by Bonnie James

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on”. 

Two hundred years after his birth, Ulysses Grant, the military genius who won the Civil War and saved the republic, remains little known to most Americans, despite his having been widely revered in his time, and for decades after his death. But for 100 years thereafter, until a recent rehabilitation, Grant was largely forgotten, or worse, viewed as the bloodthirsty commander who defeated the “Lost Cause” of the Southern way of life. Yet, this man of unimposing stature, unprepossessing demeanor, inconsequential beginnings, and extreme modesty, emerged in the 1860s, as he was approaching the age of 40, as the greatest American military leader since Gen. George Washington, and arguably, for all time since. The singular quality which prepared him to succeed in what would be both the greatest challenge of his life, and in the existence of the nation, was a determination to keep fighting until he won, along with an almost supernatural ability to focus on the task before him.

As we will see, Grant succeeded in mustering these same qualities in the last great challenge of his life: his battle to stay alive long enough to complete his Memoirs and to leave us with what is, in the words of his friend Mark Twain, “a great, unique and unapproachable literary masterpiece.”

Grant’s brilliance and many unique qualities remained largely hidden, until they were revealed in the fires of war. The military genius who secured the Union victory and served two-terms as President of the United States (1869-77), emerged from the humblest of beginnings.

Born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio, he began life as Hiram Ulysses Grant, but when Ohio Congressman Thomas L. Hamer wrote a letter recommending Ulysses for appointment at the West Point Military Academy, he rendered his name as Ulysses S. Grant, and it stuck. Thereafter, he was mostly known as “Sam.” Ulysses’ father Jesse Root Grant was a tanner and ran a leather goods store in Galena, Illinois, where he had moved his family, and, over time, became a successful businessman and prominent citizen, with however a reputation as ill-tempered and difficult to get along with; politically, he was a Whig Party supporter, an ardent abolitionist, and campaigned for Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln. Ulysses’ grandfather Noah Grant fought at Bunker Hill in the American Revolution.

Grant, after graduating from West Point in 1843, where he proved himself to be a solid, if unexceptional student; he excelled in horsemanship and mathematics, and surprisingly, drawing and painting, all of which would serve him well as commander of vast armies in the Civil War. According to Elizabeth D. Samet, a professor of English at West Point, “surviving drawings and paintings from Grant’s West Point years show early signs of what the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called a `special gift’ common to successful painters and generals alike: namely, a remarkable visual memory. After Grant studied a map, his staff officer Horace Porter recalled, “it seemed to become photographed indelibly upon his brain.”

Following graduation, he served honorably in the Mexican War (1846-48), where he held the post of quartermaster, which put him in charge of logistics and transportation for a regiment of nearly 1,000 men. While he later condemned the war as “one of the most unjust ever waged,” the experience was to prove invaluable for his leadership in the Civil War. Of the 39 men in Grant’s graduating class, 15 became Union generals and 3 served as general officers in the Confederate army. Grant, as revealed in his Memoirs, retained astonishingly accurate portraits of both his West Point classmates, and those he served with in the Mexican War, including then-Col. Robert E. Lee, which provided him with invaluable intelligence when estimating both his fellow officers, as well as those on the Rebel side.

War broke out in April 1861, just before Grant’s 39th birthday, with the attack on Fort Sumter near Charleston. (South Carolina had seceded from the Union the previous December). At the time, Grant was living in Galena, and working at his father’s leather shop, following his return home from a military deployment at Fort Humboldt in Northern California. He had reached a low point in his life, with poor prospects as he faced middle age with a wife, Julia Dent Grant, and four children to support. Between 1854 and 1860, Grant struggled to support his family by farming on land given to him by his father-in-law; it is telling that Grant named his farm “Hardscrabble,” for these were difficult times for the Grants. In April 1860, he moved the family to Galena, and had some success working for his father.

