Ulysses S. Grant




Young, John Russell. Men and Memories Vol II, 1896

John Russell Young

Young was invited to accompany President Grant on his world tour during 1877-79. Below is a truly fascinating excerpt describing Ulysses S. Grant:

Grant was considerate, straightforward, never ruffled over rough experiences, taking things as he found them. He was never at variance with his cook or his tailor. He liked to tease intimate friends, and to give them nicknames. He read much, smoked rather from restlessness than love of tobacco and disliked to go to bed. To be a midnight, or two o'clock in the morning companion was the shortest road to his esteem. There the genius of Grant found its gentlest expression, and when yon could but listen in wonder to the depth and variety of his knowledge.

Grant had rare gifts, shrouded in that mist of shyness inseparable from his character. His memory was a marvel. He never forgot a name or a face. "Grant, I think," as Sherman once said to the writer, "knew every tin can in the army." It was a flexible, steel-trap memory. A slow reader going over every page as if studying it, putting his finger on the passage when interrupted as to be sure to find the place - reading was a study. What he read was never forgotten. He never generalized over a fact, or gave you the impression of things. What he knew he knew. You could not forget a figure or misplace a phrase in his presence. It was not safe to say "about so," it must be exactly so. This wonderful gift served him as a soldier, for there, mirrored in his brain, lay before him, in the minutest detail, his work an the means by which his work was to be done.

He had the woodcraft of an Indian, knew places, localities, the lay of the ground, what the skies had to say as to the weather and other mysteries. He had perfect courage, and although answering that he never went into a battle without fear, or left it without joy, the evidence goes to show that his courage in battle was serene. General McDowell once told me that all he could remember of Grant in Mexico was that he was the best horseman and the bravest fellow in the army. It was the courage of an absorbed, intensely concentrated soldier doing his duty. He had perfect faith, not alone in the righteousness of his cause, but in its triumph. He was insensible to fatigue, could ride all day, watch all night and live, as he did at Vicksburg, for days, with nothing but a saddle for a pillow and a toothbrush.

He was free from enmities. He rarely quarreled and was not prone to reconciliation. This came from the sincerity of his character. A quarrel with him did not mean the taking off the glove only to put it on again. It was the closing of a book. Nor did it come from impulse; it was forced upon him, never sought. A really strong man has no time for a quarrel, and avoids it by candor and patience. When a newspaper attacked Grant he ceased reading it. A caller one day at Long Branch showed him a newspaper somewhat free in its criticism. "Why should I read it?" he answered, and he threw the paper on the grass.

"Have you any enmities?" he was once asked, "as the result of so many years of strife? "I think I hate but two men," was the answer. One was an officer in the Federal, the other an officer in the Confederate army. The alienation took place during the Mexican war, and its cause was Grant's chivalrous regard for the honor of womanhood. This hesitancy to quarrel was attended with an enduring capacity for friendship. He made friendships slowly, not from suspicion or selfishness, but because of his personal shyness which he possessed to a degree that I have seen in no man and very few women. This shyness surrounded Grant like a mist, so that it was hard to make him out. It was the basis of many of the misconceptions of his character, - that he was a dull man, for instance, stolid, indifferent.

He was not prone to sudden fancies or stage-coach acquaintances. His silence was mental absorption; would come in moods. You could talk with him for hours and he would not say a word. And yet you might readily sit up with him until sunrise and never be permitted to say a word, because of his incessant, brilliant, penetrating conversation. I never heard a more cogent, comprehensive talker than Grant.

He never forgave a falsehood, or even an equivocation; he was inflexible in that regard. He never used profane language, not from any religious sentiment or that he resented the profanity of valued friends or associates. He had, however, given the promise to his mother when leaving home for West Point, and it was a promise that breasted every temptation. No one who deceived him ever regained his confidence. He believed in results and never welcomed excused. His dislikes and admiration as regards to prominent historical figures were marked and original. His principal aversion was to Napoleon. I endeavored once, without success, to persuade him to go to the Invalids and see the Emperor's tomb. We were at the very door of the church, but he continued his walk. It was an opinion based upon a study of the Emperor's character - the greatest man of modern times, but a monster!

There was a veneration Grant felt for Lincoln. "I knew Lincoln well," he said, "no one better, and am very grateful that he spent almost his last days in my camp. He was the greatest man I have ever known, either from personal observation or historical study." On the Confederate leaders, among whom he had many valued friends, he admired Stonewall Jackson - a friendship sloe, intuitive, responsive. "I shall always be sorry," said Grant, "that Stonewall Jackson never fought Sheridan. The result of that battle would have given him the place in history which he died without attaining." He was free from the he rhetoric of emotion. "What were your thoughts, General," said one inquirer, "in that sublime moment when you knew Lee was going to surrender?" "My dirty boots and wearing no sword." He would never ask for promotion, nor permit others to do so for him. "This," he said, is one of my superstitions." There was immortal courage in the terms of surrender accorded to Lee at Appomattox. It never came from Lincoln - it was in contravention of his express command.

Grant was what you would call a good fellow. He was companionable, liked to talk to people who could tell him facts. He loved a horse; so much so as to avoid race courses, which he never attended when it as no ear for music - would rather stand behind a battery in action than a piano in play... he was the most amiable, gentlest and best man I ever knew.



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