“A 336,000 word memoir written in one year. By the time I’m done the cancerous growth on the side of my neck is the size of a baseball. And baseball hasn’t even been invented yet. I die. But my beloved bride Julia and my family are well provided for. I was flat broke. I was busted out by a swindler and it didn’t matter that I’d just spent eight years as president of the United States. Or that as top general of the army I’d won the war for the union. I was toast. Finished.
I was decisively brilliant in some areas of my brain and fantastically naïve as to certain conniving individuals in another. It happened more than once. My brain was divided into two halves like everybody else’s. So it’s complicated.
A guy named Mark Twain thought I should write my memoirs to restore my finances and him and Webster published the book and it’s still in print 135 years later. My widow, who outlived me by seventeen years, holding the copyright, realized $650,000 in U.S. dollars and the family’s fortunes were restored. Not every memoirist can say that.”
Graduated West Point 1843 at twenty-one. Fine horseman. Served in Mexico and at Fort Vancouver, Oregon Territory. Resigned the army 1854. Hardscrabble existence. Returned to the army 1861. Reduced Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, Shiloh, Chattanooga, Appomattox. Never lost a battle. Made general of the army, the first to hold that rank since George Washington. While I was reading the book I couldn’t stop myself from wondering who was George Washington? I love history so that was my problem to solve, not somebody else’s. Grant kind of reminded me of myself.
Ron Chernow. Never heard of him until his big bio of the general. And I’ve hungered for the general since I read his memoirs about a hundred years ago. Grant was also a literary marksman of the first order. Luv big books. I remember my Daddy telling me just before he packed it, “If it’s the right book you often wish it was longer.” I hated my Daddy but that don’t mean he was wrong.
Chernow’s a good read. Ulys had a problem with booze and the author is about the first to really bring that forward. Other biographers have alluded to it slightly and some have ignored it altogether. The problem as with all problem boozers is that he became a totally different person when gooned and drank to the point of insensibility exclusively. A long serving adjutant and his wife greatly influenced his staying away from alcohol, doing their part to save the union.
America hasn’t changed much. Then as now it was a glowing fireball of rabid partisanship except in Grant’s time the mad, drooling partisanship came from the Democrat side while the Republican party was the voice of reason, compromise and unity. The south was Democrat and still thought slavery was cool even after losing the war. A lot of bad actors wanted to overcome that result, sowing terror and murdering black people. Grant spent a lot of time as president using federal troops to round up and prosecute the Klan because the states down there couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.
Ron Chernow has a thing for biographies of major American figures. He’s covered off George W. and Alexander Hamilton. The hugely successful play “Hamilton”, at least it was before the pathogen showed up, was largely based on his biography. Movie rights to “Grant” have been sold. The book is good, all 958 pages of it plus notes.
Find if you can the deluxe edition with the stars in Grant’s eyes to match the ones on his shoulder bars. Don’t bother. I put those stars there myself because I didn’t want Grant’s eyes following me around the room and giving me the creeps every time I put the tome down. If you’ve got any gold stars lying around you can do the same.
In these interesting times don’t forget your prayers…
Thou shall not be afraid for any terror by night
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day
For the pestilence that walketh in darkness
Nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noon-day
A thousand shall fall beside thee
And ten thousand at they right hand
But it shall not come nigh thee
Excerpt Psalm 91 Church of England Book of Common Prayer
Slightly different version in the King James version of the good book