Grant deserved the appointment, as he had up to that
point won some 17 battles, imprisoned over 150,000
Confederate soldiers, opened up the Mississippi
River for Union traffic, and cleared the entire
state of Tennessee. In simple terms: he set the
Civil War game board up for a final Union victory.
When he achieved his rank of Lieutenant General he
received along with it a pension that Congress granted to him… provided of
course that he stayed in the Army and served until his retirement… and then
went into retirement as a reserve Officer.
Few could have imagined that instead of retiring
Grant would end up running for President. And, of course, since at that time
an individual could not be an active Officer in the Army at the same time
that they were running for President, Grant ended up resigning his rank.
few, including Grant, thought anything of this simple act, on the sidelines
a close friend of Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman was watching and noticed
this little slip. He immediately knew that by resigning his rank instead of
simply retiring, Grant would be barred from being able to collect his
Students of history will know that Grant went on
to serve as President, being elected by a landslide in 1868. In 1872 he was
again elected to a second term. After his second term, as a successful man
and modestly wealthy, Grant spent two years touring the world with his
family, after which he then returned and entered into business in New York
The qualities that Grant brought to Generalship
did not transfer well to business. The firm he became associated with was
named Grant & Ward, and was considered one of the darlings of Wall Street.
Unfortunately, it overextended itself, practiced dubitable activities, and
the Ward half of Grant & Ward even went about mismanaging the funds the firm
received, to the point of illegality. On May 4, 1884, the firm collapsed
Subsequent investigations, both then as well as
down through the ages, have shown that Ulysses S. Grant neither knew
anything of nor was involved in any of the illegal activities of Grant &
Ward. Grant’s partner Ward was the guilty party. Within a few months of the
firms collapse he was arrested, charged with fraud, and found guilty. He
spent 6 years in prison for his efforts.
in the mean time suddenly found himself penniless, embarrassed, and
suffering from both a wounded pride as well as a growing cancer of the
throat that would end up killing him within 15 months.
It cannot be said too finely, Grant was in real
trouble. The Homeric-like heroic life of the man that (with apologies to
Abraham Lincoln) single handedly saved the Union, had gone from the
proverbial hero to zero literally overnight. Sick, on the edge of dying,
Grant had absolutely no way of supporting his wife after his death, nor
paying for their cost of living while he was still alive.
Almost at the very last minute two people came to
his rescue. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) befriended Grant and both encouraged
and worked with him to help him capture his remembrances and pull his
memoires together for publication. Because Clemens knew a bit or two about
publishing, he was able to promise Grant that if he managed to succeed in
writing his memoires before he died, Clemens would be able to get them
published, market them, and collect enough royalties in the process to pay
to either Grant or his wife at least $200,000. True to his word, Twain saw
to it that Grant’s memoires were published, and that all of its royalties
were paid… to the extent of over $450,000 being paid after Grant’s death to
his wife Julia.
William Tecumseh Sherman, a man whose caricature
fit his character to a tee, watched this whole scenario play out. And while
he hoped that Twain would succeed, he realized that if Grant died before his
memoires were in publishable form, he would die in penury. Sherman, with a
pockmarked face, never seen smiling, ramrod straight, disciplined, direct,
forceful, remote, with a voluble temper, and plagued by self-doubt, was
nevertheless beyond true to his friends. An old West Point classmate of
Grant’s, Sherman thought that it was a shame that the U.S. government wasn’t
coming to the aid of this most important of America’s heroes.
help change things, Sherman, who was quite vocal about his dislike for
politicians, set about personally lobbying the House of Representatives to
reinstate Grant’s military pension. While he put his all into it, somehow
Congress was simply too preoccupied with other matters to consider the
financial health of a great General who was literally on his death bed.
Then, when it finally did decide to consider the matter, it found itself in
a situation where it was forced to go into recess and not address the
matter, because of the requirement that Congress could not be in session
during the inauguration of a new President (Grover Cleveland). This set up a
problem, because if Congress was not able to act before it went into recess,
it would likely never act, as a new Congress would be seated, and by the
time it would get around to acting Grant would be dead.
Sherman, frustrated and angry at the incompetence
and lack of principles of the congressmen he met, mounted a frontal charge
against the senators and representatives involved, just as he had done at
Shiloh. Twisting elbows and letting his temper run, he manhandled
congressmen into their chambers and pushed Samuel J. Randall, the Democratic
Speaker of the House, to reintroduce the bill (Grant—S. 2530) that had been
set aside, but this time for a vote.
so, things did not move fast enough and at the end of the day on March 3,
1885, the House recessed without having considered the matter. The next day,
March 4, was to be the inauguration day for the new President, Grover
Cleveland, and with Congress in recess Sherman was sure all had been lost.
But that wasn’t the end. Having made Sherman a
promise that he would do his best to get Grant a pension, on the day of
Grover Cleveland’s inauguration, with Sherman pushing from the background,
Randall reconvened the House and ordered the clerk to date all business that
might be transacted that day as having been done on the previous day, March
3. With little consideration for the gathering crowd getting ready for the
inauguration at noon, Randall ran around the Capital buttonholing
representatives wherever he could find them, dragging them back into the
chamber for a vote.
Quickly moving the House through its parliamentary
paces, and using the power that comes with being the Speaker of the House,
he garnered the votes needed to pass the bill, and set in motion an effort
to hold a vote. However, before a vote could be taken a challenge was
mounted by a Republican claiming that the bill could not be considered until
a prior matter was dealt with (an election dispute from Iowa that caused the
Iowa Republican representative to claim that he was the rightful winner and
not the Democrat that had been certified by the State).
Randall thought all was lost, as did Sherman.
Amazingly, the Republican who had not been certified (James Wilson) rose and
announced that he would withdraw his objection to the Iowa election result
if the House would immediately move to consider Grant’s bill. In
effect, he was turning his seat over to the Democrat who had been certified
instead of himself, in order to gain a pension for someone he considered an
announcement was met with astonished silence by the congressmen assembled.
No one had ever seen such a gesture. Within a few seconds all present jumped
to their feet and began to applaud. Applause broke out throughout the
chamber and carried on for minute after minute. And yet while this salute to
their compatriot raised good cheer and respect, as it carried on, so did the
clock’s tick. Cleveland’s inauguration was scheduled for noon, sharp… and if
the vote was not over and certified by then, Grant’s bill would fail to
As the noise in the chamber continued, the clock
moved to within a minute or two of noon. A clerk, recognizing that all of
Randall’s efforts were about to be for naught, ran from the front of the
chamber to a side closet, gathered a ladder, set it up against the clock
wall, climbed to the clock, and set it back twenty minutes.
With moments to spare, everyone returned to their
seats, the vote was taken, and was found in Grant’s favor. Seconds after the
last name was called and the vote received, the clock began striking noon.
Quickly, Chester A. Arthur, the outgoing President, as well as Samuel J.
Randall, the outgoing Speaker, pushed the representatives from the chamber
out onto the inauguration platform and Grover Cleveland was sworn in. While
the world watched, Cleveland became President of the United States, 20
minutes later than he should have been.
News reached Grant at his home in New York City in
the early afternoon on that same day. With a smile on his face, as a newly
reinstated Officer of the U.S. Army, he turned to his wife Julia and said
simply “I am grateful the thing has passed.” She smiled back at him and said
“Hurrah, our old commander is back.”
As for Sherman, while few would recognize it as
such, this battle was won just like all the others he commanded… with sheer
guts, determination, and no quarter being given to the enemy.