US Grant and National Vanilla Ice Cream Day

Re-post for the benefit of Linkedin, which disconnected again.

Summer, hot and sweltering and muggy. Just the kind of day in the Great Lakes you need to get something cold and wet as long as it’s not a fish.

On 23 July 1827, the first swimming pool in the United States started operation in Boston; it was almost certainly private or members-only, and no trace of it now exists. The oldest existing pool is probably Deep Eddy in Texas. And on this day in 1904, the ice cream cone was first sold commercially at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis; cones of various descriptions had been privately made from recipes as early as 1823, and patents for cone-making machines date from the 1890s. And, on 23 July 1967, a failed police raid in Detroit led to a riot that, over the course of nine days, would kill 43 people and require the use of federal troops to quell; as a young man living in suburban Detroit at the time, I can attest to the kind of confusion that the riot engendered, but “race” wasn’t the only issue. But today, we’re talking about Captain Sam and plain vanilla.

Young Ulys got sick when he was nine with a fever–probably malaria–that would cause him headaches and “ague” for the rest of his life, and would often be mistaken for other things.

US Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on 27 April 1822 in the little shack by the Ohio River. His father Jessie was a prosperous businessman; his mother Hanna indulgent of her only son. Young Ulys got sick when he was nine with a fever–probably malaria–that would cause him headaches and “ague” for the rest of his life, and would often be mistaken for other things.

He took a volunteer job as a mustering officer and drillmaster, then asked for and got a commission as colonel, and he never looked back.

Young Grant was a smart lad but Jessie was cheap. When it came time for the boy to go to school beyond the reaches of Ohio he was sent to West Point because it was free. When he got there, he discovered that his name was entered as Ulysses Simpson (his mother’s maiden name) Grant, and he stuck with it for the rest of his life. In 1843 US Grant was commissioned in the infantry upon his graduation, 21st out of a class of 39. He went to his first post in Missouri, and from there to Mexico. He served largely as a supply officer in Mexico and later in Detroit, New York, and California while many of those who would be leading lights in the Civil War served with him. In 1854, for unstated reasons that have always been ascribed to drink (there are no surviving official written records of a drinking problem) he resigned from the Army. Grant struggled to support his wife and three children for the next seven years. At one point he was selling kindling door-to-door and felt compelled to sell his Army coat. The outbreak of war in 1861 found him working in his father’s dry goods and harness shop in Galena, Illinois. He took a volunteer job as a mustering officer and drillmaster, then asked for and got a commission as colonel, and he never looked back.

Grant was practically broke when he left office in 1877.

His story after that should be familiar. Grant was breveted a brigadier, then promoted to major general, then the first officer to equal Washington’s rank as lieutenant general, then the first to exceed him as a full general. He was the first American officer to wear four stars on his shoulder. And as often was the case then, he rode that success right into the White House in 1869. But Grant wasn’t a politician, and he was probably the worst personal money-manager who ever took the oath as president. Grant was practically broke when he left office in 1877.

The royalties for his posthumously-published memoirs provided just under half a million dollars for his family in their lifetime.

Always scrambling to make a living, he sold articles to Century Magazine about his experience in the war. In time he attracted the attention of Samuel Clemens–Mark Twain–who persuaded him to write a memoir. He finished those memoirs in a borrowed cottage on Mount McGregor, New York just days before he died on 23 July 1885. The royalties for his posthumously-published memoirs provided just under half a million dollars for his family in their lifetime. Captain John J. Pershing, commanding the Corps of Cadets at West Point, commanded the honor guard for Grant’s funeral.

If you’re driving along the Ohio River on US 52, you’ll probably miss the little state-run US Grant birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio: we nearly did. It’s not something that you can get to on the way somewhere else because it’s not near anything else. That about sums up Grant’s life: always on the way somewhere else.

Called a Giant White, worth nearly $42–not to me, but maybe you.

And today is National Vanilla Ice Cream Day because, again, someone said it was. Ice cream, as everyone knows, predates mechanical refrigeration by at least a century. The easiest way to make it cold is to use an ice cream churn that uses a steel drum and rock salt to reduce the temperature of the mixture. Even before this, the ancient Egyptians and nearly everyone else was flavoring natural and manufactured ice and snow.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have brought a recipe for vanilla ice cream back from France in 1790, but there are records of extant vanillas before then, those introduced by the Quakers as early as the 1750s. There are at this writing more than 30 different flavors of vanilla ice cream retailed in the US…who knew?

So, to celebrate National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, have a bowl or two or, like the young lady above, a cone. Or, like me, just smile and let others enjoy it. I, myself, never quite got the point of ice cream. But maybe you did.

