Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885)
From My Dearest Julia: The Wartime Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to His Wife
“There is no great sport in having bullets flying about one in evry direction but I find they have less horror when among them than when in anticipation. . . . In the thickest of it I thought of Julia.”
The quote is from a letter sent by Ulysses S. Grant to his fiancée, Julia Dent, shortly after his first experience in combat, at the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in May 1846 during the Mexican American war. As Ron Chernow says of this letter, “as the opposing armies clashed, he demonstrates a coolness under fire that foretold his future success in the Civil War.” During those two wars, Grant sent hundreds of letters to Julia, which (Chernow again) “candidly portray Grant’s emotional state, showing his remarkable evolution from an insecure young soldier to a capable, self-confident general. A man so reserved in public needed a private outlet for his feelings, and his correspondence with Julia was the ideal repository for these confessions.”
Eighty-four of Grant’s wartime letters have been collected in a new Library of America book, My Dearest Julia. For our free Story of the Week selection, we present two of them, both sent from the Mexican city of Matamoros in July 1846, during a lull in the hostilities. In them he complains about the “Earthly paradise” of the rain-drenched borderland, worries over whether her parents will approve of their marriage, and jokingly threatens to show one of her letters to her brother (a fellow soldier) each time she doesn’t write back.