GENERAL GRANT BECOMES AN AUTHOR
When the Century Magazine late in 1883 began planning a comprehensive series of articles on the Civil War by leading participants, General Grant was naturally approached first, through his former military secretary and biographer, Adam Badeau. Grant was not interested. Six months later, after the failure of the Wall Street firm of Grant & Ward had left the General in serious financial straits, Century tried again. He was still reluctant, but after the Society of the Amy of the Potomac, at its annual meeting in Brooklyn in June 1884, elected him its president in a scene of great enthusiasm, he showed interest. He wrote the Century Company that he would he glad to have them send someone to discuss the matter with him.
Robert U. Johnson, editor in charge of the war series, called on Grant at his cottage in Long Branch, N. J., and the General undertook to try his hand at some articles. The first one, on Shiloh, arrived in the Century office at the beginning of July. It was received at first with jubilation. Grant had been captured, and his example would no doubt influence other generals to participate in the series. But the article proved to be pretty much a copy of Grant’s objective report on the action, with which they were already familiar. Johnson took it back to Grant and diplomatically explained
[pg. 2] to him that what they wanted was his own personal experience, with all the anecdotal material he could dredge up from memory. The General proved an apt pupil, and rewrote the Shiloh article completely. It appeared in Century the following February.
As soon as Grant started writing, Johnson began dreaming of getting a book out of him. The Century Company was already planning a large book on the Civil War, to follow and incorporate the series of articles. “Now that Grant is in the humor of writing,” Johnson suggested to Richard Watson Gilder, the senior editor of the Century Company, “would it not be worth while to think of getting him to write a book of his war experiences for subscription to go along side of our book …?”1 Gilder thought well of the idea, and so did Roswell Smith, the company’s president. Smith noted, however, that the business office should be consulted as to whether such a book would sell.2 The editorial staff was enthusiastic, but Smith was cautious.
Meanwhile, Grant was going ahead with his first draft of an article on Vicksburq. Johnson visited the General at Long Branch on July 22, and reported at length to Gilder. His letter, which seems not to have been used before, except as Johnson himself condensed bits of it in his Remembered Yesterdays, may be worth quoting at length. It reveals a number of things about Grant at this time, about the impression he made on one who had not been particularly an admirer of his, and about his family. It also shows that the General had already decided to write a book after the articles were out of the way, a point that Johnson later managed to forget.
I spent all this morning with Gen. Grant at Long Branch. I reached his house about 9:00 & was surprised about 9:30 to hear breakfast announced [pg. 3] but after a trivial half-hour with Mrs. Sartoris (who is a very pretty & gentle sort of person, & Mrs. Fred. Grant, who is one of the best Western types)3 I resumed the siege. You will be glad to learn that the General enjoys writing–since he is still lame & needs diversion4–had already formed the intention of writing a 450-page book on his campaigns next winter. He has been urged to this by Mr. G. W. Childs5 and Phila. friends one of whom is a publisher. Nothing was said however about publication & he said that he would not publish it without letting us have a chance. He told me a great deal about Grant & Ward. He thinks Fish6 a deliberate swindler as well as Ward, who “violated the confidence of everybody.” Will Ward & “Buck” Grant7 were great friends & Ferdinand played it on Buck by selling him a $5000. “flour note” (whatever that may be) for $500. & then just before its falling due renewing it with another until in order to cover up the fraud he got Buck to go in with him. Of course the Grants knew nothing of this. He spent most of the time on Shiloh and Vicksburg, telling me a lot of picturesque details which I seized upon at once & made him promise to put in. He will put the whole Wilderness Campaign in one paper which we can supplement at any point with “fighting” if it needs it & will write a fourth paper shorter on the Surrender including new material. The Shiloh will be 6 or 7 pages, Vicksburg nearly 25, Wilderness perhaps at a guess 16 and the Surrender 6. Thus we get 4 articles of 54 pp. total length for $2000. They will appear at long intervals apart too. The Wilderness is thus covered in one issue even if we have two or three brief supplementary papers on Spotsylvania & Cold Harbor. Thus the series will be shortened, having some of the best of the wine at the last. Grant thinks Sherman could be got to write in one paper Dalton to Savannah & I think he will help us to get it. Grant’s Vicksburg will be done (first draft) this week! (I wonder if McClellan will be so prompt.)
It looks as though Grant was an underrated man by his enemies. He is of a very affectionate, transparent, & very humorous nature–always the twinkle in the eye. He spoke with great frankness of his affairs saying “We are all paupers now” & of men, saying of Hooker that he was a man of no brains, scruples, or decency & that no woman was free from his importunities, left alone with him. I gave him the cue to popular writing & he has the boldness of his opinions & if he will only write out what he thinks & knows he can make a book that will outsell Blaine’s–which by the way is solemn commonplace patchwork without fire or variety–Addison & treacle, on tap.8
I feel confident that we can get Grant’s book if we shall want it….9
The editors continued to urge taking the book. Clarence C. Buel, Johnson’s colleague on the Civil War series, telegraphed to Smith that the book was not as much of a speculation as it seemed.
