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Ulysses S. Grant’s Life and Legacy: Teaching with Museum Collections Lesson Plan

Ulysses S. Grant Four Days* Before His Death
Ulysses S. Grant Four Days Before His Death, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, ULSG 7680

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A. Title: Ulysses S. Grant’s Life and Legacy

  • Developer: Nick Sacco, Park Ranger, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
  • Grade Level: Upper Elementary (Grades 3-5)
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan: 4 Sessions, 45-60 minutes each

B. Overview

  • Park Name: Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
  • Description: This set of activities highlights Ulysses S. Grant’s life experiences in St. Louis, Missouri, and how his legacy was commemorated after his death in 1885. Students will study Grant’s life through four primary source documents, several discussion guides, and a drawing activity. These activities will help students better understand Grant’s life experiences and how memories shape the ways people understand the past.
  • Essential Question: How do primary source documents help scholars understand Ulysses S. Grant and the people around him?

C. Museum Collections and Other Resources Used in this Lesson Plan

NPS Museum Object or Image NPS & Other Resources Time

Primary Source Document #1: Frederick F. Dent Bill of Sale

NPS Resources

Other Resources

45 Minutes

Primary Source Document #2: “Dearest Julia” Letter

NPS Resources

Other Resources

45 Minutes

Primary Source Document #3: Ulysses S. Grant Four Days Before His Death

NPS Resources:

Other Resources:

45 Minutes
Primary Source Document #4: Original Paris Green Paint

NPS Resources:

45 Minutes

D. Background and Historical Context

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) is one of the most important Americans of the nineteenth century. Grant is most famous for commanding all U.S. Army forces as Lieutenant General during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) and for serving two-terms as President of the United States (1869 – 1877). Before he became famous as a general and president, Grant was a farmer in St. Louis, Missouri.

From 1854 to 1859, Grant lived at White Haven, the childhood home of his wife, Julia Dent Grant. During this time Grant lived at the home with his wife, four children, and Julia’s parents, Frederick and Ellen Dent. Additionally, the Dent family enslaved thirty African American laborers who also lived on the property, and Grant himself enslaved a man named William Jones for part of the time he lived at White Haven. Grant worked to raise fruit and vegetable crops on the farm, but most of the labor was done by enslaved people. While the Grants had many happy memories from their time at White Haven, farming was a struggle for Grant. He freed William Jones on March 29, 1859, and a year later he moved his family to Galena, Illinois.

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site was established as a unit of the National Park Service in 1989 to interpret not just Grant’s public service to the country but also his personal life. Equally important, the park works to interpret Julia Grant’s life, the Dent family, and the enslaved people who lived alongside Grant in the 1850s. Few primary source documents remain from Grant’s time in St. Louis, but these documents shed light on Grant’s relationship with slavery, his loving partnership with Julia Grant, and his ownership of White Haven during his presidency. The below documents are a part of the museum collections at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.

E. Vocabulary

  • American Civil War: A four-year war (1861 – 1865) in the United States between eleven Southern states and the remaining states in the country that was caused by disagreements over slavery.
  • Bill of Sale: A document that certifies the transfer of property from one person to another.
  • Commemoration: The process of remembering a person or event.
  • Commence: To begin or start.
  • Domestic Slave Trade: A system established in the United States to regulate the buying and selling of enslaved African Americans.
  • Enslaved Person: A person legally owned by another person and forced to work without pay.
  • Enslaver: A person who claims ownership of another human.
  • Mausoleum: A large structure that houses one or more tombs.
  • Mulatto: A person of mixed races, usually of African and European ancestry.
  • Property: A thing that belongs to someone, such as a house, car, or clothing.
  • Slavery: A system by which humans own other humans as property. In the United States, slavery was based on race and upwards of four million African Americans were enslaved in 1860.
  • Union: A form of government based on voting rights and equality that binds all the U.S. states together.

F. Lesson Implementation Procedures

Primary Source Document #1: Frederick F. Dent Bill of Sale

Objective: Students will learn about the domestic slave trade and how the Dent family used this trade during the American Civil War. Students will better understand how a central inhumanity of slavery was the buying and selling of people as property.

NPS Resources

Other Resources

Primary Source Document #2: “Dearest Julia” Letter


Objective: Students will learn about the importance of writing letters to stay in touch with friends and family during the 19th century.

NPS Resources

Other Resources

Activity: Discussion guide with four reflective questions.

Primary Source Document #3: Picture of Ulysses S. Grant Four Days Before His Death

Objective: Students will better appreciate Ulysses S. Grant’s importance to 19th century Americans during his lifetime.

NPS Resources:

Other Resources:

Activity: Students will create their own memorial to Ulysses S. Grant and complete a discussion guide.

Creating a Memorial to Ulysses S. Grant’s Life
Americans mourned Ulysses S. Grant’s death in 1885. More than one million people attended his funeral in New York City. Since then, Grant’s life has been commemorated (the process of remembering a person or event) in different ways. Look at the examples below and answer the questions.

Memorial to Ulysses S. Grant’s Life Example.
Memorials to Ulysses S. Grant’s Life

Discussion Guide
After reading through the various resources for this lesson, complete the discussion questions below.

  1. In your opinion, what form of remembrance does the best job in telling Grant’s life story?
  2. If you were asked to create a new memorial to Ulysses S. Grant, what would you design? Draw your ideas below.

Primary Source Document #4: Paris Green paint at White Haven

Objective: Students will contemplate the ways people use their homes as a form of cultural expression.

NPS Resources:

Activity: Discussion Guide with Drawing Activity

G. Resources

Visit the “History & Culture” section of Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site’s website to learn more about Ulysses S. Grant and the people who lived with him at White Haven in the 1850s.

For students, the following books are recommended introductions to Ulysses S. Grant’s life:

Marszalek, John F., Nolen, David S. et al. Hold On with a Bulldog Grip: A Short Study of Ulysses S. Grant (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2019).

Stark. Ken. Marching to Appomattox: The Footrace that Ended the Civil War (New York: Puffin Books, 2015).

Stine, Megan. Who Was Ulysses S. Grant? (New York: Penguin, 2014).

H. Site visits to Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site include the following:

  • A 22-minute introductory video about Ulysses S. Grant’s life. This video provides a broad overview of Grant’s efforts to save the Union and promote peace during the Civil War era. A particular focus is given to Grant’s promotion of civil rights during his presidency.
  • Tours of Ulysses S. Grant’s home, White Haven
  • A self-guided museum with historical artifacts connected to Grant’s personal life and public service to the country.
  • "Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Dent Grant” virtual museum exhibit

Last updated: July 6, 2022