The old, self-contained stock

Today we note the birthday of Ulysses S. Grant (April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) who was the 18th President of the United States (1869–77) and the Commanding General of the U.S. (1864–69). He is certainly a favorite of mine.

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“In four years he had risen, without political favor, from the bottom to the very highest command, — not second to any living commander in all the world! His plans were large, his undiscouraged will was patient to obduracy… In all this career he never lost courage or equanimity. With a million men, for whose movements he was responsible, he yet carried a tranquil mind, neither depressed by disasters nor elated by success. Gentle of heart, familiar with all, never boasting, always modest, Grant came of the old, self-contained stock, men of a sublime force of being, which allied his genius to the great elemental forces of nature, — silent, invisible, irresistible. When his work was done, and the defeat of Confederate armies was final, this dreadful man of blood was tender toward his late adversaries as a woman toward her son. He imposed no humiliating conditions, spared the feelings of his antagonists, sent home the disbanded Southern men with food and with horses for working their crops.”

– Henry Ward Beecher,  Eulogy on Grant

Makes me want to go visit his home “Hardscrabble,”

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which is down the road a bit here in flyover country.


I like a president who has built a home with his own hands. Cheers and huzzah to Cousin Lyss.

I am now, by the way, reading The March by E.L. Doctorow, which is a novel about General Sherman’s March to the Sea (November 15 to December 21, 1864). I am enjoying it very much and am pleasantly surprised, having never read anything by Doctorow and having assumed that I wouldn’t like anything he had written. The author has a good historical grasp of the period and his characters act appropriately. This is certainly not always the case with historical fiction. Authors make stupid mistakes which can drive me crazy.

Curious, I went back and read the review in 2005 by John Updike in The New Yorker, and funnily enough, he says just that.

His splendid new novel, “The March”…pretty well cures my Doctorow problem. A many-faceted recounting of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous, and in some quarters still infamous, march of sixty-two thousand Union soldiers, in 1864-65, through Georgia and then the Carolinas, it combines the author’s saturnine strengths with an elegiac compassion and prose of a glittering, swift-moving economy. The novel shares with “Ragtime” a texture of terse episodes and dialogue shorn, in avant-garde fashion, of quotation marks, but has little of the older book’s distancing jazz, its impudent, mocking shuffle of facts; it celebrates its epic war with the stirring music of a brass marching band heard from afar, then loud and up close, and finally receding over the horizon. Reading historical fiction, we often itch, our curiosity piqued, to consult a book of straight history, to get to the facts without the fiction. But “The March” stimulates little such itch; it offers an illumination, fitful and flickering, of a historic upheaval that only fiction could provide. Doctorow here appears not so much a reconstructor of history as a visionary who seeks in time past occasions for poetry.

Well, there you go.