Ulysses S. Grant




Hamlin Garland Papers, Doheny Library, University of Southern California

W. W. Smith

Smith was a distant cousin of Grant's who knew him from 1855 until Grant's death. He shared the same tent with him during three campaigns. He knew Grant not just as a friend, but as one of his own family. It is of great interest and value that one who knew Grant so intimately, should retain such high admiration for him. The following are Smith's recollections of General Grant:

Grant had terrible sick headaches which arose from indigestion. He was very injudicious in his eating. His doctor had so little sense as to prescribe brandy for him and once, down before Corinth, he was given a heavy dose of brandy at a time when his stomach was upset and it affected him very strongly. He immediately ordered his horse and rode away along the lines. I went with him and after a ride of ten of fifteen miles, he returned and was all right.

He had no secrets. He resolved everything in a clear brain with everybody sitting around. Anybody could be in his presence and their movement or talk did not interrupt his thinking. I remember meeting the General as he returned from Cold Harbor and he was much depressed. He dismounted and took a seat on the stone. What is the situation, I asked? Bad - very bad, he replied.

The General liked a story. His eyes would twinkle as the plot unfolded, and while he seldom laughed, he showed his interest. He was a wonderful General. I was with a great deal during the war. He seemed to divine what the enemy was doing behind the hill. Grant took over the country when it was in chaos in 1868. The attention of the country was turned upon great things during the war and corruption grew unchecked. It came out when the people turned their attention to government once more, and Grant's administration suffered because of it.

I never knew a purer man in thought, word and deed. He was simple and level-headed. He was a considerate man. He wrought a revolution in army circles. He made every officer trust him and he trusted every soldier. He couldn't do a bad thing or a mean thing and the worst thing that can be said of him is that he refused to believe evil of men who were in office and abusing his trust.

I saw him in St. Louis in 1855. He used to come over to White Haven and talk almost every evening and he was a wonderfully good talker. He used to hoe corn with the Negroes like any other farmer. He never countenanced disorder. I remember once seeing him appear before Lagow and his cronies, under most dramatic circumstances. He occupied a room in one end of the house and the men were carousing in the other. Suddenly the door opened and Grant appeared in his night robe. "What is the meaning of this drunken carousal?" was his inquiry, and there was something in his voice that hushed every breath. He stood there for a moment in perfect silence, and then withdrew. "Who was that?" asked one of the doctors in the company, and Lagow, who was scared into whiteness and rigidity, said, "That was General Grant." "Was it? My God! We're done for now!" said the other.

No one could be familiar with General Grant. No one was familiar. He commanded respect and he insisted on subordination and he could be peremptory at need. It is also a mistake to suppose that Grant could not make a speech. I remember once at San Pedro Mine he talked to a large crowd for a long time. All the miners came up to hear him and he was as easy and fluent as a man could well be. He was not aware, however, that he was making a speech. At another time I remember, he sat at Sante Fe all one evening talking to us about Egypt. He made me understand more about Egypt than I had gained from all my readings. He seemed to comprehend everything. If he went into a mill or a shop, he seemed to understand it at once and came away with a perfectly clear idea of it. He used to talk about everything he saw to his sons.

He spent his evenings with his boys, and I remember during the holidays, when they were home from school, he denied himself to visitors and business on their account, with the result that his action gave rise to stories of drunkenness. I was with him during one of these times. And while he sat there, surrounded by his boys, enjoying their visit with the keenest delight, the scandal-mongers were busy outside. But he was above any spite or envy. He never grew angry concerning such malicious lies about himself, but he felt it very deeply on account of his family.

It was always a very great pleasure to be with General Grant. He enjoyed simple things best. I drove him once to one of the little country villages over here. He was President at the time and enjoyed the amazement and delight of the people when they found the President of the United States was in their village. While he was at Jefferson Barracks as a Lieutenant, he reviewed all his studies. Every day he wrote down in his ledger all that he had acquired during the day. This gave him command of his knowledge and increased his clearness of expression.

It was his habit during the war to study every detail. He went on foot over the ground between the lines in order to see that there were no ditches to interfere. I remember once, on the way back from an inspection between the lines, I happened to say to him, "This soil is not worth much." He merely said: "I think it would be good for grapes." When he was depressed or had a stomach ache, he liked to have (Horace) Porter around him. Porter was a great joker and very fond of telling stories. He could always make Grant laugh and it seemed to help the General to stand the strain and anxiety of war.

I remember once, taking a bottle of wine to the General from his mother. I turned it over to Rawlins who said abruptly, "Who brought that?" I answered, "I did. The General's mother sent it." "The General's family are all damn fools," said Rawlins in his abrupt way. Grant loved games. He loved to gamble. He loved risks and chances - he liked to bet, he was not puritanical in that. He always wanted a little stake in a game, not to win, but to make the game more exciting. He hated coarseness or vulgarity. I have seen him freeze up a man instantly with a look when a vulgar story was told in his presence.



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