[pg. 4] The material as it appeared in the magazine “would help to keep up our ‘boom,’ with the soldier audience, and it would still have vitality–as a subscription book.” Grant had no other income at the moment than the $500 apiece for the Century articles, he told Smith.10 But Smith wired back that it was “bad policy for author to accept advances, but would make advances on completion &.”11 Gilder told Smith that Grant was the most “taking” card that the Century Company had ever had. “With all his faults & shortcomings he continues to be the most eminent and interesting of living Americans.” He thought that they could hardly have too much of him in the magazine, and “the book, especially as it would be framed in our hands, would be a most important contribution to human history–a book ‘not for a day but for all time.'”12
Roswell Smith went to Long Branch in September and he and Grant, as the luncheon guests of George W. Childs, discussed a book contract. A good impression seems to have been made on both sides, and Smith wrote to Gilder, referring to Grant, “When the book is ready he is to come to us with it.”13 Grant had certainly been impressed, and thought the Century Conpany would be the best publisher, but he had made no committal, he wrote Badeau afterward.14 Smith knew of Grant’s poverty, but had obviously offered no advance. After his return to New York, Grant did come to the Century Company office and tell Gilder that he wanted them to have the book.15 Probably by sheer coincidence, he went the same day to consult a specialist about a nagging pain in his throat. The book and the pain were with him to the end.
The Century Company proceeded to draft a contract in a rather leisurely fashion. Before it was signed, Mark Twain, who had recently set up his own publishing house under the name of Charles L. Webster & Co.,
[pg. 5] entered the picture and took the book away from Century. Johnson never forgave Twain for this, especially after Johnson had to cut the Vicksburq article that Grant had written under his coaching for the Century, and give the best part of it to Webster for use in the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. There is an envelope of slightly scorched letters among the Robert U. Johnson Papers in the New York Public Library with the following label:
Office Correspondence in June & July 1885 between R.U.J., C.C. Buel, R.W. Gilder & F.H. Scott relating to the War Series, especially Grant’s Vicksburg half of which (the preliminary campaign) The Century Co. gave back to him at his request, prompted by C.L. Webster & Co. Mark Twain’s firm for whom Mark gobbled the book which Grant had promised to us. R.U.J. was in the Catskills.16
1. Robert U. Johnson to Richard Watson Gilder, July 1, 1884, Richard Watson Gilder Papers, New York Public Library.
2. Roswell Smith to Gilder, July 8, 1884, Gilder Papers.
3. Mrs. Sartoris was General Grant’s daughter Nellie. Mrs. Frederick Grant, born Ida Honore, was a sister of Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago.
4. Grant had injured his leg in a fall on the ice the winter before, and never recovered entirely.
5. George W. Childs, Grant’s next-door neighbor at Long Branch and publisher of the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
6. James D. Fish was the president of the Marine National Bank, the failure of which brought down the firm of Grant & Ward.
7. Buck was the nickname of Ulysses S. Grant, Jr.
8. The reference is to James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress: From Lincoln to Garfield, the first volume of which had recently been published.
9. Johnson to Gilder, July 22, 1884, Gilder Papers.
10. Clarence C. Buel to Smith, August 24, 1884, Robert U. Johnson Papers, New York Public Library.
11. Smith to Gilder, August 24, 1884, Gilder Papers.
12. Gilder to Smith, August 29, 1884, Johnson Papers.
13. Smith to Gilder, September 9, 1884, Gilder Papers.
14. Adam Badeau, Grant in Peace. From Appomattox to Mount McGregor. A Pereonal Memoir (Hartford, 1887), 563-564.
15. Rosamond Gilder, editor, Letters of Richard Watson Gilder (Boston and New York, 1916), 123.
16. Letters June 29-July 22, 1885, chiefly between Johnson and Buel, Johnson Papers.
[pg. 6] NEWS NOTES *** Thomas M. Pitkin, author of the article printed above, is retired from the National Park Service where his area of supervision included the General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb). His publications include Grant the Soldier (1965), an anthology covering Grant’s career through the Civil War. He is now preparing a narrative account of Grant’s last days. *** The Ulysses S. Grant Association has received a grant of $12,000 from the National Historical Publications Commission covering the current fiscal year. *** At a Grant Association board meeting, held in May, T. Harry Williams, a vice president of the Grant Association, was elected chairman of the editorial board to replace the late Allan Nevins. Harris Rowe, an insurance executive of Jacksonville, Ill., and a trustee of Southern Illinois University, has been elected to the board of directors of the Grant Association. As a descendent of Illinois Civil War Governor Richard Yates, Rowe is renewing an old family connection.
[pg. 7] ANOTHER INTERVIEW WITH FREDERICK DENT GRANT *** In four previous issues of this Newsletter we have attempted to make available Frederick Dent Grant’s reminiscences of his father, Ulysses S. Grant, by assembling articles, speeches, and interviews. Prematurely we thought the task completed, but now another Interview has turned up which deserves a place in the record. James B. Morrow interviewed Frederick Grant in 1908, and his article reprinted below is both a credit to a skillful reporter and to Frederick Grant, who remembered accurately (where he can be checked) events dating back as far as a half century. Although Walter B. Stevens incorporated portions of this interview in his Grant in Saint Louis (1916), he gave no clue to his source. Some of the material in this interview covers the same ground as Frederick Grant’s article, “My Father as I Knew Him,” printed in the April, 1969 Newsletter, but enough new material is included to make the Morrow interview a significant part of the Grant story.
General Frederick Dent Grant
By James B. Morrow
Every one has etched the dreary little store at Galena for himself–calf skins, and red and purple morocco on the shelves, and rolls of stiff sole leather along the opposite wall. The stove is well back in the room and the walnut desk is near the light. No doubt the windows are dusty.
A shoemaker, his coat over his apron, for he is in a hurry, enters briskly, and a quiet, bearded man, clothed altogether in black and wearing
[pg. 8] a wool hat, gives him what he wants. Perhaps a farmer, who does his own cobbling, ties his muddy horses to the wooden hitching post, stamp his muddy boots on the sidewalk, and goes in for a ball of wax or some thread.
