08/9/15

War Is Ugly

19 year old Private Pollock, August 1974.

19 year old Private Pollock, August 1974.

If you google ‘August 8, 1974’ you get a lot of articles on the resignation of Richard Nixon. I had no idea the President was resigning for the first time in American history that day, because I was spending my first day at Marine Corps boot camp, getting my head shaved and trying to adjust to drill instructors yelling in my ear. I’d grown up with the Viet Nam war and the wrenching effects the war had on the country. Yet, at age 19, I enlisted anyway. I didn’t have any real job prospects, college seemed unaffordable and I hadn’t done too well in high school. Despite the turbulent times, I still believed in the greatness of America. Besides, the Marine Corps promised to train me to be a truck driver.

By coincidence I watched Born on the Fourth of July night before last; Charter cable happened to be offering it free on demand. In case you haven’t seen the movie, it’s based on the story of Marine Corps Staff Sargent Ron Kovic. Kovic was paralyzed from the waist down while fighting in Viet Nam. I get that it’s a Hollywood movie and that it’s Oliver Stone, but I again, find myself contemplating the justifications for war. Given the nature of humanity, I do believe there are times when war is necessary; who could argue that the world shouldn’t have gone to war against Nazi Germany? I’ve argued that the United States’ response to internal rebellion in 1861 was justified. (See here and here.) I’ve debated the merits of compromise vs. standing on principle. (See here and here and here.) Nevertheless, anyone who thinks the decision to go to war should be taken lightly, or before all other possible means of peaceful negotiation have been exhausted, should google “wounded veterans” and take a look at the images. Consider, also, the staggering numbers of veteran suicides. I came across a letter that Ron Kovic wrote to President Obama in 2010. Obviously, it’s a bit dated, but the message is still relevant. I found this paragraph particularly poignant:

You watch your friends and fellow veterans die year after year from alcohol, drugs, suicides, a shot gun blast to the face, a car crash, an over dose, festering bed sores, toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, homelessness, destitution and the loneliness of being forgotten. You see it all and you know that there is no flag, no parade, no welcome home that can ever make up for what you and the others have lost, for all that you have seen and endured; all those speeches, Memorial Days, Fourth of July fireworks, slogans and rhetoric about freedom and sacrifice and how, “necessary” this or that war was, and If we did not stop them there then they would surely come to get us here.

When I look at the photos of myself as a Marine, particularly the official boot camp photo above, I can’t help but be struck by how young I look. Ron Kovic was only 21 years old in 1968 when his life was shattered. I was lucky. I never faced combat during my four year enlistment, but I could have easily been where Ron Kovic was, or the thousands of other young men and women whose lives have been destroyed by war. For another heart-wrenching story, read Fortunate Son, the autobiography of Lewis Puller, Jr., son of the most decorated Marine in history, “Chesty” Puller. Lewis also suffered devastating wounds in Viet Nam. Tragically, Lewis committed suicide in 1994. War might sometimes be necessary, but it should never be glorified. It’s ugly.

04/22/15

St. Louis Mayor Asks For “Re-appraisal” of Forest Park Confederate Monument.

Mayor Francis Slay

Mayor Francis Slay

St. Louis’ long-time Mayor, Francis Slay, has asked for a “re-appraisal” of the Confederate Monument in St. Louis’ Forest Park, the 1,371 acre park which opened in 1876, and was the site of the 1904 World’s Fair. Interestingly, the original proposal for the park dates to the midst of the Civil War when in 1864 voters initially rejected the idea. Today, the park is home to several civic organizations, including the Zoo, the History Museum, the Art Museum, and the Science Center. The Confederate Monument was placed in the park by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in December, 1914.

We’re seeing more and more of these “re-appraisals” of monuments to the Confederacy, which is likely an indication that the grip of the Lost Cause on Americans’ understanding of the Civil War is precipitously declining, even as some politicians attempt to revive nullification and secession as acceptable political devices. Predictably, there have been a number of very ignorant and some quite bigoted responses to the Mayor’s request. It seems to me these responses merely confirm what the monument actually commemorates. Nevertheless, I have to ask, why now did the Mayor raise this issue? How would the city benefit from moving the monument? Where would it be moved to? Presumably these latter questions would be addressed by those who have been tasked with the re-appraisal. But, as many have said, moving it won’t change the fact that the Confederacy existed, or that Missourians were deeply divided (and, in many ways, still are). These facts can’t and shouldn’t be swept under the rug any more than the fact that Missouri was a slave state.

I do cringe when I read the kind of Lost Cause malarkey that can be found on these UDC monuments. But, monuments such as this one tell us as much about the time in which they were erected as they do about the events and people they commemorate. There are a number of monuments to Unionists in St. Louis. Three are right in Forest Park – Frank Blair, Franz Sigel, and Edward Bates. (By the way, these guys certainly had their faults as well.) The Mayor has suggested that in lieu of moving the monument, perhaps at least an interpretive plaque should be added to place the monument in its proper context. This makes more sense to me than moving it.

 

04/15/15

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

There was a time when I read a lot of novels. In the last ten years, though I can only think of two. I’m just too busy reading actual history books. However, there is a new historical novel out that demanded my attention – Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, by Jennifer Chiaverini. I confess that I approached this book with trepidation. How could anyone write an entire book about a White Haven slave when so very little is actually known about them? How is a historian supposed to approach a historical novel? Most importantly, how will the average reader separate fact from fiction?

Chiaverini tells us at the end of the book:

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule is a work of fiction inspired by history. Many events and people appearing in the historical record have been omitted from this book for the sake of the narrative. Although the lives of Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Grant are well documented, almost nothing exists about Jule beyond a few brief mentions in Julia Grant’s memoirs. Thus her life as depicted in this story is almost entirely imagined.

First, I think this disclaimer should have been at the front of the book, not at the end.

Second, it could be argued that the lives of Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Grant are actually not well documented. Despite the numerous books written about Grant, there is still much that is unknown, or, at the least open to interpretation and debate, particularly regarding Grant’s life before the Civil War. Julia Grant has had only one biographical treatment, The General’s Wife by Ishbel Ross, published in 1959. More importantly, this statement regarding the Grants also seems to imply that Chiaverini has actually presented factual information about the Grants in her book, but that is not the case either.

Third, Chiaverini fails to mention that her characterization of Julia’s family, especially her father, Frederick Dent, is almost entirely imagined. In fact, I think Julia would be appalled at the way her father is portrayed.

Fourth, she fails to mention that the slave character ‘Gabriel’ is a complete fabrication.

