By his Wife’s Sister:
EMMA DENT CASEYOf course, we had the other pleasures of country life at that time, too. There were picnics and dances, but naturally I do not remember much of these. However, I do recall very well the day when Julia and the Lieutenant and a party of their friends went to a camp meeting and were caught in a terrible thunderstorm that overtook them on their way home.
The party went to the camp meeting in a big lumbering farm wagon filled with straight-back chairs and plenty of hay to sit on. Brother John and Nelly were of the crowd, but my presence did not seem to be required. At least three of that gay young party were to help make history. There were Lieutenant Grant and sister Julia; Lieutenant Longstreet, afterward the Confederate general and one of Grant’s warmest friends, and Miss Fanny Morrison, who was the daughter of old General Morrison; and there was Hazlitt–the brilliant, dashing Hazlitt–and a young widow, a Mrs. Porter, who had been Miss Betty Beale, young Gordenier [Gardenier], John and Nelly.
A merry party they made, and they stayed until the last hymn was sung. It was on their way home that a terrific thunderstorm came up. They had no time to find shelter, as there were no houses near and the girls were afraid to seek the shelter of the trees while the lightning played like the forked tongues of serpents against the black sky. There was a great, heavy tarpaulin in the wagon, but no frame to stretch it over. A frame had to be improvised; the tall, polelike Hazlitt was chosen for the victim. Standing him up in the center of the wagon they used him as a tent pole to hang the tarpaulin on, and the girls crawling under it managed to keep comparatively dry. All the boys but Hazlitt were thoroughly soaked, because the tarpaulin was only large enough to cover the girls.
This was not to be the last time that Lieutenant Grant was to get a good wetting. Just before the outbreak of the Mexican War his regiment was ordered South into Louisiana. The day his regiment received its orders to move from Jefferson Barracks the Lieutenant apparently discovered that he was not quite ready to go to war. There was something he needed, which many another soldier has needed, to make him do his best on the battlefield. That very night he mounted his horse and rode over to White haven. It was a terrible night; [pg. 2] nothing lees than a mission of some great import could have lured or driven a man out on such a night and for such a ride. The rains had been drenching the earth like a deluge for several days and the creeks were swollen and raging. When the young officer reached the banks of the Graviose he found it a mad, muddy torrent, which had torn trees and bridges from its banks and was carrying them, with a roar of waters through the valley to the river. But what was that to daunt a lover’s ardor! Like the hero of the legend, “he spurred his steed and plunged in.” But he plunged in over his head, with his horse under him. When they arose to the surface there was no turning back in that wild flood of foam-flecked water; there was nothing to do but go forward, and forward they went, the Lieutenant swimming at the side of his horse, sturdily breasting the swollen current until they landed safely upon the other side.
It was a bedraggled swain that stood in the presence of his lady-love a few moments afterward. We all enjoyed heartily the sight of his ridiculous figure with his clothes flopping like wet rags around his limbs, and none laughed more heartily than my sister Julia. Lieutenant Grant took it all good humoredly enough, but there was a sturdy seriousness in his usually twinkling eyes that must have suggested, perhaps, to Julia that be had come on more serious business, for the teasing did not last long. John carried him off to find some dry clothes, and when he returned the usually natty soldier looked scarcely more like himself than he had when he came out of his bath. John was taller and larger than Grant, and his clothes did not fit the Lieutenant “soon enough.” Of course, this roused more laughter, which the soldier took in the same good part, but those rosy telltale cheeks of his reddened, as usual with him when the inward state of his feelings did not agree with his outward composure.
I think it shows something of the character of the man that Lieutenant Grant should not have allowed his rather outre appearance at the house of his sweetheart that night to have unsteadied his purpose in coming there. When he left the barracks he had it in his mind to offer the lady his hand and heart. He offered it. Nothing in the world could have prevented him, probably, since he had once had it in mind. It was characteristic of the man, as his campaign of after-years from Spottsylvania to Appomattox showed. Grant was often most slow and hesitating in his efforts to come to a decision, but when that decision was once made it was irrevocable and acted upon immediately.