The commencement of the war in 1861 gave Grant the chance to turn his life around; it was only then that his somewhat singular talents began to assert themselves. When Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, a mass meeting was organized in Galena to rally the men of the town to volunteer. Before long, he was mustering troops and training them for battle. With the support of Congressman Elihu B. Washburn (an important Congressional ally of President Lincoln), he was promoted to the rank of colonel and took charge of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. By August, Grant was named Brigadier General of volunteers. He was on his way.

Salt River: A Valuable Lesson

Soon Grant found himself facing the enemy. He had received orders to move against Col. Thomas Harris at the Salt River in Missouri. As he described it in his Memoirs:

As we approached the brow of the hill from which it was expected we could see Harris’ camp, and possibly find his men ready formed to meet us, my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt to me as though it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on. When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted. The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there and the marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards.

From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. The lesson was valuable.

That lesson served General Grant well as he went on to score victories over the next four years—Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and ultimately, Richmond and Appomattox, where he accepted the surrender of Lee’s army on April 9, 1865—just days before Lincoln’s assassination.

Grant’s taking of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, following just one day after the Union victory at Gettysburg, turned the tide of the war. On July 5, before he learned of the Union victory at Vicksburg, the President said of the Grant: “Grant is my man and I am his the rest of the war.” (1)

After learning of the victory, Lincoln wrote to Grant:

Major General Grant
My dear General

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do, what you finally did — march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port-Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.(2)

In a May 26, 1863 letter to his friend Isaac Arnold, Lincoln, referring to Grant’s possible capture of Vicksburg, wrote, “his campaign from the beginning of this month up to the twenty second day of it, is one of the most brilliant in the world.”(3)

The following March, Lincoln appointed then-Major-General Ulysses Grant to the rank of Lieutenant-General, with command of all Union armies. Grant was only the second American military leader to achieve that rank, after Gen. George Washington was elevated to the same position by President John Adams, during the American War for Independence.

Grant is the first general I have had,” Lincoln said to William O. Stoddard, his secretary, at the time. “He’s a general!… You know how it has been with all the rest. As soon as I put a man in command of the army, he’d come to me with a plan of campaign and about as much as say, ‘Now I don’t believe I can do it, but if you say so, I’ll try it on,’ and so put the responsibility of success or failure on me. They all wanted me to be the general. It isn’t so with Grant. He hasn’t told me what his plans are. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I’m glad to find a man who can go ahead without me.”(4)

In his Memoirs, Grant described his first meeting with Lincoln:

In my first interview with Mr. Lincoln alone he stated to me that he had never professed to be a military man or to know how campaigns should be conducted, and never wanted to interfere in them…. All he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance. Assuring him that I would do the best I could with the means at hand, and avoid as far as possible annoying him or the War Department, our first interview ended.

Grant went on to serve as President of the United States for two terms, 1869-1877; despite the difficulties of his presidency—an economic recession triggered by the Panic of 1873 and the Specie Resumption Act, and charges of corruption brought on by the actions of scalawags in his administration–he was generally viewed as trusting to a fault (we will see more of this later)—he remained popular throughout his presidency and beyond; he was wildly cheered when he addressed the opening of the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876.

President Grant, during his last year in office, is hailed by the crowds on the opening day at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, May 10, 1876, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Following his two terms as president, he undertook an extraordinary two-and-a-half-year world tour 1877-79, where he was received and fèted by the leaders in nations that spanned the globe, among them, Queen Victoria, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Pope Leo XIII, the Khedive of Egypt, and Emperor Meiji of Japan. Grant and his entourage also spent three weeks in Scotland, the homeland of his forebears, where he visited Ayr, the birthplace of the national poet Robert Burns. Grant was known to quote Burns’ poems on the battlefields of the Civil War. After the victory at Fort Donelson, Grant witnessed a line of wounded warriors as they passed by. He was overheard then to softly recite a line from Robert Burns: “Man’s inhumanity to man / makes countless thousands mourn.”(5)

