Lieutenant U.S. Grant (left) and Alexander Hayes just before the Mexican War
Written by Ned Lodwick, US Grant Homestead Association
“Grant in the Mexican War”
Following graduation Ulysses was stationed with the 4th U.S. Infantry at Ft. Jefferson, Missouri. He was designated the regimental quartermaster. During his time there he met the sister of his West Point classmate Fred Dent. Ulysses courted slave owning Julia Dent until he was ordered to more with the 4th to Mexico. He would continue to write to Julie from Mexico and upon his return they would marry.
In Mexico in 1845 with General Zachary Taylor, the 4th became a fine regiment. As quartermaster Grant’s responsibilities were to supply the troops with food, medicine, clothes, and ammunition. He also had to supply food for the horses and make sure the supply trains were safe and on time. He did his job so well that he could never receive a transfer to a combat unit. The regimental officers wanted Grant were he was and the supplies to continue flowing flawlessly. He understood this so when a battle drew close Ulysses world simply delegate his responsibilities to his capable next in command and ride forward with the Regiment.
While in Mexico, Ulysses met up with many old friends from Brown County who had volunteered to serve under Thomas Hamer. Hamer was the man who as Brown County’s Congressman had given Ulysses the West Point appointment. Now General Hamer was a firebrand, a lawyer, a politician, and a great recruiter but he new nothing of being a general. The young lieutenant Grant took Hamer under his wing and taught him all he knew of army tactics, strategy, and command. The two could be seen outside of the camp every day. Grant would set up a scenario and Hamer would try to figure out the orders he should give his troops and what their movements would accomplish. Apparently Grant was a good teacher and Hamer a good student because at the Battle of Monterey Hamer’s troops would fight like regulars.
Monterey was a fortified city that was surrounded by a high wall and defended by 10,000 Mexican soldiers. The city walls bristled with forty cannon. Gen. Taylor’s attacking force numbered only 6,400 men. The regulars under Gen. Taylor were having trouble getting into the fortified city and ordered Hamer’s volunteers to make a demonstration to draw some troops away from the main gates. The trick worked and the regulars forced their way into Monterey but not before Hamer’s demonstration turned into a full blown attack. The volunteers went over the wall before the army regulars got through the gates. The volunteers carried an American flag that had been made by the women of Georgetown over the walls. Hamer and his raw volunteers were in all of the national papers and proclaimed heroes.
Grant was with the regulars and went deep into the city with the troops. When the assault stalled and ammunition began to run low it was Ulysses that volunteered to ride back for more. He rode though heavy fire back to his supply train while hanging on one side of his horse ‘Nelly’ for protection. He could have then ordered a member of his squad to take the ammunition to the trapped soldiers but he didn’t. He put the bags of ammunition on ‘Nelly’, mounted, and rode back into danger. The ride back was even more harrowing but again riding to one side he safely reached his friends. With the fresh supply of ammunition the troops renewed their assault and eventually captured the city. Second lieutenant U.S. Grant was brevetted, a promotion without an increase in pay, to first lieutenant.
At San Cosme’ganita, a gate to the capitol city of Mexico City, Grant saw the attack was going poorly so he took action. He took a squad of men and a pack howitzer, a small cannon that could be taken apart and carried by men, to the roof of a small church. From the roof top Grant began to lay down fire for the troops that allowed them to carry the day. Ulysses was again brevetted for bravery for this action. He was now the first brevet captain in his graduating class.
Grant fought in every battle in Mexico except Buena Vista. At Chapultepec he again went above and beyond his responsibilities and could have earned a third brevet but his deeds were never officially reported. Ulysses served with many of the men he would in a few years fight with and against. James Longstreet, John Sedgwik, Braxton Bragg, Thomas Jackson, George Pickett, and George Meade were only a few of the men that would be friends and enemies in the future.
Following the Mexican War the 4th returned to the United States and Grant quickly marries Julia in 1848. The young couple is posted at several places including Detroit and Sackett’s Harbor, New York, on the shores of Lake Ontario. Sackett’s Harbor was a terrible posting. The buildings were flimsily built and the wind, sleet, and snow cut threw any coat you could wear. Ulysses and Julia were very much in love. Their first son, Fred, was born in 1850 and in 1852 when the 4th was ordered to California Julia was pregnant with their second child. Julia and Ulysses would be separated for four years. Ulysses would not meet his second son until he was a year and a half old. The family would be separated but the love of Ulysses and Julia Grant would be a romance that would last for their lifetime.