Connections of Grant & Longstreet, A Vintage Vignette

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Connections of Grant & Longstreet
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 21, 2013

About 20 years ago, I noticed in the book Lure and Lore of Limestone County (Alabama) by Axford and Edwards that Ulyssess S. Grant had connections to the Myrtle Grove plantation. That plantation was on the north bank of the Tennessee River, between Triana and Mooresville. It was the home of the James Collier family, some of whose descendants moved into historical Madison in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Four of the ten children of James Collier married members of the Slaughter family of Limestone County. Dr. James Robert Slaughter was the namesake of Slaughter Road. He was also the husband of Mary Lanford, who was born and raised in the Lanford-Slaugher mansion on the east side of Indian Creek, just north of Old Madison Pike and west of the new Raytheon office building. Furthermore, Dr. Slaughter was the father of Charlotte Slaughter, who married Madison merchant James Henry Cain of 202 Main Street and 18 Arnett Street. Dr. Slaughter was raised by his parents in the Myrtle Grove mansion, now long gone.

The Collier children and grandchildren additionally intermarried with the prominent nearby Blackwell, Steptoe, Pickett, Jones, Walker, Battle, Withers, and Stewart families. These marriages produced close connections to Governors Reuben Chapman and Thomas Bibb. The James Collier children and their spouses in fact included several physicians and an Alabama Supreme Court justice and governor of the state (Henry Watkins Collier). However, it also caught my attention years ago when the book mentioned above noted that James Collier's son Thomas Bouldin Collier “... married Mary Harrison Dent, who was a close relative of Julia (Dent) Grant, wife of President Ulysses S. Grant.” The book further noted that the sixth child of Thomas and Mary Dent Collier was Eleanor, who “... married August M. Blackwell, son of Samuel and Sarah (Dent) Blackwell of Morgan County.

These connections of the Dent family to Ulysses S. Grant stuck in my mind for years, while I did no further research to investigate the relationships. Things changed in December of 2013 while I was photographing the old Chancery Court record books of Madison County. In Record Book R, pages 496 – 511, is documented Chancery Case Number 374, involving Dent family members and the family of James Longstreet of Richmond County, Georgia. This James Longstreet died in 1833, leaving a very detailed Last Will and Testament drawn up in 1830. His son James, who later became a primary Confederate Army corps general and “right-hand man” of Robert E. Lee, was one of the Complainants in the case against his mother, Mary Ann Dent Longstreet, and co-defendant Edmund Toney of Triana.

The case was first filed in the 32nd District of the Northern Alabama Chancery Division in Huntsville on 29 December 1852. It was resolved with a judgment in favor of the defendants on 2 June 1854, with the complainants having to pay all court costs in the case. The case concerned the possible violation of the terms of the will in respect to the inheritances of the children of James and Mary Ann Dent Longstreet. The executors of the will were the widow (co-defendant) Mary Ann Dent Longstreet and her son William plus her brother-in-law Augustus Longstreet. The Longstreet children (complainants) were William D. (executor), James (CSA general-to-be), Henrietta (wife of Archibald Mills Clemens, son of James Clemens, who was Founder of Madison), Rebecca (wife of Reuben Ruff), Julia (wife of William E. Murphy), Eliza B. (wife of Walter B. Lucas), Maria N. (wife of Elisha Dismukes), and Sarah Jane (unmarried). The registered complainants included Mary Ann Dent (only child of Anna Longstreet Dent, who had died), “an infant, under the age of twenty-one”. Mary Ann Dent was represented in the case by her “next friend, Hutchinson Dent.” The dispute centered around the distribution of the numerous slaves of the Longstreet estate, two of whom had been sold to Edmund Toney, thereby involving him in the case as a defendant. Distribution of the elements of the estate among the senior James Longstreet heirs was to have been done by 1847, but the distribution had not been done as of 1854. The case was adjudicated in northern Alabama not only because of Edmund Toney, but also because after the passing of the senior James Longstreet in Georgia, the family had moved to Somerville in Morgan County, Alabama. Somerville is just across the Tennessee River from the Toney family holdings in Madison County, which was the location of the Chancery Court for the area including Morgan County as well as several other counties in northern Alabama at the time. By the time of prosecution of the case, James Longstreet's widow and most of the children and slaves had again relocated to Noxubee County, Mississippi. However, the Toney involvement and the fact that the questionable and delayed division of estate property had occurred while the family resided in Somerville kept jurisdiction here.

A variety of on-line web resources reveal numerous connection facts about CSA General James Longstreet and Union General (later President) Ulyssess S. Grant, as well as the Dent family. Taking the web-based accounts separately, many of the odd connections of the principal parties are not immediately evident, but the Madison County Chancery Court records provide the ties and clarifications needed to grasp the linkages. Below are a few of the more salient points to provide appreciation of some of the linkages of these area residents just before and during the Civil War.

