintained an active interest in engineering and building projects. In 1926, he became Director of Public Buildings and Parks in the National Capital, and later served as Chairman of the National Park and Planning Commission and with other groups interested in planning and preservation.
In addition to assisting several generations of scholars in their efforts to understand his grandfather, he has had other interests in history and education. From 1946 to 1951 he was Vice President of George Washington University, and has also served as President of the Columbia Historical Society and chairman of the National Civil War Centennial Commission.
CITATION: Major General Ulysses S. Grant, 3rd, as soldier, educator, preserver of the past and planner for the future, inheritor and worthy guardian of a tradition of distinguished service to the American people, the Ohio Historical Society is privileged to present you with an honorary life membership.
[pg. 4] GRANT IN THE WHITE HOUSE *** The list of 1780 titles recently recommended for a White House library by a committee headed by James T. Babb, librarian of Yale, includes many volumes by officers of the Grant Association. Allan Nevins is represented by The Evening Post, The Emergence of Modern America 1865-1878, Grover Cleveland, Letters of Grover Cleveland, Hamilton Fish, Fremont, America Through British Eyes, Ford, The State Universities and Democracy, Study in Power, Diary of George Templeton Strong, and Ordeal of the Union. Bruce Catton is represented by The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, Mr. Lincoln’s Army, Glory Road, A Stillness at Appomattox, Centennial History of the Civil War, and Grant Moves South. John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom and The Militant South appear on the list, as do David C. Mearns’ The Story up to Now: The Library of Congress 1800-1946 and his essay on Lincoln in Three Presidents and Their Books. E. B. Long’s edition of Grant’s Memoirs and the late Robert S. Harper’s Lincoln and the Press round out the list. Grant is also covered by Lloyd Lewis’ Captain Sam Grant and the five volumes of Lincoln Finds a General by K. P. Williams.
GRANT ON GOLF *** In his Personal Recollections of General Ulysses S. Grant, General John C. Smith, Grant’s former neighbor in Galena, told the following story.
“Visiting a gentleman’s estate when in Great Britain, [Grant] was invited out on the links to witness a game of golf. Induced to enter the game and being given a club by the caddy, the General looked earnestly at the ball, then at his club, and having measured the distance carefully made a strike, his club going six inches above the ball. Disappointed at this failure, a more careful estimate was made of length of club and distance to ball and another swing was made, the club striking the ground one [pg. 5] foot before reaching the ball. Without change of countenance, the General made several other efforts to hit the ball, but without success. Returning the club to the caddy, General Grant remarked to the gentleman beside him, “I have always understood the game of golf was good outdoor exercise and especially for the arms. I fail, however, to see what use there is for a ball in the game.”
A NAME FOR GENERAL GRANT *** The following first appeared in The Ohio Historical Society ECHOES for April, 1963.
The birth of a son to Jesse R. Grant and Hannah Simpson Grant on April 27, 1822, at Pt. Pleasant, Ohio, brought about an animated family conference on the subject of his name. The baby’s maternal grandmother and father favored Ulysses, since both had recently read a novel in which the legendary Greek hero appeared. The maternal grandfather argued for the sturdy Biblical name of Hiram. The mother and aunt preferred Albert, in honor of the distinguished statesman, Albert Gallatin, while another aunt clung to the romantic Theodore. Finally, the matter was decided by having each put a name in a hat. Although the name drawn was Ulysses, it was finally decided that the baptismal name would be Hiram Ulysses Grant, to satisfy both grandparents. But Jesse chose to call his son Ulysses, and gradually Hiram was forgotten. The boy’s contemporaries called him Ulyss or Lyss, although some corrupted the name to “Useless.”In 1839, Jesse Grant asked Congressman Thomas L. Hamer to appoint his son Ulysses to West Point. Hamer apparently believed that any boy deserving his recommendation also deserved a middle initial. Either because Hamer remembered that the mother’s maiden name was Simpson, or because he confused Ulysses with his younger brother, Simpson, he appointed Ulysses S. Grant to West Point. Ulysses knew nothing of the change Hamer had made in his name. While preparing a trunk for his journey by pounding brass tacks into the top to form his initials, he realized that his classmates, much given to rough banter anyway, would make disastrous use of “H.U.G.” He decided to reverse his first two names and call himself Ulysses Hiram Grant, and used that name to sign the register at West Point. But officers insisted that no such person had been appointed; only Ulysses S. Grant was entitled to enroll. Ulysses’ protests were fruitless, and in the fall he signed a certificate of enlistment as U. S. Grant. Although the army had given him a name he had to accept officially, for the four years of his cadetship he continued to sign his private correspondence U. H. Grant. After he had received a diploma and a commission as Ulysses S. Grant, however, he abandoned [pg. 6] his chosen name for the army issue. His classmates had used the initials anyway, and called him “Uncle Sam” at first, but later settled on “Sam”.
