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GRANTSavior of the Union
By Mitchell Yockelson
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Mitchell Yockelson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEarly Life
Grant once said, "My family is American, and has been for generations, in all of its branches." He could trace his lineage to Matthew Grant, who left England and settled in Massachusetts in 1630. Grant's grandfather Noah served in the Revolutionary War from Connecticut and then afterward drifted around Pennsylvania before calling Deerfield, Ohio, his home in 1799. There Noah lived with his second wife, Rachel, and their seven children. Among them was a son named Jesse, Grant's father, who was born on January 23, 1794, near Greensburg, Pennsylvania. When Jesse was eleven, his mother died, and his father felt he could not properly take care of his children so he sent them elsewhere to live.
Eventually Ohio Supreme Court Judge George Tod and his wife took in Jesse and gave him the security and encouragement he so desperately needed. At sixteen Jesse chose to become a tanner and apprenticed in Kentucky at a factory owned by his half brother Peter. Shoes and saddles seemed to be his calling, but Jesse also had a strong desire for education and spent his evenings reading.
A few years later he returned to Ohio and worked in Deerfield at a tannery owned by Owen Brown. Jesse also resided with Brown and his family and became close with their son John, who was very outspoken about his antislavery views and later gained notoriety as a fiery abolitionist in Kansas. John Brown is more well-known for leading an unsuccessful raid on the US arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, a few decades later in 1859. Jesse echoed Brown's feelings and claimed it was the reason he left Kentucky in 1820 for Point Pleasant, Ohio, about twenty-five miles southeast of Cincinnati, near the mouth of the Big Indian Creek at the Ohio River. He said, "I would not own slaves and I would not live where there were slaves and not own them."
There Jesse worked for a man named Thomas Page, who told him about John and Sarah Simpson, who with their children lived ten miles away in Bantam on their six-hundred-acre farm. They built their home on land they purchased from Page after arriving from Pennsylvania. Twenty-six-year-old Jesse felt a desire to settle down and find a wife. During trips to purchase hides near the Simpson farm, he found other reasons to visit. One of them was their daughter Hannah, and another was Mrs. Simpson, an avid reader who graciously shared her books with him. The more he visited the Simpsons, the more Jesse became smitten with Hannah, and he began to see her on a regular basis. One of Grant's biographers described Hannah in this way: "Her slim figure, above medium height, was always erect, her delicately chiseled brunette face forever composed." Another biographer said she was "a plain, unpretending girl, handsome, but not vain."
Jesse and Hannah courted for several months before marrying on June 24, 1821, at her father's home. The newlyweds moved into a one-story frame house in Point Pleasant, next door to the tannery where Jesse worked. Life was fairly simple for the young couple. During the day, Jesse tanned and scraped hides, while his wife kept the house and attended church on Sundays. She came from a family of devout Methodists, and although Jesse had no religious affiliation, he liked this about Hannah. After they married, he sometimes attended church with her. Jesse also kept up with his reading and enjoyed talking politics with other men in Point Pleasant. He even penned an occasional piece for the local newspaper about slavery and other national affairs.
Life changed for the Grants when their first child was born on April 27, 1822. Weighing almost eleven pounds, he had dark red-brown hair and fair skin. The baby remained nameless for about a month until his mother was well enough to travel. Then Jesse took the family to Bantam where the Simpsons gathered to name the newborn. Among the suggestions discussed by the naming party were Albert and Theodore; John Simpson came up with the name Hiram, and Sarah offered Ulysses since it was the name of the prominent Grecian general who conquered the Trojans with a wooden horse. It was on her mind since she had just read François Fénelon's The Adventures of Telemachus. The names were placed into a hat, and Hannah's youngest sister Anne drew the slip of paper marked Ulysses. Jesse thought the best course of action was to satisfy both in-laws, so he named his first son Hiram Ulysses Grant.
Soon afterward his parents decided the name Hiram was not very appealing; so they called him Ulysses or "my Ulysses," as Jesse often referred to the boy. His childhood friends often teased young Grant by calling him "Useless."(He much preferred his first name, as proven by his early schoolbooks, inscribed "Hiram U. Grant.")
When he was a year old, the family moved to Georgetown, Ohio, where Jesse set up his own tannery near the town square. They lived in a two-story brick home, and Jesse continued to pursue his interest in politics and writing newspaper articles. The Grants prospered there, and within two years another child, Samuel, was born. By all accounts Grant was a happy child and early on displayed a fascination with horses. At the tender age of two, when a circus came to town, he showed no fear in climbing on top of a pony, and thrilled the audience by riding the animal around a ring several times.
