Happy 200th Birthday, U.S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was born on April 27, 1822, making this year his bicentennial. So Happy Birthday! to “the man who saved the Union” and to two-term President Grant.

He was born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Port Pleasant, Ohio. Always known as Ulysses, Grant’s name change was an error by the congressman who nominated him to West Point. He graduated 21st in the class of 1843 and served with distinction in the Mexican-American War. In 1848, he married Julia Dent; together they would have four children.

After posts in Detroit and upstate New York, Grant was sent to California during the gold rush. He arrived in San Francisco in August 1852. He was posted with the 4th Infantry to Vancouver Barracks in Oregon Territory, and then to Fort Humboldt on the California coast. Here is how he described San Francisco in his memoir:

SAN FRANCISCO at that day was a lively place. Gold, or placer digging as it was called, was at its height. Steamers plied daily between San Francisco and both Stockton and Sacramento. Passengers and gold from the southern mines came by the Stockton boat; from the northern mines by Sacramento. In the evening when these boats arrived, Long Wharf — there was but one wharf in San Francisco in 1852 — was alive with people crowding to meet the miners as they came down to sell their “dust” and to “have a time.” Of these some were runners for hotels, boarding houses or restaurants; others belonged to a class of impecunious adventurers, of good manners and good presence, who were ever on the alert to make the acquaintance of people with some ready means, in the hope of being asked to take a meal at a restaurant. Many were young men of good family, good education and gentlemanly instincts. Their parents had been able to support them during their minority, and to give them good educations, but not to maintain them afterwards. From 1849 to 1853 there was a rush of people to the Pacific coast, of the class described, All thought that fortunes were to be picked up, without effort, in the gold fields on the Pacific.

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, chapter XIV http://www.sfmuseum.net/hist9/usgrant.html

Grant was promoted to captain in August 1853 when he took up his duties at Fort Humboldt. Finding himself in dreary surroundings, with little to occupy him and missing his family, he took to drink. Colonel Buchanan reprimanded Grant for one drinking episode and told Grant to “resign or reform.” Soon he was found to be under the influence again. Given the choice to stand trial or to resign, Grant chose to resign, despite the urging of his friends, who thought he would be acquitted. He said “he would not for all the world have his wife know he was tried on such a charge.” (according to his friend Rufus Ingalls, quoted in Ulysses S. Grant: His Life and Character by Hamlin Garland, 1898.)

And so Grant left California and the army to return to civilian life. For the next several years he struggled to keep his family out of poverty, until he rejoined the army in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War.

There is no need for me to review the rest of Grant’s life, his leadership in the Civil War and his presidency. I will leave you with some notes on Grant’s connection to John Bidwell.

Bidwell was a great admirer of General Grant. He met his hero in the summer of 1864, which you can read about in this earlier post. Grant attended the wedding of John Bidwell to Annie Kennedy in 1868. Bidwell met him again in Washington when Grant was president in 1876. After his presidency, Grant and his wife set out on a two-year trip around the world. Here is Bidwell’s diary entry for the day that the Grants returned to San Francisco from Japan.

Grant returns to the United States, at San Francisco, 1879, aboard the City of Tokyo

Sat., September 20. [1879]
San Francisco at Col. Bee’s. Weather: fine. Events: Called at the Chinese Consulate, 9l7 Clay Street. Saw the Consul General, Chen Shu Tang, and the Consul Col. F.A. Bee – Lunched at the Occidental with Mr. Cleaveland – At 3.l5 P.M. The Tokio was sighted – went to Broadway wharf & took steamer St. Paul to meet Tokio -GEN. GRANT escorted and welcomed! the grandest ovation ever given to any man in America! The multitude was simply boundless – and the rush unparalleled!

On the following Monday he “saw Gen. Grant in a hat store.” A month later General Grant was still in California and a grand reception was held for him in Sacramento. Bidwell recorded:

Weds., October 22. Chico > Sacramento
Events: Large delegation went to Sac. to Grant Reception -We (self & wife, her father & mother) went to Carroll’s – Immense throng – large procession – vast multitude at Capital in P.M. & evening -Fireworks and calcium lights – Henry Edgerton [prominent California Democrat] delivered welcome address. – Grant Ovation and grand success. –

Thurs., October 23. Sacramento
Events: Took casaba melons to Golden Eagle for Grant – Went to Fair grounds – saw sham battle – Drove with the Grant party to the R.R. shops, etc.

He took casaba melons to the hotel for Grant. Of course he did!

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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