Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

The next morning we were at the mouth of the cave at an early
hour, provided with guides, candles and rockets. We explored to
a distance of about three miles from the entrance, and found a
succession of chambers of great dimensions and of great beauty
when lit up with our rockets. Stalactites and stalagmites of
all sizes were discovered. Some of the former were many feet in
diameter and extended from ceiling to floor; some of the latter
were but a few feet high from the floor; but the formation is
going on constantly, and many centuries hence these stalagmites
will extend to the ceiling and become complete columns. The
stalagmites were all a little concave, and the cavities were
filled with water. The water percolates through the roof, a
drop at a time–often the drops several minutes apart–and more
or less charged with mineral matter. Evaporation goes on
slowly, leaving the mineral behind. This in time makes the
immense columns, many of them thousands of tons in weight, which
serve to support the roofs over the vast chambers. I recollect
that at one point in the cave one of these columns is of such
huge proportions that there is only a narrow passage left on
either side of it. Some of our party became satisfied with
their explorations before we had reached the point to which the
guides were accustomed to take explorers, and started back
without guides. Coming to the large column spoken of, they
followed it entirely around, and commenced retracing their steps
into the bowels of the mountain, without being aware of the
fact. When the rest of us had completed our explorations, we
started out with our guides, but had not gone far before we saw
the torches of an approaching party. We could not conceive who
these could be, for all of us had come in together, and there
were none but ourselves at the entrance when we started in. Very
soon we found it was our friends. It took them some time to
conceive how they had got where they were. They were sure they
had kept straight on for the mouth of the cave, and had gone
about far enough to have reached it.



My experience in the Mexican war was of great advantage to me
afterwards. Besides the many practical lessons it taught, the
war brought nearly all the officers of the regular army together
so as to make them personally acquainted. It also brought them
in contact with volunteers, many of whom served in the war of
the rebellion afterwards. Then, in my particular case, I had
been at West Point at about the right time to meet most of the
graduates who were of a suitable age at the breaking out of the
rebellion to be trusted with large commands. Graduating in
1843, I was at the military academy from one to four years with
all cadets who graduated between 1840 and 1846–seven classes.
These classes embraced more than fifty officers who afterwards
became generals on one side or the other in the rebellion, many
of them holding high commands. All the older officers, who
became conspicuous in the rebellion, I had also served with and
known in Mexico: Lee, J. E. Johnston, A. S. Johnston, Holmes,
Hebert and a number of others on the Confederate side; McCall,
Mansfield, Phil. Kearney and others on the National side. The
acquaintance thus formed was of immense service to me in the war
of the rebellion–I mean what I learned of the characters of
those to whom I was afterwards opposed. I do not pretend to say
that all movements, or even many of them, were made with special
reference to the characteristics of the commander against whom
they were directed. But my appreciation of my enemies was
certainly affected by this knowledge. The natural disposition
of most people is to clothe a commander of a large army whom
they do not know, with almost superhuman abilities. A large
part of the National army, for instance, and most of the press
of the country, clothed General Lee with just such qualities,
but I had known him personally, and knew that he was mortal; and
it was just as well that I felt this.

The treaty of peace was at last ratified, and the evacuation of
Mexico by United States troops was ordered. Early in June the
troops in the City of Mexico began to move out. Many of them,
including the brigade to which I belonged, were assembled at
Jalapa, above the vomito, to await the arrival of transports at
Vera Cruz: but with all this precaution my regiment and others
were in camp on the sand beach in a July sun, for about a week
before embarking, while the fever raged with great virulence in
Vera Cruz, not two miles away. I can call to mind only one
person, an officer, who died of the disease. My regiment was
sent to Pascagoula, Mississippi, to spend the summer. As soon
as it was settled in camp I obtained a leave of absence for four
months and proceeded to St. Louis. On the 22d of August, 1848, I
was married to Miss Julia Dent, the lady of whom I have before
spoken. We visited my parents and relations in Ohio, and, at
the end of my leave, proceeded to my post at Sackett’s Harbor,
New York. In April following I was ordered to Detroit,
Michigan, where two years were spent with but few important

