By Joseph A Rose
First, I’ll stipulate that Ulysses S. Grant had many good qualities as a person, a general, and even as a president. The History Channel’s recent three-part miniseries on Grant, however, contained a surprising number of egregious mistakes and strained arguments, especially given the prominent “talking heads” involved. Even though the long list of executive producers starred Grant biographer Ron Chernow, little comprehension of the American Civil War was shown. It probably did not help that the two writers had no Civil War-related credits (in IMDB.com), and one seemingly had none of a military nature. The director also had little to nothing listed that would attest to any detailed knowledge of this conflict. Unsurprisingly, the miniseries demonstrated marked deficiencies.
Examples of inexplicable inaccuracy, which even Grant’s fans must have found appalling, included the elaborate, World War One-style Union entrenchments at Fort Donelson—where Grant had no fortifications whatsoever—and the Union camp at Shiloh being taken completely by surprise on April 6, 1862. Making Grant look even more negligent than he really was at Shiloh, the pickets were more advanced than the short distance in front of the tents shown in this documentary; the Confederates only reached the vicinity of the camps at 7:00 A.M. and not 6:00, they did not go charging through camps full of surprised soldiers; and the Union men were not shot in their tents. Another preposterous fabrication had General Grant ordering the two gunboats in the river to fire in support of the army that evening. His staffer responded, “I’ll telegraph Porter.” But there was no telegraph there, nor was one needed to communicate with the two warships afloat a few hundred yards away. And neither William Porter nor David D. Porter, naval officers and brothers, were within a hundred miles or connected in any way with this battle. Instead of Grant having the gunboats bombard to keep the enemy at bay during the night, he failed to give the naval officers any directions—even after being requested—and then he stopped the navy from engaging the next day. Other officers coordinated the Union gunboats’ firepower.
Aside from the factual errors, the principal fault stemmed from the script’s insistently pro-Grant perspective. It offered foolish, unqualified pronouncements on how no other commander besides Grant would have counterattacked at Shiloh on April 7th and that every other Union general, after Petersburg fell, would have taken self-congratulatory tours of Richmond and Petersburg, instead of pursuing Robert E. Lee as Grant did. The hyperbole continued throughout, praising Grant as the greatest general of his time; a military genius; one of the greatest American strategists; a spectacular quartermaster; the victor of the fantastic Battle at Chattanooga (where others really deserved the lion’s share of credit); “the man who saved the Union,” and “truly one of the great battle captains of all time” (although he lost battle after battle to Robert E. Lee). Somehow, the miniseries concluded that the Overland Campaign was more damaging to the Confederates; that Grant could just look at a map and know everything; and that no one had a more comprehensive view of the South after the war than did Grant (despite his fact-finding trip at Andrew Johnson’s behest that whitewashed the situation). “He wasn’t a butcher.”
Although growing up in a log cabin had been the symbol of an authentic American, Grant didn’t endure a “poor, humble, hardscrabble” childhood, as this miniseries repeatedly indicated. Instead, his relatively middle-class upbringing involved little in the way of adversity. Much was usually made of Grant’s overbearing father, and Jesse Grant remained a target in this script, likewise. But Jesse did not even force Ulysses to work at the family tanyard, habitually bragged about him, furnished him with the invaluable opportunity of a free college education, and placed him in the family firm when destitution was the alternative. Allegedly, Grant joined the infantry after graduating West Point because there were no open spots in the U.S. cavalry, when it was more truthful to say that Grant’s class rank was too low for him to gain a place in that combat arm.
An adult Grant—despite having land, slaves, and a residence at his disposal—somehow fell into poverty in Missouri after resigning his commission. The story of Grant’s pawning his watch in order to buy Christmas presents was seemingly based on nothing more than the fact of its having occurred on December 23rd. Grant’s “begging” his father for a place in the leather goods store (wrongly referred to as a tannery by one of the talking heads) wasn’t necessary, as his father had encouraged Grant to work at the firm in Galena, Illinois.
