By Woodrow Polston
Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th U.S. president, wrote much about his time in Missouri during the Civil War. In his personal memoirs, which he finished shortly before his death at the age of 63, he made mention of familiar places such as Hannibal, Mo., Quincy, Ill., the Salt River, and even recalled having received good news while he was in Mexico, Mo.
“In a short time after our return to Salt River bridge I was ordered with my regiment to the town of Mexico. General Pope was then commanding the district embracing all of the State of Missouri between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, with his headquarters in the village of Mexico. I was assigned to the command of a sub-district embracing the troops in the immediate neighborhood, some three regiments of infantry and a section of artillery.
“My arrival in Mexico had been preceded by that of two or three regiments in which proper discipline had not been maintained, and the men had been in the habit of visiting houses without invitation and helping themselves to food and drink, or demanding them from the occupants. I at once published orders prohibiting the soldiers from going into private houses unless invited by the inhabitants, and from appropriating private property to their own or to government uses. The people were no longer molested or made afraid. I received the most marked courtesy from the citizens of Mexico as long as I remained there.
“I had not been in Mexico many weeks when, reading a St. Louis paper, I found the President had asked the Illinois delegation in Congress to recommend some citizens of the state for the position of brigadier-general, and that they had unanimously recommended me as first on a list of seven. I was very much surprised because my acquaintance with the Congressmen was very limited and I did not know of anything I had done to inspire such confidence. The papers of the next day announced that my name, with three others, had been sent to the Senate, and a few days after our confirmation was announced.
“When appointed brigadier-general, I at once thought it proper that one of my aides should come from the regiment I had been commanding, and so selected Lieutenant C. B. Lagow. While living in St. Louis, I had a desk in the law office of McClellan, Moody and Hillyer. Difference in views between the members of the firm on the questions of the day, and general hard times in the border cities, had broken up this firm. Hillyer was quite a young man, then in his twenties, and very brilliant. I asked him to accept a place on my staff.
“Shortly after my promotion I was ordered to Ironton, Mo., to command a district in that part of the state, and took the 21st Illinois, my old regiment, with me. Several other regiments were ordered to the same destination about the same time.”
Although President Grant was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, and attended West Point Military Academy in New York, he had numerous defining moments in Missouri. After school, he reported for duty at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, with the 4th U.S. infantry. It was the largest military post at that time, being garrisoned by 16 companies of infantry. Grant would often visit the nearby home of his West Point roommate Frederick Dent. It was during these visits with the Dent family that Grant would meet his future wife, Julia Dent, Frederick’s sister. After the Mexican-American War, and several years on the West Coast, Grant returned to Missouri to embrace farming on his father-in-law’s farm. He spent the next few years as a civilian before rising to national fame during the Civil War.