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Narrator: October 23, 1863. Chattanooga, Tennessee. After a grueling four-day journey, General Ulysses S. Grant arrived at Union headquarters. He had injured his leg and had to be helped off his horse. Once again, he was dogged by rumors that he'd been drinking. He listened silently as his officers described a bleak situation. The Union Army was surrounded. Men and horses faced starvation. A Confederate victory seemed inevitable. Grant thanked his men, and began to write his orders.
Max Byrd, Novelist: You see a lot of Grant in just that act of writing. The concentration and the determination. He never looked up. He never hesitated. He never seemed to search for a word.
Geoffrey Perret, Biographer: By the time he'd finished, he was surrounded by pieces of, of paper that he'd covered with his, his very even handwriting. In effect, he had fought the battle already in his own mind.
Narrator: Before the war, Grant had been a nobody, a failure as a farmer and a businessman. As Commanding General, he was called an incompetent, a butcher. But he would win every campaign he ever fought. His plain, Midwestern ways would captivate the American people.
David W. Blight, Historian: There was something about that element of the American dream of that rags to riches story. He had experienced humiliation and he had understood failure. And I suspect a lot of Americans could see themselves in him.
Donald Miller, Historian: Grant, not Lincoln was the most popular man in the nineteenth century. No question about it. Even in death Lincoln wasn't as popular as Ulysses Grant.
Narrator: Twice a grateful nation elected the Civil War's greatest hero, President. But his years in the White House, marked by racial violence and scandal, would threaten to destroy all he had accomplished.
Brooks D. Simpson, Historian: How could this strange career be explained? What about the heights to which it ascended? What about the depths to which it descended? How could such an ordinary man achieve such extraordinary things?
Narrator: Little distinguished Ulysses S. Grant as a youth, except that he had a way with horses.
James McPherson, Historian: Grant loved horses. He was remarkable with horses, but he could always calm the most fractious horse.
Byrd: Grant communed. He communicated with that horse, just naturally. It just flowed between him and the horse.
William S. McFeely, Biographer: To be a good person with horses, one has to be calm and firm, and, quiet. And he was all three of those things.
Narrator: "My family is American and has been for generations in all its branches, direct and collateral," he would write. Ulysses S. Grant grew up in the Ohio River Valley. His father, Jesse Root Grant, had arrived in Georgetown, Ohio in 1823, when Grant was one year old. He was the descendant of pioneers who had settled the western frontier.
Donald Miller, Historian: For them, the American dream was a real thing. They had come into open, clear virgin territory. They had cleaned the forest out. They had built up farms. They had made the land. This was the valley of democracy where democracy seemed to be working itself out in, in the lives of, of homesteaders.
Narrator: It was also a place where a great national drama was being played out.
Byrd: He grew up really on the border between slaveholding Kentucky and free Ohio. His hometown was filled with Southern transplants, and the ideas for and against slavery were much in the air. His father had an opinion on that as he did on everything.
Narrator: An ardent abolitionist, Jesse Grant was outspoken on the issue of slavery, voicing his opinion in local newspapers for all to read. His wife, Hannah, had no such desire for recognition.
Byrd: She was notorious for her silence. She was always on guard against pride. Being quiet was one not to, to catch yourself being proud. When Grant accomplished something she said nothing, and she showed very little affection. So she was a difficult person, a very withholding person.
Simpson: Grant's personality, his calm demeanor, reflected traits inherited from his mother. There is a driving ambition in him that is reminiscent of his father. But certainly not the boastfulness that went along with it.
Narrator: A man with a talent for making money, Jesse Grant had chosen one of the most lucrative, yet unpleasant professions of his time.
Byrd: A tannery, particularly a 19th century tannery, was a place of blood everywhere. Gobs of animal fat. Smells, extraordinary smells that were said to stick with the tanner. You could tell a tanner no matter how many times he had washed and bathed because the whole business stuck to him. Something in Grant's soul just recoiled from that.
Narrator: Fifty years later, Grant could still recall the stench of his father's tannery drifting into his childhood bedroom. "I detested the trade," he wrote.
"I attended the village schools," Grant said of his childhood. "I was not studious in habit, but never missed a quarter." His real passion was horses. When he was 12, he fell in love with a colt owned by a neighbor, Mr. Ralston.
Simpson: Grant admired the colt, and wanted to buy it badly. Went to his father for business advice on how to negotiate, said he wanted to pay $25 for the horse. Old Jesse, shrewd trader that he was, said, "Well, Ulysses, offer $20. If Ralston won't take that, offer $22 1/2 and if Ralston won't take that, then offer the $25. And so Ulysses trots off to Mr. Ralston, looks at him, and says, "I want to buy this horse, and papa says to offer you $20. If you won't take that, I'll offer 22 1/2, and if you won't take that, I'll offer $25." And, of course, Ralston sells the horse for $25.
Narrator: Worried his son showed little direction, Jesse chose a career for him.
Christmas 1838, when Ulysses was sixteen, he learned that his father had gotten him an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
John Simon: Jesse Grant was the kind of man who would follow a dollar to hell. And when he learned about the possibility of sending his son to West Point at government expense, he jumped at the opportunity. It was only when the appointment was a sure thing that he finally told Ulysses that he's going to West Point. Young Grant said, "I won't go." And Jesse said, "You will."
Narrator: When Ulysses Grant arrived at West Point, he stood five feet one inch, and weighed just 117 pounds.
"I had a very exalted idea of the requirements necessary to get through," he wrote. "I did not believe I possessed them, and could not bear the idea of failing."
Grant was out of place in the West Point cadet's world of military drills, crossed belts, and gleaming brass.
Byrd: He didn't have the military bearing. When Grant was a student at West Point, they were still talking about the famous cadet who had gone through ten years earlier without a single demerit. A record I think that still stands. And that was Robert Lee. And Grant was the very opposite of that. He slouched, he cut classes, he stayed in his room.
Narrator: Cadet Grant was required to learn drawing in order to sketch battlefields and plan campaigns. But it was his renderings of landscapes and his painting which most impressed his professors. Along with his command of Mathematics.
Simon: It was his natural aptitude for mathematics that carried him through to graduation. Other classes, he took far less seriously, did the minimum amount of work, and, under the circumstances, graduated respectably.
Narrator: Grant placed twenty-first in a class of thirty-nine. Years later, one classmate remarked, "no one could possibly be more surprised than myself at Grant's amazing success."
In September, 1843, Brevet Second Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant reported for duty with the Fourth Infantry Regiment at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis. He had an income of 779 dollars a year, and a fair prospect of returning to West Point to teach mathematics.
But in 1846, Grant was called to duty when an expansionist United States went to war with Mexico over disputed territories in the Southwest.
Byrd: Mexico was crucial for Grant as in some ways it was crucial for the whole country. For the coming Civil War it was a kind of trial run or training run for many of the officers North and South.
Narrator: Years later, he would condemn the Mexican war as "one of the most unjust ever waged a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed."
In Mexico, Grant served as a quartermaster, managing supply trains and transportation in a hostile, unfamiliar country.
Simpson: He understood the importance of supply and logistics, but he did not like being left behind with the mules and ammunition et cetera. He wanted to be at the front lines. So whenever gunfire would open, Grant would somehow find his way to the front.
Narrator: Grant fought at Palo Alto, Vera Cruz, Mexico City, alongside young officers he would later face in the Civil War -- James Longstreet, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Robert E. Lee.
In Monterey, American troops were pinned down and running out of ammunition. The brigade commander asked for a volunteer. Grant quickly stepped forward.
Hanging off the side of his horse, using it as a shield, Grant rode through the town, past the bullets and artillery of the Mexican army.
Perret: Grant was good at this, because he kept his head. And Grant never seems to have felt fear of being hung or being killed. He found the drama of war absolutely compelling. But the carnage, the suffering, the effects of war were simply appalling. He was horrified at bloodshed.
Simon: The Mexican War is more important for Grant as an observer than as a participant. He's learning things about the style of command from Zachary Taylor, a man who was informal in his military style and yet direct in his combat. And from Winfield Scott who was known as Ol'Fuss and Feathers, but who waged a brilliant campaign from Veracruz to Mexico City. Grant was learning not only from what they do right, but from what these officers did wrong.
Narrator: "City of Mexico, September 1847
My Dearest Julia,
Some of the hardest fought battles that the world has ever witnessed have taken place, and the most astonishing victories have crowned the American arms. But dearly have they paid for it. The loss of officers and men is frightful. I am getting very tired of this war and particularly of being separated from one I love so much."
Ulysses Grant had met Julia Dent two years before going to war while on a visit to White Haven, the Dent family plantation just outside St. Louis. She was one of three sisters of Grant's West Point roommate, Frederick Dent, and the one he was drawn to.
Perret: She was 18 years old. She had had a very sheltered life. She was plump, she had strabismus -- one eye was slightly turned. Therefore there was not lots of competition for Julia's hand. But beyond that, Grant and Julia had something in common: they both loved horses, they both loved riding horses. Julia was a strong and skillful rider.
Byrd: Julia was everything that Hannah Grant was not. She was lively, jolly, where Hannah was silent and, and rather stern. She was a highly social creature. And Grant very much responded to that.
Narrator: Julia had been raised with the pretensions of Southern aristocracy. Her father, "Colonel" Dent, owned some twenty slaves at his sprawling -- though not very prosperous -- Missouri plantation.
Byrd: Frederick Dent was a self-nominated colonel. He was pro-slavery. He was like Grant's father, quite a blowhard. And he seemed as well probably a lazy man. His chief occupation was sitting on his porch watching his neighbors go by. And he didn't think much of Grant. He didn't think Grant had a future in the army.
Narrator: Colonel Dent refused to give his daughter's hand to a soldier with few prospects, and only relented when Grant had been at war for more than a year.
Perret: Once Grant had decided that he wanted Julia for his wife, he was determined to see this campaign through to the end. No matter what the obstacles, no matter how long it took. His tenacity was extraordinary.
Narrator: Seven months after the U.S. defeated Mexico, Ulysses and Julia were married in St. Louis, at the Dent's winter home. Jesse and Hannah Grant did not attend.
Byrd: When Grant married Julia, she inherited I think five or seven slaves. And Grant's father, the abolitionist, really couldn't forgive Ulysses' connection to a slaveholding family. So it was a, a great source of tension.
Narrator: Julia and Ulysses had been together four years when Grant was ordered to leave for the Pacific Northwest. With a young boy, Fred, and another child on the way, Grant had to leave Julia behind.
He tried every scheme imaginable to make money and bring his family out west. He shipped ice from Alaska to San Francisco; the ice melted on the way. He planted potatoes, and they rotted in a flood. He invested $1500 in a store in San Francisco. It went bankrupt.
John Y. Simon, Historian: He had a capacity for investing in every wrong thing that came along, every enterprise that wasn't going to pay off. And gradually he began to sink into a kind of despair about his capacity to reunite his family.
Narrator: Grant had been away from home for five months when he learned that Julia had given birth to a second son, Ulysses, Jr.
He carried a letter on which Julia had traced the outline of little Ulysses' hand. When he showed it to others, his own hand trembled.
In 1854, Grant was transferred to Fort Humboldt, a remote post on the northern California Coast. It was at Humboldt that Ulysses S. Grant acquired a reputation that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
McFeely: He was intensely lonely and he ran into a, a very autocratic martinet of an officer that made him miserable. Depression was very serious. He was not riding his horse. He was staying in the barracks. And he was really in very bad shape.
Narrator: To add to his despair, he had not heard from Julia all winter.
Simpson: One night, he had a dream about encountering Julia, dancing away the night with other officers, ignoring him, as if he didn't exist. And this only played upon his feelings of insecurity that perhaps Julia had had second thoughts, that perhaps there was a better life for her elsewhere.
Narrator: "My Dear Wife,
You do not know how forsaken I feel here. The state of suspense that I am in is scarcely bearable. I sometimes get so anxious to see you, and our little boys, that I am almost tempted to resign and trust to Providence, and my own exertions, for a living. Whenever I get thinking about the subject, poverty, poverty, begins to stare me in the face."
Grant sought solace in whiskey. Fellow officers noticed his slurred speech after the first glass. "Liquor seemed a virulent poison to him, and yet he had a fierce desire for it," one officer recalled. "One glass would show on him, and two or three would make him stupid."
Perret: He got drunk for two reasons. One because he missed his wife tremendously and felt very lonely when she wasn't around. And secondly, if Grant had two drinks, he got drunk. It's not that he drank a lot. Grant could get drunk on very little. And people noticed it.
Narrator: On April 11, 1854, yearning to return to his family, Captain Ulysses Grant resigned from the United States Army. It was rumored that whiskey had cost him his commission.
Jesse Grant was not pleased by his son's sudden resignation, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get the army not to accept it. "I think after spending so much time to qualify for the Army, and spending so many years in the service, he will be poorly qualified for the pursuits of private life," he wrote Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.
Grant was thirty-two when he returned to Missouri, ready, as he said, "to commence a new struggle for our support."
He accepted an offer from Julia's father to farm land at White Haven.
Grant built their first home with his own hands, and called it "Hardscrabble." He was proud of it, but Julia found it homely and crude, a far cry from the comforts of White Haven. Wandering the empty rooms she asked herself, "is this my destiny?"
Byrd: Everything that happened to Grant for the next three or four years is in that, that name that he gave: Hard Scrabble. He meant it, I think, as a kind of dig at his father-in-law's pretentious name for his farm, White Haven. So Hard Scrabble. But it pretty much summed up what he went through.
Narrator: With the help of the Dent family slaves, and one slave of his own, Grant set to work clearing the land to plant oats, corn, and potatoes.
But just as he failed as a businessman, he also failed as a farmer. He eventually had to abandon Hardscrabble.
Grant moved to St. Louis, where he could have sold his slave, William Jones, for a thousand dollars, but instead he freed him. He took a job as a bill collector, then a customhouse clerk. One Christmas, he had to pawn his watch to buy his wife and children presents.
Byrd: He had lost everything. He had no job. He had no prospects. And so he turned to his father, hat in hand.
Narrator: Ulysses asked for a loan. "When you are ready to come north I will give you a start," Jesse replied, "but so long as you make your home among a tribe of slaveholders, I will do nothing."
Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Galena, Illinois in the Spring of 1860, to begin a new life working at his father's harness and leather shop.
Grant worked as a clerk, hoping some day to be made a partner like his younger brother Orvil. But for now, he mostly totaled up the bills.
Byrd: Under his father's thumb and his brother Orvil's thumb, too I don't think Grant was very happy at all in those early Galena days, but he was desperate, he had to take care of his family.