Grant had made peace with his army name, but his troubles were not yet over. As he rose to fame in the Civil War, people began to wonder about the initials. His demand for unconditional surrender at Fort Donelson gave rise to the nickname, “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. The people of the North would not allow their leading general a mere middle initial. An early biography, published in 1864, provided 316 pages of information about Ulysses Sidney Grant. Those more familiar with his family background made the same mistake Congressman Hamer had made so many years before, and spoke of Ulysses Simpson Grant. In a letter to his special friend and patron, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois, Grant gave an indication of his annoyance: “In answer to your letter of a few days ago asking what ‘S’ stands for in my name, I can only state nothing.”
In spite of the fact that Grant never referred to himself or signed his name as Ulysses Simpson Grant, it is still persistently believed that this was his name. Unlike Harry S. Truman, who has no middle name and has defended his right to a simple initial, Grant was too reticent to correct widespread public error. The man who consistently signed himself U. S. Grant patiently bore a name which he did not acknowledge as his own.
[pg. 7] WILLIAM BEST HESSELTINE *** The death at Madison, Wisconsin, December 8, 1963, of Professor William Best Hesseltine means a loss to the historical profession of a devoted friend, a stimulating teacher, and a distinguished scholar. Born at Brucetown, Virginia, February 21, 1902, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree at Washington and Lee University (1922) and his Master’s degree from the University of Virginia (1925). He taught at University Military School in Alabama (1922-23) and at Scarritt-Morrisville College (1923-24). His doctoral studies were pursued at the Ohio State University, where he served as assistant in history (1926-28) and where he took his degree under the direction of Professor Arthur C. Cole (1926). His dissertation was later published as Civil War Prisons, a Study in War Psychology (Columbus, Ohio, 1920). He served as professor at the University of Chattanooga (1928-32). He then joined the history department of the University of Wisconsin, where he became the first occupant of the Vilas Research Chair of History in 1961. He was a professor at the United States Army University in England (1945); lectured for the United States Department of State in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala (1947); gave the Fleming Lectures at the pg. 8] Louisiana State University (1949); and lectured at German universities (1955) and in South Asia (1959). He was a consultant for various scholarly reference works and received honorary degrees from Washington and Lee University and from Knox College. He had served as a member of the Board of Editors of the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1941-44). He was president of the Southern Historical Association in 1960. He was the author of: A History of the South, 1607-1936 (New York, 1936) later revised (with David L. Smiley) and published as The South in American History (1960); Ulysses S. Grant: Politician (New York, 1935); The Rise and Fall of Third Parties (Washington, 1948); Lincoln and the War Governors (New York, 1948); Confederate Leaders in the New South (Baton Rouge, 1950); Pioneer’s Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper (Madison, 1945); The Blue and Gray on the Nile, with Hazel C. Wolf (Chicago, 1961). He also edited several other volumes.
His scholarly reviews were often incisive and challenging. His seminars were noted for the exacting standards which he imposed. His loyal concern for his students became legendary throughout the profession. His scholarship was in keeping with the best academic traditions. As a person he was a genial friend, an enemy of sham, and a leader of intelligence and dedication. The Ulysses S. Grant Association deeply mourns his loss as a member of its editorial board.
Ohio State University.
GRANT AT SHILOH *** In the first year of publication of the Confederate Veteran, the widow of William S. Hillyer, impressed [pg. 9] by the tone of reconciliation in the magazine, contributed a letter written by her husband four days after the battle of Shiloh. Hillyer was a Kentuckian who took up the practice of law in Indiana. After serving one term in the Indiana legislature, he moved to St. Louis and devoted himself to law. His offices were close to those of Grant and Boggs, real-estate agents. After the unprofitable years at Hardscrabble, Grant had gone into business with a cousin of his wife, Harry Boggs, only to discover that there was insufficient business to support two families. In the course of learning this, he found much time on his hands, which he passed agreeably in Hillyer’s law office. In August, 1861 Brigadier General Grant appointed Hillyer to serve as aid-de-camp. Hillyer accompanied Grant through his campaigns until his resignation on May 15, 1863.
On the morning of April 6, 1662, Hillyer arrived at Grant’s headquarters in the Cherry Mansion at Savannah, Tennessee at the awkward hour of 4:30 in the morning. His arrival awakened John A. Rawlins, Grant’s adjutant, who remained up to talk with Hillyer. Perhaps they awakened Grant, usually a late steeper, for they were all at an early breakfast when they heard the sound of firing from Pittsburg Landing some miles away. Grant was separated from his army because he was expecting to confer with General Don Carlos Buell, bringing his army to join Grant’s in a drive into Mississippi.
Hillyer’s letter is here reprinted as it appeared in the Confederate Veteran in October, 1893. The omissions occurred in the original printing. We are indebted to Ray D. Smith of Chicago for a valuable analytical index to Grant in the Confederate Veteran which led to this letter. It is dated [pg. 10] “Pittsburg, April 11 1862. On the Battlefield.”
