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Unlikely Friends: Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant

Last Photograph of U. S. Grant

The Last Photograph of U. S. Grant via Library of Congress [Public Domain]

On Monday, July 20, 1885, after 11 months, two volumes, 1,231 pages and 291,000 words, “he put aside his pencil and said there was nothing more to do,” Mark Twain remembered. Twain was referring to Ulysses S. Grant’s heroic task of finishing his memoirs before succumbing to throat cancer.

History teachers know Grant as the general who saved the Union during the Civil War and as the 18th President of the United States. Teachers of Literature know Mark Twain as the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other great works.  What many may not know is that the two men were friends, and Twain was the publisher of Grant’s memoirs. Both Huck Finn and The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant were published in 1885, and neither book has gone out of print since that time.

A little background: After leaving the presidency in 1877, Grant made a series of financial miscues. It seems he was a much better general than financier. He became a partner in and invested a substantial sum in a Wall Street firm called Grant and Ward. The firm collapsed, leaving Grant and his wife Julia with $130 Julia had stored in a cookie jar and Grant with only $80 in his pocket. Desperate for funds, Ulysses agreed to write his memoirs to be published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Century offered Grant only a 10% royalty for the book, a sum much smaller than even a novice author would have received.  Mark Twain, knowing that his friend was being cheated, contacted Grant and asked him to not sign a contract with Century. Twain convinced Grant to sign with Twain’s own publishing outfit, Charles L. Webster & Co. Twain offered Grant 75% of the sales and a small advance which enabled Grant to write without worrying about money.

Mark Twain Research Topic

Mark Twain Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Shortly after beginning the book, however, Grant was diagnosed with advanced, terminal throat cancer. Grant knew he was in a race against time to finish his project, hoping that it might sell enough to provide for Julia and his family after he was gone. Doctors moved Grant and his family to a resort on Mount McGregor in the Adirondacks, hoping the fresh air would prolong his life. He suffered terribly during the writing of his memoirs. Working against the clock, he sometimes hammered out 25 to 50 pages per day. As his condition worsened, he wrote propped up in his chair by pillows, too weak to walk or even talk above a whisper.  “I am sure I will never leave Mt. McGregor alive,” he confided to Julia. “I pray God however that I may be spared to complete the necessary work upon my book.”

Grant Writing His Memoirs at Mt. McGregor 1885

Grant Writing His Memoirs at Mt. McGregor, 1885 Library of Congress [Public Domain]

 

Grant finished the book on July 20, 1885, and he died just 3 days later. Twain himself worked furiously during that Summer and Fall following Grant’s death to get the two-volume autobiography/memoir published.

 

Grant could not have known that his memoirs would sell enough for Twain to give some $450,000 to Julia (over $10 million today), making her one of the wealthiest women in the country.

 

Today, Grant’s autobiography is still considered by many scholars to be one of the greatest military memoirs ever written.  According to his friend Mark Twain, “General Grant’s book is a great, unique and unapproachable literary masterpiece.”

History and literature teachers should let their students spend some time searching eLibrary for more information on these two great figures from America’s past.

If you do not have a subscription to ProQuest products, you can request a free trial here.

EXTRA:

*Grant dedicated his memoirs to “the American soldier and sailor” – both Northern and Southern. “As it is, the dedication is to those we fought against as well as those we fought with. It may serve a purpose in restoring harmony.”

*A quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman: “Other books of the war will be forgotten, mislaid, dismissed. Millions will read Grant’s Memoirs and remember them.”

*Among the last words in Grant’s memoirs were the words that would eventually be engraved on his tomb: “Let us have peace.”

*Twain visited Grant on several occasions in the months prior to his death. After one such visit, Twain noted: “One marked feature of General Grant’s character is his exceeding gentleness, goodness, sweetness. Every time I have been in his presence–lately and formerly–my mind was drawn to that feature. I wonder it has not been more spoken of.”

