Ulysses S. Grant





James B. Fry (1827-1894)

Fry was a classmate of Grant's at West Point and was an artillery specialist who served in the Mexican-American War. He served as chief of staff to General Irvin McDowell in the Army of the Potomac and to General Don Carlos Buell in the Army of the Cumberland before he was appointed Provost-Marshal-General on March 17, 1863.

One afternoon in June, 1843, while I was at West Point, a candidate for admission to the Military Academy, I wandered into the riding hail, where the members of the graduating class were going through their final mounted exercises before a large assemblage of spectators. When the regular services were completed, the class, still mounted, was formed in line through the center of the hall, the riding-master placed the leaping-bar higher than a man's head, and called out "Cadet Grant!"

A clean-faced, slender, blue-eyed young fellow, weighing about 120 pounds, dashed from the ranks on a powerfully built chestnut-sorrel horse, and galloped down the opposite side of the hall. As he turned at the farther end and came into the straight stretch across which the bar was placed, the horse increased his pace, and, measuring his strides for the great leap before him, bounded into the air and cleared the bar, carrying his rider as if man and beast had been welded together. The spectators were breathless! "Very well done, sir!" growled "old Hershberger," the riding-master, and the class was dismissed and disappeared; but "Cadet Grant" remained a living image in my memory.

A few months before graduation, one of Grant's classmates, James A. Hardie, said to his friend and instructor, "Well, sir, if a great emergency arises in this country during our life-time, Sam Grant will be the man to meet it." If I had heard Hardie's prediction I doubt not I should have believed in it, for I thought the young man who could perform the feat of horsemanship I had witnessed, and wore a sword, could do anything.

I was in General Grant's room in New York City on the 25th of May, 1885. Forty years had elapsed since Hardie's prediction was made, and it had been amply fulfilled. But, alas, the hand of death was upon the hero of it. Though brave and cheerful, he was almost voiceless. Before him were sheets of his forthcoming book, and a few artist's proofs of a steel engraving of himself made from a daguerreotype taken soon after his graduation. He wrote my name and his own upon one of the engravings and handed it to me.

I said, "General, this looks as you did the first time I ever saw you. It was when you made the great jump in the riding exercises of your graduation."

"Yes," he whispered, "I remember that very well. York was a wonderful horse. I could feel him gathering under me for the effort as he approached the bar. Have you heard anything lately of Hershberger ?"

I replied, "No, I never heard of him after he left West Point years ago." "Oh," said the general, "I have heard of him since the war. He was in Carlisle, old and poor, and I sent him a check for fifty dollars." This early friendship had lived for forty years, and the old master was enabled to say near the close of his pupil's career, as he had said at the beginning of it, "Very well done, sir!"

During the period of Grant's official authority, I saw but little of him. I was not one of the so-called "Grant men" of the army. It was not until we were near neighbors in New York City, in 1881-5, that I became well acquainted with him. At that time he was out of office, and the third term movement to restore him to the Presidency had failed. My acquaintance began with the cadet. It matured with the general, and was not disturbed by partiality or interest.

Grant was always free from arrogance of office, but in the little I had seen of him, prior to 1881, I had not been able to get through the crust of his natural reserve or diffidence, and I was behind those who knew him well, in my estimate of his character and ability. By constant and free personal relations with him for the last three or four years of his life, and a fuller study of his career, I caught up and perceived the soundness of the exalted public judgment of this remarkable man. It may be said, without detracting from his merits, that perhaps a knowledge of his many good and great deeds has tended to make it somewhat the fashion, since Grant's death, to try and lift him above all the imperfections of men.

The sounder view is that he was not free from human frailties, but was great in spite of them. He was what military men call "unsoldierly" in feeling, bearing, and appearance; yet he was a great general, and the most essential trait of soldiership, obedience, was next to a religion with him. He knew the value of discipline in an army, but he had neither taste nor aptitude for establishing or enforcing it, and instinctively relied more upon the man than upon the soldier. He loved and cherished his army associations above all others, but did, not like the profession of arms.