In all, Chiaverini amplifies what I believe too many historians have done over time. That is, they have used Ulysses Grant to represent the extremes of the anti-slavery, pro-Union, ‘pro-Northern’ side of the Civil War, and they have used Julia’s father, Frederick Dent, to represent the pro-slavery, pro-secession, ‘pro-Southern’ side of the war. This makes for a compelling narrative, and simplifies explanations of what the war was all about. After all, it WAS about slavery. However, when one looks more closely at the evidence on which these characterizations of Grant and his father-in-law rest, as I have over the last several years, it becomes apparent that the evidence is incomplete at best, as I’ve noted in previous posts. See here and here for starters. For Chiaverini, of course, none of this matters because her book is fiction, so she can massage the story any way she wants to make the pieces of the puzzle fit.

I won’t attempt to dissect the entire book, but I do want to highlight just a few passages that I found particularly egregious.

In the spring of 1860, Julia and Ulysses left Missouri for Galena, Illinois. Before leaving, according to Julia’s Memoirs, they “hired out our four servants to persons who promised to be kind to them.”  Chiaverini imagines that it is actually Julia’s father who hired out these enslaved people, and then imagines that one of them, Jule, has a horrific experience.

Then there’s this – it’s election time, 1860, and Julia and Ulysses are living in Galena, Illinois:

Julia, who considered herself a staunch Democrat, like Papa, supported Mr. Douglas, but Ulys, who had not lived in Illinois long enough to be permitted to vote anyway, preferred Mr. Lincoln. In his letters from White Haven, Papa sang the praises of a third candidate, Vice-President John C. Breckenridge, a former Congressman from Kentucky who emphatically opposed any restrictions on slavery but also rejected secession as a solution to the nation’s crises. “Mr. Breckenridge is the man to put things right,” Papa wrote to Julia a week before the election. “Mr. Lincoln’s election would be an utter calamity. Mr. Douglas’s a catastrophe of only slightly lesser proportions.”

A casual reader would be forgiven for believing that such a letter actually exists, but if it does, I’d love to see it. There is no indication in any primary source that Julia’s father favored Breckenridge. In fact, as Chiaverini notes a few pages later, Dent actually voted for Douglas. She just doesn’t explain why, if Dent so favored Breckenridge, he suddenly changed his mind when it came time to vote. And, Grant made it quite clear in his Memoirs that he also favored Douglas, not Lincoln.

In 1861, Chiaverini imagines Jule witnessing the Camp Jackson affair in St. Louis, but fails to mention that Grant was there as well, or that Grant wrote letters from White Haven to Julia in Galena at this time (these letters actually do exist) in which Ulysses tells Julia that her father is still claiming to be a Union man, despite his belief that the federal army shouldn’t coerce Missouri into staying in the Union.

Later, Chiaverini imagines a conversation between Julia and her father in which Julia reminds him that his son, Frederick T. Dent, is in the Union Army. Chiaverini has Julia’s father respond that her brother is in far off California and “if ordered to take up arms against his native South, Frederick would resign his commission.” This ignores the fact that Ulysses had already written a letter to his father-in-law in which he had told him that his son, Fred T. Dent was “for the old Flag as long as there is a Union of two states fighting under its banner and when they dissolve he will go it alone.”

Maybe I’m just too close to this story, but as I read the book, there were times when I wanted to throw it across the room. Maybe because I’ve spent countless hours reading and researching, trying to learn about and understand the Grants and the Dents, it bothers me that someone can come along and just make stuff up for public consumption. The St. Louis County library alone purchased 122 copies of this book, and it still took me a few weeks to get a copy, so obviously the book is being read. Again, will readers be able to discern fact from fiction? If this post sounds too harsh a note, I should probably apologize, after all, as I said at the outset, many historians, I believe, have exaggerated the contrasts in the social and political views of Grant and his father-in-law. Chiaverini has just taken this narrative to an extreme for the sake of a novel. And, maybe it doesn’t really matter. Maybe this book will prompt people to seek out the true story. The challenge, of course, is that the true story isn’t easy to find.

 

 

 

03/3/15

Frederick T. Dent On Meeting Ulysses Grant and Boyhood at White Haven

 

001In a file at Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library is a copy of a couple of pages on which Frederick T. Dent wrote reminiscences of two “incidents,” as he titled them. The file indicates that Fred wrote “in pencil, in cheap, ruled notebook,” sometime after the Civil War, however there was no date on the notebook. The Ulysses S. Grant Association obtained this file copy in 1964 from the original notebook, which was in the possession of a granddaughter of Fred’s who resided in Denver, Colorado at the time. I have transcribed the pages as best I could given that I have a copy of a copy that is itself more than fifty years old. Also, Fred’s handwriting appears to be rather shaky. I’m guessing he wrote these pages towards the end of his life.

Fred left out  a lot of commas and periods. I have added punctuation and capitalized the first words of sentences where it seemed appropriate, but the bit about the “pickayune” has me puzzled. The first sentence, no doubt, refers to a “picayune,” a small coin, such as a nickel. The second reference may be a play on words because picayune can also mean “prejudiced,” but I’m not sure where the punctuation should be.

For those interested in Ulysses Grant, the first “incident” will be of interest. For those interested in White Haven, the second “incident” is priceless.

Incident

First Meeting with Gen U S Grant

In the spring of 1839 I was on the Hudson River ship en route from New York to West Point to report for examination for admission as a cadet. I did not know a person on the boat and was sitting alone on the seat which was round the upper deck admiring the scenery, it being my first view of it. We had passed the palisades and were abreast of Tarrytown when I noticed a youth about my age and size standing near the rail on the opposite side of the deck. He was alone and seemed to be as lonely as I was. I went over to speak to him and remarked that the view up the river was very beautiful and grand.

He replied yes and the shores along which we were passing were of historic interest as in that vicinity Andre was captured and tried and many other events of the Revolutionary war took place. I am from Ohio and never was here before and of course I don’t know the historic places when I see them.

I said if this was a steamer on the Ohio or Mississippi we could ask some of the passengers or the Captain and get from them the points of interest as we go along, but I asked a question of a man I took for a gentleman and he gave me a gruff answer, a scowl, and then moved off as though he was afraid I would next ask him for a pickayune (sic).  

He said you are pickayune (sic) for 6 ¼ cts you are from the west?

Yes, from Missouri, and I am going to West Point. How far up are you going?

He answered to the same place to be a cadet if I can pass the examination.

I replied I have an appointment as cadet and hope to get in. I asked him his name. He replied Grant and I told him mine’s Dent and then we became quite sociable and communicative.

We soon arrived at the old steam boat landing just under the bluff on which the hotel stands. On the wharf we aspied a tall soldier in buff uniform with a very high plume in his hat. We came to the conclusion that he was the superintendent of the military academy and determined to give him the slip and kept on the far side from him of the crowd of people from the boat going to the hotel. When we got there we went into the office to register. He wrote his name first but it was the last time he signed it H U Grant Ohio. I registered below F T Dent Missouri.