But Frederick Dent Grant, eldest son and comrade of the traditionally gloomy and silent man in the wool hat, says the picture has scarcely a leg to stand on. The store at Galena was a very bustling place. It was four stories high, fronted on two parallel streets, and was, in reality, a wholesale and retail establishment and a manufactory. Furthermore, Ulysses S. Grant was an energetic, cheerful and successful merchant. Neither had he been a failure as a farmer.
No son ever knew a father better, and no father ever loved a son more. Fred Grant saw six pitched battles before he was 13 years old. In some of them he was with the men while they fought. He was present during the famous siege and campaign of Vicksburg and took care of himself. The father was pleased, but wrote to his wife that he feared she was anxious and unhappy.
“Alexander the Great,” she proudly answered, “accompanied his father in his wars against the Greeks.”
“But I am not Philip, King of Macedon,” General Grant replied. “Nor does Fred,” he could have added, “sleep with Homer’s Iliad and dagger under his pillow.”
Governors Island, some 60 or more acres in size, is seven minutes distant by ferry from the southern end of New York City. It is the home and headquarters of the Major General in command of the Eastern Department of the United States army. There are 50 officers, 80 clerks, 240 soldiers and several hundred military prisoners on the island. I found General Grant in the second story of a plain wooden building. No sentry halted me; no messenger was at the door. I knocked and walked right in.
General Grant wore a uniform and was busy with several officers, also in uniform, who brought him many papers in wire baskets. His eyes and nose may be a trifle smaller than were his father’s, but he is a Grant, physically and tempermentally–compact of body, simple in manner, kindly in his bearing toward others, quiet, thoughtful and unemotional. His short beard is almost white.
Looks Like His Father
“Have you personal recollection,” I asked, “of the farm which your father owned near St. Louis?”
“I remember it very distinctly,” General Grant replied. “Indeed, my memory begins with the transfer of my father from the military post in Detroit to Sacketts Harbor. He had returned from the Mexican war and was an officer in the Fourth Infantry. We were on a boat, and steam came up over the paddle wheel, and people were crowded on the deck, and
[pg. 9] the gangplank made a loud noise when it was pulled in. I was about two years old.
When my father was ordered to California, my mother and I were to live in St. Louis until he established a home and sent for us. But his pay was small, flour was 25 cents a pound, and we remained with my grandfather. While playing on the long porch at White Haven, the home of my mother’s family, late in the summer of 1854, a man drove up in a buggy. Just as he was throwing the laprobe over the dashboard a colored woman ran out of the house and said: ‘It’s Mr. Grant.’ and so it was, but I didn’t know him. It is very likely he didn’t know me. He had resigned his commission because he couldn’t support his family if he stayed in the army.
My mother had a farm, about a hundred acres, I suppose, and my father, who was an industrious and stirring man, built a log house, cutting the trees and hewing them himself. The house was afterward moved to a park in St. Louis. Now bear in mind that my father had graduated from West Point, had served in the Mexican War, and had been an officer in the United States army, yet he sacrificed his career, as he thought, and took up his work in the wilderness, that he might have a home of his own and not be under obligations to Mr. Dent, his father-in-law.”
“I have heard that he hauled cordwood to St. Louis and sold it in the streets.
“Yes, both cordwood and short timbers for use in the coal mines. He chopped the wood and timbers himself, that he might get a little ready money. But farming was his principal occupation, and his crops were larger and better than were his neighbors’. During the four years he lived in the country he suffered from ague, an obstinate and debilitating form of malaria, and so, with my mother’s consent, he traded the farm for a cottage in St. Louis–a very comfortable house, with plenty of ground and a good many fruit trees.
Chopped Wood For Money
With Henry Boggs, a cousin by marriage, he went into the business of collecting rents and selling real estate, but he was not fitted for an undertaking of that character. The country had just gone through a commercial panic, and my father couldn’t be harsh and turn persons, back in their rent, out of their homes and into the street. He would have been the last man in the world to press or threaten a debtor. Although he scarcely made more than a living, if he did so well as that, we children saw no indication of hard times in our family. My mother had three slaves, two women and a man, gifts from her father, and they lived with us.
My other grandfather, Jesse R. Grant, was then living in Covington, Ky. He owned tanneries at Portsmouth, on the Ohio River, had a large leather store at Galena, in Illinois; a branch store at La Crosse, in Wisconsin, and, I think, another store somewhere in Iowa. My Missouri
[pg. 10] grandfather–and he owned an estate of many hundreds of acres himself–thought my Ohio and Kentucky grandfather a rich man. ‘Old Mr. Grant,’ I once heard him say, ‘must be worth $150,000.’ Anyway, my grandfather Grant was advancing in years and wanted to distribute his property. It was arranged that my father and his two brothers should manage the tanneries and stores, each to be paid $60 a month for his services, and place the profits of the business in a trust fund for their three sisters. When the accumulated profits amounted to the value of the tanneries and stores the brothers were to have the physical property add the sisters the income from the money in trust.”
“We moved to Galena and took a good house. The three slaves, of course, were left behind, because Illinois was a free state. It has been said that my father was poor and that he was a failure in the leather business at Galena. His achievements as a soldier and his election to the Presidency caused the world to draw a violent, although friendly, contrast between his life in Missouri and Illinois, and his career on the battle field and in Washington. As a matter of fact, the Grants were very well situated in Galena. Our home was large enough for us and for our relatives, many of whom came from a distance as visitors. We had dinner parties, and my parents, in turn, were guests of the principal families. My mother, I know, kept two servants.