The excitement of the great battle is in a manner subsiding, and my thoughts are constantly reverting to the place where my heart and home are. As I stated to you before, I arrived at Savannah early Sunday morning–about half past four o’clock. While we were at breakfast, about seven o’clock, a gentleman reported that heavy cannonading was heard in the direction of Pittsburg, which is about nine miles from Savannah. The General and staff hurried down to our dispatch boat, the “Tigress.” and started up the river. When about half way we met a boat coming down and received from her a dispatch stating that the enemy had attacked our center and right at daylight, driven our center back and a heavy fight was raging.
We arrived at Pittsburg about half past eight o’clock got on our horses and galloped out to the battle-field. Arrived there we found the enemy had attacked and were engaging our right and center in overwhelming force and our troops were falling back. We met hundreds of cowardly renegades fleeing to the river and reporting their regiments cut to pieces. We tried in vain to rally and return them to the front. We rode on to the center, ordering all the reinforcements we could command, and soon I found myself in the midst of a shower of cannon and musket balls. Cool and undismayed as ever, the General issued his orders and sent his aides flying over the field. While executing an order a cannon ball passed within two feet of my horse’s head, and a cavalry captain near by called out to me, “Did it hit you, Captain?”
Soon after there was a lull in the center, and the heaviest firing was on our right. We galloped over there and rode along the line when the battle was raging fiercely. At this time our forces had been driven back about a mile and the enemy had taken a large portion of our division (General Prentiss’) prisoners. Suddenly there was a lull on the right as welt as the center, and most of us thought that the enemy were worsted and retiring. “Not so,” General Grant said. “I don’t like this quiet. I fear the enemy are concentrating on our left” (where we were weakest). “Captain Hillyer, ride over and order a company of cavalry to make a reconnoisance on the left.” “Yes, sir; where shall I find you on my return?” said I. “Wherever you hear the heaviest firing.,” was the consoling reply. And, when I had executed the order, the only guide I had back to the General was the heaviest musketry and cannonading. In the meantime he had ordered reinforcements to the left, and his apprehensions were well founded. But a few minutes had elapsed when the enemy attacked us with desperate courage on our left. One continuous roar of artillery, varied only by the [pg. 11] unceasing rattle of musketry, was heard, and Death, with fifty thousand mowers, stalked over the field. Oh! it was an awful day. From then till dark apprehension of defeat, knowledge of the terrible slaughter and shadows of the direful consequences of defeat filled our hearts with sorrowful foreboding, but General Grant was still as calm and confident as ever. “We’ll whip them yet” was his reply to the announcement that our troops were falling back, and his confidence inspired all his command.
Gen. Lew Wallace’s division, which was at Crump’s Landing, on the river, between Pittsburg and Savannah, a force ten thousand strong, were ordered to move Up to Pittsburg about eleven o’clock. They were but four miles distant, and should have been there by noon. Every moment we expected to hear from them, but by some unpardonable delay they came not. We assured the left that Wallace should soon be up to reinforce them, and, thus encouraged. our forces stood their ground against desperate odds. But the field was being strewn with our killed and wounded, and the battle raged hotter and hotter.
About two o’clock General Buell arrived. One of his divisions (General Nelson’s) was marching and would soon arrive opposite Pittsburg, where boats waited to carry them over. In answer to General Grant’s inquiry as to his other forces, Buell informed him that General. Crittenden’s command had been halted two miles from Savannah to await further orders. General Grant immediately ordered me to proceed to Savannah with sufficient boats and order Crittenden to move immediately to the river with his men and embark for Pittsburg, leaving his transportation and baggage behind.
I got to Savannah about half past three, rode out to Crittenden’s camp and gave the order, which he received with the utmost enthusiasm for there he was, within hearing of the battle, and without permission to advance. I asked him where was McCook’s division. He said just behind him, and Wood’s just behind McCook’s. What should I do? I had no order’s except for Crittenden, but we needed all the reinforcements we could get. I quickly determined to assume the responsibility. I sat down and wrote an order in General Grant’s name and dispatched a courier, ordering General McCook to leave his transportation and move his available force immediately to the river to General Wood, and followed it with an order to General Thomas, who was a few miles behind Wood. I returned to Savannah; there, I remembered, we had three regiments. I thought they were not needed there. I again assumed responsibility and ordered two of the regiments to embark for Pittsburg. I made all the arrangements for transportation and returned to report to General Grant. By this time it [pg. 12] was night. I found the General and the rest of his staff stretched on the ground, without a tent or any protection, and the rain pouring down!
I reported to the General what I had done; he said I had done exactly right. In consequence of my assumption of responsibility we had, in addition to Crittenden’s and Nelson’s commands, the whole of McCook’s and a part of Wood’s division, together with two regiments from Savannah, in the fight the next day, and we needed them all!
