On this day 200 years ago, one of America’s greatest heroes was born in a cabin in Ohio: Ulysses S. Grant.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know that Grant is one of my favorite Americans in its history. He’s on my personal Mount Rushmore, along with George Washington, Lewis B. Puller, and Frederick Douglass.
And that surprises a lot of people when I tell them this for the first time. “But Grant was a terrible general!” they say. “He was a drunk, and he just ordered men to their deaths. He was a corrupt president too, and I’ve read somewhere that he owned slaves!”
But the simple fact is that he was none of those things. I’ve written about it somewhat extensively before so I won’t launch another full post about Grant’s reputation. Suffice it to say that Grant suffered through a rare instance of the losers writing history.
Pro-Confederate organizations, like The United Daughters of the Confederacy, spent decades and thousands of dollars constructing the ‘Lost Cause’ narrative after the Civil War. they erected dozens of monuments to the Confederacy and packed universities with pro-Confederate professors, all to advance the idea of the noble South fighting valiantly against all hope for their rights
to own slaves as sovereign states.
As a direct result of this, the man who conquered the Confederacy was the primary target of their slander and libel. And thus the mainstream view of drunk, corrupt, simple-minded Grant the Butcher was born.
Thankfully, over the last 25 years Grant’s reputation has undergone a historic review, with renowned historians such as Ron Chernow and Ronald C. White leading the charge. And as we move further away from the inflamed passions of the 1860’s, as we read and write more unbiased books about Grant, we are able to get a fairer picture the man. Flawed, of course, but far from the blood-thirsty villain we’ve been raised to believe.
If you’re interested in reading about Ulysses Grant, the aforementioned authors are a great place to start. I personally recommend Chernow, as I prefer his writing style and feel like it’s easier to digest than most biographies.
Anyway, Happy Birthday Ulysses! I truly believe, and will say it with my whole chest, that he was one of America’s greatest heroes. It’s difficult to imagine how different American history and even world history would be without his Herculean efforts during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
And hopefully I’ll live long enough to see this personal view become the mainstream view.