[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
Recollections of His Famous Father
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.
Looks Like His Father
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.
“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.
Chopped Wood For Money
“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.
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.”
Left Slaves Behind
“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.
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?”
Predicted the 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.”
“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.”
His First Battle
“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
[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?”
Met Lincoln in Washington
“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.
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?”
Volunteered for Spanish War
“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.”
“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.