Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
Posts tagged "Ulysses S. Grant"

HENRY WILSON (1812-1875)
18th Vice President of the United States (1873-1875)



Full Name: Henry Wilson (Birth Name: Jeremiah Jones Colbath)
Born: February 16, 1812, Farmington, Strafford County, New Hampshire
Religion: Congregationalist
College: Did not graduate from college
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Farm laborer, Farmington, New Hampshire (1822-1833); Shoemaker, Natick, Massachusetts (1833-1841); Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1840-1844); Massachusetts State Senator (1844-1846); Publisher and Editor of the Boston Republican, Boston, Massachusetts (1848-1851); Massachusetts State Senator (1850-1852); Chairman of the Free Soil National Convention, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1852); Unsuccessful Free Soil candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts (1852); Delegate, Massachusetts State Constitutional Convention (1853); Unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor of Massachusetts (1853); United States Senator (R-MA, January 31, 1855-March 4, 1873); Raised and commanded the 22nd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry briefly during the Civil War (September 27, 1861-October 29, 1861)
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Massachusetts
Term: March 4, 1873-November 22, 1875 (Died in office)
Length of Vice Presidency: 2 years, 263 days
Age at Inauguration: 61 years, 16 days
Served: President Grant (2nd term)/22nd Administration/43rd Congress & 44th Congress
Post-Vice Presidential Career: N/A (Vice President Wilson died in office)
Died: November 22, 1875, Vice President’s Room, United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 63 years, 279 days
Cause of Death: Stroke
Buried: Old Dell Park Cemetery, Natick, Massachusetts



Random facts about Vice President Wilson:
•Henry Wilson was actually born into poverty as “Jeremiah Jones Colbath”. Even when trying to be respectful, the kindest words that could be used to describe his father were “shiftless” and “intemperate”. Mr. Colbath gave his son the name of a wealthy neighbor who had never married or had children of his own in hopes that the “honor” would result in the Colbath family inheriting the man’s money when he died. The future Vice President hated his name and had it changed to “Henry Wilson” when he was 20 years old; he chose that particular name after reading it in a book while he was apprenticed to a shoemaker.
•Since the plan to inherit a neighbor’s money by naming his son after him didn’t work, Wilson’s father apprenticed him to a cobbler when he was 10 years old. An “apprenticeship” sounds better than it was. Like Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Johnson, Wilson was a “bound apprentice” which was actually close to being an indentured servant; Mr. Colbath probably received the equivalent of a “finder’s fee” for committing his son to work in conditions only a little better than slavery. Wilson gained experience as a shoemaker, but was apprenticed to the cobbler for 11 years, meaning he spent more of his early life working for the shoemaker than living under his family’s roof. He was earned his freedom when he was 21 years old after over a decade of work.
•Wilson was supposed to be given rudimentary education during his bound apprenticeship, but received virtually no schooling. He largely taught himself how to read and devoured any book that he could find or borrow.
•At the beginning of his political career, Wilson was a member of the Whig Party, and was one of the architects of the Free Soil Party after the Mexican-American War. The Free Soil Party didn’t last long and Wilson briefly joined the American or Know-Nothing Party, but was turned off by their nativist advocacy and became a Republican for the rest of his life. From early in his career in public service, Wilson was a passionate opponent of slavery, unsurprising considering his own involuntary servitude while bound to a shoemaker.
•Like George Washington, Henry Wilson had to borrow money to get to his inauguration. Members of Congress had recently been granted a 50% raise, so Wilson, a Senator at the time, received $5,000 shortly before being elected Vice President. However, Wilson had been loosely (and innocently, it seems) connected to the Credit Mobilier scandal which had caused problems for quite a few Congressmen, and was probably the reason that Wilson’s Vice Presidential predecessor, Schuyler Colfax, decided to “retire” and leave a spot open on the ticket when Ulysses S. Grant sought re-election in 1872. To be extra careful, Wilson gave his $5,000 raise directly back to the U.S. Treasury. After the 1872 election, Wilson, now the Vice President-elect, told his close friend, Senator Charles Sumner, “I have not got enough money to be inaugurated on,” and borrowed $100.
•Vice President Wilson and his fellow Radical Republicans were worried that President Grant was positioning himself for a third term and dragging the Republican Party down due to scandals in his Administration and a reluctance to go further with the progressive reforms urged by the Radicals during Reconstruction. James Garfield, a fellow Radical Republican who was a member of the House of Representatives and would be elected President himself in 1880, wrote that Vice President Wilson thought “Grant is now more unpopular than Andrew Johnson was in his darkest days; that his appointments had been getting worse and worse; that he is still struggling for a third term; in short that he is a the millstone around the neck of our party that would sink it out of sight.”
•Many Republicans saw Wilson as a potential Presidential candidate in 1876 who could bring the needed reforms and would have the courage to push a progressive agenda. But Wilson’s health was rapidly declining. He suffered a stroke within two months of being inaugurated as Vice President, but in the spring of 1875, he spent six weeks touring the South and speaking to all types of people. Some thought it was a preview to a bid for the Presidency the next year, but his health began failing again in the fall. After bathing at the spa facilities in the basement of the Capitol building on November 10, 1875, Wilson had another stroke. He was carried to the Vice President’s Room upstairs, a large office near the Senate chamber, to recover, but died on November 22,1875. A bronze plaque in the Vice President’s Room honors Wilson and notes that it was where the 18th Vice President actually died.
•Wilson was the first Vice President to be honored by lying in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.
•Henry Wilson was the great-great uncle (or great-grand uncle) of 1988 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee and longtime Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen.

