Julia Dent Grant with Frederick and Ulysses Jr. in St. Louis, 1854. Lieutenant Grant was in the Pacific Northwest at the time and had not yet met his second son. This daguerreotype was discovered in 2016 and sold at auction in Cincinnati for $18,000.

Ulysses S. Grant Jr., Buck to the family, was born on this day in 1852. By this time his father was on his way to California with the 4th Infantry Regiment and a party of about seven hundred wives and children. The 4th was stationed briefly at Fort Columbus on Governors Island before their trip. Quartermaster Grant went briefly to the District of Columbia to see about supplies. While he was in Washington, Henry Clay—the Great Compromiser—died there, bringing things to a standstill. An empty-handed Grant returned to New York City and the regiment sailed for Panama on July 5.

This photograph of travelers crossing the Isthmus of Panama was taken in the early 1900s. The 4th Infantry crossed in much the same way over half a century earlier. One out of seven who made that trip died of cholera. This danger is why Ulysses and Julia decided the family would instead go to Bethel and then St. Louis.

Remember, the canal did not come into being until Theodore Roosevelt picked up where the French had failed. The Panama Canal opened in August 1914 at almost the same moment the Great War was starting. Instead travelers crossed the Isthmus by mule and wagon. To say that it was a hazardous journey would be an understatement. That is why Ulysses and Julia decided she and young Frederick, just two, would not make the voyage. Instead, they would go to Bethel, Ohio and then Missouri. It is a good thing they didn’t; one hundred people in the 4th Infantry’s party died of cholera. The pregnant Julia and the toddler Frederick might well have become two more victims. Instead Julia gave birth to young Ulysses in Bethel. Lieutenant Grant did not learn this until the mail finally reached the 4th Infantry at Fort Vancouver (Columbia Barracks) just before the new year.

(images/top, unknown photographer, taken in St. Louis (Cowan’s Auctions) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; bottom, Library of Congress)