Mark Twain made Ulysses S. Grant an offer he couldn’t Refuse

Grant on his porch

Grant on his porch in his slippers (National Portrait Gallery)

From History Net by John Vacha:

IN THE SPRING OF 1885, A DIMINISHED FIGURE WRAPPED IN A SHAWL, a knitted cap pulled over his brow, toils in a brownstone on East 66th Street in New York City. His right hand, trained to wield a sword, pushes a pen across curling sheets of paper. Twenty-­one years earlier, in his final campaign against Robert E. Lee in Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant had informed Washington that he proposed to fight it out on that line if it took all summer. Now, engaged in a final campaign to complete his memoirs, he knew he didn’t have all summer; this time he might not even make it through the spring.

As Grant would explain in his preface, he had long resisted the frequent exhortations from friends that he write his memoirs. One of the first had come from the author Mark Twain, who raised the suggestion on a visit to Grant’s New York City office in 1881. The former president responded at the time that he had neither need for extra income nor faith in his writing ability. Three years later publisher Richard Watson Gilder solicited Grant for contributions to a prospective Battles and Leaders of the Civil War series in his Century magazine. Once again Grant displayed indifference to the idea.

Two stunning developments soon changed Grant’s attitude about turning author. The first came only months after Gilder’s offer: On May 6, 1884, Grant & Ward, the investment firm into which Grant had put his entire nest egg, collapsed. As with the scandals that had marred his presidency, Grant had been unwittingly victimized by an unscrupulous partner, Ferdinand Ward, who ran the company as a Ponzi scheme. Reduced, as he put it, to “living on borrowed money,” Grant was more receptive when Gilder renewed his pitch for Century’s Civil War series.

For $500 an article, Grant agreed to provide Century with his accounts of four battles and campaigns: Shiloh, Vicksburg, the Wilderness, and Appomattox. (Chattanooga would later be substituted for Appomattox.) He began writing at the family’s summer retreat in Long Branch, New Jersey, and submitted a draft on Shiloh in July 1884. It was admirably straightforward in style, like a general writing an after-action field report—but maybe a little too much so. Editor Robert Underwood Johnson came to see Grant in Long Branch to suggest the infusion of more color and personality.

Read the rest of the article at History Net

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Categories: United States History

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