Ulysses S. Grant III, 1881-1968

Ulysses S. Grant III died fifty years ssgo today. To put his long life in some perspective: Grant was present at Mount McGregor when his grandfather died in July 1885; graduated with Douglas MacArthur in the West Point Class of 1903; worked as a White House aid in the Theodore Roosevelt Administration; married Secretary of State Elihu Root’s daughter in 1907; served in the Pacific and Caribbean during the Philippine and Cuban Insurrections, at Veracruz and on the Mexican Border during the Punitive Expedition, in France during the Great War, and in Paris after the Armistice where he helped write the Treaty of Versailles. All before his fortieth birthday.

The 1907 Root-Grant wedding was a major event in Washington society and covered by newspapers across the country.

A few weeks ago at the Tomb I chanced upon a well-known figure from the Civil War blogosphere who grimaced when I mentioned that this month marks the anniversary of Grant III’s death. I wasn’t surprised and cannot say I blame him; Grant is today best known as the first chairman of the doomed United States Civil War Centennial Commission. Many readers will know that the Civil War centennial did not proceed smoothly, coming as it did—not coincidentally—during the Civil Rights Movement. President Eisenhower signed the enabling paperwork creating the Centennial Commission in 1957, the same year that Little Rock High School was desegregated. Grant turned seventy-six the year he assumed the chairmanship of the organization he led for the next four tumultuous years. His reputation, for all he had done over his long career, has never recovered.

Writing in his 2012 book American Oracle David Blight offers a scathing indictment of Grant as “a staunchly conservative superpatriot and racist.” When one looks at U.S. Grant III’s life from a certain perspective it is difficult to argue with Blight’s assessment and I won’t defend Grant or his record in their entirety here. That said, a more charitable interpretation might be that Grant, born in 1881, reflected the views and attitudes of most white Americans born in his era. He toiled for decades in a U.S. Army officered with the sons and grandsons of many of the men who had once fought against his grandfather. Who among us can say with certainty what we would have done had we lived in another place and time?

After the Great War and Versailles Peace Conference Grant held numerous military posts in the 1920s, oversaw part of the Civil Conservation Corps in the early years of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration, and quietly prepared for war with other officers of the Second Corps Area on Governors Island in the late 1930s while Germany and Japan rattled their sabers. Too old for combat service when Pearl Harbor finally came, he coordinated civil defense for the continental United States during the Second World War. Grant’s aptitude as a civil engineer and apparent interest in urban planning led him over this long career to many other positions, including a stint after World War II as a member of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Washington D.C. and president of the American Planning and Civic Association.

All of these accomplishments were in the end tarnished by that 1957-61 stint as Centennial Commission chairman. Had Grant and his allies had their way, the Civil War centennial would have been filled with Civil War rrenactments emphasizing the courage  and fighting spirit of Union and Confederate men and officers while studiously avoiding the war’s causes, consequences and unfinished business. The controversies are too detailed to go into here. Things began escalating however until in 1961 New Jersey officials publicly called on Grant to resign. There was pressure from other quarters as well. Grant held on for several months until eventually submitting his resignation to President Kennedy in September 1961. The pretense was his wife Edith Root Grant’s health and indeed Mrs. Root had been ailing for some time, confined now to the family summer house in Clinton, New York for many months as her health deteriorated. General Grant was sincere in his concern for his wife, but the public pressure regarding the Centennial Commission was intense and growing. Mrs. Grant died in 1962 and her widower husband carried on for six more years.

President and Bess Truman with Ulysses S. Grant III (far right), Admiral William Leahy (third from left) and others at the Lincoln Memorial, February 12, 1948.

His grandfather, General and President Ulysses S. Grant, in a very real sense had died at the right time in 1885; with the war over for two decades, Americans, especially white Americans, were eager to move on. Reconstruction had ended eight years previously and General Grant’s funeral was the reconciliationist event that organizer Winfield Scott Hancock, the 60,000 marchers, hundreds of thousands of attendees, and millions of other Americans had wanted it to be. President Grant, try though he did, was unable to heal the nation’s wounds during his administration; the intransigence he faced was just too great. Ironically it was the failures of Grant and the country that contributed to his grandson’s resignation nearly a century later.

