Ward, Ferdinand. General Grant as I Knew Him. New York Herald (magazine section)
December 19, 1909, pp. 1-2
General Grant As I Knew Him
When General U. S. Grant drove down into Wall street and stepped from his carriage into the frantically cheering crowd that surrounded the brokerage offices of his son "Buck" (U. S. Grant, Jr.) he entered upon a phase of his remarkable career that later, for a time, threatened to place a lasting blot upon his fame.
Listening to false friends who hoped to fatten upon his ignorance of business and lack of experience, he saw no reason why success should not attend upon him as a financier just as it did upon him as a soldier. He was, as the world now knows, an innocent in the power of the wolves who surrounded him. He lived in a pleasant atmosphere, failing to see the gathering clouds that finally brought the downfall of Grant & Ward and the attendant destruction of the Marine National Bank, a disaster that unquestionably hastened the death of the grim old soldier.
Now out of the obscurity that for a quarter of a century has surrounded him, comes Ferdinand Ward, the second central figure of the Grant & Ward crash, the one who was selected by the public as the object of reprisal, to tell the story for the first time of the intimacies that existed between himself and General Grant. Mr. Ward paid the highest of penalties--the loss of fortune, name and liberty. He took this punishment and, waiting until the clamor died and until most of the animosities disappeared, now tells his story to the readers of the Herald.
Thousands there were, and are still, who would not mind it at all if a pet theory were upheld in the story of the tragedy--this being that Grant when in Wall street had displayed more than weakness. In fact, for years Ferdinand Ward has been urged to air grievances, but he has no story to tell that is to tarnish the glory of the man who sleeps on the City Hill.
Still it is a remarkable story that Ferdinand Ward tells--a story of duplicity, a story of greed, a story of criminality. Though he suffered the humiliation of Sing Sing, Mr. Ward had and still has in his possession papers that if made public would have brought punishment upon men of high standing, some of whom have since died and some of whom are still living and filling positions of honor and trust.
Probably no other man ever came so close to General Grant in a peculiar way as did Mr. Ward. When the General returned from his worldwide trip of triumph he found his son, U. S. Grant, Jr., entered upon a business career that promised great results. Associated with his son was a young man--a boy, in fact--who was even then referred to as the young Napoleon of Finance. That was Ferdinand Ward. General Grant took immediate and strong liking for the young man, and an intimacy was formed that was not broken in spite of disaster and prison until the General died.
At the time of the General's death Ferdinand Ward occupied a cell in Ludlow street jail. In some manner, which even now he refuses to discuss, Mr. Ward brought to bear enough influence to persuade the Sheriff to grant to him a few hours of liberty. He was at the funeral of his friend, one of the most sincere of mourners. Yet no other person in that great throng recognized the man, grown old through misfortune, who, it was charged, brought on one of the greatest panics Wall street ever knew.
It has been a saving grace of Ferdinand Ward thata he possesses a keen sense of humor. To him life has been a series of well and ill to an extent rarely experienced. He has known what it is to be the centre of all praise, and again to hear a nation clamor for his head. His present day ambitions are known only to himself, but in writing of General Grant of the tragedy of Grant & Ward and of the men who misled him, as they did his more experienced but yet simple minded friend, he betrays no animosities. He has truths to tell, and where it is wise to tell them he does so. Every word he writes will be of interest, not only to those who can recall the stirring days in which he was a real figure, but also the younger generation that has grown up since the death of General Grant.
In writing these reminiscences of General Ulysses S. Grant I am moved by no other consideration than the desire to contribute to the life story of a great man who was my friend and business associate.
That my contribution is new and unique there can be no doubt when it is remembered that for four years General Grant was associated with me as a partner in the firm of Grant & Ward.
After the failure of the firm in 1884 I was sentenced to a term of ten years in the New York State Prison at Sing Sing. I served that term less three and one-half years for good behavior. It was during my leisure time in prison that I collected my impressions of the General and rounded out to the best of my recollection the story of our four years' friendship.
I left prison nineteen years ago, and yet for one reason or another I never felt I cared to have this story published. It was not that I would have been put to the trouble of seeking an opportunity. Immediately after my release from Sing Sing I was importuned by more than one publisher to add my share to the contemporaneous history of General Grant. The requests were made on the ground that anything more interesting than similar accounts by other equally close friends, in the light of my prison experience.
I never hesitated about such requests, even though some of the financial baits were tempting to me at that particular time. I saw the animus which lay beneath them all. It was believed I might reveal something which would show General Grant's connection with the failure of our firm.
I would not have done this if I could. I could not if I would.
General Grant was always so much the child in business matters that it would have been impossible for him had he been so minded to hasten much by any overt act the fall of our house.
But those who sought to have me write about the affairs of the firm of Grant & Ward evidently figured that whatever may have been the merit of the judgment upon me I must resent the odium which has heaped upon me in addition.
Blamed for the Crash
At the time of my trial and conviction I was perhaps the best hated man in the United States. I was held responsible for what was believed to be the financial ruin of General Grant. I was set down as the sole cause of his troubles of that period. While this series of reminiscences is in no sense an apology or a defence or a personal story, yet if in the course of it there be developed by facts that cannot be denied an incidental alibi on this score at least I shall not be sorry.
There was one glittering exception to the throng which held me in contempt because of the trouble they believed I had caused them. That man was General Ulysses S. Grant. Our friendship never changed through all the period of stress and trouble, but remained until the time of his death.
It is perhaps just as well I waited twenty-five years before putting on paper the record of my association with General Grant. The bitterness against those who misjudged some phases of that association has been dissipated. I am now able to review the history of those four years with what I believe is a calm and dispassionate spirit.
When I first met General Grant he had just returned from his trip around the world. His son, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., familiarly known as "Buck," was my partner. With us in the firm of Grant & Ward was associated Mr. James D. Fish. General Grant had been fêted and made much of everywhere abroad and was more of a popular hero than ever upon his return. I remember how when I knew he was to come to the office on a certain day after his arrival I stood a little in awe of him and was not entirely comfortable in my mind about the meeting. "Buck" had told me his father wished to come into our brokerage firm."
The General Appears.
I was not in favor of such an arrangement because I knew, of course, that the General was unfamiliar with the details of our business. Mr. Fish insisted that if the General came in with us it would be the best thing in the world for us. While the General was not experienced and must perforce be a silent partner, Mr. Fish argued that the use of his name would be of inestimable value to us. I therefore agreed to the arrangement.
Imagine me, if you can, a young man, not yet thirty years old and but a few years in New York, as I sat at my desk, looking out on Broadway a few days later, when I saw a carriage draw up in front of my office and a rush toward it of hundreds of people, among whom were many of Wall street's most influential men, and this great general working his way thought the crowd of enthusiastic admirers. Then he entered, on the arm of his son, and with a hearty handshake greeted me. No one can realize the feeling of pride with which I greeted him, not only as a friend but as a partner. I saw at once that Mr. Fish was right and that the General could help us with his name in a perfectly legitimate manner, in that his son was associated with us.
After the formal meeting and a familiar chat of a half hour I was agreeably surprised to find my partner's father a quiet, cordial and unassuming man. I looked upon him at once as a man to whom I could go for counsel as well as for help, to aid me in carrying the burden of a business that was already assuming proportions which at times seemed to heavy for my young shoulders to carry.
How often in after years have I looked back to that meeting with pride, and yet with regret that circumstances should have been such as to bring sorrow upon us both! He was like a father to me in many ways, an though not a man of business I often leaned on him for help and advice in times of financial trouble and anxiety.
It was arranged that General Grant should come in with us upon the payment of $50,000, which would give him a seventh share in the business. The rest of us had $100,000 each in it. General Grant borrowed the $50,000 necessary for his share from his friend, Commodore C. K. Garrison. Shortly after this he asked us if he might put in $50,000 more and thus have an equal share with us. We gladly consented, for already the impetus to our business could be attributed to no other source than the General's association with us. This second $50,000 was furnished to General Grant by his wife and his younger son, Jesse.
When General Grant returned from his trip abroad he had no funds of his own. It will possible be remembered that he was presented with a fund of $250,000 by a number of his friends. It was a trust fund, the principal of which could not be touched. The interest amounted to $12,500 a year. He enjoyed this income until the time of his death, and I presume it was a part of the estate he left. As he had no other financial resources when he became a member of the firm of Grant & Ward, to which he contributed $100,000, and from which he drew during his four years' connection with the firm upward of $200,000, it may be seen that I had not, whatever may have been my other faults, contributed in the slightest degree to any financial embarrassment of the General. This fact may be made more clear as my story progresses.
I was fortunate enough to become one of those whom General Grant regarded as a personal friend, and within a few months of the time when he entered our firm we were on terms of the closest intimacy. We exchanged frequent visits at our town and country houses, and I am sure the General grew to know me very well indeed. For myself, I cannot say that I knew General Grant. I doubt if any one, even the members of his family, knew him well. His taciturnity furnished a screen behind which, no matter how jovial he might be, he concealed his real personality. Not that I believe he endeavored to do this or was conscious that he was doing it.
One of the characteristics of the General which impressed me most forcibly was his courage. Morally and physically he was the bravest man I ever knew. I do not think he ever knew fear. If I was ever asked to give the secret of General Grant's success I would say without hesitation that it was largely due to his courage. Incidents which came under my observation will perhaps illustrate to just what extent the General possessed this quality better than anything I might say in abstract.
One time when I was expecting a party of my friends at my country home in Stamford, Conn., General Grant came up early in the afternoon. We were to have a quiet little game of poker, of which the General was inordinately fond, in the evening, and he came early that we might take a drive behind a fast team. One of the horses, by the way, was one of a $10,000 team which had been presented to the General by Mr. Murphy.
We started out about four o'clock in the afternoon. The team was hitched to my light narrow seated trotting wagon. General Grant was generously built and as he was driving I was fairly hanging on to the edge of the seat. As we were nearing my place on our return we saw evidence of a considerable fire in the village. A large volume of smoke was pouring skyward and there was a great commotion. The mares were nervous and had been unruly throughout the drive. I suggested that we make a detour in order that it might not be necessary to pass the scene of the excitement. This suggestion was not in the least agreeable to the General. He said nothing, but drove directly toward the blaze.
