Ulysses S. Grant Home

Michigan State Fairgrounds

This home was originally located on West Fort Street near the intersection with Livernois, not far from Historic Fort Wayne. It is now located near the intersection of Motor City Avenue and Wolverine Way on the Michigan State Fairgrounds at the northern border of Detroit near the intersection of Woodward and Eight Mile Road

Ulysses S. Grant carries the honor of being the only president of the United States to live in the Detroit area.

The impressive and attractive brick homes for officers that you can now see at Historic Fort Wayne in southwest Detroit were not erected until after the Civil War. U. S. Grant was the son of a moderately successful tanner and Whig politician who worked in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Grant's father had doubts about his son's dedication to work and scholarly abilities, so he used his influence to get him an appointment at West Point. His son was actually named Hiram Ulysses Grant, but when registering at the military college, they listed him as Ulysses Simpson and he never changed their mistake.

Grant did not enjoy his studies and was, at best, an indifferent student. He entertained himself by riding horses and drawing water colors. Apparently, he devoted much of his undergraduate time to those pursuits. Grant was apparently surprised that the Army commissioned him when he finished his four years at West Point. He even avoided ranking at the bottom of his class. U. S. Grant strongly opposed President Polk's war against Mexico, but he served in that conflict as a lower level officer. After the defeat of Mexico secured for the United States the southwest quadrant of the current nation, Grant was assigned as a Lieutenant to Fort Wayne in Detroit from 1849 to 1851. He had married the sister of a West Point classmate and began raising his family in the home that you see. Most officers assigned to Fort Wayne lived in a hotel, but since Grant had a wife and a child, he resided in the home you see. Apparently, he was quite well known in Detroit. He maintained his interests in horses and raced his own horses here—a very popular sport at that time. Apparently, he struggled with issues of alcohol consumption here in Detroit and several of his fellow officers convinced him to give up liquor.

His commanders did not highly evaluate his skills as an officer. He was assigned, in 1851, to a remote post at Sackets Harbor, New York on Lake Ontario. In 1852, he was sent to an even more remote and less desirable post—Fort Vancouver in Oregon. Wages for officers, at that time, were so low that Grant could not transport his family to the Pacific shores, causing him much pain. Apparently, he began to drink heavily. In 1854, he was found inebriated on duty and was given the choice of resigning his commission or going to a court martial. He resigned and returned to his family, then living in St. Louis.

Grant failed at every occupation he tried in the Midwest. For some time, he farmed land, but he lost money at that. Then he moved to St. Louis where he tried selling real estate and collecting bills, but he failed at those jobs and became a peddler. Finally, his brother and father—who then ran a tannery in Galena, Illinois—bailed out the destitute Grant by giving him a job.

Grant had strongly-held political views and was a strong Unionist. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant asked the Army to restore his commission as an officer. They refused. He then asked the Governor of Illinois to commission him and give him command of an Illinois brigade. Apparently, the Governor knew something of Grant's military record so he appointed Grant to lead one of the most troubled groups of volunteers.

At this point, Grant, for the first time in his life, began to manifest his skills. He was willing to send his troops into battle. He knew that wars were won by killing and devastating the enemy, even if that required a tremendous loss of the troops you commanded. In 1861, President Lincoln and his generals assumed that the North would quickly defeat the Confederacy in a walk-over because of the Union's superiority with population size, manufacturing capability and economic development. Indeed, the first troops Lincoln raised were conscripted for only 90 days. The Civil War was anything but a walk-over since the South fought very effectively. Southern troops not only invaded the North, but they seemed to have a very good chance of defeating northern forces—at least until late 1864 when General Sherman began destroying the South and General Grant fought effectively in Virginia.

President Lincoln appointed a series of distinguished generals to lead his armies—Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, George McClellan, John Pope and William Rosecarans. Some of they believed that Lincoln had no political future and that if they won a few battles, they would be elected president in 1864, so they sought to minimize the loss of troops. Others were, seemingly, unwilling to press their advantage and kept asking Lincoln for more troops and support. They did not carry the battle to the South. Indeed, they were frequently defeated by Robert E. Lee and other southern generals.

U. S. Grant quickly rose in the ranks because, as Lincoln put it, he fights. More so than other generals, Grant was willing to suffer a great carnage of his own troops if he could inflict much more damage on the confederacy. By late 1863, Lincoln knew that Grant was the only general he had who would lead the northern troops to victory. The Civil War was quite unpopular in the North, with many politicians calling for a quick truce, one that might require the continuation of slavery. Lincoln was severely criticized for causing the tremendous loss of life. Grant also came in for much criticism—given the nickname of Butcher and portrayed in the press as an inebriate.

Lincoln stood by Grant and, by April, 1865, General Grant forced General Lee to surrender the Army of Virginia, which was the major Confederate force. Shortly thereafter, the other southern armies surrendered, ending this nation's bloodiest war.

Once he became a successful general who preserved the Union, he became a very popular, even charming, individual. He was seen as charming and was admired for his brilliant accomplishments. In 1868, he was elected president and served two terms. Although not a Radial Republican, he attempted to preserve the rights of Freedmen in the South and adopted a moderately liberal stance toward Indians who were still a threatening menace to settlers on the Great Plains. I believe that he was the first president to take Asian matters seriously. In 1870, he sent the University of Michigan's President Angell to China as his emissary.

When Grant finished his second term in 1877, he realized that he was a sick man who would not live long. At that time, presidential and military pensions were minimal. He had to provide for his widow—the sister of a classmate he had married at West Point. He needed money quickly. Finally, he found a publisher who would pay for his memoires, but not until they were completed. In the final months of his life, U. S. Grant composed his autobiography in hopes of raising money to support his widow, Julia.

In the 1950s, the Michigan Mutual Liability Insurance Company purchased this historic home, moved it from West Fort Street to the State Fairgrounds and donated it to the state.

Architect: Unknown
Date of Completion: About 1847
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Use in 2004: Historical Museum
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Listed August 23, 1956
State of Michigan Historical Market. There is a historical marker in from of the Grant Home
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
Website with description of President Grant's Detroit years: http://www.empirenet.com/~ulysses
Photo: Ren Farley, January, 2004

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