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery Cross the Rocky Mountains

It must have been a huge relief for Lewis and Clark and the members of the Corps of Discovery to see a river where the current would be in their favor for once, pushing them forward to their destination to the Pacific Ocean. Instead of rowing and poling against the current like they had on the Missouri River for over 2,000 miles since leaving St. Louis, the expedition had now come upon the Clearwater River on the other side of the Rocky Mountains near present-day Orofino, Idaho. Until that moment, it had been anything but smooth sailing. And they had just crossed 200 miles of the worst terrain they had ever come across. It took them 53 days to cross the Continental Divide from the headwaters of the Missouri in Montana and over the Bitterroot Range. The last 11 days of this leg of the expedition they faced starvation, dehydration, and frost bite.

In early August of 1805 Meriwether Lewis and three other expedition members left William Clark and the main group on the Beaverhead River in Montana and headed west toward Lemhi Pass, a low grassy gap on the Continental Divide along the Montana-Idaho border, where they were in search of Sacagawea’s tribe, the Shonshone. Sacagawea was a member of the Lemhi band of the Shoshone, but had been kidnapped when she was 12 years old by a group from the Hidatsa tribe after a battle between the two tribes. Lewis and Clark decided to take her on as a guide because they knew that they could not get over the Rocky Mountains without the help of the Shoshone. She knew the  language and knew the lands that lay ahead of them.

When Lewis and his men made it to Lemhi Pass they were expecting to see a far-reaching plain to the west with a river flowing to the Pacific Ocean. What they saw instead was what they had been seeing since they had made the grueling portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River: miles and miles of jagged, snow-covered peaks. The men’s spirits immediately sank because they knew that fall and winter weather were not far behind and the mountains seemed to go on endlessly. But they at least had accomplished one goal of the expedition: finding the western-most source of the Missouri River. Soon after going over the pass, Lewis and his men ran into members of the Shoshone and were escorted to their chief, Cameahwait, who by coincidence turned out to be Sacagawea’s brother. Soon after an initial negotiation for horses and other supplies, William Clark and the rest of the expedition arrived with Sacagawea. After a brief emotional reunion with her brother, she helped translate and negotiate for the horses. They were now ready to tackle the rest of the Rockies. But now came the hard part: crossing the Bitterroot Range.

On September 11, after camping for two days for much-needed downtime at an area now called Travelers Rest near present-day Missoula, Montana, they began to ascend the Bitterroot Range on the Lolo Trail with a Shoshone guide named Old Toby. And it was on this trail where they faced their biggest challenge of the expedition.

Snow began to fall six to eight inches at a time. Along with this hazard, much of the trail was filled with downfall, making the trek an arduous clambering over and ducking under timber in thigh-deep snow. Several times they lost the snow-covered trail and had to double back. Provisions were running short. Their horses became weaker each day. And still, at each mountain pass, when the view permitted, the mountains and snow-capped peaks seemed to never end. And each time, the men’s spirits sank even deeper. At times, starvation became an issue, at which point they had to kill and butcher a horse to survive. On September 16 William Clark noted in his journal: “Began to Snow about 3 hours before Day and Continued all day … by night we found it from 6 to 8 Inches deep … I have been wet and as cold in every part as I ever was in my life, indeed I was at one time fearfull my feet would freeze in the thin mockersons which I wore . . . men all wet cold and hungary. Killed a Second Colt which we all Suped hartily on and thought it fine meat.” Finally, 11 days after they left Travelers Rest, they emerged out of the Bitterroots into a wide plain near present-day Weippe, Idaho. They had made it out of the Rocky Mountain alive.

It was here they met the Nez Perce tribe, who turned out to be a warm and welcoming people, who fed, clothed, and nursed them back to health. The tribe also instructed them how to use fire to hollow out trees to make the canoes they would use to continue on their way on the Clearwater River.

On October 7th, 1805, two months after they had crossed over Lehmi Pass on the Continental Divide, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery shoved off the banks of the Clearwater leaving their past troubles behind and with a strong current in their favor. Here they would proceed to the confluence with the Columbia River and on to the Pacific Ocean.

