Ulysses Grant, Trouble Man

GrantColdHarbor.jpg

I really hope that there is a great feature film about U.S. Grant. For reasons why there may not be, check out Cynic's post from earlier this week. Anyway, I copped Shelby Foote's The Civil War on Audio, as I just can't imagine getting through the book any time soon. This is a story in and of itself, but I just got to the part where Grant is fighting at the Battle of Belmont. At the end of the narrative I just said to Kenyatta, "This dude is a superhero." I mean he really is. 


At the end of the Battle of Belmont, Grant's forces are surrounded and facing impending disaster.  Grant calmly tells them, "We'll have to cut our way out, as we cut our way in." The Federals proceeded to do exactly that. As they are then retreating and loading on to river transports, Grant notices that one of his regiments is missing. He rides out on his horse searching for them, with Confederate forces still in the vicinity. Having not found them he comes back to the river, and sees that the transports have already left. Grant is now alone and trapped between the river and bunch of angry Confederates. I'll let him explain what happened next:

The captain of the boat that had just pushed out recognized me and ordered the engineer not to start the engine: he then had a plank run out for me. My horse seemed to take in the situation. He put his fore feet over the bank without hesitation or urging, and, with his hind feet well under him, slid down the bank and trotted on board.

Man. I can just see Brad Pitt working that. (Frankly, I'd favor Kevin Costner, but it may be a decade too late for that. My Costner love is a whole other post.) Grant is straight out Marvel Comics--alcoholic, son of a tanner, manumiter of slaves, warrior-poet in the most literal uncartoonish sense, scourge of the Klan, (and thus the original prosecutor of the War on Terror) and so and so. More specifically, he's right out of our concept of the Hero. I haven't read enough Joseph Campbell. But I recognize something ancient in the story. The dude's name is Ulysses and U.S.

It's hard to imagine that with something as written about as the Civil War, there's still poetry untouched. And there's this touch of the bluesy anti-hero. I read about Grant and Lincoln and think of Marvin Gaye--"I come up hard, but that's OK\Cause trouble man, don't get in my way." I mean think about both of these guys, at varying points mocked by men who were smarter but not wiser, rising up from the laboring classes to become saviors of their country. How American is that?

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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