Gateway to the Classics: On the Trail of Grant and Lee by Frederick Trevor Hill
 
On the Trail of Grant and Lee by  Frederick Trevor Hill

Three Civil Wars

E NGLAND was an uncomfortable place to live in during the reign of Charles the First. Almost from the moment that that ill-fated monarch ascended the throne he began quarreling with Parliament; and when he decided to dismiss its members and make himself the supreme ruler of the land, he practically forced his subjects into a revolution. Twelve feverish years followed—years of discontent, indignation and passion—which arrayed the Cavaliers, who supported the King, against the Roundheads, who upheld Parliament, and finally flung them at each other's throats to drench the soil of England with their blood.

Meanwhile, the gathering storm of civil war caused many a resident of the British Isles to seek peace and security across the seas, and among those who turned toward America were Mathew Grant and Richard Lee. It is not probable that either of these men had ever heard of the other, for they came from widely separated parts of the kingdom and were even more effectually divided by the walls of caste. There is no positive proof that Mathew Grant (whose people probably came from Scotland) was a Roundhead, but he was a man of humble origin who would naturally have favored the Parliamentary or popular party, while Richard Lee, whose ancestors had fought at Hastings and in the Crusades, is known to have been an ardent Cavalier, devoted to the King. But whether their opinions on politics differed or agreed, it was apparently the conflict between the King and Parliament that drove them from England. In any event they arrived in America at almost the same moment; Grant reaching Massachusetts in 1630, the year after King Charles dismissed his Parliament, and Lee visiting Virginia about this time to prepare for his permanent residence in the Dominion which began when actual hostilities opened in the mother land.

The trails of Grant and Lee, therefore, first approach each other from out the smoke of a civil war. This is a strangely significant fact, but it might be regarded merely as a curious coincidence were it not for other and stranger events which seem to suggest that the hand of Fate was guiding the destinies of these two men.

Mathew Grant originally settled in Massachusetts but he soon moved to Connecticut, where he became clerk of the town of Windsor and official surveyor of the whole colony—a position which he held for many years. Meanwhile Richard Lee became the Colonial Secretary and a member of the King's Privy Council in Virginia, and thenceforward the name of his family is closely associated with the history of that colony.

Lee bore the title of colonel, but it was to statesmanship and not to military achievements that he and his early descendants owed their fame; while the family of Grant, the surveyor, sought glory at the cannon's mouth, two of its members fighting and dying for their country as officers in the French and Indian war of 1756. In that very year, however, a military genius was born to the Virginia family in the person of Henry Lee, whose brilliant cavalry exploits were to make him known to history as "Light Horse Harry." But before his great career began, the house of Grant was represented in the Revolution, for Captain Noah Grant of Connecticut drew his sword in defense of the colonies at the outbreak of hostilities, taking part in the battle of Bunker Hill; and from that time forward he and "Light Horse Harry" served in the Continental army under Washington until Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

Here the trails of the two families, again drawn together by a civil strife,  merge for an historic moment and then cross; that of the Grants turning toward the West, and that of the Lees keeping within the confines of Virginia.

It was in 1799 that Captain Noah Grant migrated to Ohio, and during that same year Henry Lee delivered the memorial address upon the death of Washington, coining the immortal phrase "first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Ulysses Grant, the Commander of the Union forces in the Civil War, was the grandson of Captain Grant, who served with "Light Horse Harry" Lee during the Revolution; and Robert Lee, the Confederate General, was "Light Horse Harry's" son.

Thus, for the third  time in two and a half centuries, a civil conflict between men of the English-speaking race blazed the trails of Grant and Lee.


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