And today in News of the Future-Past, on 23 July 2018, Dr. Huckleberry Dogbreath of the University of Doodle-Patch in Oregon announced the invention of the pedal-popper, a development of a bicycle that, used correctly, either goes back in time or simply disappears…no one’s sure just which because Dogbreath is the only person who’s ever seen it. At the same time, Professor Dogbreath announced that his government research grant to develop the pedal-popper has so far totaled in the vicinity of $2,000,000,000,000, and he plans to apply for more. Senator Makeme Grabitall (R/D-Everywhere) stated unequivocally that this was the kind of innovation that the US Congress should back.

Take that to the bank, or the poor house.

Like this post if you’d buy a T-shirt with this printed on it:

History: The Only Test for the Consequences of Ideas

Grant and Buckner: A Story of Fort Donelson

On the morning of 16 February 1862, Simon B. Buckner wrote a note to US Grant:

February 16, 1862.

Brig. Gen. U.S. GRANT,
Commanding U.S. Forces near Fort Donelson.

SIR: In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station I propose to the commanding officers of the Federal forces the appointment of commissioners to agree upon terms of capitulation of the forces and post under my command, and in that view suggest an armistice until 12 o’clock to-day.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.

Grant, commanding the Union army outside Fort Donelson, must have read the note with some sadness, and not a little despair.  His small force had suffered about a thousand casualties out of about 25,000 in a week of combat and bitter cold weather, was down to its last cracker and cartridge, and was riven by dissent in the upper command.  The Navy, which had done tremendous service the week before at Fort Henry, had withdrawn its gunboats, unable to reach the high bluffs with their big guns where Fort Donelson sat on the Cumberland River.  If pressed. Grant wasn’t certain he could take Fort Donelson by force.  But his family depended on him, and he could not withdraw.

Camp near Fort Donelson
February 16, 1862.

General S. B. BUCKNER,
Confederate Army.

        SIR: Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Writing his response likely caused Grant no end of pain.  Though his closest adviser, Charles F Smith, had told him “no terms the the damned rebels,” Grant was still torn.  In 1854, when Buckner and Grant were both officers on the California coast, Buckner had loaned Grant money to get home.  Grant had resigned his captain’s commission for reasons unclear to scholars to this day (the popular reason–drink–is under serious challenge with only anecdotal evidence to support it) and was pining to return to his family. Buckner was one of Grant’s best friends, and Grant didn’t have that many friends.

Buckner, a thorough military professional, probably received the note with some pain himself.  Just hours before he wrote his note to Grant, Buckner was third in command of Fort Donelson.  The senior officer, John B. Floyd, had been a governor of Virginia and a US Secretary of War.  He was also wanted in the North for corruption.  In a staff meeting that might have been funny in a Three Stooges act, Floyd passed the command to Gideon J. Pillow, who had beaten Grant at Belmont, Missouri the previous fall.  But Pillow,  though wounded and brevetted for his service in Mexico, was also under a cloud in the Union for graft.  Pillow passed the command of the fort to Buckner and joined Floyd in the small boat carrying them across the river with a few loyal retainers.  The night before, Nathan B. Forrest and about a thousand men took advantage of a thin escape route Pillow had opened the previous day.

Buckner commanded about 16,000 men (no one knew for certain how many), but without control of the river his rations would be gone in a week; his ammunition, less.  And though he knew Grant to be his friend, Grant was also known as a man of his word, there was no one with a better known reputation for determination and courage in the US Army than US Grant.

Dover, Tenn.
February 16, 1862.

Brig. Gen. U.S. GRANT,
U.S. A.

        SIR: The distribution of the forces under my command incident to an unexpected change of commanders and the overwhelming force under your command compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.

I am, sir, your very obedient servant,
Brigadier. General, C. S. Army.

Buckner likely didn’t see what else he could have done.  As they were taken into custody, the Confederates sullenly accepted their paroles and were released in a week.  But the name of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant rang from coast to coast as his star rose in the Union heavens.  It wasn’t the first time the phrase “unconditional surrender” was used during the war; the first was a Confederate demand that a tiny Federal garrison surrender an arsenal in Georgia.  But the press saw a beautiful harmonic in the phrase and Grant’s (not real) name.  Grant was born Hiram Ulysses, and was known in his youth as “Ulys.”  The name “Ulysses Simpson” (his mother’s maiden name) was one he accepted upon his entrance to West Point.

But no matter.  Buckner surrendered fully 5% of all the Confederate combat forces.  This staggering loss doomed middle Tennessee to Federal occupation, forced the evacuation of the state capital at Nashville, and provided the Union with a route into the Confederate west’s heartland.  Regardless of what happened in Virginia, where George B. McClellan was building a huge army of over 100,000 men, Grant was the current hero of the Union.

The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War tells the story of Fort Donelson and the struggle for Middle Tennessee in early 1862,  Available in paperback and PDF.