various ardent pens have attempted to embellish Grant
He has even been given illustrious descent.
It is enough to know for certain that, Scotch in blood and American since 1630, he was of the eighth generation, and counted a grandfather in the Revolution, besides other soldier ancestors.
The first Grant
, Matthew, probably landed at Nantucket, Massachusetts
, May 30, 1630.
In 1636 he helped establish the town of Windsor, Connecticut
He was its first surveyor and a trusted citizen, Samuel, Solomon, Noah
, Adoniram, that is what the Grants in colonial Connecticut
And with such names as these they did what all the other colonial Noahs and Adonirams were doing.
None of them rose to uncommon dimensions; but they, and such as they, were then, as they are now, the salt and leaven of our country.
the Revolution, as our frontier widened and the salt and leaven began to be sprinkled westward, Captain Noah Grant
went gradually to the Ohio River
, leaving there no riches and many children.
One of these, Jesse, became a tanner, and in 1821 married Miss Hannah Simpson
On April 27, 1822, at Point Pleasant
on the Ohio River
, twenty-five miles above Cincinnati
, was born their eldest son, and christened Hiram Ulysses
,--Hiram because his grandfather liked the name, Ulysses because his step-grandmother had been reading Fenelon
Seventeen years later, when the boy was appointed to the Military Academy, “Mr. Hamer
, knowing Mrs. Grant
's name was Simpson
, and that we had a son named Simpson
, somehow got the matter a little mixed up in making the nomination, and sent the name in Ulysses S. Grant
Such is the father's narrative.
And before leaving Grant
's plain, self-reliant,
uncommercial ancestry, of which his own character is such a natural and relevant product, let it be noted that Jesse, besides writing good clear prose, not unlike his son's, could turn verses fairly well, and also that a neighbour remarked of Ulysses that he “got his sense from his mother.”
As to Ulysses and the congressional error in his name, he never succeeded in correcting it. The consequences were that the boy came variously to be known as Lyssus, Lys
, Useless, Uncle Sam, and Unconditional Surrender.
His whole story is here written in nicknames.
's boyhood is like his ancestry,--wholesome, pastoral, inconspicuous.
With a rustic schooling, a love of the woods, a preference for idleness, and an affinity for horse flesh, his recorded words and deeds — save one--might be those not of a thousand, but a million American boys.
He repeated “a noun is the name of a, thing . . . until I had come
to believe it,” so he says himself.
“When I was seven or eight years of age, I began hauling all the wood used in the house and shops. . . . When about eleven years old, I was strong enough to hold a plough.
From that age until seventeen I did all the work done with horses. . . . While still quite young, I had visited Cincinnati
, forty-five miles away, several times alone. . . . I did not like to work; but I did as much of it while young as grown men can be hired to do in these days, and attended school at the same time. . . . The rod was freely used there, and I was not exempt from its influence.”
This steadfast, manly, not bright boy had quiet grey-blue eyes, a strong, straight nose, straight brown hair, and a bulky build.
His understanding of horses, and the manner in which he was successfully trusted with them on overnight journeys while still a child, bear witness to the tough fibre of responsibility and courage in him. Nor
was he pugnacious, but rather the reverse; and this, too, helps a portrait of the boy from which the features of the man seem a natural, slow development.
It would be strangely inconsistent to find in Grant
's adolescence any signs of precocity, such as mark, for example, the early years of Webster
, another rustic boy with very similar antecedents.
For intellect was Webster
's gift, while character was Grant
's and character finds no outward expression save in life's chances.
owes his fame to himself, but Wellington
owes his fame to Napoleon
; and, save for the Civil War
's force would have slumbered in him from the cradle to the grave.
Here is the single prophetic incident.
It has been told in many ways; and his own is the best, as usual:--
“There was a Mr. Ralston
. . . who owned a colt which I very much wanted.
My father had offered twenty dollars for it, but Ralston
was so anxious to have the colt that . . . my father yielded, but said twenty dollars was all the horse was worth, and told me to offer that price.
If it was not accepted, I was to offer twenty-two and a half, and, if that would not get him, to give the twenty-five.
I at once mounted a horse, and went for the colt.
When I got to Mr. Ralston
's house, I said to him, 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.”
He was eight when this happened; and when, after all his vicissitudes, he came to die, the same native candour and guilelessness, like truth at the well's bottom, shone unclouded in his heart.
No experience of deceit seems to have cured him of this inveterate simplicity or warned him that others did not possess it. “Grant
believes every one as honest as himself,” was said of him during
later days of struggle.
Is it wonderful that he failed in each business venture?
When he was elected President
, such a combination of firmness and integrity was an outlook which naturally filled the politicians with dismay.
They could not foresee that it would prove a door wide open to every dollar which they plotted to steal.
