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Collection Ulysses S. Grant Papers

Provenance of the Ulysses S. Grant Papers

How did the Ulysses S. Grant Papers come to the Library of Congress? This essay, originally written for the Index to the Ulysses S. Grant Papers (Washington, D.C., 1965), pp. v-x, tells the story.

Ulysses the Silent and the American Sphinx were affectionate sobriquets which a devoted public bestowed upon Ulysses S. Grant. If the phrases imply that Grant was taciturn, a man of deeds but not of words, they are belied by Grant's own estimate of himself, by the testimony of his associates, and by the accumulation of his personal papers in spite of numerous obstacles, including Grant's own studied neglect.

Grant once commented that for 24 years, as soldier and President, "I have been very much employed in writing . . . . I wrote my own orders, plans of battle, instructions and reports . . . . As President I wrote every official document . . . usual for a President to write." 1 His claims of facility have been supported by such contemporaries as Provost Marshall General James B. Fry, William T. Sherman, and Horace Porter. Sherman predicted that biographers would find their subject's "public and private letters . . . far more wordy and voluminous than the world supposes," 2 and Porter, who served Grant as aide-de-camp and secretary, recalled that Grant seldom dictated but wrote most of his documents in his own hand. The chief characteristics of Grant's style, according to Porter, were correctness and clarity. "No one ever has the slightest doubt as to their meaning," he wrote of them, "or ever has to read them over a second time." 3

The most convincing evidence that Grant was a facile and productive writer is the accumulation of his personal papers by the Library of Congress, the Chicago Historical Society, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Missouri Historical Society and private collectors. Of the collections the largest is in the Library of Congress, but its Grant Papers have been assembled only recently. As late as 1933 the authoritative Dictionary of American Biography contained the opinions that "Grant . . . wrote as little as possible" and that "there is no considerable collection of his manuscripts." 4 Grant, who admitted that he was "no clerk," doubtless contributed to the difficulty and delay in collecting his papers. "The only place I ever found in my life to put a paper so as to find it again," he wrote, "was either a side coat-pocket or the hands of a clerk . . . more careful than myself." 5 Grant is known to have misplaced a chapter of Adam Badeau's Military History, the entire manuscript of John Russell Young's Around the World with General Grant, and a magnificent personal letter from Abraham Lincoln. 6

The efforts by the Library of Congress to assemble Grant Papers began early in this century. In 1904 Worthington C. Ford, Chief of its Manuscript Division, reported "some letter books of General Grant" in the White House, which he believed to be "the sole relic of any Presidential papers." 7 In 1910 his successor, Gaillard Hunt, described the books more particularly: "The books of General Grant's correspondence . . . are in two volumes, and contain letters to members of the cabinet, commissioners of public grounds, etc. . . . We would like these letters . . . placed here . . . . One reason why I am anxious to get them is that they may form the beginning of a collection of Grant papers. We now have the papers of nine of the Presidents, and thus far have been unable to establish a Grant collection." 8 Hunt's appeal to the reception clerk at the White House and another made the following year, however, were to no avail. The letterbooks could not be found. 9

Ten years later the letterbooks—numbering four, not two—were discovered and placed in the Library of Congress "at the request of Major U. S. Grant, 3d," Grant's grandson and namesake. 10 Major Grant had written to President Harding in June 1921 citing the customary privilege of a retiring President to remove "all letters and papers relating to his administration." In accordance with the custom he and his mother requested Harding to authorize the transfer of Grant's letterbooks to the Library, an action which would "ensure the safety and preservation of these two volumes and make them accessible to all authorized persons." 11 The four letterbooks which emerged from the search, with a press copybook purchased by the Library in 1939, now comprise series 2 of the Grant Papers.

Major Grant and his mother, Ida Honore (Mrs. Frederick D.) Grant, had already begun a Grant collection 1 year earlier when they deposited in the Manuscript Division the original manuscript of the Personal Memoirs, now series 4 of the papers, accompanied by a drawing made by Grant when a West Point cadet. 12 The drawing is now in series 6B with photographs of two other drawings by Cadet Grant presented by the owner, his granddaughter, Mrs. William Pigott Cronan of La Jolla, Calif. 13

In 1922, Mrs. Grant and her son deposited the drafts of Grant's first inaugural address and his reports on the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns, now series 3. 14 In 1925, through the generous permission of the Huntington Library and Ulysses G. Smith, important additions (now in series 1B and D) were made by photocopying Grant manuscripts in their possession. The largest additions of original material came in 1953 and 1957 when Ulysses S. Grant III presented the "headquarters records" in 2 installments of 75 and 36 volumes respectively. 15 These records constitute series 5. In 1960 he gave the Library more than 300 of Grant's letters to his wife, now series 1A.

Through additional gifts by members of the Grant family and by others, through purchase and photocopying, the Grant Papers have grown to 47,236 manuscripts reproduced on 32 reels of microfilm. 16 Thus a quest which began unpromisingly in 1904 has resulted in an accumulation which effectively documents the career of Grant the soldier, the President, and the writer of a great memoir of military history.

The headquarters records form the largest and richest series in the papers. There are 111 volumes of correspondence, orders, reports, registers, dispatches, and accounts providing a magnificently detailed picture of the Civil War and the career of its dominant military figure from his first post in Missouri through his command of the Armies of the United States.

There are, however, confusions in chronology and apparent duplication of documents in these records sufficient to create a justifiable impression of chaos. For some letters there are as many as nine copies; typically there are three. Material dated in 1861 appears after that dated 1864. Volume 17 is an index to volume 82. It is necessary, therefore, that the user of this portion of the Grant Papers have some understanding of their compilation.

Part of the confusion and duplication may be accounted for by Grant's apparent practice of maintaining both a "headquarters set" and a "traveling set" of records and by his system for arranging documents within both sets. The first 75 volumes, mostly large folio ledgers, apparently constituted an elaborate set of records maintained at his permanent headquarters. Volumes 77-112, smaller for the most part and obviously more portable, probably accompanied Grant on his campaigns. The flyleaf on volume 101, for example, is inscribed "Travelling Head Quarters Dept. of the Tennessee January to August 1863." There is virtually no duplication within the traveling set. The confusing multiplicity of documents is limited to the headquarters set.

Apparent confusion in chronology may also be resolved by observing distinctions which Grant maintained: between correspondence sent and received; between superior and subordinate headquarters; and between general and special orders. Separate volumes were kept for each category. Moreover, the headquarters records are those of the 6 commands Grant held in the Civil War, and the arrangement of the volumes has been largely determined by the dates of his commands, although the same volume was sometimes used for successive commands. Volumes 18-33, 87-101, 103, and 105 pertain to the Department of the Tennessee, October 25, 1862-October 17, 1863. Volumes 34-40, 94-102, 104, and 106 to the Military Division of the Mississippi, October 18, 1863-March 17, 1864. Volumes 41-76 and 107-109 to Headquarters Armies of the United States, March 18, 1864-March 3, 1869. Volumes 1-17 and 77-89 are the records of Grant's service from August 9, 1861, to October 24, 1862, when he commanded successively the military districts of Southeast Missouri, Cairo, and West Tennessee. In these volumes is to be found a preponderance of confusion and duplication. Volumes 110-112 are contemporary indexes.

Some of the volumes were obviously compiled long after the events to which they relate, a fact which accounts for some mistakes in dating. 17 Volume 8, for example, could not have been prepared before September 1863 although it contains correspondence beginning in August 1861. 18 As a particular example, the Battle of Belmont was fought on November 7, 1861; Grant's original report, prepared 3 days later, appears in Volume 78. Nearly 21⁄2 years later, however, John A. Rawlins reported that he and Theodore S. Bowers were "fixing up Gen. Grant's . . . report of the battle of Belmont." 19 The revised report appears in volumes 4, 5, 7 and 8.

