Thursday, December 01, 2011

Grant's Final Victory:Ulysses S. Grant's Heroic Last Year

The much deserved fame and prestige that Ulysses S. Grant gained during America’s Civil War carried him all the way to the White House where he served two terms as President of the United States (1869-1877).  Prior to the war, most who knew Grant probably considered him a failure.  Within a few years of the end of his presidency, however, the Grants were in good financial shape, confident that they had the means to live comfortably for the rest of their lives.

Grant had very little personal understanding of investing, but at his son’s recommendation, he associated himself with two men whose judgment he trusted: Ferdinand Ward and Hamilton Fish.  Grant’s contribution to the firm they created, Grant and Ward, was strictly that associated with his personal fame and reputation.  He had almost nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the company.  Consequently, he was as surprised as anyone when, in 1884, he learned that all the money supposedly invested by the firm for others was gone.  And, like all the rest, Grant was left penniless.  Not only was Grant suddenly broke, he still owed thousands of dollars in personal debt that he was determined to repay.

 But even worse news was to come, for Grant was soon to learn that he was suffering from incurable throat cancer.  Grant’s chief concerns were twofold: how to finance his beloved Julia’s remaining years, and how to repay his existing debts.  Recognizing that he could earn the kind of money he needed only one way, Grant began a race against the clock to complete his personal memoirs before his illness could claim him.  With the help of key players like Mark Twain and William Vanderbilt, Grant would win that race and complete his work only three days before he died on July 23, 1885.

Charles Bracelen Flood
Grant’s Final Victory offers a detailed look at what Ulysses S. Grant’s last year of life was like, a year during which he continued to write and edit daily despite his ever worsening physical condition.  The book explores Grant’s personal relationships with the rich and famous of his day, as well as with the members of his immediate family.  Fortunately, most of those who found themselves in Grant’s inner circle during those final months were there to help him achieve his goal of providing for Julia.  Particularly selfless were men like Mark Twain who published the memoirs and made sure that Grant got the largest royalty payday imaginable and William Vanderbilt who continued to support the Grants financially despite all the money they already owed him.  Of course, there would also be hangers-on who were there simply to increase their own fame and fortune by association with Grant during his final days.

Charles Bracelen Flood truly does “bring to life” General Grant’s last year, a year during which Grant’s personal heroism is as sorely tested as it was even during the Civil War.  His “final victory” may have been won just three days before his death when he signed off on his memoirs.  Or, it may have been won by the bravery he displayed by dying in such a public manner, all the while maintaining his great personal dignity.  Or, perhaps even more importantly, that victory might have been the way the all-inclusive tone of his memoirs helped to heal the remaining animosity between the northern and southern sections of the country.  Whichever of these victories one chooses, there is little doubt that U.S. Grant was an American hero.

Rated at: 4.0 


  1. I came across your review - I recently read Flood's book as well, and it will also be on my top-10 lists for the year.

  2. Just reading the review made my eyes feel a little damp.

  3. So many books, so little time. Another one to add to the short list, I think.
    Your comments on the NYTimes Top 10 book list?

  4. Glad to hear that you enjoyed the Grant book, too, Lisa...definitely one of my 2011 favorites.

  5. Susan, it is quite a story. Grant was an usual man and his loyalty to his family and country were way off the scale. I am always touched, when I read about Grant, by the kindness he showed my Southern ancestors.

  6. Brenda, if you are a fan of Civil War history or literary history this is a book you need to read.

    I'll have to take another look at the NYT best of 2011 list. As I recall, I was not all that familiar with mot of the books on the list - but I added several of them to my wish list.

  7. Definitely add "In the Garden of Beast". I had to catch it on 'audio book' during the commute, but it transformed my view of pre WWII history. Learned more from the book than any history class in high school/college!
    Love Civil War history, thanks to Bernard Cornwell's books. On to your recommendation. Thank YOU!

  8. Brenda, that one has been on my radar for a while but I still haven't gotten around to it. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. I can also recommend "In the Garden of the Beast"
    This book also sounds excellent. I heard an extract of the audio book on The Book Report radio show, which is where I get most of my recommendations for books from. Listen on

  10. Thanks for the "In the Garden of the Beast" recommendation and the info regarding the radio show, Francis. Appreciate it..,