Sunday evening the enemy had pushed our lines back until their batteries almost commanded our transports; a little further and they would have made it impossible to land our reinforcements. But, fortunately, they got within range of our two gunboats, which were lying anchored in the river, and which opened upon them with a perfect shower of shells. Night never was more welcome to any poor mortals than that night to our little army at Pittsburg. I say “little army” because our force at Pittsburg at this time did not exceed forty thousand men…. Wallace’s division had not arrived, nor any of Buell’s command. Notwithstanding this disparity, we labored under another serious disadvantage; the enemy, being the attacking party, could concentrate their whole force at any point, while we were compelled to maintain our lines on the right, left and center, not knowing what moment the enemy might shift their position under cover of the woods.
Before morning we had received twenty-five thousand reinforcements, and before Monday’s battle was over ten thousand more.
Sunday night General Grant ordered that at the break of day our forces should advance on the right, left and center, attacking the enemy all around the lines wherever he could be found.
The first dawn of morning lighted our men onward toward the foe. In a few moments our whole line was engaged, and the battle raged with even more severity than on Sunday. The enemy were moving forward with the confidence inspired by their partial success on the preceding day; our’s with the confidence inspired by the knowledge that we had been reinforced. I have not time to describe this day’s action. It was the most terrible conflict I have ever witnessed. Our line of battle engaged at one time could not have been less than five or six miles, and wherever the battle raged hottest General Grant could be seen with his staff. At one time the rebels evidently distinguished him as a commanding general, for they opened a battery which filled the air around us with bursting shells and solid shot, and, as we advanced along the line, they followed us for a quarter of a mile. [pg. 13] Fortunely, the range was a little too high, and the ricochet passed beyond us. One ball, passed under the General’s horse. I rode over the battle-field after the battle. Our men were busy burying the dead. The scene was horrible. Hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies strewed the ground. For miles and miles, wherever we rode, we found dead bodies scattered through the woods in every direction.
Oh! there will be many desolate homes and comfortless hearts as the details of this battle are known through the country. Many a mourning Rachel will find little consolation in the victory which finally crowned our arms. But future ages will, look with admiration on the desperate valor of our troops and bless the memory of the dead who felt at Pittsburg fighting for the maintenance of our good government. You and I cannot be too grateful to the kind Providence who has preserved your husband and our children’s father through these two terrible days.
I have seen enough of war. God grant that it may be speedily terminated. I cannot retire now till we have driven the enemy from Corinth. When that is done I think I wilt leave it to others to finish up this rebellion, which I look upon as already mortally wounded…..
Kiss my little darlings for papa. Tell them that papa’s thoughts often went after them, even during the excitement of the battle-field, and nothing but a sense of duty reconciled him to the risking of his life.
Good bye. God bless you.
W. S. Hillyer.
GRANT BIBLIOGRAPHY *** Since it will be necessary to go through all printed material dealing with Grant in order to prepare an edition of his collected writings, the Grant Association has recently begun to collect bibliographical descriptions of the literature which will lead eventually to a comprehensive annotated Grant bibliography. John Y. Simon is working on this project with Harold S. Kipp, a bibliographer for the Ohio State University Libraries and [pg. 14] John F. Kendall of Oakland, California, who has an extensive private collection of printed Grant material. The compilers expect to gather comprehensively, including descriptions of items in journals, magazines, newspapers. etc. How much can be included in a printed bibliography remains to be decided, but at least the information can be made available in a master file. In addition to providing a useful guide for researchers, the Grant bibliography will provide raw material for an understanding of the development of the conventional Grant image against the background of shifting patterns of historical interpretation. Readers of this Newsletter in a position to assist with the bibliography are hereby exhorted to do so.
NEWS NOTES *** The Grant cottage at Long Branch, New Jersey was recently demolished despite efforts to preserve the historic structure where President Grant spent his summers with Philadelphia friends. Edgar Dinkelspiel, President of the Long Branch Historical Society, attempted unsuccessfully to have the federal government preserve the building as a national shrine. Now he is raising money to mark the site. *** Bookseller John C. Daub of Pittsburgh headed a recent catalogue with a notation that the law of supply and demand had increased his price for the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. His new price for a set of the original edition “good average used, not too bad, not pristine either,” is $9.95. *** The University of California at Los Angeles has announced the acquisition of the papers of Admiral Daniel Ammen. Son of the editor of the Georgetown, Ohio Castigator, Ammen was a boyhood friend of Ulysses Grant, and their friendship was revived during the Civil War.
[pg. 15] WALT WHITMAN AND GENERAL GRANT *** Running in a clear stream through Walt Whitman’s letter, conversations, essays and poetry is an admiration for General Grant. The apparently paradoxical admiration of the wound-dresser for the warrior was based upon what Whitman believed to be similarities in their characters and a common approach to life.