Ulysses S. Grant too died during a decisive moment in American history. His passing came on the third day of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when the party met in the tense August heat of Chicago. With the Vietnam War going poorly and after the many assassinations and riots that had already taken place that year, civil unrest was almost inevitable. We still face the fallout from those tragic days. Much of the worst of it came on August 28, when police and protesters clashed in a violent conflict broadcast on network television and watched live by tens of millions people. Ulysses S. Grant III died at the family home in Clinton, New York the following day.

(images/top, Library of Congress; bottom, National Archives)

No more of those hideous monuments!

Puck magazine, August 19, 1885

I hope everyone is having a good weekend. Blogging will continue to be light for the next week as I squeeze out some last days of R&R before the academic year begins a week from tomorrow. We visited the Newseum in Washington yesterday. I will have more to say about it when I get back from vacation. Today I wanted to share this centerfold from the August 19, 1885 edition of Puck magazine. Grant had died three weeks previously and his funeral was now eleven days in the past when this hit the newsstands. Literally within hours after his death, discussion had begun about the size, location and type of monument he might receive. There was no shortage of ideas; suggestions ranging from the sublime to the surreal were pouring in from across the country.

It is difficult to tell how cheeky or sincere the Puck editors are being here with their recommendation in the lower right hand corner. My favorite part of the cartoon is the statue of William Seward on the left. The statue still stands where it was dedicated in Madison Square Park in 1876. President Grant himself donated to the construction of the statue. Chester Arthur, Grant’s appointee as Collector of the Port of New York, and Winfield Scott Hancock both attended the Seward dedication and also participated in Grant’s funeral nine years later, a few weeks before this Puck cartoon’s release. Arthur himself was the first leader of the Grant Monument Association but, like Hancock, died in 1886 the year after Grant did. The Grant Monument Association and American people would spend the next twelve years hashing out the scope and design of what became Grant’s Tomb.

(image/Library of Congress)

Remembering Franklin Pettit Updike

I wrote this four years ago and am re-posting it today, the 100th anniversary of the death of Private Franklin P. Updike in the Great War.IMG_1108I was in Green-Wood Cemetery on Sunday when I came across the headstone of Franklin P. Updike. These WW1 headstones are much rarer than the ubiquitous Civil War markers one sees so often in old garden cemeteries. For one thing, there were fewer American deaths in the First World War than there were during the Rebellion. what’s more, a significant portion of doughboys were interred overseas where they were killed.

Updike, I later learned, lived in Brooklyn Heights and enlisted in the Army a month after the U.S. entered the Great War.

Updike death copy

Updike is somewhat unusual in that he died during the war and was brought home. Note that the headstone was ordered in April 1942, just as the U.S. was entering the Second World War.

Updike grave marker copy

The young private was a wagoner, that is he tended horses and carts. This was a dangerous task; the enemy understood the importance of the enemy’s transport and so did everything to neutralize–kill–it. In his Memoirs George Marshall wrote of the wagoners in his division that at certain periods “the most dangerous duty probably fell to the Quartermaster Sergeants and teamsters who went forward each night.”

The people of St. Ann’s Church held a service for Updike at Thanksgiving 1918. The war had been over for two weeks by this time. This announcement and the one below are from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Updike St Ann's announcement copy

This afternoon on my lunch break I went to the Heights and took this photo of St. Ann’s as it is today.


The people of Brooklyn did not forget Updike. Alas I don’t believe it still exists today but they named the local American Legion Post after him. This was in January 1924, ninety year ago this year.

