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Bankrupt and Dying from Cancer, Ulysses S. Grant Waged His Greatest Battle

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 6, 2023 3:00 am

Bankrupt and Dying from Cancer, Ulysses S. Grant Waged His Greatest Battle

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 6, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, you’ve heard Christopher Klein tell the story of “How Johnny Carson Saved Twister.” He’s back with another one. Aided by Mark Twain, the former president and Civil War hero raced to complete a literary masterpiece that saved his wife from destitution. 

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Send them to Up next, Christopher Klein is the author of four books, and he's a frequent contributor to the History Channel, National Geographic, and American Heritage. You've heard Chris tell the story of how Johnny Carson saved Twister.

He's back with another one. Aided by Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, former president and Civil War hero, raced to complete a literary masterpiece that saved his wife from destitution. Here's Christopher Klein with a story. Shortly before noon on May 6th, 1884, Ulysses S. Grant entered the office of his Wall Street brokerage firm, A Wealthy Man. Hours later, he exited a pauper. Thanks to a pyramid scheme operated by his unscrupulous partner, Ferdinand Ward, Grant's investment firm had instantly collapsed, wiping out his life savings. Grant had all of $80 left to his name. His wife, Julia, she had another $130.

Kindhearted strangers responded by mailing Grant checks. Desperate to pay his bills, the former president cashed them. Still smarting from bankruptcy's bitter sting, Grant that summer suffered from an excruciating sting in his throat as well. When he finally visited a doctor in October, Grant learned he had incurable throat and tongue cancer, likely a product of his longtime cigar smoking habit. Grant had been no stranger to financial misfortune, failing as a farmer and a rent collector prior to the Civil War.

He lived in a log cabin that he dubbed hardscrabble and sold firewood on the streets of St. Louis to make ends meet. However, now that he was confronting the terrifying prospect of leaving Julia a penniless widow, the grizzled general who fought to save the union undertook one final mission to save his family from impoverishment. Divested of his property and possessions, Grant still retained something of great value, his recollections of past glory. Although he appeared taciturn and reserved, Grant was a convivial storyteller who entertained friends such as Mark Twain with yarns of war and politics. For years, Twain has suggested that Grant pen his memoirs.

Now destitute, the former president finally agreed to cash in on his celebrity. In need of financial rescue himself after a series of failed investments, the debt-ridden Twain inked Grant to a contract with his newly launched publishing house and gave him a $1,000 check to cover living expenses. Engaged in a furious race against time as the cancer attacked his body, Grant dug into his writing with military efficiency, churning out as many as 10,000 words in a single day.

He pored through tall stacks of orders and maps that helped him to recreate his most famous battles with minute fidelity. Grant has stemmed to Twain with not just the quantity, but the quality of his prose. Grant penned his manuscript until his hand grew too feeble in the spring of 1885, forcing him to employ a stenographer.

Even speaking, however, became laborious as his condition deteriorated. Following the advice of doctors who vouched for the salubrious power of pure mountain air, Grant decamped at the onset of summer from his Manhattan brownstone to an Adirondack resort. In a cottage on the slopes of Mount McGregor, Grant launched his final campaign to complete his tome. With excruciating pain accompanying every swallow, Grant was unable to eat solid food, his body withered by the day, the voice that once commanded armies could barely muster a whisper. While Grant's doctors gave him morphine only sparingly in order to keep his mind clear for writing, they swabbed his throat with cocaine to provide topical pain relief and used hypodermic needles to inject him with brandy during the worst of his coughing fits. Through it all, Grant persisted in honing his manuscript, editing, adding new pages, poring over proofs in his first volume as he sat on the cottage porch on even the steamiest of days, swallowed in blankets a wool hat and a scarf, covering his neck tumor which was now, according to a New York Sun, as big as a man's two fists put together. When his voice finally abandoned him, Grant scribbled his thoughts in pencil on small slips of paper. When Twain visited Grant at the cottage, he brought the good news that he had already pre-sold 100,000 copies of the autobiography. A relieved Grant knew he had succeeded in giving Julia and his children financial security. With his mission accomplished, Grant finally laid down his pen on July 16th after crafting a Herculean 366,000 words in less than a year.

Seven days later, Grant's pulse flickered and ultimately gave out. Employing an army of door-to-door salesmen, Twain sold more than 300,000 copies of the personal memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. The two-volume box set even outsold Twain's latest work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and resulted in Julia Grant receiving $450,000 in royalties, equivalent to $12 million today. Grant's memoir proved not just a commercial success, but a literary one as well. Although he admitted discussion of his presidency or sensitive personal matters such as his drinking, many scholars consider Grant's autobiography the finest memoir ever penned by an American president and perhaps the foremost military memoir in the English language.

And a great job by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Christopher Klein, and he's the author of four books and a frequent contributor to the History Channel, National Geographic, and American Heritage. And what a story indeed. Grant's last battle was against the clock, and it was for his family. And he held out, and as always, the warrior fought to the end.

My goodness, anyone who knows anything about Grant as a warrior knows that, well, now they know another side of his warrior spirit. 300,000-plus words in less than a year, and all to save his family. And he doesn't just pen any memoir. Read the book, pick it up, go to Amazon and order it, and just start reading it aloud to your family. It is indeed classic American literature, and it of course took a voice like Mark Twain's to discover both men, by the way, routinely in financial ruin throughout their lives.

The story of Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant's race against the clock to save the great Civil War hero's family from destitution, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-07 02:16:32 / 2023-03-07 02:20:30 / 4

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