by Gerald Boerner
Ulysses S. Grant is known for his battlefield exploits that brought the Civil War to a conclusion, his presidency, and his oversight of the reconstruction of the reunited United States. What is not often remembered is his bankruptcy (due to his partner’s theft of funds), his battle with throat cancer, and the writing of his Memoirs.
While his life is far too well documented to cover in this post, we have tried to focus in on the high points. More specifically, after his throat cancer was diagnosed, he too on the task of writing his Memoirs to provide for his family after his death. The publication was aided by Mark Twain.
On this day, we lost this man who provided critical leadership during our country’s dark days. May we think about his positive contributions and his legacy. GLB
[ 3856 Words ]
“I will leave no memoirs.”
— Comte de Lautreamont
“A lot of presidential memoirs, they say, are dull and self-serving. I hope mine is interesting and self-serving.”
— William J. Cllinton
“Anyone who believes you can’t change history has never tried to write his memoirs.”
— David Ben-Gurion
“I had read too many memoirs that were written after the writer or the director was past his or her prime.”
— Joe Eszterhas
“I put off writing the first Left Behind book for a year because I got invited to assist Billy Graham in his memoirs, and had we known what we were putting off for a year, we might not have put it off.”
— Jerry B. Jenkins
“We were developing an innovative Personal Information Manager called Chandler but a couple years ago I took off from that to do a project writing down my memoirs essentially, reminiscing about the development of the Macintosh.”
— Andy Hertzfeld
“People think that because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that.”
— Anthony Powell
“I have always distrusted memoir. I tend to write my memoirs through my fiction. It’s easier to get to the truth by not claiming that you are speaking it. Some things can be said in fiction that can never be said in memoir.”
— Armistead Maupin
Ulysses S. Grant: His Memoirs and Death
Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; 1822– 1885) was the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877) as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under the command of Grant, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America.
His image as a war hero was tarnished by corruption scandals during his presidency. Grant began his life long career as a soldier after graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1843. Fighting in the Mexican American War, he was a close observer of the techniques of Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. He retired from the Army in 1854, then struggled to make a living in St. Louis. After many financial setbacks, he finally moved to Galena, Illinois where he worked as a clerk in his father’s tannery shop, making Galena his permanent legal home.
In 1861, after the American Civil War broke out, he joined the Union war effort, taking charge of training new regiments and then engaging the enemy near Cairo, Illinois. In 1862 he fought a series of major battles and captured a Confederate army, earning a reputation as an aggressive general and allowing the Union to seize control of most of Kentucky and Tennessee. In July 1863, after a long complex campaign he captured Vicksburg, captured another Confederate army, and took control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy and opening the way for more Union victories and conquests.
Lincoln promoted him to the rank of lieutenant general, and gave him charge of all the Union Armies. As Commanding General of the United States Army from 1864 to 1865, Grant confronted Robert E. Lee in a series of very high casualty battles known as the Overland Campaign that ended in a stalemate siege at Petersburg. During the siege, Grant coordinated a series of devastating campaigns launched by William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and George Thomas. Finally breaking through Lee’s trenches at Petersburg, the Union Army captured Richmond, the Confederate capital in April 1865. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox; the Confederacy collapsed and the Civil War ended.
During Reconstruction, Grant remained in command of the Army and implemented the Congressional plans to reoccupy the South and hold new elections in 1867 with black voters that gave Republicans control of the Southern states. Enormously popular in the North after the Union’s victory, he was elected to the presidency in 1868. Reelected in 1872, he became the first president to serve two full terms since Andrew Jackson did so forty years earlier. As president, he led Reconstruction by signing and enforcing civil rights laws and fighting Ku Klux Klan violence. He helped rebuild the Republican Party in the South, an effort that resulted in the election of African Americans to Congress and state governments for the first time. Despite these civil rights accomplishments, Grant’s presidency was marred by economic turmoil and multiple scandals. His response to the Panic of 1873 and the severe depression that followed was heavily criticized. His low standards in Cabinet and federal appointments and lack of accountability generated corruption and bribery in seven government departments. In 1876, his reputation was severely damaged by the graft trials of the Whiskey Ring. He left office at the low point of his popularity.
After leaving office, Grant embarked on a two-year world tour that was received favorably with many royal receptions. In 1880 he made an unsuccessful bid for a third presidential term. In 1884, broke and dying of cancer, he wrote his enormously successful memoirs. Historians have ranked his Administration poorly due to tolerance of corruption. His presidential reputation has improved among scholars impressed by the Administration’s support for civil rights for freed slaves.