Updike color presentation copy

Three quick stories from one Sunday at Grant’s Tomb

“Grant from West Point to Appomattox,” 1885 engraving

It always pays to engage the pubic when one works or volunteers at a National Park Service site. Here are three amazing vignettes that happened just today at Grant’s Tomb:

A woman, clearly nostalgic, comes in today and says she lived in the neighborhood a long time ago and was back for the weekend. I told her that a few weeks a man came in and said the last time he had been in the Tomb was sixty-one years ago when he was a cadet at West Point and he and his classmates were there for a ceremony. “Oh, I can do better than that,” she laughs before continuing, “I grew up in an apartment building further down Riverside Drive and when I was a little girl way back when my friends and I would roller skate up here.” She then begins discussing the notion of free-range children, the freedom kids once had to explore the world around them on their own and figure things out for themselves.

A little while later a man comes in wearing a bright yellow shirt upon which are printed multiple images of Ulysses S. Grant. His daughter, a woman in her thirties, is with him. When I strike up a conversation he explains that they are on their way back to Ohio after attending the 137th annual Sons of Union Veterans encampment held this weekend in Framingham, Massachusetts. I had to tell them that the Grand Army of the Republic oversaw the Decoration Day observations at Grant’s Tomb from 1886 until 1929, when they turned those duties over to the Sons of Union Veterans. Father and daughter are duly impressed.

A little while after that a man comes in and says he lives in the Midwest and has not been here in some years. I mention to him the story of the West Point cadet coming back after sixty-one years and he too laughs. He himself turns out to be a United States Military Academy graduate, attending in the late 1970s in those years immediately after Vietnam. After he mentions it, I cannot help but notice that he has that thing that all Service Academy graduates seem to possess: the obvious intelligence and awareness, the sense of presence and unfailing politeness, and the impression that they are giving you their undivided attention when you are speaking. He is in town because he is going to West Point tomorrow to participate in March Back from Camp Buckner.

Three amazing and very random stories one might hear visiting one’s national parks.

(Engraving by Thure de Thulstrup for L. Prang & Co., Boston via Library of Congress)


Sunday morning coffee

Ulyyses S. Grant sent his measurements to Brooks Brothers in August 1861 after being promoted to brigadier general. Oddly the tailors did not keep the entire note, instead only saving the portion describing the fit and proportions.

I’m listening to jazz and having my morning coffee before heading out the door for Grant’s Tomb. The sun seems to be shining. I thought we would stay with the Brooks Brothers theme one more day. What we see here is a letter in Ulysses S. Grant’s hand to Brooks Brothers giving his measurements. The letter is from August 1861 and is currently on display at the exhibition I mentioned yesterday at Grand Central Terminal. Grant learned of his promotion when he read about it in the St. Louis newspapers while stationed in the Western Theater. His rise had been meteoric. Grant left the Army in April 1854 and had seven full years in the wilderness before rejoining the military after the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Now before the end of the summer he would be a brigadier general. Grant was never one for punctiliousness in military dress, he would famously wear an enlisted man’s blouse later in the war, but it must have been nice to order and put on this general’s uniform that we see here.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Grant rocks the ZZ Top beard wearing his new Brooks Brothers-tailored uniform, Cairo Illinois, September 1861.

Brooks Brothers, 1818-2018

I was in the city running a few errands and having a little fun yesterday, buying a chambray shirt, renewing my library card at NYPL, and taking in the Brooks Brothers exhibit on display through September 5 in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. Brooks Brothers began in 1818 on the more southern portion of Manhattan, where most New Yorkers still lived and worked. Grand Central opened in 1913 and Brooks Brothers opened its now-flagship store across the street at 346 Madison in 1915 to serve the commuting businessmen. It was fortunate for the Great War effort the the spacious train terminal was built when and where it was, accommodating as it did the mass influx of men and material on their way to France.

an October 24, 1861 letter from Assistant Quartermaster Chester A. Arthur letter to Brooks Brothers…

Taking in the Brooks Brothers exhibit was a journey in time and made me a little rueful at how far the once iconic temple of men’s style has fallen. Really it is not all Brooks’s fault; societal changes, many of them for the better, have rendered much of traditional men’s styling obsolete. That said, when they put me in charge of the world, jackets and repp ties will again be required for all men. There were many striking and iconic things to see but two that struck me the most were these. The first is a letter to Brooks Brothers from New York State Assistant Quartermaster Chester Alan Arthur requisitioning 300 overcoats. The letter is from October 24, 1861, three days after the Battle of Ball’s Bluff.