It developed that the Presbyterian Church was on fire and that excitement which always accompanies a fire of any consequence in a small town was heightened by the nature of the threatened buildings. Confusion, it seemed to me, was worst confounded than I had ever seen it before, but perhaps I exaggerated that phase of the situation, since as I had now divined the General's intention I was thoroughly frightened.
I knew just what those high strung young mares were capable of when they were excited, and the prospect that they were about to become even more excited than they had ever been before in their nervous young lives seemed very good indeed. It was not an alluring prospect in the least so far as I was concerned.
His Amazing Daring
Our road led us right in front of the burning church. Lines of hose were stretched across the street and streams of water were being played upon the blaze; ladders were in position; orders were being hoarsely shouted and the figures of the volunteer firemen were indistinctly to be made out in the haze of smoke. Altogether it was such a scene as would have given an old staid family horse nervous prostration. Our mettlesome steeds were in a paroxysm of fear. They reared and plunged and I momentarily expected to see the frail wagon overturned. If the horses were very much frightened I was in little better plight, as by that time I had given myself up as lost.
I happened to glance sideways and discovered that my companion was actually enjoying the situation hugely. His inevitable long black cigar was set firmly in his mouth, about the corners of which lurked the shadow of a smile. We got out of it somehow, and as we were just getting away from the scene the General was recognized. The firemen quit work to join those watching the battle with the flames in a series of hearty cheers for the General. He was composed and calm when he stepped from the wagon at my gate, but I am very sure my nervousness was reflected in my game that evening to my financial loss.
Out of this incident grew another which, while it will do nothing toward developing any phase of General Grant's personality, was amusing enough to include here. While we were playing poker, about eleven o'clock that night, we heard a great commotion among my fifteen or twenty setter dogs which were on the front porch. We all went outside, and as we did so the dogs rushed madly toward a group of lights at the gate.
Following the rush of the dogs, which were barking furiously, we were astonished to see the lights scatter in every direction and then in succession rise from the ground. My coachman had been aroused, and when he arrived I sent him to the gate to see what was the trouble. He quieted the dogs, and we could hear him assuring some one that they were harmless. We were still very much in the dark until his return. The lights meantime had been lowered from the trees.
His Poker Knowledge
General Grant had been recognized in the village and it was known that he came out that way to visit me. The brass band decided to seize this opportunity to serenade the national hero. They brought their lanterns. In the bad scramble for the trees when the dogs pounced upon them the musicians had clung to their lanterns and dropped their instruments in almost every case. We had our concern after eleven, and it was a most enjoyable one. Perhaps there were more tremolos than there would have been ordinarily. General Grant often referred laughingly to the incident.
General Grant carried his firmness, tenacity of purpose and courage into his games and pleasures. These he took rather seriously, although he had a large capacity for enjoying himself. As I have said, he was very fond of a quiet game of poker among friends. I think the game appealed to him because he had to bring to it many of the same qualities which caused him to be determined to "fight it out along this line if it takes all summer."
The possibilities for ambuscades, masking of batteries and sudden sorties in the great American indoor game appealed to him immensely. It had for him the same fascination which chess has had for other military geniuses.
An incident occurred during one of our games which greatly impressed me at the time and which I never forgot. It gave me another flash at the General's secret of military success. Five of us were playing poker one night, and the party included General Grant and General "Phil" Sheridan, who were fast friends. General Sheridan was also inordinately fond of poker.
After the cards were dealt we all came in with the regular ante and we all stood for the raise. When cards were drawn General Grant took three and General Sheridan stood pat. He bet the limit. We all dropped out with the exception of General Grant. With his usual black stub of a cigar in his mouth he was a very formidable opponent for any one as he quietly looked Sheridan over, saw his bet and raised the limit. Sheridan promptly came back with another boost, and General Grant saw that and raised again. Then General Sheridan with his pat hand called. General Grant showed a pair of nines and won the pot, as Sheridan had nothing. General Grant laughed and said:--
"I knew you were bluffing, 'Phil,' and I would have kept it up until I had staked my pile."
And I firmly believe that General Grant, armed though he was with nothing more substantial than that measly little pair of nines, never had any doubt from the moment that he looked General Sheridan over that he would win the pot. He seemed to be possessed of a sort of sixth sense which enabled him to size up situations in a flash of intuition.
Tale of the Elevator
Another proof of the fact that Fear and General Grant had never been introduced so far as might ever be determined from anything in the General's manner occurred one day in our office building in Wall street. When General Grant came to the office in the morning he usually came punctually at ten o'clock. One morning he came in half an hour late. I was sitting at my desk and greeted him. His manner betrayed nothing which might indicate that he had had an unusual adventure. He sat down in his easy chair and smoked and chatted with me as usual.
A few minutes after he arrives one of the officers of a bank which was located in the same building came running into the office. His face was pale, and with the greatest concern he inquired of the General if the latter was all right, to which General Grant replied in the affirmative in an unconcerned way. I was greatly surprised at the scene and asked what it meant. The General laughed and said he supposed his friend from down stairs referred to an incident which he had already forgotten.
"As I was coming up in the elevator this morning the rope parted," said the General, "and we fell several floors. Fortunately the automatic brake worked and we got nothing worse than a shaking up. All in all, it was a rather interesting experience."
That was all. He regarded his escape from death as something too trivial to mention when he came into the office. And I do not believe he considered it important enough to mention. Later, perhaps, when he thought of it he might casually have referred to it.
General Grant was above all things democratic. This trait was one of the secrets of his popularity. He would sit and talk as freely with one in comparatively lowly circumstances, if occasion offered, as with the high and mighty. And there was no hint of condescension in his manner at such times. He was simple and sincere with every one.
Often I have been asked if General Grant was a drinking man. He was anything but that. He very seldom touched any liquor except ale, and he drank that sparingly and at rare intervals. As is well known, he smoked incessantly. I have known him to go to bed with a heavy Havana in his mouth, put out the lights and continue smoking for a time in the dark. He would never finish this nightcap cigar, but when it was about half done he would put it somewhere where it might be reached easily in the morning.
The first thing he did when he awakened was to get this stub and light it. Sometimes he would smoke another whole cigar before breakfast. Luncheon and dinner usually interrupted his smoking, and he would put his half finished cigar aside, to be resumed immediately upon finishing his mean. When he came to the office I always had twenty-five of his favorite three for fifty cent cigars ready for him, and invariably he smoked them all during the day.
A cigar anecdote, which, I believe, has never been written, will show another trait of his character, that of loyalty to friends.
The incident afforded several of us the greatest amusement at the time and we often teased the General about it. When he returned from his visit to Mexico he was enthusiastic about the possibilities of the country and a warm friend and admirer of General Diaz. He told us the General had promised to send him some Mexican cigars, and as he said the conditions for raising fine tobacco in Mexico were unexcelled he had no doubt they would be much better than even Havanas. He said he had not tried the Mexican cigars while on his visit, as the subject had not come up for discussion until he was leaving.
One day there arrived at the office a case of five thousand cigars made from pure Mexican tobacco, a present from Diaz. Before he opened the case the General was as excited about the gift as it was possible for him to get, and he told us that if there were any more of the Havanas on hand to give them away and that it would not be necessary to get any more for a while.
"We will probably like these much better any way," said the General, "and when they are gone we can order them in large lots direct from Mexico."
The cigars were packed one hundred each in fifty beautiful lacquered boxes. General Grant presented each of us in the office with a box and we began to smoke the new cigars. They were large, black and coarse, and to our educated taste exceedingly rank.
In deference to the seriousness with which the General took the gift we stuck it out as long as we could. U. S. Grant, Jr., managed to smoke about twenty-five of the Mexican cigars, I believe, before he was forced to discontinue them. Fred Grant and I managed somehow to finish out a hundred each, but declined positively to accept a second box.
The General manfully stuck it out for a while longer, chiding us for our lack of appreciation and telling us that we did not know good tobacco when we tasted it. Finally he, too, was forced to give up the unequal struggle and confess that, after all, the new cigars could not compare with the Havanas to which he had become accustomed.
General Grant would never listen to objectionable stories. He did not like to hear an oath, and at times I have thought he was on the point of administering a sharp rebuke when one was uttered in his presence. His fine courtesy alone restrained him, I believe. He had decided religious convictions and was a church attendant.
I thought a recent account of the enthusiastic manner in which General Fred Grant was received at a meeting of Confederate veterans in the South exceedingly significant in that after a long and bitter struggle the veterans who had owed their defeat largely to one man could honor his memory in this whole souled way.
As I have said, we found soon after General Grant came with us that his name was of great benefit to the firm. Often when we needed money quickly the General could get it in the street when it would have been impossible for any of the rest of us to get it. It soon became apparent, however, that others were equally well aware of the magic which lay in the name of General Grant and were disposed to take advantage of his good nature and lack of business knowledge in ways which seriously compromised the business of the firm of Grant & Ward.
The lower rooms of General Grant's town house were laden with curios and rich gifts, the spoils of his tour around the world--which practically converted them into a museum. Almost invariably when a guest would highly praise one of these gifts the General would insist on him taking it away with him. This insistence was often embarrassing for the friend, and in the end always overcame his reluctance. Mrs. Grant came into the room one day when I was one of a party of the General's friends among whom he was lavishly distributing his treasures and laughingly said:--"Victor, the day will come when you will have nothing left to give away if you continue to be so prodigal. Don't you suppose I like to have the pretty things about?"
General Grant, replying in like vein, told his wife that he was so well stocked that he believe it impossible ever to come to the end of his trophies even if he lived a hundred years.
And this incident reminds me of a charming habit of Mrs. Grant, of which I do not remember ever to have seen mention made in print. After his triumphant return from the wars it was her habit to call him "Victor." That was her pet name for him, and a more appropriate one I think it would be hard to imagine. It was charming to hear the wife of the world's greatest living military hero thus gently suggest his triumphs every time she addressed him.
New York Herald (magazine section), Dec. 26, 1909, pp. 1-2
General Grant an Easy Prey for the Wolves of Finance
The many sides of General Grant, as business man, traveller, host and guest, are discussed by Ferdinand Ward in this the second instalment of his story, "My Recollections of General Grant," written for the Sunday Herald.