During the Mexican American War (1846–1848), Lieutenant Grant served under Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Although assigned as a quartermaster, he got close enough to the front lines to see action, participating in the battles of Resaca de la Palma, Palo Alto, Monterrey and Veracruz. At Monterrey, he carried a dispatch voluntarily on horseback through a sniper-lined street. He was twice brevetted for bravery: at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec. He was a remarkably close observer of the war, learning to judge the actions of colonels and generals, particularly admiring how Zachary Taylor campaigned. In the 1880s, he wrote that the war was a wrongful one and believed that territorial gains were designed to spread slavery throughout the nation. Written in his memoirs, "I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day, regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation."
On April 15, 1861, after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down secession. Galena was enthusiastic in support of the war and recognized in Grant the one local with broad military experience. Grant helped recruit a company of volunteers in Galena and accompanied it to Springfield, the state capital, where untrained units were assembling in great confusion. Sponsored by his influential Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, Grant was named by the governor Richard Yates to train volunteers; he proved efficient and energetic in the training camps but desired a field command. Yates appointed him as a colonel in the Illinois militia and gave him command of the undisciplined and rebellious 21st Illinois Infantry on June 17. He went to Mexico, Missouri, guarding the corner of the state from Confederate attack. On July 31, 1861, President Lincoln appointed him as a brigadier general in the federal Volunteers. On September 1, he was selected by Western Department Commander Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont to command the District of Southeast Missouri. He soon established his headquarters at Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi. His command was soon reconfigured and renamed the District of Cairo.
On May 4, 1864 Grant began a series of battles with Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia known as the Overland Campaign. The first battle between Lee and Grant took place after the Army of the Potomac crossed Rapidan River into an area of secondary growth trees and shrubs known as the Wilderness. Lee was able to use this protective undergrowth to counter Grant’s superior troop strength. Union Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s XVI corps were able to inflict heavy casualties and drive back the Confederate General A.P. Hill’s corps two miles; however, Lee was able to drive back the Union advance with Confederate General James Longstreet’s reserves. The difficult, bloody, and costly battles lasted two days, May 5 and 6, resulting in an advantage to neither side. Unlike Union generals who retreated after similar battles with Lee, Grant ignored any setbacks and continued to flank Lee’s right moving southward. The tremendous casualties for the Battle of the Wilderness were 17,666 for the Union and 11,125 for the Confederate armies, respectively.
Once Grant broke away from Army of Northern Virginia at the Wilderness on May 8, he was forced into yet an even more desperate 14-day battle at Spotsylvania. Anticipating Grant’s right flank move southward, Lee was able to position his army at Spotsylvania Court House before Grant and his army could arrive, the battle started on May 10. Although Lee’s Army of Virginia was located in an exposed rough arc known as the "Mule Shoe", his army resisted assault after assault from Grant’s Army of the Potomac for the first 6 days of the battle. The fiercest fighting in the battle took place on a point known as "Bloody angle". Both Confederates and Union soldiers were slaughtered like cattle and men were piled on top of each other in their attempt to control the point. By May 21 the fighting had finally stopped; Grant had lost 18,000 men with 3,000 having been killed in the prolonged battle. Many talented Confederate officers were killed in the battle with Lee’s Army significantly damaged having a total of 10-13,000 casualties. The popular Union Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick of the VI corps was killed in the battle by a sharpshooter and replaced by Maj. Gen. Horatio G. Wright. During the fighting at Spotsylvania Grant made the statement, "I will fight it on this line if it takes all summer."
Finding he could not break Lee’s line of defense at Spotsylvania, Grant turned southward and moved to the North Ana River a dozen miles closer to Richmond. An attempt was made by Grant to get Lee to fight out in the open by sending an individual II Corps on the west bank of the Mattatopi River. Rather then take the bait, Lee anticipated a second right flank movement by Grant and retreated to the North Anna River in response to the Union V and VI corps withdrawing from Spotsylvania. During this time many Confederate generals, including Lee, were incapacitated due to illness or injury. Lee, stricken with dysentery, was unable to take advantage of an opportunity to seize parts of the Army of the Potomac. After series of inconclusive minor battles at North Anna on May 23 and 24, the Army of the Potomac withdrew 20 miles southeast to important crossroads at Cold Harbor. From June 1 to 3 Grant and Lee fought each other at Cold Harbor with the heaviest Union casualties on the final day. Grant’s ordered assault on June 3 was disastrous and lopsided with 6,000 Union casualties to Lee’s 1,500. After twelve days of fighting at Cold Harbor total casualties were 12,000 for the Union and 2,500 for the Confederacy. On June 11, 1864 Grant’s Army of the Potomac broke away completely from Robert E. Lee, and on June 12 secretly crossed the James River on a pontoon bridge, and attacked the railroad junction at Petersburg. For a brief time, Robert E. Lee, had no idea where the Army of the Potomac was.
