MRS GRANT’S PRESENTIMENT

grants_ohiopix
Both Julia and the General were firm believers in the paranormal. The “presentiment” Julia had in Galena during the Battle of Belmont was one of the best examples of this.

It is a fact, ignored by academic historians, but well known among their contemporaries, that General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife were both strong believers in the paranormal. This was in large part due to their own experiences on a number of occasions over the years.

While the Grant’s paranormal experiences were covered in some depth in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, this present essay deals more narrowly with one incident that occurred in the first year of the war.

On the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant had had some trouble volunteering his services for the U.S. Army. Although they were in dire need of experienced officers, the Regular Army would have nothing to do with him. His peacetime reputation as an officer in service in California had earned him an odious reputation, whether deserved or not. However, the Governor of Illinois, who had an abundance of raw recruits but a shortage of officers to train them, had no such compunctions and Grant quickly rose to the rank of Colonel and then General of Volunteers.

In November of 1861, Grant was in charge of the Union command at Cairo, Illinois, in close proximity to large Confederate garrisons lining both sides of the Mississippi River in Missouri and Kentucky. To forestall a Rebel attack and also to give Federal troops under his command a taste of combat, Grant organized an amphibious raid across the river to the enemy camp of “Fort Johnson” at Belmont.

The main Confederate defenses were actually across the river in “neutral” Kentucky, on the commanding heights of Columbus, where the Secessionists had emplaced 140 big guns. The formidable array of artillery menaced any steamboats that dared come within range and effectively controlled the entire Mississippi River.

Rather than attempt to storm the steep heights where the enemy fortress lay, Grant resolved instead to attack the smaller Rebel camp nearby at Belmont, Missouri in a bend of the river. His troops were still green and he hoped an easy victory on the small camp there would prepare them for bigger fights to come.

At first, everything seemed to go as planned. The blue-clad troops debarked from the flotilla of steamships and made haste to attack the Rebel camp, while the gunboats Tyler and Lexington fired their heavy ordinance at the Columbus heights in a show of force.

lexington-and-tyler-duel-the-confederate-batteries at Columbus KY 640x433

 

The Secessionists, as green as the Federal troops were, after a sharp initial fight fled Fort Johnson in haste, leaving all sorts of booty to loot.

Grant’s plan had been to move on and secure the entire area, taking advantage of the element of surprise to eliminate all resistance before returning to the boats. But his soldiers, still more civilian than soldier and ill disciplined, saw all the spoils of war in the Rebel camp—especially cooked meals ready to be eaten—abandoned all thought of the enemy and set to pillaging the Rebel camp and, “demoralized from their victory,” congratulated themselves on their glorious victory.

Even as the Union soldiers celebrated their incomplete triumph, however, the enemy was busy ferrying troops across the river from the Kentucky side and massing for a counter attack.

Soon the tables were turned and Grant’s force was in imminent danger of being surrounded. The overconfident troops now fell into despair and called out to surrender. To the cries to give up, Grant simply replied, “”well, we must cut our way out as we cut our way in!”

Grant tried to re-organize his panicked troops and make an orderly withdrawal, but when he went to look after his rearguard, he found they’d fled helter-skelter along with the other troops, leaving Grant an army of one with Rebel troops closing in all around him.

Taking advantage of tall grass, Grant calmly led his horse around the advancing enemy columns until he got close to the shoreline. Then Grant made a mad dash on his horse towards an awaiting steamboat, bullets whizzing past his ears all the time. Grant spurred his horse up the proffered gangplank and onto the last departing boat, barely ahead of charging grey ranks, the steamer then making haste to escape the surging enemy mass.

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This much the histories tell us. But the rest of what transpired that day remains largely unreported, even to this day. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs, although known about for a long time, remained unpublished until 1975 and even since, Civil War historians have been highly selective in what they choose to use from her account.

On the same day that her husband led the raid against the enemy camp at Belmont, Julia Grant was busy packing her belongings to be with her husband at the border town of Cairo, Illinois. Grant had managed to organize the garrison there into something resembling order and located less rough accommodations for his family than had been the case when he first arrived.

That afternoon, Julia was busy packing her trunks in preparation to board the train for Cairo. In the mid of this flurry of activity, suddenly she had an overwhelming sense of foreboding take hold of her.

Julia could not understand why she should feel such dread and thought that perhaps she might be coming down with some disease. Unable to breathe and feeling like she might faint, Julia excused herself from her companion and made her way upstairs to lie down till the spell passed.