Grant’s Bankruptcy and Illness

Following Grant’s world tour, his savings depleted and without a pension, he faced insolvency. (6) Determined to find a way to ensure that his family would not be left destitute, in May 1884, he entered into what turned out to be a disastrous financial arrangement with his son Buck (Ulysses Jr.) and a Wall Street swindler by the name of Ferdinand Ward, who was known as the “Young Napoleon of Wall Street” (think Bernie Madoff). When Ward’s Ponzi scheme inevitably became his Waterloo, the firm, Grant & Ward, went under, and Grant, who had invested $100,000, was bankrupted.

In June of that year, Grant experience a severe pain in his throat which, by July, had become sufficiently vexatious to convince him to see a doctor. After examining Grant, his family physician sent him to a specialist, Dr. John Hancock Douglas, who had served in the US Sanitary Commission during the war. (Douglas had developed a remedy for scurvy during the war: He recommended that soldiers add sauerkraut and pickles to their diets, to provide Vitamin C and probiotics.) The doctor examined Grant’s throat and found what he believed to be a cancerous growth at the base of his tongue. After treating Grant for the pain with a muriate of cocaine, he advised Grant visit him twice daily to apply a derivative of chloroform to give him additional relief.

In November, Douglas forwarded a sample from Grant’s throat to the noted microbiologist George Frederick Shrady who confirmed the diagnosis of cancer; when learning that the patient was Grant, Shrady declared ominously, “Then General Grant is doomed.”(7)

Following his visit to Douglas, Grant went directly to the office of Roswell Smith, president of the Century Company, which had begun publishing the first of a series of four articles by Grant on his Civil War military campaigns (Shiloh, Vicksburg, the Wilderness, and Appomattox) for Century magazine. In view of the general’s fame and widespread adulation, both in the US and abroad, Smith hoped to secure the rights to publish his complete Memoirs.

By this time Grant had completed a 20,000-word manuscript, and begun a second, for Century magazine. In addition to having established his bona fides as writer of precise, clear prose, as evidenced by his many communications from the battlefield during war, and again later, during his presidency, he also had a prodigious memory for detail and a talent for storytelling, both of which enriched his writing style.

When Adam Badeau, who had served on Grant’s staff during the war, and was now assisting the general with the editing of his manuscript (he later published a three-volume biography of Grant), suggested that he, Badeau, share credit for the authorship, the general replied:

for the last twenty years I have been very much employed in writing. As a soldier, I wrote my own orders, plans of battle, instructions and reports. As President, I wrote every official document…. All these have been published and widely circulated. The public has become accustomed to my style of writing … that it is what it is just what it is and nothing else. If I succeed in telling my story so that others can see as I do what I attempt to show, I will be satisfied.(8)

Mark Twain (Library of Congress)

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, and Vicksburg

Twain, not yet a famous author, first met Grant, who was still in the U.S. Army, in December 1867, in Washington D.C., where Twain was employed as private secretary to a Nevada senator. In November 1879, Twain was invited to a dinner in Grant’s honor in Chicago, where Twain’s humorous remarks about the general, after an evening of ponderous praise, were appreciated ed by the guest of honor. The two became friends thereafter.

That the two men became friends, and collaborated on what turned out to be Grant’s final, and perhaps greatest battle, seems improbable to say the least. Grant, the Civil War hero and former President of the United States was, as described by Mark Perry in Grant and Twain: The Story of An American Friendship, “reserved, modest, and a man of few words. Clemens was anything but: He was ostentatious, and his love of words … defined his character.”

In the Fall of 1864, as Grant was about to sign a contract with the Century Company for two volumes of his memoirs, Twain (born Samuel Clemens), approached Grant with the proposal that he, and not the Century Company, publish Grant’s book.