To many in the North after the utter Union defeat at Cold Harbor, Grant was castigated as the "Butcher" for having sustained high casualties without a substantial advantage over Robert E. Lee. Grant, himself, who regretted the assault on June 3 at Cold Harbor was determined to keep casualties minimal thereafter. Without a Union military victory, President Abraham Lincoln’s presidential Campaign of 1864 against former general and Democratic contender George McClellan was in serious doubt. Maj. Gen. Sherman was bogged down chasing Confederate general Joseph E. Johnson into a conclusive battle. Benjamin Butler, who was supposed to attack Confederate railroads south of Richmond, was trapped in the Bermuda Hundred. Sigel had failed to secure the Shenendoah Valley from Confederate invasion and was relieved from duty. The entire Union war effort seemed to be stalling and the Northern public was growing increasingly impatient. The Copperheads, a northern democrat anti-war movement, advocated legal recognition of the Confederacy, immediate peace talks, and encouraged Union soldiers to desert the army. The Northern war effort was at this lowest ebb when Grant made a bold gamble to march deeper into Virginia at the risk of leaving the Washington capitol exposed to Confederate attack.
Petersburg and Appomattox
Petersburg was the supply center for Northern Virginia with five railroads meeting at one junction. Its capture meant the immediate downfall of Richmond. To protect Richmond and fight Grant at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor battles, Lee was forced to leave Petersburg with minimal troop protection. After crossing the James River the Army of the Potomac without any resistance marched towards Petersburg. After crossing the James Grant rescued Butler from the Bermuda Hundred and sent the XVIII corps led Brig. Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith to capture the weakly protected Petersburg; guarded by Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard. Grant established his new headquarters at City Point for the rest of the Civil War. The Union forces quickly attacked and overtook the Petersburg’s outlying trenches on June 15, however, Smith inexplicably stopped fighting and waited until the following day, June 16, to attack the city allowing Beauregard to concentrate reinforcement troops in secondary defenses. The second Union attack on Petersburg started on June 16 and lasted until June 18, when Lee’s veterans finally arrived to keep the Union army from taking the important railroad junction. Unable to break Lee’s Petersburg defenses, Grant had to settle for a seige.
Realizing that Washington was left unprotected do to Grant’s siege on Petersburg, Lee detached a small army under the command of Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early, hoping it would force the Union army to send forces to pursue him. If Early could capture Washington the Civil War would be over and the Confederates could claim victory. Early, with 15,000 seasoned troops, invaded north through the Shenandoah Valley, defeated Union Major General Lew Wallace at the Monocacy, and reached the outskirts of Washington, causing alarm. At Lincoln’s urging, just in time, Grant dispatched the veteran Union VI Corps and parts of the XIX Corps, led by Major General Horatio Wright. With the Union XXII Corps in place in the Washington D.C. fortifications, Early was unable to take the city. The Confederate Army’s mere presence close to the capitol was embarrassing simply by being so close to the capitol. At Petersburg Grant blew up Lee’s trench work with explosives planted inside a tunnel causing a huge crater; however; the Union assault that followed was slow and chaotic allowing Lee to repulse the breakthrough.
With Grant having locked Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia into a seige at Petersburg, the Union war effort finally began to bear fruit of its own. Sherman took Atlanta on September 2, 1864 and began his March to the Sea in November. With the victory in Atlanta, Lincoln was elected President and the war effort continued. On October 19, after three battles, Phil Sheridan and the Army of the Shenandoah defeated Early’s army. Sheridan and Sherman followed Lincoln and Grant’s strategy of total war by destroying the economic infrastructures of the Shenendoah Valley and a large swath of Georgia and the Carolinas. On December 16, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas had beaten Confederate general John B. Hood at Nashville. Grant continued for months to stretch the Petersburg siege line westward to capture vital railroad lines that supplied Richmond, stretching Lee’s defensive works thin.
