On July 23, 1885 (129 years ago today) Ulysses Grant, the 18th President of the United States, died at Mount McGregor, New York, at the age of 63. His love of cigars had caught up with him and throat cancer had claimed another victim. He was born with the name Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 at Point Pleasant, Ohio. When he was 17, Grant was nominated by Congressman Thomas L. Hamer for a position at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Hamer mistakenly nominated him as "Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio." At West Point, he adopted this name with a middle initial only. His nickname became "Sam" among army colleagues at the academy, since the initials "U.S." stood for "Uncle Sam". The "S", according to Grant, did not "stand for anything", though Hamer had used it to abbreviate Grant's mother's maiden name.
Grant fought in the Mexican War as a Lieutenant, but left the army after the war. He experienced a series of business failures and reluctantly went to work for his father. When the Civil War began, he accepted a position offered by Illinois Governor Richard Yates to recruit and train volunteer units, but what Grant really wanted was a field command in the regular Army. He made multiple efforts to acquire such a position with no success. Grant was promoted to Colonel by Governor Yates on June 14, 1861, and put in charge of the unruly Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Regiment. A victory at the capture of Fort Donelson enhanced Grant's military reputation and he was ultimately put in command of the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln, who said of Grant "I like this man, he fights." Under Grant, the Union Army defeated the Confederate army and effectively ended the war with the surrender of Robert E. Lee's army at Appomattox.
Grant was elected president in 1872 and he led the Radical Republicans in their effort to eliminate all vestiges of slavery. He waged a successful suppression of the Ku Klux Klan in 1871. As president, he enforced Reconstruction by enforcing civil rights laws and fighting Klan violence. Grant won passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, giving constitutional protection for African American voting rights. He used the army to build the Republican Party in the South by protecting the rights of freedmen. As a result, African Americans were represented in the U.S. Congress for the first time in American history in 1870.
Grant's reputation as president by 1873 was at an all time high. But his reputation was marred by his repeated defense of corrupt appointees, and by the deep economic depression (called the "Panic of 1873") that dominated his second term. Although his Republican Party split in 1872 with reformers denouncing him, Grant was easily reelected. By 1874 the opposition was gaining strength and when he left the White House in March 1877, federal troops were withdrawn from the south, and white southerners regained control of every state in the south as reconstruction ended on a note of failure with the civil rights of African-Americans left unprotected.
After leaving office, Grant embarked on a two-year world tour that included many enthusiastic royal receptions. In 1880, he made an unsuccessful bid for a third presidential term. The trip around the world, although successful, was costly. When Grant returned to America, he had depleted most of his savings from the long trip and needed to earn money. He became a principal in the establishment of the new Mexican Southern Railroad Co., which failed. In 1881, Grant purchased a house in New York City and at the suggestion of his son Buck, and he placed almost all of his financial assets into Grant & Ward, the investment banking partnership which his son had established with Ferdinand Ward. In 1884, Ward swindled Grant and other investors who had been encouraged by Grant, bankrupted the company, and fled. Although he was short on funds himself, Grant was compelled by a sense of personal honor and with a personal loan of $150,000 from William H. Vanderbilt, he repaid those swindled by Ward, and repaid the loan by selling his Civil War mementos. Although the market value did not completely cover the loan, Vanderbilt insisted the loan was paid in full. The matter left Grant financially destitute.
Grant learned in 1884 that he was suffering from throat cancer. He had forfeited his military pension when he assumed the Presidency, but Congress subsequently restored Grant to the rank of General of the Army with full retirement pay. At the suggestion of Robert Johnson, Grant wrote several articles on his Civil War campaigns for The Century Magazine at $500 each. The articles were well received by critics, and Johnson suggested Grant write a book of memoirs, as Sherman and others had successfully done. Grant took up the project. Century offered Grant a book contract, including a 10% royalty. When Grant shared this information with his friend Mark Twain, Twain suggested that Grant counter with a request for double the royalty; at the same time, he made his own offer to Grant for his memoirs, talking of a 75% royalty. Grant ultimately decided on Twain's company, Charles L. Webster and Co., as his publisher. His son Fred assisted primarily with references and proofing. Grant finished his memoir just a few days before his death. They sold 350,000 two-volume sets at prices from $3.50 to $12 (depending on the binding). Each copy contained what looked like a handwritten note from Grant himself. In the end, Grant's widow Julia received about $450,000.
Grant died of throat cancer at the age of 63 in Mount McGregor. His last words were, "I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account." After lying in state, Grant's body was placed on a funeral train and traveled via West Point to New York City. His body lies in New York City's Riverside Park, beside that of his wife, in Grant's Tomb, the largest mausoleum in North America. Grant is also honored by the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the base of Capitol Hill in Washington.