It is, perhaps, not necessary to say that when Lieutenant Grant rode away from White Haven the morning after, he took with him what he had gone for.
The next question the Lieutenant disposed of with equal promptness. It was, of course, the customary interview, with my father. We were all very fond of the soldier by this time, and I am sure had the rest of us been taken into the young people’s confidence we should have sympathized with him. But there was no such surety about the stand of my father. That my father liked him as a man Grant knew very well, but as a son-in-law–that was a different matter. My father had been strongly opposed to Julia’s marrying into the army. She was his favorite daughter, and her health had never been strong. My father knew how arduous, pinched [pg. 3] and restless was army life and how it provided few of the home comforts and opportunities for care which a woman in delicate health might require. For that reason I feel sure that he had made up his mind, if he had thought about the matter at all, to refuse his consent to their marriage in case the Lieutenant should ask him for Julia.
However, be might have spared himself the pains of any thoughts upon the subject at all. For Julia, once having said yes, had made his decision for him. When Julia wanted a thing of my father she usually got it.
But father did not know that Julia wanted Lieutenant Grant, however, and the Lieutenant did not know that Julia always got what she wanted. On the day he came to ask her father for bet hand, after greeting the rest of us on the porch, he strode quietly and resolutely into the sitting-room where our parents were. My mother glanced at him, and in spite of his calm bearing she guessed his errand and slipped out. The determined young soldier stood straight before my father and looked him in the eye.
“Mr. Dent,” he said, “I want to marry your daughter, Miss Julia.”
My father looked back at him and smiled. I was peeping through the shutters.
For a minute the older man did not answer but sat soberly thinking. The soldier boy awaited his answer, unmoved.
“Mr. Grant,” my father spoke at last, “if it were Nelly you wanted, now, I’d say ‘Yes.'”
“But I don’t want Nelly,” said the soldier, bluntly. “I want Julia.”
“Oh, you do, do you? … Well, then, I s’pose it’ll have to be Julia.”
We were all gathered on the porch when father came out and told us about it. The Lieutenant’s frankness had pleased him and had, I think, won him over in spite of himself.
After the Lieutenant went south with his regiment he passed for the time being out of my young life. I accepted him as sister Julia’s beau, and when I thought of him it was because he was somewhere near the place where my brother Fred was, more than because of any great interest in him during his absence. Julia received a number of letters from him with due regularity, and these were usually read to the family. They were brief but very interesting always, and generally had more to say about the movements of the army than of himself. I think I have remarked before that he was never a great hand to talk about himself, nor could he write about himself, either. He wrote and told us, I remember, when my brother was wounded at the battle of Buena Vista [Molino del Rey], and spoke of it as nothing alarming. His words prevented my mother from worrying as she would otherwise have done, because she trusted his judgment and good sense thoroughly, and she knew that he would be entirely frank with her.
Nothing else happened beyond the ordinary news and duties of our daily life at White Haven, that I can remember, during the full course of the Mexican War. Of course, when the war was over, this soldier–he was Captain Grant now–hastened to White Haven as soon as he could obtain [pg. 4] his leave. The ardors of the campaign in Mexico had changed him very little so far as we could discern. His face was more bronzed from the exposure to the sun, and he wore his captain’s double-barred shoulder straps with a little more dignity then he had worn the old ones, perhaps. His shoulders had broadened some, and his body was stouter, and it may be that he had grown a little more reserved in manner. But what change there was in him was certainly little enough, considering all that he had gone through with the others of his regiment. The most striking thing to my childish mind was that he was now burned to a rich brown where he had once been so rosy fair, and that he was, still smooth-shaven of cheek and lip, whereas most of the young officers of the time rejoiced proudly in some curiosity or other of hirsute ornamentation.
Captain Grant had not long returned from the duties of the field before he and Julia concluded to have their wedding day. They decided to be married in St. Louis, and accordingly we moved into our city house.
The Captain was now almost constantly at our home. He showed his future bride the most devoted, yet quiet, attention, and these were happy days for us all. I remember them particularly, because the Captain frequently took me and Julia to the theater during these happy prenuptial days, and the theater was an enjoyment of which I had not, at that time, had enough.