…and a contract signed by the four Brooks brothers and Governor Edwin D. Morgan on August 3, 1861, two weeks after First Bull Run. Note the fabric swabs in the upper right corner.

The second is a contract signed by Governor Edwin D. Morgan two month and a half months earlier. It is a mark of the great import of the transaction that all four actual Brooks brothers signed the document. This came at an important time in the war effort, just two after the fiasco at Bull Run. I write about this moment in the manuscript of Incorporating New York. By early August men like Morgan and Arthur were cleaning up the mess and preparing for what everyone now knew would be a long war. I know the images are not that great, having been taken through the glass in the display case, but note the red wax next to each signature marking it official. Governor Morgan’s is on top and then the four brother’s below. I don’t know for certain but my guess would be that the fabric swabs were included in the contract after earlier incidents of clothiers–including Brooks Brothers–providing the Army with inferior shoddy goods.

The 1865 Colfax Expedition

In late June 1864, with the country still reeling from Ulysses S. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign, President Lincoln signed legislation granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California. I speak in my manuscript about how forward-thinking many were even in the worst depths of the war about what might come afterward, hence the passage of the Pacific Railroad, Homestead, and Land-Grant College bills as early as 1862. The 1864 Yosemite Act was a part of that optimism. Eight years after this, President Grant put Yellowstone under federal control. In between, in the summer of 1865, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax led an expedition out west just after the Civil War to review the situation. Three years after all this Colfax became Grant’s running mate and then served four years as vice-president from 1869-73.

Frederick Law Olmsted (second from left front row) read his report on Yosemite and Mariposa Grove to House Speaker Schuyler Colfax and his entourage on 9 August 1865. Olmsted, his wife Mary (seated next to him), and the expedition then sat for this image. With the Civil War finally over, Americans were thinking of the possibilities for the future.

Frederick Law Olmsted left his position as secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission in mid-1863 and took a position in California managing the Mariposa mining estate. There he was horrified by the corruption and environmental depredations he saw. A bright spot was that he was eventually placed on a committee to examine how the state of California might preserve Yosemite and Mariposa. Back in Washington on 14 April 1865 Grant and Colfax both begged out of attending My American Cousin at Ford’s Theater with President and Mrs. Lincoln. That same day Lincoln spoke to Colfax excitedly about the Speaker’s upcoming trip out west. As Colfax remembered it, Lincoln told him, “Mr. Colfax, I want you to take a message from me to the miners whom you visit. I have very large ideas of the mineral wealth of our nation. I believe it practically inexhaustible. It abounds all over the Western country, from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, and its development has scarcely commenced.” Later that evening Booth shot Lincoln and the president died the next morning.

Colfax and his entourage headed west shortly after the president”s assassination and traveled many thousands of miles by various means, taking in what they saw and thinking optimistically about the possibilities for the reunified country. By early August they reached Yosemite and toured that beautiful valley along with the sequoias at Mariposa Grove. On 9 August 1865 Speaker of the House Colfax and others listened to Frederick Law Olmsted read his “Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove: A Preliminary Report,” the study that Olmsted and his team had written for state officials outlining how California might best preserve these sites. The state eventually did nt pursue many of the commission’s recommendations, deeming them too expensive and impractical. It was not a total loss. The Colfax Expedition helped lay the groundwork for President Grant’s signing in March 1872 of the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act. It was the start of the environmental movement here in the United States. Yosemite and the great sequoias too eventually came under the management of the National Park Service.

(image by Carleton Watkins; Courtesy Yosemite National Park Research Library)


August 8, 1918: the start of the Hundred Days Offensive

Battle of Amiens: German prisoners about to carry British wounded off on stretchers. Sailly-le-Sec, 8 August 1918.