The present constitution of the State of Michigan was ratified
during this time. By the terms of one of its provisions, all
citizens of the United States residing within the State at the
time of the ratification became citizens of Michigan also.
During my stay in Detroit there was an election for city
officers. Mr. Zachariah Chandler was the candidate of the Whigs
for the office of Mayor, and was elected, although the city was
then reckoned democratic. All the officers stationed there at
the time who offered their votes were permitted to cast them. I
did not offer mine, however, as I did not wish to consider myself
a citizen of Michigan. This was Mr. Chandler’s first entry into
politics, a career he followed ever after with great success,
and in which he died enjoying the friendship, esteem and love of
his countrymen.

In the spring of 1851 the garrison at Detroit was transferred to
Sackett’s Harbor, and in the following spring the entire 4th
infantry was ordered to the Pacific Coast. It was decided that
Mrs. Grant should visit my parents at first for a few months,
and then remain with her own family at their St. Louis home
until an opportunity offered of sending for her. In the month
of April the regiment was assembled at Governor’s Island, New
York Harbor, and on the 5th of July eight companies sailed for
Aspinwall. We numbered a little over seven hundred persons,
including the families of officers and soldiers. Passage was
secured for us on the old steamer Ohio, commanded at the time by
Captain Schenck, of the navy. It had not been determined, until
a day or two before starting, that the 4th infantry should go by
the Ohio; consequently, a complement of passengers had already
been secured. The addition of over seven hundred to this list
crowded the steamer most uncomfortably, especially for the
tropics in July.

In eight days Aspinwall was reached. At that time the streets
of the town were eight or ten inches under water, and foot
passengers passed from place to place on raised foot-walks. July
is at the height of the wet season, on the Isthmus. At intervals
the rain would pour down in streams, followed in not many minutes
by a blazing, tropical summer’s sun. These alternate changes,
from rain to sunshine, were continuous in the afternoons. I
wondered how any person could live many months in Aspinwall, and
wondered still more why any one tried.

In the summer of 1852 the Panama railroad was completed only to
the point where it now crosses the Chagres River. From there
passengers were carried by boats to Gorgona, at which place they
took mules for Panama, some twenty-five miles further. Those who
travelled over the Isthmus in those days will remember that boats
on the Chagres River were propelled by natives not inconveniently
burdened with clothing. These boats carried thirty to forty
passengers each. The crews consisted of six men to a boat,
armed with long poles. There were planks wide enough for a man
to walk on conveniently, running along the sides of each boat
from end to end. The men would start from the bow, place one
end of their poles against the river bottom, brace their
shoulders against the other end, and then walk to the stern as
rapidly as they could. In this way from a mile to a mile and a
half an hour could be made, against the current of the river.

I, as regimental quartermaster, had charge of the public
property and had also to look after the transportation. A
contract had been entered into with the steamship company in New
York for the transportation of the regiment to California,
including the Isthmus transit. A certain amount of baggage was
allowed per man, and saddle animals were to be furnished to
commissioned officers and to all disabled persons. The
regiment, with the exception of one company left as guards to
the public property–camp and garrison equipage principally–and
the soldiers with families, took boats, propelled as above
described, for Gorgona. From this place they marched to Panama,
and were soon comfortably on the steamer anchored in the bay,
some three or four miles from the town. I, with one company of
troops and all the soldiers with families, all the tents, mess
chests and camp kettles, was sent to Cruces, a town a few miles
higher up the Chagres River than Gorgona. There I found an
impecunious American who had taken the contract to furnish
transportation for the regiment at a stipulated price per
hundred pounds for the freight and so much for each saddle
animal. But when we reached Cruces there was not a mule, either
for pack or saddle, in the place. The contractor promised that
the animals should be on hand in the morning. In the morning he
said that they were on the way from some imaginary place, and
would arrive in the course of the day. This went on until I saw
that he could not procure the animals at all at the price he had
promised to furnish them for. The unusual number of passengers
that had come over on the steamer, and the large amount of
freight to pack, had created an unprecedented demand for
mules. Some of the passengers paid as high as forty dollars for
the use of a mule to ride twenty-five miles, when the mule would
not have sold for ten dollars in that market at other times.
Meanwhile the cholera had broken out, and men were dying every
hour. To diminish the food for the disease, I permitted the
company detailed with me to proceed to Panama. The captain and
the doctors accompanied the men, and I was left alone with the
sick and the soldiers who had families. The regiment at Panama
was also affected with the disease; but there were better
accommodations for the well on the steamer, and a hospital, for
those taken with the disease, on an old hulk anchored a mile
off. There were also hospital tents on shore on the island of
Flamingo, which stands in the bay.

