Ulysses S. Grant




The Saturday Evening Post, September 9, 1901

Dr. George F. Shrady

Shrady was one of the physicians who vainly battled the throat cancer that eventually led to the death of General Grant. As his primary physician in the last months of his life, Shrady's recollections of the Grant offer unique insight into his final days. One of the few interviews Shrady ever gave was in 1901, and is presented here in full:

My acquaintance with General Grant covered the period of his last illness, where I was his consulting surgeon, and in my experience, I have never met another person who was so thoroughly a considerate gentleman. Almost every day I saw evidence of gentle courtesy and consideration that filled me with surprise. There is no place in the world where true nature asserts itself so clearly as in the sick-room. Under these severe tests, drawn out for more than a year, General Grant stood revealed as a plain man.

Brave though he had been on the battlefield, his courage in facing death from an incurable disease was not only a revelation but an inspiration. Realizing from the first that his case was a hopeless one, he was calm, submissively heroic and philosophically determined. The man who resignedly contemplates the inevitable, who realizes the dreadful fact that there is nothing in this life for him but suffering, who can bow to the decree without a murmur, and who can conquer his own instinctive love for existence in an effort to care for his family, lifts humanity to the highest and purest planes of unselfish character. All these conditions were bravely met by the patient and docile victim. The only circumstance that helped make his illness bearable were the sympathy and love of his family.

From the beginning it was evident that his disease had no chance of a cure, and that death was only a matter of time. And though every effort was made to keep this from him, he soon realized the fatal nature of his malady and discussed it freely - that is, as freely as he discussed anything. He was not given to much talking. He was "the silent man" in the bedchamber just a thoroughly as he had been on the battlefield. He would listen attentively to the conversation of those about him and was always interested, but he seldom joined in arguments or discussions. He would wait silently until the others had finished, and then state his conclusions in the fewest possible words. Whether it was the instinctive respect that his listeners had for him, or whether his conclusions were always so clear-sighted, they were accepted as facts. And another peculiarity - he stated them as facts, not as mere conclusions, or as arguments open to discussion. Everyone understood this, though his manner was habitually so amiable that it appeared at times almost deferential.

The first time I met General Grant he had been been ill for some time. He was wearing an ordinary woolen smoking cap. He sat in his favorite position, with his elbows resting on the arms of his chair, his upraised hands being supported by the fingertips. His eyes had a far-off look, characteristic of his frequently contemplative mood. He looked utterly unlike the pictures I had seen of him, and it was not until he bared his head that I realized his actual presence. Then there was revealed the thick brown hair, tinged with gray, lying in a double curve along his strong forehead. To me, the upper part of Grant's face was the most characteristic. His hair, his forehead, his eyes and his nose made up a distinct combination utterly unlike that on any other head I have ever seen. As soon as he put on a hat much of his strength and individualism seemed to disappear. I believe that he, himself, realized this.

I recall Easter Sunday, 1885, the morning came, beautifully bright and clear. The General's room was a fine, large one with a bay window overlooking West Sixty-Sixth Street and Fifth Avenue. The warm sunshine flooded the room, but the patient's vitality was so low that it was deemed necessary to have a fire in the grate. He sat before it in his favorite armchair, apparently oblivious to his surroundings. Presently he assumed his favorite attitude, his fingers touching. It was always a sign that he was deep in thought, and nobody under those circumstances ever disturbed him. He looked intently in the fire and gradually his lids drooped and he fell asleep. I walked over to the window and saw there were thousands of people, looking up in hushed awe. There was a reverence and hush upon the assemblage that was very impressive. They had come to pay homage to the great soldier who lay dying. The General slept on quietly while the crowd grew to such proportions that it extended almost from Madison Avenue to Fifth Avenue.

When he awoke he came to the window and stood beside me, looking down on the people below. He was screened by the curtains and those outside could not see him. "What a beautiful day it is," he said.

