PRESIDENT #18 – ULYSSES S. GRANT

I know only two tunes – one is Yankee Doodle and the other isn’t. Ulysses S. Grant

Grant’s house is tucked away in the northwest corner of Illinois, sitting on a small knoll in the river town of Galena.

I usually do houses backwards. We visit the house. I buy a book about the first lady in the gift shop, take the book home, read it and wish I could visit the house again now that I know more about the family.

But I read the biography of Julia Grant right before we spent a few days in Galena and because of that, doubly enjoyed the visit.

The Grants lived in Galena in the years before the Civil War began – Grant worked at a store that his father owned and his brothers managed.  At that time, they rented a house that is currently a private residence. Grant never aspired to be a soldier. In fact, his father was the one who got Grant into West Point – and Grant got revenge by finishing in the bottom third of his class.  One good thing about the appointment – a mixup in the  Westpoint papers officially changed his name from Hiram to Ulysses and he liked that because now his initials were U.S.

After graduation, he served in the army, but did not enjoy it and began drinking to such an extent that he was told to give up drinking or his Army career. He decided to do both.  He and his wife moved to St. Louis – then to Galena.  He scraped by, doing many jobs and when the call came to help Lincoln, he got a group of Galena soldiers together and headed for the Civil War. Soon he gained a reputation for taking undisciplined, unsoldier-like young boys and making them into no-nonsense recruits. He did not become a full general until Appomattox because at that time, it was a title most felt only Washington was worthy to possess

After the war, the people of Galena (well, basically a group of Republicans who pooled their money) gave the Grants this house as a “thank you” for his service.  The Grants lived there from 1865-1868 when Grant became president. They returned to Galena many times and always stayed at the house. The last visit was in 1880.

To the Grants, Galena was home and when someone asked Grant to run for president, he said, “I’d rather be mayor of Galena.”

Interestingly, Grant’s presidency is not one that is well-rememberd. Lots of scandals were happening – however, Grant was not involved.  And even though, he had a reputation for both drinking and smoking too much, he was extremely gentle and would not allow profanity in the halls of the U.S. Government. (If only he were around today.)

When he ran for reelection, he was the first of only four presidents to receive ALL the electoral votes.  He also was the first president to take vacations away from the White House (Long Branch, New Jersey) and the scandalized citizens didn’t think bills signed at Long Branch could be real.

I don’t have many pictures of Galena – I think we were in our videotaping stage. Currently there is a $3.00 – $4.00 donation for the tour.  And many of the furnishings are authentic, since the Grant children gave the house to the citizens of Galena, “with the understanding that this property is to be kept as a memorial to the late General Ulysses S. Grant, and for no other purpose … kept as nearly as possible as it was when General Grant resided in it.”

By the way, if you haven’t been to Galena, it is truly an interesting town, looking much like it did in the days of the Grants – especially the downtown area. Truly a river town, overlooking the Mississippi, it is filled with gift shops — and at least a few years ago had a couple very fascinating bookstores specializing in rare, historical books.

Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future. Ulysses S. Grant.

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