Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

I had been east to Wheeling, Virginia, and north to the Western
Reserve, in Ohio, west to Louisville, and south to Bourbon
County, Kentucky, besides having driven or ridden pretty much
over the whole country within fifty miles of home. Going to
West Point would give me the opportunity of visiting the two
great cities of the continent, Philadelphia and New York. This
was enough. When these places were visited I would have been
glad to have had a steamboat or railroad collision, or any other
accident happen, by which I might have received a temporary
injury sufficient to make me ineligible, for a time, to enter
the Academy. Nothing of the kind occurred, and I had to face
the music.

Georgetown has a remarkable record for a western village. It
is, and has been from its earliest existence, a democratic
town. There was probably no time during the rebellion when, if
the opportunity could have been afforded, it would not have
voted for Jefferson Davis for President of the United States,
over Mr. Lincoln, or any other representative of his party;
unless it was immediately after some of John Morgan’s men, in
his celebrated raid through Ohio, spent a few hours in the
village. The rebels helped themselves to whatever they could
find, horses, boots and shoes, especially horses, and many
ordered meals to be prepared for them by the families. This was
no doubt a far pleasanter duty for some families than it would
have been to render a like service for Union soldiers. The line
between the Rebel and Union element in Georgetown was so marked
that it led to divisions even in the churches. There were
churches in that part of Ohio where treason was preached
regularly, and where, to secure membership, hostility to the
government, to the war and to the liberation of the slaves, was
far more essential than a belief in the authenticity or
credibility of the Bible. There were men in Georgetown who
filled all the requirements for membership in these churches.

Yet this far-off western village, with a population, including
old and young, male and female, of about one thousand–about
enough for the organization of a single regiment if all had been
men capable of bearing arms–furnished the Union army four
general officers and one colonel, West Point graduates, and nine
generals and field officers of Volunteers, that I can think of.
Of the graduates from West Point, all had citizenship elsewhere
at the breaking out of the rebellion, except possibly General A.
V. Kautz, who had remained in the army from his graduation. Two
of the colonels also entered the service from other
localities. The other seven, General McGroierty, Colonels
White, Fyffe, Loudon and Marshall, Majors King and Bailey, were
all residents of Georgetown when the war broke out, and all of
them, who were alive at the close, returned there. Major Bailey
was the cadet who had preceded me at West Point. He was killed
in West Virginia, in his first engagement. As far as I know,
every boy who has entered West Point from that village since my
time has been graduated.

I took passage on a steamer at Ripley, Ohio, for Pittsburg,
about the middle of May, 1839. Western boats at that day did
not make regular trips at stated times, but would stop anywhere,
and for any length of time, for passengers or freight. I have
myself been detained two or three days at a place after steam
was up, the gang planks, all but one, drawn in, and after the
time advertised for starting had expired. On this occasion we
had no vexatious delays, and in about three days Pittsburg was
reached. From Pittsburg I chose passage by the canal to
Harrisburg, rather than by the more expeditious stage. This
gave a better opportunity of enjoying the fine scenery of
Western Pennsylvania, and I had rather a dread of reaching my
destination at all. At that time the canal was much patronized
by travellers, and, with the comfortable packets of the period,
no mode of conveyance could be more pleasant, when time was not
an object. From Harrisburg to Philadelphia there was a
railroad, the first I had ever seen, except the one on which I
had just crossed the summit of the Alleghany Mountains, and over
which canal boats were transported. In travelling by the road
from Harrisburg, I thought the perfection of rapid transit had
been reached. We travelled at least eighteen miles an hour,
when at full speed, and made the whole distance averaging
probably as much as twelve miles an hour. This seemed like
annihilating space. I stopped five days in Philadelphia, saw
about every street in the city, attended the theatre, visited
Girard College (which was then in course of construction), and
got reprimanded from home afterwards, for dallying by the way so
long. My sojourn in New York was shorter, but long enough to
enable me to see the city very well. I reported at West Point
on the 30th or 31st of May, and about two weeks later passed my
examination for admission, without difficulty, very much to my

