Rediscovering Masculinity: Why Today’s Men Need to Learn from Real Life Heroes (part 2 of 3)

The following is a guest post (part 2 of 3) from Nathan Apodaca, who blogs at Merely Human Ministries and Human Defense Initiative. I previously blogged about his legal victory against California State University – San Marcos.  Today we cover the third hero of four who taught Nathan valuable lessons about masculinity.


3. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

Shifting from Britain to the United States, another figure who I have found great benefit in learning from would be Ulysses Grant. For many people, Grant is almost a forgotten figure, and many consider him a failure as a General who merely “got lucky” and a failure as a President. And yet, there is much more greatness to the man than many today have been led to believe.

Born on April 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, with the unflattering name of Hiram Ulysses Grant, a timid and sometimes unthinking young Grant would earn the nickname “Useless Grant” from cruel farmboys in the town, and was considered unexceptional by his father. Later, as a young adult, he was enrolled in the West Point military academy in New York, where a clerical error gave him the middle initial “S”, leading many of his classmates to call him “Sam Grant” or “Uncle Sam Grant”. Grant’s time at West Point was mediocre, but after graduation he was introduced to the sister of one of his classmates, Julia Dent, with whom he fell deeply in love.

After graduation, war erupted between the United States and Mexico. Deployed to Texas as an Army Quartermaster officer, (in charge of supplies), Grant showed incredible coolness and courage while under fire on the battlefront. It was also during this time that Grant fell in love with Mexico and the Mexican people. Disappointed in the treatment of Mexico by the United States, Grant would later become a friend to Mexico when one was sorely needed.

After the war, Grant was able to marry his beloved Julia, (much to the consternation of her slave-owning father, who despised Ulysses). However, Army life soon took Grant westward, where he was posted at Fort Humboldt, in the new state of California. Separated from Julia and their children, dealing with a painfully slow mail delivery system, and without much to do, Grant fell into a deep depression and began to drink heavily. After a drunken incident at the post, Grant resigned his Army commission to avoid being court-martialed. Returning to Missouri to be with his wife and children, Grant began nearly a decade of failed ventures and setbacks that ultimately reduced his family to poverty and humiliation. At one point, while selling firewood on the streets of St. Louis to help feed his family, he encountered a former Army colleague who asked him what he was doing on the street. “I’m solving the problem of poverty”, Grant replied.

Grant’s integrity during this time is particularly noteworthy. After being given a slave by his father in law, Grant decided he must set the man free. Taking him to the city records office, Grant was told he could gain a great deal of money if he sold the slave; money that could have greatly helped his own financial misery. Instead, Grant refused to take advantage of another man, and purchased the man’s freedom.

The decade of the 1850s was particularly hard for the Grants, and by the start of the 1860s, Grant had been reduced to working in his father’s leather goods store in Gallena, Illinois, a job he hated.

However, 1861 brought with it the storm of the American Civil War. After the humiliating defeat of Federal troops at the First Battle of Bull Run by Confederate forces, the call was put out for volunteers to form a massive Army to bring the war to a swift end. Grant, knowing there would be great need of good officers, joined the volunteers and quickly gained rank as he trained the new recruits. However, this period was also full of setbacks, and more than once Grant considered quitting the Army to return home. Still, he stayed the course, and eventually reached the rank of Brigadier General.

In 1862, Grant made a name for himself. With the Civil War developing into two distinct theaters of conflict(an Eastern and a Western Theater) Grant found himself at the forefront of the war’s Western theater. Taking a large force and coordinating his operations with the assistance of the US Navy, Grant scored two significant victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennessee, opening a path for follow-on troop movements into Confederate territory and earning the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Not a bad turnaround for the man who was once called “useless” Grant as a boy.

Grant faced setbacks, however. Moving his troops south, and preparing to stage an offensive against the Confederate positions at Corinth, Mississippi, Grant was soon caught up in the largest battle ever fought in American history up to that point, the Battle of Shiloh. Finding his troops being pushed back up against their landing areas at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee river, Grant looked like the latest in a series of failed Union Generals. With the war in the Eastern theater taking a turn for the worst with repeated defeats at the hands of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Generals, things looked dim.

However, Grant was a man who knew how to be defeated.

Turning around and reorganizing his troops and supplementing his Army of the Tennessee with newly arrived reinforcements, Grant turned the tide of battle and pushed Confederate forces back to their original lines, causing a Confederate retreat further south.

Grant would go on to gain recognition for his campaign to capture the Confederate bastion at Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863, which surrendered the same day that the Union won the battle of Gettysburg and thus helped turn the tide of the war. Grant caught the eye of President Lincoln, who was desperate for a general who would take the initiative on the battlefield and actually fight out battles with Lee’s Army of northern Virginia, instead of retreating or showing timidity in the face of enemy opposition, as so many eastern theater generals had.

Becoming the General-in-Chief of the United States Army, Grant organized a series of actions that ultimately resulted in the defeat of the Confederate Armies. Still facing a multitude of setbacks during the closing acts of the war and his pursuit of Lee’s Army, Grant was finally able to secure Lee’s surrender at the little town of Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia in April of 1865, thus bringing the American Civil War to a close.

Grant’s character is of particular interest here. On the battlefield, Grant showed incredible courage and coolness under fire. When artillery shells landed near his position, Grant showed remarkable coolness and refused to cave in to fear. When his subordinates would express anxiety over the movement’s of Lee’s forces, Grant snapped “Quit focusing on what Lee is going to do. Focus on what we are going to do.” Grant showed initiative and a refusal to back down.

Lastly, Grant showed great magnanimity towards those he defeated. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Grant ensured Lee’s troops were treated with dignity, by giving them food and medical care, and allowing them to return to their homes unmolested. When Grant’s troops began to break out into celebration of the surrender, Grant ordered the celebrations to be silenced, and ordered that Lee’s troops would be treated with respect and dignity as fellow soldiers and fellow Americans once again.

Grant’s wartime leadership is remarkable, but he was far from done. Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Grant found himself caught up in the political fiasco that was the Presidency of Andrew Johnson. With Johnson undoing much of the reconciliation that was so necessary to heal the divisions brought on by the Civil War, Grant stepped up to do what was right. He came to Robert E. Lee’s defense when Johnson attempted to have him tried for treason, keeping good on his promise to Lee that former Confederates who had surrendered would be treated with magnanimity, and he stood up to Johnson on multiple occasions. With white supremacist terrorism exploding in the former Confederate states Grant stepped back into his role as a leader. Elected to the Presidency in 1868 and reelected in 1872, Grant brought much needed reconciliation and peace. Helping create the U.S. Department of Justice, Grant appointed attorneys who helped bring the rule of law to the South and break up the Ku Klux Klan, and fought for the rights of the recently freed black Americans by helping ensure the passage of the 15th Amendment. Grant also worked with Christian advocacy groups to secure protections for American Indians, and helped bring reconstruction to a close and promote healing.

Just before his death in 1885, Grant completed his personal memoirs with the assistance of Mark Twain, the sales of which helped Julia Grant financially after the family experience further setbacks upon leaving the White House.

Of Grant’s legacy, the famous orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass had this to say: “A man too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point. In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior.”

Several biographies of Grant are worth checking out. Ron Chernow’s Grant is by far the best, followed by Grant by Jean Edward Smith, and American Ulysses by Ronald C. White.

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