In the Room Where it Happened

galena-illinois-interior-view-of-general-ulysses-s-grant-s-house-grant-s-bedroom-c-1955
Overcome by a strange sense of dread, Julia went up to her bedroom to lie down, that is where she saw the vision of her husband in trouble.

When Julia entered her bedroom, however, she was startled to see a vivid apparition. It was no ordinary ghost, but the quite real-looking image of her husband Ulysses.

Julia could see the general’s head and upper torso quite clearly, and the image seemed real enough. However, his upper body seemed to hang suspended in mid-air, with his lower body not visible. It seemed as if he were mounted on horseback, but with the rest of the apparition and background not visible to her eyes.

Julia intuitively sensed that her Ulyss was in grave danger, although she knew not why or how. What she did know was that the vision before her was quite real and very disturbing. Julia let out a shriek, and instantly fainted away.

When Julia awoke, the vision was gone, but her apprehension remained. Unable to account for this vision, Mrs. Grant made haste to get to Cairo, to see what danger her husband may be in. While on the train, Julia received word about the Battle of Belmont that her Ulyss had been in. At the train station she found Grant waiting for her and he seemed well enough.

During the ride to their quarters from the station, however, Julia told her husband all about her waking vision of him and her extreme apprehension for his well being as a result.

After listening to her story, Grant replied, “that is singular. Just about that time, I was on horseback and in great peril, and I thought of you and the children. I was thinking of you, my dear Julia, and very earnestly too.”

In his memoirs, Grant later confessed that, throughout the war, he never felt so close to death in any other battle as he did that afternoon at Belmont.

It was a singular event indeed.

For more about uncanny and unusual aspects of the Civil War, read Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, published by HarperCollins Publishers.

 

 

 

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Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.                                                                                                               For a free look inside the book, go to: HarperCollins                                                    

 

 

 

Good Friday: The Day Lincoln Died

 

01 Gardner Lincoln fatal look

     Today is the day that Lincoln died. It was on April 14, 1865—another Good Friday to be precise—that Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was murdered in cold blood.  Young Mary Brennan, an Irish immigrant only recently arrived to our shores, remembered well that dreadful day for the rest of her life.  A devout Catholic, she, like many a Protestant of the day, regarded Good Friday, the day Christ died, as a solemn holy day and one not to be commemorated by going out the theater.  “He never would have died,” she would often say, ”had he not gone to see a play on Good Friday.”  Great grandmother was a font of such sayings and superstitions, she was, and her many descendants can still recite one or another of her sayings at will.

Another political commentary on Secession
A political cartoon from the time of the Civil War, showing John Bull (England) and Napoleon Bonaparte (France) waiting in the background for the US to be destroyed.

     But Abraham Lincoln, never a “technical Christian,” had ample reason to celebrate that Friday, April 14 so many years ago.  Robert E. Lee and his army had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant scarcely a week before and that very morning the general was delivering his report to the President and Cabinet in person.  For the first time in four years, Lincoln, who frequently suffered from “melancholy” seemed uncommonly hopeful, now that the end of the Rebellion was in sight.  Lincoln could at last look ahead to the future, to peace and to the task of rebuilding a nation torn apart by a fratricidal conflict.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.
Lincoln and his Cabinet earlier in the war. Their last meeting was on the day he died, April 14, when he told them of his “usual dream.”

     As his Cabinet chatted before the official beginning of the meeting, Lincoln also told them that Friday about the “usual dream” he had had only the night before.  He explained that before every major event of the war he had dreamed the same dream: of a ship sailing towards a distant shore.  It always portended important war news.  Lincoln, raised on presentments, omens and prophetic dreams, believed that this latest portent was a sign of something momentous about to happen.

Uncle Billy & Uncle Joe

  Cabinet met, Lincoln was expecting news from Sherman in North Carolina, where “Uncle Billy” had run to ground the once proud Confederate Army of Tennessee, now commanded by “Uncle Joe” Johnston.  Johnston’s force was but a hollow shell of what it had once been, but the proud Rebels, barefoot and in rags, could still fight like wildcats—albeit cornered wildcats.  Lincoln hoped to hear that Johnston too had surrendered, marking the end of organized resistance.  Surely the “usual dream” portended this, thought Lincoln.

     Later that day, as Lincoln and his wife readied for the theater, the President was in an uncommonly optimistic mood, not realizing the prophetic dream portended not good news on Good Friday, but ill.  For even as they dressed for the night, across town a band of conspirators were also preparing for the night—but their performance would end in death and mayhem.

