Monday, August 3, 2020

Ulysses S. Grant at Fort Humboldt, California

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the future eighteenth President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant wasn't currently serving in the army. He worked at a family-run store in Galena, Illinois. In his earlier life, however, he had a military career--one that began at West Point, continued through the Mexican-American War, and ended in 1854 at a small, fog-shrouded fort in Northern California.
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Ulysses S. Grant. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress / Public domain

Grant's orders to go to California came in 1852, when he was serving as a quartermaster in Detroit. He and other members of the 4th Infantry Regiment set sail from New York to Panama.

Grant's wife Julia, eight-months pregnant with their second child, did not accompany him on the journey--a wise choice, considering the cholera outbreak that hit their company in Panama. The surviving members of the regiment sailed from Panama to San Francisco, arriving in September of 1852, five months after setting out from New York.

Grant was stationed at a few forts, including those in Benicia, California and  Vanouver, Washington, before he was promoted to Captain. In January of 1854, he was sent to Fort Humboldt on Humboldt Bay, north of San Francisco, to serve as quartermaster.

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Fort Humboldt State Historic Park as it appears today. JP Smith / Public domain

Fort Humboldt was about a year old when Grant arrived, commanded by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Buchanan, a fellow veteran of the Mexican-American War. Comprised of just over a dozen buildings surrounding a central quad, the fort was not fenced, but it sat on a plateau overlooking the bay and Pacific Ocean. 

There were approximately forty men stationed there at the time, as well as a few wives and children (the fort doctor, Assistant Surgeon Simpson, lived in a house with his family). While the soldiers were called upon to intervene between conflicts between whites and the local populations, (most notably the so-called Red Cap War in 1855 and the Indian Island Massacre of 1860, when whites murdered up to 250 Wiyot people), it was fairly quiet during Grant's time at the fort.
File:Historic American Buildings Survey From Al Sondag Painting at G.G.I.E. (Taken from old photos) - Fort Humboldt, Eureka, Humboldt County, CA HABS CAL,12-EUR,5-1.tif
Historic American Buildings Survey From Al Sondag Painting at G.G.I.E. (Taken from old photos) - Fort Humboldt, Eureka, Humboldt County, CA. Public Domain.

By all accounts, Grant was good at his job as quartermaster at the fort. He procured the standard rations of salt pork, salt, vinegar, sugar, and other staples, but also supplemented the soldiers' meat by purchasing local goods and hiring a hunter, Seth Kinman, to bring elk and other game to the fort. 

Grant was not happy at Fort Humboldt, however. The area was isolated. Though a decorated soldier, Grant had little use for protocol, and he did not get along with his commanding officer, the strict Colonel Buchanan. 

Worse, he did handle his separation from his wife Julia well. During his absence, she gave birth to their second son, Ulysses Jr. (later known as Buck). Lonely, depressed, and bored, Grant began to drink. 

He spent significant time at a nearby Eureka tavern, and it did not take much alcohol for him to become inebriated (a problem that would follow him into the Civil War, when he was likewise separated from Julia). Colonel Buchanan reprimanded him, and Grant is said to have responded that if he couldn't or wouldn't quit drinking, he would resign.

He didn't quit drinking, though, and facing a court martial, he resigned his commission, effective July 31, 1854. Buchanan never submitted a formal report against Grant, who returned to St. Louis, Missouri to reunite with his family.

Soldiers remained at the fort through the Civil War, and Fort Humboldt was formally abandoned in 1870.

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Fort Humboldt hospital building, abandoned and dilapidated. Date unknown, Author unknown. Public Domain. Today it has been restored.

Today, the site is known as Fort Humboldt State Historic Park. The restored hospital still stands, and other buildings have been rebuilt, including Grant's former residence.

Despite the unpleasant memories of his time here, Grant is said to have thought California beautiful and hoped to return, which he did on his World Tour after the presidency. 

In an interesting twist, the son born after he set off on his California journey, Ulysses Grant Jr., did make California his home. He settled in San Diego in the late 1800's, where he became one of its most prominent and influential citizens.


The Soldier's Lady: 4 Stories of Frontier Adventures by [Susanne Dietze, Janette Foreman, Gabrielle Meyer, Lorna Seilstad]Susanne Dietze's latest story, Frontier of Her Heart | The Soldier's Lady, is set at Fort Humboldt during Grant's time there. Captain Grant is a minor character in the story, as is Colonel Buchanan and a third historical figure, the larger-than-life hunter Seth Kinman.

A California native, she is the award-winning author of several award-winning romances. You can learn more on her website,


  1. Very interesting. I didn't know Grant was stationed in California or that his son ended up there and did so well. Thanks for posting.

    1. Good morning, Linda. I grew up in San Diego and knew of the US Grant hotel there, but for many years I didn't know the connection! I had thought it was named in honor of President Grant, when in fact it was associated with his son!

      Thanks for coming by and saying hello!

  2. Thanks for the interesting post. I love how these posts bring out personal details of historic figures. It's good to know that Grant was cut from the same cloth as others and missed his family.

    1. Hi Connie! Yes, Grant was truly a man who loved his wife dearly and was at his best when he was with her and their children.

      I hope you have a lovely day. Thanks for coming by!

  3. I love this cover, Susie. It's seeped in the heart-wrenching sorrow that all military wives face no matter how long their loved ones are gone. Yet, we know it's a romance so although the road will be rocky, true love will endure in the end.
    I can't wait to read this one!

  4. This story sounds fascinating. I just enjoy.historical books. I hope this posts I have been having trouble with it today.