From time to time, John and I celebrate Ulysses S. Grant — his great generalship and solid presidency (my characterizations). But if we celebrate Grant, we should also celebrate Thomas Hamer. For without Hamer, there would have been no Ulysses S. Grant, either literally or figuratively.Hamer was a lawyer in Grant’s boyhood hometown of Georgetown, Ohio, and a close friend of Jesse Grant, father of Hiram Ulysses Grant. But Hamer was an ardent Jacksonian and Jesse Grant a strident Whig. Indeed, when Hamer ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, Grant supported his opponent, Thomas Morris. By the time Hiram Ulysses was a teenager, his father and Hamer were no longer on speaking terms.
Jesse Grant had decided that Hiram Ulysses should attend West Point. He wrote Senator Morris about an appointment. The Senator told him he had no more to give, but that one was available through his congressman, Thomas Hamer.
Jesse reluctantly wrote a formal letter to Hamer asking about an appointment for his son. Hamer, who had wanted a reconciliation, was happy to help. In his response to the request, he asked, “Why didn’t you write sooner?”
Hamer knew Jesse’s son as Ulysses and assumed this was his first name. He didn’t know the middle name, but figured it was probably “Simpson,” the family name of Jesse’s wife. Hence, he submitted his appointment for Ulysses Simpson Grant.
When Grant arrived at West Point, there was no record of any H.U. Grant. He was admitted instead as U.S. Grant.
Grant’s fellow cadets joked that his initials stood for “United States.” But an upper classman decided that they stood for “Uncle Sam.” Thus, Grant was known at West Point, and for years thereafter, as Sam Grant.
The upper classman, by the way, was William T. Sherman.
When the war with Mexico broke out (or more accurately, when the U.S. succeeded in provoking it) Rep. Hamer — once again a good friend of Jesse Grant — signed on as a private in the Ohio volunteers. He quickly was promoted to General.
During the war, Hamer served with Grant. Hamer wrote that Grant was “a most remarkable soldier” for whom “I anticipate a brilliant career.”
Both served admirably. According to Wikipedia:
[Hamer] led his brigade with distinction into the fighting at the battle of Monterrey. When General Butler fell wounded, Hamer assumed command of the division. When Mexican General Pedro de Ampudia requested to discuss surrender terms, it was Hamer who delivered the message to General Taylor.
Unfortunately, Hamer died from dysentery while stationed in Monterrey. General Taylor said, “I have lost the balance wheel of my volunteer army.” Grant wrote to the widow that Hamer’s death was a “loss to me that no words can express.”
In his memoirs, written almost 40 years later, Grant repeated his praise of Hamer. He speculated that had Hamer not died in Mexico, he might very well have been elected president in 1852 instead of Franklin Pierce, another Democratic politician turned Mexican War General. Grant made clear his view that the U.S. would have been significantly better off with Hamer in the White House.
So let’s celebrate Thomas Hamer as an American patriot and the man who gave the country Ulysses Simpson Grant.