The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in south St. Louis County is across the road, appropriately, from Grant’s Farm. When Ruth & I visited it for the 1st time, we ran out of time and didn’t see the museum. We returned to find it worthwhile but not 5 Compass.
Its strength is revealing a lot about Grant’s family life and personality. Its weakness is that it’s designed for adults who like to read. There are a few family objects like Ulysses and Julia’s silver coffee service received on their 25th anniversary, but every room depends on visitors taking the time to absorb lots of words. I watched many enter, spend a few minutes, and leave. I’m word oriented, so I dug in.
The same evaluation also applies to Ron White’s excellent biography about Grant that is now out in paperback and recommended by The New York Times. Called American Ulysses, it aims to correct the image created by historians and Grant’s critics. The museum notes that scandals were exposed while he was President involving his cabinet and other matters. His “detractors portrayed him as a bumbling fool’ so a common perception was that the man who won the Civil War for the Union was a failure.
The White book attempts to restore a more positive image. The Grant Museum at the National Historic Site says that Grant seldom defended himself and decided to let his actions speak for him.
This museum is at its best in giving information about Grant’s personal interests, his family, and his relationship with his wife Julia. He was already the most widely traveled President before moving into The White House and, despite the fact that Julia encouraged him to run for a 3rd term, he preferred to leave office and take a trip around the world. It lasted for more than 2 years. He wasn’t ready to come home when they were in Burma and Thailand near Australia, which he wanted to see, but Julia had enough. They were a very affectionate couple. While away in the Army and then fighting the Civil War, Grant would write frequent letters to his amiable, social wife. At the close of one he gushed, “a thousand kisses for yourself dearest”. Writer John Russell Young said of Julia, “She would see as much sunshine in Alaska as in Italy.”
Ulysses & Julia had 3 children. Buck, who didn’t see his father during his first 2 years of life, started a Wall Street brokerage firm as an adult, married twice, and died in San Diego. Their only daughter Ellen married an Englishman and had 4 children. Jessie, their youngest, was said to be spoiled. Divorced, he tried to run for President as a Democrat.
I agree with Ron White that Ulysses S. Grant deserves a second look.