can be a very difficult thing, to be the offspring of a famous
parent. When that parent is not just famous, but idolized as a
military hero who saved his country and is twice elected to the
highest office in the United States, that can define the offspring's
existence. So it would seem for Jesse Root Grant. Before we continue
with Jesse Root, however, let me recap his famous father's life.
Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April
17, 1822, to Jesse Root Grant (the first one) and Hannah Simpson
Grant. The family moved to Ohio, where young Grant grew up on
a farm. With the nomination of his congressman, he entered the
United States Military Academy, West Point, in 1839. At the time
he was called by his middle name "Ulysses." The congressman
apparently thought that was young Grant's first name and added
his mother's maiden name Simpson to the application. It was easier
for Grant to change his name than change the paperwork, and he
became "Ulysses Simpson" - "U.S." for short.
He was not an especially distinguished student at West Point,
graduating 21st in a class of 39, although he was an excellent
Ulysses Grant's parents, Jesse Root and Hannah Simpson Grant
When the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, Grant served
as a regimental quartermaster, and saw action. He was twice honored
for bravery. The war itself was begun by President Polk on a pretext
that Mexico had attacked first in Texas, which was never proved.
Grant in his memoirs - more of these later - regarded the war
"as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against
a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the
bad example of European monarchies
" It was typical
of Grant to express his conscience, but do what he saw as his
duty to his country.
war ended with the United States in possession of Texas, the Southwest,
Ulysses Grant, 1846
In 1848 Grant married Julia Dent, the sister of a West Point classmate,
at her father's plantation near St. Louis, Missouri. Their first
son Frederick Dent Grant was born in 1850. In 1852 Julia was pregnant
with their second son Ulysses Jr., but the family was separated
when Grant was sent west by the army.
Coincidentally Grant was one of three army officers in California
in the 1850's who would become famous Union generals in the Civil
War a decade later: Grant, William T. Sherman, and Henry W. Halleck.
Sherman's and Grant's sojourns were not happy.
Sherman had resigned from the army to become a San Francisco banker
just as a recession started, and assumed responsibility as militia
commander against the Vigilantes of 1856 only to find he could
raise neither men nor arms. The experience gave him a permanent
dislike of politics.
Grant was stationed at various locations between the Washington
Territory and San Francisco, and sadly missed his wife and young
family. The separation from them may or may not have led him to
drink excessively, but in any case he got the reputation for it.
Pictures of the three suggest the differences between Sherman
and Grant on one hand and Halleck on the other: steely-eyed Sherman
shows ruthless determination; sad-eyed Grant also shows determination,
but a softer kind; wide-eyed Halleck is ill at ease, like an academic
- which Halleck was - befuddled by a question from a bright graduate
William T. Sherman , Ulysses Grant, and Henry
Ulysses Grant resigned from the army in 1854 and returned to
Julia. He worked a farm in Missouri, where their daughter Ellen
was born in 1855.
to be back with his family, Grant nonetheless seemed aimless.
He tried real estate in partnership with Julia's cousin, but had
no gift for business. In February, 1858 Julia bore their last
child, a son Jesse Root Grant, named after his grandfather.
Frederick Dent Grant
Ulysses S. ("Buck") Grant, Jr.
Ellen ("Nellie") Grant
Jesse Root Grant, c. 1864
Ulysses Grant then took his family to Galena, Illinois and worked
in his father's leather store.
Grant might have lived out an obscure existence; but after the
election of avowed anti-slavery Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln
as president, Southern slaveholding states claimed that the federal
Union was dissolved.
In April, 1861, the so-called Confederate States fired on Fort
Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The resulting
Civil War brought out dormant characteristics of Ulysses Grant.
When President Lincoln called for militia volunteers, Grant helped
recruit a company and took it to Lincoln's hometown Springfield,
Illinois. Requesting a field command, Grant was appointed militia
colonel by Illinois Governor Yates.
In August, 1861 he was appointed brigadier general of militia
(9) volunteers by President Lincoln; the first of many appointments
General Grant, 1863
Grant rapidly rose through the ranks of the Union Army. His reputation
for alcohol, made him enemies in the army, but he had President
Lincoln's complete confidence: "I can't spare this man; he
fights." Grant's capture of the crucial points of Fort Donelson
on the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Vicksburg, on the Mississippi
River were major Union victories in the west, and led to Lincoln
giving Grant command of the Army of the Potomac with the task
of destroying the army of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
President Lincoln commissions Grant Lieutentant-General
Grant accepted the challenge, as always, with modesty and determination.