“I do not value literature as a profession,” said Whitman. “I feel about literature what Grant did about war. He hated war. I hate literature.”1 Whitman was speaking as much of himself as of Grant when he said that Grant “went about his work, defied the rules, played the game his own way–did all the things the best generals told him he should not do–and won out!2
Often Whitman would speak with approval of the simplicity of Grant’s dress and manner. “Grant was the typical Western man: the plainest, the most efficient: was the least imposed upon by appearances, was most impressive in the severe simplicity of his flannel shirt and his utter disregard for formal military etiquette.”3 Whitman concluded that Grant’s “homely manners, dislike for military frippery–for every form of ostentation, in war and peace–amounted to genius.”4
Above all, what appealed to Whitman was Grant’s strength and determination. “Grant was one of the inevitables: he always arrived: he was as invincible as a law …”5 This had impressed Whitman as early as April, 1864, when, writing to his mother, he said: “I believe in Grant and in [pg. 16] Lincoln too. I think Grant deserves to be trusted. He is working continually. No one knows his plans; we will only know them when he puts them in operation.”6
Although Whitman’s only contact with Grant came in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange the release of his brother from Confederate captivity, Whitman saw Grant many times.7 During the Grant presidency, Whitman wrote: “I saw Grant to-day on the avenue walking by himself–(I always salute him, & he does the same to me.)”8 “I was still in Washington when Grant was President,” Whitman recalled:
He went quite freely everywhere alone. I remember one spot in particular where I often crossed him–a little cottage on the outskirts of Washington: he was frequently there–going there often. I learned that an old couple of whom he was very fond lived there. He had met them in Virginia–they received him in a plain democratic way: I would see him leaning on their window sills outside: all would be talking together: they seeming to treat him without deference for place–with dignity, courtesy, appreciation.9
After Grant as ex-President completed his trip around the world, Whitman wrote formally about him for the first time. “The Silent General” was later included in Specimen Days.10
Sept. 28, ’79.–So General Grant, after circumambiating the world, has arrived home again–landed in San Francisco yesterday, from the ship City of Tokio from Japan. What a man he is! what a history! what an illustration–his life–of the capacities of that American individuality common to us all. Cynical critics are wondering “what the people can see in Grant” to make such a hubbub about. They aver (and it is no doubt true) that he has hardly the average of our day’s literary and scholastic culture, and absolutely no pronounc’d genius or conventional eminence of any sort. Correct: but he proves how an average western farmer, mechanic, boatman, carried by tides of circumstances, perhaps caprices, into a position of incredible military or civic responsibilities, (history has presented none more trying, no born monarch’s, no mark more shining for attack or envy,) may steer his way fitly and steadily through them all, carrying the country and himself with credit year after year–command over a million armed men–fight more than fifty pitch’d battles–rule for eight years a land larger than all the kingdoms of Europe combined–and then, retiring, quietly (with a cigar in his mouth) make the [pg. 17] promenade of the whole world, through its courts and coteries, and kings and czars and mikados, and splendidest glitters and etiquettes, as phlegmatically as he ever walk’d the portico of a Missouri hotel after dinner. I say all this is what people like–and I am sure I like it. Seems to me it transcends Plutarch. How those old Greeks, indeed, would have seized on him! A mere plain man–no art, no poetry–only practical sense, ability to do, or try his best to do, what devolv’d upon him. A common trader, money-maker, tanner, farmer of Illinois–general for the republic, in its terrific struggle with itself, in the war of attempted secession–President following, (a task of peace, more difficult than the war itself)–nothing heroic, as the authorities put it–and yet the greatest hero. The gods, the destinies, seem to have concentrated upon him.
Not content with prose for expressing himself on Grant’s tour, Whitman turned to poetry.
To U. S. G. return’d from his World’s Tour
What best I see in thee,
is not that where thou mov’st down history’s great highways,
Ever undimm’d by time shoots warlike victory’s dazzle,
Or that thou sat’st where Washington say, ruling the land in peace,
Or thou the man whom feudal Europe feted, venerable Asia swarm’d upon,
Who walk’d with kings with even pace the round world’s promenade;
But that in foreign lands, in all thy walks with kings
Those prairie sovereigns of the West, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois,
Ohio’s, Indiana’s millions, comrades, farmers, soldiers, all to the front,
Invisibly with thee walking with kings with even pace the round world’s promenade,
Were all so justified.
In early 1885 it became generally known that Grant was dying of cancer. As Grant’s health declined, newspapers and magazines began to gather material [pg. 18] for use when the general finally succumbed. Harper’s Weekly, preparing a lavish series of memorials, dispatched an emissary to Whitman to ask for a poem.11 Charting the course of Grant’s health, the editors were certain that Grant would die in April. Week after week, pictures of Grant graced the cover and laudatory articles filled the pages. But Grant clung tenaciously to life, determined to complete his “Memoirs” to provide some inheritance for his wife and children. Somewhat desperately, Harper’s printed their Grant material, using even Whitman’s premature poem on Grant’s death with a grotesque final quatrain explaining that Grant still lived.12
After Grant died in July, Whitman gave the interview printed below, concluding by reciting his Grant poem.13 The poem has been corrected to accord with the version in Harper’s Weekly. Whitman himself mercifully dropped the final quatrain both in the interview and in editing his last volume of poetry.
