Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year by Charles Bracelen Flood. Published by DaCapo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 288 pages, 2011.
Charles Bracelen Flood has written a dozen books, including the bestselling, “Lee: The Last Years,” and “Grant and Sherman.” Salon.com has named “Grant and Sherman,” among the top twelve Civil War books ever written. In October 2011, Flood will publish a unique aspect of the biography of General Ulysses S. Grant, that of his final years. The tanner, store-keeper, and impoverished farmer would rise to command all Union armies and accept General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Appomattox Court House in 1864.
He would be elected president twice and would suffer scandals as well as using the power of the presidency to heal the nation. Grant’s final years would begin in 1884 when he would lose all his wealth in what we would today call a Ponzi scheme. The book details Grant trusting two financial swindlers who would serve time in prison for cheating investors of millions of dollars. Flood writes that the amount that the public was cheated of $16 million, enough at the time to build for heavy warships.
Grant’s partners Ferdinand Ward and James Fish, left the Union Commander in Chief and former President not only impoverished, but had tarnished Grant’s name. Ward and Fish would use Grant’s name to extract more money from investors. Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant would spend the year selling property, and living frugally to pay off the debt.
What is touching are the Americans that came to Grant’s aid, from William Vanderbilt, who took the unprecedented step of getting his lawyers to shield Grant from creditors including himself, Grant owed Vanderbilt $150,000. The book also highlights soldiers under Grant’s command, one of whom sent $500 to help his former commander and even a gift of money from a confederate, for Grant’s generosity to the south.
Mark Twain would advance Grant thousands of dollars and the book details how Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) would coax Grant to write his memoirs. Chapters discuss Grant’s race for time to finish his two volumes, “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant,” a classic of not only military history, but of American literature. Grant’s race for time would be against throat cancer that left him in severe pain.
Soldiers came by to salute Grant, and he would look up from his papers to wave from his porch. Twain would offer unprecedented terms for Grant’s memoirs and he would not live to see it in pubic circulation, dying in 1885, he was 63. His royalties from the Personal Memoirs left his wife Julia Dent Grant a wealthy woman. Flood’s book is an excellent read about a little explored aspect of General Grant, and is recommended to those with a passion for American history and specifically the Civil War. We seem to admire Grant because he like many Americans have succeeded and failed, each time re-inventing himself, he would experience setbacks and triumphs of which many can identify with.
Editor’s Note: Commander Aboul-Enein is Adjunct Islamic Studies Chair at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” (Naval Institute Press). Commander Aboul-Enein enjoys reading American history and engaging in discussions on the topic with his spouse.