Narrator: After work, Grant would climb the steep stairs behind the leather shop leading to his house high up on the hill.
Byrd: Grant would come home, open the door. And more often than not, in the family legends, his son would pounce on him and say, "Mister, do you want to fight?" And Grant would answer, "I'm a man of peace, but I will not be hectored by a person of your size." And they would tumble and wrestle and roll all over the floor until Grant would finally say "enough" and surrender to his little boy.
Narrator: In the evenings he would read the news out loud to Julia. 1860 was an election year, and the papers were filled with reports of the growing national crisis over slavery and secession. "I deplored the agitation of abolitionists," he later said, "but talk of dissolution of the Union made my blood run cold."
David Bradley, Writer: He was a reasonable man in an unreasonable time. This man had seen war, and unlike a lot of people who were agitated, he knew what secession would mean and he was not eager for that.
Narrator: That November, Republican Abraham Lincoln, believed to favor the end of slavery, was elected president. At the Grant's harness and leather shop, oysters and beer were served in celebration. Grant helped host the reception, but his spirits were low. Having lived among Southerners, he knew secession was not an idle threat. "The South will fight," he predicted.
At four a.m., on April 12, 1861, a Confederate artillery detachment opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay, South Carolina. The next day news that war had broken out reached Grant in Galena.
"There are but two parties now," Grant wrote his father, "Traitors and Patriots, and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter . . . We have a government, laws and a flag, and they must all be sustained."
Dan T. Carter, Historian: This is a man who was not involved in politics before the war, didn't even vote that often. For him, it was a simple matter, and that was as it was for many Northerners, protection, the defense of the Union.
Mark Grimsley, Historian: Most Northerners, and Grant really was among them, wanted to reunify the country without touching slavery. And yet Grant understood very early on that in all likelihood if the war continued for very long, slavery was going to be attacked.
Narrator: Grant wanted to fight to restore the Union. Convinced he'd be much in demand, he wrote Army headquarters in Washington asking to be commissioned as a Colonel. He received no reply. He went to Missouri to appeal to two Mexican War veterans, but was rebuffed by both. He went to see General George B. McClellan, whom he had met in the Pacific Northwest. McClellan would not see him.
Byrd: He ended up waiting outside all sorts of office doors and waiting in hallways hoping that somebody would give him a command. But the, the label of the drinking quartermaster, had stuck pretty hard, and nobody in the beginning was interested in giving Grant a command at all of any kind.
Narrator: Finally Grant was given a commission. He was put in charge of the 21st Illinois Infantry, an unruly group of Midwestern farm boys, who had driven their first commander into retirement.
Joan Waugh, Historian: He knew that they were untrained and that they were, they had an attitude. And the attitude was, "I am here because I want to be. I am here and I'm just as good as you. Why should you tell me what to do?" And Grant knew that the good officer had to respect that democratic attitude, had to encourage it and nurture it and turn it into something positive.
McPherson: Somehow Grant had the same quality with these men that he had demonstrated with horses. Somehow he had the ability to exert this authority without shouting, without waving his hands, without threatening. And these men recognized that. And within days, Grant had changed these farm boys of the 21st Illinois who had spent most of the time since they enlisted raising hell and getting drunk, into something representing a real regiment.
Narrator: Grant soon had a chance to test his men, and himself. He was ordered to advance on a Confederate regiment in Missouri, commanded by Col. Thomas Harris. As he approached the enemy, Grant later recalled, "my heart kept getting higher and higher until it felt as though it was in my throat."
But as the Confederate camp came within view, he saw that the Rebels, hearing of the Yankee advance, had left. "It occurred to me that Harris had been as afraid of me as I had been of him."
McPherson: Grant learned from that experience that the person who attacks first, the person who seizes the initiative, is going to have the advantage.
Narrator: It was a lesson he would never forget.
On July 31, 1861, President Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant Brigadier General. Grant sat for a photograph to send to Julia. The appointment came as a surprise. Lincoln needed generals, and Grant's name had been submitted by the Congressman from Galena.
For his portrait, a proud Grant wore his full dress uniform, with sword, sash, and three ostrich plumes. But Grant would rarely again display any signs of rank beyond the requisite shoulder stars. Appearances, he believed, mattered little; what mattered is what happened on the battlefield.
General Grant got his first important command in Cairo, Illinois, a dreary but strategic city at the intersection of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. From Cairo, fighting his way down America's great rivers, Grant would make his reputation as a warrior.
Miller: Grant's a Midwesterner. Or a Westerner, as they called them then. And these people moved on rivers. He understands the flow of those rivers is the life flow of the country. And if you can control that river, you have an unfettered supply line all the way back to Cairo. And from Cairo by rail to St. Louis and Chicago. Troops, material, nursing, everything can come down that river. And Grant very early on, at the very beginning of the war, sees that this is how the South can be taken. By using these river systems that the South is trying to defend.
Narrator: Grant was growing restless at Cairo, impatient to begin his offensive. "Let us go by all means," he told his commanders, "the sooner the better."
On February 6, 1862, at Grant's urging, a flotilla of newly-built Union ironclad gun ships was ordered to attack Fort Henry, 125 miles Southeast of Cairo on the Tennessee River. After just two hours of fierce shelling, the Confederates surrendered Fort Henry, and retreated to Fort Donelson.
"Fort Henry is ours," Grant telegraphed his superior, General Henry Wager Halleck, and without awaiting further orders added, "I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson."
One week later, Union gunboats shelled Fort Donelson from the river, while Grant encircled it from the rear, blocking every avenue of escape.
At 4:00 a.m. on the 16th, the Confederate Commander at Donelson, Simon Bolivar Buckner, who had been with Grant at West Point and Mexico, asked for terms of surrender. Grant's reply would become a legend:
"No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works."
Byrd: This was a, a wonderfully clear, direct, and blunt way of describing what he wanted. Mark Twain liked that so much he copied it out and carried it around in his wallet for years and would take it out and read it to people. It's written the way Grant ran an army. Direct, hard, blunt, and no questions about it.
Narrator: Buckner was furious: "I accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose," he replied. The North had its first great victory. And a hero. "Who is this man Grant, who fights battles and wins them?," one reporter asked. His initials, "U.S.," suggested an answer: "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.
Grimsley: It had a nice sound to it. The capture of some 12,000 Confederates, by a general who had in effect the panache to get them to surrender on terms that were unconditional, was something that was very exciting in the North.
McPherson: Grant's success in capturing Fort Henry and that capturing Fort Donelson came like a shot in the arm to Northern morale and almost overnight made Grant famous.
Narrator: Before Fort Donelson, Grant had been so little known that not even the illustrator of the influential Harper's Weekly knew what he looked like. From this moment on Grant, would never again escape the public eye. At Fort Donelson, a journalist described Grant clenching a cigar given to him by a fellow officer. Grant had always smoked a clay pipe, but now cigars began to arrive by the thousands -- cheroots, coronas, cigarillos from every corner of the Union. "I gave away all I could, but having such a quantity on hand I naturally smoked more than I would have done." Grant would soon smoke as many as twenty cigars in a one day.
"Headquarters, Fort Donelson, Tennessee
February 16, 1862
I am happy to write you from this very strongly fortified place, now in my possession, after the greatest victory of the season. My impression is that I shall have one hard battle more to fight and will find easy sailing after that."
McPherson: The success that he enjoyed in capturing a whole Confederate army bred in Grant a feeling that the confederacy was something of a hollow shell, and maybe one more push and it would collapse.
Narrator: On April 6, 1862 Grant's Army was camped on the Tennessee River, near a church called Shiloh. At his headquarters, nine miles away, Grant made plans to deliver what he thought would be the decisive blow against the Confederacy. The Confederates were planing an offensive of their own. At dawn, Rebels in the tens of thousands burst out of the woods at Shiloh, surprising Grant's troops and overrunning their camps. Grant arrived at the front at eight that morning, to find his army on the verge of collapse.
Grimsley: He finds the rear area in complete disarray. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men cowering under the bluffs. A situation that suggests that a complete disaster has occurred.
Simpson: He's going from commander to commander, moving up reinforcements arranging for supplies, rallying men, giving up ground inch by inch in a stubborn effort to hold on.
Narrator: At one point he came under fire. One bullet barely missed him. Another grazed his horse. A third struck his sword scabbard. Through it all, Grant remained unperturbed.
Simpson: He knows reinforcements are on the way. He believes the Confederates cannot maintain the sort of attack that they've initiated early that morning. He knows that if men can stand their ground until dusk that he will prevail eventually at Shiloh.
Perret: A general who can ride around the battlefield. And by glimpsing men advancing over there, troops forming up over here, artillery firing somewhere in the distance. And can put all of these pieces together in his head, and see what is actually happening through the smoke, that is a general who has an extraordinary gift.
Narrator: That evening, the flash of Union gunboats shelling Confederate positions revealed the aftermath of battle. The Union Army had taken a terrible beating. Kept awake by the blast of cannons, Grant sought refuge under an oak tree, then in a log house which had been turned into a field hospital. "The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy's fire," he later wrote, "and I returned to my tree." Grant's most aggressive General, William Tecumseh Sherman, who commanded a division at Shiloh, approached.
Simpson: Sherman's been under fire all day, and by the end of April 6th, he's convinced that the time has come to retreat from the field. But as he sees Grant, something in him says, "Don't give that kind of advice." He walks up to his friend, looks him in the eye, and says, "Well, Grant, we've had the Devil's own day, haven't we?" Grant takes a puff of his cigar, looks up, and says, "Yup. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."
Narrator: The next day Grant's battered army, reinforced overnight, recaptured the bloody ground lost the day before. But at a price Grant could not have imagined.
"I saw an open field in our possession so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground."
As casualty lists began to appear in newspapers, the public was horrified. The two days of fighting had left more dead than all the battles previously fought on American soil. 24,000 casualties in all. It took a mile of trenches to bury the dead.
McPherson: Shiloh does provide a turning point. In Grant's own mind, it convinces him that the Confederacy is not the hollow shell about to collapse that he had thought after his relatively easy victories at Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson. I think it also shocks a lot of the Northern people into an awareness that if they are going to win this war, it's going to be a victory that comes at very high cost.
Perret: Nobody had expected a bloodletting like that. Certainly Northern public opinion hadn't anticipated it. There was no preparation for that kind of carnage. Someone had to be blamed for such an enormous loss of life, and the person they blamed was Grant.
Narrator: "Such amazing blundering and gross negligence was probably never before heard of in the history of war, " one newspaper declared. "Here is a case that calls loudly, peremptorily for a Court Martial," wrote another. Six weeks earlier he had been "Unconditional Surrender Grant," the victorious hero of Donelson. Now he was "Butcher Grant," the incompetent commander of Shiloh. It was even rumored he had been drunk the night before the battle. In Covington, Kentucky, where she was staying with Hannah and Jesse Grant, Julia read the news:
"I sat shocked and almost stunned at articles in abuse of my husband just after the battle of Shiloh I felt too deeply wounded to weep; I felt hard and revengeful."
Shiloh not only damaged Grant's reputation, it cost him his command. Although Grant had averted disaster at Shiloh, all General Halleck could think of was the carnage of the first day.
McPherson: General Halleck became convinced that Grant really couldn't manage a large army and that he had been surprised. And so he came personally to Pittsburg Landing to take control. And basically put Grant on the shelf by naming him to the meaningless post of Second in Command.
Byrd: That pattern of his early adulthood that he thought was broken, he's a general now, thought that's all over, the pattern of, of continual failing, of downward spiraling. And now he's gone up high to command and only -- and only to go down again.
Narrator: Confined to his headquarters, without an army of his own, Grant wrote in despair: "My position differs but little from one in arrest. I owe it to myself to ask either full restoration to duty . . . or to be relieved entirely."
Program I, Part II
Narrator: In the summer of 1862, the war was not going well for the North. In the West, the Union advance had ground to a halt. In the East, the Union Army had been driven from the gates of Richmond all the way back to Washington. Frustrated, President Abraham Lincoln reshuffled his generals. Grant was restored to command.
That fall, Grant led his Army of the Tennessee into the heart of cotton country, setting in motion a revolution that would shatter the foundations of the Old South.
"I am extended now like a peninsula into an enemy's country," he wrote. "Territory occupied by people terribly embittered and hostile to us."
Confederate guerrillas destroyed his rail lines and supply depots, slowing his advance. Civilians laid mines and spied for the Confederacy. It was a desperate fight to preserve a way of life.
As word of the Union advance reached plantations in Louisiana and Mississippi, thousands of slaves rushed toward Grant's lines.
Clarence E. Walker, Historian: The coming of the Union army is heralded both in black folklore and in black religious expression as a moment of liberation, of a coming of redeemers to save them from bondage. But it also carries with it a recognition, too. And many parts of this army of liberation is also comprised of soldiers, in some cases, who were very hostile to these people. Why are we freeing them? This is not a war about slavery, this is a war to preserve the Union.
Narrator: At first, Grant turned the fugitive slaves away, fearing they would overwhelm his lines. "I have no hobby of my own in regard to the Negro," he had said to his father, "either to effect his freedom or to continue his bondage."
John Y. Simon, Historian: Grant has the problem that every commander has of not knowing exactly how to deal with the slaves who were fleeing to his army. And Grant himself as a former slaveholder and as the husband of somebody who continued to hold slaves and who in fact had brought them into Mississippi, is not one from whom one would expect an enlightened attitude towards this tremendous influx. And yet it comes.
David Bradley, Writer: I think he realized, as everybody with a brain did, that slavery was over, and you would have to do something with the slaves. And what are you going to do? You have to put them to work. He saw people coming into his lines. They needed to be fed, work needed to be done. Hey, let's use them. Why not? But there were all kinds of people who would have erected barriers, who would have said, "Oh, they can't do it. Oh, they don't have the capacity." And Grant said, "Okay. Put them to work. If they can't work they can't work. We'll find out. And he was, he was very very frank about saying that, which is not what people did in the 19th century.
Narrator: Grant set up camps where the former slaves would help provide for their own care by harvesting cotton and corn from nearby abandoned plantations under the supervision of Union authorities.
Miller: The idea in mind as Grant explained it is that if we can begin to show the American public that black slaves can act in a responsible fashion, can take care of themselves economically, can become self-sufficient, maybe the attitudes, the racial attitudes of Americans will change. This is important because it, it shows that Grant is fighting in a sense against slavery not just to hurt the South. When you, you take slaves away from the South, you, you strike at the economic vitals of the South. But he also, you know, has I think a sense that something has to be done for these recently freed people. They just can't be left alone.
Narrator: President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. Freed slaves began to be inducted into the Union Army.
