It’s interesting to observe how serious researchers will often ignore evidence right before their eyes–evidence they don’t wish to see, that is. In the case of Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant, both husband and wife mention incidents where they had paranormal encounters, yet until Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, no historian saw fit to mention that fact.
In Chapter 8 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, one incident in particular is described in detail. Based on Julia Grant’s own detailed description of the incident, it chronicles how she had a “presentiment” when her husband was far away and in mortal danger at the Battle of Belmont. This was not the only such presentiment she tells us about either.
Ulysses Grant, while he was still a cadet at West Point, had what he regarded as a premonition of his future destiny. He was on parade one day, being inspected by a befeathered General Winfield Scott, when the notion suddenly came over him that one day he too would be head of the army. At the time, he tells us, he had no such ambition; rather, his goal in life was to graduate and become a teacher of mathematics. Going to West Point was merely Grant’s way of obtaining a college education, which he was too poor to obtain any other way.
It was Julia Grant’s dire presentiment of danger which also prevented the Grant’s from attending Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, when President Lincoln was assassinated–which is documented in Chapter 24 of Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War as well as Chapter 18 of the Paranormal Presidency. Were it not for Julia Grant “taking a freak” that afternoon and demanding they leave town in a hurry, undoubtedly General Grant may have fallen prey to the assassin’s dagger as well.
Now, one can easily make a case for dismissing such incidents as “coincidence.” Professional debunkers also like to use the term “delusions of the masses.” They are certainly entitled to their beliefs; but bear in mind they are just that: beliefs, not facts. Whether or not such uncanny encounters as the Grants and the Lincolns had were real is a moot point and must always remain so.
That the Grants–and other prominent people involved in the Civil War–believed such presentiments were real is, however, a cultural fact and a historical truth–and insofar as the serious student of the Civil War is concerned, that is what really matters.
For the rationalist prone to dismiss such beliefs out of hand, bear in mind that today we live in an era when unverified claims by radical groups pursuing an agenda are promoted as fact by the American media, leading directly to America becoming embroiled in foreign civil wars. Propaganda thus becomes uncritically accepted as fact; one should therefore not be so smug in one’s assumptions about the beliefs of earlier generations.
Many times during the Civil War, belief in presentiments, dreams, visions or other paranormal phenomena affected the way people acted and the decisions they made. The truth is that human beings are both rational and irrational and can be so at the same time; to only look at the rational side of human behavior is to ignore more than half of all human motivation and actions.
For more about the Grants, the Lincolns and others encounters with the paranormal during the Late Unpleasantness, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War published by Rutledge Hill Press (now an imprint of HarperCollins) and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, published by Schiffer Books.