In an interview with him last winter, I alluded to his lack of fondness for purely military affairs, when he selected a sheet from the proofs which lay before him, and as evidence of his taste, pointed to a statement inside, to the effect that soon after he entered the army, in 1843, he reviewed his West Point studies, in order to prepare himself for a professorship in some institution of learning and leave the military service. In disposition, Grant was patient, kind, and considerate. In manner, he was natural, quiet, and unassuming, somewhat diffident, but not bashful or awkward. He had no readiness in showing off; on the contrary, his acquirements did not appear until forced to the front, and then they showed him off without his knowing it. He was well educated, but it is probably true that the first impression he made upon strangers was that he was a plain man without elements of greatness.

A closer acquaintance, however, hardly ever failed to create firm belief in his extraordinary reserve power. While truth, courage, tenacity, and self-reliance were his ruling traits, he had but little pride of opinion. He did not hesitate in choosing the best course, no matter who proposed it; and in military affairs he would execute a plan prescribed by higher authority with as much vigor and fidelity as if it had been his own. He did not trouble himself about the past or the future, but concentrated all his faculties upon the matter he was at the moment called upon by his duty to deal with. Neither responsibility, nor turmoil, nor danger, nor pleasure, nor pain, impaired the force of his resolution, or interrupted the steady flow of his intellect.

The war is full of illustrations of his bravery and determination of character, and of his self-reliance and self-possession under trying circumstances. History does not record a more heroic personal effort than the one he made in writing a book, when he was in agony and on the verge of the grave, to rescue his family from the misfortunes that had befallen them. Grant possessed some humor, and occasionally told a story, but rarely indulged in figures of speech, and did not exaggerate or emphasize even for the purpose of illustration. If he had any imagination it was kept under by his habit of literal truth. He abhorred the use of expletives. He would not have indulged in profane language even if he had possessed no religious scruples on the subject.

Though he was not without temper and resentment, he was so patient and matter-of-fact, that he never felt inclined to damn things, as men, when sorely tried, sometimes do. In congenial company he conversed with pleasure and fluency, but he felt no obligation to talk for the mere purpose of entertaining the persons in his presence. He spoke only because he had something to tell. Having no regard for forms of expression, he never, in writing or speaking, turned sentences for effect, nor could he dissemble or use words to mislead. If he did not wish to express his thoughts he was silent, and left people to draw their own inferences.

He had unlimited faith in those whom he once took to his heart. His friendship was accompanied by the fullest confidence, and, when his choice was not wisely made, it served to facilitate and to shield evil practices, which it is the duty of that high sentiment to restrain; and thus Grant's friendship sometimes injured him who gave and him who received it. It was a principle with him never to abandon a comrade "under fire," and a friend in disgrace, as well as a friend in trouble, could depend upon him until Grant himself found him guilty.

I called upon Grant on Sunday evening, May 4, 1883, the day that he borrowed the hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Vanderbilt. He was very cheerful, and said to me, "I expect to have a game of cards on Tuesday night, and would be glad to have you come." As I was taking my leave he repeated the invitation, but thinking the meeting might depend upon further arrangements, as sometimes happened, I thanked him, and said I would hold myself subject to his call. "No," he replied, "don't wait for further notice. Ward is certainly coming, and the party is made."

On Tuesday morning, about 11 o'clock, I met Grant by chance in a car going downtown. He was upon crutches on account of the accident he had met with some time before. He talked about persons and events of the war, without restraint, and was so much interested in conversation that he failed to get out at the station he intended. As he left the car he said, "I shall expect you tonight." By a singular coincidence we fell into the same car going up-town about 3 o'clock, and I again seated myself by his side.

After a few minutes of gloomy silence on his part, he said, "We will not have the meeting I fixed for tonight; I have bad news." I replied, "Why, general, I hope it is nothing serious." "Yes," he continued, "the Marine Bank has failed or is about to fail. It owes our firm a large amount, and I suppose we are ruined. When I went downtown this morning I thought I was worth a great deal of money, now I don't know that I have a dollar; and probably my sons, too, have lost everything."

I had heard nothing of the financial crash which had occurred during the day. I said, "General, do you suspect Ward?" He replied, "You know I expected him at my house tonight. If he had come to the office any time today and assured me all was right, I should have believed him and gone home contented. But I waited until nearly 3 o'clock, and he did not appear. I do not know what to think."

He was not willing even then to accuse the knave in whom he had confided, and prior to that time, notwithstanding warnings which would have aroused a dishonest man, had no suspicion that villainy had been practiced. After he became aware of the truth, three or four days passed before the enormity of the disaster made its full impression upon him, but he never recovered from the shock of the deception and wrong practiced upon him by one of the basest creatures of the age.