Our house was filled with a gay company, for both my sister and the Captain were very popular in St. Louis, but as I spent the most of my days in the school, I did not see so much of the visitors as the other members of my family. I remember that the handsome James Longstreet and the charming Miss Garland, who afterward became the dashing Confederate general’s wife, were among our most frequent visitors. Longstreet and Grant were always the closest of friends, and even the Civil War did not alter their deep personal regard for each other. Longstreet was our cousin on my mother’s side, and a great favorite with us. Miss Garland, too, was also a favorite with us, and with Captain Grant, because of her personal grace and the beauty of her character.
The marriage of Captain Grant and Julia took place in 1848, at our St. Louis home. There was nothing unusually striking about it which I can call to mind. It was just a sweet, old-fashioned home wedding, without ostentation or any fanfare of hymeneal trumpets. It was one of those weddings which the newspapers of to-day would call “very quiet,” but the house was filled with young people and our many friends. The ceremony took place at eight o’clock in the evening, in the large double parlors, which had been decorated for the occasion. The Captain’s groomsmen were all army officers but, lest I be inaccurate, I will not attempt to mention them by name. My sister’s bridesmaids were Miss O’Fallon, Miss Sherds [Shurlds], Miss Louise Pratt, and, perhaps, Miss Fanny Walsh.
During the ceremony I sat as quietly as I could on a pier table with Miss Amanda Shurlds, who afterward became my brother John’s wife. We tried to be seen and not heard, but I fear we succeeded in being heard more than anybody else. At any rate, I have since learned it from the lips of Cadmus Wilcox (afterward General Wilcox) that I was the most [pg. 5] pestiferous little nuisance during the whole wedding, that I was under his feet all the time when I was not under somebody’s else’s feet, and that he had most heartily wished me in bed. No doubt we were both as ubiquitous and chittering as most small girls are apt to be on such occasions. But, at least, I sat still long enough to admire my big sister’s extreme prettiness as she stood in her bridal dress beside her quiet, self-possessed soldier. Captain Grant was as cool under the fire of the clergyman’s questions as he had been under the batteries of the Mexican artillery. He did not look as if he were ashamed or afraid to be there, as I have seen some other bridegrooms look.
The couple spent that night at our home, and left the next day for a visit to Captain Grant’s people. They returned again after a few weeks, and the Captain was ordered to join his regiment, the Fourth Infantry, at Detroit. From there they went to Sacket Harbor, and we saw them only once or twice, when they came on brief visits to us, during the next two or three years. It was during one of these visits, in the simmer of 1850, that little Fred, now Major-General Frederick Dent Grant, was born. This event took place at White Haven.
In 1853 Captain Grant was ordered to California. The trip was too long and arduous for his wife to undertake, and she tame to live with us in St. Louis. She also visited a good deal with Captain Grant’s parents, who were at Bethel, Ohio, and it was while she was there that their second son, Ulysses–whom we called Buck, because he was born in the Buckeye State–appeared upon the scene. At the hour when Buck first opened his uncomprehending eyes on the Ohioan landscape his father was crossing the Isthmus of Panama bound for his duties on the Pacific Coast.
Captain Grant did not enjoy life beyond the Rockies. His post was not a congenial one, and he and his superiors did not always agree. This is a matter of history, but it was not for this that he asked for a leave of absence in 1854. It was because be had become homesick for a sight of his wife and little son, and the new little one whom he had never seen. The war department graciously refused him his leave. He asked again. Other men less entitled to furloughs were receiving than every day for the mere asking, but again Captain Grant’s request was denied–this time a bit more sharply. It is not true, as has been stated, that the Captain’ s personal habits at that time led him into such difficulties that he was asked to resign.
One day in the late simmer of 1854, while young Fred and the tiny toddler, Buck, were playing on the long front porch at White Haven, a man drove up in a buggy. As he threw the lap robe over the dashboard in preparing to climb out the children stared at this dark-bearded stranger with eyes of astonishment. Who could he be? They were even a little afraid of him. Then one of the darky women came running out of the house waving her arms and crying:
“Fo’ de Lawd’s sake! Hyar am Mars Grant!”