     Much has been written about that day and about the conspirators led by John Wilkes Booth; yet, to this day there is no certainty as to how deeply the Booth Conspiracy to do away with Lincoln and his Cabinet ran.  To be sure, many were arrested and most of the leading conspirators executed.  But Mary Lincoln, for one, had her suspicions that there were others involved who got away—including some high placed in the Lincoln administration.  Mrs. Grant too, had had a terrifying incident that day that lead her to believe not all the culprits had been caught.  But historians hate loose ends and the strands of evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy lie moldering in archives and museums little looked at or considered. Still, the truth may still be out there.

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth, actor, Rebel spy and leader of the conspiracy to murder Lincoln

     What is proven about the events of Good Friday, April 14, is tragic enough, however.  Just as Lincoln’s ship of state was about to reach that far and distant shore of peace, the captain—Lincoln—was cut down.  How different our history would have been had Lincoln survived to oversee the peace as he had the war!  We can be sure that the “Better Angels of our Nature” would have thrived under his leadership and the postwar darkness and violence, and the enduring aftermath of meanness and divisiveness that still dogs our nation to this day would have been greatly diminished, if not prevented entirely.

     Greatness is not to be measured in the number of bombs one drops or the number of innocents one kills; Lincoln did not rejoice in war and wished it brought to a speedy end.  No, what was great about Lincoln and Lincoln’s America was its struggle for equality, for social justice, and for the betterment of the average worker, not some aristocratic elite. The President who created land-grant universities to provide free college education, who redistributed millions of acres of land to any who would settle and till it, who fought and died for racial equality, and who sought to unite the nation from seas to sea with modern transportation: these and other social and economic programs were what truly made Lincoln great—not his leadership of a war that was forced on him by the Cotton Slaveocracy and other elites who benefitted from human bondage.  In the end, Lincoln paid for his achievements in human progress with his life.  As we commemorate Good Friday this April 14, this too should be borne in mind.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.

 

 

 

 

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day Lincoln Was Assassinated: The Final Premonition

PP Lincoln and his Prophetic Dreams Ridiculed
Lincoln’s belief in prophetic dreams were well known during his lifetime and were ridiculed by his political enemies.

“Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are
signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has
not yet found the key”  Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre 

As every school child knows–or should know–Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was assassinated on April 14, 1865, breathing his last in the early morning hours of the following day, April 15.  Less well known is that, on the very morning of his assassination, Lincoln revealed to his cabinet a premonition—a presentiment some would call it—of his very own death.

The incident has been a favorite anecdote of Lincoln biographers for generations, although academic historians have tended to dismiss or ignore it.  In researching The Paranormal Presidency, however, I went back into the primary sources, to people who worked with Lincoln or were his friends, to verify the story. Often times an anecdote, especially one about Lincoln, makes for a good story and is repeated over and over, yet has no basis in fact. At first glance, this premonition of Lincoln’s might seem to fit that category.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.
Lincoln and his Cabinet earlier in the war. Their last meeting was on the day he died, when he told them of his “usual dream.”

While I give Lincoln’s final premonition in full in Chapter 17 of the Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, for those poor deprived souls who have not yet had the opportunity to read it, a brief synopsis is warranted.

During the cabinet meeting on the morning of April 14, while waiting for the meeting to begin in earnest, Lincoln related a strange dream he had had the night before. It was about a ship sailing to an indefinite shore. What was peculiar about the dream was, he told his cabinet (which included General Grant on that day) that he had had this very same dream before every major event of the war. As Lincoln was hourly expecting news from the Carolinas from Sherman, that the last major Confederate army had surrendered, Lincoln assumed it would be good news from that front.

Doubtless at the time of the meeting, it was regarded as yet another of Lincoln’s little anecdotes that his cabinet had to suffer through.  It was only after he was assassinated that night that everyone present realized that Lincoln had actually foretold his own death.

As noted above, this incident has been told and retold by many folks over the years. Charles Dickens gave a dramatic version of the story, obviously with added Dickensian touches.  Lincoln’s close friend and sometime bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, likewise ornamented the story a bit. Moreover, as time went on, many other writers further elaborated on it. So, for the professional debunkers out there, it has been easy to dismiss the story as fiction, something invented long after the fact.

Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln's close friend and sometime bodyguard and also wrote about Lincoln's final premonition.
Ward Hill Lamon was Lincoln’s close friend and sometime bodyguard and also wrote about Lincoln’s final premonition.