In the first chapter, "General Grant as I Knew Him," Mr. Ward told of his meeting with the great soldier, of the latter's introduction to the financial world, and of various transactions in which the firm of Grant & Ward figured with no profit to the partners.
To-day Mr. Ward's story takes up the General's love of humor, and while the cloud of the tragedy that was pending hangs over the tale as it is told, the man who paid the penalty takes the keenest pleasure in writing of his warm admiration for his brave associate.
Mr. Ward pictures General Grant gallantly fighting a losing battle, but with the same indomitable courage that earned for him the affectionate name of "Victor," which, Mr. Ward incidentally reveals, was Mrs. Grant's high compliment to her Great Soldier.
As Mr. Ward's recollections continue, more and more light will be shed on the marvellous character of General Grant, and in all the stories told the dominant note will be one of loyalty--the loyalty of General Grant to his friends, old and new, and the loyalty of Ferdinand Ward to the memory of his associate in their battle with the wolves of finance.
One of those unfortunate speculations which were to be in the end the cause of the downfall of the house of Grant & Ward, into which General Grant by his generosity drew the firm, was that of a Southern Coal Company. General John B. Gordon, the famous Confederate leader, came to New York to put this property on the market. He knew General Grant. He knew of his generosity and innocence of business ability and came directly to him. A strict investigation by any prospective purchaser would have quickly revealed the company to be carrying a load of debt. General Grant saw in General Gordon a one time foeman, impoverished by a war, the outcome of which he (General Grant) had influenced more than any other man. This was a situation which would appeal at once to a man of General Grant's temperament. He at once, without investigation on his own account, insisted that Grant & Ward buy the property. He was seconded in this request by U. S. Grant, Jr., who had been brought to share his fathers views.
Both Mr. Fish and I were strongly opposed to the purchase, as there was positively nothing to recommend it but the General's desire. This was so strong that in the end we gave in and took the mine off General Gordon's hands. It had been represented to us that the debts of the mine were about $50,000. In reality they were about $90,000. The property was not nearly so valuable as we had been led to believe it was. The result was that Grant & Ward lost $150,000 on it. When he sold us the mine General Gordon retained some stock. He persuaded Mr. Fish to lend him $18,000 on this stock. This also was lost. U. S. Grant, Jr., sent a friend, Mr. H. S. Otis, to manage the mine. Mr. Otis was compelled to spend large sums of money--the total is not at hand--and this, too, went to swell our loss.
Easy Prey to Schemers
General Grant was drawn into all sorts of schemes by supposed friends, some of them bearing the mightiest names in the world of finance to-day. These men were not so powerful then as they are now, but they were coming up, and the firm of Grant & Ward, through General Grant, was one of their stepping stones. These men wanted the General's name on which to float their enterprises. They procured it from a man without business ability or business experience on the promise of enormous dividends without risk. These schemes almost invariably turned out disastrously, and the firm was called upon to foot the bills.
Instead of being one to induce him to enter extremely risky transactions--a charge which was freely made against me at the time of my trial--I was always a restraining influence, although not a strong enough one at times. But in many cases I was able to persuade him not to go into ventures which he brought into our office, in which he had implicit faith, born of the assurances of friends, who knew that even with his connection they were extremely doubtful and without it absolutely hopeless.
General Grant was induced to connect himself with concerns which basely betrayed him, and the firm of Grant & Ward had to bear the brunt of the strain caused by these betrayals. The General was induced to take $200,000 of New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railroad stocks on the assurance that no more than ten per cent would ever be called. In reality the entire $200,000 was called, and Grant & Ward were obliged to find the money and also furnish $60,000 for debenture bonds. This made necessary instead of a payment of $20,000, which General Grant had been led to believe was all he would have to pay, a payment of $260,000.
Then again a prominent Wall street firm put General Grant down for a $25,000 subscription to a railroad company where we lost considerable. U. S. Grant, Jr., also lost money for us in certain mining stocks in which his friends had induced him to invest. That such investments and others I shall describe in the course of my narrative were the actual contrib[pg. 2]uting causes to the failure of the firm of Grant & Ward will be clearly shown before the end of it is reached. The various events which preceded that famous failure and the history of that incident in the financial history of New York itself, the men involved in it and the real reason for it will be dealt with in a succeeding article from a standpoint never before published.
In order that the reader may better appreciate and understand the causes that led up to the failure of Grant & Ward it seems to me essential to go back a few years prior to the time I met General Grant and mention the circumstances that brought about the formation of the firm.
Though I hesitate to in any way seem to bring my personal life into this story, still it seems necessary in order to carry out my first intention, which was to show my relation with the General, and incidentally the causes that brought about those relations.
I came to New York in 1872, having procured a position as clerk in the New York Produce Exchange, through my brother, who was then connected with the United States Assay Office. Mr. Seth H. Grant, who was then the superintendent of the Produce Exchange, was connected in a certain degree with my family, and though him I was successful in obtaining a position that proved one of importance and of great help to my future.
My brother, having been a resident of New York city for some years, took it upon himself to watch over my welfare and for a year we lived together, but in 1873 we decided it would be better for me to reside out of the city, and as he had friends in Brooklyn he persuaded me to go there, which I did, and some few months later I met Miss Ella C. Green, who in 1878 became my wife.
Miss Green's father, Mr. Sydney Green, was a cotton merchant and a director in the Marine National Bank of this city, of which bank Mr. James D. Fish, who afterward became my partner, was president.
While I was still a clerk in the Produce Exchange my brother, who was a graduate of the School of Mines, was induced by certain gentlemen of wealth to consent to go to Leadville and examine a mine in which they were interested, and while there my brother discovered a promising prospect in the future of which he had great faith, so he communicated with certain influential men of his acquaintance in New York and the mine was procured at a cost of $60,000 and a company organized with a capital of $100,000, consisting of 50,000 shares at $2 a share. This was called the Evening Star Mine and promised to be one of the most profitable mines of its size of the time. Its stock rose to more than $50 a share and it paid large dividends.
Start of the Partnership
Through Mr. Fish and my brother I was able to obtain a block of this stock at the bottom price and the profitable nature of this investment brought me into closer financial relations with him--so much so that he suggested that I give up my position in the Produce Exchange and open an office in Wall street, where he offered me his aid and the benefit of his experience. This I did, and though I did not take an office I got desk room with a Stock Exchange firm and began business in a small way. Shortly after this my brother asked me if I would consent to let Mr. U. S. Grant, Jr., who was a friend of his, have a share of my stock, as he desired him to have an interest, and this I did at a low figure, I think $3 or $4 a share.
This was the starting point of my relations with the Grant family. The active rise of this stock and the constant dividends brought Mr. Grant and myself closer together in business matters, and in a short time he suggested to me that we organize a copartnership in the stock business, and as the plan was agreeable to Mr. Fish I consented and in 1880 the firm of Grant & Ward was organized, consisting of James D. Fish, U. S. Grant, Jr., and myself, with a capital of $300,000.
This copartnership lasted some months and proved very profitable. Mr. Fish was at that time president of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, and through his connections with the bank and with financial men of influence we were enabled to carry through undertakings that proved profitable to us all.
Although Mr. Grant was a novice in business methods, still he was well liked by every one, and through this trait and the fact that he was the son of General U. S. Grant he was enabled to be of great service to us in obtaining capital. By the articles of agreement I was to have entire charge of the finances of the firm and conduct its affairs according to my best judgment.
Mr. Fish, being engrossed with the duties of the bank, could give but little attention to the firm's affairs, other than to keep a general lookout for profitable investments and aid us in procuring funds to carry the same through.
I was then living with my wife in Brooklyn, and Mr. Fish spent many of his evenings at my house, when we discussed the policy of the firm, and by his long experience he taught me much that was essential to know in the manipulation of finances. He was a shrewd man, very much my elder in years, and I looked to him more than any one else for guidance and advice.
It was thus that we continued until later in the year, when General U. S. Grant was admitted to the firm, as I have already narrated, and by the united efforts of the four in the course of two years our firm became a ruling factor in Wall street finances. I was then in my thirtieth year and U. S. Grant, Jr., about the same age, and as both General Grant and Mr. Fish were much older, U. S. Grant, Jr., and I naturally took the reins and worked shoulder to shoulder to advance the business.
General Grant would visit the office once a day during the winter season and less often in the summer, but his entrance was always followed by an influx of men of financial and military influence, and I have often seen him surrounded by men whose names have become a synonym for military and financial achievement.
Such men as Senator Roscoe Conkling, General Philip Sheridan, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Senator S. B. Elkins, Russell Sage and Commodore C. K. Garrison met in that little room, where the topics of the day were discussed and the most intimate social relations existed.
The General seemed to enjoy that hour as he sat in his familiar chair and smoked his cigar. He was so hearty and genial in his manner that no one could help but like him and feel drawn toward him. And not only did he show this side of his character to men of influence and promise, but even to those more lowly in station he was ever polite and pleasant.
I have seen him sit for an hour and talk horse with men of station far beneath him socially, but with an earnest interestedness. He was very fond of horses and never tired of talking with those who were familiar with their traits.
Some of his anecdotes of experiences on his famous trip around the world were not only intensely interesting but also amusing. I shall never forget his description of a dinner given to him by a high potentate of China, when, as he described it, he had to sit on the floor for four hours and partake of food so foreign to anything to which he was accustomed and have everything he said or heard interpreted. He said then, "Ferdinand, I would have given a good deal could I have stood up, smoked a cigar and talked English with some one."
General Grant and the Camel
I remember one day we were discussing seasickness and its effects, and I told him that I feared I would never get up courage to go abroad owing to my dread of being seasick, and he then told me of his trip over the desert on the back of a camel. He said that though he had experienced the effects of heavy seas in many waters, they were not to be compared to the ride on that old camel. He advised me to go to the park and try it, and guaranteed that after I was through I would never stand in fear of the rolls of the ocean. He said that if any man ever caught him again on the back of one of those beasts it would be when he was asleep.