The soldier in buff and tall plume had followed the crowd to the hotel and came in one door as we shifted out of another. We went to the back porch of the hotel and sat there admiring the view up the Hudson and keeping good look out for our buff soldier. He did not trouble us any more that evening but the next morning after breakfast we concluded to go and see whose monument it was we saw beyond the flag staff and had just made out that it was Woods when our tall plumed buff soldier pounced on us with the inquiry are either of you young gentlemen Mr Grant or Mr Dent to which we replied given each are our names and we were directed to follow him over to the comandants office to report. We learned on our way over the _____(?) that our buff soldier was not the superintendent but drummer Rose of the band, an orderly for the comandant.

 

Incident

When I was a small boy I had a great fondness for the woods and spent hours in them. I learned the name and nature of every tree and bush, vine, weed, flower and grass, and their fruits and berries, seed and foliage. I very early in life became an observant and good woodsman. I always kept the points of compass in mind and in all my after life I never was lost (that is did not know my way home as to camp) be it on the vast prairies of the west or among the Rocky mts in among the intricate battlefields of Virginia or the paths of the Alleghenies. The time of day, and my shadow on the ground told me the courses I was traveling, the compass plant on the plains told me N & S. Then in the woods I knew the lichen or moss grew thickest on the North of a tree or bush if it was a dark day and I had no compass. I always had a small sewing needle and this laid on a small piece of bark cork or chip and placed in a puddle of water will always settle with the point of the needle to the north. I took great pleasure at this early period of boyhood in acquainting myself with the nature and habits of wild animals; their feeding time and where and on what they fed; their times for drinking and where they got their water. I did the same with the wild fowls both of the woods and the water and the game birds and songsters and although Mr. Audibon [sic] gave me personally my earliest instruction in the observation required by a student of natural history & ornithology (when he was my father’s guest while fitting out for his western trip), I fear I did not have the same motive as the great ornithologist – he took the scientist’s view, I the hunter.

 

03/1/15

White Haven Slave Interviews: Mary Robinson and Mary Henry

 

Julia Dent Grant and her father, Frederick F. Dent

I’ve said in previous posts that the Mary Robinson interview which was published in the St. Louis Republican in 1885 is the only account of life at White Haven from the perspective of an enslaved person. A while back, however, I became aware of a published interview with Mary Henry, childhood companion of Julia Grant and nurse to the Dent family, which appeared in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and was re-printed in the Kansas City Star on April 22, 1900. I have not seen the original newspapers, and cannot access them online, however, I do have the text of the article from the Kansas City Star. In my post on the Mary Robinson interview I noted that I believe the Robinson interview as published needs to be read with caution. As anyone who has done research in historic newspapers knows, they are frequently unreliable. When it comes to interviews with former slaves, additional analysis is required. In the book The Slave’s Narrative edited by Charles Twitchell Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., there is a chapter titled, “Using the Testimony of Ex-Slaves: Approaches and Problems” by John W. Blassingame. Here are a few examples of the many challenges in interpreting slave interviews Blassingame pointed out. (These are comments regarding the WPA slave narratives of the 1930s, however the same challenges apply to the Robinson and Henry newspaper interviews.)

Every recorded interview had two authors, the person who asked the questions and the one who answered them. Often the white interviewer-author’s actions and demeanor led to distortions and limitations of what the black informant-author told him. Many of the blacks played it safe; they claimed that they remembered very little about slavery and gave one- or two-page interviews. Even the informants who gave the longest, most candid interviews refused to talk about certain things…

A second weakness of the WPA interviews is that many of them are not verbatim accounts. The informants stories were often edited or revised before they were typed…

A third factor that led to distortion of the WPA interviews was the average age of the informants; two-thirds were at least eighty years old when they were interviewed… 

Mary Robinson, according to the 1885 published interview, was 58 years old, and was remembering back more than twenty years. Mary Henry was somewhere between 75 and 80 years old, and in fact was near death when her interview was published in April, 1900. Just yesterday, I discovered an article published in the St. Louis Republic on June 3, 1900 reporting that Mary Henry had died. (see here)

Both the Robinson and the Henry interviews pose challenges to our understanding of the relationship of the enslaved people of White Haven to the Grants and the Dents. Because I cannot find the Mary Henry article online without paying a subscription fee, I present the text I have in full here, with a few comments inserted:

SHE WAS MRS. GRANT’S “MAMMY”

The Faithful Old Slave Who’s to Be Buried in the Same Lot with ‘Old Boss and Miss.

From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Mary Henry, the life-long companion and the faithful nurse of Mrs. Julia Dent Grant, wife of General U. S. Grant, is slowly dying at her home in this city. With her is passing away one of the truest types of the old “mammies” who used to be such picturesque figures in the life of the South.

Mrs. Grant’s affection for the dying old woman has always manifested itself. Whether in Washington, or Egypt, or India, or in China, she never forgot her faithful and life-long companion, and the nurse of her children, and in the poor and humble home are tattered and ragged shawls sent her by Mrs. Grant when she was with the general on his tour of the world. Ragged and tattered as they now are they are held beyond price by the old colored woman, to whom they are treasures because “Miss Julia” gave them to her.

Only Friday Mary Henry received a letter from Mrs. Grant. In it was a sum of money. Mrs. Grant wrote “Mammy” that when she died she wanted her to find a last resting place in the Dent lot in Bellefontaine cemetery. Mrs. Grant did not know that her letter would reach her faithful old servant on her deathbed. She is calmly awaiting the end, buoyed and consoled by the religion “Old Boss” and Mrs. Dent gave her, for, like them, she is a Methodist. She wants to die, as she says, to join “Old Boss and Miss,” and to be buried in the same lot and in the same soil in the cemetery where rest their bones.

Mary Henry does not know how old she is, but she says she is a year or two older than “Miss Julia” as she fondly calls Mrs. Grant, and thinks, therefore, she must be more than 75 years of age. As were her father and mother so was she, born a slave into the Dent family and on the Dent farm, on the Gravois road, a few miles out in the country. [Julia’s father, Frederick F. Dent, purchased White Haven in 1820; Julia was born in 1826. Mary Henry may have been born at White Haven, but her parents could not have been born there.]

When Julia Dent, afterward the wife of the great soldier who was twice President of the United States, became 4 or 5 years of age, the slave child, Mary Henry, was sold off as her playmate, and to look after her as much as a child only a year or two her senior could do. [The word ‘sold’ here may have been transcribed inaccurately. The June, 1900 article in the St. Louis Republic reporting Mary Henry’s passing repeats this, but reads “told off” in quotation marks.] The planter’s daughter and the colored slave child played together and in these early years began the attachment, something more than friendship, that has for so many years existed between the great lady and the humble former slave.

