I was watching the news this weekend and there was a segment where a baker was demonstrating how to decorate cakes. At the end of her demonstration, she showed off cupcakes that she had decorated especially for Memorial Day. They were bright red, white and aqua blue. Then, with chipper voice she joyously explained that the cupcake icing design resembled fireworks.
Memorial Day is not a day to hold celebrations, in truth, it is a yearly national funeral for our military dead. It is a day of remembrance….of loss…not victory, freedom or national pride. It is the day to think about all of those young men and women whose lives were cut short and whose beautiful bodies were torn, mutilated and so grievousness wounded that they could not survive their injuries. Their trauma and deaths were horrific.
I have been reading the book, “Unbroken”. This book is about World War II soldier Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, who spent much of World War II as a Japanese Prisoner of War after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. The brutality of his war experiences are so vividly described as to, at times, seem to be frankly unbelievable.
I do believe them, because I have had the privilege of knowing many veterans both personally and professionally and their stories were oftentimes very similar to Mr. Zamperini’s.
For instance, take my friend El. Now in his nineties, he is the last man left on this side of the turf from his army unit. I first met El on a World War II Honorflight. I was his caregiver and he was one of my folks.
That day as we chatted together, he mentioned that he had once been a Japanese prisoner of war for four hours. I chuckled and said that nobody was a Japanese prisoner of war for a couple of hours, how did he manage that?
He then told me how this happened. His platoon had been ambushed, all of them were killed outright or wounded. For the next several hours Japanese soldiers walked among those American boys, stabbing them with their bayonets to see if anyone was left alive. Any groan that was heard, was quickly followed by a gun shot. El always says the same thing, “Thank, God, I fell on my stomach and that my eyelids never fluttered.”
Then, there was Sid Schmuckler. What a great name! Sid was quite a guy, at over 90 years of age, he still worked every day and drove himself to his office on Minnesota’s freeways in his station wagon. Sid was a navy man and fought in the Pacific. He was a beach commander.
The night before an invasion was launched, he would go ashore to scout the position and help radio our soldiers ashore. He was a beach commander on Iwo Jima and was in a few other very notable battles.
Sid could tell me about boys, who were just his age, that he had seen blown to bits just as matter of fact as if he was describing restaurant menu. He did have this sad chuckle about the ironies of war that he had witnessed.
He once told me about this chaplain that was walking right down the beach on Iwo Jima as it was being heavily shelled and under constant fire by the enemy. From behind their fortified breastworks, he and the soldiers with him screamed at the chaplain to get down! The chaplain, as calm as if he was taking a Sunday stroll, just kept walking down that bomb pocked beach, stopping to check on each wounded, dying or dead soldier in his path.
As they were yelling at the chaplain, the boy next to Sid took a bullet to the head. Still alive, it was immediately determined that his wound was mortal. When the chaplain was much closer to Sid, he was grabbed and thrown behind the breastworks. Sid pointed at the young dying soldier and asked the chaplain, to give the Catholic boy last rites.
The chaplain quickly went about his business. Just as he concluded, the young soldier breathed his last. As he closed the boy’s eyes the chaplain said, “I hope his Catholic mama never learns that a Ra bi administered her son’s last rites.” Before anyone could detain him, the chaplain quickly leaped from relative safety of the breastworks and continued his mission of mercy on that beach.
However, there was one war story that brought instant tears to Sid’s eyes. He was back on his ship, the war nearly over, and they were smack dab in the middle of the entire Pacific armada with vast air power protecting the fleet. American air superiority was so complete that even Kamikaze’s were no longer considered much of a threat. He finally felt safe from the enemy.
The ship next to his was a hospital ship. That evening, the deck of the hospital ship was brightly lit as the nurses and doctors operated feverishly to save the lives of wounded soldiers.
Sid was on the deck watching the hospital ship when one lone blip showed up on his ship’s radar. It was determined that it had to be an American plane….it wasn’t. The Kamikaze pilot targeted the hospital ship. His plane crashed onto the ship’s deck and burst into flames as it skidded across the top of the entire ship. I can still hear the despair in Sid’s voice as he described the horrific scene, “He killed all of the nurses, those girls, those girls, they all died!”
Memorial Day is set aside for us to think about human cost of war and to solemnly remember and honor our nation’s military dead and their families.
It is not about ……cupcakes
I have always loved looking at Ukrainian Easter Eggs. I know precisely where I saw an Ukrainian egg for the first time. It was at my Great Aunt Doris’s farm home.