Grant had a number of childhood friends. One of them, James M. Sanderson, described the future general as a "little short fat fellow." Sanderson recalled that when Grant was five, he "usually went with boys older than himself because he passed for a boy 3 or 4 years older than he was." Early on Grant displayed an aptitude for mathematics, or what Sanderson called "mental arithmetic." Furthermore, Sanderson said, when they were in school, "the teachers used to give us a lot of them [math exercises], one after another, every day during the term. Most of us hated them and would make all kinds of excuses to get out of the exercises, while young Grant was anxious to have the teacher fire them at him. His mind seemed exactly fitted for such problems at a moment's notice." This skill stuck with him and at West Point it was one of the few subjects in which he excelled. Grant attended the local schools in Georgetown, but eventually his father sent him to live with relatives in Maysville, Ohio, for the winter, where he enrolled in an academy run by two male teachers, Richardson and Rand. After that he attended another school in Ripley, Ohio.
As he grew older, Grant participated in the typical childhood pleasures of boys his own age: fishing in the summer, skating in the winter, and even though he was not a very good athlete, playing ball. Grant also liked to swim and was known to "out-swim boys larger and stronger than he." One thing he detested was hunting. The idea of killing animals appalled him; this probably stemmed from his dislike of the tannery operated by his father.
The Grant family rapidly grew in size, and by 1839 there were three boys and three girls. Jesse was forced to build onto the house, and since Grant was the oldest child, he had his own room. Outside his bedroom window was his father's tannery, which Grant abhorred. The smell emanating from the tanned hides turned his stomach. He hated working there, and for that matter, he despised household chores.
It was a different matter when it came to horseback riding, many years later Sanderson still marveled at how Grant
seemed perfectly fearless of horses and would sometimes ride at breakneck speed with only a bridle on the horse's head. Otherwise, he didn't care much for hunting, but he loved to shoot at a mark and when he was about 15 was a good marksman, having won a badge one year at a Fourth of July celebration. One of the quietest boys I ever knew and yet he was well liked by every boy in Georgetown who knew him. Something about him made the boys respect him.
His interest was always horses, and he was known to go into the stable and crawl beneath them. One time a neighbor told his mother that she feared the young boy might be injured by a horse hoof. But Hannah simply responded, "Horses seem to understand Ulysses."
Grant loved horses even more as he got older, and he developed extraordinary skills of gentle discipline and command over them. At the age of seven he was driving a team, and soon, to his father's delight, he took over much of the hauling for the tannery and plowing on the farm. Two years later he bought his own horse and developed a reputation as a skilled rider to the point that locals brought him their own horses to break and train. There is an oft-told story that reflects Grant's infatuation with horses: at eight years old he wanted to purchase a colt owned by Robert Ralston, who lived on a farm west of Georgetown. Jesse agreed that his son could have another horse and trusted him to negotiate the price with Ralston. The farmer was asking twenty-five dollars for the colt, which Jesse felt was too high. He told Grant to try and negotiate a lower price. Apparently the excited boy told Ralston: "Papa says I may offer you twenty dollars for the colt, but if you won't take that, I am to offer twenty-two and a half, and if you won't take that, to give you twenty-five." Years later when he recounted the story, Grant closed with: "It would not require a Connecticut man to guess the price finally agreed upon."
Thanks mostly to his mother, religion played an important part in Grant's childhood. The Reverend John P. Newman, a family friend, verified this some years later:
[Grant was] brought up in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Methodist preachers were welcomed at the Grant house for over forty years. Ulysses had to care for their horses. He remembered that the horses were good ones and that their owners always insisted on their having plenty of oats. Many a time he was sent out by his father to take the saddlebags and put up the horses. Once a preacher was to move from the neighborhood in which the Grants lived. He was to take his family and furniture in a wagon for 200 miles and wanted someone to drive for him. Applying to the General's father for a driver, the old gentleman detailed Ulysses, then a lad, for the work. Afterward the preacher reported to the boy's father that never in his life before had he had such a good and silent driver.
By the 1830s, Grant's father had become an outspoken member of the Whig Party, which promoted national growth and development. Normally Jesse would have stood out in Georgetown since most of its residents considered themselves democrats, but an economic downturn resulted in a distrust of the party, and when Jesse ran for mayor in 1837 as a Whig, the voters elected him.
As for Hannah, she was most interested in maintaining a household and raising the children. She was known to be gracious, modest, and reserved, but rarely displayed open affection toward the family. When asked about this later on, Hannah responded that "nothing you could do would entitle you to praise. You ought to praise the Lord for giving you the opportunity to do it." When their firstborn became famous, both Hannah and Jesse were constantly interviewed by newspaper reporters. One of them asked Hannah if she were proud of her children. "Yes," she responded, "they are pretty good, take them on the whole, but it's no easy thing to bring up a family." Another reporter asked how her firstborn was as a baby. "Well, very fair," she recalled, "though I don't know as he was any different from the rest of them, but people seem to think I'll say so now. He was always a steady, serious sort of boy, who took everything in earnest; even when he played he made a business of it."