The revision of the report on the Battle of Belmont also indicates the influence on the Grant Papers exercised by subordinates responsible for maintaining the records. By inserting relevant correspondence and orders, Bowers and Rawlins expanded Grant's original report from three to eight pages. As commanding general Grant was, of course, ultimately responsible for the records, but their maintenance was the immediate charge of the assistant adjutant general on his staff. For the first weeks of Grant's command in Missouri, this officer was Lt. Montague S. Hasie, a Missourian. 20 He was succeeded by Rawlins, lawyer and townsman of Grant's from Galena, Ill. Rawlins reported at Cairo in mid-September 1861 where he found that "Grant's office was substantially in his hat or his pockets . . . and the camp story was but slightly exaggerated which asserted that half his general orders were blowing about in the sand and dirt of the streets of Cairo." 21

When Rawlins was promoted to chief of staff in August 1863, he was succeeded by Bowers, a young Illinois editor who had first joined Grant's staff, early in 1862, as an enlisted clerk. Bowers brought with him to his new position the memory of the capture of the base at Holly Springs, Miss., by Confederate cavalry under Gen. Earl Van Dorn on December 20, 1862. There with "but a few minutes warning" Bowers had been obliged to make "a bonfire of all the department records, and when the raiders burst into his quarters everything of value to them was destroyed." 22

Grant also had reason to emphasize the keeping of records. Ironically enough, he had suffered a reprimand from his superior, Henry W. Halleck, for failure to report promptly after the fall of Fort Donelson. Grant insisted that he "was writing daily and sometimes two or three times a day." 23 In March 1862 Grant devoted a general order on the subject of record-keeping: "The necessity of order and regularity about headquarters, especially in keeping the records, makes it necessary to assign particular duties to each member of the staff . . . . Capt. J. A. Rawlins, Assistant Adjutant General . . . will have special charge of the books of records, consolidating returns, and forwarding all documents to their proper destination." 24 The maintenance of different sets of records and the duplication resulting therefrom may be traced in part, then, to Grant's expressed determination that proper records should survive the normal depredations of warfare.

Not all the duplication in series 5 may be accounted for by the activities of Rawlins, Bowers, and other subordinates or the elaborate systems devised to insure completeness. Volumes 1, 2, and 3 for example are duplicates, and many of the documents in them appear also in volumes 77 and 85. Volumes 34 and 35 are identical, and much duplication appears also in volumes 12-16. Volume 5 and its continuation, volume 6, duplicate volumes 4, 7, and 8 with additional copies in volume 78. However, among these volumes there would seem to be for many documents a "draft" or "edited" version, a "corrected copy," and an additional copy for Grant's personal use. 25 Although not every copy can be accounted for, the confusion in series 5 is, upon examination, more apparent than real.

Theodore Bowers died in a railroad accident in March 1866. Adam Badeau, who had come to Grant's staff as military secretary on April 8, 1864, probably conducted the search for additional papers carried out in 1866. The search disclosed miscellaneous, unbound military documents, now in series 6A, which also includes fair copies of Grant's correspondence with John C. Frémont in 1861, the copies dating from 1866. A professional journalist and novelist, Badeau came to Grant with the ambition to write a "Military History" of U. S. Grant. The first volume of his history appeared in 1868 and was thus written while Badeau was on Grant's staff. The concluding volumes, published in 1881, were prepared while Badeau served in diplomatic posts in Europe, where he took at least some of the records with him. 26 Badeau's autograph notations appear, particularly in volume 45.

Other volumes besides those of Badeau have been based on the headquarters records compiled by Grant. In the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion are printed letters and dispatches from Grant in 1861 which are in the headquarters records but not in the files of the Department of the West in the National Archives. The most creative use was that made by Grant himself in preparing the work that has been called the greatest military writing since Caesar's Commentaries—the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. 27 The Memoirs, undertaken reluctantly but completed courageously despite an illness which claimed the author's life shortly after their completion, were perhaps Grant's greatest achievement.

