Taken For Grant-ed

September 2010

 

Ulysses S. Grant seems like a run-of-the-mill historical icon, but surprisingly, much of what people know about Grant just isnít true.

 

Grant didnít live in Galena, Illinois, until 1860, when at age 38, financial problems forced him to work in his fatherís tanneryóa job he abhorred. Grant wasnít born on Grantís Farm in Saint Louis, Missouri, either. Grant was born April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio.

 

U.S. Grant was nicknamed Unconditional Surrender Grant after his stalwartly victories in the western theater of the Civil War. But Grantís name was not really Ulysses Simpson Grant. It was Hiram Ulysses Grant. When Congressman Thomas Hamer wrote the nomination for Grant to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1839, he wasnít sure of Grantís first name because the family called him Uly. A common practice at the time was to give the first son his motherís maiden name for his middle name, so Hamer guessed Grantís name was Ulysses Simpson. Upon entering the academy, 17-year-old Grant went along with the error.

 

Leeís surrender to Grant in April 1865 did not take place in a courthouse. This error is so pervasive that Iíve seen it written in books. The surrender was negotiated in the parlor of a private home owned by Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Mclean had the dubious honor of claiming that the war began in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. Four years earlier, Mclean owned a farm near Manassas, Virginia, where the first major land battle of the Civil War occurred. After a cannonball dropped through the fireplace in his kitchen, Mclean decided to relocate deeper into Virginia to get away from the fighting. He settled in the village of Appomattox Court House, well away from the war, or so he thought.

 

After Grantís presidency, he and his wife Julia traveled the world for two years, and upon their return to the United States, purchased a home in New York. Grant suffered great financial loss after investing with a swindler and soon after learned he had throat cancer. Grant spent his last months writing his memoirs, under contract with Mark Twain. Grant finished writing within days of his death. Strongly publicized by Twain, Grantís Memoirs sold well and saved his family from financial ruin.

 

Groucho Marx made the question ďWho's buried in Grant's Tomb?Ē famous on his quiz show, You Bet Your Life. Marx accepted just about any answer so his contestants would win at least a consolation prize. The truth is that no one is buried in the tomb. Hiram and Julia rest side-by-side above ground inside the tomb, located in New York Cityís Riverside Park.