Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Heroby Michael Korda
One of the first two volumes in Harper's Eminent Lives series, Korda brings his acclaimed storytelling talents to the life of Ulysses S. Grant – a man who managed to end the Civil War on a note of grace, serve two terms as president, write one of the most successful military memoirs in American literature, and is today remembered as a brilliant/em>
One of the first two volumes in Harper's Eminent Lives series, Korda brings his acclaimed storytelling talents to the life of Ulysses S. Grant – a man who managed to end the Civil War on a note of grace, serve two terms as president, write one of the most successful military memoirs in American literature, and is today remembered as a brilliant general but a failed president.
Ulysses S. Grant was the first officer since George Washington to become a four–star general in the United States Army, and the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to serve eight consecutive years in the White House. In this succinct and vivid biography, Michael Korda considers Grant's character and reconciles the conflicting evaluations of his leadership abilities.
Grant's life played out as a true Horatio Alger story. Despite his humble background as the son of a tanner in Ohio, his lack of early success in the army, and assorted failed business ventures, his unwavering determination propelled him through the ranks of military leadership and into the presidency. But while the general's tenacity and steadfastness contributed to his success on the battlefield, it both aided and crippled his effectiveness in the White House.
Assessing Grant both within the context of his time and in contrast to more recent American leaders, Korda casts a benevolent eye on Grant's presidency while at the same time conceding his weaknesses. He suggests that though the general's second term ended in financial and political scandals, the fact remains that for eight years Grant exerted a calming influence on a country that had only just emerged from a horrendous civil war. Ulysses S. Grant is an even–handed and stirring portrait of a man who guided America through a pivotal juncture in its history.
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Ulysses S. Grant
The Unlikely Hero
In the summer of 2003 Ulysses S. Grant made news all across the country that he had, in his lifetime, done so much to reunite: Some of his descendants, a good part of the more serious press, and the Grant Monument Association objected strongly to pop diva Beyoncé Knowles, accompanied by a "troupe of barely clad dancers," using his tomb in New York City's Riverside Park as the background for a raucous, "lascivious," nationally televised July Fourth concert.
Beyoncé and her fans hardly seemed aware of who Grant was, or why such a fuss should be made about the presence of loud music, suggestive dancing, partial nudity, and a huge, boisterous crowd in front of his tomb, which, as the New York Times pointed out, had once been a bigger tourist attraction than the Statue of Liberty. In fact, except for a few members of the Grant family who had been trying for years to get the bodies of General Grant and his wife, Julia, removed from the tomb on the grounds that it had been allowed to fall into a disgraceful state of repair and decay, the level of public indignation was low. The Times even felt compelled to comment rather sniffily that the general was "no longer the immensely famous figure he once was." Grant's great-grandson Chapman Foster Grant, fifty-eight, however, took a different view of Beyoncé's concert, commenting, "Who knows? If the old guy were alive, he might have liked it."
Knowing as much as we do about the general's relationship with Mrs. Grant -- like President Lincoln, whom he much admired, Grant was notoriously devoted to a wife who felt herself and her family to be vastly socially superior to his and was not shy about letting her opinion on the subject be known; and, like Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Grant's physical charms, such as they may have been, were lost on everybody but her dutiful husband -- it seems unlikely that Grant would have allowed himself to appreciate Beyoncé's presence at his tomb. Mrs. Grant, it was generally felt, kept her husband on a pretty tight leash when it came to pretty girls, barely clothed or not.
As for Grant himself, while he had his problems with liquor -- his reputation as a drinker is perhaps the one thing that most Americans still remember about him, that and the fact that his portrait, with a glum, seedy, withdrawn, and slightly guilty expression, like that of a man with a bad hangover, is on the fifty-dollar bill -- no allegation of any sexual indiscretion blots his record. He reminds one, in fact, of Byron's famous lines about George III:
He had that household virtue, most uncommon, Of constancy to a bad, ugly woman.
Grant not only led a blameless domestic life, he was the very reverse of flamboyant. Softspoken, given to long silences, taciturn, easily hurt and embarrassed, he was the most unlikely of military heroes. He did not, like Gen. Ambrose Burnside, for example, who was so soundly defeated by Lee at Fredericksburg, lend his name to a style of swashbuckling full sidewhiskers -- "sideburns," as they came to be known after him. Nor did he lend his name, as the unfortunate Gen. Joseph Hooker (who succeeded Burnside and was defeated by Lee at Chancellorsville) was thought to have done, to label the prostitutes who were said to surround his headquarters, so that even today they are still known as "hookers" by people who have never heard of the general himself. Grant aimed to be the most ordinary appearing and self-effacing of men, and to a very large extent he succeeded.
The fact that Beyoncé is black, as was much of the audience of thousands gathered to listen to her concert, might have shocked the general rather less than her near nudity or the "lascivious choreography" reported by the Times. Grant probably did more than anyone except Lincoln to destroy the institution of slavery in North America, but, like Lincoln, he shared the social attitude toward Negroes of his own race and his time. However, his innate good manners, natural courtesy, and a certain broad-minded tolerance always marked his behavior toward them. It was typical of him that while very few other generals in that age would have had a Native American officer on their staffs, Grant did, and as president he deplored the way in which government agents exploited the Indians, seeming to have felt that Custer got what was coming to him at the Little Big Horn.