He has done more than any other President to degrade the character of Cabinet officers by choosing them on the model of the military staff, because of their pleasant personal relation to him and not because of their national reputation and the public needs…His imperturbability is amazing. I am in doubt whether to call it greatness or stupidity.
James Garfield, criticizing Ulysses S. Grant for his poor judgment of the quality of many of the officials of his Administration which was ravaged by scandals despite President Grant’s personal honesty and lack of complicity, 1874.
ULYSSES S. GRANT

18th President of the United States (1869-1877)

Full Name: Ulysses Simpson Grant (Born: Hiram Ulysses Grant)
Born: April 27, 1822, Point Pleasant, Ohio
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Illinois
Term: March 4, 1869-March 4, 1877
Age at Inauguration: 46 years, 311 days
Administration: 21st and 22nd
Congresses: 41st, 42nd, 43rd, and 44th
Vice Presidents: Schuyler Colfax (1st term: 1869-1873) and Henry Wilson (2nd term: 1873-1875; Died in office)
Died: July 23, 1885, Mount McGregor, New York
Age at Death: 63 years, 87 days
Buried: Grant’s Tomb, General Grant National Memorial, New York City, New York

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 30 of 43 [↑2]

Ulysses S. Grant has long occupied space near the bottom of most rankings of Presidents, but in recent years he is one of those leaders who seems to be inching his way up the ladder as historians begin to view his Presidency differently.  Grant will never be considered a great, or probably even a good President.  His portrait is on the $50 bill because of what he did during the Civil War, not what he did in the White House.  President Grant was a victim of the corruption that infected Washington during his Administration; in no way was he complicit other than perhaps being too loyal or too trustworthy with people who never hesitated to take advantage of the great General’s generosity.  The United States at the time of Grant’s Inauguration was by no means United.  The Civil War had only ended four years earlier and the country had struggled since Appomattox with Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and a painful Reconstruction.  Where Grant shines in retrospect is Civil Rights.  When historians look at instances where Presidents used the power of their office to the fullest, they usually stop at Lincoln during the Civil War, specifically with his suspension of habeas corpus.  Many tend to overlook the fact that Grant also suspended habeas corpus as President in his effort (largely successful) to crush the Ku Klux Klan.  Grant protected the rights of African-Americans, especially those recently emancipated and living free in the South.  Not only did the Grant Administration shepherd the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, but they also used the power of the Presidency and the military to enforce Civil Rights laws and ensure voting rights for blacks.  President Grant was the last President to sign major Civil Rights legislation until another great American General-turned-President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1957. As I mentioned, Grant’s progressive streak has helped inched him a little higher in the rankings over the years, but this is probably about as high as the General will end up climbing.