A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest
idea of staying in the army even if I should be graduated, which
I did not expect. The encampment which preceded the commence-
ment of academic studies was very wearisome and uninter-
esting. When the 28th of August came–the date for breaking up
camp and going into barracks–I felt as though I had been at
West Point always, and that if I staid to graduation, I would
have to remain always. I did not take hold of my studies with
avidity, in fact I rarely ever read over a lesson the second
time during my entire cadetship. I could not sit in my room
doing nothing. There is a fine library connected with the
Academy from which cadets can get books to read in their
quarters. I devoted more time to these, than to books relating
to the course of studies. Much of the time, I am sorry to say,
was devoted to novels, but not those of a trashy sort. I read
all of Bulwer’s then published, Cooper’s, Marryat’s, Scott’s,
Washington Irving’s works, Lever’s, and many others that I do
not now remember. Mathematics was very easy to me, so that when
January came, I passed the examination, taking a good standing in
that branch. In French, the only other study at that time in the
first year’s course, my standing was very low. In fact, if the
class had been turned the other end foremost I should have been
near head. I never succeeded in getting squarely at either end
of my class, in any one study, during the four years. I came
near it in French, artillery, infantry and cavalry tactics, and

Early in the session of the Congress which met in December,
1839, a bill was discussed abolishing the Military Academy. I
saw in this an honorable way to obtain a discharge, and read the
debates with much interest, but with impatience at the delay in
taking action, for I was selfish enough to favor the bill. It
never passed, and a year later, although the time hung drearily
with me, I would have been sorry to have seen it succeed. My
idea then was to get through the course, secure a detail for a
few years as assistant professor of mathematics at the Academy,
and afterwards obtain a permanent position as professor in some
respectable college; but circumstances always did shape my
course different from my plans.

At the end of two years the class received the usual furlough,
extending from the close of the June examination to the 28th of
August. This I enjoyed beyond any other period of my life. My
father had sold out his business in Georgetown–where my youth
had been spent, and to which my day-dreams carried me back as my
future home, if I should ever be able to retire on a
competency. He had moved to Bethel, only twelve miles away, in
the adjoining county of Clermont, and had bought a young horse
that had never been in harness, for my special use under the
saddle during my furlough. Most of my time was spent among my
old school-mates–these ten weeks were shorter than one week at
West Point.

Persons acquainted with the Academy know that the corps of
cadets is divided into four companies for the purpose of
military exercises. These companies are officered from the
cadets, the superintendent and commandant selecting the officers
for their military bearing and qualifications. The adjutant,
quartermaster, four captains and twelve lieutenants are taken
from the first, or Senior class; the sergeants from the second,
or junior class; and the corporals from the third, or Sophomore
class. I had not been “called out” as a corporal, but when I
returned from furlough I found myself the last but one–about my
standing in all the tactics–of eighteen sergeants. The
promotion was too much for me. That year my standing in the
class–as shown by the number of demerits of the year–was about
the same as it was among the sergeants, and I was dropped, and
served the fourth year as a private.

During my first year’s encampment General Scott visited West
Point, and reviewed the cadets. With his commanding figure, his
quite colossal size and showy uniform, I thought him the finest
specimen of manhood my eyes had ever beheld, and the most to be
envied. I could never resemble him in appearance, but I believe
I did have a presentiment for a moment that some day I should
occupy his place on review–although I had no intention then of
remaining in the army. My experience in a horse-trade ten years
before, and the ridicule it caused me, were too fresh in my mind
for me to communicate this presentiment to even my most intimate
chum. The next summer Martin Van Buren, then President of the
United States, visited West Point and reviewed the cadets; he
did not impress me with the awe which Scott had inspired. In
fact I regarded General Scott and Captain C. F. Smith, the
Commandant of Cadets, as the two men most to be envied in the
nation. I retained a high regard for both up to the day of
their death.

The last two years wore away more rapidly than the first two,
but they still seemed about five times as long as Ohio years, to
me. At last all the examinations were passed, and the members of
the class were called upon to record their choice of arms of
service and regiments. I was anxious to enter the cavalry, or
dragoons as they were then called, but there was only one
regiment of dragoons in the Army at that time, and attached to
that, besides the full complement of officers, there were at
least four brevet second lieutenants. I recorded therefore my
first choice, dragoons; second, 4th infantry; and got the
latter. Again there was a furlough–or, more properly speaking,
leave of absence for the class were now commissioned
officers–this time to the end of September. Again I went to
Ohio to spend my vacation among my old school-mates; and again I
found a fine saddle horse purchased for my special use, besides a
horse and buggy that I could drive–but I was not in a physical
condition to enjoy myself quite as well as on the former
occasion. For six months before graduation I had had a
desperate cough (“Tyler’s grip” it was called), and I was very
much reduced, weighing but one hundred and seventeen pounds,
just my weight at entrance, though I had grown six inches in
stature in the mean time. There was consumption in my father’s
family, two of his brothers having died of that disease, which
made my symptoms more alarming. The brother and sister next
younger than myself died, during the rebellion, of the same
disease, and I seemed the most promising subject for it of the
three in 1843.

Having made alternate choice of two different arms of service
with different uniforms, I could not get a uniform suit until
notified of my assignment. I left my measurement with a tailor,
with directions not to make the uniform until I notified him
whether it was to be for infantry or dragoons. Notice did not
reach me for several weeks, and then it took at least a week to
get the letter of instructions to the tailor and two more to
make the clothes and have them sent to me. This was a time of
great suspense. I was impatient to get on my uniform and see
how it looked, and probably wanted my old school-mates,
particularly the girls, to see me in it.

The conceit was knocked out of me by two little circumstances
that happened soon after the arrival of the clothes, which gave
me a distaste for military uniform that I never recovered
from. Soon after the arrival of the suit I donned it, and put
off for Cincinnati on horseback. While I was riding along a
street of that city, imagining that every one was looking at me,
with a feeling akin to mine when I first saw General Scott, a
little urchin, bareheaded, footed, with dirty and ragged pants
held up by bare a single gallows–that’s what suspenders were
called then–and a shirt that had not seen a wash-tub for weeks,
turned to me and cried: “Soldier! will you work? No, sir–ee;
I’ll sell my shirt first!!” The horse trade and its dire
consequences were recalled to mind.

The other circumstance occurred at home. Opposite our house in
Bethel stood the old stage tavern where “man and beast” found
accommodation, The stable-man was rather dissipated, but
possessed of some humor. On my return I found him parading the
streets, and attending in the stable, barefooted, but in a pair
of sky-blue nankeen pantaloons–just the color of my uniform
trousers–with a strip of white cotton sheeting sewed down the
outside seams in imitation of mine. The joke was a huge one in
the mind of many of the people, and was much enjoyed by them;
but I did not appreciate it so highly.

During the remainder of my leave of absence, my time was spent
in visiting friends in Georgetown and Cincinnati, and
occasionally other towns in that part of the State.



On the 30th of September I reported for duty at Jefferson
Barracks, St. Louis, with the 4th United States infantry. It
was the largest military post in the country at that time, being
garrisoned by sixteen companies of infantry, eight of the 3d
regiment, the remainder of the 4th. Colonel Steven Kearney, one
of the ablest officers of the day, commanded the post, and under
him discipline was kept at a high standard, but without
vexatious rules or regulations. Every drill and roll-call had
to be attended, but in the intervals officers were permitted to
enjoy themselves, leaving the garrison, and going where they
pleased, without making written application to state where they
were going for how long, etc., so that they were back for their
next duty. It did seem to me, in my early army days, that too
many of the older officers, when they came to command posts,
made it a study to think what orders they could publish to annoy
their subordinates and render them uncomfortable. I noticed,
however, a few years later, when the Mexican war broke out, that
most of this class of officers discovered they were possessed of
disabilities which entirely incapacitated them for active field
service. They had the moral courage to proclaim it, too. They
were right; but they did not always give their disease the right

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