As Perry tells it: Twain “was a close confidant and admirer, a moral support, and a man whom Grant himself admired…. Twain was of a different generation, from a different part of the country, and he was as far from being a student of military history as Grant was from being a novelist. Yet the two had created a strong bond. Both were consumed by America, its people, and its past—and had lived with and seen its most ugly manifestation. That in their time they had seen others bought, sold, and chained was a source of constant reflection for both of them. The issue had become an enduring passion.”

Twain, believing that Grant’s memoirs were worth a great deal more than he had been offered by Century, offered to publish them himself. By then a noted author, Twain knew a thing or two about the publishing business, and correctly foresaw that the life story and military exploits of the hero of the Union victory would be, in today’s parlance, a runaway bestseller. He proposed that the work be sold by subscription, which would produce greater profits for the author and his family than would a book. Twain turned out to be right.(9) It should be noted that Twain, who was always looking for opportunities to enhance his own financial security, saw Grant’s book as a potential bonanza both for Grant and his family, and for Twain and for Webster, his nephew’s publishing company.

It is perhaps a coincidence that Twain’s anti-slavery novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be completed at around the same time that Grant was completing his Memoirs. However, it seems that Twain’s story and the Union victory in which Grant played so crucial a part in bringing an end to slavery, are surprisingly intertwined. (10)

In the Spring of 1883, Twain began a journey down the Mississippi River on the Gold Dust, a riverboat like the one he had captained in his youth. He had a double objective in mind: to find material for his next literary venture, the writing of his Old Times on the Mississippi, which he believed would be a financial success, and to resolve the nagging question of how to complete the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which had been left unfinished for seven years (this was, undoubtedly, one of the longest-lasting writer’s block of all time!).

As recounted by Perry, Twain got stuck in his tale at the point where Huck’s raft on the Mississippi, on its way south, was struck by a steamboat and overturned. Huck and Jim (the Black slave whom Huck was helping to escape) were pitched into the river, where they remained until Twain finally figured out how to solve the problem of: Why would Huck be heading into the Deep South with an escaped slave, who if captured, would be re-enslaved and perhaps killed?

Twain had written and spoken about his hatred of slavery and how it debased not only Black people, but the Whites of the South as well. He wrote that Lincoln‘s Proclamation … not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.” He believed that the aristocratic pretentions and agricultural (feudal) bias of the slavocracy were the cause of the bloody war of 1861-65. He especially despised what he called the “maudlin Middle-Ages romanticism” of Sir Walter Scott, whose books were widely read in the South, and who “made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel or a General or a Judge before the war…. For it was he [Scott] that created rank and caste, and also reverence” for them. (11)

In his novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, written shortly after the publication of Huck Finn, he wrote, “The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder’s moral perceptions are known and conceded the world over; and a privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name.” In Huckleberry Finn, Twain depicted the postwar betrayal of the Lincoln-Grant policy of restoring full human and civil rights to the former slaves, as happened with the crushing of Reconstruction.

He expressed his hatred for slavery and for the continuing repression of former slaves by paying for the education of several Black students; in a letter to the dean of the Yale Law School in 1885, Twain explained his decision to cover the cost of the education of one of the first Black law students there: “We have ground the manhood out of them, & the shame is ours, not theirs, & we should pay for it.” (12)

One of his intentions for his Mississippi River voyage was to visit the battlefields that Grant had conquered during the War, culminating at Vicksburg, to both honor Grant’s historic victory there 20 years earlier, and to see for himself how Grant had accomplished it. He visited the National Cemetery there and wrote poignantly of the number of graves—16,600—of those who died fighting for the doomed Confederacy.

On his way down the river, Twain was struck anew with the horror of the war and especially, of the evil that the Rebels fought to preserve.

It was only after he had taken that journey, and had gotten to know General Grant well, that Twain was finally ready to complete Huck Finn. He realized that he had to send Huck and Jim down South for the same reason Grant had had to move his armies down the great river to Vicksburg: Because the war had to be won in the South; just as Grant had vanquished the Confederacy on its home ground, so Twain exposed the brutality and inhumanity of the slave power by taking Jim and Huck down south on the river.