Issues with Slavery
This documentary tried especially hard to make Grant into a long-time, if not positively fervent supporter of Black civil rights. It asserted that, in the late 1850s, caught in the crossfire, Grant wrestled with the slavery issue. But he had really put himself on the side of slavery and his beloved wife’s family. It was alleged that Grant’s reservations about the “peculiar institution” led to the manumission of his slave, William Jones. That was speculation, as was the assignment of a $1000 value for this human being. The script’s inclusion of an offer of $1000 for Jones by the court clerk, however, was pure fabrication. That may have been the going price of a male slave at that time, but the physical condition of Jones, any due considerations received for his freedom, and other circumstances surrounding the manumission remained unknown. The facts of the case went unmentioned by Grant, his family, and the two witnesses, one of whom was Grant’s ardent—albeit conservative—defender, William Hillyer. And after this, Grant offered to sell or rent another slave, as he was moving to the free state of Illinois. One slave even accompanied wife Julia on her visits to General Grant in the field during the war’s first years. His avowal years later in 1863 that he never was an abolitionist, not even “what could be called anti slavery,” suggested that moral principles did not trigger Jones’ manumission. No one said so.
Following Chernow’s book, Grant’s West Coast drinking and ensuing resignation were satisfactorily recounted. But Grant was not generally known as a “belligerent drunk,” which the commentary suggested. It explained that he was lonely and bored at the time, without his wife, which led to intoxication: “I have a natural craving for drink.” Unfortunately, the script claimed that this one alcoholic episode is where “all the stories” about his drunkenness come from. It supposedly became a running theme in his life, which enemies wanting to vilify him could point to. That pat excuse ignored Grant’s drunkenness during the Civil War. Despite the miniseries showing only one war-time bottle of whiskey on a table, removed from his temptation, there were documented incidents of alcoholic binges. According to his friendly family physician, who was in close contact with Grant during the early years of the war, “Grant was addicted to the use of strong drink during the early years of the war.” Grant’s problem drinking continued through the Civil War and beyond.
Early in the Civil War & the Matter of Luck
The bald assertion that Grant was not lucky was laughable. With the help of political friends, he received the colonelcy of an Illinois regiment and soon after—without having fought a single battle—a brigadier-generalcy. Providential assignment to a military department where only two generals ranked him and then to Cairo, Illinois, gave Grant access to woodenclads, ironclads, mortar boats, transports, and other naval assets. These allowed him to take advantage of the waterways extending into the Confederacy. Rivers offered an unbreakable supply route. Winter weather did not impede his waterborne force, unlike other Union armies advancing overland. Naval assets made the victorious Fort Donelson and Vicksburg campaigns possible. Among the fortunes of war, no penalty attended Grant’s defeat at Belmont and success at Fort Donelson was secured by the timid Confederate commanders’ return to their entrenchments instead of traversing the broken Union lines to escape. Grant’s massive failures to obtain intelligence and to prepare his army before Shiloh almost resulted in shameful defeat. A multitude of chance factors saved him. The astoundingly successful ascent of Chattanooga’s Missionary Ridge without his orders, from the untenable rifle-pits at its base into which Grant had sent the Army of the Cumberland, was characterized as a miracle.
Commencing with Grant’s first battle, the documentary incorrectly depicted Belmont, Missouri, as a village, as a supply link, and in Kentucky, none of which were true. The Confederates did not counterattack against the Union force inside the Confederate camp, as in the video, which also omitted the infamous flight by the Union soldiers back to the boats—whose hawsers were cut, not let loose. The lame vindication for the defeat: Grant was “learning.” Claims as to who told the men that they could cut their way out as they cut their way in and as to who boarded the transports last of all in the getaway were made by Grant and by multiple other individuals, as well.
The Battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson
Likewise, many other officers besides Grant could “plainly see” the strategic value of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and the river routes. This documentary made Henry Halleck look like an officious, fool who wanted glory and did everything “absolutely by the book.” Whether that was so or not, Grant greatly admired him for many years—before turning on him after the war when evidence surfaced that Halleck had forwarded an allegation of Grant’s bad habits. Andrew Foote and Grant supposedly begged and prodded Halleck to attack, and it was supposedly only by the slimmest of margins that Halleck permitted it. Actually, Halleck had favored the movement. The writers do credit Foote for the naval victory at Fort Henry—yet still mistakenly mentioned Grant’s gunboats. The video contained no indication that Grant was off the field of battle for six or seven hours during the Confederate counterattack at Fort Donelson and contended that he didn’t panic. In fact, Grant wrote Foote that if the gunboats didn’t make a reappearance, “all may be defeated.” Instead of refuting an officer’s suggestion to play defense on the right, it was Grant who wanted to entrench until convinced otherwise by his subordinates.