PREVIOUS RANKINGS:
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  28 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  30 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  30 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  37 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  34 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  33 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  29 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  29 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  23 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  26 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  29 of 40

It is hard to realize that a State or States should commit so suicidal an act as to secede from the Union. Though from all the reports I have no doubt but that at least five of them will do it. And then, with the present granny of an executive [James Buchanan] some foolish policy will doubtless be pursued which will give the seceding States the support and sympathy of the Southern states that don’t go out.

Ulysses S. Grant, on the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union and his doubts about how (or “if”) President James Buchanan might respond, personal letter, December 1860.

Grant had not always had such a harsh opinion of the “granny of an executive”, President Buchanan. While writing his Memoirs in 1885, Grant remembered that, “In 1856…I preferred the success of a candidate whose election would prevent or postpone secession, to seeing the country plunged into a war the end of which no many could foretell. With a Democrat elected by unanimous vote of the Slave States, there could be no pretext for secession for four years…I therefore voted for James Buchanan for President.”

Asker thedaygoesby Asks:
a tea partier running for congress in my district claimed in a recent post that the obama administration is the most corrupt in us history- ignoring the crazy, any thoughts on which administration was actually the most corrupt?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’d have to say that the Nixon Administration was the most corrupt Presidential Administration in American history.  Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding both had their reputations tainted by scandals during their Administration, but that was mainly due to the fact that they were poor judges of character when it came to their political appointments.  Grant wasn’t personally corrupt, and while Harding’s many infidelities (and active efforts to keep those matters private) were wrong, he wasn’t personally responsible for the scandals that took place while he was President.  That shouldn’t excuse either Grant or Harding — they were either naive and too trustworthy of shady characters and friends, or they were too ignorant about the opportunities for corruption and criminality that they were providing to those shady characters and friends.  That’s why Grant and Harding are almost universally ranked amongst the worst Presidents in history.

Richard Nixon, however, can’t claim that he just hired some crappy officials. He did that, too, but he was also deeply involved in scandalous activities and then allowed his Presidency to be dominated by his efforts at covering up his Administration’s scandals.  Watergate, of course, is the centerpiece of the Nixon Administration’s scandals, but there were shady things happening as he was running for President in 1968.  As Election Day approached in 1968, Nixon’s opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, was closing the gap between the two of them and making Nixon worry that ‘68 might be a repeat of Nixon’s razor-thin loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960.  When it appeared that negotiations to end the Vietnam War were coming close to being a reality, Nixon used secret contacts to inform the South Vietnamese that if they stopped negotiating with LBJ and held out until after the election, Nixon would give them a better deal than President Johnson would.  This happened just days before Election Day — an “October Surprise” — and probably ensured a Nixon victory.  LBJ found out what Nixon and his aides were doing, but he decided against exposing Nixon even though he said privately that Nixon had “blood on his hands” and was committing “treason”.

All that happened before Nixon was even ELECTED, so being privately accused of treason by the President of the United States was probably not the best signal that the country was embarking upon a golden era of the Presidency.  The details of the Watergate scandal are well-known, so I won’t rehash them, but Nixon’s direct involvement and the fact that several high-ranking members of Nixon’s Administration tied to the Watergate break-in and cover-up ended up in prison definitely puts him at the top of the list, in my opinion.  

There are also other reasons why Nixon belongs at the top of the list of most corrupt Administrations.  Nixon, of course, didn’t start the Vietnam War, but the bombings and incursions of Cambodia and Laos were and are controversial escalations of the conflict.  There was also the “Enemies List” and other abuses of power, like directing the IRS, CIA, and FBI to go after his opponents (to be fair, Nixon wasn’t the first President to do that, either, but it was still wrong) or simply target them for harassment via a domestic surveillance apparatus that was used solely for political purposes.  The Saturday Night Massacre was part of the Watergate scandal, but if that happened today, the cable news networks would explode.  I mean, imagine if President Obama appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether something illegal involved in the release of Bowe Bergdahl and then just fired him when it seemed that the direction was going in a direction that he didn’t like.  That’s what happened in the Saturday Night Massacre, but worse — Nixon ordered the Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor, but the Attorney General refused, so Nixon fired the special prosecutor himself and then fired the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General.  If that happened now, it would break the internet.  

