John Farrell: What inspired you to write this book?
Craig von Buseck: My interest in the final two years in the life of Ulysses S. Grant began sometime in the 1990s when I first viewed ‘The Civil War’ by Ken Burns. Living in Virginia during those years, I began a tradition of visiting Civil War battlefields and museums that continues to this day. I am grateful to the amazing battlefield guides and expert staff at the numerous museums, national parks, and historical sites that I have visited since that time.
In the greatest victory of his life, Ulysses S. Grant overcame bankruptcy and fought cancer to save his family from ruin. With Mark Twain as his publisher, Grant wrote an American classic – his Personal Memoirs – confronting Jim Crow racism while securing the future of his wife after his death.
In writing his Personal Memoirs, Grant also fought the ‘Lost Cause’ view that the war was not about slavery, but state’s rights. Like Lincoln, Grant viewed the Civil War as a divine punishment for the sin of slavery. “There had to be an end to slavery,” Grant explained. “… we were fighting an enemy with whom we could not make a peace. We had to destroy him.”
U.S. Grant was underestimated throughout his remarkable life. Then his reputation and legacy were maligned by pro-Confederate ‘Lost Cause’ writers. In the last 30 to 40 years, historians have begun a reexamination of Grant’s contribution to American culture and the cause of freedom. Through the release of Victor!, I hope to be part of restoring Grant to his rightful place in American history.
JF: What is one of your favorite scenes in the book?
CVB: There are many amazing and moving scenes in this book, but one encounter between Julia and Ulysses poignantly shows their affection for each other — a glimpse into a love affair that lasted their entire life. After his tremendous victory at Vicksburg, Ulysses was being spoken of as a future presidential candidate, Julia Grant realized that she too was becoming something of a public figure. Suddenly self-conscious of her strabismus — the condition of crossed-eyes that she had from birth — Julia consulted an old medical acquaintance to see if surgery could correct the problem.
“I had often been urged in my girlhood by Dr. [Charles A.] Pope, the most distinguished surgeon in the country at that time, to permit him to make a very simple operation on my eyes,” Julia explained. “I had never had the courage to consent, but now that my husband had become so famous I really thought it behooved me to try to look as well as possible. So I consulted the Doctor on this, to me, most delicate subject, but alas! he told me it was too late.”
Ulysses was surprised when Julia gave him this news. “What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?”
“Why, you are getting to be such a great man,” Julia responded, “and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain …”
Ulysses drew Julia to himself and said gently, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes.”
JF: Many people still think Grant was a drunk. Can you tell us about Grant’s problem with drinking — and did he overcome it?
CVB: Grant today would be considered an alcoholic and this disease led to him being forced out of the army in 1853. It damaged his reputation and almost kept him from being reinstated when the Civil War broke out. Through the love and support of his wife, accountability to friends, strong character, and faith in God, he was finally able to abstain from alcohol and never drank as president.
JF: Ulysses S. Grant was a Christian. Can you tell us about his faith in God?
CVB: Grant was a lifelong believer and a strong Methodist. When I visited his birthplace outside of Cincinnati on the Ohio River, there was a display there of his Huguenot ancestry as well. Grant opened his Personal Memoirs by quoting the Christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas: “Man proposes, but God disposes.” As president, he was asked for a quote for a Sunday School national group. He responded: “Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future.”
I have two chapters that cover the questions of Grant’s alcoholism and his faith in depth in the companion book, Forward! The Leadership Principles of Ulysses S. Grant.
JF: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
CVB: In the midst of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant emerged to guide the United States first to victory, and then to the beginnings of reconciliation. As president, he called for renewed good will among his fellow Americans with his campaign slogan, “Let Us Have Peace.” As incredible as these events were, perhaps the most dramatic season in Grant’s life came in his final two years. After leaving the White House he lost all his money in a massive Ponzi scheme. Only months later he is diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Without income and facing a painful death, Grant teams with his friend and publisher Mark Twain to write his personal memoirs in an attempt to restore his family’s fortune. He finishes the book four days before his death. Twain published the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant later that year. In the end, the book made $450,000 for Julia Grant – the equivalent of more than $10 million today, securing her future and restoring the Grant family fortune.
In this amazing act of selflessness and love, Grant restores his family’s fortune. At the same time, he combats the growing ‘Lost Cause’ school of historical thought that argued that the Civil War was about state’s rights and not about slavery. On both counts, Grant triumphed as a result of his courage, his perseverance, his strong family bonds, his education, and his faith in God. I believe he is a role model for our times – and for all time.
Order your copy of Victor!: The Final Battle of Ulysses S. Grant by Craig von Buseck
John Farrell is a Digital Content Writer / Editor of Inspiration.org
Dr. Craig von Buseck is Managing Editor of Inspiration.org.
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