Someone had given her two Ukrainian eggs. After she showed them to me, she often caught me looking at them. I was mesmerized by the colors, perfect geometry, fine workmanship and artistry.
It wasn’t too many years after Uncle Ing died before Aunt Doris sold her farm and moved into town. Those eggs went with her. There behind the glass of her china cupboard in her dining room those eggs remained prominently on display.
During the winter of my freshman year in college, due to circumstances beyond my control, I lived with my Aunt Doris. Many times she caught me admiring those eggs. Well, Aunt Doris had no idea how to make Ukrainian eggs, so she decided that I should learn how to crochet lace doilies instead. Both were symmetrical, required skill and a certain amount of artistry. However, where those eggs beat doily making hands down, was in the department of color.
Not to be deterred, Aunt Doris produced a skein of bright gold crochet floss and said, “Here you go!.” As she handed me a pattern book, string and crochet hook, I immediately forgot farm rule number one, panic never helps, and exclaimed that she must be dreaming if she thought I could make one of those complicated things. We had a good laugh and then she responded, “Nonsense, just focus on one stitch at a time and before you know it, your doily will be done.”
Sure enough, that is exactly how it went. Never again was I ever intimated by a lace doily pattern. Over the years I have probably made over a hundred doilies. Many of which were quite complicated.
I bet the one stitch at a time rule of Aunt Doris, could be translated to one stroke of paint at a time in Ukrainian egg making. I do know that whenever I have had a major project or challenge in life, Aunt Doris’s doily management skills have often come to the rescue.
Whether it was getting legislation passed at the Capitol; project managing Minnesota’s World War II Memorial Dedication; formatting a four-hundred plus page statutory legislative manual; working on voter outreach; being a press secretary; being bedridden for years with Multiple Myeloma and a broken spine; or any number of other situations that have been thrust upon me in this life, staying focused on the present and not becoming overwhelmed by the future made all the difference between success or failure, and happiness or or distress.
If I added up all of the times I forced myself to focus on just one project, one event, one committee, one bill, one legislator, one candidate, one campaign, one press release, one voter, one constituent, one veteran, one child, one word, one sentence, one page, one chapter, one day, one step, one stair, one medical test, one round of chemo, one illness, and one pain, the sum total would be equivalent to a very strong person who has lived a remarkable life one stitch at a time.
Of course, there were moments when doily management skills were just not applicable. The horse was let out of the barn before you got there, kind of times. The Franken-Coleman Recount comes to mind. For those times I fell back on some good advice I once received from a young air force pilot who was trying his best to convince teenage Pat to accompany him on a ride in a jet. He asked me if I was too scared to go with him? When I replied in the affirmative, he gave me the cutest grin and said, “What do you have to be afraid of? All you have to do is hang on and remember to breathe.”
Well it has been quite a week with the election and all. Politics are always interesting and elections always have winners and losers. Since, I worked in politics for many years, I have been on both the happy and sad side of election outcomes. The important thing is that regardless of who won or lost the election we always are kind, respectful and considerate of those who may have voted differently than ourselves. Nobody likes an obnoxious winner or a sore loser. In politics and sports….good sportsmanship counts.
I just cannot believe this beautiful weather. I have spent most of this week outside playing with my dogs. Oliver is getting bigger all the time and Truman is just perfect as always. I also have been thinking a lot about what I should write to you about this week regarding Cat Warfare. Yesterday as I was speaking to an old veteran at the Toyota Dealership as grandpa and I waited for our car’s oil to be changed, grandpa sure did eat a lot of cookies, it occurred to me that I should tell you about something all of these letters have in common….veterans.
I have had several very exciting jobs…being an aide to a State Senator, Press Secretary and Assistant Communications Director for Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Committee Administrator for the House of Representative’s Committee of Government and Veterans Affairs, Acting Communications Director for the Minnesota Department of Veteran’s affairs and project manager for our state’s World War II Memorial Dedication. That’s right your grandmother organized a party for over 27,000 people.
Of all the jobs I have had in politics and government management the ones I treasure the most were when I could help take care of veterans. We have several veterans in our family. As you know from a past Cat Warfare letter you had a Great-Great Uncle Wendall who was killed in action in Korea. Well, his cousin Eugene was killed in action in that same war. The young men were killed a month apart and are buried side by side in our hometown cemetery. Your great-grandpa is a retired Navy veteran. His other brother and brother-in-law were both World War II veterans. Great-Great-Great Uncle Alfred…was a World War I veteran. Your great grandpa lives in Alfred’s house.