But to return to business. I wish first to correct the prevailing impression that General Grant's son Frederick D. Grant was a member of the firm of Grant & Ward. This was not the case. Mr. Frederick D. Grant, who was then Colonel, after leaving the army came naturally to our office, with which his father and brother were connected, and engaged in speculation in stocks on his own account. Like most military men he knew little of business, and yet through the help of others he was enabled to gain a good living. His charm then, as now, was his social, affable way. In this respect he was much like his honored father. He made many friends socially, but was looked upon as an inexperienced business man. He did little more than take his profits and enjoy life. He was willing to take the world as it came, giving little concern to the morrow.
During the few years of my acquaintance with General Grant I was constantly importuned by men who were managing public enterprises to use my influence to get the General, by his name or personal appearance, to further their various enterprises, but I seldom asked him to do so unless it were for charity or for his own amusement.
Theatrical managers would urge me to get him to attend the opening nights of their plays, and in some cases even went so far as to suggest that it might be to my personal benefit to do so. Such offers I promptly declined, but in one or two cases I did consent, and among those was the request of Mr. Edward Harrigan that I bring the General to his theatre on a certain night. Knowing as I did how much General Grant enjoyed plays of that nature, I suggested that we attend, and he gladly consented.
A box was furnished by Mr. Harrigan and a party of some eight or ten selected, and it would have done your heart good to see the reception the General got that night. When General Grant entered the box the entire audience arose and the theatre rang with cheers, which blended with a national air played by the orchestra, and continued until Mr. Harrigan had to come forward and ask for quiet.
The General on such occasions never seemed flustered or embarrassed, but simply took it all in a calm, quiet way; but I knew him so well that I realized the gratitude and pride he felt that the public should greet him with such enthusiasm.
No Opera for Him
The play went on and Mr. Harrigan and his cast were at their best. Many side allusions made to him by the actors brought storms of cheers and laughter not only from the audience but from the General himself. After the play was over Mr. Harrigan came to the box and thanked the General for coming, but the General in his hearty way told him it had been one of his happiest experiences, for he was fond of anything that would cause a laugh.
General Grant especially admired Mr. William Florence, who was his personal friend, and whose theatre he often attended. He cared little for opera, and I have often heard him decline invitations to attend, much to Mrs. Grant's regret. I remember so well one evening when I was dining at his house with others, among whom was Senator Roscoe Conkling--who, by the way, was a frequent guest at the Grant table--Mrs. Grant, addressing her husband as "Victor," said she expected him to attend the opera that night with her.
There were several of us who were looking for a little game of poker after dinner, although nothing had been suggested of that nature. But the General looked at Senator Conkling, who at once divined the cause, and suggested that as the General had other guests he be allowed to devote himself to them, while he, Senator Conkling, would feel honored to accompany her. The offer was accepted, much to the General's liking. For although he delighted in his wife's society, still his dread of the opera and his affection for a little game of poker were too much for him, and when later the Senator returned he thanked him cordially for his prompt offer.
I recall again one evening when the General was dining at my house, and a few of us gentlemen were going to play cards, my wife remarked that she was going to attend a fair connected with one of her favorite charities, and the General at once suggested that we all accompany her for a half hour, which we did. And you can imagine the flutter among those women when he entered. He was at once pounced upon for his autograph, which he gladly gave, and the sale of which added a snug sum to the treasury of the society.
General Grant was ever ready and willing to do anything in his power to help any good work, and I have often seen him draw his check for a substantial amount to aid some poor veteran who was out of work. His heart ever went out to "the boys," as he called them, who fought with him. Although proud of the position he had attained, he never forgot to give the credit he deemed due to the men who helped him to win the great struggle.
As an instance of the affection those veterans held for him I remember well an incident which occurred during 1882. Our firm was interested in the construction of a railroad called the Bradford, Eldridge and Cuba road, a coal feeder for the Erie. This road had just finished a bridge called the Kinsua Viaduct, and Mr. B. W. Spencer, then treasurer of the Erie, invited a party of gentlemen to join him in a trip to the viaduct as the guests of the road.
The party consisted of General Grant, his son, U. S. Grant, Jr.; Mr. James D. Fish, Mr. Nelson of New York, and one or two others, including myself. We took the private car of Mr. Jewett, then president of the Erie Railroad, our first schedule stop to be Rochester.
But our schedule was destined to be changed, for no sooner did it become known that General Grant was on his way north than all along the line delegations were made up and would not hear of a refusal to stop that they might give the General a handshake or hear a few words from his lips. No sooner had we left one place than a delegation from the next would ask that he stop, and so all along the line these informal receptions were held from the rear platform of our car, when from five hundred to two thousand people would greet him with cheers and hearty enthusiasm.
I remember well how, after leaving one of these receptions, the General came back into the car, rubbing the palm of his right hand, and, noticing this, we asked him what was the matter, when he laughed and said that a husky veteran who had lost half the second finger of his right hand had shaken hands so heartily with him that the stump of his finger had almost made him yell, so earnest was the greeting.
Enjoyed the Whole Trip
I never realized more fully than I did on that trip how much this great man was loved by the people.
The dinner and reception given by the Rochester Club on our arrival are long to be remembered. And when we returned to New York the General said he had enjoyed every minute of the trip.
That trip, and the closer relations that grew from it between the officers of the road and General Grant, did much toward the firm of Grant & Ward becoming the financial agents of the Erie Railroad. It was in this way that General Grant contributed his share to the advancement of our business, as he ever had out interests at heart and was ready and willing to do what lay in his power, though often at his own inconvenience, to help us along.
At times of stringency in the money market, when the high rates asked for money became a serious factor, the General would apply to such men as Mr. Russell Sage, Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan and Mr. W. H. Vanderbilt, who were always ready to stretch a point to accede to the General's requests.
I have known the time when money was lending at an eighth per cent a day over the regular six per cent per annum that General Grant has gone to his friends for loans for the firm and obtained what he needed at the regular six per cent rate with no commission added. He was a great help to us in this way.
Much has been written and said in the last few years about the Ramapo watershed and the plan to make use of it for the benefit of New York city. There has been much speculation as to the origin of the Ramapo enterprise. The fact is that the Ramapo plan found its origin in the early '80's, and had it been possible to defer the Marine Bank crash for a few months the firm of Grant & Ward would have pushed the enterprise to success, to its great financial profit.
During the years 1882-83 there was much discussion in our daily newspapers as to the necessity of better and greater water supply for New York. A season of drought had caused much alarm and pressure was brought to bear to compel the city to take steps for its own protection. The result was the appointment of a commission to devise ways and means of augmenting the water supply.
Certain members of that commission were associated with the firm of Grant & Ward in business. Steps were taken to procure for us the contract to bring water from the Ramapo River and through pipes connect it with the Croton system of the city. The services of a noted engineer were obtained. He was brought on from the West and plans and specifications were prepared by him. Meetings were held by men prominent in the city, General Grant always being present. The matter was thoroughly discussed and it was finally agreed that we would complete the contract and bring the water to the Manhattan shoe, making the connections with the Croton water pipes, and for our services we were to receive $35,000,000.
It is easy to philosophize and to show upon what little things the future rests. The Ramapo deal would have given Grant & Ward a certain profit of $17,000,000. That sum would have placed us beyond peradventure upon the crest of the highest wave of success.
Had fortune smiled upon us for just that moment I think it is not too much to say that the political as well as the financial history of this country would have been written not as it is to-day. A banking firm that is to-day known the world around, the credit of which is not to be impeached, stood closer to defeat in April, 1884, than did Grant & Ward. Yet another month found us on the financial shoals, while I am happy to say the other firm went on to prosperity.
The Ramapo Water Deal
I have always been much interested in the Ramapo water scheme, for the reason that I knew our plans to be well perfected. We could have made $17,000,000 out of the $35,000,000 contract, yet I understand a few years later an attempt was made to force the same contract upon the city at a cost of more than $100,000,000. The enlargement of the Croton supply and the contribution to the supply from other quarters now under way have eliminated the Ramapo scheme, but I still believe that at a reasonable cost it was the best and that time will prove the truth of my assertion.
I have been blamed and censured because a few days before the failure of Grant & Ward General Grant got from W. H. Vanderbilt a check for $150,000 which was deposited in the Marine Bank and which, of course, was lost in the crash. It was said I persuaded General Grant to go to Mr. Vanderbilt, and until now I have never denied that it was so.
General Grant's call upon Mr. Vanderbilt at this time came about in this way:--Two days before the failure I saw General Grant and called his attention to the fact that the city, which had a large balance in the Marine Bank, was drawing heavily. The City Chamberlain, Mr. Nelson Tappan, who was also a director in the bank, was at his home ill, and so it was impossible for him to prevent the drafts upon the bank.
I still have in my possession letters showing that Mr. Tappan was ready and willing to give such assistance as he could give in a legitimate manner if we could manage to hold the bank in funds until his return to his office. The city had reduced its balance from $1,500,000 to $500,000, and it was extremely difficult to realize on loans fast enough to withstand that draft.
Two days before the failure I received the following notification from the City Chamberlain's office. It was signed J. R. Montgomery, for Mr. Tappan:--"Mr. Tappan finds it necessary, in view of the large payments on Monday, to draw on the Marine Bank $300,000 and we have notified them of draft for that amount on Monday, to come through Clearing House Tuesday A. M. We regret the necessity, and if unexpected receipts should make it possible to diminish the draft will be glad to do so. As the account of receipts and payments now stands the draft is unavoidable."
I merely laid the facts before General Grant and it was his own suggestion that he should call upon Mr. Vanderbilt. He at once ordered his carriage and drove to the Vanderbilt home, where he obtained a check for $150,000. This he told me Mr. Vanderbilt gave to him willingly on his personal guarantee.
The check was at once deposited in the bank, General Grant and I both believing it would bridge Mr. Fish over until matters became easier. But it was not to be so. The continued drafts of the city so depleted the bank's cash that the next day its doors were closed.
Had I supposed for one moment that the Vanderbilt accommodation would not stem the tide I never would have permitted that check to go into the bank.
At the time General Grant received that loan I had ample securities in the firm's vaults, but they were not securities on which loans could be realized quickly enough, although they were of sound value. These securities were found in the vault after our firm's failure, and I never could understand why sufficient of them were not handed over to General Grant to secure the Vanderbilt loan. It was, however, at Mr. Vanderbilt's request, I understand, that General Grant surrendered some of his army relics to Mr. Vanderbilt who afterward placed them in Washington as relics of the civil war.