Left Slaves Behind
I recall that I was disgusted because I couldn’t go barefooted, like other boys, and that instead of a hickory shirt and one suspender, I had to wear a waist which I buttoned to my short trousers. My father bought us a good many toys and I had the fastest sled in town, and the only one that was made in Chicago. Father spent his evenings at home and read newspapers, magazines and books to the family. Frequently he would go to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa to sell leather and make collections. He traveled in a covered wagon which had springs and contained a bed and cooking utensils. Sometimes I accompanied him, taking my shotgun along. When we came to a field of stubble that had signs of quail he would stop the horses and teach me how to shoot. He also taught me how to swim, wading in the water with his hand under my chin.
The store building in Galena was four stories high, and was packed with goods. Behind it was the harness factory, Which extended to the next street. There was also a large stock of carriage hardware. Father has said that he was a clerk in those days, but he was much more; in time he would have been a partner in the business. I recollect that his salary of $60 a month was less that he really required, and that several gifts of money to my mother from her family in St. Louis, helped him considerably. The largest, I think, was about $100. Grandfather Grant was at no time a very liberal man. We lived in Galena for 11 months, and then my father vent away to the war.”
“Had he forseen that there would be war?”
“Oh, yes. He talked rather freely in the family as soon as it was known that Lincoln had been elected, and he predicted that some of the Southern states would secede. The Dents, in St. Louis, were rebels. He wrote to them, expressing his sympathy, regretting the coming conflict, but telling them that the South would be whipped. In the evening of the day on which President Lincoln made his first call for troops, a public meeting was held in Galena, at which father presided. He never went to the leather store after that meeting to put up a package or do any other business.”
Predicted the War
“You joined your father while he was operating below Vicksburg, and he says you were with him during the campaign and siege, saw every battle and looked out for yourself?”
“Whenever she could, mother got as near to father as possible. While he was in the region of Vicksburg she and the children were at Memphis. I left her and found father on a gunboat in the Mississippi River. We slept on the deck. One morning he was missing, and General Lorenzo Thomas told me he had gone to Ft. Gibson. I was to remain where I was until he came back. General Thomas was pale and looked worried. Every little while we would hear the firing of cannon.
Spme troops were being formed on the bank to march away to battle and a rabbit ran along the line between them and the river. I asked General Thomas to let me go ashore and catch the rabbit. But the rabbit had disappeared, of course, when I got on land. Disobeying orders, I started for Port Gibson, some 17 miles distant. Having no horse, I walked. In the afternoon I met a battery that was getting ready to go into action. I stopped for awhile, but artillery fire didn’t interest me very much. Several regiments of infantry were fighting in the low ground below, however, and I went to them.
Presently the climax of battle occurred. I saw our troops rush forward and I knew the enemy had given way. Night came on and I walked among our men in the moonlight. I followed four soldiers who were carrying a dead man in a blanket. They put the body down on the slope of a little hill among a dozen other bodies. The sight made me faint. I had eaten nothing all day but a cracker and a piece of salt pork, and I hurried on.”
“Soon I was at a little schoolhouse that had been turned into a hospital. Surgeons were tossing amputated arms and legs out of the windows. The yard of the schoolhouse was filled with wounded and groaning men who were waiting for the surgeons. I picked my way among them to the side of the road and sat on the roots of a tree. I was hungry, thirsty and worn out, and, worse than all, I didn’t know if my father were living or dead. No boy was ever more utterly wretched. I had
His First Battle
[pg. 12] seen my first battle. Then an orderly who had been carrying messages for my father rode up. Re took off his saddle, gave it to me for a pillow and covered me with his saddlecloth. In a short time he returned and took me to father, whom I found sitting on a camp stool back of the schoolhouse drinking a tincup of hot coffee. I expected to get a sharp reproof for my disobedience.
‘How did you get here?’ he asked.
He looked at me for a moment, and then said: ‘I guess you will do.’ And there was no anger in his face. Maybe I was mistaken, but I half believed he was not sorry that I left the gunboat.
The next day I was given ‘an enormous horse, grown white from age,’ as my father says in his memoirs, and rode back to the gunboat. Charles A. Dana, then an officer of the War Department, and afterward editor of the New York Sun, riding a rawboned mate of my horse, went along with me.
“I suppose you saw both Sherman and Sheridan during the war?”
“Yes, many times. General Sherman used to pat me on the head and say things which pleased me. You see, I thought I was really needed by the soldiers. I didn’t stop to think that I neither carried a gun nor gave orders, but I was sure my personal presence at the front was necessary. I was with General Sherman part of the time at the Battle of Jackson. I saw the match put to the stores of baled cotton, at my father’s order, and was with the soldier who unfurled the American flag over the Capitol building.
“Did you ever see President Lincoln?”
“Oh, certainly. I first saw him when I went to Washington with my father, who had been called there to receive his coamaission as Lieutenant General. I fancy I am the only person living who was present at the meeting. General Horace Porter may have been there, but as to that I am not certain. We were shown into the Cabinet room and saw the President at a long table, with Secretary Seward at his right and Secretary Stanton at his left. Mr. Lincoln arose, shook hands with my father, and then introduced him to all the members of the Cabinet. The President read his speech of presentation, and father read his thanks from a paper which he took from his pocket. I was sent away with a man who took me around the city.
Met Lincoln in Washington
I again stopped in Washington when I was 14 years old, either on my way to the front or on my return to the North. There was a reception at the White House and I went there to pay my respects to the President.
