Grant, Davis descendents meet at Natchez Antiques Forum
NATCHEZ — In 1863, troops under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant occupied Natchez, a city of deep personal connection to the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis.
One hundred fifty years later, the great-great-grandsons of both men met in Natchez.
Ulysses Dietz — Grant’s descendent — and Bertram Hayes-Davis were both speakers at the Natchez Antiques Forum.
Rather than rehashing the War Between the States, Dietz said the two shared a nice lunch, and Dietz introduced Hays-Davis before Hayes-Davis gave his presentation to the forum, “Mrs. Dorsey’s Beauvoir: Home of Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson Davis.”
“It was a very pleasant meeting, and in some ways both of us have lived in the shadows of these two men,” Dietz said. “Both Ulysses S. Grant and Jefferson Davis lived, in some ways, in their own shadows, and as great-great-grandsons of these men, we have both dedicated our lives to shedding some light on their lives.”
Dietz is the senior curator of the Newark Museum in Newark, N.J., while Hayes-Davis is the executive director of Beauvoir, the Davis estate, presidential library and Confederate memorial in Biloxi.
Jefferson Davis grew up at Rosemont, near Woodville, and was married to Varina Howell at The Briars in Natchez. Because 2013 is the sesquicentennial of the occupation of the Mississippi River cities, the forum included a tour of several locations related to Davis’ life, a tour Dietz took.
“I think I have learned more about Jefferson Davis in the last few days than I have in my entire life,” he said.
Hayes-Davis said Saturday was not the first time the two men’s legacies have intersected.
Prior to the Civil War, Davis was the Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, and signed off on many of the maps that would later be used when engineering the transcontinental railroad, Hayes-Davis said.
“In 1869, U.S. Grant pounded in the (final) golden spike on the Continental Railroad,” Hayes-Davis said. “U.S. Grant probably knew nothing about the railway or the maps approved by Jefferson Davis, but he knew how to swing a hammer.”
Dietz as a historian has a specialized knowledge of historic lighting fixtures — a separate branch of his family founded the Dietz lighting company — and Hayes-Davis said he has several lamps at Beauvoir about which he might consult with Dietz.
Dietz said he hopes the meeting between the two “is the beginning of a long association.”
Forum advisor Daniel Brooks said the meeting of the two men left participants feeling “very renewed in our allegiances as Americans and in our shared histories in the North, South, East and West.”
The forum also honored Jeanette Feltus, one of its founders who is stepping down from leadership this year.
Feltus said her years with the forum been wonderful, and she will continue to act as a participant.