It’s Father’s Day!
Fathers are often praised for taking their sons on “manly adventures” – camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, rock climbing at the gym, or other activities. As I was thinking about those types of adventures my brothers did with my dad and how so many of the skills they learned have benefited them now that they’re older, I wondered if a famous Civil War general had time to include his young son in any adventures.
I remembered Ulysses S. Grant and his son Fred and thought it’d be fun to share a little about Fred’s first adventure with his dad in the military camp.
Frederick Dent Grant – born in May 1850 – was eleven when his mother brought him to visit Father in a military camp near Springfield, Illinois. Ulysses Grant had been separated from his family and assigned at western military posts when Frederick was a toddler, but Grant frequently wrote and asked about his son. He had been an attentive father when he was home and after he resigned from the army in 1854. Frederick had a simple and satisfying childhood, growing up with three siblings and living on countryside farms. His father taught him to ride horses, swim, obey, and read great literature.
When the Civil War began, Grant organized a unit and got the attention of political leaders for his organization and disciplinary skills. He eventually became colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry and encamped with the regiment near Springfield during the summer. Gathering the children, Julia Grant took all four on a railroad trip to visit Father bringing items he’d left at home and wanted before any campaigning began. When it was time for Mom and kids to head home, Grant decided Fred could stay in camp a while longer. The boy loved the military atmosphere, and Grant later wrote to Julia, “Fred was delighted with his trip. The soldiers and officers call him Colonel and he seem to be quite a favorite.”
That sets the scene of Fred’s first military adventure. It’s easy to wonder about more details. What did he ask his father? What did they discuss? We’re not writing historical fiction so it’s best to simply conclude that Fred had a grand adventure under his father’s watchful eyes and probably learned a lot about life, leadership, military, and politics while living in that camp.
When Grant received marching orders and suspected a coming battle, he decided to send Fred home – though Fred didn’t want to leave Dad and the military camp. Fred would travel home alone, another challenge for an eleven-year-old. He took the steamboat, but missed the train. Julia reported that Fred walked seventeen miles from the train station to his hometown, rather than wait for another train. He arrived safely, soldiering along, carrying his knapsack, and undoubtedly full of stories about his life “as a soldier.” And that was just the beginning; Frederick joined his father during a few campaigns and later had his own military career.
This brief interlude in Grant family history reveals some characteristics about Ulysses S. Grant as a father. First, he loved his children and wanted to be with them. Second, he willingly gave his eldest son an opportunity to participate (as much as an eleven year old can) in the current events. Third, he understood his parental duty to protect his son, sending the protesting boy home when battle time approached. Fourth, he trusted his son’s judgment, allowing him to travel home alone. Fifth, he built a relationship with his son during the boy’s youth that lasted for the rest of their lives.
Happy Father’s Day!
H.W. Brands, The Man Who Saved The Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace, pages 133-134.
Articles by Frederick D. Grant, accessed here: http://www.granthomepage.com/frederick_dent_grant.htm