Ulysses S. Grant: My Tribute to the Man Who Saved the Union
Everyone needs a hero of history. I happen to have two of them, and in this post, I want to wish a happy birthday to one of those heroes, Ulysses S. Grant, born on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio.
Perhaps William T. Sherman said it best when describing the man he faithfully and skillfully served under during the American Civil War, saying, “If the name of Washington is allied with the birth of our country, that of Grant is forever identified with its preservation.” After struggling in his civilian life and being forced to work as a leather goods clerk at his fathers business, Grant was ready to step forward and use his experience from West Point and the Mexican War to help save his nation when the War Between the States began. At Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and in some of the fiercest battles of the war against General Robert E. Lee in Virginia, Grant proved he was a “genius as a tactical leader, an operational leader, and a strategic leader,” as a great military commander of our own time, General David Petraeus has admiringly declared. Grant was the leader the Union needed, and as Sherman wrote to him, he was “as unselfish, kindhearted and honest, as a man should be, but the chief characteristic in your nature is the simple faith in success you have always manifested, which I can liken to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in a Savior.” U.S. Grant eventually rose to command over one million men, leading all Federal forces as general-in-chief of the armies of the United States. It was his vision, dedication, courage, and compassion that won the Civil War. U.S. Grant was truly the man who saved the Union.
General Ulysses S. Grant. (Photo: Library of Congress)
As Walt Whitman wrote, the task of peace facing the nation after four bloody years of death and destruction was “more difficult than the war itself,” and that job fell to Grant as the 18th President of the United States. The dangers and challenges facing the nation in the aftermath of the Civil War were simply overwhelming, but over the course of his two terms, Grant valiantly fought for what was right, crushing the Ku Klux Klan and safeguarding the civil rights of African Americans. As Frederick Douglass believed, Grant was “the vigilant, firm, impartial, and wise protector of my race.” As Grant biographer Ron Chernow adds, U.S. Grant became “America’s most famous man, the remarkable general who had won the war for Lincoln, protected the freed slaves, and kept America at peace during his presidency.”
President Ulysses S. Grant. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Grant understood that a true man always does whatever it takes to care for his family. As Chernow writes, during one of the most difficult and uncertain periods of his life, Grant “pawned his gold watch and chain for $20 on December 23, 1857, to purchase Christmas presents for his children-perhaps the symbolic nadir of his life.” A few years before passing away, Grant and many of his family members fell into financial ruin as a result of the duplicity of Ferdinand Ward, a financier whom Grant had entered into a partnership with. As Chernow explains, “Ward turned out to be literally the Bernie Madoff of his day.” In the last act of his life, Grant summoned every ounce of energy he had left to obtain financial security for his wife and family. While suffering the unbearable pain brought on by throat cancer, Grant crafted his Personal Memoirs, finishing the manuscript on July 16, 1885, just one week before his death. As Chernow notes, Grant’s Memoirs “sold a record-breaking three hundred thousand copies in two-volume sets,” and his work is still considered the golden standard of military memoirs. To this day, his words continue to speak to us.
As Chernow describes this photograph, "Less than a month from his death, a stoic Grant pens his Personal Memoirs," writing on the porch of his final residence at Mount McGregor, New York. Chernow also notes that the muffler around Grant's neck concealed "a tumor the size of a baseball." (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In conclusion, I believe, as Walt Whitman did, that for Ulysses S. Grant, “The gods, the destinies, seem to have concentrated upon him.” Just as George Washington deserves the informal title, "Father of His Country," Grant must eternally be remembered as the savior of his country. The two stand together atop the mountain of immortal American heroes.
C-Span: Q&A with Ron Chernow.
Grant by Ron Chernow.
The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant.
Thunderbird School of Global Management: Grant’s Quiet Fortitude by General David Petraeus.