New York Herald (magazine section), Jan. 2, 1910, pp. 9-10
Marine Bank Cause of Crash
The following is the third instalment of the story of the failure of Grant & Ward and the Marine Bank crash, written for the HERALD by Ferdinand Ward.
The general impression prevails, and has for years, that the failure of the firm of Grant & Ward brought about the failure of the Marine National Bank and compelled it to close its doors on May 4, 1884. Whereas indirectly this may have been true to a certain extent, still, had the Marine Bank been able to care for itself, the house of Grant & Ward would have done likewise and the failure been averted. It is my belief that had Grant & Ward had no connection whatever with the Marine Bank that institution would have failed anyway, although it might have been averted for some time.
As a proof of my contention in this respect I wish first to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that Grant & Ward carried a balance in the Marine National Bank far in excess of any other depositor, their average balance being in the neighborhood of $200,000, and many times when the bank became debtor to the Clearing House from excessive loans made by the directors and president the firm of Grant & Ward was asked and did increase the balance, and I went so far as to borrow money in the street to carry our stocks, paying therefor the ruling rates rather than deplete the balance in the bank.
I would often ask General Grant to do what he could to increase our balance, which he would do willingly, and the records will show that at times we had $300,000 to $400,000 on deposit in the bank, and at the same time were borrowing millions on stocks elsewhere. This, of course, was not sound business, but circumstances were such as to warrant it.
The bank had the city and the Erie Railroad as depositors, whose balances varied from time to time, and whose drafts were necessarily at times so large that it devolved upon me to help out when by these drafts the bank became a heavy debtor at the Clearing House.
It will be remembered that Nelson Tappan, City Chamberlain of New York city; B. W. Spencer, treasurer of the Erie Railroad, and myself were directors of the bank, as later was also U. S. Grant, Jr. We constituted the younger element of the Board and worked together in connection with J. D. Fish, its president, to advance the bank's business and to keep up its standing.
Mr. Tappan had the placing of the city's money in the banks of New York, and, naturally, favored the Marine, and at times had a balance there of $1,500,000, when even the city's working bank, the Importers and Traders', would have much less.
Mr. Tappan was interested in speculation with the firm of Grant & Ward, and often when I wanted money in our business and it was difficult to get it in the street Mr. Tappan would make an additional deposit in the Marine Bank of city money for the express purpose of accommodating us, so that we could borrow from the bank. The City Chamberlain was not allowed to lend to brokers, but by depositing the city money in banks could in a roundabout way help the broker to procure loans. In this way Mr. Tappan not only helped to increase the interest account of the bank, but being interested with our firm in stocks we gave him the advantage of any information we might possess as to probably fluctuations in the market.
This also was the case with Mr. Spencer, treasurer of the Erie Railroad. He, too, kept a large balance in the Marine Bank, and, though much of his business consisted of out of town checks, still his balance was large and often an important factor.
Thus it was that we three, in connection with Mr. Fish, worked together to give the bank a good standing, and in this U. S. Grant, Jr., also did what he could, and although the capital of the bank was smaller than many, being only $400,000, and the deposits about $4,000,000, still for its size it did a business equal to many others of larger capital.
Helping the Bank
It was the custom of Mr. Tappan and myself to consult and act together in the bank. If the city, through Mr. Tappan, was compelled to draw heavily on its balance I would try to increase our balances, so that the deposit account of the bank might not be depleted and the earning power might be kept intact.
Again at times we all became large borrowers. Mr. Tappan on his personal account, Mr. Spencer on account of the Erie Railroad and myself on account of the transactions of the house of Grant & Ward. I never remember the time, however, when we paid less than six per cent per annum on loans. Often we paid in excess of that rate.
The remaining members of the Board were men much older than ourselves and of longer business experience, and no loans were ever made by the president that were not submitted to the full Board at its meetings held on Tuesday and Friday of each week. I say this, as at the time of our failure it was the aim of some of the directors to crawl out of the responsibility by saying they did not know of such loans being made. This was not a fact, for though Mr. Tappan and myself became quite a factor in the bank management, we never did a thing nor suggested a loan that was not submitted to the full Board.
Thus it will be seen that rather than the bank carrying Grant & Ward that firm, through General Grant, U. S. Grant, Jr., and myself, was doing much to increase the business of the bank. Had it not been for us and for Mr. Tappan and Mr. Spencer I fear the bank would have died of dry rot, for there was a dearth of active, pushing business men in its directorate aside from us.
I have gone thus at length in this matter to show how erroneous is the general idea that the firm of Grant & Ward deliberately undertook to wreck the Marine Bank, and I assert here boldly and with sincere truth that had any man told me a week before the Marine Bank closed its doors that the failure was imminent I would have regarded the assertion as ridiculous. Up to the time of its failure our balance in the Marine Bank was very large, averaging $100,000, and, though we were heavy borrowers at times, it was due to Mr. Tappan's deposits which he made for this purpose. I have many letters from Mr. Fish and Mr. Tappan bearing on this matter, which will show that it was not Grant & Ward alone who should bear the responsibility of the failure of the bank.
I have, therefore, often been asked what was the direct cause of the failure of the Marine Bank, and to this I frankly answer it was largely due to the fact that Mr. Tappan became ill and was confined to his house, and though he held the reins in his hands for some time and worked through his secretary from his home still the day came when his illness became so serious that the business of the office had to be turned over to others, and as soon as this became the case drafts were made on the Marine Bank to such an extent, and with such rapidity, that try as I might I could not help enough to avert the disaster.
Wall street was shaky and money was hard to get. The Marine Bank had large loans on securities on which it was impossible to realize quickly, and as the city was so persistent in its drafts it was more than the bank could stand.
General Grant, through his loan from William H. Vanderbilt of $150,000; Mr. Spencer, through his road, and our firm, through every channel available, endeavored to stem the tide with the hope that every day the city would let up of that Mr. Tappan would so far recover as to take up the reins of business and help us out.
The city's balance of $1,500,000 dwindled in a few days to less than $500,000. I was compelled not only to bolster up our account but had to manage my own business, involving millions in loans in other institutions, and, therefore, it is not surprising that a man of my years, then but little over thirty, should break down under the strain.
The Fatal Day
May 4, 1884, was the saddest day of my life, for it brought to me the death of my dearest hope, which was to see the firm of Grant & Ward become one of the greatest financial institutions of the age. I have now in my possession a correspondence, which has never yet met the public eye, that will uphold me in my assertion that rather than being a wrecker of the Marine Bank I did everything in my power by my own exertions and through others to avert that disaster.
Whatever may have been my business relations elsewhere it cannot be laid to my charge that I was [pg. 10] alone responsible for the failure of the Marine Bank. Although I had loans in that bank backed by securities that were not a quickly available asset and could not be used on a sudden emergency, yet when we come to look back and remember that the Marine Bank eventually paid some eighty cents on the dollar--a thing almost unprecedented in the history of bank failures--it will be seen that I was not so guilty as the public believed.
The fact is that in one instance the amount realized on a security deposited by the firm of Grant & Ward as collateral for a loan netted the Marine Bank so large a sum that it became a factor in the ultimate assets of the bank, and, as I have before said, if we could have checked the drafts of the city in even a moderate degree and if the Marine Bank could have held up its head for a few weeks longer, that disastrous failure as well as the failure of Grant & Ward would have been averted.
Thus it is shown how slight a matter as the temporary illness of one man will affect the history and future of a firm so well established as was ours.
Therefore, whatever might have been my indiscretion in the management of the affairs of the firm of Grant & Ward, I was not wholly responsible for the failure of the bank. I had the sole management of a business involving some $30,000,000, and had I been left unhampered I would have made it a great success, but besides this heavy responsibility I was burdened, with others, with the care of a bank the conduct and management of which should have been borne by its president and directors.
I have borne my burden as bravely as I could, trusting that time will lessen the stigma that has rested on me all these years in relation to this failure.
My greatest regret has been that it pleased the Divine Power to take away General U. S. Grant, for I feel that had he lived I could have convinced him that too much was expected of me in those days for one so young and inexperienced, and that I did what I did with a sincere belief that it would lead us to victory.
I know that many of my enemies will ridicule this statement, but I am ready and willing to meet any one of them with my evidence and feel confident that facts, figures and correspondence, which do not lie, will soon convince them that, though I bore the brunt of that failure and the punishment, the severity of such punishment was far beyond what I deserved when the responsibility and burden I bore are taken in consideration.
General Grant was a man fair in every respect and one who would stand by a friend, which fact was shown during his administration as President, and how happy would I be could I but have talked it all over with him before his death!
Did I Profit by the Failure?
It is a prevailing impression and belief that the failure of Grant & Ward brought the financial ruin of General Grant and necessitated his writing his book as a means of livelihood, and that I appropriated and concealed millions of dollars that belonged to others and thus precipitated the crash of the firm.
As to the fact that General Grant was ruined by this failure, I have already given expression of the truth and denial of this fact, so will say no more than that at the time of the failure General Grant was enjoying the substantial income of $12,500 a year, derived as interest at five per cent on $250,000 given to him by friends and invested in trust for his benefit, which fund was never touched, nor could it be by me, but was kept by certain trustees for General Grant's benefit, the income of which was paid to him annually during his life, and afterward, I believe, to his family. Although a comparison of this income to many of the present date shows it to be moderate, still how many of my readers would be made happy and content to-day with an income of $12,500 for life safely secured.
As to the impression that I had concealed large sums to be enjoyed later by me, I feel that time has done much to dispel this impression. Had the receiver of the firm of Grant & Ward so chosen I feel confident that this impression would have been destroyed years ago, for, though, like the rest of the firm, I lived in comparative luxury and spent money on personal pleasure, still I am willing to-day to compare such expenditures with any of the rest, as I feel sure the result will prove that money was in my case well and profitably spent and resulted in a large return to my creditors.
As to my having concealed assets or money with the express purpose of defrauding others and assuring to myself a future of wealth and ease, the fact is far from true, and I defy any man, the received included, to charge me with having concealed assets in any amount.
