We find some more evidence as to the circumstances under which Grant reportedly made this remark if we read the paragraph that sets the stage for the quote:
The editor of the Randolph Citizen recalls some interesting reminiscences of the great Reticent. He had a tongue at one time, it would seem:
In the summer of 1861 General Grant, then Colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Regiment of Infantry, was stationed at Mexico, on the North Missouri Railroad, and had command of the post. He remained several months, mingling freely with the people, regardless of the peculiar shade of anyone’s political opinions; and as the distinguished Colonel had then no thought of aspiring to the Presidency or a dictatorship, no occasion existed for the reticence to which latterly he owes the greater part of his popularity. Ulysses the Silent was then Ulysses the Garrulous, and embraced every fair opportunity which came in his way to express his sentiments and opinions in regard to political affairs. One of these declarations we distinctly remember. In a public conversation in Ringo’s banking-house, a sterling Union man put this question to him: “What do you honestly think was the real object of this war on the part of the Federal Government?”
This is useful information. Colonel Grant and the 21st Illinois were located at Mexico, Missouri, from July 23, 1861, until August 7, 1861 (the following day he assumed command of a military district at Ironton, Missouri). So now we have a time span for the encounter … and we know that Grant was indeed in Mexico, Missouri.
What of the Randolph Citizen? Well, we know it existed, being printed in Huntsville, Missouri. Files of the paper are scattered. Huntsville is nearly 50 miles northwest of Mexico, Missouri. We know from this rate book that the paper leaned Democratic as of 1870, and it’s reasonable to think that was the case in 1868; however, additional research suggests that in 1861 it was a free soil paper that went out of business, to be replaced in 1864 by a pro-Democratic paper. We can see, however, that in 1868 the source of the story was not disinterested politically: he was supplying his fellow Democrats with information.
So, we have verified the location of the banking house, confirming that it was indeed in Mexico, Missouri, and further confirmed the existence of the Randolph Citizen and discovered that the editor in 1868 was a Democrat. More things seem to be falling into place … until next time.