At first, Grant doubted the newly armed soldiers could be trusted in the front lines and confined them to garrison duty. But when he heard of their fierce defense of a Union camp at Milliken's Bend in Louisiana, the general slowly began to change his mind.
"By arming the negro we have added a powerful ally," Grant wrote Lincoln. "They will make good soldiers, and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion they strengthen us."
Waugh: It seems to him that it was a important part of Union strategy to use the slaves against their former masters. And he very much agreed with Lincoln on that. And in the process of doing that, in the process of forming black regiments and watching them in action, he came to respect the right of black people to demand political equality
Narrator: But even as he dealt with the social revolution the Civil War had unleashed, Grant never lost sight of his main objective: the capture of Vicksburg, a Confederate stronghold, and the last obstacle to the Union's control of the Mississippi River.
If Vicksburg fell, Grant knew, the Confederacy would be split -- the armies in the East cut off from their vital supplies of food and soldiers in the West. "Vicksburg is the key," Lincoln had said, "the war cannot be won until the key is in our pocket." The problem was that Vicksburg was nearly impregnable.
Miller: It sits high up on bluffs, 200 feet high above the Mississippi, on a hairpin turn of the Mississippi River so that vessels coming down river have to make a very sharp turn and slow down. And as they go past Vicksburg, a Union gunboat, has to go by about seven miles of fire. North of Vicksburg, there's the delta which runs almost all the way up to Memphis. And that's just a semi-tropical swamp filled with sluggish meandering streams, alligators. And when you're in there, you feel like you're in, as it were, the heart of darkness.
Narrator: Grant realized trying to take the city by frontal assault from the river was virtually impossible. So that winter, he desperately tried to find an alternate route through the Mississippi Delta. He tried cutting a canal to bypass Vicksburg. He blew a hole in a levy to open an old steam boat route. He ordered his army to clear a path through the thickness of the Delta. Nothing worked. Midwestern farm boys, eager to fight Rebels found themselves dredging mud, and sawing trees eight feet underwater. Camped in pestilential swamps, drinking contaminated water, exposed to swarms of mosquitoes, soldiers were dying from malaria, dysentery, and smallpox.
"Go any day down the levee," one soldier wrote home, "and you could see a squad or two of soldiers burying a companion, until the levee was nearly full of graves and the hospitals full of sick."
Miller: It was a horrible situation and these guys had no sense that they were going anywhere. They were literally stuck in the mud.
Narrator: As winter came to an end, Grant had yet to move on Vicksburg. Hungry for victory, the Northern public turned on him. The press renewed the campaign of criticism it had begun at Shiloh.
"Our noble army is being wasted by the foolish, drunken, stupid Grant," wrote the influential editor of the Cincinnati Commercial. "Grant will fail miserably, hopelessly, eternally."
Even Lincoln began to doubt his general. "I think General Grant has but one friend left," the President said, but he also sent a spy to Vicksburg to report on Grant's progress, and particularly on his drinking.
Grant's only comfort at this very trying time was Julia, who came down from Memphis.
Simpson: When Grant's on the move on campaign Julia is left behind either with her father or with a member of the Grant family bouncing back and forth. But whenever Grant set up headquarters, anywhere, he called for Julia to join him, and set up a sort of domestic community in the camp.
Narrator: Meals at camp were simple. Cucumbers and vinegar for breakfast. The meat was always well cooked -- the sight of blood reminded Grant of his father's tannery. When he got one of the migraine headaches that often plagued him, Julia gave him mustard foot baths and compresses for his eyes.
Fearing her husband was in danger of losing of his command, Julia urged him to take Vicksburg by direct assault. "Mrs. Grant," Ulysses responded, "I will move upon Vicksburg and I will take it, too. You need give yourself no further trouble."
Miller: He had a clear plan, a clear idea of how to take this place. He would move south along the Louisiana shore, take his army down there, and then send supply ships and gunboats past the Vicksburg batteries. They would unite with his armies south of Vicksburg and ferry that army across the Mississippi on dry ground and come in behind Vicksburg.
That's a great plan. It's an audacious plan. It's one of the riskiest plans of the Civil War.
McPherson: Grant by this stage of the war, even though he was being subjected to all kinds of criticism. He maintained confidence in himself. He maintained confidence in his ability to make the right kinds of decisions and carry them out and when everybody else, Sherman, others, were telling him, "You ought not to do this," he decided that this is what he wanted to do, this is what he needed to do.
Miller: Grant's whole career is on the line here. If, if he doesn't take Vicksburg, he's done. But more is at stake at Vicksburg than the reputation and career of Grant. What's at stake here is the very war itself, whether, the North will win or lose this thing.
Narrator: On the evening of April 16, Union ironclads quietly approached Vicksburg. Confederate pickets spotted their dark shapes and set bonfires to light the night. The batteries opened fire. For more than two hours the fleet withstood the barrage -- 525 rounds of artillery that set the Mississippi ablaze. Then, a little after midnight, the batteries fell silent. The fleet had made it through.
On April 30th, three days after Grant's forty-first birthday, his 40,000 troops boarded the transports south of Vicksburg and were ferried across the mile-wide river. "I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since," Grant later wrote. "I was on dry ground, and on the same side of the river with the enemy."
Miller: He's now in Mississippi. He's behind enemy lines. He's between two armies, Confederate armies, one in Vicksburg and one in Jackson. He's almost cut off completely from his supply lines and cut off completely from his communication lines.
Narrator: As his army moved across Mississippi, foraging teams took livestock, chickens, whiskey, grain from Mississippi gristmills -- all they needed to survive.
McPherson: This is a pivotal moment in the war. This was the first time a major field army had deliberately cut itself off from its base of supplies and lived off the enemy's country.
Narrator: Whatever was not of use was put to the torch. Southerners watched in terror as the Union Army destroyed plantations, cotton gins, factories, railroads -- everything of value to the South. "It is our duty to use every means to weaken the enemy," Grant explained to his officers.
Carter: There was tremendous fear. Once Union Armies begin moving into the Southern it's no accident that thousands, those who can take to the roads, refugees by the tens of thousands, whites, begin moving to try to get away from the Union Armies. But many poor Southerners can't and others have to stay. And it's difficult to recreate today what it must have been like, living in a, in a, society in which law has ended, the confederate troops have retreated. You're sitting there waiting, knowing that the Union armies are on your doorstep, and anticipating, really, the worst.
Miller: I think Southerners associated this kind of warfare very directly and very personally with Sherman. When actually it was ironically Grant who began this kind of warfare during the Civil War. Began to strike at the infrastructure and tear the guts out of the South. Sherman just picked up on that and took it to its, in a Southern mind, its most horrific conclusion.
Narrator: Grant ordered his armies to march first toward Jackson and then west, toward Vicksburg.
General McPherson: You will move forward with all possible despatch. I have ordered your rear brigade to move at once.
General Sherman: Start one of your divisions on the road at once and direct it to move with all possible speed.
General McClernand: Close up all your forces as expeditiously as possible. The enemy must not be allowed to get to our rear.
Miller: In all the dispatches, what comes through is, is the word again and again, speed, speed, speed. Alacrity, quickness, everything. He's pushing, pushing, pushing.
Narrator: In less than three weeks, Grant's army marched 180 miles and fought and won five battles, forging a bond with its commander that deepened with each victory.
Miller: There's this sense that there's the guy who's behind it all. There's the guy that we're going to follow. And if we follow him, he has the chance to be, as interestingly one of the troops says, he has the chance in this campaign to be another George Washington. They all had that sense of destiny. They really had this sense that this was the most important campaign of the Civil War. And that this general was going on to greatness.
Narrator: "Grant moves with his shoulders thrown back, his left hand in the pocket of his pantaloons, his eyes thrown straight forward, and a countenance drawn into furrows of thought," one reporter noted. The soldiers observe him coming, and rising to their feet gather to see him pass . . . They only watch him with a certain sort of familiar reverence."
"'Good Morning, General. Pleasant Day General,' they greet him as they would address one of their neighbors . . . never embarrassed by the thought that they are talking to a great general."
On May 18th Vicksburg came within sight of Ulysses S. Grant, riding in advance of his troops. His army had driven the Confederates into their fortifications.
Twice the general ordered his men to break through the well-entrenched Confederates; twice they failed.
Grant, however, remained confident. "The enemy is within our grasp," he wrote Washington, "the fall of Vicksburg can only be a question of time."
Waugh: Grant's army began to lay siege to Vicksburg, cutting off all communication and food supplies. Starving the residents out
Narrator: Forced underground to avoid the constant shelling, living on a diet of mule meat and pea bread, the people of Vicksburg endured the siege.
Carter: This is, in a sense, the first modern war, in which, although there may have been lip service given to the protection of civilian rights, it was understood, particularly, I think, on the part of both Grant and Sherman that in order for the war to be successfully carried out, it wasn't simply a war against the opposing army. It had to be a war which demoralized, which broke the back of the will of the South to resist.
Narrator: As the siege dragged on, Grant grew restless. On June 6th, anxious that the Confederates might be preparing an offensive against his rear, he took a reconnaissance trip up the Yazoo River. By some accounts what happened aboard his steamer bore out the warnings of Grant's harshest critics.
Miller: Well there was a lot of controversy as to whether or not during a crucial moment in the Vicksburg campaign he was on a drinking spree. The heroic, in a sense, image of Grant is he might have been a drinker, but he never drank at strategic moments in a military campaign. And a guy by the name of Cadwallader who covered his campaign said that's wrong he was drinking at that point. We'll never know. All the evidence is in. The stories contradict one another and collide with one another. We don't have a smoking gun. But I think it's clear from the conversations that people had with Sherman after the war, interviews with other officers, that Grant drank throughout the war. He didn't drink steadily, he drank periodically. And probably drank on occasion to excess.
On July 4th, after 47 days of siege, starved and without hope of reinforcements, Vicksburg's 30,000 defenders surrendered.
"The Stars and Stripes are now waving," an exuberant Union captain wrote his wife. "The Confederacy is divided . . . the Mississippi River is opened . . . and General Grant is to be our next President."
Miller: Vicksburg elevates Grant to preeminence among Union generals. I mean, he's clearly Lincoln's man from now on. He's the guy has the stick-to-itness and, and, in a sense, the, the genius to defeat the South.
Narrator: Four months later, Grant won yet another decisive victory, at Chattanooga, Tennessee. He had completed the campaign begun with the capture of Fort Donelson less two years before. The South now lay open to conquest.
On December 7th Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of prayer and wrote Grant, "I wish to tender you and all under your command my profoundest gratitude."
On March 8, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant and his thirteen year-old son Fred arrived at the Willard Hotel, the political epicenter of Washington.
Byrd: He's gotten off the train, I think he's carrying his own bag. There's nobody with him. No lieutenants, no majors, no colonels, no attendants. He's got his suitcase and his little boy, and he's looking shabby . . . And the clerk, by all accounts looked over the desk and regarded him rather superciliously, and Grant said he wanted a room that night. And the clerk was not impressed with the stars on Grant's shoulders because he could look across the dining room from his desk and see a half a dozen generals anytime of day or night. So he looked at Grant rather sneeringly and said you can you can have one of the attic rooms later on when it's free. Grant said that would be fine. And the clerk shoved the book over for him to write his name in and he wrote, "U.S. Grant and son, Galena, Illinois." And when the clerk turned it around and read the name, he said, "The presidential suite is available for you right now, General Grant." And Grant went up.
Narrator: Grant was in Washington on official business. He was to be named General in Chief of all Union armies, and to be commissioned as a lieutenant general -- the first officer to hold that rank since George Washington.
Perret: One of the great ironies of democracies is that we believe that the destiny of the nation is in the hands of the citizens. But at the same time, there is a hankering for a savior. Especially when times are hard.
Narrator: Grant's star had risen so high since the fall of Vicksburg the previous summer that he was being seriously considered as a candidate for the presidency. Grant dismissed the talk as preposterous. "I am not a politician, never was, and never hope to be," he said. The only office he desired, Grant joked, was Mayor of Galena, "so I could build a new sidewalk from my house to the depot." The afternoon of his arrival in Washington, he attended Lincoln's weekly White House reception.
McFeely: His entrance was just politically brilliant. Imagine this in, in our time. He walks around to the White House. And he's waited. He doesn't get there early. He goes in and he stands at the door very simply. And Lincoln spots him. They have never met.
McPherson: Both of them were Midwesterners. Both of them were in a way self-made men. They'd come up from an unprivileged childhood. They had made their way in the world. They had overcome adversity. There was a spark of understanding between them.
Narrator: "This is General Grant, is it not?" Lincoln said in greeting. He then led the General to the East Room.
Byrd: There was a clamorous uproar, people grabbing his hand, shaking his hand. It looked as if he were going to be pulled apart.
And finally Secretary of State Seward put him on top of a sofa so that everybody could just look at Grant as he stood there most uncomfortably being looked at and looking down at everybody around him.
Narrator: "He blushed like a girl," one reporter noted, "streams of perspiration [running] down his forehead and over his face. Either he affects the plain and homespun style of doing things . . . or else he is an extraordinary example of unconscious freshness."
The next day, as he accepted his promotion to Lieutenant General, and the responsibility of command of all the Armies of the Union, Grant spoke with humility.
"With the aid of the noble armies that have fought in so many fields for our common country, it will be my earnest endeavor not to disappoint your expectations."
Two weeks later, Julia and the children joined him in Washington.
With his new commission came a salary of $12,000 dollars per year, guaranteed for life. The misery of Humboldt, the penury of Hardscrabble, and the humiliation of Galena were all behind him. Grant could now provide for his family without depending on his father or Colonel Dent. He had but one regret: he was now part of the world of Washington, of the "show-business" of politics he said he despised.
On May 4, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, the fourth General to command the Armies of the Union in three years, crossed the Rapidan River in Virginia, to begin what the North hoped would be the decisive campaign of the Civil War.
"Grant's very vigor inspires the public confidence to a reasonable anticipation of quick work and great results," wrote the New York Herald. "If with General Grant at the head we cannot put the rebellion down in the coming summer, we can never put it down."
McPherson: Coming off of the euphoria of the successes in 1863, there was a feeling of great confidence in the North that now, finally, we're going to be able to prosecute this war to imminent victory, and this cruel war will soon be over.