Had I chosen to do so I could have concealed assets and money to the amount of millions without the slightest effort. A few days before the failure of Grant & Ward I had in my possession $500,000 in United States government four per cent bonds, negotiable at any bank, and less than a week before the failure I had in my possession some $2,000,000 of New York city revenue bonds, also negotiable at par, and on which I could have borrowed $2,000,000 and more in cash without the slightest trouble.
This fact not only goes to show that it was far from my intention to wreck either the firm or the Marine Bank, but it also shows I had no idea that the firm or the bank would fail, but felt confident that we would weather the storm.
What money I spent after the failure was largely derived from the sale of certain jewels I possessed, as well as the sacrifice of my life insurance policies, which amounted to $50,000, and on which I received a large amount for surrender. I also received help from my friends and family, in one case receiving $5,000 and in another $3,000. The expense of my trial and confinement prior thereto were great, but every dollar of it came as I have stated, and not one cent did I take from the firm of Grant & Ward for that purpose.
It has always been a source of great comfort to me to feel that I am guiltless of this accusation, for rather than to deplete the assets of Grant & Ward it was ever my aim to increase them, and every dollar I possessed in person or real property I gladly and openly turned over to my assignees and to the receiver of Grant & Ward.
I am to-day a comparatively poor man, but, hard as it is to fight the battle of life, I am happy in the thought that those millions went elsewhere rather than to increase my wealth at the expense of others.
There is not a man living, to my knowledge, who was connected with me in business who is to-day in poorer financial circumstances than I, and not one who since that failure has had as little as I to spend on personal comfort and necessities.
I begrudge no man his share derived from the investments in that firm, but I frankly assert that had certain men come forward and reimbursed the firm with moneys they had taken unlawfully from it the receiver would have been enabled to pay a generous dividend on all liabilities.
I am glad I am poor, if only from the feeling of satisfaction it gives that I know I was strong enough not to be tempted to enrich myself at the expense of others.
Whatever I spent during the years between 1880 and 1884 was derived from investments entered into by me, such as the Evening Star Mine, the Wyandotte Water Works and certain personal ventures in real estate and stocks. This I am and ever have been prepared to prove. I believe General Grant felt this to be the fact and knew that, no matter what mistakes I had made, I did not rob the firm, but rather that I did everything in my power to save it from downfall. He was a just man, and no matter how he might have suffered, I believe he was fair in his judgment of me and realized what a burden I had carried along for those years.
Up to almost the last hour previous to our failure General Grant and I enjoyed that social intercourse that marked our acquaintance, and not for one moment did he indicate by word or act any lessening of interest in me or in the interests I had in charge. Not only by day at our office was this the case, but also a few evenings previous to the failure I enjoyed a visit at his house, when, as often before, we discussed topics of the day in that free and hearty manner that exists among friends. He knew I was ever anxious to listen, and I feel that the realization of this fact and the confidence he had in my friendship prompted him to talk more freely with me than with many others.
It was while we were resting in blissful ignorance of the disaster so immediately impending that General Grant outlined to me ideas held by him on matters that were then of national importance, as, indeed, they are at the present time.
Grover Cleveland had recently been elected Governor of New York by an overwhelming majority and was the presumptive candidate of his party, for the Presidency. It was natural, then, that General Grant should devote much thought to the subjects that were likely to determine the national campaign which was then opening.
In his conversation with me General Grant advocated a larger rather than a decreased national debt. Another subject that was of great interest to him was the possibility, and indeed the advisability, of a change in the form of government of Great Britain from a limited monarchy to a republic. The equalization of taxes in England, a subject that is now of first importance abroad, had been made a special study by General Grant, and concerning that he frequently spoke thoughtfully to me.
As I will undertake to show, General Grant's patriotism was always foremost, and the thing he advocated was the thing that he believed to be the best for the country in which he gloried.
New York Herald (magazine section), Jan. 9, 1910, p. 2
Grant Was the Only One to Give Aid
Mr. Ward herewith presents the fourth chapter of his story of the failure of Grant & Ward and the memorable collapse of the Marine Bank.
When the public contrasts the treatment General Grant received from some of his best friends with that which he received at my hands they will not be slow in discovering that his only enemies were not those with whom he was openly associated.
Instead of being one to induce him to enter into extremely risky transactions, I was really a restrainer, and in many cases persuaded him not to go into ventures which he brought into our office and in which he had implicit faith, born of the assurances of friends who knew that even with his connection they were extremely doubtful and without it absolutely hopeless.
This being the case, General Grant innocently and from no fault of his own, other than an implicit faith in those he had reason to believe were his best friends, became indirectly a factor in the failure of the house.
I remember well when the Northern Pacific Railroad had completed its extension to the Far West how General Grant was induced to join a party of prominent financiers in the first trip over the road, and how after returning he came to the office full of enthusiasm over what he thought and was led to believe was one of the greatest successes of the age. He told me one of his friends in the Street had consented to let him have a block of some 3,000 shares of the stock at a figure, and that this friend had guaranteed him against loss.
I told the General that in the first place I could not see where an extension of the road through a wild and as yet unproductive country could show any increase in its earning power for some years to come, even though its builders had procured valuable concessions from the government along the line. I also told him that to carry such a large block of stock meant a heavy investment on our part, as it would necessitate our putting up at least thirty to forty per cent as margin on any loans we might be able to get on the stock. I also told him I did not look for any appreciable advance in the stock for some time, but in fact that after the enthusiasm had calmed thinking investors would hesitate before putting their money in a stock from which there was little hope of dividends in the near future.
I also told him that although the party giving the guarantee was without a doubt at present eminently responsible, still Wall street was an uncertain place and we could not tell from week to week what might come up to weaken the seemingly strongest houses. I urged him to wait till matters became more settled, but he felt that he was right, as his friends were in a position to know, and rather than discuss the matter further I consented to the stock being sent in, and it was. I managed through various houses and by putting up large margins to carry it, but I could not bring myself to believe that any advance would follow in the stock and this believe so grew upon me that I decided to personally sell a block short, so that in case the stock went down I could at least save a portion of the loss.
Closed Out at a Loss
This I did, and although for a time the stock held its own, soon it began to drop and to such a degree that I was compelled to add additional securities to the loan I had procured for the firm on General Grant's stock. This decline continued and after a time became so serious that I persuaded General Grant to go to his friend and get him to take back the stock. This he did in part, and I closed out my short sale at such a profit that our loss was comparatively small, but had I not done this we would have suffered a heavy loss, which might have been embarrassing, as the person giving the guarantee was badly weakened by the drop also and finally had to sell out his holdings.
I give this instance simply to show that General Grant's friends were not always right and I found it necessary very often to restrain the General from this overconfidence in investments.
Then, again, during all this time, and in fact during the entire time of his connection with the firm of Grant & Ward, General Grant drew $2,000 a month from the firm and in course of the four years had drawn some $200,000 altogether, which represented his regular draft of $2,000 a month besides various investments of profits made outside the firm on his personal account.
The General, though not extravagant himself, still had extravagant relatives and it was his delight to give them every happiness at no matter what expense. His life in the White House had accustomed them to luxury and it became a part of all to look for and expect it, and as I was the only one to whom he looked for funds (other than the interest on the trust fund mentioned earlier in this article) it devolved upon me to get what money he needed and at all times he called for it.
He was different as a partner from what a man of thorough business training could be, and besides the high position he held throughout the country impelled me to see that he did not want for money, and though at times I was closely pressed for funds and had to borrow at high rates of interest I never said "No," but simply let him have what he needed. I know for this I may be, and have been, severely censured, but I defy any man who knew General Grant as I knew him to have denied him anything reasonable.
Had General Grant known the true position of affairs and appreciated the difficulty I was having in carrying the several investments made by him and his sons, besides the regular business of the firm and the constant bolstering of the Marine Bank, I am sure he would have denied himself rather than embarrass me. I was young and had no experienced adviser to counsel with me, and, filled with hope and ambition, I felt sure things would right themselves in time, so borrowed money at enormous rates.
I often suggested to U. S. Grant, Jr., and Mr. Fish that we let our profits accumulate and so create a surplus against which we might charge those losses when they occurred. But to this they would not agree, and each month I was compelled to credit each member of the firm with his share, so that when depression came, having no surplus, I was compelled to borrow to sustain our investments.
In Losing Ventures
U. S. Grant, Jr., in his investments in a Mexican mine contracted a heavy loss for the firm, and, in fact, few of the investments brought by him into the firm proved profitable. It was entirely through him and General Grant that we got into the Belmont Coal Company, by which we made a heavy loss. So, too, with the West Shore Railroad and the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad investments, by which we lost heavily.
I do not intend by stating these facts in any way to reflect upon General Grant's business methods, but simply to show that innocently on his part I was burdened with a load of responsibility heavier than I should have been expected to bear. Then, too, as I have already stated, I had the burden of the Marine Bank largely on my hands. Although I was borrowing large sums from the bank on securities as well as notes, still I was compelled to pay the bank six percent on all loans and in many cases an additional commission of considerable proportion, and was likewise expected to keep up a large balance in the bank. Besides this I was paying to Mr. Tappan a large commission for balances left in the bank of the city money.
So it can be seen that, with these constant drafts for profits and losses by poor investments, I was compelled to do one of two things, either to fall or obtain funds at high, ruinous rates. I should have chosen the former, but my pride in the house led me to the latter course and to ruin.
During these years I was forced to pay from fifteen to twenty per cent a month for money, and as we were borrowing millions the reader can see that unless some unforeseen event arose whereby I could make a large profit I was bound to fall; and so, as I said before, had the Marine Bank held out a short time longer, until I could have culminated the deal with the city on the Ramapo contract, I would have been in funds to take up these outside notes on which I was paying such exorbitant rates and so avert the crash.
It was with this hope that I made every effort in my power to bolster the bank and applied to Spencer, Tappan and others to help me. At the time I failed $300,000 worth of securities was found in my vault, but, though perfectly good, still from the fact that they were not quoted on the Stock Exchange I could not use them as collateral.
On May 2, 1884 (two days before the failure), I went to Mr. Spencer, of the Erie Railroad (a co-director with me in the Marine Bank), and told him I feared the bank would go under unless we all worked to help it. I told him Tappan was drawing and I was doing everything in my power, and asked him what he could do, as I knew he was a large borrower at the bank, and, besides, that he was interested with me in the Erie Railroad's financial matters. He wrote a letter to E. H. Mead, of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, asking him to make Grant & Ward a loan of $150,000 on Buffalo, New York and Pennsylvania Railroad bonds, which I had in my vault, so that I could but the money in the bank and so help out, but on the same date Mr. Mead answered that he could do nothing.