The documentary maintained that Fort Donelson represented the first significant Union victory and that U.S. Grant had been winning battle after battle; nobody was winning victories like Grant. The former opinion could be contested, as General George Thomas had routed a Confederate force at Mill Springs, Kentucky, a month earlier, turning the Confederates’ strategic line in the West. The latter declaration had no justification whatsoever; this was Grant’s first victory. One talking head even declared that, “Nothing good had been happening for the Union in the war” before this. Union successes in amphibious operations capturing Port Royal and nearby territory; the liberation of western Virginia, the amphibious operations of General Ambrose E. Burnside taking Roanoke Island; and Mill Springs clearly contradicted that supposition.
The Battle of Shiloh
The misstatements and major omissions concerning the Battle of Shiloh exceeded those concerning Forts Henry and Donelson. General William T. Sherman was wrongly termed a corps commander. Sherman’s “skirmish” happened April 4th, and not April 3rd, and April 4th was long after Grant’s arrival and decision not to entrench. Grant’s army camped not just “near” Shiloh church, but all around it. The battle could not be termed a Confederate “counterattack.” As noted previously, the video showed more surprise at the front than happened, but the script severely minimized the causes and extent and consequences of the surprise. Yes, Grant was overconfident, but that led to an unmentioned but almost total disregard of intelligence activities and negligence of preparations. No competent commander should ever have been taken by surprise. Although noting Grant’s absence from his army at the start, the script contained no criticism of Grant’s unnecessary delay in reaching the front—4 ½ hours after the battle started.
The writers demonstrated little comprehension of this engagement. Sherman’s men had formed into line before, not after, he was shot. He received credit for slowing the Confederate onslaught, whereas other commanders remained unmentioned. In reality, there was no confusion in Wallace’s division about the route to battlefield and no sandbags protected Union cannon at 2:00 P.M. Grant did not direct all of his division commanders to hold at all hazards or order stragglers to form into regiments. And he had no great success in reforming those fugitives, in any case. Artillery on the last line had been emplaced well before Prentiss’ surrender. In truth, Grant had been on the defensive prior to Shiloh and he did think that he could be beaten, having written that the oncoming troops might “possibly save the day to us.” In the night-time talk with Grant, Sherman’s desire to retreat was left out. As to Sherman’s made-up wondering whether Buell and Wallace would turn up, Wallace’s division was already on the field and Buell’s troops had been arriving for hours. Neither Buell nor Wallace suggested retreat. No mention of Buell fighting as a co-equal army commander sullied the documentary’s quest to have Grant become Grant—by counterattacking the second day. One talking head worked the title of his book into the script at least three times.
Halleck did not remove Grant from command after Shiloh, with no duties or command authority. Sherman was not alone in dissuading Grant from resigning. As opposed to Grant’s being the most useful man in the army, Sherman had asserted that Halleck “cannot be replaced out here.” Grant similarly took a 180-degree turn when writing his Personal Memoirs. He didn’t give up “all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest.” His contemporary assertions of “looking for a speedy move, one more fight and then easy sailing to the close of the war” and that the battle for Corinth would be “the last in the Mississippi Valley” thoroughly contradicted that. Six months later, Grant thought that the hard fighting was almost over. Continuing the attacks against Henry Halleck, the script had Grant concluding that the Confederates were in retreat at Corinth and advising an aggressive response, but a vainglorious Halleck twice rebuffed him. That paralleled the Memoirs, as did the implication that Grant thought Corinth a “missed opportunity.” Grant, in actuality, held Halleck in very high regard, supported his slow but sure approach to Corinth, and decided that “[t]here will be much unjust criticism of this affair but future effects will prove it a great victory” after Corinth was captured. Sherman’s Memoirs contained the same untruth.