Narrator: With a Northern public impatient for victory, Grant called for an all out offensive to bring the Confederacy to its knees. Five columns would take the war into the South in a well coordinated plan. His old friend, William Tecumseh Sherman, would march Grant's western armies toward Atlanta. "I will make Georgia howl," he vowed. Grant would lead the Army of the Potomac toward Richmond, the Capital of the Confederacy, and fight against Robert E. Lee. For three years Lee, a Southern gentleman and legendary West Point cadet, had defeated every Union General who had dared cross into Virginia. Among his men he inspired blind, almost religious devotion. His opponents thought he was invincible. Grant, who had never lost a battle, thought otherwise: "I had known Lee personally," he said, "and knew that he was mortal." He intended to crush Lee's Army and end the war by November. The only doubt in his mind concerned the new army under his command.
Grimsley: The Army of Potomac was used to getting beaten by Lee at every turn and thought it was doing well if it could hold its own against Lee. It didn't have the killer instinct that was characteristic of the armies Grant had commanded in the West.
Narrator: The morning of May 5th General Ulysses S. Grant awoke to the sound of gunfire. Soon word came that his army had collided with Lee's in a nearby thicket. After issuing orders, Grant lit a cigar, took out his pen knife, and began to whittle.
Simpson: The whittling is a sign of anxiety. He whittles so fiercely that he cuts apart those gloves that he's wearing. He's smoking so hard to repress his anxiety that he is goes through two dozen cigars in one day. He's a very anxious man very worried not because of anything Robert E. Lee is doing, but rather because he's worried the Army of the Potomac is not going to respond to his command.
Narrator: It was called the Battle of the Wilderness. 70,000 Union men engaged 40,000 Confederates in some of the fiercest combat of the Civil War.
Byrd: They were tangled in brush almost from the beginning. It was hard to know who was who. The smoke was thick and the woods caught on fire from the cannons and the muskets almost at once. So that addition of fighting the enemy, they were fighting the fire itself. The sight of men burning up, wounded men lying there, and the heat making the shells in their belts start exploding so they were shot to death by their own ammunition..
Grimsley: Many wounded were either burned alive or were seen to actually cock their rifle muskets and place them up against their heads, ready to pull the trigger if the flames got too close. It was, by any criterion, an unusually horrible battle. And it was worse than anything that Grant had seen in the Western theatre.
Narrator: As the fighting subsided, an officer claimed he saw the General "throw himself face down on his cot and give way to the greatest emotion . . . stirred to the very depths of his soul."
Miller: In battle Grant hardly concerned himself with the issue of losses. But as even he says in, in his memoirs, when the battle was over it was very hard to take in what had happened as you walked across a battlefield filled with corpses and, and men who are still alive and barely breathing. He said, "after the battle you begin to think about what has happened and the costs and consequences."
Narrator: On May 7, as the battle of The Wilderness came to an end, it appeared that Lee had gotten the better of Grant. The Union had suffered nearly 18,000 casualties, the Confederates fewer than 12,000.
The Army of the Potomac awaited the order to retreat. Three times, they had crossed the Rapidan and three times they had been ordered back. They saw no reason why this time it should be different. That evening, Grant approached the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac, camped along a road.
As he rode by, the men broke into a cheer. He was not headed north, back to Washington, but south, toward Richmond.
Simon: They had figured out that Grant had no intention of disengaging with Lee. That this would be the last campaign of the Army of the Potomac. And that this was going to be a campaign that would end in victory one way or another.
Byrd: In that moment I think you saw almost all of Grant's character. He was in motion as he liked to be. He was on a horse, as he loved to be. And he was not retracing his steps, he was going forward. There was no retreat in him.
Narrator: As Grant continued to push South, his army and Lee's became locked in a desperate, deadly embrace.
Carter: Lee came to appreciate the fact that he was up against a great general. You see this in his dispatches, and you see it in his comments to his fellow officers. He knew Grant was good. He knew he was up against, as he said, a worthy adversary.
Waugh: It was sickening when you read the descriptions of these battles, the battles that comprised not just the Wilderness, but at North Anna, Spotsylvania. It was unrelenting warfare. Everyday.
Narrator: "Dear Julia,
The world has never seen so bloody or so protracted a battle as the one being fought and I hope never will again."
In one month of fighting, Grant lost 44,000 men -- almost half of those who had crossed the Rapidan were dead, missing or wounded.
Yet as long as he closed in on Richmond, even at a frightful cost, the morale in the North remained high.
"Great confidence is felt in Grant," Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted, "but the immense slaughter of our men sickens us all."
On the 21st of May, the general and his officers met just outside Spotsylvania for a rare council of war. Sitting on pews borrowed from a nearby church, Grant planned his next move.
Grimsley: He believed that Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was on the ropes. And that one more good, hard shove would break through Lee's army and enable the Army of the Potomac to get on to Richmond which was, at that point, less than ten miles distant.
Narrator: "I may be mistaken but I feel our success is already insured," he wired Washington.
Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac to smash through Lee's forces at a crossroads known as Cold Harbor.
Byrd: The Cold Harbor battlefield is just an open field. It looks like three or four football fields wide and long. And at one end of that, at the Southern end, there are the built up ditches and trenches where the Confederates were behind great mounds of dirt with their rifles and muskets just pointed. And at the other end, coming down from the North there was a, a line of, of Union troops. Line after line really. And the order was simply for them to charge straight ahead across this wide open expanse.
Narrator: At 4:30 A.M. on June 3rd, 60,000 Union Soldiers attacked across a seven mile front. The waiting Confederates replied with a fusillade so fierce, windows were said to have rattled in Richmond.
"The division in front seemed to melt away like snow falling on moist ground," a Union soldier recalled. In less than two hours, the Army of the Potomac had suffered over 6,000 casualties. That night, Grant told his officers, "I regret this assault more than any one I have ever ordered." "There had been butchery at Cold Harbor," he later said. Not because of the blood shed, but because it was shed in vain, "to no advantage whatsoever." He compounded his mistake by leaving hundreds of wounded men howling in the hot June sun while he exchanged letters of terms with Lee.
McFeely: Both Lee and Grant, in my view, behaved very badly indeed. Neither one of them would admit that he'd been defeated. And, so, neither one would send in a white flag that would enable them to get out to these wounded men who were wailing out there in the hot June sun, waiting for relief.
Narrator: Four days after the assault, Grant finally relented and called for a cease-fire. When Union litter-bearers climbed out of their trenches, they found only two men still alive amongst the piles of rotting corpses.
"Cold Harbor Virginia
June 4th, 1864
"My Dear Little Nelly,
I received your pretty well-written letter more than a week ago. I know that you have been representing 'the Old Woman that lived in a Shoe' at the Fair. I know you must have enjoyed it very much."
Even as he witnessed the horror of his blunder, Grant took time to write his little daughter.
Perret: The guilt that Grant felt at Cold Harbor was enormous. The strain on him was unbearable. And writing a letter to a child was a complete escape from that.
McFeely: He could see the battle, and then he could turn away from it and see his daughter. He was able to compartmentalize in that way That was the way he kept going. I think that he could -- that his -- that sustaining private life was immensely important to him, whatever happened in his public life was a whole other world.
Narrator: ". . .Be a good little girl as you have always been. Study your lessons From, Papa."
Byrd: After Cold Harbor all of the things that had first been said after Shiloh, that Grant was a butcher, that he was incompetent, that he was a drunkard, all of that came back with renewed force and, and real hatred. Mary Lincoln was practically shrieking in the White House that Grant was a butcher and that Lincoln should remove him ... because he was so, so cruel and hard.
Simpson: There were soldiers who after this began to believe that the entire campaign was one of endless, ceaseless, bloody assaults, that always were futile. And that Grant had no creativity as a general whatsoever except at expending human life.
Narrator: "The demand down here for killing purposes is far ahead of the supply," one soldier wrote home. "Thank God, however, for the consolation that when the last man is killed the war will be over." Grant maneuvered his force around Lee to attack Petersburg, a rail center just south of Richmond. But his troops were too tired and demoralized to press an assault. Many refused to follow orders. "I have never seen an army so haggard and worn, so worked out and fought out, so dispirited and hopeless," one officer wrote. "Grant has pushed his army to the extreme limit of human endurance." Unable to take Petersburg, Grant settled in for a siege.
"This is likely to prove a very tedious job I have on hand," he wrote Julia. "The enemy keeps himself behind strong entrenchments all the time and seems determined to hold on to the last." He knew Lee was playing for time.
McPherson: Lee's strategy in 1864 is to hold out long enough and inflict heavy enough casualties on the enemy so that by the time the presidential election in November the Northern people will have become so weary of the war and so disillusioned with the possibility of victory that they would elect a Democrat, turn Lincoln out of office and negotiate an armistice and withdrawal of Northern troops would mean the Confederacy had won this war.
Narrator: Each day Lee held on, Lincoln's prospects for re-election dimmed. By August 1864, he was convinced he would be defeated in November.
The strain on Grant was plain to see: "the saddened eyes, the worn face, the mouth that shut down tightly all around," one officer observed. "He carried the Union on his back."
Perret: Grant was extremely frustrated. He knows that he has to produce a victory to secure Lincoln's reelection. Time is running out.
Narrator: Finally on September 4th, good news reached Grant. Sherman had taken Atlanta, ransacked it and then burnt it to the ground.
Simpson: Sherman's victory was the vindication of Grant's overall campaign plan in 1864. All of those armies, moving simultaneously against a common center. Somewhere Grant knew the Confederacy would crack. It cracked at Atlanta. Sherman may have achieved that victory, but in the end, it was according to Grant's design.
Narrator: "In honor of your great victory I have ordered a salute to be fired from every battery bearing upon the enemy," Grant wired his old friend. "(It) will be fired within an hour amidst great rejoicing."
That November, Lincoln won re-election. The South had been denied its last opportunity for victory. Grant, a staff officer reported, was back "in good health and buoyant spirits," ready to prosecute the war to what he now knew was its inevitable conclusion.
Carter: It's inconceivable to think about any outcome after November of 1864 except Southern defeat. And it's difficult to know what must have gone through the minds of, of men like Lee and his other fellow generals, and Jefferson Davis, except that they simply, psychologically, in some way, they could not admit to themselves that. And so they kept on fighting this war that was doomed to failure.
Narrator: In March 1865, after a nine month siege, Grant's headquarters at City Point, Virginia were busy. Preparations were underway for the final Union assault on Petersburg.
But at Grant's cabin, life followed the domestic routine of a family in peacetime. Julia had come to City Point earlier that year and settled in with Ulysses. "I am snugly nestled away in my husband's log cabin," Julia wrote a friend. "Am I not a happy woman?"
Simpson: An officer one time comes upon the two of them holding hands. They're startled, Grant grows red-faced, because that was a private domestic moment, the kind of expression of love that many people did not see because Grant wanted to conceal his true feelings from outsiders.
Narrator: Ulysses could often be found wrestling with his youngest boy, Jesse. "You know my weaknesses," he explained, "my children and my horses. At his wife's prompting, Grant invited the President to City Point for a few days, suggesting that the rest would do him good. On the 24th, Lincoln arrived at City Point aboard the steamer the River Queen. The President looked over plans and conferred with his generals. In the steamer's state room, they discussed the end of the war and the beginning of the peace.
Waugh: Lincoln and Sherman and Grant met in order just to talk over what should be the policy of the North toward the defeated South when it was apparent that this was going to happen. And all were agreed it should be an easy peace. Very, very much predicated on the idea that while the, the Southerners had to swear an oath of allegiance to get back into the Union, they had to accept emancipation, but that everything else should be easy.
Miller: The South had to be put down brutally, aggressively, and in the fastest fashion possible. But once that happened, he's thinking like a soldier here. You make peace. You put the saber down and you don't put in place policies that are going to alienate the South. You want to reunite the sections.
Narrator: As they planned reunification, the three men set aside the central question before them and the nation: the fate of more than 4 million former slaves the war had freed.
On April 2nd, Grant's forces finally broke through the Confederate entrenchments ringing Petersburg, the last obstacle to victory.
The next day, the Confederates abandoned Richmond, but not before setting ablaze the capital that had been the symbol of the rebellion.
April 9, 1865, Palm Sunday. Ulysses S. Grant went out for a ride. He had slept poorly, tortured by a migraine headache, exhausted from his week-long pursuit of Lee. His head was still pounding when an aide delivered him a note.
"The instant I saw the contents, I was cured," he later said. Lee had agreed to surrender.
That very afternoon, General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee met at a house in Appomattox Court House. Anyone trying to discern from appearances which man was the victor, and which the vanquished, would likely have been deceived.
Six feet tall and erect in bearing, Lee arrived in full dress uniform, with sash and jeweled sword; five feet eight, with stooped shoulders, Grant appeared in his field uniform, with mud-spatter trousers tucked inside his muddy boots.
Walker: He looks just like a common guy, you know. His shirt's unbuttoned, his coat looks like it's a bit frayed, he has his hat off. You wouldn't have thought of him, I think, as a General, you would have thought of him as some kind of ordinary soldier.
McFeely: It was, symbolically an immensely telling thing. This was the success of some folks -- of ordinary America over some perhaps mythical sense of, of, of aristocracy.
Byrd: It does seem as if the cast-iron Grant changed, or he put off that armor. And he went into Appomattox in a mood of generosity, and mildness. He seems to have been extraordinarily sensitive to Lee's feelings.
Narrator: Grant tried to break the ice, reminding Lee they had met in Mexico. Lee vaguely remembered the encounter. After several minutes, they got down to the business at hand.
Grant's terms were generous: there would be no reprisals or treason trials, officers and men could go home "not to be disturbed by U.S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside."
"I felt sad and depressed," Grant recalled, "at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought and for which there was the least excuse."
As news of the surrender spread through Union camps, batteries began firing joyful salutes. Grant ordered them stopped at once.
"The war is over," he said, "the Rebels are our countrymen again."
Miller: Grant's paramount concern is that there's peace and order and a spirit of reconciliation in the South. And acceptance of defeat. And that's the one thing he never got from the South: an acceptance of defeat.
Narrator: "They've left me one privilege," one Southerner declared, "to hate 'em. "I git up at half past four in the morning and sit up till twelve at night, to hate 'em."
Ulysses S. Grant would record Good Friday, April 14, as the darkest day of his life. That morning, Grant met with President Lincoln and his cabinet to discuss reconstruction policy. Their business completed, Lincoln asked if the general and his wife would care to join Mrs. Lincoln and him for a social engagement that evening.
Grant said he would have to consult with his wife. The afternoon papers reported the Grants would be joining the Lincolns in the state box at Ford's Theater. Julia Grant let her husband how she was unwilling to spend the evening with Mary Lincoln, whose company she disliked. Grant thanked the President for his kind invitation, but informed the White House that he and his wife would be visiting their children in New Jersey, and would be unable to attend. At midnight, as the general's carriage pulled up at Bloodgood's Hotel in Philadelphia, a messenger was waiting with a telegram for Grant. Lincoln had been shot, it said, "and cannot live."
Simpson: Grant is deeply moved by Lincoln's death. He believed that with Lincoln in charge reunion was possible because of Lincoln's leniency and generosity. He didn't know what would happen under Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson. He also felt in some way that he had inherited Lincoln's responsibility that if Lincoln couldn't oversee the peace, that Grant would have to do whatever he could to oversee the establishment of a lasting reunion between North and South.
Narrator: With Lincoln gone, it would fall to the tanner's son, the former shopkeeper from Galena, to rebuild the broken nation. As the hero of the Civil War mourned the death of the man he trusted above all to meet the enormous challenges in the years ahead, he confided to his wife:
"I am filled with the gloomiest apprehension."
Narrator: May 1865. Five weeks after the end of the Civil War. The South lay in ruins. Many of its people were starving.
David Bradley, Writer: The good news was that the Union had been preserved. The bad news was that the Union had practically killed itself. Guys were coming home missing arms and legs. A lot of guys weren't coming home. It was a mess -- it was a total mess.
Narrator: The North was still in mourning for President Lincoln, assassinated only a few weeks before. Ribbons of black crepe draped the windows and wrapped the columns of the federal capital. But on the morning of May 23rd, bunting appeared beside the black ribbons, and crowds began to gather for a parade to honor the soldiers who had won the war -- and one soldier above all. At Army headquarters, Ulysses S. Grant set out for the reviewing stand. As commanding general, he'd been called a butcher, and a drunk. But he won the battles that had to be won. Now, he was the hero of the Civil War. He took his young son in his lap as thirty miles of soldiers paraded before him -- saluting, and calling out his name.
Don Miller, Historian: Grant, not Lincoln, is the most popular man in the nineteenth century. No question about it.
David Blight, Historian: Grant was somebody who had failed in life. He wasn't high-born, he wasn't well-educated. I suspect a lot of Americans could see themselves in him.
Narrator: Already, many were calling for Grant to run for the presidency, to lead his country out of its darkest time. But his old friend, General Sherman, was against it. He saw Grant as a warrior, not a politician. If he went to Washington, Sherman warned, it would destroy him.
Narrator: All through the summer of 1865, gifts rained down upon Ulysses S. Grant -- jeweled swords, drawings from children, hundreds of his favorite cigars. There would be no more soldiers killed in battle, no more cries of the wounded, no more prisoners of war. From a grateful North, Grant received three houses, complete with furniture -- in Philadelphia, Washington, and in Galena, Illinois. Just before the Civil War, he'd been a struggling clerk in his father's leather shop in Galena, selling brushes and straps. Now, he was being photographed in the round, at 24 different angles, so that a sculptor could preserve his perfect likeness in stone. He said very little. He was a hard man to read.
Brooks Simpson, Historian: You could never tell when you looked at him whether he was a man of unfathomable depths, or a simpleminded fellow, who had no deep thoughts on his mind. No one could quite explain what Ulysses S. Grant was about, the secrets of his success. How could such an ordinary man achieve such extraordinary feats?
Narrator: He had always had a love of horses, and now he revived his old dream of farming on the land he owned out in Missouri, with the thought that he and his family would eventually move back there.
"I do not expect to go into horned stock," he wrote, "but I do hope to raise a number of fine colts each year."
Grant, his wife Julia, and their children settled in the Washington house, on I Street. He always seemed happiest with his family around him.
William McFeely, Biographer: Julia and Ulysses were very seldom apart once they were married. Even during the war, she was with him. Her trust in him had been proven by his successes and she provided for him the affection and the sustenance that I think emotionally his family had not provided for him. And they seemed to have had a very affectionate way with each other.
Narrator: Grant began every day with a half-hour chat with Julia. Often, he would bring her breakfast, before setting out on foot for his office at the War Department. He was still general in chief of the army, but no one knew for certain what his plans were.
Donald Miller: He had all kinds of pressures swirling around him. Stay in the army, some said. Others, go into politics. He's not a political person. But he had a taste for celebrity. He had a taste for the limelight. So Grant, I think, must have been thinking at that point, "What's ahead for me?
Narrator: For now, Grant was in charge of an occupying army, left in place in the ruined South to protect the freed slaves and keep the peace.
Dan Carter, Historian: There's no law. The whole political system has collapsed. It's anarchy. People are killing, looting, stealing. For many people in the spring and summer of 1865, there was the sense that the world had come to an end, that they were living, almost as, one said, at the "end times."
Narrator: "They have slaughtered our kindred, destroyed our prosperity, and filled our whole land with sorrow," one young planter wrote. "If I should have children, the first ingredient of their education shall be hatred and contempt of the Yankee." Grant believed that the hard feelings would quickly die away and that the country would come back together again as one.
Miller: It's almost wishful thinking rather than optimistic thinking. A feeling that this is the way it should be. That after all this blood has been spilled, that there must be a reconciliation.
Narrator: In Memphis, Tennessee, on May 1st, 1866, a fist-fight between a black man and a white man ignited a bloody riot. By nightfall, a mob of whites roamed the darkened streets, shooting every black they could find.
William McFeely, Biographer: A good many people killed, a good many houses burned. And the people participating in that were not a bunch of just wild rednecks or something. They were the city police, the city firemen they were organized groups that were out to do this.
Dan Carter: The word that comes up over and over again is impudence. Blacks are impudent. And what they mean by that is that they no longer accept, unquestioningly, your authority over them. Every white man is supposed to have authority over every black man. And time after time, there are these conflicts -- gunfights, stabbings, fist fights -- which break out, not because former slaves are impudent, but because they assert their independence. And when they do that, it arouses some deep rage on the part of the white men.
Narrator: Grant was shocked by the bloodshed in Memphis. Privately, he called the clash a "massacre," the victims "all helpless and unresisting Negroes." A few months later in New Orleans, white police emptied their pistols into a mostly-black crowd. Thirty-four blacks died that night -- and three whites. "They were willing to do anything a year ago," Grant said of the defeated Confederates. "Now they regard themselves as masters of the situation." White Southerners had reason to be encouraged. They had an ally in the White House. President Andrew Johnson was a Union man, but his roots were in the South.
David Blight, Historian: Andrew Johnson was a classic East Tennessee politician. As they used to say in Tennessee, "old Andy never went back on his raisin'." Which meant Andrew Johnson was always a person who was from where he was from.
Narrator: "This is a country for white men," Johnson reportedly declared. "And by God, as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men." Johnson began pardoning former Confederates. He then helped them set up white-run governments in the South.
Carter: The notion, on the part of even the most advanced-thinking white Southerners, that somehow black people should simply be treated like white people, was alien. They couldn't make that leap.
Narrator: Grant had not begun life as a friend of the black man. But during the war, he had come to believe that Blacks were due the same rights as every other American.
Blight: Grant had never been an abolitionist. He quite openly, at times, rejected notions of social equality. But there is no question that Grant believed that those liberties created by the war for African-Americans had to be enforced the same as any other Americans.
Narrator: By the fall of 1866, the Northern press was drenched with tales of Southern bloodshed. Many placed the blame for the violence squarely at the feet of Andrew Johnson. Worried about the mid-term elections, Johnson forced the popular Grant to accompany him on a speaking tour. Huge crowds turned up all along the route. They were there to see Grant, not Johnson. In city after city, the general stood by in silence as the combative Johnson spoke and the crowd grew hostile, hurling insults at the president. Grant had always hated the discord and infighting of politics. Now, the strain of the trip began to take its toll.
Brooks Simpson, Historian: As the caravan made its way from Buffalo to Cleveland, Grant visited a refreshment car, began drinking, in fact had to be coaxed to lie down in the baggage car, and by the time the expedition arrived at Cleveland, Johnson had to explain to the crowd that the general was indisposed, unavailable for public viewing.
Narrator: Grant confided in a letter to Julia that he found the president's angry speeches "a national disgrace." But he warned her that she must not show the letter to anyone.
Simpson: Publicly he still had to look obedient to the president, his superior, the commander-in-chief. But privately he began to dissent more and more from Johnson's policies, and to make clear to others that he disagreed with Johnson's preferred path to peace and reconciliation.
Narrator: Back in Washington, the general received a constant stream of visitors at his house on I Street. Politicians, journalists, friends -- everyone had the same question: Was he going to run for president.
Geoffrey Perret, Biographer: Grant wouldn't say yes -- and he didn't entirely say no.
Perret: He would change the subject. Grant would talk horses. And after a half an hour or so of talking horses, he would then indicate that the conversation was over, he had another visitor, and whoever the person was who was leaving would go out knowing no more than they did when they arrived.
Narrator: Grant became known as "the American Sphinx."
McFeely: Grant did want to be president, and Julia Grant wanted him to be president even more. And he, he needed something very important to do. He had had a very important job as commander of the army and he needed another very important job.
John Simon, Historian: Grant never wanted to be president. It involved politics. He hated politics. It involved newspaper publicity. He didn't like that. It involved speaking in public. He didn't like that. It meant being away from his family. He didn't like that.
Miller: I don't think Grant knows what he wants. There's a lot of speculation about Grant, at the time and after the fact. Did he really want to be president of the United States? Grant never advanced himself in the sense of pushing the issue. He had this feeling that if he showed himself well, that offers would come his way.
Narrator: There was another issue for Ulysses and Julia Grant: They had endured humiliating poverty. They were safe now. Comfortable. In the army, Grant had a salary for life. There was no pension for ex-presidents. For all the glory, he could leave the White House penniless. General Sherman, Grant's close friend and fellow soldier, hoped the general wouldn't get drawn into the presidential race. "I wish he were more outspoken" in his refusal, Sherman said. "Grant don't want to be a candidate, and will only consent if he judges that his acceptance is necessary to save the country."
Miller: Sherman said under no circumstances should you take this office. He didn't see Grant as a politician. He saw Grant as, as a warrior, a warrior that he had learned a great deal from, and he thought that Grant would get destroyed in Washington.
Narrator: In the spring of 1867, Washington was a city filled with intrigue -- and split into two warring factions. On one side was President Andrew Johnson, the defender of Southern whites. On the other side were the so-called "Radical Republicans" who controlled Congress -- led by the crusading Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner. The Radicals saw former Confederates as traitors, and freed slaves as the ones who needed defending.
Perret: The relationship between Andrew Johnson and Congress could be described in a single word, vicious. They hated him, he hated them.
Narrator: After months of bitter infighting, the Radicals declared war on Andrew Johnson. They threw out his white-ruled governments and set up free elections that gave Blacks political power. Black men would soon be able to vote by the thousands, electing black sheriffs, mayors, and state legislators.
Carter: The very idea of black people on the floor of the house and the senate, in the various state legislatures, to most white Southerners, was just a kind of constant, galling outrage.
Narrator: It was a galling outrage to Andrew Johnson, as well. He had fought every move Congress made toward Black equality in the South. When Congress passed a Civil Rights act to protect Southern Blacks, Johnson vetoed it. When Congress passed the 14th amendment, granting blacks equal protection under the law, Johnson encouraged Southerners to reject it. Finally, in February of 1868, Andrew Johnson became the first president in American history to be impeached. He would survive his trial by a single vote, but his Presidency was effectively dead. On May 21st, 1868, the Republicans gathered at Crosby's Opera House in Chicago to choose a new candidate for president. A single name was placed in nomination: Ulysses S. Grant.
Blight: Grant as the former general, the soldier who wins the war, was the figure who could unify. He was the general at the helm, that had saved the Union. And after all, what did the Republican party represent, what did the Republican party exist for, but to save the Union, and now, also, the destruction of slavery, and its aftermath, which was a Reconstruction policy, like it or not, that was in place, on the ground, in the South.
Bradley: There were so many people who were concerned only about themselves. There was so much posturing, there was so much despair. Gradually people just sort of realized, "who do you trust? Who hasn't lied to us? Who said, I'm going there' and went there? And that was Grant. Gradually, people realized, you know, leadership is not easy to come by.
Narrator: Eight days later, at his house in Washington, Grant formally accepted his party's nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Joan Waugh, Historian: Why did he accept the nomination? I think he identified himself with the Union victory in the war. He was responsible for making sure that that victory had an integrity and while he had ambitions and he had vanities like any other man, he was in a special position in this, in this country and he felt that if it were left to politicians, they would botch it. Look what they'd done. Look what they'd done since Lincoln's assassination.
Narrator: Grant and Julia went back home to Galena to wait out the campaign. Publicly, Grant kept apart from politics. He made no speeches. But every day he walked downtown and carefully read the reports that came in from around the country. The campaign offered a glimpse of what lay in store for the next president. The Democrats, led by candidate Horatio Seymour, based their strategy, as one politician put it, on "the aversion with which the masses contemplate the equality of the Negro." Many whites in the North, as well as the South, sided with the Democrats -- promising a renewed battle over Reconstruction. Grant's campaign slogan called for an end to the conflict. It was a stroke of political genius.
Simpson: "Let us have peace" could mean so many things and therein lies its power. Let's have peace between North and South. Let's have peace between black and white. Let's have an end to Reconstruction, so the nation can move on, and enjoy the post-war prosperity that people so ardently desire.
Blight: I suspect to Grant, he had hoped that it might mean a little bit of all of those things. Grant, I think had an agenda though, of conciliation. He did want to see his presidency and his use of presidential power, at least, as a means to an as yet unachieved and, an un-thought-through national reconciliation.
Narrator: In Galena, on election night, the general walked through the rainy streets to the house of his neighbor, Congressman Elihu Washburne, to follow the election returns.
McFeely: The telegraph company would have been perfectly able to put the telegraph line into Grant's house rather than into Washburne's house but Grant thought that would look -- make it look as if he were too eager to know what was going on.
Narrator: Instead, the telegraph machinery was set up in Washburne's library. Grant joined his aides and friends gathered there, but it was not considered a proper place for a woman. Julia waited anxiously at home with the children as the telegraph clicked the results into the smoky air of the library. It had been an election lit by flashes of violence all over the South. Some Black voters risked their lives to cast their ballots. But by two in the morning, it was clear that Grant had eked out a narrow victory. "After success seemed assured," wrote one of Grant's aides, "the Lead Mine Band came over and gave us some music; we felt pretty foxy." If Grant felt enthusiastic, he didn't show it. One friend said he'd seen him more excited over a game of cards. It was early Wednesday morning when he finally walked back home. It had stopped raining. All the country's hopes, all the anger, all the discord, settled on his shoulders as he made his way up the hill. When he saw Julia in the doorway, all he could say was, "I am afraid I am elected."
Narrator: The day after the inauguration, in March, 1869, two senators arrived at the White House, looking for the new president and his list of cabinet nominees. Julia had already begun a renovation.