Grant's personal and professional opinion of Custer had always been low, and although he made more than his share of political and financial mistakes in the White House and afterward, and his judgment of character when it came to civilians was notoriously optimistic, his judgment of generalship was invariably ruthlessly objective and on target. Grant was unsure about a lot of things, but he knew a flashy, incompetent, and reckless general when he saw one, so Custer's defeat at the hands of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse did not surprise or shock him, unlike the rest of the United States.
What he would have made of the Grant family's long struggle to extricate him and Mrs. Grant from Grant's Tomb as it fell into disrepair and decay and move them elsewhere is hard to say. One of the reasons the campaign failed was the question of where to put the Grants if they were removed from their tomb in New York City. With that mournful failure of judgment that was apt to come over Grant off the battlefield, he and Mrs. Grant chose New York City for their resting place, in part out of a dislike for Washington, D.C. -- Grant's two terms as president had not produced in either of them any affection for Washington society, nor, in the end, was there much affection in Washington for them -- while Galena, Illinois, which seemed too provincial a backwater in which to bury such a great man, had even fewer happy memories for the Grants than did Washington ...Ulysses S. Grant
The Unlikely Hero. Copyright © by Michael Korda. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Michael Korda is the author of Ulysses S. Grant, Ike, Hero, and Charmed Lives. Educated at Le Rosey in Switzerland and at Magdalen College, Oxford, he served in the Royal Air Force. He took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and on its fiftieth anniversary was awarded the Order of Merit of the People's Republic of Hungary. He and his wife, Margaret, make their home in Dutchess County, New York.
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Very well written in compact prose. Korda's sympathy for Grant is evident throughout, yet he doesn't shy from Grant's failings. A wonderful story artfully told.
It was interesting to learn about the essence of US Grant in a mere 176 pages rather than having to wade through a much larger book. I plan to read more books by Korda.
I have read Grant's Memoirs and several other biographies of the general. To me they are all great readings. I am surprised that Michael Korda did not do for Grant what he did for IKE.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), says Michael Korda, was an 'unlikely hero.' He was, writes Korda, 'thin-skinned, sensitive, and burdened with the inferiority complex of a boy who had been brought up by harsh and distant parents, made fun of at school, been passed over for promotion in the army, failed at every attempt to make money or improve his situation, and eventually settled into life as a clerk in his father's store and the town drunk until the Civil War came along and saved him.' The author portrays Grant as one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, of American military leaders. And while Grant was one of our weaker presidents, says Korda, he succeeded in keeping the nation at peace during troubled times. The book discusses Grant's years at West Point, his service in the Mexican War, his marriage to Julia Dent, and the birth of their four children: Frederick, Ulysses Junior, Nellie, and Jesse. Grant was born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio. In May 1860, after the dismal failure of numerous business enterprises, he moved to Galena, Illinois, and accepted a clerkship in his father's leather store. He died on July 23, 1885, at Mt. McGregor, New York, only a week or so before completing his monumental Memoirs. Of course, the main reason we are still fascinated with Grant today is because of his military genius in the horrific conflict of the Civil War. Korda points out that nearly 625,000 Americans were killed in the Civil War, compared to 400,000 in World War II and 58,000 in Vietnam. Korda follows Grant from Fort Henry (on the Tennessee River), Fort Donelson (on the Cumberland River), Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing), Vicksburg, Chattanooga (Missionary Ridge), Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, and his pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia to Appomattox Court House, the venue of Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender. Grant saw clearly (as did Lincoln) that the only way to win the war was to keep pounding away relentlessly and doggedly at the enemy. On Feb. 16, 1862, he sent a stern missive to Gen. S. B. Buckner, commander of Fort Donelson (near Dover, Tennessee): 'No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.' On May 11, 1864, in 'the Wilderness' near Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, Grant sent a dispatch to Washington: 'I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.' And on Aug. 1, 1864, writing from City Point, Virginia, Grant sent this dispatch to Gen. Henry W. Halleck: 'Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also.' Although Grant's presidency was embroiled in scandal, Korda insists that Grant was honest to a fault, but too naive and trusting of others. Grant emerges as a decent, honorable, and likable man. And Korda's concise biography of Grant should appeal even to those who are not Civil War buffs. A final point should be emphasized. Korda's assessment of Grant is constantly compared to the leaders of World War II and to the present war in the Middle East ('Operation Iraqi Freedom'). The latter comparison is inferred rather than explicit, but Korda's meaning is unmistakable. Grant left some important words of wisdom for us today, imploring us to resist the arrogant encroachments of a theocratic fundamentalism: 'Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and the state forever separate.' Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero launches the Eminent Lives Series from HarperCollins. Forthcoming volumes include studies of Alexander the Great, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, William Shakespeare, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. Roy E. Perry of Nolensville (email@example.com) is an advertising copywriter at a Nashville publishing house. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Korda, who served in the British armed forces, is editor-in-chief of Simon & Schust
Laced with subjective comments, devoid of critical analysis, and brimming with the author's overt fascination with the Duke of Wellington. At best - I would recommend this as an introductory biography of GEN Grant for middle school readers.