A remembrance for the 191st anniversary of the birth of Ulysses S. Grant:

Grant’s strengths and his faults have been debated for well over a century.  I can relate two little known incidents that illustrate what was, simultaneously, his most disarming and undoing personal trait.  Grant was fiercely loyal to people who befriended him.

Grant spent some his most challenging years in St. Louis, 1854-1860, moving about in the Southern society of his wife’s family, centered in Southwest St. Louis County.  This was then a very rural world; he counted as his “neighbors” people who lived many miles from his Hardscrabble Farm.

Case 1:  Dr. James A. Barrett

Dr. Barrett (some times spelled Barret) was a member of a prominent Virginia/Kentucky clan that emigrated to St. Louis before the Civil War.  In 1864, he along with a cousin (pre-War U. S. Congressman John Richard Barrett) became embroiled in a national controversy.   An investigation got underway into the activities of a clandestine group of Southern supporters known as the Sons of Liberty.  James Barrett was targeted as a member of the “Northwest Conspiracy,” alleged to be a massive operation to aid the Confederate war effort and overthrow the government of the United States.  The investigation, centered on the Son of Liberty’s activities in Missouri and Indiana, snared Indiana copperhead congressman Clement L. Vallandigham and others.  Later in the year, one Lambdin P. Milligan and four others were tried by a military tribunal in Indianapolis – the trial timed to precede the national elections in November, 1864. Milligan was sentenced to hang.  He was freed when the U. S. Supreme Court in 1866 issued a landmark Opinion, Ex Parte Milligan, which held that military courts had no jurisdiction to try civilians where civil courts were operating.

Dr. James Barrett of St. Louis was an unindicted conspirator in the trial of Lambdin Milligan. His activities were prominently noted in the testimony of witnesses.  But Barrett was not brought to trial.

On June 25, 1864, Ulysses Grant sent a telegram from headquarters in City Point, Virginia, to the Secretary of War.

“I will feel obliged to you if you will order General Rosecrans to release Dr. J. A. Barrett [on bail],. . . or to give him an immediate trial. The doctor is a copperhead, but I have no idea that he has done anything more than that class of people are constantly doing, and not so much.  He was a neighbor of mine, a clever man, and has a practice in the neighborhood which it will be very inconvenient to other people than himself to have interrupted.”

Grant arrived in City Point ten days before he paused to write his telegram to Secretary Stanton.  He had just completed another of his master strokes, outflanking Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after Cold Harbor and landing in Lee’s rear at Petersburg.  Grant had on his mind the plight of a country doctor who once supported him in his bid to become County Engineer in St. Louis.

Stanton relented. Rosecrans fumed.  The matter reached the desk of Abraham Lincoln, who wrote to Rosecrans: “When did the Sec. of War telegraph you to release Dr. Barrett? If it is an old thing, let it stand till you hear further.”

Case 2:  General John McCausland

“Tiger John” McCausland graduated first in the VMI class of 1857.  When the Civil War began, McCausland organized Virginia’s Rockbridge Artillery, then served in successively more important command positions in the Confederate army.  He famously escaped from Ft. Donelson in 1862, before Grant captured the place and most of the army that defended it.  As a Brigadier General of cavalry in 1865, he even escaped Grant at Appomattox.

Tiger John McCausland

McCausland’s military reputation, otherwise distinguished, was stained by the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in July, 1864.  Under orders of his superiors, McCausland entered the town and demanded payment of reparations for Union depradations in the Shenandoah Valley.  When his demand was refused, he burned the town.  At the close of the War, McCausland was indicted by a Pennsylvania grand jury for arson; He lived in Mexico and in Europe for a time, finally returning to the United States in 1867 after Ulysses Grant intervened to quash the Pennsylvania indictment.

Tiger John McCausland was born in St. Louis in 1836, son of a John McCausland who gave the name to McCausland Avenue.  The elder McCausland owned large tracts of land in downtown St. Louis, and devised St. Louis’ first system of taxation.  He died the same year his wife died, 1843, leaving John and his brother orphans.  In 1847, John moved to what is now West Virginia to be raised by an uncle.  He had lived with his paternal grandmother in St. Louis County before leaving for the east, but no doubt often visited his aunt Elizabeth Marshall at her home “Fairfax,” restored and standing in Rock Hill near Manchester Road.

The National Register application for McCausland’s post-war home near Henderson, West Virginia states that Ulysses Grant was “an old family friend of the McCauslands.”  Enough said.


There is a spring that flows on the grounds of a church in Ironton, Missouri, as it has flowed since 1861, and no doubt for eons before that.  The spring has gained some improvements over the years – a gazebo, and near by a bronze statue that commemorates an event in the life of Ulysses Grant.  What the Ironton spring lacks is the notoriety it deserves.

Ironton, Missouri

It is a fact that U. S. Grant received his commission as Brigadier General in his tent near the spring, while he commanded Union troops in Ironton in August, 1861.  It is true that in 1886, not long after the General’s passing, veterans of his first regiment erected a statue of a lone infantryman where his tent stood.  Although Ironton is full of Civil War history, because a bloody battle was fought there in 1864, the statue by the spring would be reason enough for U. S. Grant fans to find their way to the Ste. Marie du Lac Catholic Church.

As a matter of legend and lore, and perhaps as a matter of fact, the Ironton spring is far more important.  According to a man who ought to have known, General Grant sipped from this spring in 1861 and he said:

“This water runs into the Mississippi, the Mississippi into the sea; and it must run with unfettered freedom.”

John Wesley Emerson, born in Massachusetts to the family that gave us Ralph Waldo, was an early settler in Ironton.  The town sprung up just years before the Civil War, when a railroad reached there from St. Louis.  Emerson – later Colonel of a Missouri regiment of infantry – was a country lawyer when Grant came to town.  As Emerson wrote in 1898, he made his acquaintance with the new general and within several days Grant asked if Emerson had a map of the Mississippi valley.  Grant sat with Emerson’s map, at a pine table outside his tent, and marked Xs and lines – some in the direction of the great bend of the Tennessee River we know for Shiloh.  Emerson gushed that Grant sat at that table and formulated his great campaign to open the Mississippi River, “the final accomplishment of which was to eventually bring him imperishable renown.”

Emerson was a great admirer of Grant.  He accomplished many things in the legal world and he built a fortune in investments.  An indication of his high regard for the General: after the War, Emerson purchased a grand estate that occupied the Ironton ground that had been Grant’s headquarters.  He saw to it that the statue was erected at the place that he remembered to be the site of Grant’s tent.  In his declining years, he determined to become one of Grant’s biographers.  What Emerson did accomplish, before he died in 1899, was a series of articles carried over the course of several years by the Midland Monthly magazine.  Emerson covered the whole scope of Grant’s life and career.  His installment of January, 1898, is the one that tempts us to believe that the campaign that ended at Vicksburg began at a remote Missouri spring.

John Wesley Emerson’s name lives on through a start-up company he funded in 1890, Emerson Electric Company of St. Louis.