McFeely: They couldn't find Grant. And when they finally found the president, he was in some secretary's office or something, and he's talking to an army man and smoking a cigar. And all he can tell the senators is well, thank you for your inquiry, but Rawlins has the list.
Narrator: John Rawlins, Grant's longtime aide, had already taken the list to the Senate. Official Washington was appalled. Grant had not consulted the Senate; in fact, he had not consulted anyone. He had not even consulted the nominees.
Max Byrd, Novelist: I suppose he was thinking he was still running something like the army and not understanding he had to deal with Congress which was like leading a herd of cats. He was not good at that part of it.
Miller: Well, Grant was ill-equipped by his war experience to deal with that kind of thing -- and sure Grant had to deal with Congress and the President when he was a general, but they were far-off presences, and he lived, Grant did, for the moments when Lincoln would leave him alone. And he felt he was at his, at his best when he was alone. He liked to think through things. He liked quiet time. Now he's in a situation where -- no executive can operate like that. There's a little thing called Congress that you've got to deal with.
Narrator: Skeptics opened fire almost immediately. Bostonian Henry Adams, whose grandfather and great-grandfather had been president, thought Grant wasn't up to the job. "A great soldier might be a baby politician," he wrote. In fact, Grant had no intention of becoming a politician. He was determined, even as President, to hold himself above politics.
Simpson: Grant saw his administration as wrapping up the issues of the war, as basically a placeholder administration, that Reconstruction would be brought to a speedy, easy end, without the conflicts of the Johnson years, and the country could move on.
Narrator: But Reconstruction would not be the only challenge looming before the new president. He had taken office at a moment of volcanic change.
Miller: Here's the kind of country Grant inherits. The country's been catapulted, it's catapulting itself into another age -- it's becoming a high change industrial society. This industrial engine is, is roaring, and it's an age when the country is flush. But at the same time, you have a tremendous territorial expansion taking place.
Narrator: "Territorial expansion" meant the first transcontinental railroad, joining the Atlantic to the Pacific, followed by settlers moving west, hungry for opportunity. In the path of this juggernaut stood "the original occupants of this land," as Grant called them -- pushed farther and farther west, in a bloody war with the U.S. Army. Grant's close friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman, now head of the army, believed the Indians stood in the way of progress and would have to be exterminated.
Miller: Sherman has this almost racial view of American democracy. That Anglo-Saxon peoples have a right to take and conquer the rest of this country. That it's ours. And he thinks to himself, this is a fact of life. We have the steel mill. We have the locomotive. We have the telegraph. These are weapons of civilization. This is how the West is going to be settled. You can't stop it.
Narrator: The summer before Grant's election, Sherman had accompanied Grant and his two older sons, Fred and Buck, on a trip out west. Grant saw what was happening to the Indians and their territory. "This will probably be the last chance I will ever have to visit the plains," he wrote Julia. "It will be something for Buck, too, to know that he had traveled on the plains whilst still occupied by the buffalo and the Indian, both rapidly disappearing now." Grant wanted to make peace with the Indians and settle them on reservations as citizens and Christians. "We would instruct you in raising stock," he told Red Cloud, a chief of the Sioux. "Your children would learn to read and write the English language, the same as white people. In this way you would be prepared, before the game is gone, to live comfortably and securely." Sherman and many others disagreed with the president's Indian policy, but Grant was adamant: "When I said Let us have peace,' I meant it," he later told a reporter. "I want peace on the Plains as everywhere else." Julia Grant was now happily in command of a sizeable White House staff, and thriving at the center of social life in Washington.
Miller: Well, I think the White House for Julia was the way she would have liked to have had her home in St. Louis organized and run.
Miller: You know, she was a planter's daughter, but he never had the wealth, the kind of wealth and splendor that, that most of the you know, the top grade in a sense, the more powerful planters in the South had had. And here was a return to that unfulfilled dream. That, that kind of life that she had had a little bit of a taste of, before the Civil War.
Narrator: At first, Grant resisted Julia's efforts to get him into an evening suit, preferring his familiar, rumpled clothes. But he soon got the hang of a white tie, and even began to enjoy the parties.
Byrd: It's fascinating to watch Grant, a creation of the early 19th century, pass on over into that second half. He's very much a boy of the frontier, of the West, of all those forests and rivers. He not entirely at ease in the second half of it, but he wanted to be, he tried to fit in.
Narrator: At Julia's lavish dinner parties at the White House, he found he was powerfully drawn to America's new breed of heroes, the titans who were driving the country's industrial machine -- and indulging their appetites for high living and big spending.
Miller: Here was a kid who all his life had this gnawing sense of financial insecurity. He saw these men, they were like generals, commanding generals of capitalist enterprise. They ran large enterprises. They liked to be left alone. They were self-reliant. They commanded men, they commanded resources. He had a lot of admiration for that type of person. They smoked cigars.
Narrator: Military uniforms had kept the sides straight on the battlefield. But in Grant's new world of suits and ties, it was not so easy to tell friends from enemies. Perhaps the most infamous of the new tycoons was Jay Gould, known in the financial world as the "Mephistopheles of Wall Street." His partner, the flamboyant Jim Fisk, had begun his business life smuggling cotton during the war. Grant's new friends, Gould and Fisk, hatched a scheme to manipulate the president to make a fortune speculating on gold. First, they found a way to insinuate themselves into Grant's inner circle.
Simon: Grant had had a sister who had gone for a long time without getting married. And finally, finally, a very elderly Abel R. Corbin had snatched up this fading flower and made her his wife. There was an enormous gratitude on the part of the Grants for this long delayed marriage. And it gave Corbin an opportunity to bring into the White House circle his unsavory companions, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk.
Narrator: All through the summer of 1869, Fisk and Gould courted Grant -- at lavish dinners, on posh yachts, and at the opera. At the same time, they bought up as much gold as they could, cornering the market. The trusting Grant was unaware of their scheme. As summer turned into fall, gold prices rose to record highs. From across the country, pressure on Grant mounted to release government gold and push the prices down.
McFeely: In the midst of all this, the Grants are on a little vacation trip out to Washington, Pennsylvania. And one day Grant and Horace Porter, I believe, were out playing croquet, along comes a messenger with a letter.
Narrator: Gould wanted to make sure Grant kept gold off the market. He got Corbin to write the president an urgent letter. It was a mistake.
McFeely : It takes a while for Grant to wake up to this, but it's got to be something important if the letter is being sent by a courier who's waiting for an answer and so on. And at last he smells a rat.
Narrator: On Friday, September 24th, Grant ordered the Treasury to sell 4 million dollars in gold, sending the price plummeting. Panic reigned on the New York stock exchange. One man was yelling, "Shoot me! Shoot me!" until he was finally led away. It was called "Black Friday." Most Americans refused to believe that Grant was involved in the conspiracy. But in the drawing rooms of the capital, there was talk that the president was, as Henry Adams put it, a dunce.
Waugh: I think it was a character flaw perhaps that he was taken by wealth and power. Being a powerful man himself, a powerful man who had no understanding of how wealth was generated.
Bradley: He did have a tendency to think that people were as straight ahead as he was. And it wasn't that he wouldn't think ill of anybody. He thought ill of a lot of people and would say so in subtle ways. But sneakiness just didn't even enter into his consciousness; it wasn't on his radar screen.
Narrator: Just six months after the inauguration, the image of Grant, the incomparable hero, competed with Grant, the corruptible dummy.
Narrator: Even as a young boy, Grant had had a kind of magic with horses. Quiet and determined, he could tame the wildest of them, and he rode as if born to the saddle.
Soon after he took office, he had his favorite horses moved into the White House stables, among them the famous Cincinnati, whom he'd ridden in the war, the handsome Egypt, and a pony, Jeff Davis, who bit everyone who came too close -- except Grant.
But at forty-seven, even Grant had come to know his limits.
Perret: He's a middle-aged man now. He's not going to be able to get on a really powerful and spirited horse without standing a very good chance of breaking his neck. So he settles for buggy riding. And he used to go through the streets of Washington the way he used to ride a horse -- at top speed. Tremendous skill, pushing his abilities and the horse's ability to the limit. One summer evening Grant pushed it a little too far. Racing along 16th Street, he was flagged down for speeding by one of the capital's new black policemen. As the story goes, the officer did not recognize the president at first. But even after he'd been identified, the law-abiding Grant insisted the embarrassed officer "do his duty." Grant paid the $20 fine on the spot. His carriage impounded, the president walked back to the White House.
Narrator: Two years into Grant's presidency, reports of violence against Blacks were coming in to the White House almost daily. Black men holding public office were in particular danger. "The object is to kill out the leading men of the Republican party, men who have taken a prominent stand," wrote a black officeholder in Florida. If "Let us have peace" was to be more than an empty slogan, Grant would have to do something about what was called "the Negro problem." He searched for a way to protect the freedmen without resorting to military force.
Miller: He didn't want to fight what he called a second civil war. Didn't want to do it. Didn't want to be the guy that sent troops back into the South and started this thing all over again.
Narrator: The master strategist of the Civil War now devised a simple yet startling plan. In the heart of the Caribbean, six hundred and fifty miles from Florida, lay the Dominican Republic, then called Santo Domingo. It was an independent nation that shared its island home with another black republic, Haiti. "The island," Grant wrote, "is very fertile, and is capable of supporting fifteen millions of people." Annexing Santo Domingo would give the United States a strategic military and trading base in the region. It could also serve as a safe harbor for Southern blacks. Grant envisioned a black-run center of political power, free from white authority and prejudice, an American place for blacks to go -- or threaten to go -- if the outrages they suffered in the South continued.
James McPherson, Historian: This was an idea that not many other people shared -- that if Black Americans could immigrate to Santo Domingo voluntarily, that that would improve their treatment in the South. That is, if landowners thought they were going to lose their black labor, that they would pay them more or treat them better.
Bradley: Santo Domingo would have worked. It certainly would have altered the way the South treated Blacks. They needed these people, they knew that. And if there had been some alternative, somewhere to go, certainly it would have changed the way things worked out.
Narrator: Grant gained the support of the Santo Domingo regime, and of Frederick Douglass, the American black leader. But many whites, North and South, deplored the idea of a mostly-black nation becoming part of the U.S. And some of the Radical Republicans, led by Charles Sumner, wanted no part of the plan for a different reason. "These islands belong to the colored people who live there," Sumner declared. "We should not take them away." The Senate defeated Grant's plan. He tried again and was defeated again. He would continue to defend the scheme to the end of his life.
Narrator: The terror in the South continued. In South Carolina, under torchlight and hidden beneath sheets, they called themselves the Ku Klux Klan.
Blight: The South learned early that it could use political intimidation and terror as a means of politics. That it could keep black people away from the polls. And the more the Southerners did this, the more they realized that that was an effective tool of engaging in a political counter-revolution to take back control of their state governments.
Bradley: After war comes peace. If people don't choose to accept the peace, if people feel that they have been conquered and invaded and choose to resist, you have a different kind of military problem; you have an occupation problem. So when Nathan Bedford Forrest and others conceived of this idea of a resistance movement that would terrorize the Blacks, terrorize the white schoolteachers who had come into the South, and terrorize generally up and down the countryside, it required a strong response.
Narrator: For Grant, there was no way to avoid the use of force. He put the South on notice: "The national government," he wrote in May, 1871, "has the duty of protecting its citizens of every race and color." The president then persuaded Congress to back an "Enforcement Act" that allowed him to use federal troops against terrorists. Then, in October 1871, he moved against the Klan in South Carolina. Hundreds of Klansmen were arrested; many were tried, convicted, and sent to prison. Southern resistance would continue, but the Klan would not rise again for forty years.
Carter: He reacted with a kind of forcefulness that I think is difficult for us to realize how striking it was. I mean, to use, the way he did, federal troops, and to use the power of the federal government, through the Justice Department, was a marked departure from American tradition.
Narrator: Many Southerners condemned Grant, but the rest of the country was behind him, heartened to see the hero of the war in action once again. It seemed the baby politician was getting better at the presidential game.
Byrd: Grant was about as unpretentious a president as you could be. Baseball was a new game and down on what is now the Ellipse back of the White House, boys used to play in the late afternoon, they would strike up a game of baseball. And the president, President Grant was known to stroll down, cigar in his mouth, and take a bat and have a few swings at the ball, playing baseball with the boys.
Narrator: President Grant still embodied the democratic ideals that most Americans had admired in General Grant. He a man who had known failure and achieved great success, and they loved him for it. To some of the Eastern elite, he was vulgar and rude, with his poisonous cigars, his plain western manners -- and his use of force in the South. Henry Adams thought Grant was a primitive.
Byrd: He said that it was a marvel that someone should go completely against evolution as Grant had. There he was president undeservedly and yet he should have worn skins and lived in a cave. Adams said that Grant was pre-intellectual. That he could hardly be said to think at all.
Narrator: With the presidential election coming up in 1872, Adams and other disenchanted Republicans joined with renegade Democrats to form the "Liberal Republican" party. They nominated New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley as their candidate with the slogan, "Anything to beat Grant." They attacked Grant's family, his rich friends, Black Friday -- and the general's tough stance toward the South.
Carter: Many Liberal Republicans believed that if we simply turn, turn Southern society over, strengthen the best men in the South, then we'll work our way -- they'll look out for the freedmen. Don't worry about that. These were responsible men. We won't have to worry about it. We won't have to use all of these measures that we find so distasteful. Because they were gentlemen, after all.
Narrator: "Hands across the chasm," Greeley preached -- let us reach out to the "right people" in the South. The campaign backfired. One scathing cartoon showed Greeley stretching out his hand to the Klan in the South. To his many ardent supporters, Grant was still the hero of the war; and he had brought a semblance of order to the reconstructed South. He beat Greeley with one of the biggest margins in American history. Grant savored the victory, calling it a "great satisfaction."
Perret: He had a very thin skin, which was one of the reasons he was so reticent and so wary about revealing anything important about himself. And he could not stand the criticism that came his way, being unjustly accused of failures, scandals, corruption. That cut him to the quick.
Narrator: "I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history," he said in his second inaugural address, "but today I feel I can disregard it in view of your verdict, which I gratefully accept as my vindication."
Simon: Grant felt fairly smug about that election. And all the tendencies that Grant had to be complacent were strengthened by his longevity in the White House, his triumphant reelection. And it's amid this atmosphere that the Grant administration begins to run downhill.
