Russell and Duenes

President’s Day: Ulysses S. Grant as the Human Conundrum

with 3 comments

Ulysses S. Grant may be one of the toughest men to have ever walked the earth. He was known to calmly smoke cigars and write military mandates while bullets and artillery were exploding all around him. He is famous for having said “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.” Grant had openness to new ideas from his subordinates and a willingness to examine his failures and make adjustments. He was incredibly brilliant and intellectually sharp- a quality he is rarely assigned in historical discussions. He was also forward thinking, once having said about the Civil War that “I would not have the anniversaries of our victories celebrated, nor those of our defeats made fast days and spent in humiliation and prayer; but I would like to see truthful history written. Such history will do full credit to the courage, endurance and soldierly ability of the American citizen, no matter what section of the country he hailed from, or in what ranks he fought….For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.”

Grant was also flawed. He was unable to control his drinking and allowed too much freedom to his political subordinates which cost him eleven scandals during his presidency (none in which he was personally at fault). Grant’s biggest flaw, in my estimation, was his inability to see how destructive a war of attrition really was. It was this strategy- his, not Lincoln’s- that gave us the Wilderness Campaign where thousands were slaughtered needlessly as he stalked Lee with cunning and unyielding determination. It was this strategy which destroyed the South’s infrastructure and created Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” It was this strategy which stuffed hundreds of thousands of men into their coffins. The oddity here is that Grant gave us the victory we desperately needed with the loss of life we couldn’t afford. The dichotomy is clear: for all of his calmness and steel-eyed resolve, he  gave us loss of life that we have never seen before or since while also giving us the greatest military victory America has ever experienced. He further divided the country while, at the same time, re-uniting it. It is this truth that reminds me of our own struggles as people. We are constantly succeeding while losing. We welcome children into this world and are not able to guarantee them happiness. We marry only to know that, one day, we will depart and suffer angst beyond that which we can bear. We work hard while we are young-giving a company the best years of our lives- only to realize frailty and old age is too soon a reality. We are constantly relishing the victories without recognizing the overall cost. Grant is the person we all wish we could be, and at the same time, he is the person that we all are, and wish we were not.

-R

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Written by Michael Duenes

February 16, 2010 at 4:01 am

Posted in History, Russell

3 Responses

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  1. Phenomenal piece once again, my friend. Very insightful, and I greatly enjoyed reading it.

    -D

    russellandduenes

    February 16, 2010 at 4:16 am

  2. “the dichotomy is clear” indeed. so much can be said about the human condition. keep up the great work.

    china white

    February 20, 2010 at 2:31 am

  3. Your comments are much appreciated.
    -R

    russellandduenes

    February 21, 2010 at 12:37 am


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