Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

Her brother, next of age and now past eighty-eight, is also
still living in Clermont County, within a few miles of the old
homestead, and is as active in mind as ever. He was a supporter
of the Government during the war, and remains a firm believer,
that national success by the Democratic party means
irretrievable ruin.

In June, 1821, my father, Jesse R. Grant, married Hannah
Simpson. I was born on the 27th of April, 1822, at Point
Pleasant, Clermont County, Ohio. In the fall of 1823 we moved
to Georgetown, the county seat of Brown, the adjoining county
cast. This place remained my home, until at the age of
seventeen, in 1839, I went to West Point.

The schools, at the time of which I write, were very
indifferent. There were no free schools, and none in which the
scholars were classified. They were all supported by
subscription, and a single teacher–who was often a man or a
woman incapable of teaching much, even if they imparted all they
knew–would have thirty or forty scholars, male and female, from
the infant learning the A B C’s up to the young lady of eighteen
and the boy of twenty, studying the highest branches taught–the
three R’s, “Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic.” I never saw an
algebra, or other mathematical work higher than the arithmetic,
in Georgetown, until after I was appointed to West Point. I
then bought a work on algebra in Cincinnati; but having no
teacher it was Greek to me.

My life in Georgetown was uneventful. From the age of five or
six until seventeen, I attended the subscription schools of the
village, except during the winters of 1836-7 and 1838-9. The
former period was spent in Maysville, Kentucky, attending the
school of Richardson and Rand; the latter in Ripley, Ohio, at a
private school. I was not studious in habit, and probably did
not make progress enough to compensate for the outlay for board
and tuition. At all events both winters were spent in going
over the same old arithmetic which I knew every word of before,
and repeating: “A noun is the name of a thing,” which I had
also heard my Georgetown teachers repeat, until I had come to
believe it–but I cast no reflections upon my old teacher,
Richardson. He turned out bright scholars from his school, many
of whom have filled conspicuous places in the service of their
States. Two of my contemporaries there–who, I believe, never
attended any other institution of learning–have held seats in
Congress, and one, if not both, other high offices; these are
Wadsworth and Brewster.

My father was, from my earliest recollection, in comfortable
circumstances, considering the times, his place of residence,
and the community in which he lived. Mindful of his own lack of
facilities for acquiring an education, his greatest desire in
maturer years was for the education of his children.
Consequently, as stated before, I never missed a quarter from
school from the time I was old enough to attend till the time of
leaving home. This did not exempt me from labor. In my early
days, every one labored more or less, in the region where my
youth was spent, and more in proportion to their private
means. It was only the very poor who were exempt. While my
father carried on the manufacture of leather and worked at the
trade himself, he owned and tilled considerable land. I
detested the trade, preferring almost any other labor; but I was
fond of agriculture, and of all employment in which horses were
used. We had, among other lands, fifty acres of forest within a
mile of the village. In the fall of the year choppers were
employed to cut enough wood to last a twelve-month. When I was
seven or eight years of age, I began hauling all the wood used
in the house and shops. I could not load it on the wagons, of
course, at that time, but I could drive, and the choppers would
load, and some one at the house unload. When about eleven years
old, I was strong enough to hold a plough. From that age until
seventeen I did all the work done with horses, such as breaking
up the land, furrowing, ploughing corn and potatoes, bringing in
the crops when harvested, hauling all the wood, besides tending
two or three horses, a cow or two, and sawing wood for stoves,
etc., while still attending school. For this I was compensated
by the fact that there was never any scolding or punishing by my
parents; no objection to rational enjoyments, such as fishing,
going to the creek a mile away to swim in summer, taking a horse
and visiting my grandparents in the adjoining county, fifteen
miles off, skating on the ice in winter, or taking a horse and
sleigh when there was snow on the ground.

