Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 1861

“Life with Father”

Ulysses S. Grant (right) is irritated.

The 39-year-old brigadier general, commander of the District of Southeast Missouri, sits down to write his father a letter. It is coolly polite.

The general’s father, Jesse Root Grant, has been asking for trouble. The senior Grant, who now lives in Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, is a man whose interests lie, first, in making money for Jesse Root Grant; second, in expressing his opinion on all things; and, third, in abolishing slavery. Sensitivity is not his forté, and his hide is as thick as the leather he manufactures.

Jesse has barraged his son with a variety of complaints, wheedlings, and ill-informed opinions. He wants Ulysses to use his influence to secure government contracts. He thinks his son should write him more often and tell him what he planning and doing. He criticizes the way the war is being conducted and what it aims to do.

The son sighs and sets to work responding in the same usual clear, brief, and direct way he issues orders to his soldiers. There is no ambiguity in anything Ulysses S. Grant says or writes.

Taking an active part in securing contracts would be unseemly and wrong, he writes his father. Although Jesse is “much disposed to criticize unfavorably” based on newspaper opinion, the general comments, “I am very tired of the course pursued by a portion of the Union press.” For security reasons, the general cannot divulge his plans. And, so far as how often son writes father, the younger Grant observes, “I think you have no cause of complaint. My time is all taken up with public duties.”

General Grant also reflects the position President Lincoln has taken on slavery this early in the war. “My inclination is to whip the rebellion into submission, preserving all constitutional rights [meaning slavery],” he writes. “ If it cannot be whipped in any other way than through a war against slavery, let it come to that legitimately.”

The commander softens things a bit by saying Give my love to all at home.” He mention is that Julia has gone to visit her father in St. Louis. Later she will visit the Grants in Covington, he promises.

Even in a time of war, the little conflicts of family life persist.

>>> News of the Trent affair—the Union navy’s arrest of two Confederate envoys on their way to England aboard a British ship— reaches British shores today. The public is aroused and newspapers scream, “Outrage on the British flag.” As some in Washington had feared, what seems a heroic act to the public threatens to turn into a diplomatic crisis.

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