[pg. 13] On learning my name, he said to a member of his household: ‘Take him upstairs to Tad.’ I talked with Tad for same time–he was about my age–and then returned to the hotel where I was staying. I never saw Mr. Lincoln afterward.”
“Do you remember the night when it became known that your father had been elected President of the United States?”
“I was a cadet at West Point, an appointment which had been given me by President Johnson. After being graduated I was assigned to the staff of General Sheridan, in Chicago. His military papers having been burned he sent me to Washington with a clerk to have copies made at the War Department. Consequently I was with my family for two or three years while father was President. Then I served in the West. When I left the army, in 1881, I was a Captain.”
“You assisted your father while he was writing his memoirs?”
“A magazine which was printing stories of the war asked him to write papers on Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and the Wilderness and promised him several thousand dollars. He was reluctant to accept the work, but he needed the money, and it was my judgment that he ought to put his experiences into permanent form as a matter of history. The papers were so well received that he wrote a full account of his life down to the close of the Civil War. He was very careful about his facts, and had me verify them by the public records. The first checks received for royalties on the sale of the book amounted to $534,000. There were a number of smaller checks afterward.”
“Will you tell me about your return to the army in 1898?”
“When war with Spain seemed to be certain, I offered my services, first, in Washington, and then in Albany, but they were not accepted. After my election as Colonel of the Fourteenth Regiment, New York Volunteers, I wanted to go to Cuba, but was ordered to Porto Rico, and was later transferred to the Philippines. I didn’t know I was to be made a Brigadier General of volunteers until I read of my appointment in the newspapers. After being on the firing line in the Philippines for three years, I was made a Brigadier General in the regular army, and President McKinley assured me that he had promoted me on my merits and not because of sentiment or anything else. I didn’t expect the promotion, and I cannot say that I wanted it. Before going to Porto Rico I sold my interests in several business interprises. Had I kept them I would have made $170,000.”
Volunteered for Spanish War
“You fought in many parts of the Philippines, received the surrender of the last insurgent forces at Samar, and had experiences with guerillas in several provinces. You know the country. Are the Philippines a good place for an American?”
[pg. 14] “It must be remembered,” and General Grant smiled, “that the United States has so protected the Philippine Islands that no American can go there and successfully exploit the people. In the matter of land, for example, an American can own no more than 2,500 acres. Large corporations, therefore, will not invest great sums of money in sugar machinery under a restriction of that kind as to the sources of their raw material. Spaniards and other foreigners owning immense estates are permitted to keep them. We seem to have been just a little suspicious of ourselves.”
NEWS NOTES *** Planning is in progress for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ulysses S. Grant on April 27, 1972. Ralph G. Newman will coordinate the role of the Grant Association in this commemoration. The Civil War Round Table of Chicago tentatively plans an April 21 dinner meeting in the G.A.R. Room of the Chicago Public Library with T. Harry Williams as principal speaker. Carl N. Becker of the history department of Wright State University in Dayton is organizing a Grant sesquicentennial symposium for early in May. Many people have asked the U. S. Postal Service to issue a Grant commemorative postage stamp next year.
[pg. 15] GRANT FAMILY PAPERS *** A large collection of Grant family papers, covering three generations, assembled by the late Major General Ulysses S. Grant 3rd, has been presented to the Ulysses S. Grant Association by his three daughters: Mrs. John S. Dietz, Mrs. David W. Griffiths, and Mrs. Paul Ruestow. This collection, now sorted, processed, and inventoried, is available for research at the Grant Association offices in Morris Library, Southern Illinois University.
Between 1920 and 1960 General Grant 3rd gave to the Library of Congress a large quantity of the papers of his grandfather, President Grant, apparently representing almost everything of this nature in his possession. The collection given to the Grant Association contains only a handful of letters to and from President Grant. Throughout his adult life, however, General Grant 3rd maintained an extensive correspondence with biographers, scholars, and other persons interested in his grandfather, and a wide circle of friends sent him clippings, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous information. This material has been placed in sixteen boxes (three inches wide) with the correspondence first and the miscellaneous material arranged in eighty subject files. Also in this category are Grant family manuscripts, including a typescript of Julia Dent Grant’s unpublished memoirs, a typescript of a brief unpublished diary kept by President Grant during his trip around the world, and articles and speeches by General Grant 3rd, along with a corrected typescript of his book, Ulysses S. Grant: Warrior and Statesman.
[pg. 16] The smallest body of materials for these three generations, though perhaps the most important, consists of papers of Frederick Dent Grant (1850-1912), oldest son of President Grant, and his wife, Ida Honoré Grant. Six boxes consist almost entirely of correspondence, and the correspondents include William T. Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan, John A. Logan, John Sherman, Grenville M. Dodge, Samuel L. Clemens, and others of great Importance in the Grant story. While many of the earliest letters are of value chiefly for the light they shed on his father’s career, later documents deal with Frederick Grant’s own services as minister to Austria-Hungary (1889-93), as New York City police commissioner (1895-97), and as brigadier and major general during the Spanish-American War and later (1898-1912).
Seventeen larger boxes (twelve inches wide) contain the papers of General Grant 3rd (1881-1968). The bulk of the early material deals with his long service in the U. S. Army. After graduating from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in 1903, he served in the Philippines (1903-04), Cuba (1906), and along the Mexican border,(19l3-l7). In 1918 he went to France with the American section of the Supreme War Council. After the war he served at various engineering commands in the U. S. until assigned as director of public buildings and grounds in Washington, D. C., (1926-33). He returned to Washington in 1942 as chief of the protection branch of the Office of Civilian Defense and was closely associated with the city for the rest of his life. Most of the military material in the collection consists of printed items, and more than half relate to civil defense in World War II.
