Jesse Grant and Hannah Simpson married on June 24, 1821 in Bantam, Ohio. The following year on April 27th they welcomed their firstborn son, Hiram, into the world.
The baby grew into a quiet, yet self-confident young boy, and he loved the outdoors. He enjoyed fishing, diving, ice skating, and sleigh riding. But horses brought him chief delight. He could ride through town balancing on one leg, and even in his pre-teen years trained the wildest that his neighbors brought him. His patience in gentling the animals rather than forcing them proved the winning touch.
Yet contrary to so many of the boys of his era, he found no pleasure in hunting. As one friend recalled, “He was unusually sensitive to pain, and his aversion to taking any form of life was so great…”
Given this aversion, it would have seemed unlikely that this boy would go on to attend West Point, serve as an officer in the United States Army, later resign from serving in the military, and eventually become the Union’s highest ranking General in the Civil War (not to mention the country’s 18th President). Yet that’s exactly what happened.
What can we learn from Hiram Grant? Influence and Providence emerge.
Much of the skill Grant employed in later years as a military officer traces back to his childhood. His love of drawing and skill in arithmetic, his hard-working and unpretentious demeanor coupled with his adventurous spirit, all appear early in his life.
His parents shaped much of this raw material. Biographer Ronald C. White observes, he “inherited his patience from Hannah. While some mothers expressed their maternal instincts in protectiveness for risk-taking sons, she seemed content and supportive of his ways and whereabouts.”
His father, Jesse, influenced him immensely as well. He taught his son the value of hard work, while always wanting to highlight his son’s natural gifts. Because of the boy’s skill with horses, Jesse entrusted him the responsibility of transporting travelers by a small carriage when he was only 11 years old. Jesse was a tanner himself by trade and wanted his son to join in the family business. But when his son shared that he did not desire to continue with this trade as a career, Jesse did not force him. He listened and observed his son’s passions, then guided him to fitting opportunities.
The perfect example of this occurs at a crucial point in the young boy’s life. When his son indicated he would like to further his education, Jesse (unbeknownst to his son) began working to secure a nomination for his son to attend West Point. Through a string of unlikely events, Ohio Congressman Thomas Hamer agreed to nominate him. He sent in the name “Ulysses Simpson Grant.” Hiram’s middle name, and what he always went by, was Ulysses. Hamer had likely assumed that Ulysses was his first name and that his middle name was his mom’s maiden name, Simpson. Ulysses S. Grant has stuck with him ever since.
Ulysses initially balked when his father told him the news of his appointment. But when his father said he thought he would go, he relented. Ulysses later remembered in his personal memoirs, “I thought so too, if he did.”
Wise parents and mentors recognize the unique gifts in those they seek to lovingly influence. Like Ulysses with horses and Jesse with his son, 9 times out of ten the gentle way is right. And when that other 1 out of 10 opportunity presents itself, the firmer word will likely be received more gently.
We’ll look at Providence in Grant’s life tomorrow.
*Quotes and general information taken from the wonderful biography on Grant by Ronald C. White entitled, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant.