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General Ulysses S. Grant

[ Wild & Wooly portraits | False portraits | True portraits ]

Ulysses S. Grant was probably, after Lincoln, the Civil War figure most often portrayed in prints of the time. He first rose to prominence with his victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, reaching hero status with the fall of Vicksburg.

Wild & Wooly portraits

Grant Cairo photograph
Early in the war, U.S. Grant wore his beard in a long, wild manner. One photograph, taken in October 1861 in Cairo, Illinois, shows this shaggy image, with Grant depicted in his colonel's uniform complete with ostrich feathers in his cap. After his first action at Belmont, Grant's wife, Julia, joined him in camp and was horrified by his wild and wooly appearance. She told him in no uncertain terms that she "did not like the length of his beard," so Grant forthwith had it clipped close to preserve marital harmony.

Grant's victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, followed by Shiloh, led to a great curiosity on the part of the American public as to what this new Union hero looked like. The only image available of the general at this time was the photograph taken in Cairo, so this long-bearded Grant appeared in many prints of the time, even though by then he was close-shaved.

U.S. Grant
"Ulysses S. Grant. Maj. Genl. U.S.A." Cincinnati: Ehrgott & Forbriger, early 1862. Lithograph. Vignette, ca. 12 1/2 x 9 1/2. Very good condition.

The Cincinnati lithographic firm of Ehrgott & Forbriger issued a fascinating series of portraits. They issued seventy-nine different prints of sixty-nine different Union politicians and officers. but they shared just a small group of backgrounds, so the same horse and body might appear with a number of different heads or the same body on a ship would house different visages. This print must have been issued early in 1862, for it shows a classic wild and wooly Grant. NA

False portraits

To add to the confusion concerning Grant's appearance, there was a photograph, taken in Cairo about the same time as Grant's was done, of a man who somewhat looked like general. This image is said to be of a beef contractor named William Grant, who resembled U.S. Grant at least in his hirsute appearance. Either through actual misunderstanding or intentionally, this non-U.S. Grant photograph was used as the basis for a number of prints of the general, appearing both in the illustrated newspapers of the day and also in engravings. Indeed, most of the first printed portraits of Grant were based on this erroneous image. [Cf. W. Fletcher Thompson, Jr. The Image of War. Pp. 119-120.]

U.S. Grant?
"Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, U.S.A., the Hero of Fort Donelson." From Harper's Weekly. New York, March 8, 1862. Cover illustration, 9 x 10. Wood engraving.

Probably the first appearance of the misidentified photograph of Grant, this was influential in spreading this false images. Interestingly, Harper's Weekly continued to use this erroneous picture to as late as 1864! NA

True portraits

"U.S. Grant. Maj. Genl. U.S.A." Cincinnati: Ehrgott & Forbriger, 1862-63. Lithograph. Vignette, ca. 12 1/2 x 9 1/2. Very good condition.

The Cincinnati publishers, Ehrgott and Forbriger, realized that their first portrait of Grant (cf. above) was based on a misidentified photograph and so they issued a second print of the general, this showing a correct, close-shaved Grant. $275

Alonzo Chappel. "U.S. Grant." New York: Johnson, Fry & Co., 1863. 7 1/2 x 5 1/2. Steel engraving. Very good condition.

An early correct portrait of Grant, "Likeness From the latest Photograph from Life." $50

Alternate Grant
Alonzo Chappel. "U.S. Grant." New York: Johnson, Fry & Co., 1863. 7 1/2 x 5 1/2. Steel engraving. Very good condition.

Interestingly, Johson, Fry & Co. issued an alternate portrait of Grant, also labeled "Likeness From the latest Photograph from Life," with composition identical, but a different face. Not clear which came first... NA

Frank Leslie's: Lieut-Gen Grant
"Lieut.-Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, U. S. A." From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. New York: March 19, 1864. 20 1/4 x 14. Wood engraving. Very good condition.

A timely newspaper image of Grant soon after his promotion from Major General to Lieutenant General. $275

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©The Philadelphia Print Shop July 14, 2021