Several times Mrs. Grant has shown how much she thinks of the old nurse. Upon her visits to St. Louis in the last few years Mrs. Grant stayed either at the Southern hotel or at the residence of the O’Fallon family. At the Southern hotel at first the clerks did not know who the two old colored women were who wanted to see Mrs. Grant, and would not allow them to see her. But the clerks thought differently a few minutes after the bell boy had been sent up into Mrs. Grant’s parlor with the message of the women. Mrs. Grant herself came down to the elevator entrance, called the women, and, with her arm around the old nurse’s neck, led them into the elevator and to her own room, pausing long enough as she passed the parlor door to ask the women of wealth and fashion gathered there to pay their respects to her to excuse her for a few moments until she could speak with her old “mammy.” For fifteen minutes Mrs. Grant left her callers while she talked with her old nurse. After that Mary Henry was permitted by the clerks to go to Mrs. Grant’s rooms at her pleasure and unannounced.

“Do I remember when Miss Julia was married?” repeated the old woman. Her eyes brightened and she raised herself on her pillows in order to better talk of her benefactor and friend. “Certainly I do, and almost as well as if it had been yesterday. They told me Mr. Grant had been in the Mexican war, but he looked frightened, while Miss Julia was just her own self. I stood as close to her while she was being married as you to my bed, and by taking a few steps I could have touched her. When her children were born, they were handed to me as they came into the world, and it was my hands that first put on them the clothes that my hands had made. For eleven years after Mrs. Dent died I kept house for ‘Old Boss,’ and many a time I have fooled him. [Julia’s mother, Ellen W. Dent, died in January, 1857. Julia’s father moved to Washington D. C. to live with the Grants after the Civil War, although I am not certain exactly when.] After my work was done, and affairs of the house in good shape, he would let me come into town, first asking me when I would be back. I always told him I would spend one day in town and be back the next. I always stayed a week, and he always had the same way of meeting me. As I walked up the lane to the house he always spied me, came out on the porch, called the other servants, and as I got in hearing distance said to them, ‘Tell me who is this runaway ni**er?’ That was all the scolding I ever got.

“I called Miss Julia’s husband ‘Mr. Grant’ until he got to be general, and then I called him ‘general,’ when he was President. He had a great teasing about him and always liked to plague me. He was the oldest, but always claimed I was older that he was. About the last time he was in St. Louis I went down to the Southern hotel to see him. He was in a big room with about fifty gentlemen who had called on him. As soon as he saw me he shook hands with me, introduced me to some of the gentlemen, and then the old plaguing spirit got him. “Mammy,” says he, “I am an old man, but you are much older than I. How old are you, anyhow?”

“General,” says I, “don’t you know it is very impolite to ask a lady her age in the presence of gentlemen?”

“The general broke out in a laugh, and all the gentlemen joined in so loud it could be heard all over the hotel. They tell me Mr. Fred is a general himself now. Lord, how time passes! I remember him as baby, and as a boy and man. I put the first clothes on him, Jesse and Nellie. He was a mischievous boy, just about the age of my son John. When the Grants moved down on Seventh Street Fred was about 12 years old. I went to see the family one day and took John along. Just back of the house was a big pond, full of frogs. I always believed that killing frogs made rain come and young Fred knew it. As soon as he saw us he ran into the house, got his little rifle and cartridges and shouted to my boy, ‘come on, John. Let’s go and shoot frogs so it will rain and mammy will have to stay in town.’ They shot frogs, a rain storm came up, and I had to stay in [sic] town that night.

“The saddest time of my life was when ‘Old Boss’ left the farm and came in to St. Louis. He shook hands with all the servants and told them good-by. I was hanging back to be the last. When he shook hands with me two big tears ran down his cheeks. I tried to cheer him up. ‘Old Boss,’ said I, ‘you’ll be back again. ‘No Mary,’ he said, ‘when I come back to the old farm they will carry me back.’ That was the truth, for the next time he was on the place they carried him back dead.”

The last paragraph is particularly challenging. First, Julia’s father died in the White House in December, 1873, and when his remains were returned to St. Louis, they were not taken to White Haven, but to the residence of his oldest son, Julia’s brother, John Dent, then buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery. (see here) Aside from that, is the remembrance of Julia Grant of her return to White Haven in the summer of 1864, recorded in her Personal Memoirs. To wit:

I was happy to be at home again, busied myself putting my house in order, and hoped soon to have the pleasure of a visit from my husband. Our colored people had all left, but their places were readily filled with German and French men and women, who were most excellent substitutes. How lovely our little villa was, with its cool new India matting and muslin curtains, and how happy we all were on our rose-covered piazza, dear papa so entertained by all I had to tell him.

Julia’s account seems to directly contradict Mary Henry’s account. Who left White Haven first, Julia’s father or his enslaved people? Is there any scenario that would reconcile the two accounts? Note also, that Henry’s claim to have been at White Haven for 11 years after Ellen Dent’s passing conflicts with Julia’s remembrance. This is very important because we have interpreted the fact that the enslaved people left White Haven sometime before 1864, as Julia recalled (before legal emancipation in Missouri), as proof that the enslaved people did not want to be at White Haven.

So, what can we learn, if anything, from these articles about the relationships between the Dents, the Grants, and the enslaved of White Haven? What, if anything, do the Robinson and Henry articles have in common? Is one more reliable than the other? Can we draw from one and dismiss the other?

The article concerning Mary Henry’s passing drew on the above article, but it did include some additional information. It stated that Mary Henry had purchased a burial plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery and would be buried there. However, a search of Bellefontaine’s website does not indicate that she is there today. The article also stated that Mary Henry married a servant in the Dent household the same year that Julia and Ulysses married, 1848, and that she had a number of descendants living in St. Louis. Her daughter, Phyliss Pitts was employed as nurse in the family of F. P. Kaiser at the time. It seems quite possible that descendants of Mary Henry could still be living in St. Louis today. If you are a descendant of Mary Henry, I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

02/24/15

On Frederick T. Dent’s Loyalty 1861

Fort Hoskins, Oregon source: http://www.fortwiki.com/Fort_Hoskins

Fort Hoskins, Oregon
source: http://www.fortwiki.com/Fort_Hoskins

A few months ago I noted in a post here that the FortWiki website on Frederick Tracy Dent includes this allegation:

Between June and November 1861 Capt. Dent and Company B of the 9th U.S. Infantry were located at Fort Hoskins Oregon and Captain Dent was the fort commander. In November 1861 he was accused of involvement in a plot to turn over Fort Hoskins to “secessionists” which remained unproven.

