Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: "Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year," by Charles Bracelen Flood

Grant's Final Victory
Charles Bracelen Flood
(Da Capo Books)

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After leading the United States to victory during the Civil War and twice serving the nation as president, the greatest challenge faced by Ulysses S. Grant may have very well been the one he confronted during what proved to be his final year on earth. Shortly after losing his and his family's fortunes to unscrupulous Wall Street bankers in May 1884--to those he considered close family friends--Grant, at age sixty-two, was diagnosed with terminal throat and mouth cancer. With this as the backdrop, Grant then set about fighting the greatest battle of his life and, as author/historian Charles Bracelen Flood makes clear, here again the victor of Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Appomattox emerged triumphant. With the assistance of William Underwood Johnson of the Century Company as well as Grant's good friend Mark Twain, the dying warrior put the pen to paper and began recording his personal memoirs. The result was a work Twain--his publisher--and many others since have regarded as a true classic. As Twain later wrote, "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."

In Grant's Final Victory, Charles Bracelen Flood, author of a number of other notables titles, including Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won The Civil War, 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, and Lee: The Last Years, has again written another excellent history; one that tells of Grant's heroic efforts to write his memoirs and rescue his family (and his reputation) from ruin. Flood tells the story masterfully; it is a story that is at once tragic and inspiring. In increasingly unbearable pain, Grant began recording his life with a focus on his wartime service. He wrote with simple honesty and produced a true American classic. Grant succeeded in completing his two-volume memoirs in less than one year, writing an average of 750 words "every painful day." Not only does Flood recount this herculean effort, but also demonstrates that when word spread of Grant's terminal illness, it served to further reunite the nation as people--both North and South, and even former Confederate soldiers--came together to offer their sympathy and support to a man who began the process of conciliation twenty years earlier with his magnanimous terms to Robert E. Lee and his vanquished Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.

Grant--His Final Days--At Work On His Memoirs

Flood writes in such a clear and easy-to-read manner that it took but two sittings for me to read through this 250-page book. He does a masterful job in recounting those sad but inspirational last days, focusing on Grant, of course, but also examining his family and his close friendships with the likes of Twain, William Vanderbilt, and others who helped support the general and his family during those trying times. Flood's treatment of Grant's death and funeral were superb. In the end, even though he passed away, mercifully, just three days after setting down his pencil for the final time, Grant's Memoirs netted his family more than $600,000.

I have no doubts that this book will appeal to a wide audience, but especially those interested in the Civil War and one of its most legendary figures. Civil War enthusiasts will also find in here much discussion of other wartime figures as William T. Sherman--Grant's closest military friend, who wept openly and uncontrollably at Grant's funeral--Phillip Sheridan, Simon Bolivar Buckner--who was one of the last to see Grant alive--Winfield Scott Hancock--who made all the arrangements for and led Grant's funeral procession in New York City--and James Longstreet--cousin to Grant's wife Julia and the best man at their wedding. In hearing of Grant's death, Longstreet, after a few moment's to compose himself, said "He was the truest and bravest man who ever lived. . . .he was the highest type of manhood America has produced."

Grant's Final Victory is a book I truly enjoyed reading and one I highly recommend. This is more than just the story of Grant's final year; it is also a story of hope in the face of adversity, and inspiration in the face of tragedy.

For more information on this book, click here.

Grant's Funeral Procession--August 8, 1885--in New York City


bkbsmiles said...

I think my dad said Gen Grant was so sensitive that he could not bear to hunt and watch an animal die. It is hard to believe such a sensitive soul could be a General.

Sandy said...

I met you at Fairlane Village Mall this past Saturday. This picture interests me because I've been researching Winfield Scott Hancock. General Hancock arranged for the military's part in Grant's funeral.
In fact, that day was the last time General Hancock appeared publicly.

Chris Evans said...

The story of Grant's last days is an incredible story. I'm a bit surprised it has never been made into a feature film because it has pretty much everything needed for drama.