"Yes, I answered," and it has brought a great throng of people. They are all very fond of you. They come here day after day to quietly gaze up at your window, as a mark of their sympathy."

"I am very grateful to them, very," he said sadly, and then walked back to the seat near the fire. He was silent for a moment and then said: "I am sure I should like them to know that I am appreciative." It was then that the General dictated to me his famous "Easter Message," where he said he desired the goodwill of all people.

The fine, simple manner of General Grant was again made manifest by something that occurred in the later part of April, 1885. Late one evening a message came from Mrs. Grant asking that I call immediately. I found the General feverish and restless. He said that he must have sleep at any cost. He wanted me to give him a narcotic, but I determined that he should sleep without it, and told him so. "But I cannot," he said wearily. "I have tried for hours." I said, "Well, let us try again." The General then said with that gentleness and characterized him all through his illness, "What shall I do?"

"Just imagine you are a boy again. Curl up your legs, lie over on your side, and try to doze off, as you used to do in days gone by." The idea struck him pleasantly, as shown by his docile manner. "Put your hand under the bolster and rest your head on it; bend your knees a little higher, curl forward more, There you are. Now I shall tuck you in. Now go to sleep like a boy."

Mrs. Grant was present and watched the proceedings with interest. In a few minutes, we saw, to our great satisfaction, that the General was asleep. He rested as he must have done as a boy. I turned to Mrs. Grant and said, "I don't know how the General will like that kind of treatment. He may think it inconsistent with his dignity to be treated like a child and may not understand the real motive."

"No danger of that," replied Mrs. Grant. "He is the most simple-mannered and natural person in the world, and he likes to have persons, whom he knows, to treat him without ceremony." When I tried the same method the following evening he yielded to it as readily as before. He told me later that he had not slept without a pillow, and with his arm under the bolster and hiss knees curled up under his chin, since he first went to West Point, forty years earlier.

Shortly after this, the disease attacked the General's vocal chords and he lost his voice. He was compelled to resort to pencil and paper to converse and I have preserved many of these messages. He did his writing on a small paper pad that he carried in his pocket. The size was about one and a half by three inches. He always wrote as he spoke, in the simplest possible manner, but there is much in these messages that would bring tears to the eyes of the most stolid. Often there is tragedy in every word. Once, when he came very close to dying, he wrote: "I was passing away peacefully and soon all would have been over. It was like falling asleep. I am ready now to go at any time. I know there is nothing but suffering for me while I do live."

On another occasion, he wrote: "But what I say is that I suffer pain all the time, except when asleep. That it is not as intense under morphine has demonstrated the fact that it is pain. From the location of the disease, this must continue and even increase." He was fearful at times that the ease which morphine brought would cultivate a drug habit and one day he wrote, "I have such a horror of becoming addicted to it that I suppose that serves as a precaution."

How much he suffered is shown by the terse statements made on some of the slips I have. Here are some of them: "My days are long and miserable, except when I am employed. An hour of reading or writing also tires me..." and: "I am having a pretty tough time of it, and I suffer acute pain. My trouble is in getting my breath."

Even in the midst of his suffering, he tried to be humorous. One day, at Mt. McGregor, close to the end of his life, there was a delegation of visitors who brought along a fine brass bad. "That's fine music, General," I remarked, by way of diversion to the sick man, who was on the porch. The General smiled depreciatingly and pulling out his pad, wrote these words: "I do not know one tune from another. One time, when traveling, when there were brass bands everywhere, and all played, it seemed the same tune, 'Hail to the Chief.' I remarked at last, with the greatest innocence, that I thought I had heard that tune before."

At Mt. McGregor there was a constant procession of strangers who were content simply to come to the cottage and gaze in sympathy at the old soldier who was battling so bravely against hopeless odds. Much of the time the General was in so much pain he was oblivious to these visitors. Sometimes, when ladies approached, he arose in the most gallant fashion and lifting his hat, would make an elaborate bow. No doubt none of these ladies would never forget this salute from the bravest man and truest man I ever knew.



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