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A great-great-grandson of Ulysses S. Grant makes his home in Spotsylvania County--and re-enacts as a Confederate
Date published: 5/3/2009
John Griffiths and his two sisters are among dozens of direct descendants of the 18th president, said one of Griffiths' relations, Ulysses Dietz of Newark, N.J.
But to John Griffiths, being a Grant descendant was not an easy distinction to grow up under.
His father, an Army officer, moved the family to Arlington in the 1940s. It was Northern Virginia, but it was still a very Southern place at a time when the wounds of the Civil War felt fresh.
"Grant's one of those people who've gone through phases of popularity and unpopularity, and at the time I was in junior and senior high school, he was not that well thought of," Griffiths said.
Many thought Grant had been an alcoholic, a squanderer of soldiers' lives and an ineffectual president.
And as a student at a high school named in part for Gen. Robert E. Lee, Griffiths was picked on because of Grant. He didn't try to defend his ancestor.
"I just let it go," he recalls now. "I felt overwhelmed, and I wasn't up to it."
Griffiths went off to college in Iowa, but said he was a lousy student. He left without a degree and came home to Arlington.
At loose ends, Griffiths met a Civil War re-enactor, and the subject piqued his interest.
He joined a Confederate re-enacting regiment not out of conviction or contrariness but because it was easier to get gray wool for reproduction Confederate uniforms than light blue for Union trousers.
The hobby became a full-time endeavor as the 1961 Civil War centennial celebration geared up. Griffiths worked on the centennial for the better part of a year.
When it was over, he went to drafting school and started a career with the government.
By then he was thoroughly hooked on history, not only of the Civil War but also of the Revolutionary War. He joined a re-enacting outfit that participated in the American Revolution bicentennial, and after that disbanded, he joined friends from that group in more Civil War re-enacting.
Along the way, he amassed such a knowledge of the weapons, uniforms and vehicles of war that when the position of ordnance curator at the Marine museum came open, he was a perfect fit, recalled his former supervisor, Ken Smith-Christmas.