On April 14, 1865, tragedy struck the nation when Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater, dying the next morning. Lincoln had been Grant’s greatest champion, friend, and military adviser. Lincoln had said after the massive losses at Shiloh, "I can’t spare this man. He fights." It was a two-sentence description that caught the essence of Ulysses S. Grant.
The second president from Illinois, Grant was elected the 18th President of the United States in 1868, and was re-elected to the office in 1872. He served as President from March 4, 1869, to March 4, 1877. In his re-election campaign, Grant benefited from the loyal support of Harper’s Weekly political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
Although there were initial scandals in his first term, Grant remained popular in the country and was re-elected a second term in 1872. His notable accomplishments as President include the enforcement of Civil Rights for African Americans in the Reconstruction states, the Treaty of Washington in 1871, and the Resumption of Specie Act in 1875. Grant’s reputation as President suffered from scandals caused by many corrupt appointees and personal associates and for the ruined economy caused by the Panic of 1873.
After the end of his second term in the White House, Grant spent over two years traveling the world with his wife. In Britain the crowds were enormous. The Grants dined with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and with Prince Bismarck in Germany then ventured east to Russia, Egypt, the Holy Land, Siam (Thailand), Burma, and China.
In Japan, they were cordially received by Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken at the Imperial Palace. Today in the Shibakoen section of Tokyo, a tree still stands that Grant planted during his stay. In 1879, the Meiji government of Japan announced the annexation of the Ryukyu Islands. China objected, and Grant was asked to arbitrate the matter. He decided that Japan’s claim to the islands was stronger and ruled in Japan’s favor.
The trip around the world, although successful, was costly. When Grant returned to America he had depleted most of his savings from the long trip and needed to earn money. In 1881, Grant purchased a house in New York City and placed almost all of his financial assets into an investment banking partnership with Ferdinand Ward, as suggested by Grant’s son Buck (Ulysses, Jr.), who was having success on Wall Street. In 1884 Ward swindled Grant (and other investors who had been encouraged by Grant), bankrupted the company, Grant & Ward, and fled. Depleted of money, Grant was forced to repay a $150,000 loan to one of his creditors, William H. Vanderbilt, with his Civil War mementos.
Grant learned at the same time that he was suffering from throat cancer. Today, it is believed that he suffered from a T1N1 carcinoma of the tonsillar fossa. Grant and his family were left destitute, having forfeited his military pension when he assumed the office of President. When his family left in debt from the Ward swindle, suffering from throat cancer, Grant began a series of literary works that improved his reputation and eventually brought his family out of bankruptcy. Grant first wrote several warmly received articles on his Civil War campaigns for The Century Magazine. Mark Twain offered Grant a generous contract for his memoirs, including 75% of the book’s sales as royalties.
Grant’s supporters in Congress, Senator George Edmunds, and Representative Joseph E. Johnston, had rallied to get a bill passed, efforts starting in 1881, that restored Grant to General of the Army with full retirement pay. President Chester A. Arthur signed the bill, not specifically naming Grant, on March 4, 1885; then President Grover Cleveland commissioned Grant as General of the Army so Grant would receive much needed retirement pay. Grant, after receiving the first pay on March 31, 1885 immediately gave it to his family; Grant now believed he had finally been vindicated by the public. It was not until 1958 that Congress, believing it inappropriate that a former President or his wife might be poverty-stricken, passed a bill entitling all former Presidents to a pension and other benefits such as an office staff, a law still in effect today.
Terminally ill, Grant finished his memoir just a few days before his death. The Memoirs sold over 300,000 copies, earning the Grant family over $450,000. Twain promoted the book as "the most remarkable work of its kind since the Commentaries of Julius Caesar." Grant’s memoir has been regarded by writers as diverse as Matthew Arnold and Gertrude Stein as one of the finest works of its kind ever written.
Ulysses S. Grant died on Thursday, July 23, 1885, at the age of 63 in Mount McGregor, Saratoga County, New York. His body lies in New York City’s Riverside Park, beside that of his wife, in Grant’s Tomb, the largest mausoleum in North America. It was originally interred in a vault in the same park, which was used until the current mausoleum was built. Grant is honored by the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the base of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Other Events on this Day:
Massachusetts authorizes the building of the Boston Light, the first lighthouse constructed in America.
Ulysses S. Grant, the eighteenth U.S. president, dies in Mount McGregor, New York.
Tiger Woods wins the British Oppen at age twenty-four, becoming the youngest golfer to win a career Grand Slam (the Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, and British Open).
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Ulysses S. Grant…
Brainy Quote: Memoirs Quotes…