U.S. Grant, A.J. Drexel and the Siege of Vicksburg
For the past two years the nation has marked the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, 1861-1865. We reach the midway point this week, as we recall the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the pivotal events of the war. Less well known, but perhaps equally important, is the battle for control of Vicksburg, which ended in Union victory one-hundred and fifty years ago today.
According to the National Park Service's Vicksburg National Military Park website, President Lincoln saw the Battle for Vicksburg as "the key" to winning the war. Lincoln sent Major General Ulysses S. Grant to march down the Mississippi River in Spring 1863 with one objective: take Vicksburg. Grant began a long siege of the city, which ended 150 years ago today as the rebels raised the white flag. The next day, July 4, Grant accepted the surrender of Confederate general John C. Pemberton.
Grant would take command of the Union armies the following year and successfully run for president in 1868. After serving two terms, Grant and his wife Julia began a tour of the world that would last two years and take them through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It was from Paris that Grant wrote this letter to his friend and banker, Anthony J. Drexel; one of the treasures of the University Archives collections, the letter is reproduced below. During his presidency, Grant regularly came to Philadelphia to seek Mr. Drexel's advice on financial matters; indeed he offered Mr. Drexel a post in his cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury, but Mr. Drexel declined. Although Grant is known for going bankrupt at the end of his life and dying penniless, for most of his retirement he lived in comfort, having entrusted the management of his investments to A.J. Drexel. In 1884, Grant abandoned Mr. Drexel's prudent approach and instead invested all his savings in a Ponzi scheme; Grant was swindled, lost everything, and died of throat cancer the next year.
Transcription of the letter
Dec. 13th, '78
My dear Mr. Drexel:
We just arrived here yesterday morning from our tour through Spain. A most delightful trip it was, but with some discomforts of travel. We had however every comfort that could be given, and every attention. Spain is generally a very poor country, with resources destroyed, but a better people than I expected to find. My impression is that the Spanish people would be industrious if they could find a reward for their labour, and that the Latin might become - again - prosperous. I wish you had been with me. On my arrival at Paris I determined to change my mind and to return home by India, China & Japan. The Sec. of the Navy was kind enough to send me an invitation to accept passage by the Richmond, which was to leave the States on the l0th of Dec. via the Mediterranean, for the Asiatic Squadrons, which letter I received at Gibraltar. I acknowledged the receipt of the letter, with thanks for the courtesy, but said that I had determined to return by the Atlantic. But I added, that if I should change my mind before the sailing of the Richmond, I would cable him. On the6th I did so. I wish you could go along. It would be the best medicine you could receive. The Sec. of the Navy would be glad to offer you a passage so far as Govt. Steamers carry us. When I sent my dispatch to the Sec. of the Navy Mrs. Grant said she wished she could take May Drexel with her. It is probably too late for anything of that kind now: but if it is possible, and you wish it, ask the Sec. of the Navy if there would be any objection, and cable me so that I may communicate with the Commander of the steamer on his arrival in the Mediterranean. But if you come we can fix a place for you either with me or in a hammock. Mr. Childs is such a sailor - having been in the Navy in early life - that I would not ask him to witness my contortion in a heavy sea. He would not enjoy it for a six months voyage. I have written to Fred to get a leave of absence to accompany me. Whether he can do so I do not know. I hope he will be able to. It will be very valuable to him and a great pleasure to me. Give our love to Mr. and Mrs. Childs, to Mr. and Mrs. Boni and Mr. and Mrs. Paul, and say to Mr. Boni and Mr. Childs that I shall write to them before I sail - and while away. I hope you will write to me often if you do not conclude to join "the Ship" and take a good rest. Mrs. Grant's and my love and regards to all your family.
Very Truly Yours
U. S. Grant