By Chet Yarbrough
American Ulysses, A Life of Ulysses S. Grant
Written by: Ronald C. White
Narrated by: Arthur Morey
RONALD C. WHITE (AUTHOR, HISTORIAN)
Revisionist history always raises the specter of truth or fiction. Some histories report Ulysses Grant as a drunk, a failed farmer, a mediocre student of West Point, an uncaring General of soldier’s slaughter, and an inept President of the United States.
Ronald White tells a different story. He implies Grant is one of the three greatest leaders in American history. White ranks Grant with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
As may not be widely known, Grant chose to resign from the army in 1854 because of a threat of court martial from a commanding officer. The commanding officer alleges Grant is too drunk to carry out his duty as a ranking officer at his post. White explains Grant’s choice to resign as a defense against the stigma of trial.
Based on research, White suggests Grant fears embarrassment for his wife and family with a public trial. After leaving the Army, Grant tries his hand at farming and finds he cannot make it profitable.
He sells his farm interest and carries its debt until paid in full. Grant asks his father to allow him to work for him in his tanning business as a salesman. When civil war is declared, Grant requests return to the Army as a Union officer. As a graduate of West Point, his request is granted; partly for military necessity, but certainly with knowledge of a mark against his character.
Grant is shown to make his mark in history at the Battle of Vicksburg. Beginning as a frontal assault that changes into a siege, Grant confirms his reputation as a master strategist and winning union general. To many, Vicksburg is the turning point in America’s civil war.
It is unquestioned by White that many Union soldiers die under Grant’s command, but Grant is the first Union officer to fight and win battles. Grant is soon promoted to Brigadier General. Grant is shown to be a quick study who makes strategic mistakes but learns to assess and manage fellow officers who battle and beat Confederate armies.
Grant at Cold Harbor
White reports that Grant is deeply affected by loss of close friends and soldiers. However, Grant retains a fierce determination to win reunification of the States.
Grant is strongly supported by Abraham Lincoln who reveres and respects Grant’s hard-won battles against the Confederacy.
Grant abhors slavery and fully endorses freedom for slaves and enlistment of the freed into the Union Army. White reflects on the character of Grant by noting that he is a self-effacing leader who supports and rewards successful subordinates while serving as a fierce fighter for unionization and the equality of all human beings.
CIVIL WAR RECRUITS (OVER 180,000 BLACK MEN FOUGHT FOR THE UNION ARMY DURING THE CIVIL WAR.)
ANDREW JOHNSON (17TH PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. 1865-1869)
After Lincoln’s assassination, White reveals the contentious time and inept handling of the government by Andrew Johnson. Johnson is nearly impeached for arbitrarily discharging the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.
(Legislation of that time forbade the President from discharging cabinet members without approval of Congress.) Grant privately, and later publicly, opposed Johnson’s action. White also notes that Grant argues against Johnson’s attempts to return the South to slavery by allowing state governments to continue discrimination against Blacks.
Grant argues for military intervention in southern state governments when they discriminate against minorities. This remains an unresolved issue until Grant becomes President, after Johnson’s completed term.
ULYSSES GRANT POLITICAL CARTOON REGARDING CORRUPTION IN HIS ADMINISTRATION.
White completes Grant’s biography by noting that the “Gilded Age” (a title coined by Mark Twain) smudges Grant’s reputation because of the greed of a few men who knew Grant and tried to take advantage of their association. Some were members of Grant’s administration, but White argues that none of them included Grant in their sordid schemes.
White infers a naivete in Grant because he views others as he views himself. Once one gathers Grant’s confidence, White implies Grant loses his objectivity. White illustrates Grant’s credulity in having joined a Ponzi scheme that nearly bankrupts his family. This credulity is further explained by White in the story of Grant’s personally written biography of the war. Mark Twain protects Grant from making a huge financial mistake in how his memoirs are to be published.
Truth is left to historians, and society’s judgement.
Is White’s revisionist history truth or fiction? One draws their own conclusion, but few human beings are untouched by the seduction of money, power, and prestige. White’s story of Ulysses Grant suggests he is among the few. White makes a compelling and interesting case for Grant’s place in American history. Grant belongs in the lexicon of American History.