While still quite young I had visited Cincinnati, forty-five
miles away, several times, alone; also Maysville, Kentucky,
often, and once Louisville. The journey to Louisville was a big
one for a boy of that day. I had also gone once with a two-horse
carriage to Chilicothe, about seventy miles, with a neighbor’s
family, who were removing to Toledo, Ohio, and returned alone;
and had gone once, in like manner, to Flat Rock, Kentucky, about
seventy miles away. On this latter occasion I was fifteen years
of age. While at Flat Rock, at the house of a Mr. Payne, whom I
was visiting with his brother, a neighbor of ours in Georgetown,
I saw a very fine saddle horse, which I rather coveted, and
proposed to Mr. Payne, the owner, to trade him for one of the
two I was driving. Payne hesitated to trade with a boy, but
asking his brother about it, the latter told him that it would
be all right, that I was allowed to do as I pleased with the
horses. I was seventy miles from home, with a carriage to take
back, and Mr. Payne said he did not know that his horse had ever
had a collar on. I asked to have him hitched to a farm wagon and
we would soon see whether he would work. It was soon evident
that the horse had never worn harness before; but he showed no
viciousness, and I expressed a confidence that I could manage
him. A trade was at once struck, I receiving ten dollars

The next day Mr. Payne, of Georgetown, and I started on our
return. We got along very well for a few miles, when we
encountered a ferocious dog that frightened the horses and made
them run. The new animal kicked at every jump he made. I got
the horses stopped, however, before any damage was done, and
without running into anything. After giving them a little rest,
to quiet their fears, we started again. That instant the new
horse kicked, and started to run once more. The road we were
on, struck the turnpike within half a mile of the point where
the second runaway commenced, and there there was an embankment
twenty or more feet deep on the opposite side of the pike. I
got the horses stopped on the very brink of the precipice. My
new horse was terribly frightened and trembled like an aspen;
but he was not half so badly frightened as my companion, Mr.
Payne, who deserted me after this last experience, and took
passage on a freight wagon for Maysville. Every time I
attempted to start, my new horse would commence to kick. I was
in quite a dilemma for a time. Once in Maysville I could borrow
a horse from an uncle who lived there; but I was more than a
day’s travel from that point. Finally I took out my
bandanna–the style of handkerchief in universal use then–and
with this blindfolded my horse. In this way I reached Maysville
safely the next day, no doubt much to the surprise of my
friend. Here I borrowed a horse from my uncle, and the
following day we proceeded on our journey.

About half my school-days in Georgetown were spent at the school
of John D. White, a North Carolinian, and the father of Chilton
White who represented the district in Congress for one term
during the rebellion. Mr. White was always a Democrat in
politics, and Chilton followed his father. He had two older
brothers–all three being school-mates of mine at their father’s
school–who did not go the same way. The second brother died
before the rebellion began; he was a Whig, and afterwards a
Republican. His oldest brother was a Republican and brave
soldier during the rebellion. Chilton is reported as having
told of an earlier horse-trade of mine. As he told the story,
there was a Mr. Ralston living within a few miles of the
village, who owned a colt which I very much wanted. My father
had offered twenty dollars for it, but Ralston wanted
twenty-five. I was so anxious to have the colt, that after the
owner left, I begged to be allowed to take him at the price
demanded. My father yielded, but said twenty dollars was all
the horse was worth, and told me to offer that price; if it was
not accepted I was to offer twenty-two and a half, and if that
would not get him, to give the twenty-five. I at once mounted a
horse and went for the colt. When I got to Mr. Ralston’s house,
I said to him: ” Papa says I may offer you twenty dollars for
the colt, but if you won’t take that, I am to offer twenty-two
and a half, and if you won’t take that, to give you
twenty-five.” It would not require a Connecticut man to guess
the price finally agreed upon. This story is nearly true. I
certainly showed very plainly that I had come for the colt and
meant to have him. I could not have been over eight years old
at the time. This transaction caused me great heart-burning.
The story got out among the boys of the village, and it was a
long time before I heard the last of it. Boys enjoy the misery
of their companions, at least village boys in that day did, and
in later life I have found that all adults are not free from the
peculiarity. I kept the horse until he was four years old, when
he went blind, and I sold him for twenty dollars. When I went
to Maysville to school, in 1836, at the age of fourteen, I
recognized my colt as one of the blind horses working on the
tread-wheel of the ferry-boat.