The scandals of the Grant and Harding Administrations resulted in a few officials going to prison.  Nixon’s scandals resulted in the indictments of nearly 100 Administration officials (mainly due to Watergate) and legal actions against many organizations and corporations (largely related to illegal contributions and violations of campaign finance laws).  Indicted officials from Nixon’s Administration included Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had to resign in disgrace after striking a plea deal to avoid prison on bribery charges, Treasury Secretary John Connally (the same John Connally who was shot when JFK was assassinated), Attorney General John Mitchell (spent nearly two years in prison), Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst (yes, two of the people appointed by Nixon to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer were convicted of criminal charges and Nixon fired another AG for not helping him out during the Watergate battle), Commerce Secretary Maurice H. Stans, White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman (spent 18 months in prison), and numerous other high-ranking White House aides, many of whom spent time in prison, paid large fines, or both.

President Nixon probably would have ended up being indicted himself if President Ford had not pardoned him.  His reputation took a hit and history will never judge him without including the word “Watergate” in the first paragraph, but in many ways he was lucky because he avoided the massive legal fees and threat of imprisonment that he could have faced without a pardon.  And Nixon was lucky in other ways, too.  There have always been questions about whether Nixon avoided paying taxes that he might have owed because some of his income tax returns seemed fuzzy to a lot of people.  Nixon was also accused of ordering “security improvements” at his homes that were paid for and constructed by the government and either unnecessary, improper or flat-out illegal. Eventually, Nixon reimbursed the government for the expenditures at his homes in San Clemente, California and Key Biscayne, Florida, but there were even questions about how he obtained his homes.

Since this has been an attempt at giving a quick rundown of the Nixon Administration’s scandals instead of a definitive history, you can probably see why I think his Presidency was the most corrupt.  It’s frustrating to imagine how good of a President that Nixon might be remembered as without any of these scandals because even with them, he’s still not at the very bottom of the list.  He did accomplish some very important things and he was incredibly capable, so it’s really a shame that it’s impossible to look at Nixon without seeing that giant stain that he stamped on his own legacy.       

The honest, simple-hearted soldier had not added prestige to the Presidential office. He himself knew that he had failed…that he ought never to have been made President. He combined great gifts with great mediocrity.
Woodrow Wilson, on Ulysses S. Grant, 1902.

On April 9, 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant of the United States Army and General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America’s Army of Northern Virginia gathered along with their officers in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. After four bloody, tragic years and several punishing months that saw General Lee’s movements shadowed at every turn by General Grant’s Army, the venerable Confederate commander realized that further resistance was futile and began the long process of healing the broken nation by surrendering his beloved Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant.

When dramatic, world-changing events in history take place, we rarely get firsthand accounts from the principals involved. Fortunately for us, Ulysses S. Grant spent the last weeks of his life putting the finishing touches on his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (BOOKKINDLE), which spotlight many of the most important moments of the Civil War through the eyes of one of that war’s biggest heroes. Grant finished writing his book just a few days before he died in 1885, but what’s most amazing about Grant’s Memoirs is that, nearly 130 years later, they remain one of the most readable books ever written by an American President. Grant’s insight into the proceedings at Appomattox are valuable because it isn’t secondary material from a journalist, or the memories and a junior officer with opinion and prejudices that might cloud reality. Instead, the Memoirs are Grant’s remembrances of a monumental event in American History, and Grant’s honesty — for better and worse — has rarely been challenged.

In the Memoirs, Grant remembers suffering from a blinding migraine headache in the hours before his meeting with General Lee as representatives attempted to set conditions for the meeting between the two generals. As Grant later wrote, when an officer brought a note to from Lee that confirmed the Confederate general’s interest in meeting and setting terms for surrender, “the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.”

