I fielded an interesting question the other day about Ulysses S. Grant and the people who influenced him throughout his life. The visitor asked me where and how General Grant developed the cool, calm, and steely demeanor that has long been a part of his popular lore. How was Grant able to handle the horrific bloodshed and danger of war in such a collected manner, never getting too high or too low about the state of affairs during his generalship and presidency?
It’s a fascinating, complex question with multiple answers that are suitable, but I think the visitor was surprised when I suggested that Hannah Simpson Grant may have played a role in her son’s overall disposition.
Historians don’t know a lot about Hannah Grant, and few primary source documents exist that are from her perspective (here’s an 1879 newspaper interview with her that is interesting yet ambiguous). What is know about Hannah and how she carried herself is very similar to that of her oldest son. Consider the below passage from Brooks Simpson’s book Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 (2000):
Hannah Grant went about her chores and responsibilities quietly, so much so that one must search carefully for her traces. [Ulysses Grant’s friend] Dan Ammen recalled that she was “a cheerful woman, always kind and gracious to children.” But affection–or at least open displays of it–were rare in the Grant household. Ulysses told Ammen that he never saw his mother cry. Nor did Hannah brag as was her husband’s custom: she was modest, retiring, and restrained. Unlike [Grant’s father] Jesse, she “thought nothing you could do would entitle you to praise,” as one observer recalled.” (7)
Insert “Ulysses” where “Hannah” is mentioned and the similarities are pretty clear.