Ulysses S. Grant: An American Hero

21 03 2010

By Timothy D. Naegele[1]

It is been said that Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs are the finest written by an American president, and this assessment may well be true, which is among the reasons why I wanted to read them.  Abraham Lincoln held Grant in very high regard, and credited both Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman with winning the Civil War militarily and thereby preserving the Union.  Grant returned Lincoln’s respect and praise, both in the words that he wrote and in his decision not to become a presidential candidate in 1864—and probably become a very formidable rival, according to Lincoln’s keen political judgment.

It is a shame that Grant did not write about his own two-term presidency, and instead concluded his memoirs with the war’s end.  However, he died of throat cancer in 1885, twenty years after the “rebellion” ended and less than a week after completing work on the memoirs, which were written in large part to provide much-needed financial security for his beloved wife, Julia Dent Grant.  They accomplished their purpose, and were encouraged and edited by his friend, Mark Twain.

While I am not a student of the Civil War, nor of the other campaigns in which Grant served—all of which are discussed in great detail—his memoirs give the reader a window into the man and the war that wrenched and transformed this nation, and produced so much carnage on both sides.  Like Dwight D. Eisenhower and other famous generals, Grant concludes: “[T]his war was a fearful lesson, and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future.”

However, Grant adds: “To maintain peace in the future it is necessary to be prepared for war.  . . .  [U]nless we are prepared for it we may be in danger of a combined movement being some day made to crush us out.”  With respect to former slaves, Grant writes: “[H]e was brought to our shores by compulsion, and he now should be considered as having as good a right to remain here as any other class of our citizens.”

As to the future of our nation and the healing of its wounds, he concluded:

The war has made us a nation of great power and intelligence.  . . .  I feel we are on the eve of a new era, when there is to be great harmony between the [North and South].  I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so.  The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”

The expressions of these kindly feelings were not restricted to a section of the country, nor to a division of the people.  They came from individual citizens of all nationalities; from all denominations—the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew; and from various societies of the land—scientific, educational, religious, or otherwise.  Politics did not enter into the matter at all.

Grant dedicated his memoirs to the “American Soldier And Sailor”; and it seems true, as Geoffrey Perret has written, “he was modest, sensitive, generous, honest, and superlatively intelligent.  Grant’s courage, both moral and physical, was a matter of record.”  He lives on through his words and deeds, having saved a nation—albeit not being recognized fully as the American hero that he was.

© 2010, Timothy D. Naegele

Grant


[1] Timothy D. Naegele was counsel to the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, and chief of staff to Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal recipient and former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass), the first black senator since Reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War.  He practices law in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles with his firm, Timothy D. Naegele & Associates (www.naegele.com).  He has an undergraduate degree in economics from UCLA, as well as two law degrees from the School of Law (Boalt Hall), University of California, Berkeley, and from Georgetown University.  He is a member of the District of Columbia and California bars.  He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon, where he received the Joint Service Commendation Medal.  Mr. Naegele is an Independent politically; and he is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law, and Who’s Who in Finance and Business. He has written extensively over the years.  See, e.g., www.naegele.com/whats_new.html#articles

[2] See http://www.amazon.com/Personal-Memoirs-Ulysses-Modern-Library/dp/0375752285/ref=cm_cr-mr-title


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8 01 2011
Timothy D. Naegele

The Grant Memorial Bears Looking At Anew

Grant Memorial

This is the conclusion of Michael F. Bishop, former executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, in a Wall Street Journal article that is worth reading. He writes:

Standing at the east end of the Mall, facing the Lincoln Memorial to the west, with the Washington Monument in between, its prominent location reflects Grant’s once-towering reputation in the eyes of his countrymen. Sadly, most visitors who linger there today do so merely to photograph the Capitol looming behind it. As we approach the sesquicentennial of the onset of the Civil War, the Grant Memorial bears looking at anew.

. . .

The memorial [Henry Merwin Shrady (1871-1922)] produced was unlike any other in the U.S. up to that time. It is vast, with a base 252 feet wide by 71 feet deep, and was the largest bronze-casting project ever undertaken. At its center stands an equestrian statue of Grant. Flanking him, albeit some distance away, are clusters of warriors: a Cavalry Group to the north and an Artillery Group to the south.

The Grant statue, together with its pedestal, stand nearly 40 feet tall and is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The general sits astride his favorite horse, Cincinnati; he is slouched, right arm akimbo, hat pulled low, gazing off in the distance with the cool dispassion for which he was famous. Cincinnati stands tense, head turned slightly to the left, nostrils flared, alert to the sound of battle. Around the statue’s Vermont marble pedestal are four smaller plinths topped by bronze lions, each guarding the flags of the U.S. and of the Army.

But the true genius of the memorial lies in the flanking sculptures. They endow the memorial with a powerful immediacy by reminding us that great causes are not won without sacrifice and suffering. The Cavalry Group portrays seven men and their horses in the full chaos of battle. A horse and rider at the front have fallen, and the man behind them has covered his face, bracing for disaster. The fallen soldier appears to accept his fate with grim resignation. (The sculptor used mirrors to model the unfortunate man after himself.) The officer at the front shouts an order, sword aloft, oblivious to his fallen comrade. In his “Washington Sculpture: A Cultural History of Outdoor Sculpture in the Nation’s Capital,” James M. Goode justly deems the Cavalry Group to possess “more dramatic interest and suspense than any sculpture in the city, and, indeed, in the nation.”

The Artillery Group depicts six men and five horses shepherding a caisson and cannon through the battlefield. Beneath them is a roiling sea of mud and debris. An abandoned musket lies nearby, so realistically rendered that the viewer might try to pick it up. One of the men has given the signal to pivot right; his guidon, seemingly flying against the wind, has in fact just been flung backward. The horses are all restrained power, digging their hooves in the mud for purchase as they prepare to turn—save for one, whose continued forward movement seems strange until one notices his broken bridle strap. This horse’s hooves are flung out far beyond the pedestal beneath; to stand beneath them is unsettling. The expressions of the men vary from stoic resolve to fearful exhilaration. The danger and fury of battle are rendered without glamour or pretense.

Two low-relief bronze panels on either side of Grant’s pedestal represent the infantry. Completed by another sculptor working from Mr. Shrady’s sketches, they were installed two years after the memorial’s dedication. More conventional and less dramatic than the two sculpture groups, they nonetheless depict relentless forward movement. It is ironic, however, that the infantry, hurled by Grant against the works of Cold Harbor and so many other deadly entrenchments, should be somewhat overshadowed here.

. . .

Today the memorial is difficult to see to advantage because the Capitol Reflecting Pool, installed in 1970, blocks a direct approach from the front. This pointless water feature should be removed immediately and “Union Square,” as the area is officially known, relandscaped to permit a proper viewing and appreciation of Mr. Shrady’s masterpiece. And the memorial is tarnished by years of exposure and neglect. Perhaps the new Congress that recently convened behind the memorial will notice and take action. Both the artist and the man who helped Lincoln save the union deserve no less.

See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703909904576051772292330568.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLE_Video_Third#articleTabs%3Darticle; see also http://www.visitingdc.com/capitol/grant-memorial-washington-dc.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_S._Grant_Memorial and http://www.dcmemorials.com/henrymerwinshrady/index.htm

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