As Grant prepared to meet Lee at Wilmer McLean’s home, the Union commander almost certainly thought about the vast differences between him and his Confederate counterpart. Lee was 15 years older than Grant, and while they both attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, their records couldn’t have been more different. Lee wanted nothing more than to be a great career soldier, graduated 2nd in his class, and made it through four years at West Point without a single demerit. Grant had dozens of demerits, many of which came from refusing to attend church services, and graduated 21st out of 39 cadets in his class. That he graduated at all was an accomplishment in Grant’s eyes. As he later wrote, “A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the Army even if I should be graduated.”

After the men graduated from West Point (Lee in 1829, Grant in 1843), they embarked on military careers that took them to very different places, but on April 9, 1865, General Grant was thinking about the first time he had actually met General Lee. Their paths had crossed in the Mexican War (1846-1848) when they served together for some time under General Winfield Scott. Later in life, Grant was particularly outspoken about the injustice of the Mexican War, but he fought bravely during his time in Mexico under General Scott and, especially, under General Zachary Taylor. Grant and Lee were both decorated for their service in Mexico, along with many fellow junior soldiers whose names would become famous in the North and South during the Civil War. In his Memoirs, Grant wrote about his memories of his earlier meeting with Robert E. Lee, but doubted Lee would remember him:

"I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me; while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War."

Ulysses S. Grant wouldn’t make it easy for General Lee to recognize him, either. One of the only positives to come out of the Mexican War for Ulysses S. Grant was his admiration of Zachary Taylor, who was Grant’s commanding general for most of the war. Taylor — later the 12th President — was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” and remembered fondly by his soldiers for his casual, comfortable manner. General Taylor was a sloppy dresser who often wore an odd mix of military dress and civilian clothing, loved to shade his face a large sun hat, and was unorthodox in almost every manner. While Grant may not have been a good student at West Point, he had no problem picking up on the lessons he learned from General Taylor. Robert E. Lee was always impeccably dressed, much like his Mexican War commander, General Winfield Scott. In fact, Grant’s comparison of Scott and Taylor would just as easily work with Lee and Grant:

"I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit his horse side-ways — with both feet on one side — particularly on the battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed. On these occasions he wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, sabre and spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his staff — engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared — followed, also in uniform and in prescribed order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the view that they should be a history of what followed…But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Both were pleasant to serve under — Taylor was pleasant to serve with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history."

While Robert E. Lee was not insufferable like Winfield Scott, he was still, even after several brutal weeks of fighting, dressed in a way that would have led any outside observer to believe he was receiving the surrender on that day. The messages that Grant and Lee had exchanged that day had resulted in a meeting quicker than Grant had expected, so the Union general was wearing his usual battlefield dress as he prepared to meet the dashing General Lee. In his Memoirs, Grant acknowledges feeling a bit self-conscious about his “rough garb”. “I was without a sword,” Grant remembered, “as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with (only) the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was.” If the war had been decided with a fashion contest between Grant and Lee, we’d all be singing “Dixie”. According to Grant:

"General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form."

Upon entering McLean’s home, Grant and Lee shook hands and the officers who accompanied the two generals were silent. Grant, who had been elated earlier to meet with Lee and bring the war to a close, found himself feeling “sad and depressed”. “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.” Grant had so much respect for Lee that simply meeting him face-to-face in such a moment left the Union general nervous. As they sat in the silent and still parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home, Grant tried to break the ice by mentioning their previous service — on the same side — in Mexico. To Grant’s surprise, Lee remembered him well:

"We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting."

General Lee didn’t forget, however. Lee steered the conversation back towards the terms of his army’s surrender. Grant’s initials “U.S.” had gained him the nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant throughout the war, but the truth was that he didn’t have a template for the conditions required of his vanquished opponents. Grant was aware of President Abraham Lincoln’s hope for a smooth reconciliation as the country began healing in the wake of the Civil War. With this in mind and his deep respect for General Lee’s leadership, Grant set terms so generous that Lee was surprised. Lee’s soldiers would have their names recorded, surrender any weapons that were supplied by the Confederate government, and take an oath to not take up arms against the United States. After doing that, they would be free to return to their homes peacefully and without threat of prosecution for insurrection or treason. When Lee mentioned that most of the horses in his army were the personal property of the soldiers who rode them, Grant allowed soldiers to take any horses or personal belongings back home with them. Grant even allowed the defeated Confederate soldiers keep their sidearms. When General Lee saw the generous terms set forth by General Grant, he was astonished. With emotion, he thanked Grant for his generosity, telling the Union commander, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.”