Examination of the history of General Grant reveals that his middle name did not begin with the letter “S” -- in fact, Ulysses was his actual middle name. His first name was Hiram. The “S” came when he was appointed to West Point Military Academy. He kept it that way, using the nickname of “Sam”, thereby becoming “U. S.” Grant, relating to the “Uncle Sam” aspects of government employment. Of course, his mother's maiden surname was Simpson, which is believed to have been the source of the error in using “S” after “Ulysses” on his academy appointment papers. When Grant attended West Point Military Academy, he was a roommate of Frederick Dent, who later introduced him to Grant's bride-to-be, Julia Boggs Dent (1826-1902), sister of Frederick, when he and Grant were both stationed after graduation to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. Julia and Ulysses were engaged in 1844 and married in 1848. Attending West Point at the same time as Grant, but graduating one year before Grant, was James Longstreet, the future Confederate general. Longstreet was reported as a groomsman at the Grant wedding, and some sources say that he was their “best man” in the ceremony. After serving as a quartermaster in the Mexican War and at numerous other location assignments in the states, in 1854 Grant resigned his Army commission and became a farmer in St. Louis County, Missouri, with his wife's father on their White Haven Plantation. From his father-in-law, a senior Frederick Dent (1786-1873), Grant acquired a slave, a 35-year-old man named William Jones. When farming proved not to be Grant's calling in life, he freed his slave in 1859 during a time of impoverishment, even though a sale of the slave could have provided much-needed cash for Grant and his wife Julia. Grant survived with a variety of jobs (including bill collector for his wife's cousin Harry Boggs in St. Louis) until the war broke out. Upon recommissioning, he resumed his military career, marching into great prominence in the history of the United States.

The book previously mentioned about Limestone County states that Julia Dent, wife of General Grant, also had a first cousin, Ellen Irvine Houston living in Athens, Alabama. She was a daughter of James and Emily Wrenshall Boggs Irvine of Florence. Julia Dent Grant's mother was Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent (died in 1857). Ellen Irvine's husband George Smith Houston won the 1874 governor's race over David P. Lewis after leading the area through the Reconstruction years following the Civil War. Ellen Irvine's sister Emily had a daughter (Margaret) who married George Smith Houston Jr. They built a house in Belle Mina. Thereby, it can be seen that General Grant, as a previous plantation dweller and slave owner himself, had a number of close “in-law” relatives in the north Alabama area during the Civil War through his wife Julia Boggs Dent's family ties.

The history of CSA General James Longstreet (1821-1904) as described in Wikipedia and other postings shows that he was a son of a senior James (1783-1833), who lived in Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia. The senior James married Mary Ann Dent (1793-1855), a daughter of Thomas M. Dent (1761-1823). Mary Ann Dent Longstreet is therefore conclusively seen to be the mother of the Confederate general. James Jr. was the fifth child and third son of the couple, who had at least 10 children that survived to adulthood. At the age of nine, James Jr. was sent to live with his uncle Augustus Longstreet, one of the co-executor's of the senior James' will as probated in 1833 in Richmond County, Georgia. When the other children of the deceased James Longstreet moved with their mother Mary Ann Longstreet to Somerville, Alabama, around 1836, James Jr. stayed with his uncle Augustus. However, Mary Ann obtained nomination of her son James to West Point Military Academy in 1838 though Reuben Chapman, whose district included Morgan County. Reuben Chapman later became a governor of Alabama. While governor, he married Felicia Chilton Pickett, fifth child of Steptoe Pickett and his wife Sarah Orrick Chilton. The Picketts and Chiltons both had plantations in Virginia, but the ninth child of Steptoe and Sarah, Dr. William Henry Pickett, married Amy Raines Collier, a daugher of William Edward Collier by his second wife, Ophelia Jane (Stewart) Slaughter. William himself was the sixth child of James and Elizabeth Collier of Myrtle Grove Plantation near Triana in Madison County. Sarah Orrick Chilton Pickett and her son Steptoe Pickett Jr. are both buried in the old Madison City Cemetery on the south side of Mill Road just west of Hughes Road.

Considering the many intermarriages of the Dent and Longstreet families with the Colliers and other families of north Alabama, it is quite likely that General Grant's wife Julia Boggs Dent would have known of her relatives in the area. Perhaps she even kept in touch with her cousins here by mail during the Civil War. If so, she no doubt knew of the 1862 “sack of Athens” and cruel treatment of the civilian population of the area by Colonel John Basil Turchin's troops. Perhaps she tried to intervene on behalf of her cousins through her husband. It would make one think twice before mistreating civilians of the area if a commander had any way of suspecting that his soon-to-be commanding general of the army would have a wife whose relatives were suffering at his hands. Still, history records that Grant was not involved in the subsequent court-martial of Colonel Turchin, who was afterward promoted to Brigadier General. In fact, Grant obviously approved of a more drastic action by General William T. Sherman in his 1864 “march to the sea” through Georgia only two years later. One can also wonder about Grant's own feelings in the war, considering that his father-in-law owned a slave-supported plantation in Missouri where his wife was raised. Not only that, Grant himself had owned a slave for several years before he gave up on the futility of supporting himself and his wife with slave labor. And, finally, it is ironic that so many opposing generals had been friends at West Point and that Confederate General James Longstreet had been a groomsman or even the “best man” in General Ulysses Grant's wedding.

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