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story.lead_photo.caption One of the men behind the Gray Ghosts Trail, which runs through Fulton, and the U.S. Grant Trail is now hoping to spur the creation of a National Historic Trail commemorating the general and 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

A trail dedicated to former President and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant could one day pass through Callaway County.

But the project has a long road ahead of it, said Gregory Wolk, a St. Louis-based history enthusiast campaigning for the trail's creation.

In the early 2010s, the Missouri Civil War Heritage Foundation — of which Wolk was a member — spearheaded the creation of the U.S. Grant Trail. The driving trail traces important Civil War sites related to Grant from West Quincy, through Hannibal, Mexico and Danville, east through Pacific and into St. Louis. (The MCWHF also helped create the Gray Ghosts Trail, which passes through Callaway County.)

Now, Wolk and members of the newly formed National U.S. Grant Trail Association have a bigger project in mind: a National Historic Trail dedicated to Grant's campaign on Vicksburg, Mississippi, during the American Civil War.

"No Civil War campaigns are reflected in the National Historic Trails," Wolk said.

The United States' 19 National Historic Trails include the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, commemorating the Chesapeake Campaign of the War of 1812, and the WashingtonRochambeau Revolutionary Route, tracing the roads used in 1781 by the Continental Army during their march to Yorktown, Virginia.

The route of a Grant-focused NHT could include Illinois, Missouri — the locations of Grant's early posts — Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Ultimately, Wolk noted, the route of the trail would be up to the National Park Service.

"We've been in touch with people in Illinois and Kentucky — can't say more than that right now — and people south of there as well," Wolk said. "My hope is to get at least the three of our states, all of which have important markers for Grant's life, on the same page."

The project is still very much in the early phases of planning. Wolk helped organize the National U.S. Grant Trail Association and named Fulton-based historian Whit McCoskrie as its chair.

"I mentioned Greg in my first book on the Civil War — his Grant Trail map," McCoskrie said. "He called me out of the blue and introduced himself, said thanks for mentioning that, then asked if I wanted to get involved."

Right now, the Trail Association's focus is on drumming up interest in a potential trail by contacting history-focused groups in areas that could get involved. A grant from the Missouri Humanities Council, of which Wolk is a member, helped launch those efforts.

Wolk hopes to speak to Missouri's national congressional representatives about introducing legislation to authorize a study of Grant's campaign routes and evaluate their suitability for designation as an NHT. That's step one of the process to designate such a trail. The pandemic put that part of the plan on hold, for now.

The time is ripe for such a trail, Wolk said.

"There have been two major biographies (of Grant) in the last four years, and he's risen a few levels in public perception," he said. "The basic object of it is to try to make sure we don't lose any more than we have lost in terms of Grant's legacy in these particular states."

And, as he argues in an executive summary he provided to the Fulton Sun, if Missouri wants to be included in commemorative efforts, the state needs to be proactive.

"Historically speaking, the campaign for Vicksburg began from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where Grant arrived from St. Louis on Aug. 30, 1861 to take command," he wrote.

Wolk, a retired lawyer, said Grant has been an inspirational figure to him.

"Until he was 39 years old, his life was a failure," he said. "It's heartening, if you're in your 30s and don't know where you're going, to realize that you too could be the general commanding all the U.S. Army in another year and a half. He's one of the most unappreciated figures in American history, in my humble judgment."

Though Grant never spent time in Callaway County, one of his first postings was in Mexico, which served as a headquarters from which he commanded the area between Centralia and Montgomery City. He was later sent to Ironton, then to St. Louis, then to Jefferson City (for a mere two weeks), then to St. Louis again.

"Grant was moved around quite a bit there in the fall of 1861," McCoskrie said. "Since we have the National Churchill Museum, and because the Kingdom of Callaway was a hotbed of pro-Southern sympathy, why wouldn't we just connect the trail down through Mexico and Fulton into Jeff City?"

Churchill was a "big Civil War buff," McCoskrie said; he was also Grant's fourth cousin twice removed.

As plans for the trail progress, there will be plenty of opportunities for local residents to get involved. Wolk mentioned intentions to sell memberships to the National U.S. Grant Trail Association, and McCoskrie suggested telling state and federal elected representatives about the idea.

"Missouri played a large part in Grant's development as a man and as a soldier, and Missouri's position in his life is often disregarded or ignored," Wolk said. "We mean to get the word out that we've got a right to claim it as well."

Visit the Missouri Humanities Council online at mohumanities.org.

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