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Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
18th President of the United States, 1869-1877
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General Grant National Memorial
New York

Grant's Tomb
Grant's Tomb
National Park Service

Standing on a bluff high above the Hudson River in Manhattan, the imposing General Grant National Memorial commemorates the life and accomplishments of the victorious Union commander of the Civil War and 18th president of the United States.  Popularly known as “Grant’s Tomb,” it is the final resting place of both Ulysses S. Grant and his beloved wife, Julia.  One of the largest mausoleums in the world, the memorial contains representations of Grant’s entire life: his formative years, marriage, military life, civilian career, and death, especially his roles as Civil War leader and president.

His fellow countrymen revered Grant, and his magnificent tomb was built entirely with donations from the public. They recognized that his critical victory at Vicksburg in 1863 altered the course of the Civil War; his relentless pursuit of Lee's army yielded final victory after years of failure by Union generals; and as president his enforcement of voting rights for formerly enslaved men opened the first opportunity for African Americans to participate in the political process. Finally, while president, Grant authorized the collection, editing, and publication of the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion" which was the first attempt ever to provide a documentary account of both the winning and losing sides of a war. All subsequent Civil War historians have relied on this immense work to separate fact from sometimes faulty memory.

Grant, his wife, and their youngest son embarked on a worldwide tour six weeks after the end of his second term as president.  He received royal treatment wherever he went and met many world leaders.  Upon returning to the United States, Grant used money that his friends and supporters had given him to buy a house in New York City.  He continued to travel, visiting the West Indies and Mexico.  He again sought the Republican nomination for president in 1880, but lost.  In 1882, he borrowed $100,000 to invest in a financial firm with which one of his sons was associated.  The enterprise ended in bankruptcy in 1884, but Grant felt personally responsible for repaying the debt.  He ended up selling everything he owned except the house in New York City where he lived.  In the same year, doctors told Grant that he had cancer of the throat.  In a desperate attempt to provide his penniless family with some kind of inheritance, he struggled to finish his memoirs.  Grant died on July 23, 1885 at a summer cottage in the Adirondack Mountains, only four days after completing the book.  Published by Mark Twain, the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant earned his family almost half a million dollars in royalties over the next two years and has been hailed as a classic ever since.

By the time Grant died, most people had forgotten the scandals of his administration, and he had the respect of Americans in the North and South.  At his funeral in New York City on August 8, 1885, an estimated one million people gathered to watch the seven-mile long funeral procession, which took five hours to pass by.  The body rested first in a temporary tomb on land in Riverside Park on the bluffs overlooking the river near New York City.  It took 12 years to complete a tomb worthy of the national hero many Americans compared to Washington and Lincoln.  Approximately 90,000 people from around the country and the world donated a total of over $600,000 toward construction of the memorial, the largest public fundraising effort ever at that time.  Thousands of people, including President McKinley and Julia Grant, attended the grand military review and dedication ceremony on Grant Day, April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of his birth.

Grant writing his memoirs in 1885
Grant writing his memoirs in 1885
Library of Congress

Local architect John Duncan won the competition to design the memorial.  His design included elements from the famous Mausoleum of King Maussollos at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and from the burial places of other great men.  The exterior of the building is grey granite and rises in three stages to a height of 150 feet.  The lowest stage is 72 feet high and square in plan.  A projecting portico of six heavy Doric columns marks the entrance; there are niches containing four columns each on the other three sides.  Supported by slender Corinthian columns, the second level is a tall circular drum. The final stage is a stepped dome with a five-ton capstone.  The finished building does not include many of the elaborate sculptural details in the original plan, although there are sculptures personifying Victory and Peace on either side of the Grant’s epitaph over the portico: “LET US HAVE PEACE.”

Massive bronze doors lead into the white marble interior, which centers around an open crypt on the lower level containing the red marble tombs of Ulysses and Julia Dent Grant.  Two trophy rooms display Union Army battle flags and mural maps of some of Grant’s most important battles.  Mosaics depict the battles of Vicksburg and Chattanooga and General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.  Between the arches of the rotunda are allegorical figures representing Grant's youth, military service, civil life, and death.  In niches around the walls of the crypt are bronze busts of five of Grant's Civil War comrades-in-arms:  Generals William T. Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan, George H. Thomas, Edward O. C. Ord, and James B. McPherson.

Plan your visit

General Grant National Memorial located at the intersection of Riverside Dr. and W. 122 St., in New York City, is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text.  The memorial and all programs and activities are free of charge.  General Grant National Memorial is open 10:00am to 5:00pm, Thursday through Monday. Site introductory talks are available on the hour from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and special interpretive programs are offered daily at 10:30am, 12:30pm, and 2:30pm. Free talks are also available to the public at the visitor center located across the street from the memorial, at 11:15 AM, 1:15 PM, and 3:15 PM Thursday through Monday.  The site is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.   Program themes change daily so please call 212-666-1640 for details. For more information on the many activities available, visit the National Park Service General Grant National Memorial or call 212-666-1640.

General Grant National Memorial has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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