We all like to read, or to hear, of the great men of the age, to know how and where they lived, what kind of boys they were, and how they rose to their high place, and won their fame.
U-lys-ses S. Grant was a poor boy. He was born at Point Pleas-ant, O-hi-o, on the 27th day of A-pril, 1822. He was not as bright and smart as some boys are, but was thought to be quite dull and slow at school, and more fond of a horse than he was of a book. If there was a wild rough horse that no one would dare to mount, U-lys-ses would leap on its back and ride off with no thought of fear.
A man whose farm was not far from the Grants, had a horse that he could not train. He had seen. U-lys-ses break in more than one wild colt, and he thought it would be a good plan to get him to try his hand on this one. But U-lys-ses was too proud to do this kind of work for hire. The man knew that; so he came up one day as if in great haste, and said to the ten year old boy, “I wish you would take this note from me to a man in the next town. I have no time to go, as there is work to be done on the farm, but if you will go I will pay you well. My horse is swift, and will take you there and bring you back in no time.”
U-lys-ses said “I will go.” He was in need of cash, and this was a good chance to earn some. So up he got on the horse, took the reins in his hands, and just as he set off the man cried out to him, as if he had just thought of it, when it had been on his mind all the while — “I want you to teach that horse how to pace.”
It was a hard task, and U-lys-ses had a fight with the horse all the way to town and part of the way back. At last the horse gave in and made up his mind to change his gait to please the small boy on his back, who stuck like a bur, and was not to be thrown off, though the horse tried his best to get rid of him.
Of course, the man who owned the horse was much pleased, but it was not long ere U-lys-ses found out that the whole thing was trick to get him to break in the horse, and he did not like it at all. He thought the man should have told him the truth, for a boy who is fond of the truth does not like to have a lie told, or to be made a fool or a tool of in the way. Though he was well paid for what he did, he made up his mind that he would do no more of that kind of work, which was much too low to suit his taste.
U-lys-ses was quite small for his age, but did not like to drive the small team in use on the farm. He was fond of a big horse, and when Dan was bought as a mate to the one on the place, U-lys-ses was in high glee. When eight years old he could hitch up the team and drive off as well as a man, and when twelve years old would haul great logs and load up the cart with no one to help him but Dan.
The boy would fix a chain round a log and get Dan to pull it up near the cart, and with a haul here and a pull there would work it in place, and think it no great thing to do.
The boy, you see, had a wise head, and knew how to plan his work, and how to pull through a tight place, and these traits grew strong day by day and made him the brave calm man he grew to be.
But I must tell you how he came to be known as U-lys-ses S. Grant, when that was not his right name at all. His real name was Hi-ram U-lys-ses, but when the boys at school gave him the nick-name of “Hug”, he thought it was time to change it. So he wrote his name U-lys-ses H. Grant.
A friend who had a chance to send a boy to West Point, thought that U-lys-ses would be glad to go and would be the right boy for the place. He knew that one of the Grant boys had Simp-son as part of his name, and so he wrote to West Point that the boy he sent bore the name of U-lys-ses Simp-son Grant, and when Grant found this out he let it go. It was a good thing, and, I have no doubt, part of a wise plan, for these things do not take place by chance. H. U. Grant, or U. H. Grant, would not have been so strong as U. S. Grant, which seems to bring him near to us and to the land for which he fought.
Most of those who go to West Point have a taste for war, but Grant was more fond of peace, and did not care to go this kind of a school. But it was thought best that he should. The young men there soon gave him the nick-name of “Un-cle Sam,” and this stuck to him all through the rest of his life.
It was in the year 1839 that Grant went to West Point, and not much is told of his life at that place. West Point is a school where the drill is the same year in and year out, and where young men are sent from all parts of the U-ni-ted States, to learn the art of war.
U-lys-ses did not need to be taught, as some of the boys did, how to mount or to ride a horse. He knew all that. He made friends while there who were warm friends till the day of his death, who knew that he tried to do what was right, was just, and true, and had a clean head and a pure mind. He did not talk much, but was as fond of fun as most boys are. But it had to be the right kind of fun or he would take no part in it. He did not swear, and had no taste for coarse jokes; which is more than can be said of most men. Boys are apt to think it a fine thing to swear; and men laugh when they hear them speak “the big round oath,” which they so soon learn to use in their talk, and find so hard to get rid of.
This one thing shows how brave Grant was at this time, and how firm to stick to what he thought was the right course. He had set out to be a good man, and a clean man, and God gave him strength to turn from all that was bad, and to live so that he would not have to blush with shame for his past deeds. He could not have known then how high he was to stand in the eyes of the world, how each act of his life would be brought out and held up to view in the clear light of fame.