Narrator: Grant thought he had put the hardest struggles behind him. He was mistaken. Grant and Julia had bought a house by the ocean in Long Branch, New Jersey, with generous porches and swings in the nearby woods for visiting children. They spent as much time there as they could during his presidency, enjoying the wide beaches and the pleasures of the water. Julia would spend hours visiting with friends. Jesse, their youngest son, hunted and fished. When the children were small, Grant had been notorious for rolling up bread into little balls and throwing them at his children during dinner, then offering a kiss on the cheek for every hit. Now only Jesse was a handy target. Ulysses Jr., known as Buck, was a student at Harvard. Fred, now twenty-two, had graduated from West Point and was making a tour of Europe as an aide to General Sherman. Sixteen- year-old Nellie also went abroad, trailing a flock of suitors in her wake. Grant took his horses out driving twice a day at Long Branch, racing along the beach and on carriage paths through the woods.
Perret: He liked racing the other buggy owners. He would get into races -- a bit like two high school kids, you know, coming up to the traffic lights, you know, looking at one another. Well, he would do the same thing, at top speed, in his buggy.
Narrator: In the spring of 1873, Blacks in the town of Colfax, Louisiana, cordoned it off, dug trenches, and formed a small militia. Drilling under the command of black veterans, they were preparing for war. Grant had crushed the Klan, but whites were still determined to take back control and restore Southern society. All across the defeated states, new and more open armed groups had sprung up. In Mississippi, they were called "white liners;" in Louisiana, the White League.
Miller: Lots of these vigilante groups are roaming the roads of Louisiana and Mississippi, roaming the streets of towns like Baton Rouge and Vicksburg, and shooting black people in the open. Like one observer said, almost like you'd shoot pigeons. And there's no consequences for this. These are real racial riots, in a sense. And blacks didn't just sit back and accept this. In some corners of the South, there was, there was, it came close to all out racial warfare.
Narrator: In all of Louisiana, there were fewer than seven hundred federal troops, thinly spread across the state. Blacks in Colfax dug in and waited. They held on for three weeks, skirmishing with bands of armed white men, but on Easter Sunday, whites armed with rifles and a small cannon overpowered them. Blacks took refuge in the courthouse.
Walker: There was a momentary truce, and then the Caucasians set fire to the building, burning and killing a number of the people in the building. When they came out of the building and were marched to the local jailhouse, the guards shot a number of the black men in the head, disemboweled some of them. And then the bodies of seventy-one of these people were thrown into the river along with the bodies of two white men.
Narrator: Similar incidents exploded all over the state. After agonizing for weeks, Grant sent in more soldiers, but they were outmanned and outgunned.
Miller: Reconstruction to me comes down to this simple fact: white Southerners were unwilling, absolutely intransigently unwilling, to accept black political power. And they were willing to fight it any way they could. If they couldn't fight it politically, through the democratic system, they would fight it as they had fought the Yankees when they couldn't beat them head on. They'd fight it with guerrilla activity. You know, if there was an army in front of Grant, that was an obstacle, and he could go through that obstacle. But here, he's gonna deal with a maelstrom.
Narrator: As a general, Grant had been capable of orchestrating complex campaigns, and devising brilliant tactical moves, even in the chaos of battle. But the turmoil of Reconstruction politics confounded him.
McFeely : War is a very different human enterprise from politics. The tricky business of giving and taking, the necessity there to blend all those different instruments of the orchestra into one. He could be a magnificent symphony conductor during the war; he couldn't do it as president, just simply couldn't conduct that orchestra.
Narrator: "Dear Julia," Grant wrote hastily to his wife on September 20th, 1873. "I will be compelled to go to New York City where I have telegraphed the Secretary of Treasury to meet me. Train leaves in one hour. Send valise with black suit, combs, brushes, etc. Matters are worse in New York than yesterday." Financial panic had engulfed the nation. The banks had been hit first. Infected by inflation and dizzy speculation, they began to fail. Dozens lay in ruins by the end of the month. Despite Grant's efforts to head off the crisis, thousands of businesses collapsed that fall. At least a million people were thrown out of work, with no government welfare to help. The struggle for Reconstruction had been difficult before the Depression. Now it would become almost impossible. Whites in the North were going hungry, and they begrudged every government nickel that went to protect a Southern Black.
Bradley: If you want to understand American history follow the money. Follow where it goes, follow who has it, follow who doesn't. And in these days, when the stock market fell it fell. In these days when people were broke they were broke. There was nobody to talk to, there was no Federal Reserve, there was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The will vanished. And to some extent it was reasonable. Now we have to make money. We have to worry about ourselves.
Narrator: Only a few years before, Grant had emerged as the hero of a victorious army, optimistic about restoring the Union. Now, barely into his second term, he found himself the leader of a nation racked by economic despair and racial violence, a nation still divided.
Simon: When Grant was serving as President, his daughter, Nelly, enjoyed the social whirl in Washington. And on one occasion, when sent away to school, lasted about forty-eight hours before she insisted on coming home. She wanted to be out dancing in Washington and not learning anything.
Narrator: While seventeen-year-old Nelly was traveling abroad, she fell in love with Algernon Sartoris, an Englishman with an aristocratic pedigree.
Sartoris was thought handsome, and had been at Oxford.
Julia was delighted with the match. Her husband was not. Sartoris had a slightly shadowy reputation. And besides, Grant didn't want his only daughter to marry a European aristocrat, and leave the country he loved. "The United States is a country of great extent of territory ... and of great future promise," he wrote to Sartoris' family. "It would be with the greatest regret that I would see Nelly leave it as a permanent home." But Nelly had her way once again. Julia presided over the social event of the Washington season, as two hundred guests, in jewels and satin, crowded into the East Room on May 21st, 1874. Newspaper reporters regaled readers with detailed accounts of the lavish decorations and the banquet, which culminated in Epigraphe la fleur, de Nelly Grant , a giant cake which the White House chef had dreamed up for the occasion.
According to one observer, Grant "looked steadfastly at the floor" throughout the ceremony, and wept. Shortly afterward, Nelly left with Sartoris on a boat bound for England.
Narrator: On January 4th, 1875, the long-simmering political dispute in Louisiana finally exploded.
A band of Democrats stormed the State Assembly in New Orleans and tried to install five of their own white members by force. Fearing just such a flagrant violation of the law, Grant had dispatched General Phil Sheridan, his trusted lieutenant in the war, to New Orleans.
Miller: Sheridan writes back to the president that these people won't be converted. Suasion won't work. They have to be taken out like banditti and shot. Those are the words he used.
Narrator: Sheridan's federal troops marched into the legislative chambers of the capitol and forcibly removed the white representatives. Southern whites were outraged. Northerners were shocked. Grant struck back, pointing out that no one had been punished for the brutal killings at Colfax almost two years before. "Every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice," he said in a speech to the Senate, "and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime."
Miller: Grant feels that people have been wronged. Americans have been wronged. And he thought of black people as Americans. He wasn't a racist in that regard. And he thought they deserved equal rights at this point and certainly protection of the law, living in this country. And he thought outrages had been committed upon them by people who were acting in a sense in--in the most savage manner.
Narrator: But the tide of Northern public opinion had turned. Even people who had advocated a strong hand in the South now worried that the president was overstepping his Constitutional powers.
"If this can be done in Louisiana," said one Senator, "how long will it be before it can be done in Massachusetts and in Ohio?"
Walker: The people of the North have grown exhausted with this issue The infernal Negro issue, over and over and over and over again, appears to be an intractable one, and we Americans are not given to long-term thoughts about reform and about transformation. We happen to believe that most problems have a solution (snap) like that. And in the case of Reconstruction, it seems to me, you dealt with a problem that has been central to American history and that is the problem of race, and this is a problem which in many ways may have no solution, that it is a problem to which, as all great human problems, there may not be a completely satisfactory answer.
Narrator: Grant now realized that to send more troops into the South was to invite political defeat in the North. The Republicans would lose the White House to the Democrats, and everything he had fought for would be lost. When the governor of Mississippi asked for troops to put down racial violence a few months later, Grant did what he had never done in war. He retreated. It would be eighty years before another president would send Federal troops into the South to protect the rights of Blacks.
Carter: In the end, he blinked. But I think underlying it was his awareness that the rest of the nation was heartily sick of it. Enough. Let them go, let them fight each other, kill each other. The politics of it were changed so that no longer was the Black vote essential for the Republican party. So there, so there were no political impetus anymore to protect the rights of the freedmen. Grant looked out on this changed political landscape, and he blinked.
Narrator: There would be peace, but it was not the kind of peace Grant had hoped for.
Walker: Violence is driving black people into quiescence. They are abandoning politics in many cases. They can't count on the Union army to protect them because there really is no army. The black militias are terrorized by the white Southerners. And so people learn in a rather cruel way that politics is a white man's business. And that may be a hard thing to accept, but I think, you know, that if you don't really have protection and if voting is going to get you killed, then you know to stay away from the polls.
Miller: I think the South won the peace. To bring the South back into the Union, you had to forget all this stuff, that this stuff was going on. You had to ignore it. You had to pull the troops out and let racial relations reach their own level in the South. It was the beginning of Jim Crow, a beginning of a, of an apartheid policy that lasted into the 1950s. So the costs were high.
Narrator: May 22nd, 1875 was a warm spring day in Washington. Julia Grant left a note for her husband in an unsealed envelope marked, "The President, immediate." "Dear Ulyss,
How many years ago to day is it that we were engaged: Just such a day as this too was it not?
The President replied promptly:
"Thirty-one years ago," he wrote, " I was so frightened . . . that I do not remember whether it was warm or snowing. Ulyss"
By the winter of 1876, Grant was in the last year of his presidency, and it would be hell.
As a series of scandals engulfed his office, Sherman's warning -- that Grant would be destroyed in Washington -- seemed to be coming true. Orville Babcock, the president's private secretary, was accused of being part of the "Whiskey Rings," a gigantic fraud which had robbed the government of millions of dollars in taxes. It was like something out of the Police Gazette. The allegations against Babcock had him receiving cigar boxes with thousand-dollar notes inside, diamonds, expensive whiskey, and the attentions of a beautiful courtesan known only as "Sylph." Babcock was acquitted, but only because Grant personally attested to his innocence. Then, only days after Babcock's trial, Grant's secretary of war, William Belknap, was found to have accepted kickbacks from a government-appointed Indian trader. Belknap was forced to resign. As a hostile Congress investigated every whisper of wrongdoing, a new word found its way into the political lexicon: "Grantism" came to stand for corruption in government.
Miller: There's an accretion of things that happen. That start to break the trust that has developed, first of all, between Grant and his cabinet, his advisors, his friends, and then the public. And it takes place in a layered kind of fashion. One -- one thing at a time. And when it's all over and you're looking back at eight years of this, you're seeing a pattern. And the feeling was, among people who were sympathetic to Grant, that Grant's friends were taking him down.
Narrator: "I don't see," Grant would later tell an associate," how I can ever trust anyone again." His presidency was reeling. Near the Little Big Horn river, in June, 1876, his plan for peaceful reconciliation with the Indians was wiped out when General George Armstrong Custer and every soldier who rode with him were killed by Sioux warriors. At the same time, there were rumors that Nellie's marriage to Algernon Sartoris was in trouble. Despondent, Grant often left the White House for long, solitary walks, seldom lifting his eyes. On December 5th, 1876, Ulysses S. Grant presented his final message to Congress. It was a blunt assessment of his two difficult terms as president at a trying time in the nation's history. "Mistakes have been made," he said, "as all can see and I admit."
Simpson: He acknowledged that he was not fully prepared for the office. He was apologizing. He'd understood that he'd not been the perfect president. It was a humbling moment to be sure, but was an also -- it was also a moment where the true honesty of the man shown through.
Narrator: In March, 1877, the Grants left Washington. Despite all the anguish and disappointments of the presidency, they had been together in the White House, and secure, for eight years. Julia hated to leave.
McFeely: When they got on the train, Julia was crying, and she said to him "I feel like a waif." And Ulys said "We're both waifs, we're all waifs." I think that they felt terribly homeless. Not knowing where they should go or what they should do with themselves.
Narrator: The two "waifs" had a windfall. A few years back, Grant had put a little money into a mining operation out in Nevada, and it hit pay dirt -- a deep vein of silver.
The Comstock Lode was one of the few good investments Grant ever made. His handful of shares was now worth twenty-five thousand dollars. He had always been a restless man. Sprung from the burdens of the presidency, Grant decided he would see the world.
In May, 1877, they set sail for England, to visit Nelly and her new baby. After that, Ulysses said, they would travel "as long as the money holds out." Arriving in Liverpool, the Grants expected a modest greeting from a few American officials. Instead, the docks and streets of the city were thick with cheering Englishmen -- more than a hundred thousand of them, waving flags and handkerchiefs. "There was a perfect sea of faces as far as we could see in every direction," Julia wrote. Grant was flabbergasted. The general was about to discover that his fame had reached around the globe.
McFeely: A lot of people saw him as the most important person in the world. He had, he had solved the problem of slavery, he had won a civil war, he had put the Union back together. He'd been the president. And in -- around the world, nobody cared all that much about naval contracts that were supposedly corrupt or --let alone any American social problems. And he was just a hero.
Narrator: Before long, he and Julia were invited to Windsor Castle for dinner with Queen Victoria.
McFeely: And the Grants did this amazing American thing. They brought their Jesse, their youngest kid with them. This was totally unthinkable thing at Windsor and the whole place was in a terrible turmoil. Victoria went off riding in, in her carriage in a huff. At the last minute, they rustled in a couple of Victoria's own children so there would be other children at the table. And somehow this terrible social gaffe was covered up. It really would make a wonderful musical. This whole business -- is just-- you can almost hear the songs now.
Narrator: The Grants found they were welcome everywhere. So they kept going -- for two and a half years. They roamed across several continents -- through Europe, the Middle East, Asia. In St. Petersburg, Grant discussed the Indian wars with Czar Alexander II. In Germany, Wagner played for them -- although Julia later got him confused with Franz Liszt. The United States was just beginning to take its place on the world stage. Ulysses S. Grant embodied the young country perfectly.
Miller: Grant seemed to be a representation of the country -- rough hewn, simple, common sense, got things done, not a lot of pretension, and things like that. A human being, with, with human frailties -- an American.
Narrator: But once again, as so many times before, the money was running low. In September of 1879, Grant and Julia headed home. Aboard ship, bound for San Francisco, Grant rediscovered that old unease about his place in the world.
"I am both homesick and dread going home," he had written to a Galena friend.
"I have no home but must establish one when I get back; I do not know where."