 I also noted the website provides no source citation for this. Perhaps I should have written that there is no specific source citation for this particular piece of information, because the website as a whole does note as a source an article published in the Fall 2002 issue of Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History, published by the Washington State Historical Society, titled “Lessons from an Old Road: Frederick Dent’s Route from Fort Dalles to Fort Simcoe,” written by Michael McKenzie, who, according to the magazine, teaches at Keuka College in New York. I now have a copy of the magazine, and it is apparent that McKenzie’s article is the source of the FortWiki website statement above. McKenzie wrote:

[Dent served] with the Ninth Infantry at various locations on the central Oregon coast. Despite being accused of involvement in a plot to turn over Fort Hoskins (near modern-day Newport, Oregon) to “secessionists” in November 1861.

Unfortunately, McKenzie’s article provides no source citations at all. Week before last, I went down to Mississippi to see what Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library had in their files regarding Frederick Dent. Some of what I found shed light on the story of Frederick T. Dent at Fort Hoskins, Oregon in 1861.

Fred had been in the Pacific Northwest since being sent there with the 9th Infantry in 1856. Captain Dent was in command of Fort Hoskins from June of 1861 until he and his Company B of the 9th Infantry regular army were ordered to Fort Vancouver in late October. Regular Army units were being withdrawn from the Pacific Northwest to meet the secession crisis. Some forts were being abandoned altogether, while at others regular army units were being replaced by volunteer units from California. The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion includes Special Orders No. 44, HQ District of Oregon, Ft Vancouver, Wash Ter., dated 23 October 1861:

IV. Capt. J.C. Schmidt, Second Infantry California Volunteers, will with Company B, same regiment, proceed to Fort Hoskins, Oreg., and relieve Captain Dent, Ninth Infantry. The latter on being relieved will, without delay, repair to Fort Vancouver, Wash. Ter.

Also in the Official Records there is a letter dated November 25, 1861, written from Fort Hoskins by T. B. Campbell, 1st Lt, 2nd Inf. Calif. Vols., Post Adj. This letter may be the source of McKenzie’s statement that Fred was “accused of involvement in a plot to turn over Fort Hoskins to ‘secessionists’ in November 1861.” It is a lengthy letter which can be read in its entirety here, but this is a substantial portion which relates to Frederick Dent. Campbell wrote Lt. Wildrick, the Acting Assistant Adj-Gen at Ft. Vancouver:

Sir: I am directed by the commanding officer of this post to make the following statement: Prior to his arrival at this post the disaffected around this part of the country, as he learns, exulted in the withdrawal of the troops, supposing that the garrison would be a little more favorable to their views. Finding it was not so they seem to have kept pretty still until the garrison was reduced, when they seem to be again about to give some trouble. It seems by the statements made daily and hourly for the past few days that the late commander aided the inhabitants in their nefarious designs on this garrison. Mr. Patton, a packer in the Indian agency employ, came in and avers that when Mr. Newcomb was going away he distributed to the Indians guns and revolvers and ammunition, and told them to fight for Jeff. Davis and the Southern Confederacy. He says the Indians understand too much about this matter, and that they have those arms, which he wishes us to take away from them, as he thinks they will give some trouble by being allowed to keep them, but we have no available force to recapture them, as there are only twelve men at the Siletz block-house; not half enough to guard it properly, as there is one year’s supply of provisions there, and as for this post there are only eight men for duty, with two sergeants and one corporal, Lieutenant Watson and eighteen men, with one corporal and two teamsters, having left this post on the 16th for Fort Umpqua. The peaceful inhabitants of this valley are now daily and hourly making reports to us of the disaffection prevailing around us. Yesterday Mr. Wisner substantiated to us as follows: Mr. Jerry Evans, of this valley, told him that Captain Dent gave him a box of ammunition containing 1,000 rounds of rifle musket cartridges; that he knew the said Evans to be a rank secessionist, and that Captain Dent must have known so also when he gave him those cartridges. He is also of the impression that there is more Government ammunition than this box in this valley. He says that he and Mr. Allen went to Mr. Evans and purchased the box of him for $20, but he would not deliver it. Their object was to get it out of their hands and return it to the post, being Government property falsely squandered. He also says that one more reason was that he overheard the disunionists making menacing threats against the garrison, such as, “Well, I have been up there, and I think that we can take that garrison in one hour; there is only five or six men about there.” “How would you do it?” asks one. “Oh, we would fire the buildings and shoot the officers as they come out,” was his reply. Their constantly using those menacing threats against this garrison and the loyal men in it induces me and Mr. Allen to make this statement to the commanding officer. This afternoon Mr. Tateham informed the commanding officer that very lately from 250 to 300 stand of arms have been distributed to the traitors of this valley by, as he supposes, Joe Lane and [the] Governor of the State; that he does not consider the garrison safe, as he has overheard them also make threats against it, such as, “How easy it would be to take it and get all the arms and ammunition in it. We know every nook in it and all the hiding places about it,” &c. These men do not wish their names to be made public at present, as they are generally married through each other, and are afraid of their own lives. An instance occurred to-day to prove this. A young man came to the garrison and told us that he was a Union man but his father was a secessionist. We are at a loss, being strangers here, to know how to take these reports. They, however, emphatically declare that they could place no confidence in the late commander, and learning that we were true to the dear old flag they feel no diffidence in stating the facts, too. They say, moreover, that all the associates of the late commander were with those men, and that they believe that there is a deep-laid plot in this valley to make a move of some kind before long. They ask for arms and ammunition, but we cannot let them have either until we hear from you on this subject. To-day a citizen applied for twenty rounds, but the commanding officer refused him, not knowing who he was…..

Several points should be considered here. First, this kind of tension and confusion was rampant around the country in 1861. Forts were being seized by rebels, or simply being turned over to rebels by their commanders. Fear was prevalent. Wild rumors and false or unfounded accusations were common. Sides were being sorted out and loyalties were suspect. Life-long friends found themselves on opposite sides. This was particularly true in the Army officer corps, where former West Point classmates and Mexican War veterans made often difficult decisions. Notice that every allegation Campbell makes in this letter is founded on rumor, innuendo, and second hand reports. “Mr. Wisner told us that Mr. Evans said that…” Mr. Tateham “supposes” arms have been distributed to traitors by “Joe Lane and [the] Governor of the State.” Further research would be needed to discern who most of the men named, including Wisner, Evans, and Tateham were, however, Joseph Lane had been Territorial Governor of Oregon, one of the first Senators from Oregon when the territory became a state, and in 1860 had been a candidate for Vice-President on the Southern Democratic ticket under John Breckinridge. Lane was unquestionably pro-slavery and pro-secession, and one of his sons fought in Confederate ranks, but historians have found no evidence that Lane distributed arms to secessionists.

The Governor, John Whiteaker was also pro-slavery which fueled rumors such as those Campbell expressed in this letter, but again, there is no evidence to support them. Campbell readily admitted, “We are at a loss, being strangers here, to know how to take these reports.”

