Ulysses S. Grant




The St. Louis Globe Democrat, April 27, 1897

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 is an interview from 1897 with Smith:

Grant was always very shy around people he didn't know. During the war he did not seem to care to have anybody know he was in command of the army. The boys thought Grant ought to be kicked for not putting on more style, but that was his way. They thought he was not proud enough either of his army or what it was doing. It was always this way. When he took command of the armies in the West he went slipping into Chattanooga as quietly as though he had been under arrest.

Though he was shy, he loved stories and jokes. I have read he never laughed out loud, but I have shared many laughs with him. His eyes would twinkle as the plot unfolded and he showed his interest by smiling and gently laughing. He didn't care for questionable stories, however. Sometimes he could not escape during the telling of such tales, but he would blush to the roots of his hair. He always flushed easily. He was like a boy that way. But he hated coarseness or vulgarity of any kind. He revered women and thought such stories demeaned the female sex. I have seen him freeze up a man instantly with a look when a vulgar story was told in his presence.

The morning after his arrival in Chattanooga, I was with a band of soldiers engaged in tumbling boxes of crackers into the wagons of a supply train. We did not like the work; we were not taking many pains to place the boxes right in the wagon; we wanted to go. As I dropped one box in a little recklessly, a quiet man, who had been roaming aimlessly about the platform said with incisive firmness, "That won't do, men. Those crackers are going to men who are starving. Every cracker is precious, and the more boxers you get into that wagon the more hungry men you will feed tonight." Of course I knew his voice before I even looked up into his face.

I stepped aside and the soldiers, who had not previously met Grant, looked closely at him until they recognized the two stars on his shoulder. The men climbed into the wagon without a word, rearranged the boxes while the General stood there making suggestions and pointing with one of his crutches little changes that could be made in arrangement. The boys froze to Grant. He had that quiet, firm authority about him always.

I got to know Rawlins (Grant's chief of staff) well during this period. Rawlins was always fussing over Grant and was sometimes hasty and went to extremes. I remember once, taking a bottle of wine to the General from his mother. I turned it over to Rawlins and he said abruptly, "Who brought that?" I answered, "I did. The General's mother sent it." Rawlins became very angry and said, "The General's family are all damn fools."

Grant always vexed me when he appeared in front of large audiences. He did not seem to know how to make a good impression. He was certainly disinclined to try. When he began to make speeches in 1880 I did think he would make more effort to make a good impression, but he didn't. Wherever he went the crowds would get on their feet and break into storms of uninterrupted cheers. When Grant noticed that the cheering wouldn't stop, frequently he would proceed to make his speech and he made it and concluded it before the crowd had done cheering over his appearance.

It was the same way at many GAR encampments and dinners I attended with Grant. Of course he was always the distinguished guest. He walked into every room with a prestige that threw every other man in the shade; but he always allowed Garfield or Sherman to do the talking, not because he had nothing to say, but he knew it was important that Garfield or Sherman should do the talking. At every dinner I ever attended with him, Grant always did the right thing at the right time. Adulation that would turn any man's head meant little to him. He could sit through the most thunderous ovation without blinking an eye or moving a muscle.

I recall in 1875 we were attending the St. Louis fair. Grant, his wife and I went to a party at the Planters House. There were many Kentucky women present and they were enthusiastic about horses. A number of the young ladies were introduced to the President whereupon he spoke in very high terms of St. Louis, the fair, etc. "You are mistaken, General; we are not from St. Louis," laughingly said one of the girls, "we are from Kentucky, which possesses three things all of taste must appreciate." Smilingly, the General asked her what they were. She answered, "We have the fastest horses, the prettiest women and the finest whiskey in the world." Grant blushed a little and said, "Your horses are certainly justly renowned. I have some on my farm near here. Yourself and party prove the correctness of your second observation, but whiskey is one of the things that requires age, and your men consume it so fast that it rarely has a fair chance to become good." The girls thought the General was very charming and tried to monopolize and lionize him the rest of the evening.

When Grant was in Chicago in 1880, he lounged about Sheridan's headquarters a good deal and I was with him many times. His son Fred was connected to Sheridan's staff, but he was absent one day and Grant took his place at Fred's desk and looked after his business. He was very boyish on such occasions and of course was not in uniform. A nervous, fidgety, irritable old fellow came to inquire for some old paper that he had left with Fred. When he stated his case, he didn't look at Grant too clearly and he didn't realize to whom he was speaking.

The General listened to the old man and took up the matter in a sympathetic way, and proceeded in the manner of an over anxious clerk to look the paper up. The document could not be found and Grant, apologizing, walked with the gentleman to the door. As I walked down the stairs with the mollified visitor he turned and asked, "Who is that bearded man? He is the politest clerk I ever saw at military headquarters. I hope Sheridan will keep him." I answered quietly, "That was General Grant." The fidgety old gentleman, after staring at me for a full minute with his mouth hanging open, said with considerable fervor, "I will give you 20 dollars if you will kick me downstairs!"

I was sometimes with Grant when he was on trains, in restaurants or merely traveling about the country. He was so famous and so celebrated that everyone wanted to stare at him and shake him to death. In 1865 crowds gathered by the 50,000 to look at him. He seemed to shrink away from them, to be pained by the attentions paid to him, but the people loved him better for it. When the crowds would gather thick and fast, he sometimes clenched his hands together, as if pained by it all. He also liked to have his young son Jesse stand in front of him because Jesse was a little show off and seemed to deflect the people. Grant stood with his hands on his small sons shoulders, never seeing anything, just mechanically shaking and looking on absently. It was a terrible drain on him.

But that was one of his strong points. Even in later years, he tried to keep in the background was the last man to come out on the platform and generally took a rear seat with Mrs. Grant. But the crowds always found him and called him to the front. He always came out when people called him, whether it suited him to or not. He never rode out in the front like a conqueror, but he always conquered.

I knew the General from 1855 until his death. I shared the same tent with him any a time during the civil war. I knew him as a farmer, as a general and as a President and he never changed. He never got a swelled head because of his great deeds, he was modest and gentle, always. I never knew him to hurt anyone's feelings intentionally nor to speak ill of someone unless theyhad deserved it. If others knew Grant as I did, there would be no one alive who would utter a reproof against him.



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