Saturday, August 12, 2023

Ellen Wrenshall Grant's Civil War

Ellen Wrenshall Grant (1855-1922)

When the Civil War began in 1861 Nellie Grant was 6 years old, the only daughter of Julia Dent and Ulysses Grant who were living in Galena, Illinois where her father and his Grant family ran a leather goods shop.

Chicago Historical Society
The family business in Galena

Youngest brother Jesse about 5 in Galena during the war and 
father, born Hiram Ulysses Grant who changed his name 
to Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822-1885.)

U.S. Grant, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War of the 1840s, enlisted and rose through the ranks to head the Union Armies in 1864.

The Grants became celebrities.

Nine-year-old Nellie in a "mammoth pasteboard shoe"

When the women of St. Louis organized the Mississippi Valley Fair to raise money for the Sanitary Commission and its work with Union soldiers they asked Nellie to impersonate the old woman who lived in a shoe with so many children she didn't know what to do.

Nellie sold cards with photos of her and her doll family.

This may be Nellie in another pose. The idea of the doll family
in the shoe was apparently used at other fairs so it may be another girl.

Albany Institute of History & Art Library 
Kitty Van Antwerp at the Army Relief Bazaar, Albany, New York

Life during the Civil War was rather unsettled for the General and his family. Julia often joined her "Ulys" leaving the children with relatives.

At war's end Grant was its hero, a credential that led to his election as President in 1868. He served two terms with the family occupying the Presidential mansion from 1869 through 1877.

Presidential family including 15-year-old Nellie on vacation
 in New Jersey, 1870

Nellie was sent off to Miss Porter's boarding school in Connecticut but begged successfully to come home to the White House within a few weeks. The Grants sent Nellie to England, hoping to keep her away from eager American suitors but on the return voyage she began a shipboard romance with Algernon Sartoris, son of opera singer Adelaide Kemble and well-to-do landowner Edward Sartoris. Actress Fanny Kemble was Algernon's aunt.

Nellie's father was shocked when the couple made marriage plans in 1873. He wrote the Sartorises:
"An attachment seems to have sprung up between these two young people, to my astonishment because I had only looked upon my daughter as a child."
Algernon Charles Frederick Sartoris (1851-1893) &
 bride Ellen Grant, wedding photograph in 1874. 
She was 18, he 22. Their White House wedding
was a national sensation.

To her parents' regret Nellie sailed for England with Algie. They had four children and what seems to have been a very unhappy marriage. Algie had alcohol problems and a reputation for philandering. Nellie with her midwestern "twang" (according to Queen Victoria) did not fit in to the English aristocratic lifestyle. 

Charles Dana Gibson's view of the transatlantic marriage market.

Novelist Henry James observed the American daughter-in-law of friend Adelaide Sartoris:
"Poor little Nellie Grant sits speechless on the sofa, understanding neither head nor tail of such high discourse and exciting one’s compassion for her incongruous lot in life. She is as sweet and amiable (and almost as pretty) as she is uncultivated." 
In 1888 expatriate James described her as lovely but illiterate, vulgar, untidy and overdressed. "Whenever I see her there is something rather touching and tragic."

He called her husband a "drunken idiot," an accurate description. The Sartorises separated in the 1880s and divorced in 1893. Nellie was fortunate in obtaining custody of her surviving three children and an annual income. She returned to the United States to live in Washington D.C. Sartoris died at 42 the year of their divorce, leaving her and the children the family fortune.

Nellie remarried in 1912 to Chicago banker Frank Hatch Jones.
In her later years she was an invalid. She died at 67 in 1922 
in her Chicago home on Lake Shore Drive.

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