Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Review-Grant's Final Victory

Flood, Charles Bracelen. Grant's Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA. 320 pages, b/w photos, notes, bibliography. ISBN 9780306820281, $27.50.*

There are certain people in the world who seem to achieve success no matter what obstacle is thrown in their way. Ulysses S. Grant is an example of this type person. Charles Bracelen Flood has chosen to focus on the final turbulent year of Grant's life. In doing so he paints a picture of Grant who despite many set backs in his last year of life rises above the occasion to yet again leave his mark on the world.

In the early 1880's Grant seemingly had the world in his hands. He was the victor of the Civil War, having defeated the great Robert E. Lee. He was the former president of the United States. He and his wife Julia moved to a nearly $100,000 townhouse in New York City after having returned from a yearlong tour of the world where he was met with adulation. He was a partner in the seemingly successful financial firm of Grant & Ward.

This partnership would be the financial undoing of Grant and many others as the 40% dividends that were being paid were lies. Grant had been caught in what now is called a Ponzi scheme. Author Flood does an admirable job of explaining what happened and the resulting fall out. Faced with financial ruin many offers came to Grant in his time of need. Attempts were made in Congress to restore  Grant's rank of General (forfeited when he became President) that would allow him to receive pension benefits. Individuals from across the country sent donations to the Grant family, many of these coming from soldiers he had led in battle just a few years prior. Perhaps most important was Century Magazine and their offer to publish first hand war articles from Grant.

Unknown to Grant however was that his biggest challenge was yet to come. Cancer. Grant had been a cigar smoker for years and after finally going to the doctor for a pain in his throat was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the tongue. This diagnosis coupled with the Grant family financial situation set in motion the last great challenge of Grant's life.

Grant writing his memoirs.
Photo: Library of Congress
Here, author Charles Flood does an excellent job of describing the struggles of Grant's last year. Eventually Grant decides he must write his memoirs in order to take care of his debts and to provide income for Julia. He finally decides on a company owned by Mark Twain to publish his work. The rest of the book traces the painful journey of Grant's last months. With the help of others he wrote on average 750 words a day despite his worsening condition that forced a move to the private cottage of Joseph Drexel at Saratoga Springs, NY. In the face of his declining health he completed his work just three days before passing away on July 23, 1885.

In my view Flood leaves it to the reader to decide what is Grant's REAL final victory. Was it finishing his memoirs before cancer was able to take his life? Perhaps it was being able to repay his obligations and also leave income for his wife and family? His memoirs eventually brought the Grant family over $600,000. Could it have been the respect and admiration shown to the General from soldiers and civilians from both sides of the "late unpleasantness"? Possibly it is just the story of triumph over adversity? I highly suggest reading this book and make your own determination.

This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Those interested in the Civil War and it's participants will no doubt find this of interest. Those with an interest in Presidential history should take a look as well. For readers who like an uplifting story with a positive message this is a book for you. For book clubs there is much to discuss and Grant's Final Victory would make an ideal read.

*Information here is taken from other sources. A complimentary advance reading copy was provided by Da Capo Press. My copy did not include completed page information.

1 comment:

  1. As you say, there is a lot that can be taken from this book. Even a cautionary tail about the evils of smoking,if you so choose. Grant was an great general and a good human being. This should be an excellent read. They played a bit of the audio book on The Book Report recently(, which is what got me interested in the book.