Friday, February 8, 2008

Ulysses S. Grant, Missourian

Ulysses S. Grant graduates from West Point in 1843 as a second lieutenant and is assigned to the Fourth Infantry Regiment stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, MO. He meets Julia Dent, the sister of a West Point classmate. They court, are engaged but the threat of war with Mexico delays the wedding.

In 1844, the Fourth leaves St. Louis for Louisiana and eventually, Texas when the Mexican War begins in 1846. After action in the battles at Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec, Grant returns to St. Louis in 1848. On August 22, 1848, Julia and Grant marry at the White Haven mansion which still stands today on Gravois Rd. near Grant’s Farm.

Grant remains in the army but is confronted by his commanding officer over excessive drinking. He resigns in 1855 and returns to St. Louis, living a life of successive failures. His father-in-law, Frederick Dent, gives the couple an 80 acre farm and Grant builds a cabin which he names “Hardscrabble”. The family lives on the farm from 1855 to 1858. Grant likes farming, but the poor quality of the land and Grant’s lack of expertise harvests nothing but failure. To make ends meet, he sells cord wood in St. Louis.

In 1859, Grant sells the farm and moves into St. Louis, taking a job as a rent collector in a relative’s real estate office. Failing there, he takes, and loses, a job in the U.S. Customs office. At the same time, Grant’s 2 younger brothers open a leather goods store up the Mississippi River in Galena, Illinois. In 1860, at their father’s insistence, they offer Grant a clerk’s job at $50 per month. He accepts, and moves to Galena. but shows little interest in the store or the trade.

The Civil War begins in 1861, President Lincoln calls for volunteers and Grant drills a local company, the ‘Jo Daviess Guards’, in Galena. He travels to Springfield, works for the Illinois adjutant general and applies for a commission, which is either lost or ignored, from the federal government. Eventually, Governor Richard Yates appoints Grant Colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry. Grant leads these men across the Mississippi at Quincy to protect the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. The Union army has cleared most of the state of organized Confederate forces leaving a vacuum into which are drawn local guerillas and bushwhackers. During an operation toward the hamlet of Florida, Grant writes this compelling snippet in his memoirs:

“As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see Harris’ [the southern commander] camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on. When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted. The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there and the marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. The lesson was valuable.”

From northeast Missouri, Grant is assigned to Ironton in the southeast, where he receives his commission of Brigadier General on July 31, to Jefferson City, then to Cape Girardeau in the bootheel and finally Cairo, Illinois at the juncture of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers on September 4th. In the former places, he plans and begins operations but is re-assigned before they bear fruit.

After Kentucky's fragile neutrality falls apart on September 3, 1861, , Grant moves quickly to capture Paducah, Kentucky, on the Tennessee River and to neutralize Columbus on the Mississippi. The battle at Belmont, Missouri, teeters from early success to virtual fiasco. After that battle , the direction of Grant’s career is eastward during the Civil War and eventually to the Presidency.

Endnotes: 1) the town of Florida, Mark Twain’s birthplace, is now almost totally surrounded by Mark Twain reservoir.

2) Grant’s memoirs are online at and among others...

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