It is World War I where I need to begin to explain about Veterans Day. As you may recall from your Sir Snaggle Puss letter, World War I was called the “War to End All Wars” and was fought in Europe. It lasted from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918. More than 70 million soldiers fought in the war. Over nine million soldiers and seven million civilians died during this conflict.
All of the world’s great economic powers of that time period took part in this war. There were two opposing alliances. The Allies, our side, included the British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Russian Empire and United States. Our enemy during WWI was the Central Powers Alliance that consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.
This war was fought on the seas and in deep trenches. Trench warfare as a military tactic was first proposed during the American Civil War by Confederate General James Longstreet. He figured out that battle tactics had grossly lagged behind the improvements in weaponry resulting in a horrific increase in battle casualties. So, by the time World War I came around men dug deep trenches for protection and defense.
Fighting in trenches had its own unique dangers such as poison gas attacks, and disease spread by the many rodents who took up residence with the soldiers in these filthy, muddy battle ditches. To help protect soldiers from disease, over 500,000 cats were drafted into the service of their country and dispatched to the trenches. Their job was to kill rats and mice.
Not only were cats sent to battle in the trenches they were also placed on navy ships. Whether they liked water or not, these sea bound cats took their duty seriously and worked hard to keep their ships vermin free.
Having cats on military ships was not new. The practice dates back to the times of the ancient Egyptians who already understood that cats would kill the rats and mice that spread disease and ate up their food during long voyages. They also believed that cats were good luck charms. During World War I cats such as “Togo”, “Pincher” and “Spark Plug”, became famous ship mascots. One cat even became a hero by saving his soldier’s life…but that is another story.
The first Veterans Day was on November 11, 1919, and was called Armistice Day. It observed the signing of the treaty that ended World War I, which took place in the 11th month, on the 11th day, at the 11 hour. That is why Veterans Day is on November 11.
At that time, in both Europe and America this day was set aside to remember World War I war dead. In 1926 Congress adopted a resolution proclaiming an annual observance with appropriate ceremonies. A Congressional Act in 1938 made November 11 a legal holiday. In 1945, Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, organized “National Veterans Day,” which included a parade and other activities. He held his event on November 11, which was still called Armistice Day. Weeks is known as the “Father of Veterans Day”. Later, U.S. Representative Edward Rees of Kansas proposed a bill that would change Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, Congress passed the bill and President Eisenhower signed it into law proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day.
Wearing a red poppy on your shirt in the United States is traditionally a symbol for Memorial Day, not Veterans Day. If you wear a poppy it should be pinned onto the lapel of your shirt, over your heart with the leave pointing up to the position of 11 a.m. on a clock. It is the symbol of war dead, because of a very sad poem written by a young military doctor named Major John McCrae.
Dr. McCrae was asked to conduct the funeral service for his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer who was killed by an artillery shell explosion. It is believed that the evening after his friend’s burial McCrae wrote the famous poem, “In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow.”
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
All of our nation’s veterans are heroes and have earned our gratitude and respect. Veterans Day is a day to thank them for their service and sacrifice. The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day is Veterans Day is when we honor both the living and the dead and Memorial Day is for remembering the brave souls who gave the lives on the field of battle.
Now, for the story about the hero cat of World War I who saved a soldier’s life.
Pitouchi was an orphaned kitten who was born in the battle trenches. He was found and taken care of by Lieutenant Lekeux of the Belgian Army. The cat and this soldier became inseparable.
One day Pitouchi’s human soldier was sent to spy on the enemy…the Germans. The human saw that they were digging a new trench. Pitouchi and his soldier hid in a hole made by a bomb explosion. His human immediately began to sketch the new positions of the enemy, so he could warn his fellow soldiers.
The human become so focused on his work, he became unaware of his surroundings and did not notice that several German soldiers were coming up to his location. When he finally saw them, it was too late to run away. So, this cat’s human decided to lay very still hoping not to be noticed.
Humans are big and Pitouchi quickly realized that his human’s idea was sure to fail. The cat jumped out of the hole and landed on a broken piece of a tree. This startled the German’s who fired two shots at the cat. Both bullets missed Pitouchi and he jumped back into the hole with his beloved human. The German soldiers laughed because they had been scared by a cat. They turned and walked away. Pitouchi’s human finished his drawings and gave his life-saving hero of a cat a ride on his shoulder back to safety.