It is also interesting that Campbell began his letter by saying, “the disaffected around this part of the country exulted in the withdrawal of the troops, supposing that the garrison would be a little more favorable to their views.” Do not the ensuing accusations against Captain Dent contradict that statement?

Dent was already at Ft. Vancouver by the time this letter was written. Therefore, he was not in a position to directly confront his accusers. Although Campbell directed his letter to Lt. Wildrick, the Acting Assistant-Adj-Gen at Fort Vancouver, the Commanding Officer was Colonel George Wright, a man intimately familiar with Captain Dent. Dent had already served under Wright for several years. Wright had even been in command of the 5th Infantry in the Battle of Molino Del Rey on September 8, 1847, during the war with Mexico. Fred had been badly wounded that day. Both Wright and Fred had received brevet promotions for gallant and meritorious service during the battle. It does not appear that Wright deemed any investigation necessary in response to Campbell’s letter. Nor is there any response from Fred. It seems quite likely that Wright merely dismissed the letter for what it was – poppycock.

Regarding Captain Dent’s loyalties in 1861, I quoted his friend and brother-in-law in my previous post, but it bears repeating. In a letter dated April 19, 1861, Grant wrote to his father-in-law (Fred’s own father):

I have just rec’d a letter from Fred. He breathes fort[h] the most patriotic sentiments. He is for the old Flag as long as there is a Union of two states fighting under its banner and when they dissolve he will go it alone. This is not his language but it is his idea not so well expressed as he expresses it.  

 It is unfortunate that the actual letter Fred wrote to Grant is not known to have survived. In addition, however, the National Archives hold this correspondence from the Department of the Pacific from August, 1861 from Richard C. Drum (AAG, HQ of the Pacific, San Francisco) to George Wright (Commander at Ft. Vancouver):

The General Commanding the Department desires you to ascertain whether Captain F.T. Dent of your regiment has taken and subscribed anew the oath of allegiance to the United States as required in General Order No. 13, current series from the War Department. If Captain Dent has not already complied with the Presidents directions contained in said order, and should decline to do so, the General [orders] you to relieve him at once from duty and require him to leave the post. From information which reached the General by the last mail he thinks it adviseable that you should hold yourself in readiness to proceed to this city at any moment, the General does not wish you however to carry your preparations so far as to inconvenience or incur expense.

Fred responded 14 August 1861 in a letter sent from Fort Hoskins to Wright at Fort Vancouver:

I have the honour to inform you that your letter of Aug 10 is just received and in answer to further inform you that on the 3rd of July 1861 I took and subscribed anew the Oath of Allegiance to the United States before Magistrate Tatum of the county – that in the same day I did report my having so done to Dept Head Quarters through the Asst Adjt General D C Buell and further did forward the Oath taken and subscribed to the Adjutant General Washington D.C. I was enroute from Walla Walla to this place at the time the oath was taken by officers of W W. Those here had taken it before that time. I never knew that such an order was in existence until the 2nd of July. I immediately sent for the Magistrate but he could not come until the morning of the 3rd.

An endorsement by Wright on 17 August 1861 stated that Dent’s explanation was satisfactory.

(Note – the text of these two letters was obtained from files at Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.)

As I also said in my previous post, Fred Dent’s subsequent service strongly counters any charges of disloyalty in 1861. McKenzie, in his “Lessons from an Old Road,” made the same observation:

Dent’s career continued its ascendancy. During the Civil War, Dent’s rank rose from captain in 1861 to major in 1863 and finally to brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. In the particularly vicious and bloody campaign that culminated in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, Dent again displayed bravery, being promoted to lieutenant colonel for gallant and meritorious service. General Grant entrusted Dent with a sensitive and essential component in bringing up reinforcements at Cold Harbor, Virginia, and there can be little doubt that Dent earned his commendations.

Dent’s bravery on behalf of the Union cause speaks strongly against the charge that he had been conspiring with secessionists in Oregon.

 

 

02/17/15

Secessionism Played Out? In A New York Minute…

There has long been a debate among historians over the extent of the differences between the society and culture of the North vs. the society and culture of the South. How much did those differences foretell the “irrepressible conflict?” How much did those differences influence the course of Reconstruction? This article was re-published by the National Republican newspaper in Washington, D. C. on April 14, 1865:

 Secessionism Played Out.

[From the Richmond Whig, 13th.

Now, when it has become apparent that the Union will be preserved, and that the Southern States will resume their relations to the sisters whose companionship they renounced in an evil hour of blindness and passion, it is well to consider what obstacles still oppose a cordial reunion, and whether they may not be removed.

   Among these obstacles, perhaps none is greater than the idea which has been sedulously inculcated by the designing advocates of discord for many years, that the people of the Northern and Southern sections hate each other with inextinguishable enmity, and that this hatred is so deeply founded in the habits, tastes and opinions of the people that it cannot be eradicated. Nothing has contributed more to keep up the resistance of the Southern people than the teachings of those who declared that the North was inspired with a feeling of enmity and revenge so bitter that nothing would satisfy her people except the utter ruin of Southern homes – the desolation of Southern families, and the destruction of all that made life worth preserving.

   The passions kindled by the war, and the deeds of rapine and violence on both sides to which the war has given birth, have for a long time prevented us from developing the real sentiments of humanity and kindness to which thousands will happily return now when the blood-red flames of the conflict are beginning to subside.

   We feel sure that even the most embittered secessionist will acknowledge that the conduct of the United States officers and soldiers in Richmond has been not only considerate and humane, but adapted to inspire confidence and kindness in return. And with the prospect of returning peace, the sentiments of the people of the North are beginning to appear in forms which ought to elicit corresponding feelings.

   The prompt action of the Christian Commission in supplying all the destitute among us with food, certainly does not savor of a spirit of hatred and revenge. We have heard of various expressions of good feeling from many Northern communities, which will speedily be manifested, we are sure, in more substantial forms than mere words.

   When contrasted with the reckless spirit of destruction and disregard of private rights and property exhibited by the leaders of disunion even to the very hour of their final flight from Virginia, these developments of kindness and sympathy from those who were lately reckoned as enemies of the South, will not fail to work a change in many minds.

    We earnestly exhort the people of the South to dismiss rancor from their hearts; to believe what is undoubtedly true, that their brethren of the North desire to live with them in bonds of peace, and to cultivate a spirit of conciliation and forbearance which will soon bear the richest fruits.

 

There’s a Don Henley song, New York Minute, that contemplates just how quickly life can change. I often think of that song when I hear people who purport to know what the future holds. The above editorial seems more hopeful than prophetic, nevertheless, it’s haunting to find the following notices on the same page on which the above editorial was printed:

 

THE CONDITION OF SECRETARY SEWARD.

The friends of Secretary Seward will be glad to learn that he is able to sit up to-day; that he is able to eat substantial food, besides liquids; sleeps well at night; and, his physicians think, he will be able to attend to his official duties in a few weeks.

