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Ulysses S Grant Comes to Town

Ulysses S Grant comes to Portsmouth, NH / Library of Congress Image
PRESIDENTS IN PORTSMOUTH

Was he the best antidote to the ills of the Civil War or one of the worst presidents in history? One Portsmouth newspaper called Grant "a man of simple honesty and sincerity". Another labeled him "surly, cold and indifferent" and drunk. What people saw as Grant visited NH, was pretty much what they wanted to see.

 

 

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was the fourth 19th century president to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire after James Monroe, James K Polk and NH-born Franklin Pierce. After the Civil War, locals were sharply divided on Grant’s presidency. Was the 18th president a drunken dullard or a capable Reconstructionist leader? That depends on which Portsmouth newspaper one read when Grant breezed through town in a luxurious Pullman car with 200 members of his entourage. A Civil War hero, General Grant had almost been with Lincoln that fateful night at Ford's Theater. Instead he went on to become a two-term president, defeating NH notable Horace Greeley in his second term. Grant's famous tomb in New York City is the largest mausoleum in the country and Grant still has a large devout following among history buffs. Grant's latest fictional incarnation was played by actor Kevin Kline in the movie version of "Wild, Wild, West." The film, like most of Grant's presidency, was not a hit with most critics. -- JDR

PRESIDENT US GRANT IN SEACOAST, NH
October 1871

By Ray Brighton

General Grant during the Civil War / Library of CongressAs is still often the case, presidential visits to Portsmouth, NH are just "whistle stops" as the chief executive moves on into Maine from the nation's capital. President George Bush used Portsmouth's military airfield as his own landing spot for regular visits to nearby Kennebunkport, Maine. And so it was back in 1871 when President Ulysses S. Grant zipped through on his way to Maine.

On October 17th President Grant was heading to the opening ceremonies for the European and North American Railroad. City officials under Mayor Joseph B. Adams gathered at the City Building (site of Bank of America in Market Square today) at 9:30, then headed to the railroad depot. Mrs. Grant, the president's daughter Nellie and more than 200 others were in the official party. The train was made up of two Pullmans, a smoking car, a baggage car and a passenger car. All this was drawn by the "splendid engine America." Surprisingly, neither of the two daily papers, the Chronicle and Portsmouth Times, devoted much space to the event -- and it's from the Journal of October 21 that most of the story comes.

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