Early in the summer of 1884 the General began to feel a slight pain in his mouth and throat, which increased and developed into cancer of the tonguea painful and incurable disease. As he gradually grew weaker, the whole nation watched with solicitude the progress of his malady, and prayers were offered in many pulpits in the land for his recovery; day after day expressions of sympathy came not only from all quarters of our own country, but from distant lands. Old strifes and enmities were all forgotten in the presence of approaching death, and the Blue and the Gray alike uttered the warmest expressions of sympathy for the dying soldier. Early in the month of April there was a marked improvement in General Grant's condition, and, among some of his more sanguine friends, hopes were entertained and exprest of his ultimate recovery. Through the length and breadth of the land the morning and evening journals contained daily bulletins of one or more columns concerning the condition of the illustrious patient, and many of the leading papers of Great Britain and other lands published daily telegrams.
Fortunately his prayer was answered that he might be permitted to live to complete his Military Memoirs, which were substantially finished. It may be doubted if since the world began any book has been written under similar conditions. It far surpasses Sir Walter Scott's gallant efforts to maintain the integrity of his character, that he might bequeath an untarnished name and a fantastic mansion to a long line of Scotts of Abbotsford. Seeing the last enemy approach, the dying but undaunted soldier, suffering almost constant, and at times the severest agony, determined to "fight it out" bravely as he did when he faced General Lee in the Wilderness struggle. This Grant did, to the general astonishment of publishers, physicians, family, and friends, the fruit of this great effort being a fortune for his family. It was probably the most successful expensive book ever issuedmore than a quarter of a million copies having been ordered in advance of publication, and nearly half a million of dollars having been received as copyright. In clearness and accuracy of statement, in literary style and finish, it compares favorably with the models of English literature.
The General, contrary to the expectations of his physicians and friends, survived to see the twentieth anniversary of the surrender of Lee's army, and to exchange greetings with his family on the return of the anniversary which may be said to have substantially broken the Confederacy and closed the four years' civil conflict. He survived to see the sun rise on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the surrender of Fort Sumter and the commencement of the war, living also to see the anniversary of the death of President Lincoln, which General Grant deemed the darkest day of his life. After more than a month's confinement to his house, he recovered sufficiently to drive out in the park again on Monday, April 20th, and on the following day he was seen walking in Sixty-sixth Street with one of his sons. About this time he was able to resume his literary work by dictating to a secretary.
He survived to complete substantially his military autobiography, by far the most valuable contribution yet made to the literature of the war. Owing to his increasing weakness and the warm weather, the date of his departure was anticipated by a week, and on June 16th, accompanied by his family, his physician, and attendants, he proceeded in a private car to Mount McGregor, near Saratoga, where a comfortable cottage was placed at the General's disposal for the summer by his friend, Joseph W. Drexel, of New York, by whom it was presented after Grant's death to the Grand Army of the Republic of New York.
From his mountain home on a spur of the Adirondacks General Grant could see at a glance the great theater of the many brilliant movements of Burgoyne's campaignhis marches, his defeats, and his surrenderand the stately monument which commemorates the historic field of the grounded arms.
A few days before his departure from the city, when in a cheerful mood, the General said to a friend: "It is a great consolation to me in my sickness to know that the people, both North and South, are seemingly equally kind in their expressions of sympathy. Scores of letters come to me daily, without reference to politics or locality, containing kind words. Many communications are also received from public bodies. But nothing has touched me more deeply than the daily spectacle of the crowds of people gathering about my door for months, and eagerly seeking information as to my condition. Yes, I can certainly say that I tried to do my duty to my country, and I hope I have always treated those who were not on the same side with me, both in the field and in politics, with justice. The men of the South I always looked upon as citizens of our common country, and when it was in my power I always treated them as such. I can say with truth that I never, even in the midst of duty, had any other feeling than that which one citizen should feel toward another." The General also referred with much feeling to the many kind schemes projected in his behalf by friends in California and in other portions of the country.
The ex-President's prayer that the end would come soon was granted, but not before the wish nearest to his heart was gratifiedthat he should live to finish his book. After many temporary rallies and improvements and much physical suffering, borne in the spirit of Paul's grand text"Endure hardness as a soldier"surrounded by all those who were near and dear to him, the illustrious commander passed away peacefully at eight minutes past eight on Thursday morning, July 23, 1885.