The Last Days

Ulysses Grant was famously reluctant to ever retrace his steps. It was said that if he lost his way, he would not turn round and go back to the spot where he went astray, but continue, and find another route to his destination. While this superstition might have caused him some delays, it nonetheless served him well in his military campaigns: He never retreated; he always fought on until victory was secured. (13)

When Grant approached the challenge of writing his memoirs, his inability to retrace his steps proved an obstacle that he had to overcome: to go back and recount the story of his life and his wartime experiences. But overcome it he did. He began the Memoirs by returning to his origins at the beginning of his story: “My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral.”

The project, begun in the Fall of 1864, coincided with the great man’s struggle to survive long enough to complete his last, great campaign. By then, his throat cancer was causing him so much pain that he could not swallow. By the time of his death, he had lost 60 pounds. It took a superhuman determination to continue to write. But, as with his perseverance in Vicksburg and the Wilderness, he fought on until the work was done.

He was assisted by his son, Col. Fred Grant, who proved to be an invaluable researcher and editor. His old comrade in arms, Adam Badeau, an accomplished writer and public speaker, agreed, if somewhat reluctantly, to join his friend and former leader, and help him to complete the memoirs. These two were further aided by Twain, who helped with proofreading and copyediting, in addition to spending time with Grant to cheer him through the times when his strength was failing him. There were days when Grant was so overcome by the pain and debilitation of his disease that he was forced to stop writing for days or weeks.

Knowing he had but months to live, and that the completion of his work would be the means to provide for Julia once he was gone, he found the inner fortitude to go forward. He was living then at 3 E. 66th Street in New York City, working on the second floor of his home. “The small room at the head of the stairs was that in which he wrote the great part of his Personal Memoirs,” Badeau later wrote.

During these days, Grant’s African American valet and longtime friend, Harrison Tyrrell “did as much as anyone to ease Grant’s suffering during the last months of his life and make it possible for him to write….” (14) Tyrell had accompanied Grant on his visits to his doctors, Douglas and Shrady, and from then until his death, Tyrell served as a source of comfort, nurse, and companion.

When it was possible for him to speak without pain, he shared his thoughts on the war. He liked to tell stories, which also helped him to collect his thoughts for the book. His physical fortitude was remarkable: He could write for hours without a break, For Dr. Shrady, he was an ideal patient: uncomplaining and willing to follow directions; Shrady was able to calm him during his worst days. (15)

By February 1885, Twain, who was not yet aware that Grant was dying from cancer, became disturbed by his wan appearance. The general was visibly thinner and weaker; he spoke with great difficulty, and was clearly in pain. Fred Grant told him that his father was not expected to recover from his illness, and that he might have only weeks to live. Fred told him that the first volume was finished and that he was well into the second. At this point, Twain went into action to ensure that the Memoirs, when complete, would be published quickly. He borrowed $200,000, and pressured Webster, the publisher, to escalate the subscription sales effort. Twain created a unique marketing system designed to reach millions of veterans with a patriotic appeal just as the news of Grant’s death was reaching the public. (16)

For Grant, the project of completing his memoirs became his reason for living, allowing him to call up those reservoirs of strength which he had been able to tap into on the battlefield. In a letter to his daughter Nellie, he wrote: “It would be very hard for me to be confined in the house if it was not that I have become interested in the work which I have undertaken. It will take several months yet to complete the writing of my campaigns…. I do not know whether my book will be interesting to other people or not.”

On March 1, without warning to the Grants, The New York Times ran a black-bordered headline: “Grant Is Dying,” followed by subheads, “Dying Slowly from Cancer; Gravely Ill; Sinking into the Grave; Gen. Grant’s Friends Give up Hope.” In the days immediately following, newspapers across the country blared the grim news, as reporters camped outside the house on 66th Street in what the papers openly called “the death watch.” Grant still had nearly five months to live.