Grant Alone Responds
I also met Senator S. B. Elkins at his club the day before the failure and stated the matter plainly to him, as I knew he was a great friend of the Grants and I wanted him to know how matters stood. I then asked him if he could not obtain a loan of $150,000 for us, and he said he would try, but he did not do it. I then went, as formerly stated, to General Grant, and placed the matter before him and got the $150,000 from Mr. Vanderbilt, but it was not enough.
So it can be seen that although I stated the position of affairs frankly to several of those most interested in the welfare of the firm of Grant & Ward, as well as the Marine Bank, and to some of whom I had paid large profits, still not one, except General Grant, responded. Had these various men of whom I have spoken in this article some to the rescue of the Marine Bank with, say, $400,000 at that time, it would not only have saved the bank from failure but also the house of Grant & Ward. Inside of two months I would have culminated the deal with the city on the Ramapo water works and so we would have gained our feet and doubtless been in business to-day. But the tendency on the part of every one, except General Grant, was to stand aside and let matters take their course.
These others had nothing to lose and they had already gained substantial profits, so seemed to care but little. Even the directors of the Marine Bank, whose first interests should have been to save that institution, simply sat still and saw it go under.
On April 2, 1884, one month prior to the failure of the bank, a committee of the bank's directors, composed of some of its oldest and substantial members of long standing, examined all the loans and reported the condition of the bank sound. At that time Grant & Ward had some $400,000 of unsecured loans with them, and when the crash came they took advantage of the universal censure heaped upon me, and when called upon for an explanation held up their hands and blamed me for everything.
So, too, with another well known man. I can produce copies of receipts given to him for sums amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, on which he was deriving from fifteen to twenty per cent a month profit, yet when the failure came he too took advantage of the public sentiment that was expressed against me, and cast on my shoulders all the onus of the business that had proved of so great a profit to himself. This was also the case of many others, all of whom had participated in these enormous profits, in some cases amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the crash came they crouched behind the protecting arm of public sentiment and left me to bear the burden alone.
But of all the men with whom I was associated the one single exception was General Grant. True to his principle of sympathy for the under dog, yet in no way condoning anything I had done that was wrong, he always felt that had those to whom I had shown favors come to my rescue at that time matters would have ended favorably.
Can any fair minded reader believe that these men of years of financial business experience, some of whom stood high in the commercial world, thought those enormous profits of fifteen to twenty per cent a month were legitimate? No, not one. Most of them had drawn out more than they had put in and were willing to go on, asking no questions and hoping to be able to pull out more, no matter whence it came.
The Silent Trip
To illustrate this, I would again refer to the trip we took to the Kinsua Viaduct at the invitation of the Erie Railroad. The party consisted of General U. S. Grant, Franklin Edson, Mayor of New York city; J. N. Tappan, City Chamberlain; Colonel F. D. Grant, James D. Fish, president of the Marine Bank; E. W. Spencer, treasurer of the Erie Railroad; James R. Smith, director of the Marine Bank, and myself.
Every member of this party, with the exception of General Grant and Mayor Edson, was interested with me in this twenty per cent a month business, and in many cases to the extent of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yet during that entire trip, lasting three days, not one man mentioned to another the fact of his interests, nor did they consult on the matter. Not even my partners and Mr. Fish and U. S. Grant, Jr., said one word to one another or to the rest of the party about the matter, and the reader can imagine what the result would have been had they talked the matter over with General Grant. The fact was, they were enjoying their profits, caring little whence they came.
This trip was in November, 1883, some five months prior to the failure of Grant & Ward, and had the matter then been discussed by that party and the truth become known as to the extent of these loans I believe means could have been devised to adjust matters so that the failure could have been averted.
Mr. Fish was carrying our notes to the extent of half a million dollars, on which, besides his regular $2,000 a month from the firm, he was getting twenty per cent a month, and yet he never to my knowledge consulted either General Grant or U. S. Grant, Jr., as to the nature of a business which could pay such enormous rates. At the time of our failure he had received $700,000 profit. It would, therefore, seem natural that with such enormous amounts at stake he would have looked into the source from which such profits were derived.
During my business career in the firm I drew some $625,000, of which amount I invested $73,442.35 in my house and furniture in Stamford, $21,330.91 in houses in Brooklyn, $102,395.64 in my house and furniture in Brooklyn, $142,517.14 in the purchase with Mr. Fish of the old Booth Theatre property in Twenty-third street, $13,000 in my South street house in Stamford and $22,216.07 in Madison avenue real estate, leaving about $250,000 as the expenses of my living for four years. All these various investments were turned over to my creditors, while neither Mr. Fish nor U. S. Grant, Jr., as I understand, turned over anything to the firm's creditors, although Fish's profits were far in excess of mine, and Mr. Grant's very large. General Grant's profits were largely used in personal living and expenses and were much smaller in amount than the rest.
After my release from prison I went to J. T. Davies, the receiver of Grant & Ward, and asked him if I might be allowed to examine the papers in his possession found by him in the office of Grant & Ward when he took possession, but was met with the curt reply that everything pertaining to the receivership had been settled up and these papers either sold or destroyed. I assumed that the desire was to let the whole matter die a natural death from old age. Mr. Davies was made receiver against my openly expressed wish and for reasons best known to myself, but I was overruled by my partners in this matter. I would give a good deal to-day to get possession of those papers, and cannot see by what authority they were destroyed or sold.
Had the firm of Grant & Ward been successful, which it would have been but for the series of unforeseen and unlooked for circumstances, those interested in the house would have been proud to claim every dollar made by the transactions in which we were engaged, and not one of them would have seen anything wrong in its methods.
Here also is where General Grant showed himself to be fair, if at his own expense. He came to me a few days after the failure and told me to be brave, and from that time on I did everything in my power to right that part of the wrong for which I was guilty and bore my punishment as patiently as I could, braced up with the feeling that General Grant, though saddened by the failure of our firm, was fair in his judgment of me and realized the pressure that was brought to bear on one so young. Innocent as he was of any complicity in the firm's transactions, he was generous enough to make allowance for me in my trying position as the sole custodian of those millions.
New York Herald (magazine section), Jan. 16, 1910, p. 2
General Grant's Dinner to President Diaz
Early in April, 1883, General Grant informed me that it was his desire and intention to give a dinner to General Diaz, President of Mexico, who was then visiting New York city. During General Grant's visit to Mexico on his trip around the world he and General Diaz became close friends, and General Grant desired to show his appreciation of the courtesies extended to him by General Diaz while in Mexico.
The time and place for the dinner were discussed between us, and April 4 was selected as the day and the Union League Club as the place, and it was also decided to place the affair in the hands of Delmonico, who was instructed to spare no expense to make it an affair in keeping with the high standing of the guests. The menus were unique and most elaborate, consisting of maroon velvet, on which were painted the flags of American and Mexico. The first page gave a picture of General Diaz, the second a colored map of Mexico, the third the menu of the dinner and the fourth the list of the guests, of which there were thirty.
Among the guests were General Diaz, Señor Manuel Romaro, father-in-law of the President; Roscoe Conkling, Mayor Franklin Edson, of New York; Thomas L. James, John W. Foster, United States Minister to Spain; Jay Gould, Russell Sage, A. L. Sullivan, Colonel Frederick D. Grant, General Horace Porter, Clarence Seward, H. W. Alexander, Nelson A. Tappan, City Chamberlain, and others, including myself.
This was my first experience at a dinner of such importance, and you may rest assured I enjoyed every minute of it, with the exception of a very few when, much to my surprise and embarrassment, General Grant called upon me for a speech. You may imagine how I felt when, after listening to the brilliant speeches and quick, witty repartee of such men as Senator Conkling, Horace Porter, Clarence Seward, H. E. Alexander and others, I was called upon to speak.
I tried my best to be excused, but the General would not have it. I simply made a few remarks and sat down, or rather fell back in my chair, conscious of having made a poor showing in contrast with those who had come before me. It was a trying place to put a young man of my years and of no experience in public speaking, but still I always appreciated the honor shown to me when, at the head of the table, this great General, surrounded by some of the leading men of the times, called upon his junior partner for a few remarks. It showed how ever thoughtful he was and how sincere was our friendship.
How often have I sat along and thought of that night, and memory has brought back the pleasure experienced by us all in listening to the speeches of these great men, cementing the friendly relations that have ever since existed between Mexico and the United States. General Grant was at his best, and so also was General Diaz, both of whom seemed to enter fully into the spirit of the occasion.
As a further illustration, however, of the General's disregard of ways and means, a week or so later he handed to me bills amounting to something less that $2,000, representing the cost of the dinner, with a request that I pay and charge to his account. This I of course did, as I would not mar the pleasure he derived from that entertainment by the least hesitation in granting his request, although this, like many other demands, necessitated my procuring the funds at whatever sacrifice. When it came to money I was expected to supply what was necessary.
My partner, Mr. Fish, unlike General Grant, had a passion for the theatre and was a constant attendant at the various plays and became intimately acquainted with many of the prominent actors and actresses of the day, as well as the managers, and often brought various ones to the office and introduced them to me.
Real Estate Transations
One day he sent to me to come to the bank, which I did, and he then introduced me to Rudolph Aronson, who at that time was interested in the building of the Casino, Thirty-ninth street and Broadway. A company had been incorporated and funds raised on stock, but when the authorized stock issue had been taken and the money expended it was found it was not sufficient to carry it to completion, so Mr. Aronson had come to Mr. Fish for financial aid and Mr. Fish sent for me to talk it over as a private investment.
I did not much favor it, but Mr. Fish and Mr. Aronson were so enthusiastic and gave such glowing accounts of the money to be made in theatre property that I finally consented to join them, so Mr. Fish vision, and I was compelled to hire a man to look $100,000 of first mortgage bonds on the building. The building was built on leased ground owned by the Bixby estate.
