Ulysses S. Grant




Stoddard, Henry. As I Knew Them. NY: Harper Brothers, 1927

Henry L. Stoddard (1861-1947)

Stoddard was a journalist who covered Grant during his final illness in 1884-5.

It was my fortune to cover for the Philadelphia press the men who figure largely in American History. Early in 1885... I went to New York city to report General Grant's gallant fight against the inevitable there and at Mt. McGregor, where he died. The vigil almost at Grant's bedside in particular gave me many opportunities to study him at close range, especially toward the last at Mt. McGregor - under conditions that tested the fiber of the man and bared it to the world as only intense suffering can do. I had seen him frequently in the summer of 1882 and 1883 as he drove along the ocean drive at Long Branch, New Jersey, and once I had interviewed him at his home there, but it was a different Grant that I looked upon in New York city in 1885 suffering from cancer.

In the early period of his illness he was frequently able to leave his bed for an hour or so. He would sit in an arm chair in front of the second story window of his house, 3 East 66th Street. At times he would stand for a few moments looking out. Always there was a group of three or four correspondents gathered on the opposite sidewalk. We had established a patrol and took turns on duty day and night. When not too depressed Grant would recognize some of the newspaper men he knew and smiled pleasantly - pleasantly, but sadly, very sadly. He was then struggling to complete his Memoirs in the hope that their sale would furnish financial provision for his family. It was a race with death for a fortune. On Mt. McGregor he won it by a few days. With the task done, collapse quickly followed. Some years later, standing on the porch of that cottage, while delivering an anniversary address commemorating Grant's death there, ex-President Benjamin Harrison used this memorable sentence, "It is said that a great life went out here. Great lives as General's Grant's never go out. They go on!"

No one could watch General Grant as I did for weeks, while he was under the strain of full knowledge of his approaching death, without getting an insight into the real man. Patient, burden-bearing and trustful he surely was - too much so for his own good. Appomattox, not Washington, D.C., is his monument. Grant was President long before my newspaper activities began, but it was not difficult for me to see, as I studied him in later years, that deep down in his heart he must have known when he entered the White House in 1869 that politics was not his field of endeavor, though he never knew, until too late, that politicians can be trusted not to intrigue about as much as you can trust a mule not to kick.

Grant knew war, he did not know politics, and politics you must know if you are to be success in the White House. Whenever I recall Grant as I saw him, day after day, awaiting death with stoic calmness. I can vision such a man as a great leader in a mighty effort of desperate chances such as war. It leads me to wonder why in so many instances, the alert reassigning mind essential in a victorious warrior, failed of high accomplishment in civil administration.

During his illness, demand for news from the sick room was keen and sincere. It put a heavy strain upon the newspaper men covering the case, for the early attitude of both doctors and family made it difficult to ascertain the facts. They did not realize at first the pressure from the public for news, nor the wrong impression created by secrecy. Doctors have not much regard for public interest in their patients and are reluctant to make known the facts in the sick room. In their eyes the only news is that the patient dies or gets well, meanwhile - silence. But the physicians owe to the public when a man whose career is history and lies stricken on a sick bed - perhaps a death bed. the interest of the people is much more than curiosity; it is the companion piece of patriotism. Grant's doctors did not appreciate this fact. When entering or leaving the General's house they turned from reporters, as though escaping from hold-up men.

Once Deacon Ransome, of the New York Tribune saw his opportunity and told Dr. Sands, looking him straight in the eye: "We represent fifty million people, and every man, woman and child is deeply interested in this dying man who saved the nation for them. We are here to get the news and give it to those fifty million people. Is it for you to say whether they are to have it?" Dr. Sands seemed stunned. Then he gave way completely. "Perhaps you're right," he said, a kindlier expression swept away his frown. So the full story of General Grant's terrific struggle for life that April morning was promptly made known. The facts, serious as they ere, were less distressing to the country than if the policy of secrecy had been maintained.

I first saw General Grant when I called at his cottage at Long Branch, on the Jersey coast, in the summer of 1882. Grant was seated alone in a little summer house on the bluff overlooking the ocean. It was a rule of the Grant family that no one was to disturb him at such times, but as I had not been informed of it I ignorantly broke in on the General's meditation. Whatever his first impulse may have been, he smiled when I stated my purpose - and thereafter became more interested in the ocean than in my presence. Later I was told he liked to go down there by himself, and for an hour or so smoke cigars and look out silently upon the ocean. After such a career, what thoughts he must have had! No one could be more modest and affable. He was a good mixer in company he liked. Of course Grant was never any part of the social life of the Jersey shore. He disliked society, but he liked to meet the men he found down there, and he loved to hit up a stiff pace behind a pair of lively horses.

I was too young to be deeply impressed by faces, but in later years I recalled my impression of Grant's face - I saw the face of a man with many unexpressed thoughts, not all of them pleasant.



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