The romance of Julia and Ulysses S. Grant faced many obstacles. My favorite obstacle, and the one I find most romantic, was young Ulysses' shyness.
The Grants' granddaughter, Princess Julia Cantacuzene, remembered her "grandmama" Julia telling her that Second Lieutenant U.S. Grant was "shy, but determined in pursuing her." Ulysses himself, in his memoirs, recalled of his marriage proposal: "I mustered up courage to make known, in the most awkward manner imaginable, the discovery I had made on learning that the 4th infantry had been ordered away from Jefferson Barracks."
The "discovery" that Ulysses had made, was that he was in love with Julia and wanted to marry her.
Many years later, when Ulysses was President and Julia was his first lady, she wrote him a note reminding him that this particular date was the date that he proposed to her so many years ago. He wrote on the back of the note, saying that he remembered proposing, but he admitted: "I was so frightened however that I do not remember whether it was warm or snowing."
The future eighteenth president and general whose very name struck fear in his enemies, was afraid to declare his love, but he mustered up courage and did it. This was probably Ulysses at his bravest.
Young Ulysses faced physical obstacles as well. The night that he came to propose to Julia, he had to cross the normally placid Gravois Creek to get to his love. That night, it was pouring rain, and the creek became a raging torrent. Determined, and always superstitious about turning back, Ulysses plunged into the creek and nearly drowned, trying to get to his beloved. He survived, and went on to propose to her on the way to a friend's wedding.
The Mexican War and subsequent build up of troops on the borders of Mexico sent young second Lieutenant Grant far away from his beloved for four years. Ulysses overcame the separation by sending his betrothed passionate love letters, so she would never forget him, his devotion to her, his love.
Julia's parents objected to their romance. Why, he was a poor Yankee, and she lived the life of a wealthy Southern belle! When Ulysses wrote to Julia's father, asking permission to write to her, her father, Colonel Dent, never wrote back. Still, Ulysses persisted, and his reference to the lack of response from her parents is rather humorous: "Of course I cannot argue any thing very strong in favor of my request being granted from their not answering it..."
Julia's parents probably hoped that time and distance would end the longings of Julia and Ulysses for each other. But they were wrong. Ulysses returned from the Mexican War a Captain, commended for his bravery, and he finally married Julia on August 22, 1848, in her parents' townhouse in St. Louis. His parents must have objected, as well, for they did not attend their son's wedding, a rebuke which must have hurt him terribly.
Separations during their marriage, especially a separation of two years when Captain Grant was stationed on the West Coast, away from his family, might have worn down the greatest of loves. Ulysses wrote to Julia that he had dreamed she had forgotten him. He actually had to resign the army after eleven years of service, all to be reunited with Julia and their little family.
Ulysses loved being with his wife and children. I always love to read about how he was a "happy family man." The beginning of the Civil War in 1861 brought new threats to the bond of Julia and Ulysses: his desire to return to the army, to serve his country and fight for the Union, and her sympathies with the Southern cause. Julia had been born into the slave owning aristocracy, and actually had three slaves of her own who had waited on her hand and foot since childhood. And now, her husband wanted to fight on the side which sought to bring down the life she had always loved.
In one of his first letters home following the start of the Civil War, Ulysses wrote Julia: "I hope by this time you feel as loyal to the Union as Aunt Fanny does." This implies that Julia was not loyal to the Union in the beginning. Her father, to whom she was very close, was a staunch Confederate.
As the Civil War progressed, Julia's Southern neighbors expressed outrage at the actions of her husband, Ulysses, who was rising higher in the Union Army.
Julia's beloved "Ulys" rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and Supreme Commander of all U.S. Armies.
But the Union high command, indeed, the entire Union army must have known, that Ulysses loved his little Southern wife so much, he needed her so much, that if he was long separated from her, he began to drink. It became necessary for the Union Army to keep Ulysses' Southern wife with him as often as possible, in the Army camps, or in nearby houses commandeered from the Confederates.
Julia must have known she was betraying her own people, bringing down her own culture, by staying with Ulysses. But her love for him was more powerful than anything, and she stuck by him, to the end.
Horace Porter, General Grant's Aide-de-camp, remembered Ulysses "kissing her repeatedly" before going off to face Robert E. Lee. Other officers wrote of General Grant "holding fast to his wife's hand" and Horace Porter remembered the blushing couple holding hands in a private corner in the evenings.
The love affair of Julia and Ulysses S. Grant overcame every obstacle, saved the United States, and changed the world.