Obscure, crucial war hero
By Robert C. Conner, Commentary
A generation later, after he lost all his money in a Wall Street scam, Grant told those stories and more in his Personal Memoirs, which he completed three days before dying of cancer in Saratoga County. The place where he spent those last weeks, preserved since then as a shrine to his memory, is on the grounds of Mount McGregor, a medium-security prison which is scheduled to close next year. It is reliant on the prison for sewage, water, power and security, but is owned by a different state department, the Parks Office, and operated by a private nonprofit, Friends of Grant Cottage.
If and when the prison does close, yet another state entity will try to sell it to a developer. But Grant Cottage and the nearby visitor center and overlook (which has a beautiful view of the Hudson Valley) may become part of an expanded Moreau State Park — which would be a good outcome.
I served as site interpreter at Grant Cottage in 2011 and 2012, when I began researching the life of another 39-year-old man who dwelt in obscurity in 1861, Gordon Granger. Granger was then still an Army lieutenant, who like Grant had gone to West Point and fought in Mexico. The two men never got on, as Grant's memoirs make abundantly clear, but there is another side to that story — Granger's — that seemed to me worth telling.
Granger was from upstate New York, and after the war had ties to this area. He had an infant daughter who died in 1875 in Saratoga Springs, as I found out from a filing cabinet at the Washington Street office of Bethesda Episcopal Church, which conducted her funeral service.
Grant became famous, the man who won the Civil War. Granger's name fell back into obscurity. But in 1865, just after the war, as commander of all U.S. troops in Texas, Granger's June 19 order abolishing slavery was one of the most significant documents of Reconstruction. It sparked "Juneteenth" celebrations that continue to this day all over the United States, including the Capital Region.
Grant was not the only man who won the war. On Sept. 20, 1863, Granger marched on his own authority to reinforce Gen. George Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga, and prevented a Union defeat from becoming a catastrophe. Had he and Thomas not held the line through the daylight hours, the entire Army of the Cumberland might well have been captured. That would have immeasurably raised Confederate morale and Union war-weariness. The results would definitely have reverberated into the next year, possibly contributing to the defeat of President Lincoln's re-election campaign, thus enabling the Confederacy to establish its independence. The actions of ordinary people can carry great weight.
Robert C. Conner is author of "General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind 'Juneteenth'," published last month by Casemate. He lives in Saratoga County.