A steady stream of people moved past the summer home perched on a low mountainside near Saratoga in New York State. Many of them came from a long distance. They included the curious, the hero worshippers and parents who wanted their children to see the great man. But the figure bundled in coats, blankets, scarves and a stocking cap did not see them.
The withered old man was not disrespectful -- he tried never to be. He simply saw something else. As his pencil scrawled upon a pad the gray whiskered face looked out on other streams of people. These were men in uniforms of blue, butternut and gray. They carried guns in their hands, and some with gleaming swords were hurrying them on. They appeared through the clouds of the past that covered such never-to-be-forgotten names as Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, the darker forms of Cold Harbor, Petersburg and then -- Appomattox. Many of these soldiers had names -- Sherman, Sheridan, Lee, Pemberton, Bragg, Thomas. Back of them were other shadowy figures not in uniform -- Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens.
Ulysses S. Grant was nearing the end of his third career and the end of his life. Lieutenant General of the United States, President and now a man of letters. For some time he had realized that soon it would be all over. As the train had pulled out for Mount McGregor, he had gazed intently at New York's skyline; and later he had been awakened in order to see once more the battlements of West Point on the Hudson where he had reluctantly gone so long ago.
There is no use trying to see into a man in his last hours or for that matter at any time, but General Grant unknowingly placed at least a glimpse of himself in those dictated and written pages he was finishing. He had told the matter-of-fact story of an American, an ordinary man.
The child, born in Ohio in 1822, the nearly forgotten younger years, the education at West Point, a heroic but not too conspicuous part in the War with Mexico, and then the boredom of army garrison life and the seeming end of a military career. Next followed the decline of early middle age, leaving the army, liquor, the poor farmer and worse businessman, and at last a dull, obscure job as a clerk in a Galena, Illinois, leather store. The outbreak of war in the sixties . . .