Leonardo DiCaprio has teamed with History Channel for a three-night miniseries meant to restore and highlight the legacy of Ulysses S. Grant, one of America’s greatest generals, presidents, and the man who won the Civil War.
The man who became the general President Abe Lincoln could not do without lived the second half of his life as one of America’s biggest celebrities. After winning the Civil War, Grant was elected twice as president — despite some vexing corruption in his administration — and after leaving office, he launched a whirlwind tour of Europe where the loftiest members of high society feted him. Grant ended his life dying of throat cancer, but before drawing his last breath, he was able to write a two-volume biography that became the top-selling book of its day. Grant died in 1885 as an American giant.
But in the 1900s, left-wing historians began chipping away at his sterling reputation, turning him into a taciturn brute, a drunk, and a butcher. By the 1950s, Grant was pretty much cast into the bottom of the heap of American personages.
That is something that the three-night series, Grant, hopes to reverse.
Ulysses Grant spent almost half his life failing to live up to his grand first name. But when he earned his middle initial by accident, his life began to take a new course ultimately forging him as one of America’s greatest military leaders.
Grant was born Ulysses Hiram Grant. But when he entered America’s premier military academy, West Point, a clerical error listed him as Ulysses S. Grant. He glommed onto the initial with gusto and dropped “Hiram” forever.
As U.S. Grant, the Illinoisan performed admirably during the War with Mexico in the 1840s. Indeed, he served with General Winfield Scott’s army, as did his future adversary, Robert E. Lee.
But when the war was over, Grant went right back to floundering, unable to make much headway in the several professions at which he tried his hand.
Grant was not an abolitionist activist, though he was no supporter of slavery. His father, Jesse, was loudly anti-slavery and a writer for the abolitionist newspaper, Castigator. Ulysses, however, did not explicitly follow his father’s path. In fact, he worked several farms for his slave-owning father-in-law. It was, however, well known that the future president opposed slavery, and even worked side-by-side with those slaves. His father-in-law also gifted Grant a slave, a man named William Jones, but the future general freed Jones before a year’s time. Tellingly, Grant neglected the more common practice of requiring his slave to work outside the owner’s home to earn money to buy his freedom. Grant simply freed Jones without demanding any payment.
But when war loomed, Grant knew that slavery had to be the federal army’s primary target. To defeat the South, slavery had to be destroyed.
During the war, Grant came out in favor of arming blacks and putting them in Union blue.
“By arming the negro, we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers, and taking them from the enemy weaken him in the same proportion they strengthen us. I am therefore most decidedly in favor of pushing this policy to the enlistment of a force sufficient to hold all the South falls into our hands and to aid in capturing more,” he wrote Lincoln in 1963.
The three-night docuseries on History is set to focus on Grant’s military triumphs, his dogged tactics, his steely-eyed leadership, and the clear goals he presented to President Lincoln as the only way to defeat the South.
Even in his day, Grant’s detractors painted him as a shiftless drunkard. But President Lincoln became Grant’s biggest supporter, once saying he could not do without the general. “I can’t spare this man; he fights!” Lincoln said.
Grant’s opponent, Robert E. Lee, also understood the nature of the federal army’s greatest leader.
“We must destroy this army of Grant’s before he gets to the James River,” Lee told his generals in 1864. “If he gets there, it will become a siege, and then it will be a mere question of time.” That was in June of 1864. Lee’s army was utterly defeated only ten months later.
After the war, Grant was twice elected president and led a campaign of destruction against the Ku Klux Klan’s growing might as white southerners rose to oppose the integration of blacks into society. To facilitate that, Grant oversaw the creation of the Department of Justice, which he used to prosecute the Klan.
Grant was also an open champion of the Fifteenth Amendment, which grants black Americans the right to vote. He also happily signed into law the 1875 Civil Rights Act outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodations.
Consequently, Grant was one of America’s greatest heroes until the early 1900s when leftist “historians” such as socialist Charles Beard and his acolytes began re-writing American history and re-casting our early heroes as selfish, money-grubbing, haters of minorities. Grant’s star sunk with only a brief rise when the popular books by Civil War writer Bruce Catton emerged in the 1950s and 60s.
The six-hour miniseries, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and historian Ron Chernow, premieres on Monday, Memorial Day, May 25 on The History Channel.
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