Ulysses S. Grant, Father

Ulysses S. Grant did not always have the smoothest relationship with his father. Indeed, old Jesse Grant could in turn berate his son, brag about him, embarrass him, and even try to take advantage of him.

Fathers are often shaped by their experiences as sons, for better and for worse. Sometimes, as sons know, the act of becoming a father sheds new light on what their own fathers did. In Grant’s case, he seems to have resolved to be a different sort of father than his own father was.

For one thing, he took his eldest son to work several times. We know this because the Illinois monument at Vicksburg tells us so.




Nor was Fred the only one to go to the front.

Grant at City Point

That’s Jesse Grant leaning against his father’s chair.

After the war, artists offered stylized images of the Grant, including this engraving based on a portrait:

Note the horse … and how Jesse’s stylin’.

Here’s Buck (Ulysses S. Grant, Jr.) wearing a uniform. Eventually he would attend Phillips Exeter Academy … just as Robert Todd Lincoln did. Meanwhile, Nellie was born on the Fourth of July, and her father always said the fireworks were for her. The same might be said of the occupation of Vicksburg.

Grant’s reading a book here. Jesse appears to have shrunk.

Photoshop, 19th-century style.

Here Grant’s reading the paper. That’s never a good idea if you’re famous.

Back to reading books …

… with the Capitol looming in the background. More than once, as we see here …

You knew that the Grants liked horses, right? Actually, Julia should be mounted as well. She was quite a horsewoman in her own right.

No word on whether the idea of the Capitol dome looming in the background was the inspiration for this monument placement:

During Grant’s presidency, the Grants posed for pictures at Long Branch, New Jersey, which was the president’s summer White House:

Fred was at West Point at this time. A few years later, when the other children were elsewhere, Jesse returned to his pride of place:

As a father, Grant was quite indulgent. When Horace Porter once came upon him playing with his children, Grant remarked: ” Ah, you know my weaknesses — my children and my horses.” Sometimes he overindulged. Fred went to West Point, where he barely survived; once in the army he found himself in George Armstrong Custer’s doghouse, while his mother protested his displacement from William T. Sherman’s staff after Sherman’s European tour. Jesse tore up the White House in ways that exceeded the wildest dreams of Tad Lincoln.

When it came to Nellie, Grant was quite protective. In 1874, she married an Englishman, Algernon Sartoris, in the White House. Clearly Grant was not wild about the match, although he gave his daughter away at the altar.

Later, people noticed that the president was not at the reception. They began looking for him … and found him in his daughter’s bedroom, face down, crying.

It is one of the regrets of my professional life that the American Experience left my description of that event on the cutting room floor (and, indeed, ignored the story altogether).

Grant’s foreboding proved prescient. The marriage came to an end in 1883, although the couple had four children.

Grant’s indulgence in his children proved to have an unhappy legacy. When his son, Ulysses Jr., went into business on Wall Street with Ferdinand Ward (thus forming Grant & Ward), the ex-president decided to work at the firm, although he was little more than an ornament with connections and a reputation. Perhaps he could at last show his now-deceased father that one could make it in the world of business while being a supportive and loving father. Unfortunately, Ward’s unscrupulous behavior led to the collapse of the firm in 1884 and brought financial ruin to Grant and his family, among others, just before the former general learned that he was suffering from throat cancer, the result of another weakness–cigars.

Finally, at Mount McGregor … the last family picture:

They were with him to the end.

Happy Father’s Day.


3 thoughts on “Ulysses S. Grant, Father

  1. centerforhistorystudies June 15, 2014 / 11:37 am

    Thank you for hosting this blog. Thank you also for pointing out my good points. I made mistakes, true, but I kept movin’ on.

  2. Matt McKeon June 15, 2014 / 6:44 pm

    Grant’s expression never changed in any picture, no matter what the medium.

  3. Buck Buchanan June 16, 2014 / 8:03 am

    Thanks, DR Simpson.

    Excellent as usual.

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