This investment placed on my shoulders the care and responsibility of the theatre, which, though managed by Mr. Aronson, was under my personal supervision and I was compelled to hire a man to look after it--take the receipts nightly and pay all bills and expenses. This investment proved, however, to be all right, as with Miss Lillian Russell as the star, who was then in her first success as a star and whose salary, $500 a week, was for that day a high figure, we made money and netted a fair income. Still, at times I was compelled to furnish funds in large amounts to carry it on.
Then, too, Mr. Fish asked me to join in the purchase of the old Booth Theatre Building, which was located at Twenty-third street and Sixth avenue. We bought it from the Oakes-Ames estate, of Boston, for $500,000, and after putting a mortgage of $400,000 on the property we tore down the theatre and built the business building which is still standing. The entire cost to Mr. Fish and myself over and above the mortgage was about $350,000, and I, of course, had to pay half of this, which was a severe strain on my resources. Still I felt that this was a good investment and would prove of profit to us both in the future. This proved the case, and after our failure I understand the property sold for more than $1,000,000, thus netting quite a sum to my creditors.
The Booth Theatre in its day was, of course, the home of the highest class of drama America had known and the enterprise was the pride of Mr. Booth's life. When it became known that Mr. Fish and I had purchased the property and that the theatre was to give place to a business block we were regarded as iconoclasts and came in for much censure.
Mr. Fish and I attended the last performance that was ever given in the Booth Theatre. We sat in a box together, and were more amused than disturbed when one of the actors--not Mr. Booth, but a member of his company whose name has escaped me--advanced to the footlights between acts and in Mr. Booth's behalf bade the audience a last farewell. He denounced Mr. Fish and myself as men of deep avarice and predicted that our enterprise would be a failure.
I personally built the water system in Wyandotte, Kan., at a cost of $100,000, which looked to me as a good investment, and which after our failure netted a profit of nearly $1,000,000 to my creditors, and as much of this stock was held by the Marine National Bank for loans made to me personally it proved one of the most valuable assets to the bank and did much toward that institution paying such large dividends to its depositors.
Then, too, through my investments in the Evening Star Mine, in Leadville, the company organized by a few of us and managed by my brother, I netted a profit of $100,000. Thus it may be seen that had I not been burdened by losses brought about through investments made by my partners that proved unprofitable, and had they, too, made profitable investments, as were mine, I would not have been compelled to borrow money at such exorbitant rates, but would rather have been a lender than a borrower.
I state these facts, all of which I am prepared to corroborate by documentary evidence, simply to show that my every aim was to build up rather than tear down the house with which I was connected.
As I have said before, I put no blame on General Grant, as he was not acquainted with business, but I do feel I should have had more help from those who, experienced as they were in business, should have brought to the firm the same share of profits that I did.
One day General Grant came into the office and said the Emperor of Japan had sent a present to him and that a deputation from that country was to be at his house that night to make the presentation, and asked that Mrs. Ward and I come over. The invitation I gladly accepted, and at about eight o'clock we seated ourselves with the family and several of General Grant's friends in the parlor of his house, in Sixty-sixth street, where we enjoyed one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever had the pleasure to witness.
We grouped ourselves at one end of the large drawing room, and, having done so, the General expressed himself as ready to receive the royal embassy. And then there entered some eight or ten Japanese, dressed in the style of their country, and with them came the royal ambassador, who was to make the presentation.
His robes were the most beautiful I ever saw, being of dark silk embroidered in silver and gold and with the proverbial dragon extending the whole length of the back. This robe was held up by retainers, and preceding the wearer was a page bearing in his arms a box made of one of the largest pieces of bamboo I ever saw, being at least ten inches in circumference and about eighteen inches long. This was beautifully lacquered in silver and gold and was split through the centre and had hinges and a lock and key, and was lined with beautiful Japanese silk.
At the command of the Ambassador the box was opened and he took from it a scroll from which he read in the Japanese language the presentation message direct from the Emperor, which was interpreted to General Grant and to which the General made a most grateful reply.
The present consisted of three large cases of very old Japanese china of a pattern much used and valued by royalty in that country. After the ceremony and presentation were over and we had enjoyed the hospitality of the General in the way of an appropriate dinner and the embassy had left, we all went downstairs to the billiard room, where the boxes were opened and their contents examined. It proved to be a set of china of, I should say, not less than five hundred or six hundred pieces, all the same style and pattern, but very odd in shape and color. It was, indeed, a rare set, but to my inexperienced eye not to compare with some of our home products.
General Grant, with his usual generosity, presented small sets to each of us, and I assure you I valued mine beyond mention, not only as coming, as it did, from that wonderful country, but also from the fact that it was given to me by General Grant, whose first thought after receiving it was that we, his friends, should share with him in its possession.
After the failure of Grant & Ward my effects were sold, and among other things was this china ware received by General Grant and in turn presented to me. I do not know who purchased this china at the sale, but had it been known in what circumstances I had received it and from whom it came no doubt it would have brought its weight in gold.
Another Little Poker Incident
It was the custom in our weekly poker games when any member of the party ran out of chips to borrow an additional $50 worth from some more fortunate player and hand the party from whom he borrowed the chips some little article from his pocket, like a knife or bunch of keys. And when the game was over he would redeem it with cash. This was called a "buck," and always stood for $50 in settlement.
General Grant always carried a beautiful gold match box which was given to him by one of the royal families in Europe and which we all of us greatly admired and would have given much to possess, not so much from its intrinsic value but as a souvenir of our honored friend.
It was the General's custom whenever he ran out of chips to put up this match box as a "buck," which represented his debt of $50 to whoever had it. On several occasions when the game came to a close the player who happened to hold the General's "buck" would say nothing about it, hoping the General would forget to call for it, though its money value was not great.
But this was never the case, for though the holder sat in silence and no suggestion was made as to its redemption, still the General never forgot and would look around the table in his jovial, quiet way and ask who had his "buck," at the same time producing the cash for its redemption. It became a universal joke with us all that some time one of us would get that match box, at which the General would laugh and say he never forgot a debt and especially a poker debt, and when he paid the collateral must be forthcoming.
Some of General Grant's Presents
A description of some of the beautiful presents given to General Grant on his memorable trip around the world may be of interest to the reader, so I will, as best I can, try to describe some of them.
One of the most beautiful, to me, was a piece of ivory, I should say from twelve to fifteen inches long and seven or eight inches wide. It was carved in a transparent lace pattern of great beauty, which, when laid out on a blank surface or placed against the light showed every detail of a most intricate pattern. The most wonderful feature about this piece of ivory was that it was so thin that it could be rolled up like a sheet of paper without danger of cracking.
Another beautiful present was a set of chessmen and board. The board was made of inlaid mother of pearl, with the squared from six to seven inches wide, while the pieces were carved in ivory and stood from twelve to eighteen inches in height. These were all carved from the solid ivory in the most delicate fashion, the kings and queens being portrayed in royal attire, the bishops in their clerical garb, the knights on horseback, the castles, or rooks, represented by beautifully carved elephants and the pawns as court pages. This set when placed on the table or floor presented the most beautiful appearance and workmanship rarely seen in this country.
I remember an elephant's tusk, one of the largest then in this country, on the surface of which was carved a descriptive scene of one of the battles of the War of the Rebellion, with a figure of General Grant easily distinguishable and recognizable. I do not remember from whom this tusk came, but judge it was from some African dignitary.
The collection of carved meerschaum pipes and cigar holders was indeed interesting. I judge there must have been from twenty to thirty of them, of all shapes and sizes and of most beautiful workmanship. I reemmber [sic] one pipe especially. The bowl consisted of General Grant's head carved in meerschaum, with his army hat on, an opening in the top of which made the bowl of the pipe.
A present that took my eye and which General Grant kindly gave to me was a small gold handled pocket knife with "U. S. Grant" engraved on the outside. General Grant visited the Sheffield works in England, and as he and his party started to walk around the works the manager at the same time started the making of this knife, and as the party passed along, so also did the knife. So when the finishing room of the factory was reached this knife was handed to General Grant, completed and his name engraved on it. I valued this souvenir very much and carried it constantly for three years, but unfortunately I lost it and would give a liberal reward if the finder would return it to me, for I valued it very highly.
Present of the Tsar
Painted silk fans executed by some of the great artists and mounted on the most delicate and beautiful ivory and tortoise shell, and also fans of ostrich feathers, as well as the feathers of rare foreign bird, were there, as I might say, by the dozen.
The Tsar of Russia presented General Grant with a Russian sable coat which reached from the neck to the ground and had large, flowing bishop sleeves. This was the most beautiful piece of sable I ever saw, and cost an enormous sum. General Grant never wore it, as he felt it was too conspicuous, so rather than have it remain unused he had it cut up, and it was the good fortune of my wife to receive a muff cut from this coat as a present from the General. This she kept with the utmost care until it was worn out.
Then, too, came those caskets of beautiful workmanship in which were presented to General Grant the "freedom of the cities" which he visited. There were many of these, and every city seemed to vie with the others to make the caskets especially fitting to the occasion.
It would be impossible in the short space that this article affords for me to describe one-half of the hundreds of beautiful and odd presents this collection contained, but the extent of it can be imagined when I state that it took four or five large cases in which to display these gifts, and even then they were somewhat crowded. Rare china, cut glass, works of art, books, pictures and all sorts of embroidered tapestries and the finest laces were there.
To examined them carefully and head General Grant's description whence they came was a great treat, and now that he has passed away I feel it would be a great privilege to the people of this country if his children, who I presume still possess these treasures, would consent to an exhibition of them in New York in order that the present generation might see to what an extent this great General was honored and loved by the people of the world.
There is a general but very erroneous impression that this collection was surrendered by General Grant to William H. Vanderbilt in payment of the loan of $150,000 made by Mr. Vanderbilt to the General on the eve of our failure. But this to a certain degree is untrue. General Grant, I believe, did surrender a few of his army relics--such as swords, guns, &c.--to Mr. Vanderbilt, who at once presented them to the government, to be kept in Washington as relics of the war, but aside from this I judge this great collection has been kept intact by the Grant family.
I had many of these beautiful things presented to my wife and myself from time to time by General Grant, consisting of embroideries, tapestries and works of art, but unfortunately the storehouses in which I had them was burned and I lost them all.