Ulysses S. Grant: Politician

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview
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Chapter II Success

THE military history of the American Civil War is largely the story of two great leaders, Grant and Lee. Although other generals fought on the side of the Union, and statesmen spent sleepless nights worrying over the struggle, and opposing economic and social forces resisted each other, the war's most interesting and most important military events are focussed in Grant's development, his rise to power, and his success. Where Grant commanded, momentous and dramatic events were in progress; where he did not command, the war took on aspects of fiasco and defeat. Fortune, after she had frowned upon him for forty years, now beamed; and war turned the career which had been marked by hardships and heartache into one of unsurpassed success.

To the host of biographers and historians who have attempted to account for it, the reasons for this meteoric rise have proved an enigma. To many of his contemporaries, Grant's achievements were prima facie evidence of martial genius. To many others who came in contact with him, he was a bungler and a butcher whose fame was due to luck, not skill. Protagonists of each of these hypotheses, examining Grant's career in minute detail, have stoutly defended their preconceptions with an unending stream of books, pamphlets, and orations. Discarded generals have written memoirs proving Grant's propensities to secretiveness and malice, while commanders who retained their commands and emolument have been equally conclusive regarding their hero's kindliness and fairness. But despite the plethora of military polemics, whether Grant was the child of genius or the changeling of luck remains an unanswered question.

To look into the years of Grant's failure for an explanation of his success seems quite futile. His repressed boyhood, his lackadaisical acquisition of the rudiments of an education at West Point, his inconspicuous years in the army, and his succeeding seven years of failure apparently contributed nothing which could account for his achievements. By those years his personality was moulded into one adapted to a life of failure. At the end of the war, as at the beginning, Grant was timid, silent, and shy. These, however, were now but the superficial as

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