When not far from his end, he was asked if such and such a thing had not distressed him, and replied, “No, nothing but being deceived in people.”
And this sorrowful thought haunts the preface to his memoirs.
Yes, that old horse story is an omen.
It raises laughter, to be sure; but change the figure of farmer Ralston
, getting his undue price through the boy's guilelessness, into Belknap
of the Fort Sill
and national cemetery scandals, into Babcock
of the whiskey ring, into Jay Gould
of Black Friday, into Ferdinand Ward
, the final thief who crossed Grant
's credulous path, and the old horse story grows less mirthful.
His bringing up was evidently strict.
Both his talk and life were pure.
He seems to have got on without swearing, even in battle,--as extreme a sign of calm force as can be imagined.
broke out at Monmouth Court-house.
's one weakness, drinking, has therefore been the more conspicuous.
But in these early days at Georgetown
(where the family moved soon after his birth), he seems to have been soberer than many in that region.
As for an army career, not only had it never entered his head to be a soldier, but he was averse to the notion when suggested to him by his father.
“A permanent position in some respectable college,” he writes, was his hope, even after entering West Point
. “I had no intention of remaining in the army.”
Indeed, in closely studying Grant
's temperament, it almost seems as if he were not, in the last analysis, a soldier, but a patriot compelled to fight.
Like poets, the world's great captains are born, not made.
The art of war, war for war's sake, struck no spark in Grant
But he brought to its practice a sagacity and a grip of such dimensions as (after some experience) to serve as the equivalents of genius and instruction.
This is sometimes cited to point the demagogic moral that education is “un-American.”
in his book says: “Grant
evidently did not get enough of West Point
in him to hurt him any. . . . All the graduates in the higher ranks in their classes never came to anything.”
Now Robert E. Lee
It took four years and some half-dozen generals to beat him. But Butler
's book would be a joke, were it not a stench.
was near seventeen he told his father that he would never do a day's work at tanning after twenty-one.
The sensible Jesse
saw no success for him there, if his heart was not in it, and,
asking what would he like, was told farming or trading or to get an education.
He had no farm to give his son nor money to send him to college, and but a poor opinion of a trader's life on the Mississippi
But West Point
offered free education and subsequent honourable service.
The father settled the question; and this is the son's account of it: “Ulysses, I believe you are going to receive the appointment.--What appointment?
I inquired.--To West Point
I have applied for it.--But I won't go, I said.
He said he thought I would; and I thought so, too, if he did
The Italics are Grant
's own, and he seldom uses them.
Since his career is offered as an inspiration to American youth, it is a pity that his bringing up so rarely serves as a model for American parents.
A sound, sturdy wholesomeness in both father and mother is the assisting cause of most that was admirable in their son. They made no grief over saying good-by.
But across the street a friend and her daughter did; and the boy exclaimed, “Why, you must be sorry I am going.
They didn't cry at our house.”
At that house, however, during a period of the Mexican War
when the absent son could not write home, the mother's hair grew grey.
Local opinion of Congressman Hamer
's choice was not flattering.
“I am astonished that he did not appoint some one with intellect enough to be a credit to the district,” said a neighbour to the cadet's father; and no special achievement during those four years of study contradicts this view.
The boy graduated twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine, good in mathematics and excellent in horsemanship.
But — and here again is the dimly felt moral fibre — he was often umpire in disputes; and he was greatly liked by his friends, who called him Uncle Sam. “Indeed, he was a very uncle-like sort of a youth,” writes
a comrade, Henry Coppee
“His picture rises before me . . . in the old torn coat, obsolescent leather gig-top, loose riding pantaloons, with spurs buckled over them, going with his clanking sabre to the drill-hall.
He exhibited but little enthusiasm in anything.”
Here is testimony to that mental indolence, or torpor, which pervaded his nature; and he gives more himself.
“I rarely read over a lesson the second time. . . . I read all of Bulwer
's, . . . Cooper
's, Washington Irving
's works, Lever's, and many others that I do not now remember.”
His letters home show an appreciation of natural scenery, and this he seems always to have had.
During his furlough at home after two years at the Academy it is narrated by Richardson
that, “in accordance with an agreement between himself and classmates to abstain from liquor for a year, he steadily refused to drink with his old friends.
The object of the cadets was to
strengthen, by their example, one of their number who was falling into bad habits.”
It has never been narrated that C. F. Smith
, the commandant of cadets, sent for the boy once when he was in danger of being dismissed, and told him that he was capable of better things.
The words that passed on this occasion have died with the two that spoke them; but Grant
loved and honoured Smith
with a special feeling, and a great deal lies behind the short sentence in the second chapter of the memoirs.
So West Point
bears consistent witness to the good and the bad in Grant
He left it in 1843, wishing naturally to be a dragoon, but was commissioned brevet second lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry, to which he reported for duty on September 30 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri