Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

At West Point I had a class-mate–in the last year of our
studies he was room-mate also–F. T. Dent, whose family resided
some five miles west of Jefferson Barracks. Two of his
unmarried brothers were living at home at that time, and as I
had taken with me from Ohio, my horse, saddle and bridle, I soon
found my way out to White Haven, the name of the Dent estate. As
I found the family congenial my visits became frequent. There
were at home, besides the young men, two daughters, one a school
miss of fifteen, the other a girl of eight or nine. There was
still an older daughter of seventeen, who had been spending
several years at boarding-school in St. Louis, but who, though
through school, had not yet returned home. She was spending the
winter in the city with connections, the family of Colonel John
O’Fallon, well known in St. Louis. In February she returned to
her country home. After that I do not know but my visits became
more frequent; they certainly did become more enjoyable. We
would often take walks, or go on horseback to visit the
neighbors, until I became quite well acquainted in that
vicinity. Sometimes one of the brothers would accompany us,
sometimes one of the younger sisters. If the 4th infantry had
remained at Jefferson Barracks it is possible, even probable,
that this life might have continued for some years without my
finding out that there was anything serious the matter with me;
but in the following May a circumstance occurred which developed
my sentiment so palpably that there was no mistaking it.

The annexation of Texas was at this time the subject of violent
discussion in Congress, in the press, and by individuals. The
administration of President Tyler, then in power, was making the
most strenuous efforts to effect the annexation, which was,
indeed, the great and absorbing question of the day. During
these discussions the greater part of the single rifle regiment
in the army–the 2d dragoons, which had been dismounted a year
or two before, and designated “Dismounted Rifles”–was stationed
at Fort Jessup, Louisiana, some twenty-five miles east of the
Texas line, to observe the frontier. About the 1st of May the
3d infantry was ordered from Jefferson Barracks to Louisiana, to
go into camp in the neighborhood of Fort Jessup, and there await
further orders. The troops were embarked on steamers and were
on their way down the Mississippi within a few days after the
receipt of this order. About the time they started I obtained a
leave of absence for twenty days to go to Ohio to visit my
parents. I was obliged to go to St. Louis to take a steamer for
Louisville or Cincinnati, or the first steamer going up the Ohio
River to any point. Before I left St. Louis orders were
received at Jefferson Barracks for the 4th infantry to follow
the 3d. A messenger was sent after me to stop my leaving; but
before he could reach me I was off, totally ignorant of these
events. A day or two after my arrival at Bethel I received a
letter from a classmate and fellow lieutenant in the 4th,
informing me of the circumstances related above, and advising me
not to open any letter post marked St. Louis or Jefferson
Barracks, until the expiration of my leave, and saying that he
would pack up my things and take them along for me. His advice
was not necessary, for no other letter was sent to me. I now
discovered that I was exceedingly anxious to get back to
Jefferson Barracks, and I understood the reason without
explanation from any one. My leave of absence required me to
report for duty, at Jefferson Barracks, at the end of twenty
days. I knew my regiment had gone up the Red River, but I was
not disposed to break the letter of my leave; besides, if I had
proceeded to Louisiana direct, I could not have reached there
until after the expiration of my leave. Accordingly, at the end
of the twenty days, I reported for duty to Lieutenant Ewell,
commanding at Jefferson Barracks, handing him at the same time
my leave of absence. After noticing the phraseology of the
order–leaves of absence were generally worded, “at the end of
which time he will report for duty with his proper command”–he
said he would give me an order to join my regiment in
Louisiana. I then asked for a few days’ leave before starting,
which he readily granted. This was the same Ewell who acquired
considerable reputation as a Confederate general during the
rebellion. He was a man much esteemed, and deservedly so, in
the old army, and proved himself a gallant and efficient officer
in two wars–both in my estimation unholy.

I immediately procured a horse and started for the country,
taking no baggage with me, of course. There is an insignificant
creek–the Gravois–between Jefferson Barracks and the place to
which I was going, and at that day there was not a bridge over
it from its source to its mouth. There is not water enough in
the creek at ordinary stages to run a coffee mill, and at low
water there is none running whatever. On this occasion it had
been raining heavily, and, when the creek was reached, I found
the banks full to overflowing, and the current rapid. I looked
at it a moment to consider what to do. One of my superstitions
had always been when I started to go any where, or to do
anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was
accomplished. I have frequently started to go to places where I
had never been and to which I did not know the way, depending
upon making inquiries on the road, and if I got past the place
without knowing it, instead of turning back, I would go on until
a road was found turning in the right direction, take that, and
come in by the other side. So I struck into the stream, and in
an instant the horse was swimming and I being carried down by
the current. I headed the horse towards the other bank and soon
reached it, wet through and without other clothes on that side of
the stream. I went on, however, to my destination and borrowed a
dry suit from my–future–brother-in-law. We were not of the
same size, but the clothes answered every purpose until I got
more of my own.

Before I returned I mustered up courage to make known, in the
most awkward manner imaginable, the discovery I had made on
learning that the 4th infantry had been ordered away from
Jefferson Barracks. The young lady afterwards admitted that she
too, although until then she had never looked upon me other than
as a visitor whose company was agreeable to her, had experienced
a depression of spirits she could not account for when the
regiment left. Before separating it was definitely understood
that at a convenient time we would join our fortunes, and not
let the removal of a regiment trouble us. This was in May,
1844. It was the 22d of August, 1848, before the fulfilment of
this agreement. My duties kept me on the frontier of Louisiana
with the Army of Observation during the pendency of Annexation;
and afterwards I was absent through the war with Mexico,
provoked by the action of the army, if not by the annexation
itself During that time there was a constant correspondence
between Miss Dent and myself, but we only met once in the period
of four years and three months. In May, 1845, I procured a leave
for twenty days, visited St. Louis, and obtained the consent of
the parents for the union, which had not been asked for before.

As already stated, it was never my intention to remain in the
army long, but to prepare myself for a professorship in some
college. Accordingly, soon after I was settled at Jefferson
Barracks, I wrote a letter to Professor Church–Professor of
Mathematics at West Point–requesting him to ask my designation
as his assistant, when next a detail had to be made. Assistant
professors at West Point are all officers of the army, supposed
to be selected for their special fitness for the particular
branch of study they are assigned to teach. The answer from
Professor Church was entirely satisfactory, and no doubt I
should have been detailed a year or two later but for the
Mexican War coming on. Accordingly I laid out for myself a
course of studies to be pursued in garrison, with regularity, if
not persistency. I reviewed my West Point course of mathematics
during the seven months at Jefferson Barracks, and read many
valuable historical works, besides an occasional novel. To help
my memory I kept a book in which I would write up, from time to
time, my recollections of all I had read since last posting
it. When the regiment was ordered away, I being absent at the
time, my effects were packed up by Lieutenant Haslett, of the
4th infantry, and taken along. I never saw my journal after,
nor did I ever keep another, except for a portion of the time
while travelling abroad. Often since a fear has crossed my mind
lest that book might turn up yet, and fall into the hands of some
malicious person who would publish it. I know its appearance
would cause me as much heart-burning as my youthful horse-trade,
or the later rebuke for wearing uniform clothes.

The 3d infantry had selected camping grounds on the reservation
at Fort Jessup, about midway between the Red River and the
Sabine. Our orders required us to go into camp in the same
neighborhood, and await further instructions. Those authorized
to do so selected a place in the pine woods, between the old
town of Natchitoches and Grand Ecore, about three miles from
each, and on high ground back from the river. The place was
given the name of Camp Salubrity, and proved entitled to it. The
camp was on a high, sandy, pine ridge, with spring branches in
the valley, in front and rear. The springs furnished an
abundance of cool, pure water, and the ridge was above the
flight of mosquitoes, which abound in that region in great
multitudes and of great voracity. In the valley they swarmed in
myriads, but never came to the summit of the ridge. The regiment
occupied this camp six months before the first death occurred,
and that was caused by an accident.

There was no intimation given that the removal of the 3d and 4th
regiments of infantry to the western border of Louisiana was
occasioned in any way by the prospective annexation of Texas,
but it was generally understood that such was the case.
Ostensibly we were intended to prevent filibustering into Texas,
but really as a menace to Mexico in case she appeared to
contemplate war. Generally the officers of the army were
indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but
not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the
measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one
of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker
nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad
example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in
their desire to acquire additional territory. Texas was
originally a state belonging to the republic of Mexico. It
extended from the Sabine River on the east to the Rio Grande on
the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico on the south and east to
the territory of the United States and New Mexico–another
Mexican state at that time–on the north and west. An empire in
territory, it had but a very sparse population, until settled by
Americans who had received authority from Mexico to colonize.
These colonists paid very little attention to the supreme
government, and introduced slavery into the state almost from
the start, though the constitution of Mexico did not, nor does
it now, sanction that institution. Soon they set up an
independent government of their own, and war existed, between
Texas and Mexico, in name from that time until 1836, when active
hostilities very nearly ceased upon the capture of Santa Anna,
the Mexican President. Before long, however, the same
people–who with permission of Mexico had colonized Texas, and
afterwards set up slavery there, and then seceded as soon as
they felt strong enough to do so–offered themselves and the
State to the United States, and in 1845 their offer was
accepted. The occupation, separation and annexation were, from
the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a
conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might
be formed for the American Union.

Even if the annexation itself could be justified, the manner in
which the subsequent war was forced upon Mexico cannot. The
fact is, annexationists wanted more territory than they could
possibly lay any claim to, as part of the new acquisition.
Texas, as an independent State, never had exercised jurisdiction
over the territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande.
Mexico had never recognized the independence of Texas, and
maintained that, even if independent, the State had no claim
south of the Nueces. I am aware that a treaty, made by the
Texans with Santa Anna while he was under duress, ceded all the
territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande–, but he was a
prisoner of war when the treaty was made, and his life was in
jeopardy. He knew, too, that he deserved execution at the hands
of the Texans, if they should ever capture him. The Texans, if
they had taken his life, would have only followed the example
set by Santa Anna himself a few years before, when he executed
the entire garrison of the Alamo and the villagers of Goliad.

In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the
army of occupation, under General Taylor, was directed to occupy
the disputed territory. The army did not stop at the Nueces and
offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question,
but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate
war. It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that
after conquering Mexico, and while practically holding the
country in our possession, so that we could have retained the
whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round sum for
the additional territory taken; more than it was worth, or was
likely to be, to Mexico. To us it was an empire and of
incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other
means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the
Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their
transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary
and expensive war of modern times.

The 4th infantry went into camp at Salubrity in the month of
May, 1844, with instructions, as I have said, to await further
orders. At first, officers and men occupied ordinary tents. As
the summer heat increased these were covered by sheds to break
the rays of the sun. The summer was whiled away in social
enjoyments among the officers, in visiting those stationed at,
and near, Fort Jessup, twenty-five miles away, visiting the
planters on the Red River, and the citizens of Natchitoches and
Grand Ecore. There was much pleasant intercourse between the
inhabitants and the officers of the army. I retain very
agreeable recollections of my stay at Camp Salubrity, and of the
acquaintances made there, and no doubt my feeling is shared by
the few officers living who were there at the time. I can call
to mind only two officers of the 4th infantry, besides myself,
who were at Camp Salubrity with the regiment, who are now alive.

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