Grant's initial reluctance to write for publication was overcome in 1884 by financial hardship brought about by the failure of the investment firm of Ward and Grant. Grant thereupon was glad to accept an invitation to write pressed upon him by Roswell Smith of The Century Magazine. On June 30, 1884, Grant submitted his article on the Battle of Shiloh, accompanying it with the offer to "prepare one on the siege and capture of Vicksburg." 28 Successive commitments followed for articles on the Wilderness and Lee's surrender. 29 He found the work "congenial" and suggested to Sherman and Philip Sheridan that they contribute articles to the Century series. 30 About this time Grant must have decided to write his memoirs. According to Badeau, Grant invited him to Long Branch, N.J., on July 26 to assist Grant in preparing such a work. 31

Grant quickly established a routine for his writing, estimating that the memoirs would require about 1 year to complete. 32 He wrote for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. At this pace he estimated that he was one-third through his task by mid-October. Even then, however, he was aware that he had underestimated the scope of the work. Whereas he had originally envisioned a single volume of 400 to 500 pages, he realized that the completed work would run to approximately twice that many pages. 33.

On October 22, 1884, Grant consulted Dr. James H. Douglas, a specialist, concerning a persistent pain in his throat. Grant's only question was, "Is it cancer?" Neither Dr. Douglas nor other specialists consulted could give a negative answer. 34 To finish the memoirs, it was clear, required a contest with pain and weakness and a race with death, a contest and a race which Grant won with a display of almost unparalleled heroism and courage. He wrote the first volume and part of the second in pen and ink. When his strength failed, he dictated. When he could no longer talk at length, he wrote laboriously in pencil. The illness which accompanied the writing of the memoirs ran an uneven course between days of marked decline and rarer days of apparent recovery. On June 16, 1885, he was removed to a cottage in Mount MacGregor, N.Y., where, sitting bundled in a chair, he completed the memoirs only days before he died on July 23.

The greatness of the Memoirs as history is due to the author. Their greatness as a human document is due to the courage he displayed in writing them. The fact that they became a publishing and financial triumph as well is due to the intercession of Mark Twain and his successful publication and promotion of Grant's work, which led to a sale of over 600,000 copies within 4 years of publication. Only two considerations had disturbed Mark Twain during the production of the Memoirs: piracy and the charge that Adam Badeau was the real author. 35 He repeatedly warned his partner Charles Webster to take special precautions with the manuscript and proofs. When the New York World on April 29, 1885, attributed authorship to Badeau, Grant, to Mark Twain's elation, emphatically denied the report and claimed full responsibility for the writing. 36

Badeau himself delivered an even crueler blow to his dying friend. He had lived in the Grant house since October 1884 rendering, in his own words, "assistance . . . in suggestion, revision or verification." 37 He was to be compensated but demanded more money and departed after giving Grant an ultimatum. Grant rejected Badeau's demands, particularly because they implied a more responsible role in the writing than Grant thought Badeau had played. The Memoirs, he maintained, were "the product of my own brain and hand." 38 For several years after Grant's death Badeau threatened litigation. His claim was settled out of court in 1888. 39

The story of the composition and publication of the Memoirs may be reconstructed through a study of the manuscript. Confident that the texts he needed were to be found in the voluminous headquarters records, Grant left blanks in the manuscript as he wrote. His eldest son, Frederick D. Grant, filled in the blanks with citations to the records. 40 Grant composed; his son verified, Marginalia include comments by both father and son. For example, in volume V, page 701, Grant wrote: "Crocker however was dying of consumption when he volunteered, and did die before the war closed." In the margin is the penciled comment, "Wrong C died after the War FDG." 41 In volume VI, page 770, Grant wrote: "This was the first engagement of the war in which colored troops were used." Beside the sentence is the note: "Wrong colored troops had been engaged before FDG." Grant then inserted "important" before "engagement" to qualify the sentence. Frederick Grant also supplied names and figures. In addition to those available from the headquarters records, some were derived through correspondence with the War Department or with surviving officers of the war. Some use was made of secondary sources. Volume VIII contains half a page of Grant's handwritten notes headed "Green" taken from The Mississippi, a volume by Francis V. Greene in Scribner's series on campaigns of the Civil War.

