General Grant's home, you say? Wouldn't it be more accurate to call it President Grant's home?
Well, you can, but in Galena, the story line is about Grant the general. Due to his work saving the United States Union, the Grants were presented with this handsome home from local businessmen.
The house remained the Grants' legal residence throughout his two presidential terms.
U.S.came to Galena for a job at his family's downtown tannery. Before he was called into service leading the Union in the Civil War, the Grant family lived in a small home where he walked home for the midday. (And you should see the flights of outdoor stairs.)
Oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. A little biography first.
Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1822, U.S. Grant graduated 21 years later from West Point. He served in the Mexican-American War. He met and quickly became engaged to Missouri-born Julia Dent but it was four years later when they married. For the next ten years, Ulysses served in the army, resigning in 1854 and moving to St. Louis.
While the Grants were abolitionists, the Dents were quite the opposite, owning a Missouri plantation. Our Grant home-tour guide said that at family events when the two families were together, the couple's fathers remained in different rooms.
In the St. Louis area, Julia's father gave the couple a farm, but it wasn't successful. U.S. called it "Hard-Scrabble Farm." It's now a tourist attraction, Grant's Farm. The Grants moved to Galena in 1860 where he worked at the Grant family tannery.
Preserved our nation
The next year, when the Civil War started, he became a colonel for the 21st Illinois Volunteers. In 1862, Grant demanded unconditional surrender from the Confederate Army -- and with that, became a national hero. But it wasn't until three years later when Lee surrendered that this horrific war era of American history ended and the Union survived.
Grant became the nation's first four-star general in 1866. Following the war, a group of business men gifted the Grants the Galena home as a thank you gift for his contribution to the U.S. Ninety percent of the furnishings you see there today were there when the Grants called the place home. It remained their legal address through his two terms as president.
Following those, the Grants took a world tour where they were lauded the world over. In 1881 they moved to New York City and lost $100,000. It is there Grant died in 1885. He is buried in -- wait for it -- Grant's tomb (did you see that one coming?) in New York City. Julia lived 17 more years.
In what might today be called a man cave, several significant items fill the space. A Bible on the table rests on four buttons attached to it so that the Holy Word never touches the floor or whatever is underneath it. Look to the left, under the window. That is Grant's smoking stand. He was known for smoking up to 20 cigars a day, said one tour guide. Grant died at 63 of throat cancer. It is suggested that he might have smoked heavily during the war to cover the stench.
An elegant parlor with the General / President over the fireplace at age 57 in an original portrait. U.S. Grant stood 5'8" and normally weighed between 135 and 140 pounds. Ninety-percent of the home's furnishings are authentic Grant pieces.
The couple had four children. Their only daughter, Nellie, got married in the White House. The china outfitting the Galena table above was used at her wedding breakfast. The portrait is of Julia. She has the distinction of being the first to be called First Lady.
Two years after Julia's death, the children bequeathed the home to Galena as long as it served as a memorial to their father. The home has welcomed the public for a century, now owned by the state of Illinois. Eighty-thousand visitors tour the two-story, fully-furnished home annually.
By the time Grant died, he had few financial resources, having lost a great deal of money in New York. He worked on his autobiography so that it could bring in money for his family. He completed it just two weeks before he died. The book brought in more than $450,000 to the family, according to a tour guide.
I'm struck with the observation that even when he was surely suffering a great deal, Grant had the drive to do what needed done, as he had during the Civil War. This time, it was to finish his book and thus, provide for his family after he passed.
With gratitude to U.S. Grant State Historic Sites brochure, trolly tour-guide and the Grant home tour guide for information in this post, and to Joe Cook of Brierwreath Manor Bed & Breakfast for his insights.