Friday, April 27, 2007

U.S. Grant


"Grant was manipulated by the managers and operators of a post-Civil War spoils system that subordinated every facet of the federal government to their own devious ends. Grant merely presided at the White House during the height of the Gilded Age while the spoilsmen and big-business moguls not only ran the country, but ran off with most of the gilt." -- Nathan Miller.

The man who became the toughest Union general of the Civil War was a shy, sensitive and somewhat squeamish child who showed little promise in anything except taking care of horses. Little more could be said of U.S. Grant through his career at West Point Military Academy (from which he graduated 21 of 39 cadets), his Mexican War service under General Zachary Taylor (other than that he was cast as "Desdemona" in fellow soldier James Longstreet's production of Shakespeare's Othello while awaiting battle), or his subsequent military service and attempt to establish a farm in St. Louis, all of which culminated in his having to accept a job as a clerk in his father's leather goods store in Galena, Illinois at the age of 38 in order to provide for his family.

Although Ulysses S. Grant was born on this day in 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, it was the Civil War that gave birth to U.S. Grant as a historical protagonist, though perhaps his leviathan patience (which he cultivated while breaking horses in his youth) was the key to his fortunes as a general. His successes in the recapture of Fort Donelson in Tennessee and at the Battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg earned him Lincoln's admiration and the nickname "(U)nconditional (S)urrender Grant." The essence of his strategy was to keep hitting General Lee's Confederate Army and to simply outlast him, which he ultimately did as Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

In the turmoil that followed Lincoln's assassination, the Republicans and the country not surprisingly looked to the non-ideological war hero for comfort. Grant served two terms as president (from 1869 to 1877) and was considered for an unprecedented third term in 1880, though his administration was scandal-ridden and he exercised little control over the rampant activities of the Northern industrialists who elected him or the efforts of Reconstruction politicians to limit the scope of freedom for the African-Americans who were freed during the War. Grant's own conduct was beyond reproach ethically speaking, and in the final analysis he seems to have been the victim of most of the scenarios in which he was involved following the War.

After retiring from politics, Grant lost his fortune when his son Buck's brokerage firm went bankrupt, and braved cancer while writing his Memoirs in order to provide an income for his family. He died of throat cancer on July 23, 1885 at Mt. McGregor, New York.


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