Ulysses S. Grant's Galena, Ill.


1st Lieutenant
Part II - U. S. Grant in Galena

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This modest yet substantial residence, built in the 1840's on the hillside overlooking the town of Galena was home to Ulysses S. Grant and his family at the beginning of the Civil War; there are two opposing ways to look at it in regards to Grant's success as a businessman, or lack thereof. True, it was an uphill hike to get to it from the business district down in the valley on both sides of the waterfront where the Grant Leather Store was located; but it was also well-away from the bustle and noise of the town. I didn't recognize it at first when I saw it on my visit in 2008, because most representations show it with a wooden porch that was surely added later. As you can see, the rented house was plenty large and comfortable enough for Grant, his wife Julia, and their four children. Strangely, there are NO indications of the historical importance of this structure - Galena seems to concentrate rather on the later residence that is now a state park.

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U. S. Grant was only one of a dozen Galena citizens who became Union generals or officers and several were his friends and neighbors who he took with him when he went to war. Two of them lived next door to each other a short distance from Grant's house. Above is the residence of the young Galena lawyer John A. Rawlins who served throughout the war as his chief-of-staff, eventually rising to the rank of Brig. Gen. and later serving in President Grant's cabinet as Secretary of War until his untimely death in office of consumption. To its right is the similar-but-shabby and unrestored home of county court clerk William R. Rowley who served as Brig. Gen. and Provost Marshal on Grant's staff until his retirement. Other Galena generals included John C. Smith, original colonel of the 45th Ill. "Lead Mine Regiment"; Augustus L. Chetlain; and Jasper Maltby. Other local notables who served on Grant's staff included civil engineer and Seneca Chief Ely S. Parker, Grant's military secretary at Appomattox; and Dr. Edward Kittoe who served as Lt. Col. and medical director of the Army of the Tennessee.

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This home was built in 1857 on the more "genteel" east side of the river and was also at or near the summit of the ridge overlooking the town. In 1865, the citizens of Galena bought and presented it to Grant in hopes he would continue to reside among them. Unfortunately, he only stayed briefly on-and-off, using the house as his campaign headquarters during his successful election of 1868. He was then off to Washington for two terms as President, next embarking on a two-year trip around the world, following which he again returned to Galena. In 1881, the Grants finally left Galena for good, moving to New York City, but renting it out to trusted friends who maintained the property and its furnishings. Today it is maintained by the State of Illinois as the Grant Memorial Home State Park.

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Many of the furnishings in the house are original to the period of the Grant's occupation. In 1904, Gen. Frederick Dent Grant, eldest son of Ulysses and Julia, presented the home and its contents to the city with a clause in the bequest stating, "This home of our father's General U. S. Grant, is presented to the city of Galena as a memorial. It is to be kept as nearly as possible as it was when he resided in it, with his pictures and furniture placed as they were at that time." These two photos are of the first floor dining room; the wallpaper is reproduction. Notice especially the portrait of Julia above the mantel.

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Also on this side of the river but nearer downtown is Grant Park with the statue of Grant Our Citizen showing him at the end of the Civil War. Unfortunately for his legacy, his presidency tarnished his postwar image, likely inspiring the sculptor and backers of this 1892 memorial to show him at the zeneth of his career. On this side of the base are inscribed the names of Grant's battles: Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Appomattox:

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Next time, Part III - Grant's Patron, Elihu Washburne
That "Grant Our Citizen" statue is one of the nicest statues of Grant that I've seen.

Thanks for all the pictures and commentary.


1st Lieutenant
What biographers - even sensitive modern ones - seem to stress is the humiliation Grant must've felt at leaving the Army under the cloud of alchoholism, having to ask his father for a job, and not even being made at once a partner in the firm. Since Grant is close-mouthed on the subject and Julia positively ignores any intimation of it in her own memoirs, it's impossible to determine the truth in these allegations and the extent they may have been a bother. The fact that Grant liked his "travelling salesman" duties is seen as evidence of his distaste for the business; if I were in his place, I know which I'd prefer! It is known that Grant, an animal lover, hated the tannery where he grew up, supposedly one reason he was happy to get away to West Point! But the tannery itself was nowhere near the Galena store; Jesse Grant seems to have been a hard character who approached everything from a "strictly business" point of view, making it - in my mind at least - seem less like condemnation that he would put his own son on a period of "probation".

No doubt Grant had his moments of self-doubt about his future, and probably there were town gossips that talked about him behind his back; but that's normal everywhere. Since Grant's greatest "problem" appears to have been drinking, and Julia and the children were the known antidotes for that, it's unlikely any of his neighbors had anything tangible to talk about. Had the war not intervened, Grant would likely have continued as a solid small-town businessman and family man, probably eventually with his own branch of the Grant family leather business like his brothers. Though Grant is actually one of the war's more "accessable" characters, far more than The Marble Man, Lee, Galena seems to me the place to get to know him best, much moreso than at any of his relatively sterile battlefields, even here at Vicksburg.

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And I have to say that that Grant statue at Vicksburg is my least favorite statue of him. It's an embarrassment, IMHO.


2nd Lieutenant
Sep 12, 2016
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Quick trivia question....(no prizes awarded, just glory and bragging rights for those who answer correctly). Who is buried in the largest mausoleum in North America???

Answer: I will post later today or tomorrow AM :D.....HINT...think carefully about this :wink::wink:

James N.

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I'll add that likely the best source on Grant's Galena year, as well as all the other aspects of his antebellum life is Lloyd Lewis' Captain Sam Grant, reviewed here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/captain-sam-grant-by-lloyd-lewis.159173/


Jul 24, 2017
I enjoyed this very much, thank you for taking the time to make a kind of series on the subject! Super photos and synopsis- as usual, kind of like when diane jumps in on something, there are things I've never bumped into before EVER, makes for great reading. I never had heard Grant included so many of these local men on his staff- the names really jump out at you, don't they?

Seems to highlight to me anyway, that he certainly was no pauper, solely dependent on the kindness or charity of others to glue together a living. It's how the short bios tend to read.Like I said, this has never made any sense at ALL- a ' Life ' handicapped man joins the army, poof, he's a star. THEN 2 term President? Just no. Makes me wonder if part of Grant's problem with all the re-written history is his lack of tendency to blow his own horn- maybe did not care what folks were saying, who knows?

Hmm. Wonder if Julia liked that painting? I realize she was not a beauty queen, but seems to me most artists would highlight a woman's attractive features, down-play what is not - as much as they can get away with and still have to resemble the sitter. You get a LOT more business, interpreting portraits that way. This person did not seem to share that perspective. The painting looks like photos of Julia, but not attractive, wierd to say. Maybe voted for the other guy?
That is a really good point. He did seem to have made some friends in Galena, a few very close ones, and biographies mention that he was put in charge of explaining how things should work when they held the first meeting about getting a regiment together, as people knew of his military experience. That does indicate a good deal of social acceptance, so reports of him as a failure may be exaggerated.