I was about a week at Cruces before transportation began to come
in. About one-third of the people with me died, either at Cruces
or on the way to Panama. There was no agent of the
transportation company at Cruces to consult, or to take the
responsibility of procuring transportation at a price which
would secure it. I therefore myself dismissed the contractor
and made a new contract with a native, at more than double the
original price. Thus we finally reached Panama. The steamer,
however, could not proceed until the cholera abated, and the
regiment was detained still longer. Altogether, on the Isthmus
and on the Pacific side, we were delayed six weeks. About
one-seventh of those who left New York harbor with the 4th
infantry on the 5th of July, now lie buried on the Isthmus of
Panama or on Flamingo island in Panama Bay.

One amusing circumstance occurred while we were Iying at anchor
in Panama Bay. In the regiment there was a Lieutenant Slaughter
who was very liable to sea-sickness. It almost made him sick to
see the wave of a table-cloth when the servants were spreading
it. Soon after his graduation, Slaughter was ordered to
California and took passage by a sailing vessel going around
Cape Horn. The vessel was seven months making the voyage, and
Slaughter was sick every moment of the time, never more so than
while Iying at anchor after reaching his place of destination.
On landing in California he found orders which had come by the
Isthmus, notifying him of a mistake in his assignment; he should
have been ordered to the northern lakes. He started back by the
Isthmus route and was sick all the way. But when he arrived at
the East he was again ordered to California, this time
definitely, and at this date was making his third trip. He was
as sick as ever, and had been so for more than a month while
lying at anchor in the bay. I remember him well, seated with
his elbows on the table in front of him, his chin between his
hands, and looking the picture of despair. At last he broke
out, “I wish I had taken my father’s advice; he wanted me to go
into the navy; if I had done so, I should not have had to go to
sea so much.” Poor Slaughter! it was his last sea voyage. He
was killed by Indians in Oregon.

By the last of August the cholera had so abated that it was
deemed safe to start. The disease did not break out again on
the way to California, and we reached San Francisco early in



San Francisco at that day was a lively place. Gold, or placer
digging as it was called, was at its height. Steamers plied
daily between San Francisco and both Stockton and Sacramento.
Passengers and gold from the southern mines came by the Stockton
boat; from the northern mines by Sacramento. In the evening when
these boats arrived, Long Wharf–there was but one wharf in San
Francisco in 1852–was alive with people crowding to meet the
miners as they came down to sell their “dust” and to “have a
time.” Of these some were runners for hotels, boarding houses
or restaurants; others belonged to a class of impecunious
adventurers, of good manners and good presence, who were ever on
the alert to make the acquaintance of people with some ready
means, in the hope of being asked to take a meal at a
restaurant. Many were young men of good family, good education
and gentlemanly instincts. Their parents had been able to
support them during their minority, and to give them good
educations, but not to maintain them afterwards. From 1849 to
1853 there was a rush of people to the Pacific coast, of the
class described. All thought that fortunes were to be picked
up, without effort, in the gold fields on the Pacific. Some
realized more than their most sanguine expectations; but for one
such there were hundreds disappointed, many of whom now fill
unknown graves; others died wrecks of their former selves, and
many, without a vicious instinct, became criminals and
outcasts. Many of the real scenes in early California life
exceed in strangeness and interest any of the mere products of
the brain of the novelist.

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