See it isn’t just dogs that are man’s best friend, cats, too, are very brave pets…even in a war zone.
Have a great week and if you see someone wearing a hat that says they’re a veteran take time to tell them thank you for their service. It will make your day and theirs. Tell that to your great grandpa and just watch him smile.
Love and lots of hugs,
Abraham Lincoln in 1861 Dixie
Howdy, I hope your week is going well and that you are pacing yourself with Halloween candy consumption and homework. Too much of either can make a boy your age feel sick. Just like all of those political ads messing up television viewing can give a person a headache. It’s a good thing video games were invented so you kids can avoid them. In my day, were just stuck watching them…we did not even have remotes. If you wanted to change a channel you had to get up and do it yourself. Hard times….hard times.
There is always hard times during any war. This week’s Cat Warfare letter is about a different kind of war…politics. There is an old saying that all is fair in love, war and politics. No rules at all. I can answer your questions on the war and politics, but any other questions should be directed to your dad.
Elections can sometimes feel like a war and can seem almost scary. This election seems to have divided our nation more so that many in recent memory. However, when people go to vote on November 8, 2016, this country is not even a little bit as divided as when our nation’s voters cast their ballots on Election Day….November 8, 1864.
President and Vice President Canidates Republican and Democratic 1864
The election of 1864 was the first held during a time of war since 1812. Even worse, we were at war with ourselves. By the time of this election, this nation had survived three long and bloody years of Civil War. The Civil War was fought over the issue of black slavery and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Lincoln once said that if anyone liked the idea of slavery, he’d like to be the first one to try it on them. The north fought to end the abomination of human slavery and the south fought to keep it.
When first elected in the fall of 1860, Abraham Lincoln, tried to appeal to southern political leadership to work together to avoid a war between the states, but the south just would not have it. Shortly, after he was sworn in as President, the south, on April 12, 1861, opened fire on Fort Sumter and the war began.
The first three years of the Civil War did not go well for the north or for Lincoln. The south, because of superior generals and very enthusiastic and brave soldiers, seemed to win battle after battle. The loss of life was absolutely appalling. It wasn’t until July of 1863 that the war started to turn for the north when the city of Vicksburg surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and General George Meade won a battle in a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.
To give you an idea of just how bloody Civil War battles were. The number of men wounded and killed at just one battle, Gettysburg, would have filled the seats at old Metrodome to almost capacity…over 51,000. It was said that on some Civil War battlefields the dead lay so thick that you could walk from body to body and never touch the ground.
Confederate and Union Army Dead at Gettysburg
In his second inaugural address Lincoln gave meaning to the horrendous loss of life during the war when he said that God, “gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense (slavery) came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? (Justice) Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” Yes, Lincoln believed in God. The Nation’s sin of slavery was paid for in soldier’s blood.
There were many empty chairs in homes throughout the north. As the time neared for Lincoln to seek re-election it was obvious to him that he faced two wars Civil and Political.
Lincoln, as much as he is loved now, during his lifetime had far more haters than supporters. When he first entered the oval office, even his own cabinet members thought that he was not experienced or smart enough to be president. The decisions he made to save our nation were oftentimes made alone and were highly criticized by “friend” and foe alike. Lincoln had very few people in his life that were a comfort to him. Even his wife was a big pain in the butt.
Campaign Art from Lincoln’s Time
When Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois after being elected President the first time, he decided to leave his dog, Fido, with friends. When he got to Washington D.C., Secretary of State William Seward, who also thought Lincoln fell far short of qualities needed to be president, gave Lincoln two kittens. It has been noted that this kind, thoughtful man was often seen in the company of his two pet cats Tabby and Dixie.
Lincoln positively doted on these two cats. Once he was caught by his wife feeding Tabby from the table during a formal White House dinner. She later scolded Lincoln saying that it was, “shameful in front of guests.” Lincoln replied, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”
Visitors to Lincoln during those dark war years recall how he would pet and talk to those cats for up to an hour at a time. He once commented that his cat Dixie was smarter than his whole cabinet and what he liked even better was that she did not talk back.
While his cats may not have talked back to Lincoln, it must have seemed to him that everyone else did. By 1864, Lincoln felt that there was no way that he would win the election, and that if the country were to be saved he would have to accomplish that after the election was lost, but before he left office.
The race for president that year started out as basically a three-way race between Lincoln, John C. Fremont and General George McClellan. Lincoln of course was a Republican. However, a group of Republicans who did not think Lincoln could win, formed a party called the Radical Democracy Party. They nominated John C. Fremont as their candidate. George McClellan was the Democratic Candidate and ran on a “Peace” platform that would have retained slavery to end the war.
