Thursday, April 14, 2011

White Haven Plantation

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the US Civil War. To honor the memories of that war Mrs. T and I took several field trips to see what was left of Civil War era Mayberry and its environs. Most taught history is not only wrong but wrongheaded; only by scratching the dirt does history come alive for the curious.

We began our search at White Haven Plantation, one time home of the 18th President of the US, Ulysses Grant. (It's nearby).

In 1843, Grant's first posting out of West Point was at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri then a cavalry outpost on the banks of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis. The list of men who served at JB reads like a who's who of the Civil War. 220 future generals including Sherman, Sheridan Hancock of the US, Lee, Longstreet, Bragg, Johnson of the South, and 3 presidents Jefferson Davis, Grant and Zachary Taylor. I spent the the bulk of my military career there in the 1970's. Still going strong, Jefferson Barracks includes a National Cemetery and veterans hospital.

Grant's WP roommate was local boy, Frederick Dent who frequently invited Ulysses to visit his home. It wasn't until his third visit that he chanced to meet Fred's younger sister Julia. The young officer was smitten, and visited often until he was transfered to Mexico to serve in the Mexican American War, proposing marriage before he left.

Grant proposed in 1844, and he and Julia Dent were married in 1848 setting up housekeeping at White Haven, Julia's father's plantation.

Ohio born Grant, a lifelong abolitionist, was given a slave by his father in law as a wedding present. The Maryland born, patrician Dent family, kept 20 slaves at White Haven. When Grant retired from the Army in 1854 he became master, and remained so until moving to Galena Il. in 1859.

During the war, Julia returned to White Haven and assumed her husband's responsibilities. Her father, a strong supporter of the Confederacy, made Thanksgiving dinner awkward.

Grant's last act on the way to Galena was to stop at the Federal courthouse in St. Louis to sign the necessary paperwork freeing his slave. (one could argue that since Illinois was a free state he wouldn't need a slave. On the other hand he could have left him behind)

The Grant's returned to White Haven after the war, raising horses, albeit never profitably. Coincidently, much of the old plantation is now an Anheuser Busch Clydesdale farm, but that's a story for another day. The Grant's owned White Haven until shortly before the General's death in 1885. It's now a national park.



Patsy said...

It's amazing what's right at your doorstep. I grew up 25 miles from Grant's Tomb and only went inside last April.

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

Honey, if you want to see some carrying on come on down to Charleston.