When Grant was no longer able to write himself, he dictated to a stenographer, Noble E. Dawson, who would take down the general’s words, and then read them back to him for corrections. As Perry reports, at the end of each day, Grant collected what Dawson had written, edited it before reading it to Julia; and then gave the papers back to Badeau and Fred for their input. Twain would take up the work after Grant had approved the final version and then make last-minute corrections. Dawson later wrote: “General Grant dictated very freely and easily. He made very few changes and never hemmed and hawed.” He added that when Twain was shown the manuscript of the first volume, he “was astonished … and said there was not one literary man in one hundred who had furnished as clear a copy as Grant. The General’s sentences rarely had to be revised in any way….”

By mid-June, Grant’s health had noticeably declined; he and his family left the city for the last time and traveled to Mt. McGregor in upstate New York to spend the Summer. On June 8, Grant informed Twain that a rough draft of volume two had been completed. By now, Grant was very ill, and appeared aged beyond his 63 years. Unable to swallow, he was starving to death. Yet, during his last days at Mt. McGregor, he wrote a 500-word preface, which Twain viewed as one of the most effective sections of the book. On July 19, Grant told Dawson that the book was finished. “The dictation for him was painful and his voice got lower and lower as he went on,” Dawson recounted, until it was “a mere whisper, and then stopped altogether…. I shall never forget his joy at the completion of his book.” (17)

Ulysses S. Grant died just four days later, on the morning of July 23, 1885.

A Nation Mourns

Each epoch creates its own agents, and General Grant more clearly than any other man impersonated the American character of 1861-65. He will stand, therefore, as the typical hero of the Great Civil War.

Gen. William T. Sherman

He was a very great man and superlatively good.

Mark Twain

Flags flew at half-mast across the country; the White House was draped in mourning cloth. On August 6, Grant took his final journey, from Albany to New York City where the coffin lay in state at City Hall, as 300,000 people came to pay their last respects. Two days later, a grand military funeral parade took place, including a riderless horse with boots in the stirrups facing backwards. An estimated 1 million people lined the parade route to pay their last respects. Grant would likely have been embarrassed by all the fuss. But the pomp and ceremony reflected the exalted place that he occupied in the American story, and the reverence in which he was held by his fellow citizens.

Respecting Ulysses Grant’s wishes, Julia arranged for two former Confederate generals to join Union generals William T. Sherman and Phil Sheridan as pallbearers, and for Confederate veterans to march in the parade. Black Union veterans made up a significant part of the 60,000 soldiers and 18,000 veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic who marched in the funeral procession.

In the South, too, Grant was mourned. Gen. James Longstreet, who had fought for the Confederacy, but remained a dear friend, said of Grant, “he was the truest as well as the bravest man that ever lived.” Black churches held “meetings of sorrow,” eulogizing Grant as the defender of the 15th Amendment (establishing the right to vote for African American men), and the enemy of the Ku Klux Klan. (18)

The great abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglas summed it best: “In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior.”

The final stop for the funeral cortège was at a temporary tomb in the location of what is known today as “Grant’s Tomb,” at Morningside Heights in Manhattan. President William McKinley presided over dedication of the grand mausoleum, in a ceremony held on April 27, 1897—the 75th anniversary of Grant’s birth. Fittingly, the fundraising drive that made construction of the huge edifice possible was led by the lawyer Richard T. Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard College.

It could now be said that, at last, the old soldier was granted his greatest wish: “Let us have peace.”