Grant began the work at Long Branch and completed it at Mount MacGregor but composed it in large part in New York City in a second floor apartment. The manuscript remained always in his custody. His son or a stenographer copied each page and transmitted it to the publisher. When Grant was forced to dictate, Noble E. Dawson, a congressional reporter from Washington, "copied his shorthand notes on large white sheets with a type-writer." These were given to Grant who "ran his eye over them, changing a word here and there, and now and then adding wholly new matters. This was copied once again, and sent to the publishers." 42

Following the publication of the first volume, Mrs. Grant proposed the publication of Grant's letters to her. Mark Twain viewed the prospect with enthusiasm. He thought the letters would be "enormously valuable," not the least, he wrote his partner, because they could "be edited in such a way that whoever possesses them will have to go out & buy the Memoirs, too." He advised Webster to "sign & seal a contract for those letters before you sleep." 43 Within a few weeks, however, his ardor cooled perceptibly, partly because he feared that an arrangement to publish the letters would require the admission of Grant's son Jesse to a partnership in his firm. 44 The letters, which remain unpublished, comprise series 1A. 45

These then are the Grant Papers: family letters, historical manuscripts, military records and correspondence, and a wide variety of additional material essential to the understanding of the great national ordeal and one of its commanding figures.


  1. Grant to Adam Badeau, May 5, 1885, in New York Herald, March 17, 1888. [Return to text]
  2. Sherman to William C. Church, February 21, 1868, in Army and Navy Journal, XXII (July 25, 1885), 1057. See also James B. Fry, "An Acquaintance with Grant," North American Review, CXLI (November 1885), 545. [Return to text]
  3. Campaigning With Grant, edited by Wayne C. Temple (Bloomington, Ind., 1961), p. 7, 242. [Return to text]
  4. Bibliographical note by Frederick L. Paxson, VII, 501. [Return to text]
  5. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885), I, 233. [Return to text]
  6. Grant to O. E. Babcock, n. d., and Grant to Badeau, August 22, 1878, in Adam Badeau, Grant in Peace (Hartford, 1887), p. 404, 504. [Return to text]
  7. Memorandum to Librarian of Congress, February 29, 1904, Manuscript Division. [Return to text]
  8. To Maurice C. Latta, June 7, 1910, Grant Papers case file, Manuscript Division. [Return to text]
  9. Hunt to Warren S. Young, July 18, 1911, Grant Papers case file. [Return to text]
  10. George B. Christian, Jr., to Librarian of Congress, July 15, 1921, Grant Papers case file. [Return to text]
  11. Grant to Harding, June 28, 1921, Grant Papers case file. [Return to text]
  12. Grant to Charles Moore, July 19, 1920, Grant Papers case file. [Return to text]
  13. Army and Navy Journal, XXIII (December 12, 1885), 391, in a paragraph headed "General Grant as an Artist" refers to paintings by Grant. [Return to text]
  14. Moore to Mrs. Grant, June 6, 1922, Grant Papers case file. These documents were given to Frederick Grant at the White House in 1876. [Return to text]
  15. The volumes in the larger gift are numbered 1-60 and 62-76 in series 5 with an overall numbering of 35-109 in the Grant Papers. A volume once thought to be 61 is designated Fair Copy Volume III, series 3B Andrew Johnson Papers. The latter volume contains material of Grant interest on pages 38-263: copies of communications between Gen. George C. Meade and officers of his command, May 3-June 25, 1864. The volume appears on reel 43 of the microfilm reproduction of the Andrew Johnson Papers and is indexed in the Index to the Andrew Johnson Papers (Washington 1963). [Return to text]
  16. Series 5 accounts for 43,041 of the total, of which 14,965 are separate manuscripts and 28,076 are duplicates of the former. The other series amount to 4,195 manuscripts, with or no duplication. [Return to text]
  17. See vol. 16, p. 422, 427. [Return to text]
  18. The fact is established by a reference on the flyleaf to Pvt. John A. Williams, Co. "A," 7th Iowa Volunteers, who was detailed as a clerk in Grant's headquarters from July 4, 1863, to August 9, 1864. The inscription is signed by Bowers who did not become assistant adjutant general until August 30, 1863. It reads: "If this book is large enough it will be used to make a duplicate of the book to and from Superior Head Qtrs, now being copied by Williams. This copy is for Gen. Grant's private use." [Return to text]