Following his retirement from the army in 1945, General Grant 3rd took a more active role in commemorative and patriotic organizations, though his
[pg. 17] memberships often dated back many years. Some of the most extensive bodies of papers for the later years concern the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies. Two boxes of papers deal with his role as chairman of the U. S. Civil War Centennial Commission (1957-61). Additional sizeable bodies of papers deal with civic, historical, and patriotic groups in Washington.
The Grant Association received assistance in sorting and arranging the collection from three graduate students in history at Southern Illinois University: Margaret Dwight, Ralph Friederich, and Dennis O’Connor. Dolly Springer, a graduate student in philosophy, prepared a detailed inventory, copies of which are available on request from the Grant Association. Requests for permission to use the collection should be addressed to Ralph G. Newman, 18 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, Ill., 60611.
THE GRANT SESQUICENTENNIAL *** Events planned to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ulysses S. Grant (April 21, 1822) include a dinner at the Chicago Public Library on April 21 jointly sponsored by the Civil War Round Table of Chicago, the Ulysses S. Grant Association, the Illinois Special Events Commission, and the Friends of the Chicago Public Library, at which T. Harry Williams, Louisiana State University, will speak on “Grant as President.” *** In Carbondale, the Friends of Morris Library of Southern Illinois University plan a commemorative dinner for April 19 and a Grant exhibition in the library. *** In Springfield, the Illinois State Historical Library will open a Grant exhibition on April 27. ***
[pg. 18] Also on April 27, the National Park Service will conduct a ceremony at the General Grant National Memorial In New York City. Ralph G. Newman and John Y. Simon will speak. *** Jerome L. Orton, Wilton, N. Y., of the New York Department, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, has organized a ceremony for May 7 at Mount McGregor, the site of Grant’s death. Congressman Hamilton Fish, descendant of Grants secretary of state, will be the principal speaker. *** On April 27, the Guyer-Bateman chapter of the Daughters of the Union will conduct a ceremony at the statue of Grant in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. The Dames of the Loyal Legion will then hold a reception in the War Library and Museum of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. Mrs. Sara Binder Moore of Philadelphia has organized both events. *** E. B. Long. University of Wyoming, will speak on Grant at Claremont College, Claremont, Calif., in April. Orme W. Phelps and John Niven of Claremont will participate in the program. *** Judge Harold D. Nichols is chairman of the Ulysses S. Grant Commemorative Committee which plans four days of events, April 27-30, in the region where Grant was born and raised. At Point Pleasant, where Grant was born, ceremonies are scheduled for April 27 and 30. In between, parades and banquets are scheduled for nearby Georgetown and Bethel, the other homes of the Grant family in southeastern Ohio. Local historical societies and the Ohio Historical Society will participate in this commemoration. *** At Wright State University, Dayton, Carl M. Becker has organized a Grant symposium for May 5-6. Participants are Roger D. Bridges, Illinois State Historical Library; Robert G. Hartje, Wittenberg University; John T. Hubbell, Kent State University; James I. Robertson, Jr., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Grady McWhiney, Wayne State [pg. 19] University; Allan Peskin, Cleveland State University; and John Y. Simon. *** Southern Illinois University Press will commemorate the Grant sesquicentennial with the publication of Volume 4 of The Papers of U1ysses S. Grant. This volume covers the period January 8-March 31, 1862, during which Grant demonstrated in Kentucky in January, campaigned against Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February, and had difficulties with General Halleck in March. The closing date coincides with the official transfer of his headquarters from Savannah, Tenn., to Pittsburg Landing, one week before the Confederates attacked at Shiloh.
John A. Carpenter, Ulysses S. Grant. (New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970, Pp. 217. $4.95)
Reviewed by Thomas G. Alexander
Brigham Young University
A reconsideration of the administration of Ulysses S. Grant was long overdue. For too long, historians have relied upon the emotional barbs of Henry Adams and the rather skillful use of limited sources by William B. Hesseltine. This has led to spicy lectures but made impossible a careful assessment of the man who dominated the American scene during Reconstruction. Carpenter has shown, however, that, though the Grant administration’s record is not unblemished, there were some substantial gains in financial and foreign affairs, new directions in Indian policy, and impermanent but notable efforts in civil service reform.
The bulk of the book is devoted to the presidency. The discussion of the pre-war and Civil War period adds little to the work of Lloyd Lewis and Bruce Catton, but in his treatment of the post-war period, Carpenter breaks new ground. In fact, though many questions remain unanswered–
[pg. 20] perhaps because of the relatively short space allowed by the Twayne Rulers and Statesmen of the World format–the book is undoubtedly the best study of the administration yet done.
One question which needs further study is that of Grant’s personality and erudition. The image which Carpenter portrays of Grant is much at variance with that which emerges from Grant’s writings. The belief that he felt uneasy around men like Sumner or Motley is questionable and is largely attributable to Adam Badeau who projected himself as Grant’s mentor on intellectual and cultural matters. Actually he appeared shy around most people whom he did not know well or with whose point of view he disagreed. A West Point education was among the best offered in the United States at the time, and Grant was a man of clear thought and subtle wit. Grant enjoyed reading and spent many hours reading to himself and to his wife and family. He was a man who preferred to work out problems alone or in company with a few personal advisors, whose suggestions he accepted or rejected as they conformed to his own assessments. The weak spots in his character were not intellectual, but emotional. As Carpenter has rightly pointed out, Grant was inordinately loyal and blind to the faults of close friends. He also admired and sought the approval of men of wealth like Alexander T. Stewart and Adolph E. Bone. He was, in short, a multi-dimensional man, much more complex than the character who emerges from Carpenter’s writing.