1 Ron Chernow, Grant, (Penguin, New York: 2017)

2 Ibid.

3 Roy P. Basler, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press: 1953)

4 Chernow, Op. cit.

5 Ibid. Lincoln and Grant shared a love for the poetry of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns was a passionate lover of liberty and of the American Revolution (see Burns’ “Ode for General Washington’s Birthday” [1794], as an example) Lincoln frequently quoted Burns throughout his life. Even more surprisingly, Grant also admired Burns’ poetry, and made a pilgrimage to Burns’ birthplace in Ayr. Grant was known to quote Burns’ poems during battle; his songs were popular with those fought to abolish the institution of slavery.

6 Mark Perry, Grant and Twain: The Story of an American Friendship (Random House, N.Y.: 2004). Grant’s situation was made more desperate by an earlier decision to resign, rather than retire, from the Army, thereby forfeiting his pension. In March 1885, just four months before his death, Grant’s friends succeeded in convincing Congress to restore him to his full rank; President Chester Arthur, as his last act in office, ordered the Senate’s president pro tem to send Grant a telegram notifying him of his reinstatement. Twain was with Grant when it arrived, and described the general’s reaction, likening it to “raising the dead.”

7 Shrady George Frederick Shrady, Sr., General Grant’s Last Days, by One of His Consulting Surgeons … with a Short Biographical Sketch of Dr. Shrady (New York: 1908). Dr. Shrady’s attendance to Grant during his last illness made him internationally famous. When Emperor Frederick III of Germany was suffering from cancer, Shrady was called upon to consult with his doctors. Later, after President Garfield was shot, Shrady was called to consult with his doctors, and then took part in the autopsy on the body of Garfield’s assassin Guiteau. After witnessing Guiteau’s electrocution, Shrady unqualifiedly condemned the practice.

8 Two of Grant’s closest friends and allies would later comment on the Memoirs. Mark Twain: I had been comparing the memoirs with Caesar’s Commentaries…. I was able to say in all sincerity that the same high merits distinguished both books—clarity of statement, directness, simplicity, manifest truthfulness, fairness and justice toward friend and foe alike and avoidance of flowery speech. General Grant was just a man, just a human being, just an author…The fact remains and cannot be dislodged that General Grant’s book is a great, unique and unapproachable literary masterpiece. There is no higher literature than these modest, simple Memoirs. Their style is at least flawless, and no man can improve upon it. Gen. William T. Sherman: Other books of the war will be forgotten, mislaid, dismissed. Millions will read Grant’s Memoirs and remember them. His expertise as a writer does not surprise me, for I have read hundreds of his letters and know too well his style and flawless effort at turning a phrase.

9 1885, Twain presented Julia Grant with a check for the princely sum of $200,000, at the time, the largest royalty payment ever made in U.S. publishing history. Several more checks were to follow, providing Julia with nearly $450,000 altogether (about $13 million in today’s dollars) from the sale of Grant’s book. (Cited in both Perry and Chernow.)

10 Perry Op.cit.

11 Ibid.

12 Twain, in a Dec. 24, 1885 letter to the Dean of the Yale Law School, and reprinted in New York Times, on the front page March 14, 1985, under the headline “From Twain, a Letter on Debt to Blacks. Twain was also a supporter of women’s suffrage; see his speech “Votes for Women, given in 1901. Twain also help Helen Keller pursue her college education and publishing efforts; they remained friends for 16 years.

13 Perry, Op. cit.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 See Bonnie James, “General Grant Routs the Klan,” American System Now, April 19, 2021 (

In addition to the works cited in the notes, the books listed below are recommended for further reading:

H.W. Brands, The Man Who Saved the Union; Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (Anchor Books, New York: 2012)

Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (Harper & Row, New York: 1988)

Ulysses S. Grant, The Annotated Memoirs, Elizabeth D. Samet, ed. (Liveright Publishing, New York: 2019)

Frank J. Scaturro, President Grant Reconsidered (Madison Books, New York: 1999)

Joan Waugh, U.S. Grant, American Hero, American Myth (University of North Carolina Press: 2009)

John Russell Young, Around the World with General Grant (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore: 2002)

And, of course:

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, available in numerous editions



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