General George McClellan, Lincoln’s popular good-looking Democratic opponent
The summer of 1864 had not been a good one for the north. The confederates had won several major battles. The public thought that General Grant was a butcher because of high battle casualties and blamed Lincoln for putting him in charge of all of the Union Armies. “Peace at all costs” offered by the Democrats looked pretty darn good to many Union voters.
McClellan was thought to be the heavy favorite to win and Fremont’s campaign was off to a good start, taking many potential votes from Lincoln. Then, Fremont read the Democrat’s political platform and decided that they must be beaten at all costs. This famous former explorer and Union general who certainly had a personal axe to grind against Lincoln, Fremont had lost his military command for insubordination by Lincoln. Fremont put his country before all of his personal feelings and ambitions and threw his support to Lincoln.
Selflessness is always the mark of a true patriot. Fremont and his supporters wholeheartedly joined with War Democrats and Republicans to form the National Union Party, with Lincoln at the head of the ticket. Bet, you had never heard of the National Union Party before…had ya?
General John C. Fremont, another good-looking young general.
With the full strength of the National Union Party, whose slogan was, “Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream,” behind Lincoln; General William T. Sherman’s capture of the city of Atlanta, Georgia, on September 2; and the introduction of absentee ballot voting which was used so that soldiers at the war front could vote, Lincoln won the election in a landslide.
Twenty-five states participated in the 1864 election. Eleven states were still in rebellion. People living in the newest states of Kansas, West Virginia and Nevada voted in their first presidential election. The states of Tennessee and Louisiana who had seceded, but had already been re-conquered by Union armies voted for electors, but Congress did not count those votes.
The most amazing and humbling part of this election for Lincoln was that the men who had borne the misery of battle…the soldiers….voted for him by a margin of greater than three to one.
Lincoln would live to see the end of the war…just barely. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U.S. Grant on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865. Lincoln would be shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater on Good Friday, April 14 at 10:15 p.m. He would die the following Saturday morning April 15 at 7:22 a.m. Lincoln was 56 years-old when he died…younger than both grandpa and me.
Throughout his life Abraham Lincoln was noted for his extraordinary kindness. Shortly before his death, he went to visit the soldiers who had just recaptured the confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. On that visit he stayed on a boat with the Admiral of the Navy, David Porter.
Admiral Porter later fondly recalled seeing the president “tenderly caressing three stray kittens. It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition, and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.” As Lincoln was petting the cat’s fur, he was overheard telling them, “Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can’t understand the terrible strife that is going on.” He then continued the meeting with his military officers. When the meeting was over, before Lincoln left the tent, he turned to a young colonel and said, “I hope you will see that these poor little motherless waifs are given plenty of milk and treated kindly.”
It has always struck me as odd that the Civil War started and ended during the same week of April. It began at Ft. Sumter on April 12 of 1861, and for me ended with Lee’s surrender on April 9 and Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865. How such a kind man, as Abraham Lincoln would end up being in charge of such an awful bloody war, is beyond me. Thank God, though that he was! Funny how things work out sometimes.
One of the last pictures taken of Abraham Lincoln, with his son Tad.
Notice how much older he looks in just five years.
I hope you get outside this weekend to enjoy this beautiful fall weather that we are having. I plan to!
Sending lots of hugs and kisses,
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
Halloween is almost here. It can be a scary time of year. The goblins and ghosts come out on that night. To collect treats and give folks a fright. Here is a story from when I was young. When living in an old haunted house just wasn’t that much fun. Spooks are no joke when they live right with you. Especially when your parent’s don’t have a clue. So, as a young child my family I did save….from a ghost in our attic named Wendall the Brave….I hope you enjoy this Halloween story.
Wendall, The Ghost in the Attic
My very first memory is of screaming for assistance in the night and staring at a light in the hall outside of my crib. I wanted out and apparently the rest of the world had gone deaf. Two things became clear at that moment; cribs are prisons, and prisons are not for me—I need freedom, and staring at lights made my eyes hurt.
I quickly dedicated my every waking effort to establishing a method to release me from physical limitations that surrounded me—I learned to climb out of that crib. This skill, learned so young, is of great benefit to any person born on a farm that housed a variety of animals kept in pens.
My bedroom was at the top of the wide oak staircase, on the second floor, at the east end of the big farm house built by my great grandpa…
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