The Campaign against Vicksburg
General Grant did extremely well maneuvering his army to the gates of Vicksburg. The error-prone script still could not depict history accurately. It ignored six of Grant’s seven failures in the preceding bayou campaigns to get around the city. Removing the blame from Grant for the seventh—his resumption of the abortive canal opposite Vicksburg—the script described how an enthralled Lincoln telegraphed requests for canal updates on an almost daily basis, so Grant replied with “very rosy” reports. Really, Grant had begun work without Lincoln’s impetus, while presidential interest came later, rarely, and in second-hand fashion. According to this documentary, Grant told his timid assistant adjutant-general, John Rawlins, that he had to pass Vicksburg and approach the city from the south. Actually, it was vice versa, with John McClernand, John Rawlins, and James H. Wilson broaching that strategy before Grant took it for himself at the last minute.
Among many misstatements concerning this campaign: it took just one day for Grant to begin organizing an offensive against Vicksburg after Halleck went east; the only open ground was downriver from the city; Vicksburg’s bluffs rose 300 feet; the Confederates boasted over 170 big guns; passing the city’s batteries would be suicidal and everybody but Grant believed it a losing proposition; the ironclads were painted black and hay bales packed around engines to muffle sound; Grant wanted to know what condition the boats and the men were in after passing the town (as if Grant’s soldiers were in the boats); only one ship was lost passing Vicksburg’s batteries; and Pemberton’s Confederate army at Champion Hill was nearly the same size as Grant’s, which marched 200 miles in 17 days. The writers displayed no familiarity with the campaign’s most basic details. The documentary skipped over the second passing of the boats and the two later, failed assaults against the city.
The analogy of Black soldiers fighting in the Civil War to a man landing on the moon was unconvincing. Blacks had served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as well as in peacetime, especially in the U.S. Navy. Blacks had served before 1863 in the Civil War. The Battle of Milliken’s Bend was supposedly the “first engagement” of Black troops, a mistake probably grounded in Grant’s Personal Memoirs. But it was not even the first significant engagement. Black soldiers had fought eleven days earlier, lower down the Mississippi, in an assault on Port Hudson. That the Milliken’s Bend garrison lacked training and adequate arms was acknowledged, but the complete lack of artillery and Grant’s fault in these deficiencies went unmentioned. The documentary also ignored how Grant had been drunk on the day of and the day before battle. Evidence from three individuals confirmed that Grant had been on a binge; he sent no messages on the day of battle.
John Rawlins supposedly convinced Grant to parole the Vicksburg garrison, instead of requiring an unconditional surrender. Although telling David Porter the day before the surrender that his “own feelings are against” parole, Grant regarded it as a great advantage by the next day. This episode allegedly demonstrated his flexibility, as sending parolees back to their communities would have been a form of psychological warfare. Actually, it turned out to be a mistake, when paroled units took to the field and helped the Confederates fight the Battle of Chattanooga.
The Battle of Chattanooga
The Confederate army’s “ring around the city” on the high ground around the Union army in Chattanooga was not complete as implied here. Grant was not given command of the entire western theatre of war. Although his first concern may have been opening up a supply line, he actually had almost nothing to do with the ingenious proposal or the ensuing operations that broke the partial siege wide open. According to the script, the plan for the upcoming battle was for William Sherman and Joseph Hooker to attack on the Confederates’ right and left flanks, respectively, and for George Thomas to strike the center. That was absolutely false and patently contradicted by Grant’s written orders of November 18, 1863. Grant had wanted Thomas to shift two divisions to the left, to help Grant’s old Army of the Tennessee under Sherman, which held the main assignment. Although correct in stating that Grant gave Thomas new orders to draw the enemy away from Sherman—who had not succeeded in his mission—this documentary fallaciously described how the orders’ intent was to capture the entrenchments at the base of Missionary Ridge, stop, reorganize, and then ascend to the crest. Grant, in fact, gave no such orders beyond the initial Confederate line, nor had he any intention for the soldiers to ascend. The men and the subordinate officers climbed up the ridge without Grant’s orders and to his amazement. The script made no mention of Hooker’s good work on the Union right or Thomas’ unfailing management throughout the three-day battle, and hardly hinted at Sherman’s humiliation on the left.