No boy knows just where he will stand when he is a man. He may plot and plan all his young days, and try his best to win the prize of fame, but all his plans may fall through, all his deep laid schemes may come to nought. Those who lead the race for a while may not have the luck to reach the goal. The best way is to do right all the time, and to live so as to gain a good name, and to be known as a good man, if it is not your fate to be known as a great one.
Grant stood well in his class at West Point, and at the end ot the four years’ course was sent to join the troops with Gen-er-al Zach-a-ry Tay-lor, who was then in Tex-as. This was in the year 1843.
War with Mex-i-co broke out in 1846, and Grant took part in the fight at Pa-lo Al-to, Re-sa-ca de la Pal-ma, Cer-ro Gor-do, Chur-u-bus-co, Mo-li-no del Rey, and Cha-pul-te-pec, and went on with the troops that fought their way to the Cit-y of Mex-i-co, which they took by storm, in the year 1847.
I hope you have a map to look at as you read these queer names, and will trace out the route the troops took in their march from the camp at Cor-pus Chris-ti to the place where San-ta An-na laid down his sword.
Grant went up a step or two in rank for his brave deeds at Mo-li-no del Rey and Cha-pul-te-pec, but his fame did not reach far.
He took a wife in the year 1848, and in 1854 made up his mind that he would war no more. He went to live on a farm of his own near St. Lou-is. Here he built his own house of hewn logs, did his own work, and led a life of peace. He was a poor man and could not hire help to do the work, and no doubt had a hard time, for it was a great change to lay down the gun and the sword, and turn from the field of strife, to take up the plough and the hoe and go to work in a hay-field or corn-patch.
So in 1860 Grant left his farm, and went to live at Ga-le-na, in the State of Il-li-nois. He was clerk in a store where hides were sold, and it is said that he was a good sales-man. Here he was when the war broke out in the U-ni-ted States, and the South and North, which had been as one, were two, and full of fierce hate.
For a long time in the South there had been a spark of hate, which did not burst out in a blaze till the 13th of A-pril, 1861, when an attack was made on Fort Sum-ter. The news spread like wild-fire. Men were quick to take sides. Some fought to save the dear old flag, and some fought to pull it down, and rend it in two.
Jeff-er-son Da-vis led the South. A-bra-ham Lin-coln, our chief, stood by the flag of the free — true, firm, brave, and good — and to him the whole North looked with faith that he would do the best he could for their cause.
Lin-coln’s call for troops was made on the 15th of A-pril, 1861. On the 19th Grant went to work to drill a few of his towns-men in the use of the gun, and in a few days set off with them to Spring-field.
From there he wrote to one of the chief men at Wash-ing-ton that he would like to be made use of. He did not care where he was sent, or what rank he took, so long as he could use his skill and help to save the land from the foes that sought to take its life.
No word came back to him, so he staid at Spring-field to drill the troops that came in from all parts of the State. At the end of five weeks Cap-tain Grant was made Col-o-nel Grant and sent off to the seat of war at the head of a band of troops known as the Twen-ty First Ill-i-nois.
The Mis-sis-sip-pi Riv-er is full of queer turns and crooks, and at points here and there the men of the South made haste to set up forts and to fix troops to keep the North at bay. Ma-jor Gen-er-al Fre-mont had charge of all the troops in the far West, and in Sep-tem-ber, 1861, he sent Grant to Cai-ro, at the mouth of the O-hi-o, which was a strong point to guard. As soon as Grant reached Cai-ro he heard that Gen-er-al Polk, who had seized Co-lum-bus and Hick-man, on the Mis-sis-sip-pi, was on the way to Pa-du-cah, which he meant to take.
Fre-mont was at St. Lou-is. Grant sent word to him that he would start for Pa-du-cah at half-past six. He had to wait, for if Fre-mont said Grant must not go, he would have to stay where he was. No word came back on the wires, and so at half-past ten at night, on the 5th of Sep-tem-ber, he set out with two reg-i-ments and two gun-boats, and was at Pa-du-cah by half-past eight the next morn.
The men of the South, who were in gray, ran off, while the men in blue, led by Grant, made their way to the shore. Not a gun was fired. Grant took Pa-du-cah and all the flags and stores that were found in the place, and by this move kept the O-hi-o safe from the clutch of the foe.
At noon Grant went back to Cai-ro, and found there the word from Fre-mont for which he had not thought it best to wait. Fre-mont said he might take Pa-du-cah “if he had the strength” — that meant if he thought he had the men he would need for the fight there was no doubt would take place. Grant went at just the right time, and though some took him to task and thought he had not gone to work in the right way, the gain was so great that all else was soon lost sight of.
For the next two months Grant kept a close watch on the three great streams that join in one and find their way at last to the Gulf of Mex-i-co. The men in gray were in great force at Co-lum-bus, and Grant had to move his troops from Pa-du-cah so as to get in the rear of the foe. He knew he could take Co-lum-bus, and it was hard for a man so quick to act to wait for the word to move.