PERSONAL.

Lieut. Gen. Grant, President and Mrs. Lincoln and ladies will occupy the State box at Ford’s theatre to-night, to witness Miss Laura Keene’s company in Tom. Taylor’s American Cousin.

 

In a New York minute, everything can change…

 

 

 

02/9/15

“Brevet Brothers”: Frederick T. Dent and Ulysses S. Grant

The Battle of Molino del Rey

The Battle of Molino del Rey

Back in October I went down to SIU-Carbondale to have a look at their collection of Frederick T. Dent papers. As I reported in this post, there are some very interesting documents in the collection, including the telegram Fred Grant sent to his Uncle Fred Dent the day Ulysses died. I noted the poignancy of that telegram and of the letter Fred Grant sent to Fred Dent some months later, in which he told his uncle that Ulysses had been thinking of him in his last days.

The more I look into Fred Dent’s life, the more apparent it becomes just how close these two men really were. In an interview with early Grant biographer, Hamlin Garland, Fred related the first meeting of he and Grant in their youth:

I remember when I first met Grant. We were in New York City on our way to West Point (1839), and happened to stop at the same hotel. We had never been introduced before but being both from the west, we struck up an acquaintance and became good friends. We went on the boat together. Up to that time neither of us said a word about where he was going. Grant then said: “I have an appointment at the Military Academy and I am going to stand my examination.” I replied, “So am I and we’ll go up together.”

We were both delighted to find we were destined for the same place. At the Academy in our last year we roomed together and I never had a pleasanter companion. We never had a cross word. He was the clearest headed young man I ever saw and never under any circumstances lost his head. He always wanted to do what was right, and we all had great respect for him. He was liked a singed cat – a great deal better than he looked.

After we graduated I visited him at his home in Ohio. He then promised me to visit me at St. Louis. He had been assigned to Jefferson Barracks, and I was to go a point further west and I hoped to see him at my home for a day or two before I left. He was delayed, and did not reach my father’s place till the day after I started. My people had heard me talk about him a good deal; they were glad to see him and they were sorry I was not there. My father lived nearly ten miles out of St. Louis and it was nearly night when Grant got there. My father invited him to stay overnight and then later he was introduced to my sister.

As Fred remembered, in the first years after their graduation from West Point, the two were stationed far apart. Nevertheless, they maintained a regular correspondence which Grant would often mention in letters he wrote to Julia. In a letter Grant wrote to Julia from Texas dated April 20, 1846, he noted, “Fred. [aware of Ulysses and Julia’s engagement] says in his letter that he hopes [that ne]xt time he sees me to take me by the hand as a Brevet brother.”  By the spring of 1847, Fred and Ulysses were re-united in Mexico. In a letter sent from Vera Cruz on April 3, Grant told Julia, “Fred is here and well. I see him every day.” When Fred was wounded at the battle of Molino del Rey, Grant was there, and helped him on to a wall to attract medical attention. When the war with Mexico ended, Fred and Ulysses again went separate ways, but they would be re-united several years later when Grant, now the highest ranking United States Army officer, made his “brevet brother” a member of his staff. They would subsequently share in some of the most important events in American history.

Just yesterday I came across an article published in The New York World in the summer of 1872. The reporter wrote:

Frederick was a cadet at West Point when Grant was, and they became close friends, though not such close friends as they are now, for Frederick sticketh closer to Grant than a brother, yea, closer than any brother I ever heard of.

Tomorrow, I’m headed for Mississippi to visit the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library. I’ll be looking at the numerous letters and documents they have related to Frederick T. Dent in hopes of learning much more about him.

02/3/15

Grant, Lee, and the Politics of Reconstruction

I had the honor of meeting William C. Davis a few months ago when he visited Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. He was the featured speaker for the park’s annual John Y. Simon Day. I took him on a quick personal tour through White Haven. We also had a small reception at which we sat around a table for conversation.  I enjoyed getting to meet him and I enjoyed the discussions.  At the time, his new dual biography of Grant and Lee, Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee – The War They Fought, The Peace They Forged, had not yet been released. I didn’t find out until one of my co-workers ordered a copy of the book a few weeks ago that Davis had cited a post on this blog in the notes of the book (I was quite flattered.), and I don’t think he knew that night that Yesterday…and Today is my blog. I’ve since ordered a copy of his book for myself and have read through most of it.

Davis informs us in his preface that he relied almost exclusively on primary sources, and that “very sparing use has been made of secondary works, and most of those cited are for purposes of correcting errors found in them, or as recommended further readings.”

For the most part, as I read through the book, I thought Davis treated his subjects with historic objectivity and found little I would disagree with. I am challenged by one aspect of his conclusion, however, and that aspect is represented in the subtitle of the book, “…the peace they forged.” Davis aptly describes the events leading to and including that watershed event in American history, Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox. Davis describes the face-to-face meetings between the two great generals and analyzes their feelings and approach to the surrender and the terms agreed upon. In the final chapter, Davis relates “the last meeting” between Grant and Lee.

It was 1869, Grant had been elected President, and Lee sought a visit to the White House. (Interestingly, Fred Dent, now acting as a military secretary to the President, was the liaison who arranged the meeting between Lee and Grant.) The meeting was private. Davis tells us that it was rather short and that accounts vary as to what the former adversaries actually discussed, but they apparently discussed the current state of affairs in the south, in particular the political situation in Virginia and the forthcoming vote on its new constitution. According to Davis, the two men found themselves much in agreement.

[Both Grant and Lee] favored submitting the new Virginia constitution to voters without the disenfranchisement clause, and then holding a separate referendum on that. [Grant] could see that in the Old Dominion the Democrats and moderate Republicans were unhappy with the excesses of the Radicals, and ready to make common cause to exchange resistance to black suffrage for restoration of rights to whites. As summer arrived, and with it nominations for Virginia’s governorship, Grant withheld support from the Radicals’ candidate and tacitly supported a coalition ticket of moderate Republicans headed by Gilbert C. Walker, a Northern-born moderate widely supported by former Whigs in the commonwealth. That put him much in tune with Lee’s antebellum political stance before the war experience made him more conservative. Walker was also aligned with Grant and Lee on the issue of submitting the new constitution and the difficult voting rights clause to separate referenda. Though he could not vote, Lee watched elective politics in Virginia closely, and in June word leaked out that he favored the Walker ticket, as did Grant.

