United States President; Union General in the Civil War.
GRANT TELLS HIS FATHER HE DID NOT GET THE JOB OF COUNTY ENGINEER.
“WHAT I SHALL NOW GO AT I HAVE NOT DETERMINED BUT I HOPE SOMETHING BEFORE A GREAT WHILE.”
LESS THAN TWO YEARS LATER HE WAS A GENERAL IN THE UNION ARMY.
Autograph Letter Signed, Ulysses, four full pages, octavo, St. Louis, September 23, 1859. To his father Jesse Root Grant.
“I have waited for some time to write you the result of the action of the County Commissioners upon the appointment of a County Engineer. The question has at length been settled, and I am sorry to say, adversely to me. The two Democratic Commissioners voted for me and the freesoilers against me. What I shall now go at I have not determined but I hope something before a great while. Next month I get possession of my own house when my expenses will be reduced so much that a very moderate salary will support me. If I could get the $3000 note cashed, which I got [from the] difference in the exchange of property, I could put up with the proceed[s] two houses that would pay me, at least, $40 pr. month rent. The note has five years to run with interest notes given separately and payable annually.
“We are looking for some of you here next week to go to the fair. I wrote to Simp[son, his brother] to come down and see me but as I have had no answer from him, nor from Avril [Simpson’s wife and Grant’s sister-in-law] to a letter written some time before, I do not know whether he will come or not. I should like very much to have some of you come and see us this fall. Julia [Julia Dent Grant, his wife] and the children are all very well. Fred. & Buck [his two sons, Frederick Dent and Ulysses S. “Buck” Grant, Jr.] go to school every day. They never think of asking to stay at home.
“You may judge from the result of the action of the County Commissioners that I am strongly identified with the Democratic party! Such is not the case. I never voted an out and out Democratic ticket in my life. I voted for Buch[anan] for president to defeat Fremont but not because he was my first choise. I have universally selected the candidates that, in my estimation, were the best fitted for the different offices, and it never happens that such men are all arrayed on our side. The strongest friend I had in the Board of Comrs is a F[ree] S[oiler] but opposition between parties is so strong that he would not vote for any one, no matter how friendly, unless at least one of his own party would go with him. The F. S. party felt themselves bound to provide for one of their own party who was defeated for the office of County Engineer, a Dutchman who came to the West as an Assistant Surveyor upon the publick lands and who has held an office ever since. There is, I believe, but one paying officer in the county held by an American unless you except the office of Sheriff which is held by a Frenchman who speaks broken english but was born here. Write to me soon. Julia & the children join me in sending love to all of you. ”
Written at a low ebb in his life and in his career. This was not the first time, and not the last time, that Ulysses S Grant would have to draw on his inner resources and his ability to learn from his mistakes, and later his defeats, to reach a goal that rose higher each time. This is why Lincoln would prize him so highly as a general.
After graduating from West Point (the best horseman in his class), Grant served ably (even gallantly) in the war with Mexico. Afterwards he was stationed in California and in Oregon for a total of eleven years of military service before resigning his commission in 1854 (five years before writing this letter). Grant’s reputation in the army apparently had suffered from allegations of intemperate behavior (namely drinking).
At the close of the Mexican war, Ulysses S Grant made a good marriage to Julia Dent who would prove to be his mainstay. She was with him in St. Louis when Grant wrote this letter to his father. They and their children were living on a scanty subsistence which Grant earned by farming and dealings in real estate. His friends considered him a broken and disappointed man. Grant’s attempt to get the job of county engineer, which was undone by politics, was yet another disappointment. A year later, the family moved to Galena, Illinois where Grant became a clerk in a leather goods store kept by his father.
Lincoln’s “call to arms” on April 15th, 1861would prove to be Grant’s salvation. Whatever mistakes he had made or disappointments he had felt, Grant saw a new opportunity, one to which he was well suited. After some delay he was commissioned colonel of the 21st Illinois regiment and soon afterwards brigadier-general.
Ulysses S Grant was shortly assigned to a territorial command on the Mississippi, and first won distinction by his energy in seizing, on his own responsibility, the important point of Paducah, Kentucky, situated at the confluence of the Tennessee and the Ohio Rivers (September 6th, 1861). From this time forward, Grant showed himself to be a capable and skillful leader. Most importantly he demonstrated a steely determination which saw him through two potential disgraces, once in the spring of 1862 after a disagreement with General Henry Halleck, and again in the autumn of 1862 after losing credit for two victories to the officers who were serving under him.
When Halleck went to Washington, Ulysses S Grant took command of his old army and the Army of the Mississippi. While there were soldiers who were more accomplished, more brilliant or more exact than Grant, what Lincoln saw in him in the lead up to Vicksburg was an officer who could get the job done. The President was tired of generals who left the battlefields without pursuing the enemy and who could not bring the war to a conclusion.
Ulysses S Grant’s tenacity would carry the day. After Shiloh, he understood the intensity of the struggle. He evolved from a commander with almost buoyant energy to a general whose energy was grimly focused on wearing his opponents down however long it took (and sometimes whatever it took).
After Vicksburg (a thrilling victory) and Cickamauga (an alarming defeat), all of the Union armies were placed under his command. From this point (March 1864) until the end of the war, Grant waged a merciless war of attrition. Tactically, the Confederates often won; strategically, Grant kept the Union on track. Grant’s singleness of purpose was augmented by the clear judgment to distinguish the essential from the minor issues in war.
In this letter to his father, Ulysses S Grant expresses the “hope” that things will get better. That he was able to deal with reversals at this level and at increasingly higher ones proved to be the aspect of Grant’s character which would bring great glory to his efforts and final victory to the Union cause.
A rubber stamp on the first page indicates the present letter was from the “Autograph Collection of Dr. Max Thorek Chicago.” Contained in a full brown and maroon morocco creativity folder.
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