With the surrender signed, General Lee mentioned to Grant that many of his soldiers had gone without food except for dried corn for several days and were in bad shape. Grant immediately authorized enough food to feed 25,000 men and gave orders to a nearby quartermaster to provide Lee’s army with as much food as they needed for their return to their homes. After exiting the McLean home, Lee climbed on to his beloved horse, Traveller, and observers noted that Lee, for the first time anyone could remember, looked as if he was having a hard time controlling his emotions. Grant was preparing to mount his horse, Cincinnati, when the two generals locked eyes once more. In a show of deep respect, Grant removed his hat and saluted Lee — and every Union soldier in proximity followed their commander’s example. Lee raised his hat and saluted Grant and rode off.

Shortly after Grant and Lee parted ways, the news of Lee’s surrender began to spread throughout the Union encampments. Union soldiers began cheering and firing salutes while their defeated Confederate opponents were well within earshot. Grant immediately ordered an end to the celebration. “The Confederates were now our prisoners,” wrote Grant, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

The next day, General Lee sent a brief, but eloquent, order to his Army of Northern Virginia in which he acknowledged that they had “been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources” and that he was “determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen”. Lee’s order informed the men of their freedom to return to their homes, and closed by thanking his soldiers for their service and bidding them “an affectionate farewell.” Before Grant returned to Washington, D.C. on April 10th for a meeting with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the Union commander stopped by where Lee’s army had set up camp. Grant and Lee sat atop their horses between the lines of their respective armies and talked for nearly an hour, both generals expressing their hope that the Confederate armies still in the field in pockets of the South would follow Lee’s lead so the nation could begin the difficult work of healing. Within a few hours, they were on their way home, heading in opposite directions, Grant to the North and Lee to the South.

Robert E. Lee died in 1870, and despite the cause that most people think he fought for (Lee abhorred slavery; the State of Virginia came before the Union in Lee’s mind), the Confederacy’s commanding general has largely become an American hero throughout the entire country. Maybe it was due to Lee’s support of the abolition of slavery or maybe it is because Lee is considered an American ideal of an honest and honorable warrior with quiet strength, but somehow Lee has made it to the Pantheon of American leaders that Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson will likely never reach. In the last five years of his life, General Lee served as the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia — a school that was renamed Washington and Lee University after Lee’s death.

Grant lived until 1885, but his later life was a bit more star-crossed than Lee’s. Grant turned down a request to accompany President Lincoln to the theater less than a week after Appomattox. Lincoln was killed that night. Grant feuded with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, after the Civil War, and sought the Presidency himself in 1868. Grant served two terms as President (1869-1877), and his Administration was riddled with corruption, although Grant himself was not personally corrupt. Grant’s reputation as President has begun to improve over the past few years due to his work on the only meaningful Civil Rights legislation passed until the mid-20th Century. After his Presidency, Grant went on a 2-year-long world tour with his wife and was greeted around the world by adoring fans interested in seeing an American President who also happened to be the hero of the Civil War. In 1880, Grant sought an unprecedented third term as President, but narrowly lost the Republican nomination to James Garfield. Sadly, Grant’s finances were liquidated by crooked financial partners in the 1880’s and he was forced to sell historic artifacts from his Civil War service in order to survive. In 1884, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer, and became determined to make money for his wife’s benefit in case of his death. Mark Twain signed a deal with Grant to write his Memoirs, and Grant finished the book just a few days before his death in July 1885. Grant’s book was a critical and commercial success, and left his wife with financial stability.