The trouble with professional cynics is that, starting from a priori assumptions, they rarely look at the facts objectively.  More often than not they skip over primary sources that are inconvenient to their already formed thesis. Certainly, a healthy skepticism is a good thing: cynicism in not. Neither is shoddy scholarship.

In fact, there were at least two men present during the Cabinet meeting in question who reported Lincoln’s prophetic dream.  There are slight variations in quoting Lincoln’s exact words, as there are with Lamon’s account. However, any researcher who has dealt extensively with eyewitness accounts knows that such things are to be expected, especially concerning famous or traumatic events.

Within days of his death news of the incident had spread far and wide. When Lincoln’s body was being returned by train to Springfield, Illinois stopped in Philadelphia, on April 22, his body put on display for mourners to view. Among the many memorial wreaths beside the body was one which stood out. It had a banner emblazoned across it which read:

“Before every great national event I
have always had the same dream.
I had it the other night. It is of a
ship sailing rapidly….”

The crowd in Philadelphia that April 22, needed no explanation as to the meaning of that quote. Remarkably, word of Lincoln’s last prophetic dream had already become common knowledge throughout the Northern states. This is not prima facie evidence, it is true; but is proof that the story was no later invention by some fevered hack writer.

Lincoln’s last premonition is a historic fact. That is incontrovertible and true. One can choose to dismiss it as mere “coincidence” if one wishes.  Many have, and that is always a convenient rationalization for an inconvenient truth one wishes not to believe.  Folks are free to believe what they want. But it did happen.

Walt Whitman, who was in Washington during the war years, was so inspired by Lincoln’s prophetic dream that he turned it into one of his most famous poems, O Captain! My Captain! When I was a boy, in fact, we were required to memorize it, along with other famous pieces of American poetry. I doubt they do that any more; and I doubt that many folks who are familiar with the poem really know the true background behind it.

PP  Walt Whitman wrote a poem based on Lincoln's  final prophetic dream
Walt Whitman wrote his famous poem “O Captain! My Captain!” based on Lincoln’s last prophetic dream.

Clearly, Lincoln dreamed of his ship approaching that “indefinite shore,” and while soon after, “The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,”
Lincoln, its captain, did not live to see the ship of state safe in port.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on this last, best documented, of Lincoln’s many presentiments, prophetic dreams and premonitions, as well as the full text of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” read The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Oh yes, and be sure to memorize the poem for class next Monday!  Class dismissed.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.

 

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor.  But Bierce also served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of this famous authors life.

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

 

Fayette Hall Lincoln on Dancing Piano fac 34a

In my recent book, The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, (Schiffer Press) I document in depth Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and practices regarding the supernatural.  Although Lincoln’s fascination with the paranormal has been talked about by historians such as Carl Sandburg and others for generations, before this present book, no one had taken a serious or objective look at the evidence.

On a number of occasions Lincoln attended séances, both at the White House and elsewhere, with famed psychic Nettie Colburn Maynard.
On a number of occasions Lincoln attended séances, both at the White House and elsewhere, with famed psychic Nettie Colburn Maynard.

The Paranormal Presidency  changes all that. In heavily footnoted chapter after chapter, we analyze various claims relating to Lincoln’s belief in the paranormal and certain practices which he actually participated in.

However, one issue which I did not tackle directly was the question of whether Lincoln actually was psychic or not. While I document what Lincoln and his contemporaries believed in, practiced and experienced, whether such phenomena really were supernatural or not–whether there is even really such a thing as the paranormal–all that is beyond the scope of historical enquiry.

Rather, I left it to the reader to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves.

Suffice it to say, however, that from early youth Lincoln had a firm belief in things we would call supernatural. Prophetic dreams, visions, omens and signs, and other uncanny events: all were part and parcel of Lincoln’s life, career and the world he lived in.

In future articles in this blog I will go into more specifics, providing details of Lincoln and his associates’ uncanny encounters and the nature of the evidence I evaluated in reaching my conclusions which I did not go into in the book. In many cases what they believed to be true directly affected their decision-making during the Civil War.

Lincoln's Assassination on Good Friday of 1865 was not the end of paranormal incidents regarding the president.  Many claim to have seen him in various locations in both Washington and in Springfield, Illinois
Lincoln’s Assassination on Good Friday of 1865 was not the end of paranormal incidents regarding the president. Many claim to have seen him in various locations in both Washington and in Springfield, Illinois

For more details about Lincoln’s relationship to paranormal, supernatural and unexplainable events, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time this book documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.