Grant's self-reliance and integrity were so deeply seated and highly developed that it was difficult for him to make the wishes and opinions of others the basis of his own action in public affairs. Hence, though long a controlling factor in politics, he never was a politician. Destitute of the simplest arts of deception, silence was his recourse when urged to action he did not approve. Hence he was called silent, and sometimes even stolid.

Grant wrote with remarkable facility. His war papers are not only his own composition, but many of them are in his own handwriting. Grant showed but little interest in abstruse subjects, and rarely took part in the discussion of them. His conversation was always marked by simplicity, and freedom from vanity, vainglory, and mock-modesty. His excellent memory was a store-house upon which he drew for the interesting reminiscences which formed the staple of his conversation.

He was wise, but, having no gifts as a debater, he could not shine in council. It was his nature or his habit, as stated, to concentrate his mind upon subjects which required his own action, or for which he was responsible. Mr. George Childs (Grant's neighbor in Long Branch, New Jersey) has said:
"General Grant always felt that he was badly treated by Halleck. During my long friendship with him I never heard him more than two or three times speak unkindly of Halleck."

During a conversation with Grant about his Shiloh article, after it had appeared in print, one of the persons present asked me whether it was true, as reported, that Buell was going to answer General Grant. I replied, "I do not understand that he is going to answer General Grant, but he will write an article giving an account of the battle." I then said to Grant:

"General, you and Buell will never agree about the battle of Shiloh, but in a recent letter to me, Buell spoke most kindly of you, saying, among other things, that when you and he were young together in the army you had, as he expressed it, 'attractive', even endearing qualities.'"

I waited for response, but in vain. Grant remained silent. I construed his action upon this and a subsequent occasion to mean that the remarks commendatory of Buell's character and ability, made in the Shiloh article, conveyed all he chose to express upon that subject as it then stood.

The bulk of Grant's admiration and friendship was no doubt bestowed upon Sherman, McPherson, and Sheridan. The day before he started from Nashville to Washington, in March, 1864, to receive his commission as lieutenant-general, Grant wrote a letter to Sherman expressing a full sense of his obligations to subordinates, and saying: "I want to express my thanks to you and McPherson as the men to whom, above all others, I feel indebted for whatever I have had of success. . . . I feel all the gratitude this letter would express, giving it the most flattering construction. The word you, I use in the plural, intending it for McPherson also."

Grant had antipathies as well as attachments. His relations to his generals would form a striking chapter of history; and an interesting part of it would be the story of the estrangement between him and Winfield Scott Hancock

The time has not come for final judgment of Grant. He had great abilities and great opportunities. Chance is undoubtedly an important factor in the race of glory, and perhaps it favored Grant in the war of rebellion. General Sherman goes so far as to have said since Grant's death, that, "had C. F. Smith lived, Grant would have disappeared to history after Donelson;" but that is conjecture. Grant was one of the "singular few's who possessed qualities which probably would have gained for him a high place in history, no matter who had lived to compete with him in our great war.

No man was known by reputation, and personally, to so many men of his time as Grant. The nations of the earth read of him, saw him, and judged him. After the fame of his great deeds hadspread over the world, he traveled through both hemispheres, and received the willing and unstinted homage of men high and low in various climes and countries. The record of what he has said and what he has done must place him high in the roll of the world's great men. Posterity will see to that. We who knew him face to face may bear witness to what he was in himself. We need not inquire to what extent he imbibed and assimilated the wisdom, the knowledge, or the morality of worthy parents, of early teachers, of friends and staff officers, such as McPherson, and Rawlins, and Wilson, and Bowers.

Undoubtedly with him, as with other men, the surrounding influences of his life had much to do with making him what he was. lie endured disappointment, humiliation, and poverty; he was tempted by military success and glory, and encountered the rivalries, the jealousies, the intrigues of ambitions and aspiring generals; he floated for years upon the high tide of popular favor and good fortune, and then fell through the evil of others, and was wrongfully and cruelly dashed against the rocks of financial discredit and ruin; and finally, while tried by prolonged and excruciating physical torture, he made an effort, unsurpassed in its heroism, to restore the fortunes of his family by the work of his own brain and hand.

What did the duties, the obligations, the temptations, the sorrows, the struggles of life, make of this man? One of the truest, strongest, bravest, human entities that the world has ever produced.



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