On this day in 1848, future President Ulysses S. Grant marries Julia Boggs Dent.
The couple had a relatively lengthy engagement, caused first by Julia’s father’s disapproval of his daughter marrying a poorly paid soldier and, later, by Grant’s absence while fighting in the Mexican-American War. At war’s end, he and Julia were finally wed, overcoming her father’s objections.
Two years into their marriage, Grant was ordered away from his beloved wife and two small children to fulfill a tour of duty in California and Oregon. The loneliness and sheer boredom of duty in the West drove Grant to binge drinking. By 1854, Grant’s alcohol consumption so alarmed his superiors that he was asked to resign from the army. He did, and returned to Ohio to try his hand at farming and land speculation. Although he kicked the alcohol habit, he failed miserably at both vocations and was forced to take a job as a clerk in his father’s tanning business.
If it were not for the Civil War, Grant might have slipped quickly into obscurity. Instead, he re-enlisted in the army in 1861 and embarked on a stellar military career. In 1863, after leading a Union Army to victory at Vicksburg, Grant caught President Lincoln’s attention. The Union Army had suffered under the service of a series of incompetent generals and Lincoln was in the market for a new Union supreme commander. President Lincoln kept an eye on Grant’s moods and tendency toward depression, sending Julia to join Grant wherever he was posted. The level-headed and good-natured Julia followed him around the country, helping to soothe and cheer him in the midst of the terrible war. However, despite Julia’s attention, Grant’s tendency to binge-drink re-emerged and he developed another unhealthy habit: chain cigar-smoking.
According to her biographers at the National First Ladies Library, Julia reveled in being first lady, particularly after living in abject poverty and constant flux since her marriage to Grant. Julia hosted lavish state dinners and festivities at the White House. However, upon leaving office, the Grants’ fortunes again declined. They traveled to Europe between 1877 and 1879 amid great fanfare, but returned home to bankruptcy caused by Grant’s unwise investment in a scandal-prone banking firm. Grant spent the last few years of his life writing a detailed account of the Civil War and, after he died of throat cancer in 1885, Julia managed to scrape by on the royalties earned from his memoirs.