ROAD TRIPPIN' Galena: Civil War history
GALENA, Illinois (CBS2/FOX28) —
You can almost imagine him sitting on his porch, taking in the best view in town of church steeples and quaint neighborhoods far down below the beautiful brick house on the hill.
He may have been war weary, he may have been pondering his future, but at least Ulysses S. Grant knew he was home. Interpretive Coordinator Jamie Loso says half the visitors to Galena likely travel here because of the iconic General and President and the other half are amazed to find out the architect of the Union's Civil War victory lived here before the battle began. Grant was retired military, working a failing farm in Missouri when Loso says his family asked him to help out after a brother fell ill.
"So he and his wife and four children moved to Galena in 1860 and he was a clerk in his father's leather shop. They were here for about 11 months and then the Civil War broke out."
The rest, as they say, is history. The West Point Grad became President Lincoln's right arm during the bloodiest war in U.S. history. He lead the charge at places like Shilo, Vicksburg and finally Appomattox and was so beloved after the South surrendered, town leaders presented him with the grand furnished home when he returned. Visitors come through the white picket fence in droves and the Grant Home is a regular stop on the trolley tour of Galena. They come to step back in time. The inside is almost as it was left when former First Lady Julia Grant passed away in the early 1900s. Their four children wanted a meaningful memorial to their parents and gave the deed to the city. It went immediately from being a residence, to being open to the public. Consequently an amazing 90% of the furnishings are original.
The parlor is adorned with beautifully carved tables and chairs, a prominent painting over the fireplace of General Grant meeting with Lincoln and Grant's favorite chair, which traveled with him anytime he left the White House on trips. Upstairs, the children's bedrooms appear as though the kids just left them. A rocking horse waits at the foot of the bed for youngest son Jesse and daughter Nellie's dolls are still resting against her pillows. Loso says it's an amazing moment frozen in time.
"We get history buffs, we get Civil War buffs, we get families on day trips, we get honeymooners, you name it, we get everybody here in Galena and here at the home."
In the card room, near the poker table, sits an entire bucket of cigars. They became Grant's signature after a photograph appeared in papers following one of his battlefield victories. Admirers sent him thousands of cigars and reports indicate he did his best to smoke them, finishing up to 20 a day. Just off the kitchen, a few steps from water that would have been heating on the stove, a true luxury for 1860's living. The Grants owned an indoor copper bathtub. Loso says it speaks to living in style, but also why youngsters might have preferred to stay dirty.
"Because it took a lot of work, bath night was only one night a week. Saturday night everybody in the family used the same water going from oldest to youngest. So there's that saying, don't throw the baby out with the bath water, that's where that came from." The home is a unique peek into the life of a hometown hero and Civil War icon that continues to keep history alive.