Ulysses S. Grant




Excerpt from Mrs. Hill's Journal - Civil War Reminiscences. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley, 1980

Sarah Hill

This account of General Grant is from Sarah Hill, the wife of a Union Engineer, who in January of 1864 was travelling on an army transport train to Nashville. It just so happened that General Grant took the seat next to her:

We climbed on the train and the car was packed with people, but the Chaplain found a seat for us near the front of the car. I had my son George with me, sitting on my lap. As I looked out the window, I saw General Grant with some of his staff, who were much more imposing-looking in their uniforms that the General who wore a plain blue coat with old tarnished shoulder straps. He came into the car where we were and stood and looked down the whole length of it. There was not a vacant seat. Chaplain Mason sprang up and said, "Have this seat, General." Grant looked at me and said, "I shall be crowding the lady." I assured him to the contrary, and the pleasure it would give me to have him take it. He hesitated and the Chaplain introduced me and told me who my husband was. He asked, "Major Hill of the Missouri Engineers? I know him well," and sat down. He asked if it was Major Hill's son and took little George on his lap.

Well, this was a new situation. The General asked me a number of questions, and my answers were frank and truthful. At that time there were so many adventuresses and worse forcing their way through the lines, that a woman travelling alone was looked upon with suspicion. The General finally smiled and said, "Well, you know women have no business at the front, even if their husbands do send for them." I had shown him E.M.'s letter telling me to come. "You have got this far. We will have to see you through." I did not ask him how, but began to talk to him about mutual friends in St. Louis, and he was greatly interested in George.

Presently the conductor came in to collect the tickets and I had none. When he reached the General, he saluted and took his ticket and reached for mine. General Grant said, "This is Mrs. Major Hill. You will please pass her. Her escort, who is on the train following this, has her ticket and pass. Major Hill will make the matter right with you after we reach Nashville." "Certainly, certainly, General," and the conductor passed on,and I drew a deep free breath and felt that I was alive once more. I thanked the General for his kindness, but was careful not to be too effusive.

Now I was prepared to make the most of my opportunity and enjoy the day, for he was already a renowned man. I found him delightful to talk with. He was modest, simple and unassuming, but not at all reserved and talked well. We found we had many mutual friends in St. Louis. he had just come from there and had been to visit his son, Fred, a lad of 13 who was very ill with typhoid fever, contracted while in camp with his father. The General told me about his family and how he liked to have some of them with him whenever it was possible. He also spoke of the services my husband had been able to render Mrs. Grant at one time. And then he talked freely of the engineer regiment and the good service it had done during the siege of Vicksburg, and said many nice things about my husband. You may know I tried to be tactful and pleasing, and the General unbent, and really seemed to enjoy the conversation. He did most of the talking and found me a good listener. He told George all about the battle of Chicakamuga and Missionary Ridge. His boy, Fred, was under fire there, and he was very proud of him (Mrs. Hill is mixing up the battle of Chattanooga with Vicksburg, where Fred actually was slightly wounded).

Congress was at that time discussing the question of making him a full general, creating the position for him. I asked him if he would rather be a full general or the President. He thought for awhile and said, "I do not think I would make a good president. I prefer the Generalship. That is for life and my family would be provided for. There are too many things to consider in the Presidency, anyway, I am going to stay with the war until it is ended. I think no farther than that now." His description of the battle of Missionary Ridge was very vivid and interesting, and also many scenes and incidents in the siege of Vicksburg.

Several times some of his officers would come to him and want to know if he wanted them or had any orders to give, but he assured them he was having a very pleasant day and he really enjoyed the little boy. They chatted together, and he would laugh heartily at some of Georgie's sayings, for he was a bright, precocious child. The General turned to me once and remarked, "Mrs. Hill, you have not asked me to do anything for the Major yet. That is usually among the first things that women do." I told him that he had done enough for the Major's wife and the Major could rely on his own merits. The reply seemed to greatly pleased him, and he was more cordial than ever.

When the train stopped at the station for dinner, he invited George and myself to join him, but I thought it better to decline for several reasons, and I assured him I had lunch in my bag. When he returned I thought he might change his seat, but he came back, bringing a cup of milk for George, and a couple of warm buttered biscuits, sat down and took the boy on his lap, and began to feed him, saying that was better for him than crackers or cakes. The afternoon passed all too quickly and we reached Nashville about six p.m. It was raining and the streets were rivers of mud and slush. After we left the train the General remarked to me that the Major was not there and "What are you going to do, Mrs. Hill? You had better come to the St. Cloud with me and we will send an orderly to the camp for the Major."

I might have expected this kind offer, for he was so simple, kind and sincere, and he had taken quite a fancy to George, but I happened to see two of his officers look at each other, smile and wink, and I looked at the Chaplain and he slightly shook his head and indicated disapproval, so thanking the General very much, it seemed better for me to wait at the station. The famous man, famous even then, kissed little George and bade us good-bye and left with his staff.

I never saw General Grant again till many years afterward, on the rear platform of a Pullman car, when he was on his way to California. His son, Fred, whom he had talked so much about on that memorable day in my life, was with him, and the old veterans crowded up to the car to shake hands with their beloved leader. One would cry out, "I was with you at Vicksburg, General," and, "General, I helped you at Fort Donelson," and he said, 'God bless you, boys," and the tears came running down his cheeks. My husband and I stood back watching the scene, but it made our throats ache and the tears came; old memories crowded in fast."



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