Taken for Granted
The great Gen. Grant sold firewood in muddy streets to feed his family.
This general with a bloodthirsty reputation was so sensitive he never hunted. He even personally arrested soldiers for abusing their horses.
“Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately, you occasionally find men who disgrace labor.” — Hiram Ulysses Grant
“He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall,” said a friend.
In 1854, a failure, Hiram returned from two years out west, having resigned his commission as an Army officer. Had he not done so, he might have otherwise been court martialed.
He then failed as a farmer, while his father-in-law, a neighbor, watched. Times were worse than hard. To feed his family he was reduced to selling firewood on the muddy St. Louis streets. He pawned his gold watch. His father could not take him on at the family store. He failed as a rent collector because he was too soft hearted.
When he finally got work, the store owner died a month later, leaving him again jobless. Ultimately, he sold saddles in his brothers’ store.
The Master Horseman
Though he had grown up on the frontier, he hated hunting. His sensitive soul, patience, and insight made him a master horseman. He could train the wildest colt, a skill that won him much respect.
His family had a vast frontier library—all of 35 books. As a child, he loved to read. His father won him an appointment to West Point—without telling him. When told he was going, the young man dutifully did so.
Upon picking up his steamer trunk, to his dismay he found that the shopkeeper had embossed his initials incorrectly. The brass tacks read “H U G” for Hiram Ulysses Grant. Afraid of being mocked at school, he had the peaceful combination of letters rearranged to read “U H G.” But when he got to the military academy, he found that its paperwork had gotten his name wrong. Uncle Sam said his initials were “U S G.” This inadvertent symbol of patriotism won his classmates’ admiration.
As a lieutenant, Grant went to war in Mexico. He saw little glory, serving as a quartermaster, procuring mules and wagons, duties that kept him from the battlefield. Later, as a leader of thousands of men, his organizational skills would prove immensely valuable.
His career stalled. The Army stationed him far from his family in remote Oregon and northern California. Journeying west via the Isthmus of Panama with 750 other travelers, cholera hit, killing a third of them. Grant was a “ministering angel” caring for the afflicted, said one who was there. Ultimately, however, it’s believed that boredom, isolation, and depression led to dissolute living, namely heavy drinking, and his resignation.
Nonetheless, when the Civil War started in 1861, townspeople back home in Ohio nominated him the man they knew as a saddle salesman and firewood dealer to serve as a colonel and raise a company of men. A slight man, only five-foot seven, Grant at first went unnoticed among other officers. Soon victories in small skirmishes made his superiors see his true stature. Battle revealed his taste for swift action, cunning feints, and a cool head.
Major victories followed as did rumors spread by jealous officers that he was a drunk. None were true. Wrote one of his staff officers: "If Grant ever tasted liquor of any kind during the war, it was not in my presence, and I had the best position possible for observing his habits."
Grant never cursed. His strongest oaths were “By lightning!” and “Confound it!” Twice when he saw soldiers abusing mules, he personally arrested them. When he saw a straggler assaulting a woman, he leapt off his horse and rescued her.
President Lincoln promoted him to Lieutenant General, commander of all Union armies, and his leadership proved decisive to the war’s outcome. Most of all, over and again, it was his humility and quiet demeanor as much as his military prowess that impressed others. Wrote one biographer: “He would never dwell on past mistakes, never wallow in its wounds.”
Wonderful stories about a leader who only recently has been given his due. I learned in school in NC that he was one of the worst presidents, an alcoholic and corrupt, imposing a punitive Reconstruction on the South disastrously. Upon examination, this was not true!
I've been going to Grant's tomb for 40 years. It's always wonderful, even when some fool teacher had her students desecrate it with an amateurish ceramic tile art installation -- since removed. Grant was a great man.