Nevertheless, the study has a great deal to commend it, and ought to replace less adequate treatments as standard on the presidency of this complex and interesting man.
A MOST EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MAN:
by Ralph G. Newman
The achievement of great leadership in the democratic world is accomplished by a combination of the mind and knowledge, character and experience, together with courage and devotion. It requires an ability to identify with the people, and calls for a vision and imagination that rises far beyond the concern, the frustration, and the pressure of the hour. Man’s character, as John Drinkwater says In the epilogue to his play, Abraham Lincoln, can endure, because it is “a token sent always to man for man’s own government.”
One hundred and fifty years have passed since the birth of Hiram Ulysses Grant, whom we and history now know as Ulysses S. Grant. Eighty-seven years have elapsed since his death. Yet, until comparatively recently, much about his life, his actions, his accomplishments, his talents, and his personality, has been obscured in legend and myth and by biased or uninformed writers. Now, with many new works interpreting his life and with the aid of much new source material–a major multi-volume biography; the publication of his Papers, four volumes of which have already been issued–the man is replacing the myth. We can see in the life of this quiet, brave, dignified soldier and President living proof of the credo so peculiar to America, that freedom can produce greatness and that
[pg. 22] there is in man himself a dignity that can transcend while it shapes events for time and in eternity.
Americans are often prone to exaggerate. Our heroes are occasionally too brave; our statesmen are often too noble; our victories seem to be always overwhelming. Sometimes in this enthusiastic hyperbole the truth is liable to be shaded or hidden, and perhaps this is particularly true with Ulysses S. Grant.
Bruce Catton tells us that “most men who saw U. S. Grant during the Civil War felt that there was something mysterious about him.” Catton points out that, while Grant looked very much like an ordinary man, the things he did were most definitely out of the ordinary, so “that it seemed as if he must have profound depths that were never visible from the surface.” Perhaps this was a great mystery to many, but to those who have studied the character and accomplishments of the man–scholars including Catton, Allan Nevins, T. Harry Williams, Lloyd Lewis, and others–the solution is simple. Grant possessed an inordinate degree of common sense and like his Civil War contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, was able to convey his thoughts and plans clearly, simply, and understandably. No matter how complicated the situation, you knew what Grant thought and wanted, because he could convey his thoughts and wishes directly and easily.
Not verbose, he used only enough words to cover a given situation. He was truthful, imperturbable, modest. When he speaks for himself, as he does in his dispatches, his letters, and his autobiography, his simplicity is deceptive. You are really not fully aware of the great skill with which he communicates until you reflect back on the content of his writings. Direct, precise, and carefully constructed, there is little possibility of misunderstanding them. He says what he should say, and in a manner to make the reader know it immediately.
The late Lloyd Lewis, one of the great Civil War scholars of this century, was so impressed by Grant’s Memoirs that he wrote, “His soul is in the Memoirs—
[pg. 23] one of the swiftest narratives in military history–it drives right through from beginning to end–it has his movement. Outwardly he looks like the statue upon which patience sits forever more, and he could be patient and wait but only by great self-control.” It is significant that after immersing himself in the Grant story, his writings and his career, Lewis would write, “I conclude that Grant is one of the few great horsemen in the whole world to have great horsesense.”
His simple early story is well-known. Born in the little southwest Ohio village of Point Pleasant on the Ohio River, the son of a tanner, Jesse Grant, he received his early education in Ohio and in an academy in Kentucky. His father was responsible for his appointment to West Point, and Ulysses was reluctant to embark on a military career. Thrifty Jesse Grant saw the military academy as a fine opportunity to provide a good education for his son at no cost. An undistinguished cadet academically, he was by far the best horseman in the institution. He graduated twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. He spent most of his early military career in the West and in the brief war with Mexico. When the Mexican War was over he returned to the East and was married to Julia Dent and then in 1852 was ordered to the West Coast. But he was lonesome and missed his wife and two children (one of whom he had never seen). On the same day that he was notified of his promotion to captain he submitted his resignation from the army. He lived for nearly a year with his wife’s parents on their farm near Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, and on another family farm until he completed the building of his own home on sixty acres of land near St. Louis which Julia Grant had received as a gift from her father. His farm experience was a disaster. By 1858, with four children now in the family, he rented out his farm and moved to
[pg. 24] St. Louis and entered the real estate business. Things had been so rough that in December, 1857 he pawned his watch so that he could buy Christmas gifts for his family. His real estate career was a failure, and in May, 1860 he moved to Galena, Illinois, to take a clerkship in his father’s leather goods store. It was while he lived in Galena that civil war came to the country. Grant immediately sought to return to the service. He found temporary employment as a clerk in the adjutant’s office of the State of Illinois. He was not successful in his application to the adjutant general of the United States Army for a commission or in his attempt to obtain a staff appointment from General McClellan, and he finally accepted an appointment by Governor Yates as Colonel of the Seventh Congressional District Infantry, eventually to become the Twenty-First Illinois. In July, 1861, President Lincoln, upon the recommendation of a caucus of Illinois congressmen, appointed Grant a brigadier general of volunteers and on August 5 the appointment was confirmed and dated back to May 17. This gave him seniority over many other appointees, and he was ready for his rendezvous with history.