Grant had charge of a lot of raw troops, men who had been brought up on farms, or had learned trades. None of them were skilled in the art of war, and though they might know how to shoot off a gun, and had been in bear hunts, and now and then on the red man’s track, they were as green as they could be, but full of fight. On the 7th of No-vem-ber Grant moved his men and boats down to Hun-ter’s Point, just out of range of the Co-lum-bus guns, and led his troops near Bel-mont, which was three miles off. At this place the foe were in camp, shut in by great trees that had been cut down to form a wall round the white tents.
Grant drew up his troops in line, and then sent out the whole force, in small bands, to fight the foe. Bel-mont was cut up with sloughs and swamps, and here and there were dense woods, which made it hard work for those who did not know the ground. For four hours the fight was kept up, and all this time Grant was in the midst of the fire. It made the troops brave to see such brave men at their head. They drove the foe, foot to foot, through sloughs and fields, from tree to tree, down to the bank of the broad stream, back through the breast-works, seized a large force of men, and all the guns, and broke up the camp.
Grant’s troops were so wild with joy that they did all sorts of queer things, and were like such a lot of school boys that Grant, who saw that boats had set out from Co-lum-bus with a large force of men on board, gave the word to set the camps on fire. This drew on them a fire of guns from Co-lum-bus, which brought the men back to the ranks in great haste, and they took up their line of march to the boats.
In the mean-time the men in gray, whom the men in blue had not thought it worth while to watch, had crept down to the shore and were hid from sight by the high banks. Here, and n the woods close at hand, they met in small groups and made new plans. Fresh troops were sent to their aid from Co-lum-bus, and they took up their line of march in such a way that they were soon in front, in rear, and on all sides of Grant’s men. It was a sad plight. Brave though they were, they did not see how they could get out of this trap in which they had been caught, and they thought there was but one thing to do, and that was to lay down their arms. But that was not Grant’s way. One of his staff, to whom war was a new thing, rode up and with a pale face told of the fix they were in. “Well,” said Grant, “if that is so, we must cut our way out as we cut our way in.”
As soon as the troops found out that Grant meant to fight, they went to work with a will and soon drove the foe from the field, and then fled in great haste to their gun-boats. They thought this was the right thing to do, but it was not. And where do you think they left Grant? Why just near the corn-field where the Rebs were drawn up in line to fire on the gun-boats. He rode up on a knoll, and made a fine mark for the foe, who would have shot him down at once had they known who he was. As the day was cool Grant had put on the coat of one of his men, which hid his rank, and as he sat there on his horse he saw that it was no use to try to save his men who were out in search of those who had met with wounds in the fight, and that he would have a hard time to make his own way back to the gun-boats — which he might not reach.
He set out at a slow pace so that the Rebs would not turn their fire on him, but as he drew near where his troops were he put spurs to his horse which slid down the bank, and was just in time to see his boats push off from the shore. He rode up as fast as he could, a plank was put out for him, and he went on board through a storm of shot
Then the fire was kept up from the gun-boats till the last one was out of range, and there was no gain to the North or South.
Grant lost 485 men. Polk 642.
It was the first fight in which Grant took the lead.
A flag of truce is a white flag: a sign that the fight is at an end, and that peace reigns for a while.
The next day, Grant went out with a flag of truce and met one of his old West Point friends, who was on Gen-er-al Polk’s staff. Grant told him how he rode out and met the foe.
“Was that you?” he said. “We saw you, and Gen-er-al Polk called to some of his troops: “Here, men, is a Yank, if you want to try your aim;” but all the men had their eyes on the boats and not one of them fired at Grant. But for that his first fight might have been his last one, and we should have heard no more of him.”
Large fleets of gun-boats were in use in the West, in the first years of the war, and were sent up and down the streams with troops and stores. The Rebs were in great dread of them, and did their best to keep out of the range of their big guns. They were built so that not a man could be seen on them, and the shot and shell that were sent at them struck and did no harm.
For two months Grant had been kept in one place, but in Jan-u-a-ry, 1862, word was sent him that he might move his troops to the South, where it was thought there might be a fight. But no fight took place. The troops were out for more than a week, and were in great pain from the cold; and the storms of rain and snow that set in made some of them quite ill.
There are two great streams that branch out from the O-hi-o: the Ten-nes-see, which runs south, and the Cum-ber-land, which runs both south and east. At a bend in each of these streams the men of the South had built a strong-hold to keep back the men from the North. Fort Hen-ry on the Ten-nes-see, and Fort Don-el-son on the Cum-ber-land, were like two great gate-ways which Lin-coln’s troops would find hard to pass through.
But one of the men whom Grant sent out to see how the land lay in West Ken-tuck-y took a good look at Fort Hen-ry and sent back this word: “Two guns would make short work of the fort.”