St. Louis children grow up with a special fondness for Ulysses S. Grant. Long before they learn that historians credit him with saving the Union in the War Between the States, or the first healing of the South at the end of the Civil War, or that he signed the 15th Amendment into law granting African Americans and Native Americans the right to vote, they’re able to recognize the log cabin that he built here in 1856 and get their first glimpses of North American Bison roaming freely among a hundred other species of animals, as they explore what once was Grant’s farm.
Although others held title to the rolling stretch of prairie that St. Louisans know as Grant’s Farm none of them except the Anheuser Busch family became world-famous and even the Busch family referred to their property as Grant’s Farm. The founder of the Busch dynasty in the U.S., Adolphus Busch, who emigrated from Germany as a young man and made his way up the Mississippi River to St. Louis on a steamboat, became a great admirer of General Grant while serving under him during the Civil War.
In 1903 Adolphus Busch purchased 217 acres of the former White Haven estate “and built a palatial residence there”* calling it Grant’s Farm. In 1907 his son, August A. Busch, purchased Hardscrabble (the cabin Grant built with his own hands) and had it moved and re-assembled on what was now his estate.
I’ve often thought that Grant would love the Clydesdales (the great Scottish breed of horses) that have become so identified with his farm since the Busch brewing family began raising them there. For Ulysses Grant loved horses and was from boyhood a horse whisperer, with a natural gift for cajoling and gentling a horse.
Grant first visited this site in 1843 at the invitation of his best friend and former roommate at West Point, Fred Dent, whose father Frederick owned the land and had named his estate White Haven, for the plantation he’d left behind in Maryland. Recently assigned to Jefferson Barracks, Grant met and fell in love with Fred’s younger sister Julia, who loved to ride as much as he did, and with whom he forged a friendship that would last their lifetimes; their marriage thirty-seven years until his death from cancer.
The newly married Grants lived at White Haven off and on for several years beginning in 1848. Two of their children were born there and while he was away, embroiled in a horrific civil war, Ulysses (“Sam” to his friends, “Ulyss” to Julia) dreamed of building a great stable back at White Haven and raising thoroughbred horses. The stable that stands today (dating to 1872) houses a wonderful museum dedicated to one of the nation’s greatest military leaders and an American President who never dreamed of becoming one.
A quiet, soft-spoken man with a talent for painting, Ulysses Grant (with the encouragement of his good friend Sam Clemens) authored a personal memoir considered to be one of the greatest works of its kind ever published. Completed when he was in excruciating pain, four days before his death, the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant sold over 300,000 copies, netting his family $450,000 and rescuing them from financial ruin.
Like so many of Grant’s dreams the horse farm was never realized. Though subsequent owners of the land would breed horses there. Nor did his dreams of teaching mathematics. But the years Grant spent at White Haven molded his character in important ways that are commemorated at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.
Memorabilia related to Grant’s early, military, and presidential life may be viewed along with photographs of family, his presidential inauguration, contemporaries whose lives he impacted and world travels.
Grant was born in a two-room cabin in Point Pleasant, Ohio and died in a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. He spent far more time away from his family in the military than he wished and failed at practically every civilian job he attempted, until fate called him to something dreadful and yet glorious; saving the nation he had sworn to protect and defend; something he was acutely equipped to do in battle.
Grant’s unflinching courage, his facility with numbers and mathematics, a photographic memory that allowed him to walk a terrain and remember every hill and hollow, his understanding as an expert horseman of the cavalry’s best use in battle and a brilliance for strategy that pitted him head to head with Robert E. Lee, forged the way to Union victory.
The National Park Service has done a splendid job of restoring Julia and Ulysses Grant’s St. Louis County home (where the young family enjoyed many happy times) and expanding it for learning experiences. Without the involvement of the park service and enormous effort on the parts of local preservationists and Missouri legislators it might have become yet another, suburban real estate development.
Park Ranger, Sherié Phillips, gave my husband Tom and I an excellent tour of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (http://www.nps.gov/ulsg/index.htm) recently, where one can really visualize life in rural St. Louis before and during the Civil War.
And the history of White Haven is very special. Here a young man raised in the free state of Ohio witnessed for the first time the cruel realities of slavery and began to develop a sensibility that would shape him into one of the most pro-active civil rights presidents in American history.
There are so many St. Louis sites related to Ulysses Grant before, during and following the Civil War – White Haven, Hardscrabble, Grant’s Farm, the Gravois Road over which he hauled firewood into the city for sale, the Old Courthouse where Grant emancipated William Jones in 1859, the horse race on Market Street that nearly cost him his life and the United States the South, Campbell House at 15th & Locust where Virginia hosted an elegant dinner in his honor in 1873, Fr. Dickson’s Cemetery where James Milton Turner (whom Grant appointed U.S. Ambassador to Liberia) is buried, and more – that I’ve constructed a Civil War St. Louis Coach Tour of which Grant is a major focus. I will be giving this tour on Saturday, August 6th from 10 am until 3 pm. If you’d like to join it please email me for a reservation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
References: Jefferson National Expansion Administrative History – Bob Moore, http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books;/jeff/adhi2-11.htm; the Ulysses S. Grant Home Page: http://www.empirenet.com/~ulysses/index.htm; The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.
Illustration Credits: Battle of Fort Donelson – Kurz & Allison, published in 1887 – Wikimedia Commons File, in the public domain at wikipedia.org.; Jefferson Barracks in the Mexican-American War from the Online Magazine Missouri Museum – author: Curtis A.K.A. Crousant – Wikimedia Commons – in the public domain at wikipedia.org.
Photo Credits: American Bison – author: Jack Dykinga, USDA – released into the public domain at wikipedia.org; Ulysses Grant at Cold Harbor – photographed by Matthew Brady, 1864 – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; The Budweiser Clydesdales at the 2008 South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade – photographed by Paul Keleher who published it in Wikimedia Commons – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Ulysses Grant at Mount McGregor, 1885 – in the pubic domain through Wikimedia Commons at wikipedia.org; Ulysses Grant and Family at Long Branch, NJ 1870 – author: Pach Brothers, NY, in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Side View of the Campbell House Museum, St. Louis – Thomas Kavanaugh; photos of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis County – Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.