Fifty years ago on the occasion of the Grant centennial, A. W. Vernon, writing in “The New Republic,” said, “There never was a plainer hero.” Today there would be those who would say that he lacks charisma. He was ordinary looking. Lloyd Lewis likened him in appearance to Harry Truman. People arriving at headquarters would invariably pick out some staff member as Grant. Hotel clerks, railroad conductors, ticket agents, never seemed to recognize him. He had a matter-of-fact courage, but it was not colorful. He was not a soldier-showman like Custer, MacArthur, or Patton. “I can recall only two persons,” recalled his aide, Horace Porter, “who
[pg. 25] throughout a rattling fire of musketry, always sat in their saddles without moving a muscle or winking an eye; one was a bugler, the other was General Grant.” William Tecumseh Sherman, who probably knew him as a soldier better than anyone else, said: “He don’t care a damn for what the enemy does out of his sight …He uses such information as he has according to his best judgment; he issues his orders and does his level best to carry them out without much reference to what is going on about him.”
Allan Nevins reminds us that a catalogue of Grant’s virtues tends to dullness, and there have been too many who have written about Grant in a fulsome vein. Nevertheless, he was indeed generous, honest, brave, and a humanitarian. He also was very human and possessed many human shortcomings. Although customarily cool and deliberate, he could be impetuous. He could lose his temper and did develop a hatred or at least a strong dislike for some men. Nevins reminds us of his “put-down” of the pompous Charles Sumner of whom it was said that he did not believe in the Bible. “Completely understandable,” said Grant, “he did not write it.” He was furious when he saw a teamster administer a brutal beating to a horse. And he did have a problem with drink, though it has been much exaggerated. His rise was a dazzling one. In ten years he rose from a man who resigned from the army under a cloud, a failure, to the most successful military leader in the world. In another three years he was to become President of the United States.
Though identified with the military and war, he was a man of peace. He really did not like soldiering but regarded it as a necessary evil. Once the military job was over, he wanted what the nation wanted, peace and tranquility. And just as the nation was not really willing to make all of the needed and sometimes painful readjustments, so was he not ideally equipped to lead us. It was not really his fault. He had in a way accomplished a
[pg. 26] miracle. He had succeeded where others had failed, and the war was won for the Union. But he could not produce the miracle of a return to a condition this country would never know again. The war had changed us; we were facing a period of gross materialism. Catton and Nevins both remind us that war creates more problems than it solves, and once a war is ended, all these problems demand attention at once. We turn to someone we can trust for this solution, a man. In this case it was Grant, in whom we had an unquestioning confidence.
In retrospect his administration did accomplish much. The country was put back together again. There were many injustices, but a solid basis was established for our economy, industrial development boomed, our national budget was balanced, and the “conquered province” theory of dealing with the South was abandoned.
True, Grant was betrayed by some of his friends. He learned what Harry Truman knew, that you cannot delegate either authority or responsibility as President. The people of the United States wanted someone to carry their load for them. During the war they thought Lincoln and Grant had done this. Now in peace they were to learn it doesn’t work that way. The people and the President must make their progress together.
History could have been kinder to Grant. Had his life ended as Lincoln’s did at his peak at the end of the war, he too would have been elevated to virtual sainthood. Had his life ended with the Presidency, with all the problems of his eight years in office, the faults and errors would have been overlooked. But he lived on. He suffered through a brief and disastrous business career, in which his name was used to cause many of his fellow soldiers to lose their savings. He was reduced to virtual poverty. But out of this came another victory. Dying of cancer, he fought and won his last battle, mustering his last strength so that he might finish his personal story and provide funds for his family.
[pg. 27] Eighty-seven years ago as he completed his Memoirs, General Grant wrote, “I feel that we are on the eve of a new era …I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to ‘Let us have peace.'” Nations and peoples seem to be willing to make more sacrifices for war than for peace. Events and actions in our time indicate that our attitude has changed. We still long for peace, and in his as in our generation we have learned from bitter experience that peace is not a gift, it is not produced by a miracle, but comes from the joint efforts of the people and our leaders. It is never an easy goal, but like the dying soldier of 1885, can we suggest a better one?
NEWS NOTES *** Ralph G. Newman, president of the Ulysses S. Grant Association, delivered the address printed above at ceremonies sponsored by the National Park Service at the General Grant National Memorial, New York City, on April 27, 1972, the 150th anniversary of Grant’s birth. *** The Grant Association has received a grant of $12,000 from the National Historical Publications Commission covering the current fiscal year. *** At a Grant Association board meeting held in April, T. Harry Williams, chairman of the editorial board, was elected to the board of directors. Three new members were added to the editorial board: Roger D. Bridges, assistant editor of Volume 4 of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, now director of research for the Illinois State Historical Library; Grady McWhiney, professor of history, Wayne State University; James B. Rhoads, Archivist of the United States. *** Bruce Catton has given the Grant Association the notes assembled by Lloyd Lewis for his biography of Grant. Lewis completed the first volume, Captain
[pg. 28] Sam Grant (1950), before his death, and Catton drew on notes for the Civil War period in his Grant Moves South (1960) and Grant Takes Command (1969). Catton’s own notes are also included in this gift, which represents about four file drawers of material in all. The Lewis-Catton notes will be sorted and inventoried in the near future and opened to researchers. *** E. B. Long’s massive new book, The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, prepared with the assistance of his wife, Barbara Long, has been chosen as a selection by five book clubs. “This man knows more facts about the Civil War than any other man who ever lived,” says Bruce Catton of Long, and now anybody who wants concise and reliable Civil War information can draw on this knowledge quickly through the superbly-indexed Almanac. *** The Illinois State Historical Society plans to sponsor a Grant conference at Northern Illinois University, De Kalb, next April. The program will soon be announced.