Lincoln said "General Grant is the most extraordinary man
in command that I know of. I heard nothing direct from him and
wrote to know why, and whether I could do anything to promote
his success. Grant replied that he had tried to do his best with
what he had; if he had more men and arms, he believed he could
accomplish more, but he supposed I had done and was doing all
I could." It was in complete contrast with previous Union
commanders who complained that they weren't being supported by
Lincoln. Other union commanders had superior troop numbers, but
never used them to advantage. Grant's strategy was basic: "To
hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy until
by the mere attrition of the lesser with the larger body, the
former should be worn out."
In 1864 Grant besieged the Confederate Capital at Richmond, Virginia.
His headquarters were in City Point, Virginia, about a dozen miles
south of the city. During the Richmond campaign Grant's sons Frederick,
who had served as aide, and Ulysses Jr., and daughter Nellie were
at school in Burlington, New Jersey. Jesse Grant and his mother
Julia joined General Grant at City Point.
Jesse Grant, Julia Grant at City Point, Virginia, 1864
President Lincoln reviewing troops on horseback.
Aged under seven, Jesse was practically a front-line
witness to the Civil War. He recorded memories of it in 1925,
here in Los Altos.
City Point was then but a considerable plateau crowning
a steep bluff at the junction of the James and Appomattox rivers
There father had established a supply base and had his headquarters
eight or ten of them in a row
as military headquarters
Father's cabin stood in the middle
of the row, and was slightly larger than the others.
And here, as I remember, I first met President Lincoln. Two
occasions, only, are impressed upon my memory
President Lincoln, accompanied by Mrs. Lincoln and their youngest
son, Tad, then a year or two older and considerably larger than
I, came to City Point
(13) Father rode at the head of
his staff to the reviewing station, and at his side rode President
Lincoln. Mother, Mrs. Lincoln, Tad, and I, had preceded them
in an ambulance
the horse President Lincoln rode walked
calmly, almost as though conscious that his burden must be carried
with anxious care, while the President sat stiffly erect, the
reins hanging slack from his hands.
I had always looked upon (father) as the largest
in the world. But beside President Lincoln father looked small,
and for the first time I saw him as a young man.
In a tightly buttoned frock coat, and wearing a high hat, Mr.
Lincoln appeared enormously tall, much taller than when standing.
And to me, the boy watching from the ambulance, the unsmiling,
worn, but kindly face, the tall flack-coated form, riding before
that colorful throng, gave a feeling of awe that time has not
By March, 1865 Grant's army of 115,000 had surrounded Lee's 54,000
at Petersburg, south of Richmond. After a futile attack on Grant,
Lee slipped out of Petersburg in early April. The Confederate
capital fell, and Lincoln himself went there practically unguarded.
With characteristic tenacity Grant pursued Lee west. On Palm Sunday,
April 9th, Lee was boxed in by Grant behind and General Sheridan's
cavalry, plus two corps of infantry, in front.
After an exchange of letters, Grant, Lee, and their staffs met
at a private home at Appomattox, Virginia. Grant telegrammed Lincoln
that Lee had surrendered his army on terms proposed by Grant.
Robert E. Lee, left, accepts Grant's terms
of surrender at Appomattox.
Five days later, Friday, April 14th - Good Friday - Grant was
in Washington. Jesse went to the White House with his father,
who conferred with Lincoln and others for some time. "I remember
that Mr. Lincoln smiled and spoke to me when we first came in,
and then he and father were immediately absorbed in earnest, low-voiced
talk while I wandered aimlessly about the room." Jesse got
bored and resentful that no one paid attention to him.
That evening Jesse and Julia were at the Willard Hotel preparing
to go to Burlington to see the Grants' other children. When General
Grant joined them for dinner he said something disappointing.
They would not go to Burlington that evening: President Lincoln
had invited General and Mrs. Grant to accompany himself and Mrs.
Mary Lincoln to Ford's Theatre to see the play Our American Cousin,
comedy starring popular actress Laura Keene; not great theatre,
but a diversion from their recent cares. Grant had conditionally
accepted. Word had gotten out, and Grant being an unfamiliar figure
in Washington, Washingtonians wanting to see him had bought out
all tickets and scalpers were getting two or three times tickets'
face value. Julia objected: she wanted to see her children in
Burlington, besides which she disliked Mrs. Lincoln.
Grant said he alone would go to the theatre, and go to Burlington
the next day. Jesse and Julia took a coach to the railway station.