More than royal honors may be said to have been paid to his memory by the messages of condolence which came to Mrs. Grant from crowned heads and from distinguished personages of various countries and climes. It was the absorbing topic with the press and people of the United States during the period that elapsed between the time of the illustrious soldier's death and burial. Both at home and abroad he was universally recognized as the First Soldier and the First Citizen of the New World. Against this compact consensus of opinion there was no discordant voice, even among the people against whom he wielded his mighty sword. The men of the South had only words of praise for their generous conqueror.
Before his death General Grant, exprest in writing a wish that he should be buried in one of three placesat West Point, where he received his education, in Illinois, where he resided for several years, or in New York, "because the people of that city befriended me in my need." New, York, through its mayor, having proffered to Mrs. Grant a burial place in any of the city parks, a spot was selected and accepted in Riverside Park with the single condition that, in accordance with the General's desire, his wife should hereafter be laid by his side. His preference would have been for West Point had he not been under the mistaken impression that Mrs. Grant could not be buried there.
A few days after the hero's death a large and influential committee, with ex-President Arthur as chairman, was appointed by the Mayor of New York to receive and collect funds for the erection of a national monument over General Grant's grave. Within a week of the inauguration of the movement, and before his burial, a sum of thirty thousand dollars was received by voluntary contributions. It was afterward increased to six hundred thousand dollars. Movements for other monuments throughout the country have been inaugurated, and several cities of the North already possess statues of the great soldier.
On Tuesday, August 4, a memorial service was held at Mount McGregor in the cottage where Grant died, and a funeral address was delivered. On the same day, and almost at the same hour, a similar service was held in Westminster Abbey, London. The exercises were very impressive, and the vast audience which crowded the ancient abbey gave evidence of sincere sorrow and reverence for the dead soldier. The present Dean of Canterbury delivered an eloquent discourse, classing General Grant with Lincoln as a statesman, and with Washington and Wellington as a strategist. Among those present were representatives of the Queen and the Prince of Wales, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, Mr. Gladstone, and hundreds of the most eminent statesmen and soldiers of England.
The remains of the ex-President arrived in Albany in the afternoon of the same day, and were received by the Governor. They were placed in the State Capitol, where they were seen by large numbers of citizens and people who came from the surrounding country to take their farewell view of his well-known face. On Wednesday afternon, the 5th, the body of the great soldier arrived in New York, and was escorted by an imposing body of troops to the City Hall. For three days it lay in state, and was viewed by nearly a quarter of a million of persons, including a large number of old soldiers who had served under him.
Saturday, August 8th, was the day appointed for his public funeral, the arrangements having been made by General Winfield S. Hancock. A more magnificent demonstration was never witnessed in the New World, attesting the nation's admiration and respect for the memory of the American soldier. It is supposed that at least a million and a half persons saw the procession. The streets of the city echoed to the tramp of thirty thousand soldiers and veterans who marched with measured tread to the solemn music of a hundred military bands. There were to be seen heroes of scores of battles, and the torn and tattered flags that waved over Shiloh, Vicksburg, the Wilderness, and other well-contested fields. Never but once before and once since in the history of New York have so large a number of armed men marched through its streets. . . .
It was nearly six hours after the funeral cortège left the City Hall that the catafalque, drawn by twenty-four horses, reached the grave on the banks of the historic Hudson, and was placed in the temporary tomb with appropriate ceremonies, in the presence of his family, the President of the United States, his Cabinet, ex-Presidents Hayes and Arthur, his pall-bearers, Generals Sherman and Sheridan of the Union armies, and Generals Johnston and Buckner of the Confederate service, with many of the most eminent men of the country. So, on that bright and sunny August afternoon, he was laid to rest. . . .
1 From Wilson's "Life of General Grant." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Company. Copyright, 1897. General Wilson served in the Civil War as a volunteer, and at the close of the conflict was a brevet Brigadier-General of Volunteers. He afterward devoted himself to literary and editorial work, and is still living (December, 1911).