In a close election, Walker won in November to become Virginia’s first Republican governor. As a result, once the constitution passed and it and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were ratified, military rule ended and Virginia would be readmitted to the Union on January 26, 1870, making it the only state to escape enduring radical reconstruction. Lee may have declined to speak out as Grant wanted, but his views and support for Walker nevertheless became known, and to the extent that Grant was right about Southerners following Lee’s example, the Confederate had an impact. At arm’s length to be sure, Grant and Lee had helped to shape the peace with a template for other states to follow if they chose. (Crucible of Command, pg. 484)

The problem I have is with the last statement. Eric Foner wrote in his Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution:

Southern Democrats made their first attempt to seize the political center in 1869. Instead of running its own candidates for state office, the party threw support to disaffected Republicans, and focused on the restoration of voting rights to former Confederates rather than opposition to black suffrage. In Virginia and Tennessee, the strategy paid immediate dividends. (Reconstruction, pg 412)

While Lee may have been pleased with the results of this course in Virginia, it is pretty clear to me that Grant was not. Brooks Simpson in his book The Reconstruction Presidents wrote bluntly of the Virginia situation: “Grant was not so pleased. In wanting moderate Republicans to win the day, he did not look to hand the state over to the Democrats.” (The Reconstruction Presidents, pg. 141) While Grant may have initially seen Virginia’s course as a “template for other states to follow,” when politicians in other states tried to follow this “template,” Grant quickly changed course and backed the Radicals. In his magisterial study of Reconstruction in Mississippi, The Day of the Carpetbagger: Republican Reconstruction in Mississippi, William C. Harris wrote:

From Mississippi, Texas, and Tennessee, where a gubernatorial election was scheduled for August, representatives of both conservative and regular Republican parties descended upon Washington soon after the Virginia election in July to obtain support for their factions. In conferences with President Grant and members of Congress the regular Republicans painted a bleak picture of how affairs in their states would develop if the administration continued to tilt toward conservative Republicans in the South as it had done in Virginia. At a hurriedly called cabinet meeting on July 13, Secretary of Treasury George S. Boutwell, the leading Radical Republican in the administration, denounced the conservative victory in Virginia and declared that the nation had grievously misinterpreted the government’s policy of neutrality in that election; even men in high government and party positions had come to believe that Grant’s southern policy called for the election of the Walker faction over the regular Republicans. They were mistaken, Boutwell said. But the damage to reconstruction had been done, and the only way now to check the disintegration of true republicanism in these states was for the administration to come out unequivocally in support of the regular party there. (The Day of the Carpetbagger, pg. 235-236)

Grant was put in a particularly difficult position in Mississippi when the conservative Republicans, with the support of Democrats, asked Grant’s own brother-in-law, Lewis Dent, to be their gubernatorial candidate. Initially Grant was inclined to support Lewis and the “template” of Virginia, but soon informed his brother-in-law in a letter dated Aug. 1, 1869:

Dear Judge [Lewis Dent]: I am so thoroughly satisfied in my own mind that the success of the so-called Conservative Republican party in Mississippi would result in the defeat of what I believe to be for the best interest of the state and country, that I have determined to say so to you in writing. Of course, I know or believe that your intentions are good in accepting the nomination from the Conservative party. I would regret to see you run for an office, and be defeated by my act, but as matters now look, I must throw the weight of my influence in favor of the party opposed to you… (Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Vol. 19, pg. 221)

Brooks Simpson wrote in The Reconstruction Presidents:

Texas proved more challenging. Although proscription was not an issue, Republican factionalism was especially intense. Grant relied on an old West Point classmate, district commander Joseph J. Reynolds, to advise him what to do; Reynolds eventually sided with the Radicals. For several months the president wavered between Radicals and moderates, hoping that the two factions would work out their differences. When Democrats decided to support the moderates in an effort to repeat what happened in Virginia, Grant threw the administration whole-heartedly behind the candidacy of Radical Edmund J. Davis, who won in a close contest. (Reconstruction Presidents, pg. 141-142)

There are so many books about Grant out there that it can be difficult to recommend just one, and for all but the most dedicated Grant scholar, virtually impossible to read them all. Davis’ approach, a combination Grant/Lee study is unique, however. Davis is obviously an accomplished author, and this book is easily readable. Despite my confusion over his interpretation of Grant’s Reconstruction policy, I still have no problem recommending this book to anyone interested in Grant and/or Lee.

01/27/15

A Sniper’s Victim

 

Major General John Sedgwick

Major General John Sedgwick

Perhaps the most famous victim of a sniper’s bullet during the Civil War was Major General John Sedgwick. (see here) Frederick T. Dent had conversed with Sedgwick moments before he was killed. In 1887 Fred wrote a poignant letter of remembrance that was published by the Sedgwick Memorial Association. Here is the full text of that letter:

May 10, 1887

General: – As all that relates to General Sedgwick is dear to his and (by inheritance) your old and glorious corps, I send you my quota. On the morning General Sedgwick was killed, General Grant told me to go to General Sedgwick, near Alsop’s, and give him the movements of the army for the day – part were in writing and the contingent verbal. I went to Sedgwick and found him sitting in front of his tent in his shirt sleeves (that is, coat off), taking his breakfast. He greeted me with my old West Point name:

“Hello, Jerry; had breakfast?”

I answered:

“No, General; Grant routed me out just as it was about ready, to come to you, and kindly said, ‘it would be nice and cold for me when I came back.’ ”

“Then come and take breakfast with me.”

I accepted, and during our meal communicated Grant’s message to Sedgwick. While we were eating and talking, some troops were engaged in throwing up a line of defensive works, a few yards, I should think not fifty, to the front and left of Sedgwick’s tent, and the enemy’s sharpshooters were annoying them with occasional shot at long range, making men stoop, when one would whistle over; this dodging amused the General, and he called out to the men to know what they were dodging for?

“Those fellows would not hit a barn at that distance.”

We rose from the table, and bidding the General “good-morning,” with a grip of the hand, and a friendly warning:

“Uncle John, your tent is too near to the battle-line for the comfort of your visitors,” I mounted, and set out for General Grant’s Headquarters, one mile away. As I rode along, I looked back, and saw Sedgwick standing near the men who were at work; it was the last time I saw him alive. I rode in a canter up to Headquarters, and finding General Grant in the road, in front, looking much distressed. He said to me, as though I knew it, and had come to tell him:

“Well, poor Sedgwick is gone.”

I replied:

“Gone! What do you mean? I parted with him not more than twenty minutes since, and he gave me a cup of coffee.”

Grant said:

“He is dead; killed by a sharpshooter, and I have directed his body to be sent here to be embalmed; it is now on the road.”

A short time after, it came in an ambulance, escorted by of the dead General’s staff. I do not think I ever saw Grant so much moved as he was then, except once in Burlington, N. J., when we received a telegram from Mr. Stanton, telling of Mr. Lincoln’s death.

In my manifold Order Book, is a violet, I plucked four hours after, where Sedgwick fell. The sight of it, and the dedication of the tablet is my excuse for this note,

Yours, truly,

F. T. Dent

Brevet Brigadier General 

Ex-Aid-de-camp to General Grant