Grant's Tomb, or as Congress named it, the General Grant National Memorial, is located on the upper west side of Manhattan in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. Grant's Tomb, is a mausoleum containing the remains of the Grants and a museum that recalls the career of the General/President. The tomb complex is a presidential memorial managed by the National Park Service. The structure is situated in a prominent location in Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson River. When Grant died, Mayor Grace of New York City wrote a letter to prominent New Yorkers to gather support for a National Monument in Grant’s honor. The letter read as follows:Dear Sir:
In order that the City of New York, which is to be the last resting place of General Grant, should initiate a movement to provide for the erection of a National Monument to the memory of the great soldier, and that she should do well and thoroughly her part, I respectfully request you to as one of a Committee to consider ways and means for raising the quota to be subscribed by the citizens of New York City for this object, and beg that you will attend a meeting to be held at the Mayor’s office on Tuesday next, 28 inst., at three o’clock.
This meeting was attended by 85 New Yorkers, and a Committee on Organization was struck. The chairman of the Committee was former President Chester A. Arthur and the secretary was Richard T. Greener. This organization would come to be known as the Grant Monument Association (GMA).
The idea of a monument in Grant’s honor drew strong public support. Western Union donated $5,000 on July 29, 1885 when the committee announced its proposal. The GMA continued to receive donations. Early fundraising efforts were hampered by negative publicity from out of state press. This was partly the result of scandals which occurred during the Grant administration and partly because some thought that the monument should be in Washington D.C. Mayor Grace tried to calm the controversy by publicly releasing Mrs. Grant's letter favoring the New York site as the resting place for her husband. Mrs. Grant wrote:"Riverside was selected by myself and my family as the burial place of my husband, General Grant. First, because I believed New York was his preference. Second, it is near the residence that I hope to occupy as long as I live, and where I will be able to visit his resting place often. Third, I have believed, and am now convinced, that the tomb will be visited by as many of his countrymen there as it would be at any other place. Fourth, the offer of a park in New York was the first which observed and unreservedly assented to the only condition imposed by General Grant himself, namely, that I should have a place by his side.”
Fundraising for the site was slow at first. On February 4, 1888, the GMA publicly announced the details of a design competition and the GMA cut the budget for the the cost of the monument in half, from $1,000,000 to $500,000. The deadline for all designs was rescheduled three times with a final date of January 10, 1889. The winner of the contest was architect John Hemenway Duncan. The structure was meant to be the epitome of reverence and respect. He estimated his design would cost between $496,000 and $900,000.
By 1890, the GMA had a defined design and architect. The debate over the location of the monument reopened in Congress and in October 1890 a U.S. senator introduced legislation to have the sarcophagi placed at a monument in Washington D.C. The legislation did not pass but the debate continued until June 1891 when it was finally decided that the monument would be built in New York City. The GMA hired a contractor named John T. Brady and construction began that summer. Construction proceeded on schedule until the GMA asked Duncan to alter his design in the spring of 1892 due to the GMA's inability to raise the sufficient funds. By 1896 all work on the outside of the tomb was close to complete. The monument was completed in time for the 75th anniversary ceremony of Grant’s birth on April 27, 1897.
In the 1930s maintenance of the tomb was funded from the Works Progress Administration. Toward the end of the 1930s a project began to restore a section of the monument with battle flags displayed in trophy cases, and murals of the wars Grant had fought in were painted on the walls. In 1938 the Federal Art Project selected artists William Mues and Jeno Juszko to design the busts of William T. Sherman, Phillip H. Sheridan, George H. Thomas, James B. McPherson, and Edward Ord. The WPA installed five busts in the crypt around the sarcophagi.
In 1958 the National Park Service (NPS) was granted authority to oversee the monument. When the NPS first assumed authority over the tomb, they had no program for the site, which led to negligent upkeep. By the 1970s the Tomb was marred by vandalism and graffiti. The abuse of the monument continued until renewed restoration efforts began in the early 1990s.
In 1994 the monument's poor condition caught the attention of two Illinois state lawmakers who sponsored a resolution to compel the National Park Service to meet their obligations in maintaining and restoring Grant's tomb, failing which, the tomb be transported to the state of Illinois. In 1994 the United States House of Representatives introduced legislation to, "restore, complete, and preserve in perpetuity the Grant's Tomb National Memorial and surrounding areas." The legislation set by the U.S. House of Representatives required that the restoration be completed by April 27, 1997, the Tomb's 100th anniversary and Grant's 175th birthday. On April 27, 1997, the restoration effort sanctioned by Congress was completed and the tomb rededicated.
I got a chance to visit Grant's Tomb on July 2, 2009, and found it to be a fascinating place. Following is more information about Grant's Tomb:
Location: General Grant National Memorial is in Riverside Park in Manhattan. The entrance of Grant's Tomb is near the intersection of Riverside Drive and West 122nd Street
Hours of Operation: Thursday through Monday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The mausoleum is open to visitors, Thursday through Monday, at the following times:
10:00 AM-11:00 AM
12:00 PM-1:00 PM
2:00 PM-3:00 PM
4:00 PM-5:00 PM
Free talks are available to the public at the visitor center, Thursday through Monday, at the following times:
11:15 AM, 1:15 PM, and 3:15 PM.
The site is closed every Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November) and Christmas Day (December 25).