Preview: Ulysses S. Grant

The American Presidents series, published by Henry Holt and Company’s Times Books division under the general editorship of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., now has at least 33 short presidential biographies in print. (All appear to be in the vicinity of two hundred pages or less). We’ll be looking at a number of these works, each by a different author, over the course of the next few weeks and months, beginning with Josiah Bunting III’s Ulysses S. Grant. For the moment, a brief introductory excerpt:

“The nature of the future of the American polity has on occasion been defined by the actions of a few citizens. In the week before the Appomattox meeting, and on the day itself, April 9, 1865, these two men [Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee], by their actions and words, largely determined the character of what would follow four years of civil war, and by their example summoned successors to heed always the counsels of their best selves. It was not only a matter of authority or stature; it was an achievement of communicated sympathy, of magnanimity and understanding on the one hand, and of transcendent courage and farsightedness on the other. Had these two men not been the makers of the surrender, had they not understood and thereafter supported the elements of that surrender, and had Ulysses S. Grant not served as its guarantor, the consequences for the United States would have been profoundly different. For if Grant was determined to win the war, which meant dissuading Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia from all further resistance, knowing that Lee’s surrender would almost surely precipitate the surrender of Southern arms everywhere – if Grant was determined to win the war as rapidly as it could be won, he understood also that the object of the war, ultimately, was not victory but peace, and that the work of reconciliation and reconstruction must now be undertaken (it had already begun) as soon as the surrender occurred.

“Grant had met with the president on March 28 on the steamer River Queen, and no doubt he was powerfully impressed by Lincoln’s insistence that the rebel armies be treated magnanimously following the surrenders that now seemed certain. Lincoln urged generous terms, stressing the need for reconciliation as soon, and as completely, as possible: ‘They won’t take up arms again. Let them go, officers and all. I want submission and no more bloodshed . . . . I want no one punished; treat them liberally all around.’ Like his hero, Grant must be a principal in this final act. The Appomattox terms were astonishingly magnanimous (as the instrumentality by which a civil war of four years’ duration was ended); and they were immediately recognized as such by a Southern commander who not only understood but was prepared to enforce his understanding that to continue the war as a guerilla campaign would guarantee a future of bitterness and hatred that would poison irretrievably whatever final arrangement might ensue.

“This was Ulysses Grant’s finest hour, as it was Lee’s For the next twelve years, Grant would labor to fulfill what he took to be Abraham Lincoln’s vision for a nation made whole.”

Published in: on November 26, 2008 at 12:09 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] For selected excerpts from Bunting’s Ulysses S Grant, see our earlier posts here and here. […]

  2. I love reading about President Grant, and cherish my collectible editions about him.

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