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American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant (Part 1) 2002
Description: As a general, he had fought to preserve the Union. As president, he helped to oversee the transformation from union to nation. As a former president, he was the embodiment of the very concept of national union, and of America's entry onto the globe stage. As a dying general, he was the symbol of the nation's best and most traumatic war. The storyline of Ulysses S. Grant's life, from his first days on the Ohio frontier to his last days out-writing death in the Adirondacks, is an endlessly fascinating one. Several public figures have ever held a such a firm grip on the American famous imagination. Grant was a boy whose rise from obscurity made him a character to millions who should see themselves in him. An ordinary boy who faced and met extraordinary challenges, his successes and failures seemed to encapsulate the national character. He was so famous with the American public that, despite his two scandal-ridden terms as president, he was nearly nominated to run for a third term.
Released: N/A Director: Adriana Bosch, Elizabeth Deane Writers: N/A Actors: Liev Schreiber, Harry Bulkeley, Julia Dent, Alex Ingram Genres: Documentary, Biography, Crime, History, War
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American Experience: Ulysses S. Grant (Part 1) Reviews:

Grant was born in the Ohio River valley to a stern and pecuniary father who managed to receive him a (free) education at West Point, where Grant proved to be no more than a middling student, piling up demerits and being graduated in the lower half of his class. He saw combat in the ill-advised Mexican American War. Thereafter, he was posted around the Midwest. He married Julia Dent, a not particularly pretty daughter of a rich Missourio slaveholder. The senior Grant, an abolitionist, strongly opposed the marriage and there was a waiting period. They seem to have been devoted to one another. Grant everytime wrote Julia letters, wherever he was stationed. A post in the Pacific northwest separated them. Grant couldn't raise the cash to bring her with him. And then began the ur-legend of Grant's drinking, caused, it's said, by loneliness and depression. He eventually resigned as a captain and took up different trades. He failed at all of them.I could mention that there are multiple quotes from Grant's writing, so we see things mainly through the prism of his memoirs, written while he was dying of throat cancer in the Adirondacks. The job was done for financial reasons. Grant was everytime on the cusp of bankruptcy. He was no writer himself so he employed Tag Twain as his editor. I keep Twain responsible for such claims as, "In school I was said so often than a noun was a thing that I began to trust it." The movie doesn't mention this but it's worth recording. Oh, hell, while I'm at it allow me add that there was a hotel register accessible for public scrutiny in a small hotel in Monterey, California -- right out in the open. There can be found signatures of Grant, Sam Houston, another popular figures of the time, and one Phil Green, who listed his home as Dublin, Ireland, and whose signature and glosses ramble drunkenly all over the page and some of the another signatures. I imagine the register has been destroyed by souvenir hunters by now.At the outbreak of the Civil Fight in 1861, Grant reenlisted and was posted to Illinois, where he whipped his Midwestern farm men into something resembling a regiment. . He'd had some problem getting a commission because rumors of his drinking had spread. As for his politics: Grant was a unionist but not very political. He didn't vote very often. Lincoln required generals and appointed Grant a brigadier.In Cairo, Illinois, Grant realized that control of the nation's rivers meant control of the supply lines. Blockade the ports and defeat the Mississippi and you strangle the South. It was originally proposed by the ancient General Winfield Scott and named "the boa constrictor plan." Grant moved south, taking two forts along the river and became a hero. The victories convinced him that the South was ready to collapse. The Confederate Units taught him otherwise when it subjected him and his units to a blistering attack at Shiloh.Shiloh caught Grant with his pants down and after the war his reputation took a dip before he began accumulating victories again. The movie leaves out some amusing details. Grant visited Washington to be promoted to four-star general, an honor accorded no one since George Washington. The movie tells "Grant stayed at Willard's Hotel, the epicenter of Washington." Real enough, but the fact is that when Grant first entered the hotel and tried to register, he was almost turned away. He wore his usual sloppy uniform with a private's overcoat and no one recognized the hero.I'll hold this short for fear of running out of space. Grant set General Sherman marching through the South, an units all on its own, foraging, destroying what they couldn't use, "making Georgia howl", until they took Savannah, and then they turned north towards Richmond, the Confederate capital. Grant, on the another hand, attacked from the north.He was not the strategist that Robert E. Lee was. He used Napoleonic tactics, lines of boys charging entrenched positions. It was obsolete and deadly for the attackers. At the war for Cold Harbor, the Union Units suffered six thousand casualties in just a several hours. It was a blunder and Grant confessed his guilt. But he charged like a slow and heavy bull, losing boys by the thousands but almost everytime pushing Lee's shrinking units back towards Richmond, which Grant's units finally took and which effectively ended the war.The movie is made up of mostly still photographs with an accompanying narration and opportunity comments by expert historians. It's quite well done.


First rate saying of the storyline of a President and national character comparatively forgotten in modern America (I know he seemed la minor note in my American history education). The fact is, Grant was more famous than Lincoln in his time, and had a large result on America both during and after the war. Grant was a boy full of fascinating contradictions. After a series of poor failures in civilian life he became a large success as a General, leading the north to win in the Civil Fight after things had looked quite bleak(but only after a couple of reversals of fortune of his own along the way). A fierce, almost heartless warrior, he was also a tender and deeply devoted family man, almost to the mission of obsession. A shy man, not given to speeches, who led with a quiet strength and self-discipline, and yet was also, by most accounts a functioning (ad at times barely functioning) alcoholic. The son of an abolitionist, Grant owned slaves himself, and saw slaves as inferior, beings, only to be launch minded enough to slowly come to embrace their emancipation not only as a military tactic, but as a moral stance. He became a warrior for African-American rights as a General and a President. A physically tiny man, humble in many ways, who rose to greatness, only to be knocked down (and rise up) repeatedly after the war. A boy brilliant enough to be a nice leader in war, but naive enough to be taken in by con-men as President.For me, this first part was the more strong of the two, perhaps because it covered fewer years, plus the sheer emotional power of the fight itself; the overwhelming loss of life, and drama of the struggle create t difficult for his soon life in politics to package quite the same punch. But I found all of it highly interesting, and unlike some of the everytime well made American Experience films, I learned a nice deal I didn't know, not only about a seminal American figure, but also about the Civil Fight and Reconstruction as well.


This is the first part of a unbelievable two-part series on Ulysses Grant. This particular episode focuses on Grant's life up until the end of the Civil War. I found the most interesting portion was his early life--before the war. His mediocrity was what struck me most. You really had tiny concept that this journeyman soldier and failure in another careers would go on to become the 18th president!Like any another episode of "The American Experience", this one practically screams quality throughout. The narration is excellent, as is the writing and production values. It provides an interesting portrait of a rather mediocre boy who somehow found his calling in the war. Fascinating throughout and a must-see of anyone wanting to improve their mind and learn about one of the most necessary figures of the 19th century. Watch this one.



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