‘Grant’ is recommended reading for history buffs
The Grant Highway runs along the Ohio River across from Huntington. What do we know about this memorialized man? He was the General who defeated the Confederates, saving the Union. His popularity led to two Presidencies. He was the face of the Republicans following Lincoln’s assassination. He is characterized as a butcherous general throwing men into battle, a drunkard, a scandalous politician.
Ron Chernow, a Pulitzer Prize winning author whose biography, Alexander Hamilton, was inspiration for the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. His work, Grant (2017) is a readable tome that will be loved by history buffs. It will restore Grant’s reputation as facts are sorted from fiction.
Alcoholism ran in Grant’s family. Grant did not drink on the battlefield. However, he binged following those events. Grant won his battle with booze under the watch of wife and aide. He was humble, allowing promotions to come his way and he also held empathy for troops and did not risk them foolishly. He was politically naive and sympathetic to troubled souls who manipulated him. Grant himself was not personally involved in scandal.
Grant grew up along the Ohio River. He graduated from West Point, fought in the Mexican War, served posts in the West. He failed at farming and mercantile trade, often on the edge of poverty. He had married into a Southern family, but was loyal to the principles embodied in President Lincoln. He went back to war from Illinois, quickly rising through the ranks, learning from his defeats to win significant battles, his competence rewarded by promotions.
An ancient Greek belief suggests we are born with a meaningful destiny which we forget at birth. Grant’s innate genius was being a warrior as battle was in his blood. He stood up to bullies on behalf of underdogs. Although Robert E. Lee was a better tactician, Grant was the superior strategist commanding armies from the Western theater, to the deep South and Virginia. Grant fought to preserve the civil rights of four million blacks who had been liberated and he aggressively protected their rights gained by the 13, 14, and 15th amendments.
The Civil War did not end at Appomattox. Andrew Johnson tried to undo what the War accomplished. There were ongoing uprisings in the South. Reconstruction was a worthy experiment, but it was challenged by fatigue over Northern sacrifice and Southern betrayal. Frederick Douglas questioned what good abolition was for the black man if “having been freed from the slaveholder’s lash, he is to be subject to the slaveholder’s shotgun?” Grant sent troops to protect black and white Republican. He requested the KKK Act of 1871 be adopted. In the face of staggering difficulties, Grant did a great deal to rebuild our nation such as paying off the war debt, stabilizing the economy in the face of financial panic, employing minorities. He began our national park system.
The Jim Crow era, another form of slavery, shows Grant’s limitations as a political warrior as insurrection continued. The reader will see the roots of issues we battle today— citizenship, federal powers, states’ rights, domestic terrorism, white supremacy, affirmative action, reparations, an ongoing search for genuine civil rights and justice.
Grant tried to protect Native Americans as gold miners invaded their sacred Black Hills. He wanted to bring justice to tribes but was caught in contradictions as treaties were violated. Grant fought to implement civil service reforms in the face of patronage Grant’s last battle was a bout with throat cancer. In the face of impending poverty from a Ponzi scheme, he completed his Memoirs, the best selling book of the 19th century which Mark Twain published.
This biography will clarify Grant’s clouded reputation. It attests to a humble, courageous man burdened by adversities beyond his making. He persevered with courage, integrity, and a good heart. Grant was an outstanding warrior in war and peace. I would be surprised though if a Broadway musical emerges from this work given the accomplishments and complexities of Grant’s life,
David J. Dalrymple, Ph.D., is affiliate minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston, a pastoral psychotherapist and Jungian psychoanalyst, and has been adjunct faculty in Religious Studies at Marshall University.