When in St. Louis visiting America’s most recent, and smallest, National Park (Gateway Arch National Park), you should stop by the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. The 18th president of the United States, U.S. Grant was an interesting guy.
Best known for his bravery during the civil war, President Lincoln promoted him to be the commanding general in charge of the entire US Army. Some say that he was the one who won the war for the north. He was also the guy who signed the peace agreement with General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox courthouse. Some criticized the lenient terms, allowing Confederate soldiers to return to their homes and their farms, but U. S. Grant believed it was important to move forward to reunite the country.
President U. S. Grant
As a two term president from 1869-1877, U. S. Grant moved the nation on from civil war and focused on reconstruction, championing the rights of African Americans. Even though subsequent presidents rolled back much of his work, many of his policies were ahead of his time. He felt that his biggest accomplishment was the 15th amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote (federal and state) to all male citizens regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.
It was interesting to us that during a ranger talk at the National Park Traveller Club‘s convention in St. Louis, the ranger told us that President Grant’s ranking amongst presidential historians has improved over time. Of course, U.S. Grant hasn’t actually done anything different but historians have taken a closer look and the recognition of the importance of what he did has increased.
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is at White Haven, the original home of his wife, Julia Dent. Rather than focusing only on Grant and his accomplishments, this site looks at the issue of slavery and gives you an insight into how conflicted the time was. Although U. S. Grant was against slavery, (they say he freed his only slave when he was in his early 20’s), the Dent family owned many slaves who worked their plantation. Julia had grown up with slaves.
When he retired from the army, he lived and worked at White Haven, side-by-side with enslaved laborers. They said that it may be this experience that made U. S. Grant volunteer for the North, almost immediately when the civil war began. It was certain that he and his father in law would never see eye to eye on this issue.
What to do at White Haven
There are several historic structures – the house (White Haven) that you can visit on a ranger led tour, plus the summer kitchen, ice house, chicken coop and stables (which now houses a museum). Touring the buildings gives you an idea of how the Dents and their slaves lived.
Note: the house is not white. In fact it is Paris Green a color typical of the Victorian period.
Be sure to pick up a Junior Ranger book before you tour around. It is a fun way to explore the site and learn more.
The museum gives you an inside look at U. S. Grant and Julia, with many of their love letters on display. It also has galleries focused on U. S. Grant’s achievements as president, how he advanced civil rights during the reconstruction era, and his accomplishments during his extensive travels after his presidency.
After visiting all the displays in the barn and walking through the museum, it is also well worth your time to watch the video at the visitor center and museum.
This year is an extra special to visit. 2022 marks the 200th year since U. S. Grant’s birth in 1822. Not only are there special celebrations at this site, it is also worth a visit to Grant’s Tomb (link to blog post), General Grant National Memorial in New York City where you will really see how well-loved U.S. Grant was.
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