Back when Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming were part of the Oregon Territory, Ulysses S. Grant was stationed in the Pacific Northwest as a Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Army. After the Mexican War (1846-48) where he distinguished himself in battle as a Lieutenant serving under future President and then General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield Scott, he was stationed at Fort Vancouver and two areas in California. Reading Grant's autobiography “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant,” he explains how he desired to live in the area permanently one day.
With his family back east and the Army not affording him a good enough living, he was compelled to retire from his service of around 15 years (from entering West Point until he retired 1839 to 1854) and move back east with his family. Not too long after this, the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861 and he naturally started helping the National cause (living in Illinois at the time and working as a merchant) first by helping to organize recruits and then as an officer in the western war campaign. He went on to become the commanding General of the entire National Army and then to serve 8 years as the 18th U.S. President, all because of his military genius, honesty, and excellent leadership capabilities.
What surprised me about this great American man is how much he enjoyed the Oregon Territory and that he spent years in the Pacific Northwest. During this time, he tried to farm and do some side businesses, but his efforts failed for the most part. Reading about his life, the only three things he succeeded in with his vocations were being a soldier, a politician, and a writer. Essentially, he wasn’t good at business or farming.
Grant was in San Francisco in 1852 when the area was newly formed, alive with the gold rush, and wild with excitement. His regiment was stationed first at Benicia, California, a coastal city in the North Bay region of San Francisco Bay, and then at Fort Vancouver in 1852, which was part of the Oregon Territory until that winter of 1852-53 when it was divided into the Washington Territory. Oregon State was founded later in 1859 and was a free state as part of the Union. Grant talks about how the prices of food and supplies were heavily inflated on account of the gold rush; for instance, flour being 25 cents per pound.
Grant was later moved to Humboldt Bay, California to take charge of a company with a new promotion to Captain. This is where and when he decided to resign from the Army because he couldn’t see how to make enough money to take care of his family.
Here is a passage from his book about the Pacific Northwest:
I left the Pacific coast very much attached to it, and with the full expectation of making it my future home. That expectation and that hope remained uppermost in my mind until the Lieutenant-Generalcy bill was introduced into Congress in the winter of 1863-64. The passage of that bill, and my promotion, blasted my last hope of ever becoming a citizen of the further West.
It is interesting how much Grant loved the Pacific Northwest in his around two-year stay here in the military, from 1852-1854. Even after fighting in the Civil War for two years as a lower ranking General, he was still hoping to one day make it back to the Oregon Territory to make it his future home with his family.
It makes me wonder if he wasn’t made commander of the Union Army, maybe there would have been a Governor Grant in our early statehood. What an honor it would have been to have such a capable, honest, and good leader as part of our state's history. Of course, it is most likely the Confederate cause would have won without his top leadership of the Union Army.