He had resigned and left the army because the war department had refused him permission to go home to see his family. There is little doubt, also, that the meagerness of his pay as contrasted with the [pg. 6] expenses of keeping himself in one part of the country and his family in another decided him to take the step which he did.
The Captain visited with us for awhile, but be could not be long idle. He was a man whose whole nature demanded work. He did not know how to be lazy. He resolved to become a farmer. At the time of her marriage my father had given Julia eighty acres of land, a part of the White Haven estate, and situated only about half a mile from our dwelling. On this land the Captain and Mrs. Grant decided to build their home. It was good land, and with the aid of the three slaves which father had given Julia they had no fear of not earning a living.
Perhaps I ought to explain something about those slaves. For two generations the story has been current in certain parts of the country that Captain Grant himself was a slave owner. He never was, but his wife was. The Dents had owned slaves from the date of their settlement in this country. At the time I was growing up my father owned about thirty slaves, of all sizes and sexes. Either at birth, or as we grew older, he gave to each of his three girls three negroes. These, with the parcels of the homestead which he gave us as his bridal present, were supposed to be our dot. When Julia was born father gave her the girl Eliza, little ginger-colored Julia Ann, and Dan, who was about the most polished specimen of human ebony you ever saw. They were to serve her as maid, cook, and house boy. My sister Nelly, who afterward became Mrs. Sharp, had Phyllis, Susy, and John. As for me, I was given Mary, my old nurse, Lucy, Louise, and Jeff.
Thus, we were each provided with our slaves, and at her marriage Julia, of course, brought her three to Captain Grant. And although I know that he was opposed to human slavery as an institution I do not think that he was at any time a very rank abolitionist or that he opposed it so violently that the acceptance of Julia’s slaves had to be forced upon him.
The house that the Grants built was of logs. The logs for it were cut and shaped by the Captain himself. It was planned by Mrs. Grant, and was both fashioned and furnished with an eye to the artistic, as well as for comfort and coziness. Though not pretentious to modern eyes it was not the mean, ramshackle hut that the popular mind supposes it to have been. It had five good rooms and a halls which furnished all the space the Grants needed at that time. I know that it was on exhibition at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, and it looked anything but elegant there, amid its more garish surroundings. But it had been built fifty years before, and it had not been lived in for a great many of those years.
The Captain’s father, Jesse Grant, gave him one thousand dollars to furnish it with, besides a team and a wagon. With this team of two white horses, a cow, the three slaves, the eighty acres of land, and the log house the Grants began life as civilians.
A very prominent man has recently said on a public occasion that General Grant’s life at this time was a failure. It is difficult for those who knew him intimately in those later fifties to regard it as such. It is true fame had not yet come to him, nor had riches, but he had never shown greater strength of character, greater fortitude under adverse circumstances, nor more determination than he did at this time–nor do I think that anything he did in the Civil War is more to his credit [pg. 7] as a man than these simple days of hard work on his Missouri farm. If earning and winning the reputation of being one of the best farmers in a country of farmers is to be a failure; then, perhaps, the ex-army officer at that period was a failure. He worked early and late; his crops were put in always at the right time, and cultivated at the right time; they turned out better than the crops of his neighbors. He had Dan to help him, and in busy seasons he hired other help, but the bulk of the work he did himself. He was not ashamed of rough work on the farm, and, in fact, he liked it. Grant turned farmer after he left the army, not because he couldn’t do anything else, but because he wanted to be a farmer. That he later left the farm and became a storekeeper was not due to any vacillation of character, but to ill health, and a clearsighted endeavor to better his finances.
There was a good deal of woodland on the Grants’ farm when they settled on it and this he cleared away, corded and sold in St. Louis to the wood yards.
At this point I must say a word concerning the general belief in the Grants’ abject poverty at this time. The Grants were not poor. They were not rich, but they were in comfortable circumstances, with plenty to eat and plenty to wear and no dependence upon their relatives or any others. There is the famous story of Captain Grant living in such poverty that he had to haul his poor little faggots of wood through the city with an ox-team and blow on his ungloved fingers to keep them from freezing. Mr. Winston Churchill, the novelist, has done Captain Grant the honor of depicting him as a sort of run-down-at-the-heels countryman of the ne’er-do-well and ill-luck class, as one whose wood peddling was barely able to keep his meager clothes upon his meager body. It is a very interesting picture but it is not true. He never peddled wood about the streets.