When a visitor spoke the name of Grant, Walt Whitman bowed his head as the whole nation has bowed beneath a common grief. When at last the poet spoke it was in the tone of one who has lost a dear friend, yet he pondered his words and weighed each sentence carefully.”Yes,” said he, “I, too, am willing and anxious to bear testimony to the departed general. Now that Grant is dead it seems to me I may consider him as one of those examples or models for the people and character-formation of the future, age after age–always to me the most potent influence of a really distinguished character–greater than any personal deeds or life, however important they may have been. I think General Grant will stand the test perfectly through coming generations. True, he had no artistic or poetical element; but he furnished the concrete of those elements for imaginative use, perhaps beyond any man of the age. He was not the finely painted portrait itself, but the original of the portrait. What we most need in America are grand individual types, consistent with our own genius. The west has supplied two superb native illustrations in Lincoln and Grant. Incalculable as their deed were for the practical good of the nation for all time, I think their absorption into the future as elements and standards will be the best part of them.
[pg. 19]”Washington and all those noble early Virginians were, strictly speaking English gentlemen of the royal era of Hampden, Pym and Milton, and such it was best that they were for their day and purposes. No breath of mine shall ever tarnish the bright, eternal gold of their fame. But Grant and Lincoln are entirely native on our own model, current and western. The best of both is their practical, irrefragable proof of radical democratic institutions–that it is possible for any good average American farmer or mechanic to be taken out of the ranks of the common millions and put in the position of severest military or civic responsibility and fully justify it all for years, through thick and thin. I think this the greatest lesson of our national existence so far.
“Then,” added the poet, “the incredible romance of Grant’s actual career and life! in all Homer and Shakespeare there is no fortune or personality really more picturesque or rapidly changing, more full of heroism, pathos, contrast.”
Warming to his subject, the poet had voiced his estimate of Grant with a spontaneous fervor none the less eloquent because it was thoughtfully and critically spoken. Then, with one of his benign smiles, he said: “Let me give you, in this connection, the little sonnet I wrote originally for Harpers:”
As one by one withdraw the lofty actors
From that great play on history’s stage eterne,
That lurid, partial act of war and peace–of old and new contending,
Fought out through wrath, fears, dark dismays, and many a long suspense,
All past–and since, in countless graves receding, mellowing,
Victor’s and vanquish’d–Lincoln’s and Lee’s–now thou with them,
Man of the mighty days–and equal to the days!
Thou from the prairies!–tangled and many-vein’d and hard has been thy part,
To admiration has it been enacted!
[pg. 20] 1. Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden (N.Y., 1914-1915), I, 58.
2. Ibid., I, 446.
3. Ibid., II, 139.
4. Ibid., I, 257. See ibid., II, 467-468.
5. Ibid., III, 341.
6. Whitman to his mother, April 26, 1864, Edwin Haviland Miller, ed., Walt Whitman: The Correspondence (N.Y., 1961- ), I, 213.
7. Whitman to John Swinton, Feb. 3, 1865, ibid., I, 252-253. Traubel, Whitman in Camden, II, 425-427.
8. Whitman to his mother, [December, 1871], Whitman, Correspondence, II, 147. See also Whitman to Grant, [February, 1874], June 22, 1874, ibid., II, 280-281, 306.
9. Traubel, Whitman in Camden, I, 257-258.
10. (Philadelphia, 1882-1883), 153-154.
11. Traubel, Whitman in Camden, II, 269-270.
12. XXIX, 1482 (May 16, 1885), 310.
13. Herman Dieck, The most Complete and Authentic History of the Life and Public Services of General U. S. Grant…. (Philadelphia, 1885), 743-744.
NEWS NOTES *** The Grant Association recently signed a contract with the Ohio State University Press for the publication of “The Collected Writings of Ulysses S. Grant.” The Grant Association plans to have its first volume ready within a year. *** Fred J. Milligan, Columbus attorney and President of the Ohio Historical Society, has replaced Everett Walters on the board of the Grant Association. Walters, formerly Dean of the Graduate School at Ohio State Unversity, is now at Boston University. *** Colonel Red Reeder’s Ulysses S. Grant: Horseman and Fighter, recently published by Garrard, is admirably designed to give the 7-10 set an introduction to Grant.
[pg. 21] A LETTER OF JESSE GRANT *** On the eve of the Civil War, Jesse R. Grant, father of the future general, lived in Covington, Kentucky, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. His business interests elsewhere included a leather store in Galena, Illinois. In May, 1860, Ulysses moved from St. Louis to Galena to begin again in his father’s store. Jesse Grant was a successful businessman whose true love was politics, and there success eluded him.
