Ulysses S. Grant Sites in New York State: The Story Behind the Story

There are two sites in New York State associated with Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth president of the United States. Ulysses S. Grant in his day was one of the most popular men in the United States.

Ulysses S. Grant became the nation's hero during the Civil War. When he fought a bloody battle at Shiloh in 1862, President Lincoln fended off demands for his removal by saying, "I can't spare this man -- he fights." After Lincoln appointed him General-in-Chief in March 1864, he coordinated and lead the Union armies to victory. As great as he was in War, Grant showed generosity and compassion in peace. He granted humane and liberal peace terms when Lee surrendered to him on April 9, 1865 at Appotomattox Court House.

Above all, Grant helped to heal the division between north and south after the Civil War. During the administration of President Andrew Johnson, Grant, the head of the Union armies, was approached by Stanton, the Secretary of War. Stanton asked for Grant's support: "Let us try the Confederate leaders as Lee and Davis as traitors." Grant said, "No, you can't do it. I gave my word at Appotomattox Court House." He threatened to resign if this proposal was carried out. Grant's decision helped to heal the country after the Civil War.

The nation experienced substantial progress during his presidential administration (1869-1877). Upon accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1869, he declared, "Let us have peace" which became Grant's epitaph. As president, he pardoned many former Confederate leaders, but insisted on protecting the full political equality of the former slaves. He worked for peace and equality for all Americans. Grant upheld Radical Reconstruction of the South and signed Civil Rights laws. In 1870, he signed the fifteenth amendment which guaranteed the right to vote to all male Americans regardless of race over age 21. He appointed the first native American Indian to head the Indian Bureau, Eli Parker, a Seneca Indian, who had drafted the surrender document at Appotomattox Court House. The nation was united by trans-continental Railroad when the Golden Spike was ceremonially driven in at Ogden, Utah in 1869. He pioneered efforts to resolve international disputes through arbitration rather than by threat of war such as the Alabama Claims dispute in 1871. The nation's first national park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872. The nation showed off its material progress at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Grant was almost offered a third term in 1880. Although some scandal plagued his presidency, his personal integrity was never questioned.

After retiring from the Presidency in 1877, Grant became a partner in a stock brokerage firm in Manhattan. Unfortunately, one of the junior partners embezzled the funds in 1884. Refusing to go bankrupt, he struggled to pay off his debts and to provide for his family.

At about this time, he learned he had cancer of the throat. In 1884, he started writing his recollections to pay off his debts and provide for his family, racing against death to produce his memoirs.

I was able to retrace these last steps thanks to "The Heritage of Our Past Presidents" tour conducted by Paul Sanborn of the Freedoms Foundation, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, I saw the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage State Historic Site on Mount McGregor, Wilton, New York on August 6, 1996. It is operated by The Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, Inc. in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Of all the presidential sites we visited from the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston to the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington DC, I felt the people associated with this site went of their way to show the value of this to visitors. Ironically, the Grant Cottage is adjacent to a minimum to medium state correctional facility.

This last home of Ulysses S. Grant is the testimonial of a great man who rose to the occasion with dignity and determina-tion. In June of 1885, Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth President of the United States, and a hero of the Civil War, left his home in New York City to spend his last days at a private cottage provided by his friend Joseph Drexal in Saratoga County. As his train went north, all of America saluted him. This time Grant faced throat cancer rather than bullets on the battlefield. Fighting pain, weakness, and time, Grant worked heroically to provide for his family by completing his memoirs.

We could see a combination of commercial considerations and compassion at work even back then. Samuel Clemens, his publisher, came by to give-last minute encouragement. As a great admirer of Grant, he offered the most generous royalties of any publisher in the country. Grant was invited up as a way to stimulate the hotel business by his hosts. We were amazed to learn that his cottage was lit by electrical power from the hotel, the second one in the country to be electrified! When the lights went off, he continued to work by kerosene lamp and candle light.

Sightseers made the long trek up the mountain in hope of catching a glimpse of Grant as he worked. The president would acknowledge them with a nod or a wave. Old friends who had fought on both sides of the Civil War came by to say a final good-by or wrote him letters of support. A member of the local Grand Army of the Republic post encamped nearby to make sure his old commander was not badgered by spectators.

Sometime in July, Grant completed his memoirs. He then took a last look from Mount McGregor, and then died on July 23, 1885 surrounded by his family. At the moment of death, Fred Grant, his son, stopped the clock at 8:08 AM. All that was there in the cottage, the furnishings, the medicines, and the personal items, remains for visitors to see. It was quite appropriate that "Let Us Have Peace" Speech, should be a prominently displayed in his home. The cottage was open to public view in 1890.