The truth is that he and his negroes cut the wood and he often sent one of them to the city with a load to sell to the families of a Mr. Blow and Mr. Bernard [William D. W. Barnard]. Mr. Bernard was the brother of my brother John’s wife. During the Christmas holidays one winter the negro who generally drove the team for Captain Grant was ill and there was no one to send in his place. The Captain’s St. Louis friends sent him word that they were out of wood, and, accordingly, he hitched up his team of white horses to his big wagon, loaded on the wood, and hauled it to the city himself. He probably hauled several loads in this way. I do not know how many. Any other man with the same temper of spirit and the same lack of false pride would have done the same.
On one of these trips, as the Captain was driving along seated on his load of wood, be suddenly came face to face with General Harney and his staff. The General, resplendent in a new uniform and gold trimmings, eyed the figure of the farmer on the wagon with astonishment. Then he drew in his horse, Grant stopped his team, and the pair smiled into each other’s eyes.
“Why, Grant, what in blazes are you doing?” exclaimed Harney.
“Well, General, I am hauling wood.”
The thing was so obvious and Grant so naive that General Harney and his staff roared with laughter. They shook his hand and joked with him and finally carried him off to dine with then at the Planters’ Hotel. That is the true story of Captain Run-down-at-the-heels Grant peddling wood for a pittance in the streets.
The next two or three years formed a period of change and unrest for the Dent and Grant families, just as they did for the country at large. About 1858 the Grants traded their farm for a cottage in St. Louis. The Captain’s health had broken under the ardors of farm work and he felt compelled to seek something else. They lived in this cottage until about 1860, when the Captain’s father offered him a share in the elder Grant’s country store at Galena, Ill. Captain Grant went to Galena first and Julia followed him some months later. Now, for the first time in their wanderings, they were obliged to leave their slaves at home, for Illinois was a free State.
It was some time before I saw much more of my sister and her husband. On February 14, 1861, I was married to Mr. James F. Casey, of Caseyville, Ky., and we went South for the winter. At that time mutterings of the coming storm were already resounding in our ears like sullen peals of thunder, and we all knew that the Irrepressible Conflict was close at hand.
All the world knows how Grant was at Galena when Sumter was fired on, how the affair at Camp Jackson led him to offer his services to the cause of the Union, and how they were accepted. During the conflict that followed the Grants made their headquarters at Cairo as much as possible, and when Mrs. Grant was not there or in the field with her husband she was visiting at her old home. Sometimes the General himself would come up for a day or so at a tine from the South to see his family and enjoy a breath of rest.
Perhaps I ought to have said before–though it will apply equally as well here–that during all the time I knew Grant, between his return from California in 1854 to the fall of Vicksburg, I never saw him intoxicated. I never saw him under the influence of liquor. If he ever was it was not known to the members of his immediate family. Charges that he was a heavy drinker were made in those days, and have been made since. General Grant never gave them any notice. Mrs. Grant also ignored them, though she felt deeply cut by the injustice of them, and, perhaps, it is not my place at this late date to resent the recent statements made by a prominent man in public life, under the very shadow of Grant’s tomb. Therefore, I will content myself with saying again, that if General Grant was ever a victim of the liquor habit it was a condition which he happily concealed from those nearest his heart, closest in their association with him, and who loved him best.
Perhaps, altogether, I saw General Grant at White Haven half a dozen times during the Civil War, when he came to spend a few days with his wife and children. On the occasion of these visits nothing of particular interest ever happened. Nor did the General ever discuss his campaigns with us, or any matters of the field. He believed from the first, however, in the certainty of the final triumph of the North, and was one [pg. 9] among the misguided many who, at the beginning, expected the end to come within ninety days. However, he seldom discussed these things with us. My father-in-law and he remained the best of personal friends, and it was my father’s constant wish that, if the South must yield, she should yield to Grant. When Vicksburg fell my father expressed himself, on the morning that the news reached us at the breakfast table, as being sorry for the South, but mighty glad for “Dudy’s sake.” Dudy was Mrs. Grant’s pet name for her husband, and she never called him any other.
