Grant’s Final Victory
Charles Bracelen Flood offers a fascinating coda to a remarkable life in this brisk, well-told history of the final months and days of Ulysses S. Grant.
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Bracelen Flood, who has written extensively about the Civil War, demonstrates a keen understanding of Grant and other major figures without bogging the story down in excessive detail. The author’s command of details and anecdotes shines throughout, from accounts of medical treatments to the fate of Grant’s presidential and military memorabilia.Skip to next paragraph
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Grant was ruined. Soon enough, he would learn that he didn’t even own the house he and his family thought they had purchased at 3 East 66th Street. Instead, the Grants learned that Ward, who had also played a lead role in that transaction, had again lied, negotiating a mortgage that allowed Ward to pocket $50,000 of the purchase price.
Ailing and humiliated, Grant reconsidered a proposition he had declined on earlier occasions: writing about his military life, and particularly his days leading the Union army. Soon enough, he agreed to four magazine articles for The Century magazine. Bolstered by the deft editing of Robert Underwood Johnson, Grant soon came to enjoy his work. With some guidance from Johnson, his early, dry accounts sprang to life, filled with detail but without distracting hyperbole.
From New York to Long Island and finally to the upstate cottage where Grant died, Bracelen Flood offers a vivid portrait of Grant racing death to complete his memoirs and ensure stability for the family he will soon leave behind. Twain, Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman are among those with extended appearances in this account, but none overshadow Grant, a decent, honest man devoid of self-pity.
For those who may think of Grant as a successful general who faded from view after a presidency filled with scandals, Bracelen Flood provides a forceful reminder of the admiration and love Grant evoked.
In addition to the 1.5 million people who attended his funeral in New York, Grant warranted a 68-page obituary in The New York Times. Bloomingdale’s sold more than six miles of black crepe the day he died.
And, of course, his two-volume memoirs became popular and acclaimed as soon as they were published, allowing his beloved Julia to live in comfort years after his death. With that, Grant made one of the most courageous exits in American history.
Erik Spanberg is a regular contributor to the Monitor’s book section.