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Ulysses S. Grant
The Unlikely Hero
One of the first two volumes in Harper's Eminent Lives series, Korda brings his acclaimed storytelling talents to the life of Ulysses S. Grant – a man who managed to end the Civil War on a note of grace, serve two terms as president, write one of the most successful military memoirs in American literature, and is today remembered as a brilliant general but a failed president.
Ulysses S. Grant was the first officer since George Washington to become a four–star general in the United States Army, and the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to serve eight consecutive years in the White House. In this succinct and vivid biography, Michael Korda considers Grant's character and reconciles the conflicting evaluations of his leadership abilities.
Grant's life played out as a true Horatio Alger story. Despite his humble background as the son of a tanner in Ohio, his lack of early success in the army, and assorted failed business ventures, his unwavering determination propelled him through the ranks of military leadership and into the presidency. But while the general's tenacity and steadfastness contributed to his success on the battlefield, it both aided and crippled his effectiveness in the White House.
Assessing Grant both within the context of his time and in contrast to more recent American leaders, Korda casts a benevolent eye on Grant's presidency while at the same time conceding his weaknesses. He suggests that though the general's second term ended in financial and political scandals, the fact remains that for eight years Grant exerted a calming influence on a country that had only just emerged from a horrendous civil war. Ulysses S. Grant is an even–handed and stirring portrait of a man who guided America through a pivotal juncture in its history.
176 pages; ISBN 9780061648489
In the summer of 2003 Ulysses S. Grant made news all across
the country that he had, in his lifetime, done so much to reunite:
Some of his descendants, a good part of the more serious press,
and the Grant Monument Association objected strongly to pop diva
Beyoncé Knowles, accompanied by a "troupe of barely clad dancers,"
using his tomb in New York City's Riverside Park as the background
for a raucous, "lascivious," nationally televised July Fourth
Beyoncé and her fans hardly seemed aware of who Grant was, or
why such a fuss should be made about the presence of loud music,
suggestive dancing, partial nudity, and a huge, boisterous crowd in
front of his tomb, which, as the New York Times pointed out, had
once been a bigger tourist attraction than the Statue of Liberty. In
fact, except for a few members of the Grant family who had been
trying for years to get the bodies of General Grant and his wife,
Julia, removed from the tomb on the grounds that it had been allowed
to fall into a disgraceful state of repair and decay, the level of public indignation was low. The Times even felt compelled to comment
rather sniffily that the general was "no longer the immensely
famous figure he once was." Grant's great-grandson Chapman
Foster Grant, fifty-eight, however, took a different view of Beyoncé's
concert, commenting, "Who knows? If the old guy were alive, he
might have liked it."
Knowing as much as we do about the general's relationship with
Mrs. Grant -- like President Lincoln, whom he much admired,
Grant was notoriously devoted to a wife who felt herself and her
family to be vastly socially superior to his and was not shy about letting
her opinion on the subject be known; and, like Mrs. Lincoln,
Mrs. Grant's physical charms, such as they may have been, were lost
on everybody but her dutiful husband -- it seems unlikely that Grant
would have allowed himself to appreciate Beyoncé's presence at his
tomb. Mrs. Grant, it was generally felt, kept her husband on a pretty
tight leash when it came to pretty girls, barely clothed or not.
As for Grant himself, while he had his problems with liquor --
his reputation as a drinker is perhaps the one thing that most Americans
still remember about him, that and the fact that his portrait,
with a glum, seedy, withdrawn, and slightly guilty expression, like
that of a man with a bad hangover, is on the fifty-dollar bill -- no
allegation of any sexual indiscretion blots his record. He reminds
one, in fact, of Byron's famous lines about George III:
He had that household virtue, most uncommon,
Of constancy to a bad, ugly woman.
Grant not only led a blameless domestic life, he was the very reverse
of flamboyant. Softspoken, given to long silences, taciturn, easily hurt and embarrassed, he was the most unlikely of military
heroes. He did not, like Gen. Ambrose Burnside, for example, who
was so soundly defeated by Lee at Fredericksburg, lend his name to a
style of swashbuckling full sidewhiskers -- "sideburns," as they came to
be known after him. Nor did he lend his name, as the unfortunate
Gen. Joseph Hooker (who succeeded Burnside and was defeated by
Lee at Chancellorsville) was thought to have done, to label the prostitutes
who were said to surround his headquarters, so that even today
they are still known as "hookers" by people who have never heard of
the general himself. Grant aimed to be the most ordinary appearing
and self-effacing of men, and to a very large extent he succeeded.
The fact that Beyoncé is black, as was much of the audience of
thousands gathered to listen to her concert, might have shocked the
general rather less than her near nudity or the "lascivious choreography"
reported by the Times. Grant probably did more than anyone
except Lincoln to destroy the institution of slavery in North America,
but, like Lincoln, he shared the social attitude toward Negroes of
his own race and his time. However, his innate good manners, natural
courtesy, and a certain broad-minded tolerance always marked his
behavior toward them. It was typical of him that while very few
other generals in that age would have had a Native American officer
on their staffs, Grant did, and as president he deplored the way in
which government agents exploited the Indians, seeming to have felt
that Custer got what was coming to him at the Little Big Horn.
Grant's personal and professional opinion of Custer had always
been low, and although he made more than his share of political and
financial mistakes in the White House and afterward, and his judgment
of character when it came to civilians was notoriously optimistic, his judgment of generalship was invariably ruthlessly objective
and on target. Grant was unsure about a lot of things, but he
knew a flashy, incompetent, and reckless general when he saw one,
so Custer's defeat at the hands of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse did
not surprise or shock him, unlike the rest of the United States.
What he would have made of the Grant family's long struggle
to extricate him and Mrs. Grant from Grant's Tomb as it fell into
disrepair and decay and move them elsewhere is hard to say. One of
the reasons the campaign failed was the question of where to put
the Grants if they were removed from their tomb in New York City.
With that mournful failure of judgment that was apt to come over
Grant off the battlefield, he and Mrs. Grant chose New York City
for their resting place, in part out of a dislike for Washington,
D.C. -- Grant's two terms as president had not produced in either of
them any affection for Washington society, nor, in the end, was
there much affection in Washington for them -- while Galena, Illinois,
which seemed too provincial a backwater in which to bury
such a great man, had even fewer happy memories for the Grants
than did Washington ...