Ulysses Grant: An American Enigma by Elizabeth Diggs

The Cottage, in Mt. McGregor (near Saratoga Springs) was the final home of our 18th century President.

Program Description:  In conjunction with PS 21’s production of award-winning playwright Elizabeth Diggs’ GRANT & TWAIN, Ms. Diggs discusses the fascinating life of Ulysses Grant and his relationship with Mark Twain.

Date/Time: Thursday, August 23, 6-7:30pm

Suggested Audience: Adults

Grant, a West Point graduate, had a deep connection to the Hudson Valley. He spent the last weeks of his life at The Cottage, in Mt. McGregor, New York (near Saratoga Springs). During that time, backed by satirist Mark Twain, he completed the best-seller, “The Civil War Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.” With Twain’s dedication and promotion, it went on to become a nationwide best seller. “The essential enigma of Grant,” says Diggs, “is that he rose to greatness as a military leader, as President, and finally, as a writer.  And yet, he was not ambitious.  He hated war, but he was our greatest warrior.  He disliked politics, but he was elected twice as President of the Union he saved.  And he never intended to write about the war, but when he finally did, his book was regarded as one of the greatest memoirs of all time.”

Raised in far Western Ohio, the future President was one of the few West Point cadets from what was then the frontier and was looked down upon for his rough clothes and lack of polish.  But he ended up making friends for life there – admired for his calm disposition, wry wit, and his unmatched horsemanship.

Early in the war, he was spurned by the Commander of the Army of the Potomac (McClellan) and given a desk job.  Finally assigned to an unruly Volunteer regiment, he quickly won their loyalty and began to win battles in the West when the Union was losing in the East.

Grant made headlines with the victory at Fort Donelson in 1862.  When asked for a meeting to discuss terms of surrender his reply was, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”  This reply and the surrender of an entire Rebel army of 30,000 made him famous overnight.

Late in the war, President Lincoln called him to Washington to make him Commander in Chief of the Union Army.  Although it was their first face-to-face meeting, they became close friends.  After Lincoln’s assassination, he sat in the shadows near the casket for two days, weeping silently as thousands of mourners filed by.

By the time the war finally ended, Diggs says, “He was idolized by the North for winning the war, and by the South for the compassionate Articles of Surrender he wrote at Appomattox.”

Years later, Dwight Eisenhower was puzzled by Grant’s reputation as a drunkard.  He studied his battle plans and tactics and concluded that only a man in full control of all his faculties could have devised and implemented Grant’s famously complex and audacious strategies.  Eisenhower said, “He met every test and rose to the occasion unlike any other man in American history.  He’s not been given his due.”

Join Ms. Diggs in the Library’s Community Room to learn more about this remarkable President and his relationship with Mark Twain. Refreshments provided. Contact programs@hudsonarealibrary.org for more information. For further information about Diggs, Grant, Twain and the play at PS21 go to www.GrantTwain.com.

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