What Jesse recorded next may have happened, or it may have been
a trick of memory over 60: as the coach rolled through Washington
D.C. a man rode alongside, peered in as though expecting to see
someone, then quickly rode away. At the railway station, Jesse
and Julia were surprised and happy to see General Grant, carrying
a bunch of papers. He did not attend the play. The Lincolns had
invited a young engaged couple of their acquaintance instead.
They changed trains at Baltimore. When they reached Philadelphia
a crowd was there, and surged about their railway car. A belligerent
brakeman was guarding the car, Jesse remembered, "from an
agitated deputation of state, city, and railway officials"
clamoring to get in. Grant admitted them, and heard that President
Lincoln had been shot at the theatre. The assassin John Wilkes
Booth had intended to kill both Lincoln and Grant.
Jesse stayed in Burlington, although he couldn't remember later
just how long. In May, 1865 there was a tremendous review in Washington
of the armies of Generals Sherman and Meade. Jesse, "wearing
a Scotch cap" - here - was on the stand with his father and
President Andrew Johnson, "leaning over the railing and much
interested." Marching soldiers hailed Grant, who was embarrassed
at such displays, and practically ignored Johnson.
Grant and family, c. 1865.
The Grant family lived in Philadelphia for a time, moved to
Georgetown, D.C., then to a house on I Street in Washington. Jesse
got his first regular schooling, which he avoided every chance
he got, pleading sickness. Julia was stricter, but General Grant
was thoroughly indulgent with all his children and often took
Jesse to Army headquarters. Grant served briefly as Secretary
of War after President Johnson dismissed Secretary Edwin Stanton,
which Radical Republicans used as an excuse to impeach the hapless
Johnson. Impeachment failed of conviction by one vote in the Senate.
In 1868 the unpopular Johnson was not nominated for President
by the Republican Party. It turned to another candidate who was
sure to win: Ulysses S. Grant.
The Grants were still living on I Street when Grant was nominated
for the Presidency. Grant, said Jesse, made "absolutely no
effort to secure the nomination," but accepted it as another
duty he had to fulfill. He defeated the Democratic nominee, New
York Governor Horatio Seymour, but by a surprisingly small popular
vote margin, although he won easily in the Electoral College.
Just 46 in 1868, Grant was the youngest man ever elected to the
Presidency, a record that would stand until 43-year-old John Kennedy
was elected in 1960. We will not detail Grant's presidency here.
Suffice it to say that historians rate it as unsuccessful as his
earlier civilian life. He had never held elective office and had
no gift for politics. His two administrations, from 1869 to 1877,
with a few notable exceptions such as foreign affairs and the
15th Amendment, were corrupt and incompetent; not Grant himself,
but the cronies and opportunists who surrounded him.
President Ulysses S. Grant, Jesse, Julia, c.
For Jesse the White House years were a notable change:
he had moved around all his short life, from Missouri to Ohio
and Illinois, and through Civil War campaigns. The eight years
in the White House were Jesse's longest period in the same home
his whole life until his nine to ten years in Los Altos Hills,
and even then he was not at the same address. He was unimpressed
with the White House initially: the carpets and furniture were
"dingy and shabby," until Julia installed new furnishings.
treated the White House as his playground. He went to school,
"but not with great regularity."
I gathered around me a new company of boys who lived in that
section of Washington and we became great friends. The White House
lot was our playground in good weather, and the big, airy basement,
or ground floor, was reserved for rain or storm. I never considered
that my position
entitled me to any special consideration,
and I know that no playmate ever accorded me deference because
of that fact. They flocked to the White House because there was
the largest and best playground available. And mine was the life
of an ordinary freckle-faced small boy in good health and fine
spirits, who adored his father and mother, his two brothers and
sister, and was in turn much loved and petted by them.
President Grant, family, a servant, and family
friend, c. 1870
In 1871 Jessie and his White House friends formed
a secret club, the K.F.R. One of the club's secrets was what the
initials stood for. President Grant thought they were an anagram
of "Kick, Fight, and Run." Jesse was elected first president.
The constitution stated that one of the club's aims should be
to "improve its members individually and collectively in
mental and moral culture and to encourage them in their attempts
towards literary and mental success." Notwithstanding these
noble aims, the club's minutes contained such entries as "With
great disorder the meeting then adjourned," and "That
a fine of ten cents be imposed upon all that are guilty of fraudulent
voting." The society published a journal, which would give
"vent to our extraordinary literary genius." The K.F.R.
continued active until 1883. Remarkably for a boys' club, its
members kept in touch and held annual reunions, all the way to
the 50th in 1921.
Please click Part 2
for continuation of the Jesse Root Grant presentation.