We are indebted to Dr. Wayne C. Temple and the Department of Lincolniana of Lincoln Memorial University for permission to print a letter written by Jesse Grant to Cassius M. Clay from Galena on May 28, 1860. Clay, a fiery Kentucky antislavery advocate, was temporarily prominent in the Republican Party. Great personal courage and strength enabled him to attack slavery in a slave-holding state, and while he gained few local supporters, he was much admired in the North.
This letter raises as many questions as it answers. We do not know if Jesse Grant was as active in politics or so close to Clay as the letter suggests, although he obviously knew of Clay’s desire for the War Department. Clay strove for this post with his usual aggressiveness, and was persuaded to take the post of Minister to Russia only after skillful negotiation by Lincoln’s friend Edward D. Baker. A letter from Jesse Grant to Edward Bates, April 25, 1861 (Chicago Public Library) indicates that Grant was distressed by Clay’s patronage policies in Kentucky, but nothing else of their relationship is known.
[pg. 22] It is doubtful that Grant did meet Lincoln in Springfield, for he never spoke of it later. But there can be no doubt that Jesse did take the aggressive interest in politics that this letter suggests. It was ironic that political prominence came to Jesse from the direction least expected; and that his son Ulysses, as President, fearing his father’s extravagant talk, guarded against confiding in him.
Galena Ill May 28th ’60
Hon C. M. Clay
Dear Sir,Your letter dated 16th & post marked on the 19th at White Hall was recd two days ago. Passing over for the present what has been said about the New port Republicans, & the Republican State Convention, I will proceed to notice what is of much greater importance–the nominations.
I feel fully satisfyed that the nominations are as good & as available as could have been made. Seward may thank his most devoted friends for his defeat. The officious intermeddllng of the old free soil wing of the Republican party; and that Seward was the only Representative man among the Candidates, & to take such men as McLean Bates or Lincoln, was to go outside of the party for a Candidate, has prevented his nomination, & would have produced his ultimate defeat. The feelings out here are very strong for C.M.C. for the V.P. And if some eastern men had been at the head of the ticket, that name, It is thought would have been associated with it. But the idea of the War Department takes us well.
When I return home, I will take Springfield in my rout, & make the acquaintance of Mr Lincoln. And I am going to work for the success of the ticket. Until the result of the Baltimore & Richmond conventions is known, it will be difficult to determine what will be the best course of policy to pursue in Kentucky, to secure Republican success. My present opinion is that it will be best to push Bells & if possible prevent the Democracy from geting the State. As matters now stand in our District I would not ask any decent Republican to vote the ticket, & I certainly coul not do it myself. And especially when I consider that the more votes the ticket gets in the 10th District, the more it will be disgraced; for it is fully understood that all possible pains has been taken to prevent any but old Abolition free soilers from voting it.
[pg. 23] To show you why I feel so peculiarly sensative on this subject I will mention one incident. But first, it was on my suggestion that the meeting was called. I wrote to you & called on Hon. D. Fisher to address the meeting–wrote the notices & got published in the city papers for the meeting wrote a petition & layed before the city Council & got the use of the Hall by their special permission. Then when a large audience had convened, you had not come in & Fisher was there, I thought it best to have the meeting organized; and as I had understood that a caucus had agreed upon the officers of the meeting, I steped up to the Republican party & told him if he would tell me who was agreed upon for Chairmen I would call the meeting to order. he turned from me with the assumed importance of a monark & giving me a push with his elbow said “Ill attend to that” And then struting to an open space in the floor & spreading himself like a game chicken raised his powerful voice & proclaimed the meeting organized &c. In consideration of my age & experience on such subjects, & my standing morally socially and politically I really would not regarded myself very highly flattered to have been called upon to perform that duty but to be elbowed off by such a contemptable little fool was a little more than bargained for. However let that pass–
I am going to start in the morning to St Paul & have business at almost every town on the way, & shall a fair opportunity to talk politicks. I dont expect to get home before about the 1st of July. When I get home I will give you a grand history of matters & things generally.
I did not attent the Chicawgo Convention & from the date of your letter I suppose you did not.
J. R. Grant
WHAT HIS ENEMIES SAID OF GRANT *** Major General Ulysses S. Grant 3rd had made an interesting collection of comments on his grandfather by persons active in the Confederate cause. They will appear in several installments.
Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, vice-President of the Confederate States of America, first met Grant on January 31, 1865, at City Point, Virginia, where Stephens and two other prominent Confederate officials had come to discuss terms of peace.
[pg. 24] …I will say, in the first place, that I was never so much disappointed in my life, in my previously formed opinions, of either the personal appearance or bearing of any one, about whom I had read and heard so much. The disappointment, moreover, was in every respect favorable and agreeable. I was instantly struck with the great simplicity and perfect naturalness of his manners, and the entire absence of everything like affectation, show, or even the usual military air or mien of men in his position. He was plainly attired, sitting in a log-cabin, busily writing on a small table, by a Kerosene lamp. It was night when we arrived. There was nothing in his appearance or surroundings which indicated his official rank. There were neither guards nor aids about him. Upon Colonel Babcock’s rapping at his door, the response, “Come in,” was given by himself, in a tone of voice, and with a cadence, which I can never forget.His conversation was easy and fluent, without the least effort or restraint. In this, nothing was so closely noticed by me as the point and terseness with which he expressed whatever he said. He did not seem either to court or avoid conversation, but whenever he did speak, what he said was directly to the point, and covered the whole matter in a few words. I saw before being with him long, that he was exceedingly quick in perception, and direct In purpose, with a vast deal more of brains than tongue, as ready as that was at his command.