The Grant Cottage is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 AM to 4 PM, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, and on Saturday and Sunday, 10 AM to 4 PM, Labor Day to Columbus Day. Admission is $2.50 for adults, $2.00 for seniors, and $1.00 for children to age 16, and children under 5 free. For further information, contact The Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, Inc. P.O. Box 990, Saratoga Springs, New York 12866-0897 (518) 587-8277.

As the train chugged southward with his casket for final burial in New York City, once more all of America saluted him. More than one million people witnessed his funeral in New York City on August 8, 1885 one of the nation's most spectacular.

President Cleveland, the Cabinet, the Congress, and the Supreme Court were among the marchers.

Grant's tomb in New York City is another story. Popularly known as Grant' tomb, the memorial to General Ulysses Grant, is one of the largest mausoleums in the world, rising to an imposing 150 feet from a bluff overlooking the Hudson River, 122nd Street and Riverside Drive. Mayor William Grace of New York City offered the family burial site because Grant had expressed a wish to be buried in New York City.

Richard T. Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard University and a political supporter of the general, became the first secretary of the Grant Memorial Association. Along with his successor, Horace Porter, another associate of Grant, they raised the private funds to finance one of the largest undertaking of the time. Hundreds of men worked on the structure between 1892 and 1897. Over 8,000 tons of granite were used to create a massive shrine to express the profound admiration the America people felt for the Civil War commander and the President. As the man acclaimed with rescuing the country from dissolution, Grant was catapulted to the vanguard of the nation'ss pantheon of heroes and declared the equal of Washington and Lincoln.

John Duncan, the architect designed the memorial to be a "a Monumental [sic] Tomb, no matter from what point of view it may be seen." The allegorical reliefs on the vaulting, designed by Rhind, represented four Grants of life: birth and marriage, military life, civilian career, and death. The bronze busts in the crypt, sculpted under the WPA program in 1938, portrays some of Grant's best generals: William T. Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan, George H. Thomas, James B. McPherson, and Edward O. C. Ord. The WPA also did the map room. In 1966, Allyn Cox did the three mosaics on the ceiling: Appomattox Court Showing Lee and Grant shaking Hands, the Battle of Vicksburg, and the Battle of Chattanooga.

On April 27, 1897, on what would have been his seventy-fifth birthday, Grant's tomb was dedicated and his body was laid in final rest. Ever since, a contingent of West Point cadets, led by the Superintendent, honors his memory on this day. Special events are being planned by the United States National Park Service on the centennial of the tomb's dedication. A frequent companion of Mrs. Julia Grant in her visits to the tomb was the widow of Jefferson Davis. Julia Grant joined her husband in an identical sarcophagus after her death on December 14, 1902. The Grant Monument Association donated the tomb to the American people in 1958. Since then, it has been administered by the United States National Park Service.

As we all know, "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?," has become a joke. Grant became obscure because of various others wars and the Civil War was primarily reinterpreted by Southerners of the twentieth century who favored Lee over Grant. Douglas Southall Freeman, followed by C. Van Woodward and Bruce Catton, and now Shelby Foote now give down-grade Grant in the nation's memory. Grant have won the Civil War and even written about it but he did not live to out skirmish his future critics.

General Grant National Memorial is located near the intersection of Riverside Drive and West 122nd Street. You can reach it by Fifth Avenue bus, IRT subway to 116th or 125th Street and Broadway, or 125th Street cross town bus. Riverside Drive is also accessible from the Henry Hudson Parkway at several points. Parking is permitted near the memorial. Visiting hours are from 9 am to 5 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. For information or to arrange for group visits, call (212) 666-1640. A superintendent, whose address is 26 Wall Street, New York, New YORK 10027.

Philip E. Schoenberg, PhD, a professional speaker and a licensed New York City tourist guide, is a leading expert on the Big Apple. He has special skill in entertaining and informing people about the Big Apple from its real life stories and folk tales. Dr. Schoenberg received his PhD in history from New York University. He has taught classes on New York City history and has organized field trips and walking tours for City of University of New York Colleges, New York City public schools, the Association of Teachers of Social Studies, and the Queens Historical Society.

Tips for your tour guide are always appreciated.

Contact Dr. Schoenberg For a Tour at
(646) 493-7092
Email: drphil@nycwalks.com
65-45 Parsons Blvd., Apt. 4L
Flushing, NY 11365
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