In a vey real sense the beginning of the end of the First World War began one hundred years ago today; it was on August 8, 1918 that Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch began the counteroffensive that was itself a response to Ludendorff’s own Spring Offensive. This was hardly just a French military campaign; the British, Canadians, and Australians were also integral to the fighting against the Germans. The Americans played a supporting role as well. I saw on the news today that Prince William and others were on hand to mark the occasion. The Amiens Offensive lasted one week. The Allies suffered about 60,000 casualties and the Germans about 27,000 in addition to having almost 30,000 taken prisoner.

We are getting into the stage of the Great War centennial where events are going to move extremely quickly between now and the anniversary of the Armistice. Historians eventually called the period from August 8 to November 11 the Hundred Days Offensive. It was hard, full on fighting from here to the end. The Hundred Days Offensive was an extraordinary human drama. Men on all sides would be pushed to the limit, and the ambulance drivers, nurses and doctors who tried to put them back together faced extraordinary challenges. Every day had its own individual tragedies, multiplied thousands fold.

No one knew at the time when or how it would all end, but August 8, 1918 proved a crucial turning point in the Great War.

(image by Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke; Courtesy Imperial War Museum)

Margaret Suckley and the 27th Division

Yesterday a friend and I braved the heat and ventured to Roosevelt Island to visit Four Freedoms State Park, architect Louis Isadore Kahn’s tribute to our only four-term president and the man who gave the world so much of what many people sadly take for granted today. When I got home I finished Jean Edward Smith’s FDR, an outstanding biography I have been reading over the summer in addition to finishing my book manuscript and boning up on my U.S. Grant. (Last week I picked up a brand new hardcover copy of the same author’s Grant for $5 that I will get to in a few weeks.) This morning I have been going through copies of “Gas Attack,” the newspaper published by the 27th “New York” Division during the First World War. The men had published a previous newspaper called the “Rio Grande Rattler” when they were stationed on the Texas/Mexico border during the Punitive Expedition in 1916. The reason I say all this is because in pursuing “Gas Attack” I came across this extraordinary photography that includes Margaret L. Suckley.

Margaret Suckley was a volunteer with the 27th “New York” Division when the unit trained at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina in 1918. She went on to be a friend and confidant of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she met a few years after the war. The Elizabeth Suckley pictured here is presumably a sister or cousin.

The image we see here is from the May 4, 1918 edition, published at Camp Wadsworth and the last installment of the paper before the division shipped out to France. Suckley (the first vowel in her name rhymes with book) was one of the two dozen or so canteen women who provided refreshments to the men of the 27th Division. Most of these women were married and had spouses within the unit. Suckley though was not one of these. In 1918 when this photograph was taken she was 26 and unmarried. A few years earlier she had been a student at Bryn Mawr but for whatever reason her mother forced her to drop out before getting a degree. Franklin Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at this time but he and Suckley did not yet know each other; they would not meet until 1922. In the 23 years after that, until FDR’s death in April 1945, they would be confidants and close friends. She was one of the few people unafraid to tell Franklin when he was wrong. Margaret was one of the women present in Warm Springs when Roosevelt died.

(image/Gas Attack of the New York Division)


Paying respects to Grant in Albany, August 1885

Stereoscopic view of General Grant’s Albany, NY funeral procession, August 4 or 5 1885

I spent a good portion of the day today telling visitors to Grant’s Tomb that this is the anniversary week of General Grants funeral. The famous procession attended by 1,000,000+ persons was held on August 8, 1885 in New York City. The Grant family held a private service at the Drexel house at Mt. McGregor on August 4, after which Winfield Scott Hancock and his staff from Governors Island brought Grant’s remains to Albany. There on August 4-5 some 80,000 people passed through the New York State Capitol to pay their respects. Not present was the Grant family, who had already gone on to New York City where they were staying at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on 23rd Street preparing for the event on the 8th. Widow Julia remained at Mt. McGregor, too distraught to take it all in. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted in its August 5 edition that “Albany did not go to bed last night.”

I wish the above stereoscopic image were clearer but this was the scene in Albany on either August 4 or 5 1885.