You can learn more about the expedition of the Lewis and Clark and Corps of Discovery with Research Topics, magazine articles, and book entries in eLibrary.

Here’s a start to your research:

Research Topics:

Continental Divide
Lewis and Clark and Corps of Discovery
Meriwether Lewis
Nez Perce
Rocky Mountains
Sacagawea
Shoshone
William Clark

Magazine Articles:

Breaking Trail With Lewis & Clark
Ski

Comparing Notes With Lewis and Clark
American Heritage

The Corps of Captain Lewis and Lieutenant Clark
American History

The Corps of Re-Discovery
American History

Lewis and Clark in Montana and Beyond
Wild West

Lewis and Clark National Historic Landmarks in Montana
Montana: The Magazine of Western History

Attack on Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins

On the night of December 26, 1860, six days after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the union, Major Robert Anderson, commander of the federal forces in Charleston Harbor in Charleston, South Carolina, stealthily moved his small band of troops from Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to Fort Sumter, an artificial island-fort built on rocks in the middle of the harbor. Fort Sumter was not even fully constructed when the federal troops moved there under the cover of night. But the alternative of staying at Fort Moultrie was implausible for Anderson, as it proved to be an inadequate defense. Fort Moultrie was an old fortification built in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War, but years of neglect and defenseless walls forced Anderson to rethink his strategy for defending federal fortifications in Charleston Harbor.

When news spread in Charleston that Fort Sumter had been occupied, South Carolina governor Francis Pickens sent Colonel J. Johnston Pettigrew to Fort Sumter to order Anderson and his troops to return to Fort Moultrie. Anderson, already a seasoned veteran of three wars, declined the offer. On learning of Anderson’s decision, Pickens ordered state troops to occupy Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, along with Morris Island, which had its cannons trained on the shipping channels coming into the harbor. On January 5, 1861, then-president James Buchanan ordered the dispatch of the Star of the West, an unarmed paddlewheeler aimed at resupplying Fort Sumter, to Charleston Harbor. As the Star of the West entered the harbor’s main channel on January 9, the cannons at Morris Island, manned by cadets from the Citadel, fired upon the paddlewheeler. The shots mostly missed their mark, with one causing only slight damage; but it was enough to cause the steamer to turn back toward the sea. The first shots of the Civil War had been fired!

On April 6, newly inaugurated president Abraham Lincoln, realizing that supplies were about to run out at Fort Sumter, ordered a fleet of ships to Charleston Harbor in an attempt to once again resupply the fort. And the effort, once again, proved fruitless.

Surrounded by well-armed fortifications controlled by the Confederates and cut off from any supply channels, Anderson and his troops had run out of food and ammunition. By the time the ships arrived on April 12, 1861, Confederate troops had already fired upon Fort Sumter. Firing for 34 straight hours, the Confederates battered Fort Sumter. Anderson and his troops, nearly empty of ammunition, were unable to return in kind. With the shipping channels into Charleston Harbor cut off with no hope for fresh supplies, Anderson was eventually forced to surrender. The Civil War had begun.

You can find out more about Fort Sumter and the Civil War in eLibrary. A host of Research Topic pages and other resources are available for your research needs.

Research Topics:

Abraham Lincoln
Charleston, South Carolina
Civil War
Confederate States of America
Fort Sumter
ProQuest Research Topic Guide: American Civil War

Browse Topics:

1850-1870 Civil War Era
Abraham Lincoln
Fort Sumter
James Buchanan
Major Battles & Campaigns
Prelude to the Civil War
Secession
South Carolina History
United States History

Publications:

America’s Civil War (Magazine)
Civil War and Reconstruction: A Student Companion (Reference Book)
Civil War Battlefield Guide (Reference Book)
Civil War History (Magazine)
Civil War Times (Magazine)
Civil War Times Illustrated (Magazine)
The Civil War: A History in Documents (Book)