Later in life when Grant spoke of his father, he seemed to suggest that they were often at odds. He said little about his mother. Jesse bragged often about his son and recounted stories that were likely to have been a bit exaggerated. For instance, when describing his son's perseverance, he told the following:
Self-possession was always one of his leading characteristics. An example of this occurred when he was about 12 years of age. He drove a pair of horses to Augusta, Kentucky, twelve miles from Georgetown, and was persuaded to remain overnight, in order to bring back the two ladies. The route lay across White Oak Creek. The Ohio River had been rising in the night, and the back water in the creek was so high, when they came across it in returning, that the horses were swimming and the water was up to their own waists. The ladies were terribly frightened and began to scream. In the midst of the excitement, Ulysses, who was on a forward seat, looked back at the ladies, and with an air perfectly undisturbed, merely said: "Don't speak. I will take you through safe."
Then another time Jesse told about his son's compassion toward others:
Ulysses had a very peaceable, equable disposition and had no inclination to quarrel, but he would not be imposed upon. On one occasion, when he was quite small (and he was small for his age), he rescued an inoffensive boy, who worked for us, from a trick which a large number of companions were about to perpetrate upon him. The whole crowd then made for Ulysses, and he came home for a gun to defend himself. But he was never known to pick a quarrel with anyone.
As Grant reached adolescence, tension clearly existed between father and son. Because Grant was the firstborn, Jesse assumed that the tannery business would be a natural occupation for his son. He could not have been more wrong. One of Grant's biographers points out that the "Tannery practices repelled him so much that he could not stomach seeing any blood on his plate, preferring his meat to be cooked until it was nearly burnt." One day he begrudgingly told Jesse, "Father, this tanning is not the kind of work I like. I'll work at it though, if you wish me to, until I am 21, but you may depend upon it, I'll never work at it after that." His father then told him, "No, I don't want you to work at it now, if you don't like it, and mean to stick to it."
If Grant was not going into the family business, he needed some direction. He suggested to his father that either farming or becoming a river trader were worthy occupations. Jesse disagreed and wanted his son to have a formal education, which he never had. What Jesse had in mind was to try to secure an appointment for him at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and he did so without his son's knowledge. In actuality Jesse had sent him to the schools in Maysville and Ripley to prep his firstborn for the required entrance examination. But securing a slot to take the exam proved problematic.
Chapter TwoThe West Point Years
When Grant returned home from attending school at Ripley on Christmas holiday in 1838, he discovered that his father was trying to get him into West Point. A letter arrived from Whig Senator Thomas Morris, who represented Ohio. Jesse read the letter out loud to his son and declared, "Ulysses, I believe you are going to receive the appointment."
Not sure what he meant, Grant replied, "What appointment?"
"To West Point," his father responded. "I have applied for it."
The two stubbornly exchanged words with Grant declaring, "But I won't go." Jesse wouldn't back down and convinced his son to give in.
"I really had no objection to going to West Point," Grant recalled later on, "except that I had a very exalted idea of the acquirements necessary to get through. I did not believe I possessed them, and could not bear the idea of failing."
Before Grant could even enter the gate, he needed to secure a congressional appointment, and as it turned out, Morris had given away one of the slots meant for him to Democratic Congressman Thomas Hamer. Four boys from Georgetown and the surrounding area were graduates of West Point, and Jesse desperately wanted his son to be the fifth. Standing in the way was Hamer's appointment slated for the son of Dr. Bailey, a neighbor of the Grants. Bart Bailey had been appointed in 1837, but he could not pass his exam, so he resigned and went to a private school. Bailey tried again the following year and was reappointed. But before the next examination, he was dismissed again. (The elder Bailey was embarrassed for his son and tried to keep the failure a secret, but Grant was told the truth from Bart's mother.)
Now it was up to Jesse to secure the open nomination for his son from Congressman Hamer. Although they were once members of the same debating society, their differing political affiliations made them rivals, and Jesse hated the idea of writing him directly. So Jesse thought he could avoid Hamer by securing an appointment directly from the War Department—they immediately rejected him. With nothing else to do Jesse swallowed his pride and wrote Hamer. As it turned out he was about to leave Congress and responded to Jesse on the last day of his term: "I received your letter and have asked for the appointment of your son, which will doubtless be made. Why didn't you apply to me sooner?"
Excerpted from GRANT by Mitchell Yockelson Copyright © 2012 by Mitchell Yockelson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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