Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2010

In defense of U.S. Grant

April 22, 2010

Recently, I was surprised to read about a movement to remove Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s picture from the $50 bill. The proposal called for Grant to be replaced on the currency by President Ronald Reagan.

As an amateur history buff, I will tell you that Grant has been one of my long-time heroes. On the other hand, I am a great admirer of President Reagan. In fact, of the 13 presidents who have served in my 70-plus years of life, my favorites are Dwight Eisenhower and Reagan. There is no doubt that Reagan did a great job as chief executive. He inherited a variety of problems and turned things around. He was a great communicator and could rally support. He took action when necessary and restored national pride.

On the other hand, Grant was not a good president, although he was a brilliant general, and without his leadership, the Union would probably have lost the Civil War. If the South would have won, I doubt two smaller nations could have survived.

Much of Grant’s life was a failure. He grew up in a rather unhappy home and did not fit into his father’s plan or his tannery business. He was fortunate to be shipped off to West Point, where he graduated in the middle of his class.

Typical of the misfortune that followed Grant, according to most sources, his name wasn’t Ulysses Simpson Grant, which was recorded by mistake at West Point. He was actually named Samuel Ulysses Grant, but being shy he didn’t correct the mistake.

He served admirably in the Mexican War and received two commendations for bravery. Without a doubt, his marriage to Julia Dent was the best thing that happened to him in the pre-Civil War years. Shortly after they were married, he was shipped off to the west coast, and she was unable to accompany him. During the next four years, he developed a drinking problem, however, he was not a “falling down” drunk according to the biographies I’ve read. He was a binge drinker and hit the bottle when he became depressed and lonely.

To make a long story short, he was forced to resign his commission and return to St. Louis, where he failed at farming and in business. To support his family, he returned to Galena, Ill., where he worked in the family business.

Yes, he was a failure, but one of his most admirable traits is that he never gave up on himself. He always believed that he had a bright future. One of the reasons was undoubtedly the support he received from his wife. One of the great lessons we can learn from Grant is to never give up and keep working.

Even when the war broke out, he had a hard time getting back into the Army, and it took time before he was given a field command. He quickly took advantage of the opportunity.

At a time when the Union Army was losing and national morale was low, Grant had outstanding victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Mississippi. There he showed his brilliance as a general using a combined naval and land offense to take the forts. He followed that with other sweeping victories in the west and soon became the only Union general who had success.

After taking Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, he was promoted to commander-in-chief of the Union armies. While other Union generals seemed to fear the legendary Gen. Robert E. Lee, Grant was soon on the attack.

Sadly, when he became president he placed his trust in his subordinates and, unlike those during the war, he was betrayed. Unfortunately, that led to a variety of scandals, none of which actually tainted Grant. He was a great general and leader in the military, but he was a failure as a president.

Yes, President Reagan deserves recognition but not at the expense of Grant.


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