We were here with General Grant two days, as the correspondence referred to shows. He furnished us with comfortable quarters on board one of his despatch boats. The more I became acquainted with him, the more I became thoroughly impressed with the very extraordinary combination of rare elements of character which he exhibited. During the time he met us frequently, and conversed freely upon various subjects, not much upon our mission. I saw, however, very clearly, that he was very anxious for the proposed Conference to take place, and from all that was said I inferred–whether correctly or not, I do not know–that he was fully apprised of its proposed object. He was, without doubt, exceedingly anxious for a termination of our war, and the return of peace and harmony throughout the country. It was through his instrumentality mainly, that Mr. Lincoln finally consented to meet us at Fortress Monroe, as the correspondence referred to shows.
But in further response to your inquiry, I will add: that upon the whole the result of this first acquaintance with General Grant, beginning with our going to, and ending with our return from Hampton Roads, was, the conviction on my mind, that, taken all in all, he was one of the most remarkable men I had ever met with, and that his career in life, If his days should be prolonged, was hardly entered upon; that his character was not yet fully developed; that he himself was not aware of his own power, and [pg. 25] that if he lived, he would, in the future, exert a controlling influence in shaping the destinies of this country, either for good or for evil. Which it would be, time and circumstances alone could disclose. That was the opinion of him then formed, and It is the same which has been uniformly expressed by me ever since.
General Richard Taylor in Destruction and Reconstruction (1879) bitterly indicted the Grant administration, but also gave this account of his trip to Washington in the summer of 1865 when he sought to obtain the release of Confederate officials from federal custody.
The officers of the army on duty at Washington were very civil to me, especially General Grant, whom I had known prior to and during the Mexican war as a modest, amiable, but by no means promising, lieutenant In a marching regiment. He came frequently to see me, was full of kindness, and anxious to promote my wishes. His action in preventing violation of the terms of surrender, and a subsequent report that he made of the condition of the South–a report not at all pleasing to the radicals–endeared him to all Southern men. Indeed, he was in a position to play a role second only to that of Washington, who founded the Republic; for he had the power to restore it. His bearing and conduct at this time were admirable, modest, and generous; and I talked much with him of the noble and beneficent work before him. While his heart seemed to respond, he declared his ignorance of and distaste for politics and politicians, with which and whom he intended to have nothing to do, but confine himself to his duties of commander-in-chief of the army. Yet he expressed a desire for the speedy restoration of good feeling between the sections, and an intention to advance it in all proper ways.
The following conversation of General Robert E. Lee is taken from the biography of Grant by James Grant Wilson.
Within a few weeks of Grant’s death, a member of General Lee’s staff said to a friend, who had mentioned Hancock’s high opinion of his old chief: “That reminds me of Lee’s opinion of your great Union general, uttered in my presence in reply to a disparaging remark on the part of a person who referred to Grant as a ‘military accident, who had no distinguishing merit, but had achieved success through a combination of fortunate circumstances.’ General Lee looked into the critic’s eye steadily, and said: ‘Sir, your opinion is a very poor compliment to me. We all thought [pg. 26] Richmond, protected as it was by our splendid fortifications and defended by our army of veterans, could not be taken. Yet Grant turned his face to our capital, and never turned it away until we had surrendered. Now, I have carefully searched the military records of both ancient and modern history, and have never found Grant’s superior as a general. I doubt if his superior can be found in all history.'”
Albert D. Richardson, in A Personal History of Ulysses S. Grant (1868), reported a conversation of Confederate General Richard Ewell, early in the Civil War.
There is one West Pointer, I think In Missouri, little known, and whom I hope the Northern people will not find out. I mean Sam Grant. I knew him well at the Academy and in Mexico. I should fear him more than any of their officers I have yet heard of. He is not a man of genius, but he is clear-headed, quick, and daring.
NEWS NOTES *** The Grant Association recently elected three new members to its editorial board: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Executive Director of the National Historical Publications Commission; Harold M. Hyman, Professor of History at the university of Illinois; and Bell I. Wiley, Professor of History at Emory University. Other members of the editorial board are Allan Nevins, E.B. Long, Bruce Catton, Orme W. Phelps, and T. Harry Williams. *** An oil portrait of General Grant by S. Jerome Uhl has been acquired by dealer Paul North, of Columbus, Ohio. A large canvas, dated 1881, and possibly done from life, it is currently awaiting a purchaser in the Mohawk Gallery, 188 Lansing Street.