It is another gorgeous fall day! I sat outside for quite some time with my dogs this afternoon just watching the geese fly over, clouds drift by and tossing a Frisbee for Oliver. Which reminded me of when I was kid and would lay on the grass watching clouds float by listening to one of my horses munch apples that had fallen from the old apple tree that used to stand right next to grandpa’s chicken coop. They were little sweet tasty apples, and made great jelly and ammunition for sling shots — to be used only for target practice on stuff, not people.
Thinking about my horses munching on those apples made me wonder if you knew that your grandma used to have two horses. I did. A black ornery little Shetland-Welsh pony named Little Joe and a beautiful three colored Arabian-Pinto mare named Beauty.
I can assure you my horses and I were quite famous in our neighborhood. I was often seen chasing my black pony across my neighbor’s fields when he ran away. Which he did every chance he got. When I was older, my neighbors grew used to seeing me galloping my horse across our fields. When she got spooked by some critter, they saw me tearing across their fields. I just loved racing that mare ahead of thunderstorms as they invaded and attacked our farm. I was a good rider!
Do you know who else loved horses and was a great rider? The general that won the Civil War for Abraham Lincoln and the Union…Ulysses S. Grant. He had two famous horses. One was an ornery little black pony named Jeff Davis. Some soldiers from the North drafted the pony into the service of the Union right off of the plantation of Confederate President Jeff Davis. The soldiers gave the beast to Grant as a gift and he decided to name it after its previous owner. His other famous horse was his large powerful dark war horse named Cincinnati. This horse was also a gift to Grant. The only other person recorded as being allowed to ride this beautiful animal was President Abraham Lincoln.
Warhorse Cincinnati with General Grant Jeff Davis Grant’s pony
Ulysses S. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822. His dad’s name was Jesse Root Grant and Hannah was his mother. As a boy, Grant was small for his age, quiet and got his feelings hurt easily. His classmates at school thought he was stupid, because he was so quiet and nicknamed him, “Useless.”
From a young age Grant was somewhat superstitious. One of his beliefs was if he ever turned around and backtracked he would have bad luck. For example, if he was going to a neighbor’s house and remembered he had forgotten something at home, instead of turning around and going back for it, he would continue to go forward and circle around until he approached his home from the opposite direction. As odd as this habit of his might seem…it came in handy later.
Unlike Abraham Lincoln who had less than a year of formal education before he became president, Grant attended both public and private schools as a child. He had what was considered a good education for that time. Grant was not a good student, but was super smart in math and a skill that was very valuable during that time in history…horsemanship.
Everybody worked in those days even kids. In addition to running a farm, Grant’s father had his own business. He was a tanner. Tanners bought the skins of dead animals and made them into leather. It was a stinky business and Ulysses hated it. He hated the stench of death from the animal hides and the sight of blood. So, his father assigned him the task of taking care of the family’s horses and animals. A task at which Grant excelled. He acquired a reputation in his neighborhood for being able to calm and work with untrained and ornery horses. His horse riding skills and tricks were legendary. Grant loved horses and they loved him.
As a teenager, Grant made it very clear to his father that he did not want to farm or work as a tanner. He was an ambitious boy, but his parents did not have the money to send him to college. So, his father secretly applied for Grant to go to the West Point Military Academy…it is a military college. Students at West Point get their education for free, but they have to serve our nation in the military for four years after they graduate.
General Grant was the descendant of military men. His great-great grandfather fought in the French and Indian War and his grandfather was in the Revolutionary Army and fought in the battle at Bunker Hill. Grant was accepted to West Point, but when his father told him the news, Grant wasn’t too happy about going. In those days you did what your parents said, so at the age of 17, Grant left home and went off to military school.
When he arrived at West Point the person registering him for classes incorrectly wrote down his name as “Ulysses S. Grant.” Then, the “S” became “Sam.” That became his nickname at school, “Sam Grant.”
At West Point, Grant quickly gained a reputation as being an expert horseman. He could ride any horse. Grant was considered fearless. He even set an equestrian high-jump record that lasted for over 20 years using a horse no one else could ride.
While he excelled with the horses, he did not get good grades. Grant graduated in 1843, ranking 21st in a class of 39. That’s right, he was near the bottom of the class. As excellent as his horse skills were, his grades were so poor that he did not receive an assignment with the cavalry, but was made the officer in charge of supplies for the 4th Infantry Regiment. Soon, he was marching off to fight in the Mexican War under the command of another famous Civil War General…Robert E. Lee. The very same Robert E. Lee who would surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.
Grant was a loyal man. He was always loyal to his friends, his wife and his country. As a quiet and shy person, Grant did not make friends easily. Throughout his life he had a few close friends and remained very loyal to them whether he was poor or powerful.
Grant also was very loyal to his wife Julia who had crooked eyes. Her eyes weren’t exactly crossed, but one just kind of veered off. She was so self-conscious of her eyes, that she rarely had any photographs taken that were not a profile. Grant was even loyal to his wife’s eyes. After the war when he was rich, doctors wanted to fix her eyes and he would not have it. He said that they were that way when he met, fell in love and married her and he would not change a thing about her. Even when Grant and his wife were a part, sometimes for years due to his military service, he always remained loyal to his marriage vows. He never had another girlfriend. Not many men in those days or today are that honorable. Their separations did hurt Grant a lot. His loneliness for Julia is considered one of the reasons he gained a reputation for being a drunk. His drinking to excess is often sited as a reason for his sudden exit from military service.
