On April 27, America celebrated the 200th birthday of Ulysses S. Grant, the general who turned the Civil War into a Union victory and then became President of the United States.
The sprawling home called White Haven, located near St. Louis where he and his family lived before the war, is one of many Grant-related locations across the country celebrating the bicentennial.
White Haven, now a National Historic Site, was his wife’s birthplace and later a home for Grants from 1854 to 1859.
It was on the 850-acre plantation that Grant struggled to farm, fell into debt, and began his long battle with malaria. In 1860 he moved his family to Galena, Illinois so he could support them while working for the family leather business.
A year later, Confederate soldiers fired the first shots at Fort Sumter and the Civil War began. After the war, Grant began acquiring pieces of the White Haven property, although he never lived there permanently again.
White Haven hosts Grant-inspired events through the end of the year for the Bicentennial, including ranger talks, living history shows, horseback riding program, historic weapons demonstrations, baseball games of the Civil War, special themed tours and a series of concerts.
The plantation was built by Colonel Frederick Dent, father of Julia Dent who married Grant in August 1848. They had met in 1844 through Julia’s brother and Grant’s roommate during her final year at West Point.
While stationed at Jefferson Barracks, just 5 miles from White Haven, Grant visited the plantation frequently. He proposed to Julia on the porch.
Today, the site comprises 10 acres of land and has become a melting pot of mid-19th century history where visitors can examine the lives of the Dent and Grant families, as well as their enslaved workforce.
The lives of plantation workers are central to the operation at White Haven, said Nick Sacco, a site ranger.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on the experiences of slaves,” Sacco said.
“On plantations like White Haven, there are different perspectives and different experiences. The Grant and Dent families proudly called White Haven home, but the slaves may not have felt the same way.
Tourist attractions include the main house, the winter and summer kitchens, the chicken coop, the ice house and the stable, which now serves as a museum.
Guests can participate in three main activities – ranger-led tours, a self-guided museum experience, and a 22-minute video in the visitor center.
“I think what makes this site unique is that it’s a place to really learn about Grant’s personal life,” Sacco said.
“It really is a place to learn more about Grant the father, Grant the family man and learn more about the St. Louis background and how St. Louis shaped Grant’s life.”