In November, 1879, when Grant made his way to Chicago for an army reunion, a crowd of eighty thousand turned out in his honor. The celebration began with a tumultuous welcoming parade, led by his old friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman. Time and celebrity had muted the memories of Grant's troubled presidency. The crowds celebrated not the failed politician, but the victorious general, the savior of the Union. That evening, at Haverly's Theater, more than a thousand veterans of the Army of the Tennessee, Grant's first army, shouted themselves hoarse when he arrived.
Miller: You've got to remember this. Grant, not Lincoln, is the most popular man in the 19th century. No question about it. Even in death, Lincoln wasn't as popular as Ulysses Grant.
Perret: And they cheered him and cheered him. They were desperate for some words, something And he just sat there while they cheered him for a half an hour. And finally Sherman went over to him and said you have to say something. So Grant very reluctantly stood up, bowed his head, and sat down.
Narrator: Among the admirers in the audience that night was the celebrated writer and satirist, Mark Twain. Famously disdainful of the pompous and self-important, Twain wrote to a friend later that evening that he had never seen such self-control, such an "iron man."
Miller: Twain had this little boy's image of Grant as the great father of the new country. And he idolized Grant. Absolutely idolized him.
Bradley: They both had a very ambivalent attitude towards slavery. They both had an appreciation of the value of black people. They both had an excellent sense of humor. They both loved to travel. And since both of them could tell a great story it's impossible they wouldn't have gotten along.
Narrator: Twain struck up a friendship with the general that would last until Grant's death. Having lunch with Grant, he wrote, was "like having pork and beans with Julius Caesar." "Julius Caesar" and his wife went back to Galena. For a moment, in the summer of 1880, it appeared the Republicans would nominate Grant to run for a third term as president. But the moment passed. He was nearly sixty years old. And once again, he had no job, and little money. He'd spent what he had on the trip around the world. He and Julia were stuck in Galena, back where they'd been before the war. Grant's rich friends from his White House years came to the rescue. They put together a sort of "escape fund" -- enough money for Grant to buy a handsome brownstone in New York. The Grants moved in to 3 East 66th Street in August, 1881.
The general happily filled it with his memorabilia from the war -- and the trophies and gifts he and Julia had accumulated on their Grand Tour.
Byrd: Swords, medals, handguns, pistols. Everywhere he went, people gave him war-like things -- a Prussian army officer's helmet, that sort of thing. In Japan, he was given a military sword. And all of that stuff found its way onto the walls or on the tables of the New York house.
Narrator: Grant had never been able to hold on to a dollar. Now he told his friend Sherman that what he really wanted to do was to make money. He went into business with his twenty-nine-year old son, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., known as Buck. Stocks on Wall Street were soaring, and Buck had formed a brokerage firm with a promising young investor named Ferdinand Ward.
The firm was called Grant & Ward.
Geoffrey Ward, Writer: My great-grandfather, Ferdinand Ward was a very plausible, charming, unobtrusive, slender person with a genius for finding older people and pleasing them, which he learned early on.
Narrator: Ward's early successes had earned him the nickname "the young Napoleon" of Wall Street.
Ward: The company really did make a lot of money at first and the, the partners did very well. And the, the story in the family was that when Grant came to work, he would come in every morning and there was a big jar of cigars and my great-grandfather would give the General his first cigar. He would ask him to tell him about Vicksburg again, and then would produce a silver tray on which letters were piled so that only the place where the signature went could be seen. And the General would sign his name on those letters and off they'd go, pledging him to do all sorts of things he'd hadn't, he never heard of. And apparently he just did that, he didn't seem very interested in it. He was just delighted to have the money coming in. And he was at last, you know, the tanner's son was at last a millionaire, and he was thrilled.
Narrator: Old army comrades put in their money. So did Grant's widowed sister and his young nieces. Almost magically, Ward multiplied it, then multiplied it again.
By 1884, Grant seemed at long last to have achieved the financial security he and Julia had always craved. He proudly told others that his worth was in the vicinity of two and a half million dollars.
Byrd: Those were two or three of the, the happiest years of Grant's life I think. He was living in an admired and comfortable way, and he thought he was a success at business. So everything -- everything looked absolutely perfect to him.
Narrator: He called Ferdinand Ward the finest financial mind in America since Alexander Hamilton. In fact, Ferdinand Ward was a confidence man. Grant & Ward's profits were the result of an elaborate shell game.
Perret: Ferdinand Ward was a kind of Ponzi artist ahead of his time. Ferdinand Ward said if you leave $10,000 with me, I will turn it into $20,000 in the blink of an eye or at least pretty quickly. And people did it.
Byrd: Ward never invested any of it. He spent it on -- He had a wonderful estate in Connecticut with lots of horses and huge grounds. He lived beautifully, he had a townhouse in New York. He traveled. He dressed very well, and out of the money he received, he simply paid back dividends to, the investors who thought that they were doing very well.
Narrator: The inevitable came on Sunday, May 4th, 1884.
Ward had spent the morning at the office on Wall Street. He could see that he would not have enough money to cover the loans he had taken at the end of the week. He went uptown and told Grant the firm was short on cash. He urged him to go see his friend William Henry Vanderbilt about a loan. In his looming block-long mansion on Fifth Avenue, Vanderbilt heard Grant out. He didn't care about Grant and Ward, Vanderbilt said. But he did care about Grant.
He wrote the general a personal check for $150,000. Grant gave the check to Ward, confident that he would put things right. A few days later, when Grant came down to the office on Wall Street he was surprised to find a huge crowd gathered outside. The newspapers had picked up rumors that Grant & Ward was in trouble. Angry investors had rushed downtown, looking for the money they had entrusted to the company.
Byrd: And he went in and found his son Buck and Buck told him they were completely wiped out, that Ward was nowhere to be found, and there was no cash in the safe and no credit at any of the banks where they thought they had accounts. And Grant rather stoically went upstairs to his office on the second floor and went in and closed the door. And, and then as the best reports we have, he came very close to breaking apart then. Because this was -- this was rock bottom. This, this was Hardscrabble all over again. He was back to being penniless.
Narrator: Grant sat in his chair, his head bowed, staring at the floor.
All the money was gone. The savings of every single member of the Grant family. The investments of all the old soldiers and comrades who had sent the General their pension checks and savings books. Every penny gone. Vanderbilt's loan of $150,000 was swallowed up without making an iota of difference. Ward was arrested and charged with larceny. He got ten years in Sing Sing. Grant got ruin and disgrace.
Byrd: The public humiliation stung him terribly. The newspapers were just filled with stories because most people thought Grant must have known that this was a fraudulent company. How could he be Grant of Grant and Ward and not know what was going on in his own business. This real blackening of his of his honor.
Narrator: Vanderbilt was willing to forgive the $150,000 note, but to Grant it was a question of personal honor. He made over the deeds to his house and beloved horse farm to Vanderbilt. To add to the payment Buck and Fred packed up everything of value that their father owned: all his military medals, uniforms, swords, shoulder straps from Vicksburg; all the gifts from his world tour -- gold cigar boxes, an elephant tusk from the King of Siam. Vanderbilt gave the items of enduring historic value to the Smithsonian and let Grant have the rest back. He said he considered the debt repaid.
The Grants were still desperate for cash. At one point Grant and Julia took out their wallet and purse and figured that they had only $180 between them. In the fall of 1884, Grant was sixty-two years old, and about thirty pounds overweight. His throat seemed to hurt all the time. He finally saw a doctor.
Byrd: The specialist took one, one look inside Grant's throat and saw instantly what it was. And Grant must have read the expression on his face because he, he looked at him and asked very bluntly, "Is it cancer?" And the doctor answered quite guardedly. He said, "the disease is epithelial in nature and is sometimes curable." And that was enough for Grant to hear. He understood he had been given his death sentence.
Narrator: Grant accepted the verdict, and made a decision. He had never wanted to write his memoirs, though he had been urged many times to put pen to paper. Now, it seemed the only way in which he might make some money. If the memoirs sold well, the profits would bring Julia and the children some financial security when he was gone. He struck a deal with Mark Twain, who had recently formed his own publishing company. To provide for his family, he would race against death. It would be his last battle.
Grant worked propped up on two facing chairs, his throat wrapped in a scarf. He couldn't breathe if he lay back too far.
Newspapers from across the country and around the world reported daily on his condition.
Byrd: On some of his good days he wrote a staggering number of pages for somebody healthy or sick -- he would write 25, 50 pages. To return to this kind of heroic act of writing, as it was --that was wonderful for Grant and it seemed to have been wonderful for the country which understood it was not only watching him die, but watching him write a book.
Narrator: "My family is American, and has been for generations," Grant began, "in all its branches, direct and collateral. Matthew Grant, the founder of the branch in America, reached Dorchester, Massachusetts in May, 1630..."
Blight: And lo and behold, Americans discovered that this old general could really write. That he had a, an engaging, if simple, writing style. He wrote with an economy of language, an economy of words.
Narrator: ". . . On the 18th I moved along the Vicksburg road in advance of the troops and as soon as possible joined Sherman . . . "
". . . The bullets of the enemy whistled by thick and fast for a short time . . . in a few minutes Sherman had the pleasure of looking down on the spot coveted so much by him the December before . . ."
" . . . the attack was ordered to commence on all parts of the line at ten o'clock a.m. on the 22nd, with a furious cannonade from every battery in position . . ."
". . . this war was a fearful lesson, and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future."
Ward: That's a very great book. If you have plowed your way through most Civil War memoirs and memoirs of statesmen at the time, they are overblown, pompous, purple, interminable. And Grant is the opposite. It's the American language at its finest. Clear, concise, modest marvelous powers of description, vivid memory.
McFeely: Nothing could prove as this book proved that -- what a splendid intellect Grant had. That -- a, a, a marvelous mind and a marvelous writer, a writer was at work.
Narrator: In mid-June, the family took Grant, now barely strong enough to stand, to Mount MacGregor, a summer resort in the Adirondacks. They hoped the high, cool mountain air would be more comfortable for the general. Grant was able to keep writing.
Perret: And he sat on the porch and wrote his memoirs. And as the word got around, army veterans flocked to Mount McGregor to pay their last respects to Grant while he was still alive. And they would form up in columns and they would march past the porch, and they would wave to him and they would salute him, they would cheer him. And Grant, in the middle of writing the memoirs, would look up. And sometimes, if they were very lucky, he would raise his hand and then go back to writing. That was enough. It was enough for them.
Byrd: Grant's suffering of his cancer of the throat, which was probably caused by those innumerable cigars that he smoked his suffering was just intense. It was -- it was a terrible way to die. Not only was there a great pain, just sheer pain, hurt associated with it, but he frequently had the sensation of not being able to breathe. He couldn't swallow. He, he felt himself being choked off. And he would wake up in the night in a terrible grip of panic and fear. And this got worse as the disease progressed.
Narrator: Grant pushed on with the book, often refusing painkillers in order to keep his mind clear. His public suffering was followed with great emotion -- not only in the North, but in the South.
Waugh: This man who had meant so much to so many people who were still alive, who lived through the war, who suffered through the war, became the repository for everyone's feelings, everyone's emotions about what the war meant.
Simpson: As he's writing the memoirs and as he's dying, he sees this outpouring of sentiment directed towards him, he begins to believe that in his death, he might serve as a vehicle to achieve reconciliation, the goal he had wanted so desperately to achieve during his life.
Narrator: Grant began to reach out to former Confederates.
The first one to make the pilgrimage was Simon Bolivar Buckner -- the general who had received a demand for "unconditional surrender" from Grant, back in 1862.
Byrd: Grant was unable to speak. The cancer had really destroyed his throat. And he had to write messages, little memos to his doctor, to his family, to anybody.
Narrator: To Buckner, Grant wrote, "I have witnessed since my illness just what I have wished to see ever since the war, harmony and good will between the sections."
On July 18th he finished the second and last volume of the memoirs.
A few days later, he wrote a note to his doctor:
"I do not sleep though I sometimes doze a little. If up I am talked to and in my efforts to answer cause pain. The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer. I signify all three."
On July 23, 1885, surrounded by his wife and family, Ulysses S. Grant died. He was sixty-three.
At the moment of his death, 8:08 a.m., his son Fred reached over and stopped the hands of the clock on the mantel. All over the country, church bells tolled sixty-three times in his honor, once for each year of the general's life. In the largest funeral procession New York had ever seen, Grant's body was carried through a city draped in mourning to a temporary tomb in Riverside Park.
Waugh: The crowds were so thick that you could hardly find a place to sit. And yet every newspaper account remarks on the respect and the -- and the quiet that pervaded these crowds as the procession went by.
Narrator: From his window on Union Square, Mark Twain watched the procession for five hours, as the catafalque, drawn by twenty-four black horses, made its way slowly uptown.
Alongside walked the pallbearers: Sheridan and Sherman, two Union generals who had fought with Grant, and Buckner and Johnston, two Confederate commanders who had fought against him. It was just as Grant had planned it.
A newspaper the next morning proclaimed, "If the war did not end in 1865, it certainly ended yesterday." Within a decade, the reconciliation begun in these years came to be viewed as a national triumph. But it was a triumph with enormous cost.
Blight: The sections reconciled in America out of the Civil War. North and South reconciled but the races, black and white, did not. Now, I'm not blaming Grant by any means for this. The races, black and white in America, fell into an age of apartheid. Fell into an age of segregated society, segregated institutions, and segregated memories.
Carter: Grant's been criticized about his failure to carry through on his commitment to protect the freedmen. Another way to look at it, however, is that he, he held the course longer than most politicians did. I mean, he's the last president that we have in the l9th century to talk with a kind of passion about protecting the rights of African-Americans.
Bradley: His legacy, to me, is that if you study his life, you can see how America could have gone right at that juncture. He had all the right impulses, and most of the right spirit. He was a very honorable man, he was a principled human being. He was a reasonable man in an unreasonable time.
Waugh: I think he had perhaps the hardest job of any president except Abraham Lincoln. I think the fact that no one else had the authority to be the president at that time except Ulysses S. Grant is very important to consider. And I think his achievement was that he was able somehow to keep the country together during this time and that hasn't been appreciated enough.
Narrator: The general was buried in a plain dark suit. He had given up his uniforms to pay his debts. On February 27, 1886, Julia Grant was presented with a check for $200,000. At the time, it was the largest royalty payment ever written. In all, she would receive nearly $450,000.
In 1897, Grant's body was reinterred in a granite and marble mausoleum overlooking the Hudson River. On the day of the funeral, Gen. Sherman had told Mark Twain that he was sick of the newspaper nonsense, making Grant out to be so pure. "Grant was no namby-pamby fool," Sherman said. "He was a man all over -- rounded and complete."
My American Experience
Do you admire Ulysses S. Grant? Or perhaps Robert E. Lee? Tell us who is your favorite and why.