Yesterday my friend and colleague Bob Pollock and I took a trip to Southern Illinois University Carbondale to conduct research on the papers of Frederick Tracy Dent, the brother-in-law of General and President Ulysses S. Grant. Bob is currently researching the Dent family and has been writing extensively about this research on his blog Yesterday…and Today. We didn’t really find any documents within the collection to help answer our questions about the Dent family, but we nonetheless found some really interesting material, including letters from Grant, William T. Sherman, James Longstreet, and Frederick T. Dent himself. Bob discussed some of our findings here.
Frederick T. Dent was born on December 17, 1820, in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up at the White Haven estate that is now the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. He attended the West Point Military Academy and was a graduate of the class of 1843. During his time at West Point Dent befriended and was roommates with Ulysses S. Grant, a fellow 1843 graduate. When Grant was sent with the 4th U.S. Infantry to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis following graduation, Fred invited him to meet the rest of his family at White Haven. Ulysses met Fred’s sister Julia at White Haven in the Spring of 1844, and it was here where Ulysses and Julia fell in love and began a four-year courtship. Their wedding took place in downtown St. Louis in August 1848 and the marriage lasted thirty-seven years.
Fred had a stellar forty-year career in the U.S. military. He served in the Western frontier and the Mexican-American War during the antebellum years. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 he stayed with the United States military and started the war out west. Following Grant’s promotion to Lieutenant-General in March 1864, Dent was appointed an aide-de-camp on Grant’s staff. Following the war he was promoted to Brigadier General of the U.S. Army in 1866, and he served as a “military secretary” for Grant during most of his Presidency (1869-1873). If you wanted to meet with President Grant, you had to go through Fred first (this fact became evident yesterday as we sifted through numerous letters from people seeking Fred’s assistance in securing an interview with Grant). Fred retired from the U.S. military in 1883 and later moved to Denver, Colorado, where he died in 1892.
In the course of our research we stumbled upon a touching letter written by Frederick Dent Grant to Frederick T. Dent in March 1886. Fred Grant was Ulysses and Julia Grant’s oldest child and Fred Dent’s namesake. Ulysses had died on July 23, 1885, exactly eight months prior to this letter, and Fred Grant had an important message for his uncle:
March 23d 1886
Dear Uncle Fred,
Just before my beloved father died he gave some instructions about what he would like done. Among these wishes was one about you. He said he wanted to send you a little present in memory of old and happy days. That he had grown very fond of you, and that if Mother could spare it he would like her to send you $500[,] which I now enclose to you with her love.
Mother says if you and Aunt Helen can come she would like you to pay her a visit. All join in love for you and yours[.]
Ulysses S. Grant never forgot the assistance, kindness, and companionship his brother-in-law provided him throughout a more than forty-year friendship. Through this relationship we can see the generous character of both men.