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words. Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another. There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times. What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House. Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept. After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House. Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee. They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other. Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship. A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 — 110 years after the Civil War ended — and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways. We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted. The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other. It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward — leading the way just like they did while waging war — to model for Americans how to wage peace.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did Grant and Lee ever meet after Appomattox?? Either socially or at an official function? Thanks!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, Grant and Lee had one brief encounter after Appomattox, when Grant was President, and I wrote about it in an essay that I titled “Grant and Lee" becomes I’m obviously a creative genius.  Here’s the part about their post-Appomattox encounter:

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words.  Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another.  There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times.  What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House.  Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept.  After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House.  Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee.  They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other.  Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship.  A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 — 110 years after the Civil War ended — and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways.  We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted.  The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again.  Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other.  It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward — leading the way just like they did while waging war — to model for Americans how to wage peace.

I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General [Zachary] Taylor never wore uniforms, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit on his horse side-ways — with both feet on one side — particularly on the battle-field.

General [Winfield] Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed.

In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals contrasted quite as strongly as in their other characteristics. General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a style peculiarly his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking without the least embarrassment. Taylor was not a conversationalist, but on paper he could put his meaning so plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words, but would not sacrifice meaning to the construction of high-sounding sentences.

But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history.

Ulysses S. Grant, contrasting his two commanders during the Mexican-American War, General Winfield Scott and General Zachary Taylor, in his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, 1885.

During the Civil War, Grant’s own style as a military commander was far more similar to that of General Taylor’s, particularly when it came to his simplicity and lack of vanity in respect to his uniform and his direct, straightforward method of communication.

Grant had come out of the war the greatest of all. It is true that the rebels were on their last legs, and that the Southern ports were pretty effectually blockaded, and that Grant was furnished with all the men that were needed or could be spared after he took command of the Army of the Potomac. But Grant helped more than any one else to bring about this condition. His great victories at Donelson, Vicksburg, and Missionary Ridge all contributed to Appomattox…Grant has treated me badly; but he was the right man in the right place during the war, and no matter what his faults were or are, the whole world can never write him down.
Andrew Johnson, paying tribute to Ulysses S. Grant despite the notoriously difficult relationship that the two men had with each other.
General Franklin Pierce had joined the army in Mexico, at Puebla, a short time before the advance upon the capital commenced. He had consequently not been in any of the engagements of the war up to the Battle of Contreras. By an unfortunate fall of his horse on the afternoon of the 19th he was painfully injured. The next day, when his brigade, with the other troops engaged on the same field, was ordered against the flank and rear of the enemy guarding the different points of the road from San Augustin Tlalplan to the city, General Pierce attempted to accompany them. He was not sufficiently recovered to do so, and fainted. This circumstance gave rise to exceedingly unfair and unjust criticisms of him when he became a candidate for the Presidency. Whatever General Pierce’s qualifications may have been for the Presidency, he was a gentleman and a man of courage. I was not a supporter of him politically, but I knew him more intimately than I did any other of the volunteer generals.

Ulysses S. Grant, writing about his experience with Franklin Pierce during the Mexican-American War in his autobiography, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, 1885.

Grant’s defense of Pierce’s courage was in response to rumors that had dogged Pierce following the Mexican-American War and were amplified during Pierce’s successful campaign for the Presidency in 1852. Pierce’s opponent in 1852 was Winfield Scott, who won glory as a military hero due to his service commanding the army in Mexico, and Scott’s supporters claimed that Pierce fainted in combat due to cowardice. In reality, Pierce had suffered a serious knee injury at the Battle of Contreras that was reinjured at Churubusco. To make matters worse, Pierce was also stricken by dysentery in the closing weeks of the war.

While the charges of cowardice (inaccurate) and alcoholism (significantly more accurate) leveled against Pierce by Scott’s supporters were painful and embarrassing, Pierce routed his former commanding general in the Electoral College to win the 1852 Presidential election.

Faithful and fearless as a volunteer soldier, intrepid and invincible as Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the Union, and confident as President of a reunited and strengthened nation, which his genius has been instrumental in achieving, he has our homage and that of the world; but brilliant as was his public character, we love him all the more for his home life and homely virtues.
President William McKinley, paying tribute to Ulysses S. Grant at the dedication ceremony for Grant’s Tomb in New York City, 1897.
Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means for peace.
Ulysses S. Grant, post-Presidential speech in London, England during Grant’s world tour