I close my narrative with the recital of an incident which I suppose has been forgotten by every living person except myself. It was a long time after it occurred before General Grant knew it, and if Fred Grant remembers it I have never heard him speak of it. We were living near Caseyville, Ky., at this time, not far from the banks of the Ohio, and the Grants were at Cairo, Ill. The General, of course, was in the South. He was engaged in the campaign which ended at Vicksburg. His son Fred came to Caseyville to visit Mr. Casey and myself for a week or ten days. He was very fond of us and we of him.
He had been there several days when one morning he went with his uncle, Mr. Casey, on horseback to Caseyville, which was not more than two miles distant. There were a good many bands of guerillas prowling about the country at the time, as well as several other bands of irregular Confederate soldiers, but, as they never molested us, we were scarcely aware of their presence, and it had never occurred to us that they could have any reason to honor us with a call. The very morning that Mr. Casey and Fred went to town, however, a man dressed in the tattered uniform of a Confederate officer rode into the yard and asked me for a drink of water. I gave it to him, and as he lifted the cup to his lips he said, casually:
“I guess Fred Grant is visiting you, isn’t he?”
Instantly a cold suspicion struck me like a dart through the heart, and I answered him as casually as be had questioned me:
“Oh!” he said, “isn’t he?”
“No. He’s gone.”
“Gone, has he? Is that so?” He looked at me with a smile slowly breaking out over his face. “Surely, he has,” he said again, as if speaking to himself. Then he remounted his horse, took off his hat, made me a sweeping bow, and rode away.
I did not lose a moment, but as quick as one of the horses could be caught out of the pasture, I put a black boy on his back and sent him to find my husband. I sent Mr. Casey word to put Fred on a coal boat and get his down the river to Cairo as fast as ever he could. I also suggested that if he could communicate with a gunboat on the river it might be very well.
About eleven o’clock another man rode up to the front door. His horse had been hard ridden, and both were in need of water. He too, as he drank, spoke to me with seeming indifference.
“You have a boy here, have you not?”
“No,” I answered, “the boy has gone.”
The man smiled as the other one had done, and said, “Well, I suppose a hint to the wise is sufficient.”
That afternoon, about four o’clock, a squad of eight hard-riding, grim-looking, and tattered cavalrymen rode up to the gate. One of them, heavily armed, and looking as fierce as a Greek bandit, came up to the porch.
“Is this Mr. Casey’s?” he asked, politely. I told him that it was.
“Isn’t there a boy visiting here?”
“No. He has gone back to his mother, at Cairo.”
“Are, you sure?”
“Yes. And I think there is likely to be some gunboats coming up the river very shortly, looking for some one. Perhaps you gentlemen will be interested in seeing them.”
The fierce-looking bandit laughed pleasantly, said that it was a nice day, and rejoined his companions at the gate. They talked in low voices for awhile, then sprang on their horses, waved their hats at me, and rode away. There is no doubt, of course, that they were looking for Fred, and had they found him they would certainly have dealt his father a hard blow. It is mere speculation to consider what effect this might have had on the cause of the Union.
Not long after that my husband and I went south to a plantation owned by my brother, at Friar’s Point, Miss. And from then until long after the war we lived in the South, spending most of the years from 1864 to 1880 in New Orleans.
I visited the Grants occasionally during the war and, later, at the White House, and life holds many memories of pleasant scenes in which the General and his wife figure, but having set myself the limit of the story of his courtship and their early married life I bring these recollections to an end.
[from pg. 1] * This is the conclusion of an article begun in the last issue.
NEWS NOTES *** Major General Ulysses S. Grant 3rd died at the end of August at the age of eighty-seven in his home in Clinton, New York. General Grant, a director of the Grant Association, always had a keen and helpful interest in the publication of the papers of his grandfather. After serving more than forty years In the U. S. Army, General Grant became increasingly involved in historical projects. His biography of his grandfather, completed shortly before his death, is scheduled for publication in November.