Ulysses S. Grant




Grant Family Scrapbooks, Carbondale, Illinois
The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Presidential Papers Series, 1966

Ely S. Parker (1828-1895)

General Grant's staff officer and friend, Lt. Colonel Ely S. Parker, was an Iroquois of the Seneca tribe. Grant had to personally intervene to allow him to join the army since Indians were not allowed. He is best known for writing the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms at Appomattox. Here he writes about the Grant's personality:

General Grant was the most simple and confiding man I have ever known. His associations with his brother officers were like those of a father to a family of trusted children. He talked with them freely, and was as much interested in their plans and affairs as in his own. In his reports of his various campaigns he was absolutely unselfish, and he delighted in giving the credit to his officers rather than to himself.

It was the same with his private life. He was the most unpretending officer of the army during the war. He was the least conspicuous in dress. His clothes were generally rough and soiled with marching, and his only sign of rank was his shoulder straps. He dressed neatly, but he spent no time before the looking glass, and his manners were entirely free from ostentation or bluster. He always went to the Adjutant-General's office, which was the general rendezvous of the staff officers, as soon as he rose in the morning. If the officers were there, he would sit down and have a chat with them. If not, he would visit their different quarters, greeting and talking with them in a fatherly way.

To his intimate friends, he delighted to talk of his family and children, and he took a corresponding interest in the domestic affairs of his officers. He loved animals, and the various pets around the headquarters he treated as kindly as did their owners. I remember at one time the headquarters guard had caught a little lamb and raised it. It grew up about Grant's headquarters and became in time a large sheep. General Grant took a kind interest in it, and he would have heartily resented any injury to it. Colonel Bowers, his assistant Adjutant-General, had a cat that was a great favorite. Grant loved it and petted it as much as any of us.

The officers loved Grant and respected him, and to them he was the most generous of men. In his military family he kept everything in common. His cigar box was always open. He liked to talk to his military family, and with such men he trusted he was a good conversationalist. He had no secrets and he selected no favorites to whom he whispered his confidences. To strangers, and in the presence of men in whom he had no trust, he was very reserved, and it is this faculty which gave him the reputation of being dull.

In talking he spoke in a low conversational baritone and avoided metaphor and illustration. He never descended into vulgarity, did not use slang, and I don't believe he ever uttered a profane word. He would tell stories in which oaths has originally been used, but he would not quote the oaths, and he never exhibited anger.

Our conversations would sometimes become of a personal nature, but I have never heard Grant refer to any man in the way of sneer or detraction. He always sought to speak of the good in men rather than the evil, and if he had to speak of the bad qualities in a man he would close his remarks with the mention of his good points, or excuses why he did not have them. In his talk with others I have never heard him say or do anything which might embarrass or mortify them.

General Grant had a wonderful power of drawing information from others in conversation without their being aware that they were imparting it. During his army career he was a good talker, and he was fond of a social chat. He told a good story and enjoyed a joke, he could laugh aloud. His memory for facts was good, and for faces remarkable. He recognized people after a period of twenty years and recalled their names immediately.

After the war was over, Grant showed his love for his military family by doing kindness for them whenever he could. When he became President he sought them out, and without solicitation on their part, provided for many of them. He never forgot a favor rendered him when he was poor and he was kind to such people when he had the power.

There was a great deal of true nobility and gentlemanliness in Grant. He had no petty spites and there was nothing small or mean about his character. After the battle of the Wilderness, I saw a correspondent of one of the leading anti-Grant newspapers introduced to the General. Grant smiled in a friendly way as he took his hand an said, "Your paper has never said a good word for me in my whole life, but that shall make no difference in our relations with one another." And it did not. He made the correspondent a guest of his headquarters, and aided him in his work. This evenness of temper and perfect self-control was one of the great traits in the General. He never felt disaster and never showed himself elated over victory. He showed no feeling when they talked of relieving him after before Vicksburg, and if told me if they had done so, he would have asked for the command of a corps, a division, or a brigade. "This war must be put down," he said, and showed that he was more interested in the Union that in his personal advancement.

After a successful battle, Grant never showed the slightest boastful feeling. To have seen him and heard him talk you would have supposed he had nothing to do with it, were it not that he was busily dictating the future movements of the army. No matter what the circumstances, General Grant never seemed to be surprised. His staff officers would try to astonish him by exaggerated stories or statements, but they never succeeded.

The most startling news in regard to the enemy requiring prompt action - and it might be the desertion of an army - would be brought to him. He would receive it without the change of a facial muscle. and give his orders immediately in the most matter of fact tones. In the most trying times he was the most self possessed. At City Point, while he was sitting in his tent, 200 tons of powder exploded; men, mules and bodies were blown into the air, and everyone else was panic stricken. Grant sat imperturbable. He did not move from his seat or raise his hand, and only said, in his usual tone, "Babcock, go out and see what is the matter."

Grant's will was very strong and he was always acted on his own judgment. He always made his orders in the forms of requests. It was not the dictatorial "Do," but it was the persuasive, "Do you not think it best to do so and so?" It is no wonder that we loved Grant. People loved him more the better they knew him."



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