I have describes enough of my early life to give an impression
of the whole. I did not like to work; but I did as much of it,
while young, as grown men can be hired to do in these days, and
attended school at the same time. I had as many privileges as
any boy in the village, and probably more than most of them. I
have no recollection of ever having been punished at home,
either by scolding or by the rod. But at school the case was
different. The rod was freely used there, and I was not exempt
from its influence. I can see John D. White–the school
teacher–now, with his long beech switch always in his hand. It
was not always the same one, either. Switches were brought in
bundles, from a beech wood near the school house, by the boys
for whose benefit they were intended. Often a whole bundle
would be used up in a single day. I never had any hard feelings
against my teacher, either while attending the school, or in
later years when reflecting upon my experience. Mr. White was a
kindhearted man, and was much respected by the community in which
he lived. He only followed the universal custom of the period,
and that under which he had received his own education.



In the winter of 1838-9 I was attending school at Ripley, only
ten miles distant from Georgetown, but spent the Christmas
holidays at home. During this vacation my father received a
letter from the Honorable Thomas Morris, then United States
Senator from Ohio. When he read it he said to me, Ulysses, I
believe you are going to receive the appointment.” “What
appointment?” I inquired. To West Point; I have applied for
it.” “But I won’t go,” I said. He said he thought I would, AND
I THOUGHT SO TOO, IF HE DID. I really had no objection to going
to West Point, except that I had a very exalted idea of the
acquirements necessary to get through. I did not believe I
possessed them, and could not bear the idea of failing. There
had been four boys from our village, or its immediate
neighborhood, who had been graduated from West Point, and never
a failure of any one appointed from Georgetown, except in the
case of the one whose place I was to take. He was the son of
Dr. Bailey, our nearest and most intimate neighbor. Young
Bailey had been appointed in 1837. Finding before the January
examination following, that he could not pass, he resigned and
went to a private school, and remained there until the following
year, when he was reappointed. Before the next examination he
was dismissed. Dr. Bailey was a proud and sensitive man, and
felt the failure of his son so keenly that he forbade his return
home. There were no telegraphs in those days to disseminate news
rapidly, no railroads west of the Alleghanies, and but few east;
and above ail, there were no reporters prying into other
people’s private affairs. Consequently it did not become
generally known that there was a vacancy at West Point from our
district until I was appointed. I presume Mrs. Bailey confided
to my mother the fact that Bartlett had been dismissed, and that
the doctor had forbidden his son’s return home.

The Honorable Thomas L. Hamer, one of the ablest men Ohio ever
produced, was our member of Congress at the time, and had the
right of nomination. He and my father had been members of the
same debating society (where they were generally pitted on
opposite sides), and intimate personal friends from their early
manhood up to a few years before. In politics they differed.
Hamer was a life-long Democrat, while my father was a Whig. They
had a warm discussion, which finally became angry–over some act
of President Jackson, the removal of the deposit of public
moneys, I think–after which they never spoke until after my
appointment. I know both of them felt badly over this
estrangement, and would have been glad at any time to come to a
reconciliation; but neither would make the advance. Under these
circumstances my father would not write to Hamer for the
appointment, but he wrote to Thomas Morris, United States
Senator from Ohio, informing him that there was a vacancy at
West Point from our district, and that he would be glad if I
could be appointed to fill it. This letter, I presume, was
turned over to Mr. Hamer, and, as there was no other applicant,
he cheerfully appointed me. This healed the breach between the
two, never after reopened.

Besides the argument used by my father in favor of my going to
West Point–that “he thought I would go”–there was another very
strong inducement. I had always a great desire to travel. I was
already the best travelled boy in Georgetown, except the sons of
one man, John Walker, who had emigrated to Texas with his
family, and immigrated back as soon as he could get the means to
do so. In his short stay in Texas he acquired a very different
opinion of the country from what one would form going there now.

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