  19. Rawlins to wife, April 16, 1864, in James H. Wilson, Life of John A. Rawlins (New York, 1916), p. 418. [Return to text]
  20. St. Louis Daily Democrat, August 16, 1861. [Return to text]
  21. Sylvanus Cadwallader to St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 10, 1884, as quoted by Wilson, Rawlins, p. 428-429. Cadwallader was the correspondent for the Chicago Times who accompanied Grant on his campaigns. [Return to text]
  22. Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York, 1898), I, 337. [Return to text]
  23. To Julia D. Grant, March 23, 1862, series 1A. [Return to text]
  24. General Orders No. 21, Headquarters, District of West Tennessee, Ft. Henry, March 15, 1862, Series 5, vol. 12, p. 53. [Return to text]
  25. The inscription "For General Grant" appears in the flyleaves to volumes 14, 16, and 103, and elsewhere. A reporter in the Albany Evening Journal, June 10, 1885, described Grant's personal volumes as "big, heavily-bound black books, much as are used as ledgers in mercantile houses. As soon as one was filled it was sent to the general's house and a new one was taken up. Thus 30 of these great books were filled, and they contain a complete history of the general's military doings in that war." [Return to text]
  26. Grant to Badeau, May 5, 1885, in New York Herald, March 17, 1888. [Return to text]
  27. Such was the estimate of at least three admirers of Grant—Mark Twain, William T. Sherman, and Lloyd Lewis. See Lewis to C. Raymond Everitt, June 6, 1946, and to Angus Cameron, January 26, 1949 in Letters from Lloyd Lewis (Boston, 1950), p. 26, 80. [Return to text]
  28. To editor of Century, series 1B. [Return to text]
  29. Grant to Badeau, July 3, 1884, in Badeau, Grant in Peace, p. 560. Grant to Sherman, August 9, 1884, William T. Sherman Papers, Manuscript Division. "The Battle of Shiloh" was published in Century, XXIX (September 1885), 752-765, reprinted from the Personal Memoirs. [Return to text]
  30. To Sherman, August 9, 1884, Sherman Papers. [Return to text]
  31. Badeau, Grant in Peace, p. 562. [Return to text]
  32. To Sherman, September 8, 1884, Sherman Papers. [Return to text]
  33. To Sherman, October 19, 1884, Sherman Papers. [Return to text]
  34. Douglas diary, Douglas Papers, Manuscript Division. [Return to text]
  35. Samuel C. Webster, Mark Twain, Business Man (Boston, 1946), p. 312-329. [Return to text]
  36. Grant to Charles L. Webster & Co., May 2, 1885, in Webster, Mark Twain, p. 320. [Return to text]
  37. Badeau to Grant, May 4, 1885, in New York Herald, March 17, 1888. [Return to text]
  38. Badeau to Grant, May 2 and 4, Grant to Badeau, May 5, 1885, in New York Herald, March 17, 1888. [Return to text]
  39. New York Tribune, October 31, 1888 (clipping, series 7, vol. 14, Grant Papers). [Return to text]
  40. For example, "416LBB" referred to letter book B (now vol. 19), p. 416, where Pemberton's letter to Grant was copied. The letter is printed in the Memoirs, I, 561. [Return to text]
  41. Brig. Gen. Marcellus W. Crocker, a colonel in Iowa Volunteers before promotion, died August 21, 1865. [Return to text]
  42. Albany Evening Journal, June 10, 1885. [Return to text]
  43. December 18, 1885, in Webster, Mark Twain, p. 346. [Return to text]
  44. December 20, 1885, and February 1, 1886, in Webster, Mark Twain, p. 347, 351. [Return to text]
  45. The letters were used and extensively quoted by Lloyd Lewis in Captain Sam Grant and to a lesser extent by Ishbel Ross in The General's Wife, the Life of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant (New York, 1959). Three other letters, apparently estrays from the series, were published in part in facsimile in the menu for Grant Birthday Association Banquet, April 27th, 1901 (New York? 1901), copy in the McCook Family Papers, Manuscript Division. These letters are dated February 24, 26, and March 29, 1862. Wilson in Rawlins, p. 77, quotes part of the letter of February 24. E. B. Long in an article "Dear Julia: Two Grant Letters," Civil War History, I (March 1955), 61-64, printed the letters of February 24 and March 29 in full and in facsimile. [Return to text]