Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Reassessing the Man from Ohio

Two new books are refurbishing U.S. Grant's reputation, according to a review by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post. The books are Ulysses S. Grant, by Josiah Bunting III, and Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero, by Michael Korda. Yardley quotes Bunting on Grant:
He was hugely but modestly self-reliant; he was accustomed to making do with what he was given, without asking for more; he defined himself in action, not talk; he was dutiful, intensely loyal to superiors and friends, brave in the way that Tacitus called Agricola brave: unconsciously so.
And Korda:
Grant had that rare quality among professional soldiers, even at the very beginning of his career, of feeling deeply for the wounded and dead of both sides. It was not weakness -- it was that he spared himself nothing. Grant saw what happened in war, swallowed his revulsion, pity and disgust, and went on.
A general for all seasons.

Yardley reminds us that Grant's heroism extended beyond the battlefield:
The end of Grant's life was both sad and noble. An investment firm to which he had foolishly committed such fortune as he had was undone by its founder's dishonesty, and Grant was bankrupt. At about the same time he learned that he had terminal throat cancer. Desperate to assure [his wife] Julia's financial security after his death, he overcame his qualms and agreed to write his memoirs. He completed them barely hours before his death, his final bequest to the country he had served so nobly: a literary masterpiece, two volumes in which the stamp of his greatness is on every page.