I believe that Grant was a great general, because he was fearless, a great mathematician and his boyhood superstition about getting bad luck if he ever retreated served him well.
Grant was a successful military leader, because he understood military tactics and fearlessly used them on a battlefield. He once charged an enemy in battle. The enemy surrounded him and his men. His soldiers became afraid and asked Grant what they should do…surrender? With bullets sailing past him Grant calmly replied, “If we could cut our way in, we can cut our way out,” and that is exactly what they did. Fearless leadership.
Victory for the north over the confederates was a simple arithmetic problem. Grant understood this. The north had more weapons and soldiers than did the southern armies. He understood that the Civil War would be a war of attrition. Battle after bloody battle where he would lose more men than the enemy, Grant did not turn around or retreat, as all of the former Union generals had done…he always moved forward.
Grant was a realist with the will to win–regardless of the cost in lives. During that final year of the war, when Grant was the commanding General of all of the Union’s armies, the media and the public hated him. They called him a butcher and other nasty names. Some leaders went right to Lincoln and asked the president to fire Grant. Lincoln told them, “I cannot spare this man, he fights.”
While his critics hated him, the men that served with him in the military thought very highly of him. They knew him as a highly intelligent, iron-willed, soft-spoken, slow to anger, forgiving, caring, kind and humble general. A rarity as generals go.
During the Civil War, Grant’s innate kindness was extended to both man and beast. Grant’s sense of protecting human dignity and expressing compassion for others is evident in the kind surrender terms he offered the rebels at the end of the war. He just wanted them to go home and peacefully start their lives over again. No humiliation, no punishment, no retribution…they had all suffered enough. He even let rebel soldiers keep their horses, pistols and swords so they could go home, plant their fields and feed their families. At his war headquarters, Grant allowed many of his men to have pets. It is noted that he treated these animals as kindly as he did their owners. Once a soldier caught a little lamb. It was raised around Grant’s headquarters and grew up to be a large sheep. Grant made it very clear that no harm should come to that sheep. One of his Colonel’s had a pet cat, which Grant held, petted and loved just as much as any of the other soldiers.
After the war was won, the media and the people just could not do enough good things for Grant. After all of the unkind things they had called him, he was now their hero. He was given many very expensive gifts including several mansions, which made Mary Lincoln, Lincoln’s wife and widow, very jealous. Grant was also elected president…twice.
Grant was a Republican president, just like Lincoln. However, he was a much better general, than president. Grant was not a good politician and therefore his presidency was tainted by many scandals.
You are going to find in life that people judge other people based on who they are themselves. A liar thinks everyone else lies, a thief thinks everyone else steals and an honest man thinks everyone else is truthful. Grant, an honest man, was just too naive and trusting to be a politician. This caused him much grief, because unethical people took advantage of him.
All things considered it is safe to say that General Grant had a hard life. While he had lots of fame after winning the Civil War and being elected president twice. His youth was spent with a harsh father and disinterested mother. He was horribly unsuccessful as a civilian. He knew bankruptcy, hunger, loneliness, ridicule and failure. There were times, before the Civil War, when he went door to door selling firewood just to feed his wife, Julia and their four children. Until the start of the Civil War, he had failed at almost everything he had tried.
Grant may not have been good at fighting life’s small battles, but he knew how to war. It has always seemed awful to me that such a sensitive, kind, loyal and honorable man who had such great respect for all life, would end up being in charge of some of the bloodiest battles in our nation’s history. Grant, a man who loved animals and hated death and cruelty, ordered tens of thousands of young men and boys to their deaths in battle. Doing what is right no matter how hard it might be or how unpopular you may become, is the very definition of bravery. Ulysses S. Grant was a very brave man.
Grant died of mouth and throat cancer as a result of his nasty cigar smoking habit. He always had one of those things in his mouth. Some reports say he smoked over 25 cigars a day. Grant wrote down his memories of the Civil War as he was suffering and dying from the cancer. He was bankrupt again and wrote the book, in the hope that its sales would provide his wife Julia with money after his death. He finished the book…just barely…before he died. Samuel Clemens, the famous author known as Mark Twain, published the book. Grant did not live to see the success of his book, but it sold so many copies that his wife was rich and well cared for, for the rest of her life.
General Grant dying of cancer writing his book.
There is an old joke about General Grant that is a trick. In high school one of my teachers played this trick on our class and I was the only one that got the answer…wrong. I was teased by the teacher in front of the whole class for getting such a simple question incorrect. The question was, “What color was Grant’s white horse?” My answer was that Grant’s horse was not white. Both of his famous horses…Cincinnati and Jeff Davis…were black.
Having never been the type of person to go along with foolishness just to fit in with the crowd, I did not really care that I was being laughed at, because I had been seemingly duped by the teacher. I knew that General Grant and my grandmother would have been proud of my correct and honest answer and that was good enough for me.
I hope that you have had a great week and got the gifts we sent you. Say hi to your mom and dad from me.
Lots of love and Hugs