The Overland Campaign
The chain of error continued with the Overland Campaign. Grant’s “brilliant strategic plan” in 1864 called for Union forces to move simultaneously. While true, this ignored how Lincoln had done the same—that February 22, 1862 should “be the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces”—at a time when the North did not benefit from the overwhelming advantages that General-in-Chief Grant enjoyed. The documentary pulled out a flawed story from Grant’s Personal Memoirs which demeaned Lincoln. It showed the President explaining a “between the streams” plan and implied that Grant shook it off as the foolishness of an amateur. The assignment of Grant to command all of the Union armies was not novel. Franz Sigel was not to go “down” the Shenandoah (although the script had it correct elsewhere). It was not Sherman’s “Military Division of Mississippi,” but the “Military Division of the Mississippi.” Even if Grant had declared that, “I know Lee as well as he knows himself,” Grant only fooled himself. Yes, Robert E. Lee and his army had won earlier by tactical brilliance, but Lee had also demonstrated strategic brilliance in his campaigns. By the way, Lee had not been offered, as the script asserted earlier, command of the Union Army.
The anecdote about James Longstreet telling Lee not to underestimate Grant came from the unreliable Horace Porter many years later. It was utterly contradicted by Longstreet’s contemporary message to Lee of April 2, 1864, as set forth in the Official Records: “If Grant goes to Virginia I hope that you may be able to destroy him. I do not think that he is any better than Pope. They won their successes in the same field. If you will outgeneral him you will surely destroy him.” Lee had routed John Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run, so Longstreet certainly held no exalted view of Grant, contrary to Porter’s version. Porter’s “double somersault” tale actually referred to a different time and place in the Wilderness. The documentary twisted yet another Porter anecdote—questionable to begin with—that men pinned a message, “Today was the day I was killed at Cold Harbor,” on their uniforms before battle. The script did admit that the aggressive Grant made mistakes at times, such as the final assault at Cold Harbor.
The Petersburg & Appomattox Campaigns
As the storyline continued to the Petersburg and Appomattox Campaigns, so did the errors. Grant’s strategy here was not merely to hold Lee in place—this excuse whitewashed his failure to do more—but to beat Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and take Richmond. Not all supplies went through the transportation hub of Petersburg, Virginia; the Richmond & Danville Railroad directly linked the Confederate capital to the hinterland southwest of the city. Supplies also arrived from the Shenandoah Valley to the west. This documentary ignored Jubal Early’s invasion that reached the outskirts of Washington, D.C., despite its having posited that Robert E. Lee was out of options. The portion of the show devoted to the Battle of the Crater omitted Grant’s rejection of the Black division’s planned place at the head of the charge and his murderous impatience in ordering Union troops to attack over the about-to-be-exploded mine when the fuse had gone out. The so-called “limited success” he had mining at Vicksburg earlier in the war had really been a failure. By March 31, 1865, Grant had already departed from City Point and moved to the left of the Union lines. Sheridan was not trying to stop Lee “from getting to [the Southside] railroad,” as that railroad was already in Confederate hands. If anything, Sheridan launched himself over Confederate defenders at Five Forks, and not “attackers.” Continuing the conventional belittling of John Rawlins—Grant’s essential subordinate, as many testified—Rawlins was first shown telling Grant that he shouldn’t go to the front, as he’s the commander, and then, ridiculously, advising Grant to protect the newly-won position at Richmond as opposed to chasing Robert E. Lee.
After Appomattox, the Union army did celebrate Lee’s surrender (April 13, 1865: “A national salute in honor of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be fired to-morrow by the batteries of this command ... By command of Major-General Sheridan.”) Back in Washington, Ulysses and Julia contended that John Wilkes Booth et al. targeted the General. The script contained their story that a strange man stared into the Grants’ carriage. Julia thought that it was Booth. As Grant did not hint at any threat to his life when testifying later, this tale seemed groundless. The story continued with Grant in Philadelphia on the night of the assassination stating, “I have to return to Washington,” upon hearing that Lincoln was shot (the Secretary of War desired Grant’s immediate return). In real life, Grant continued on to New Jersey to drop off Julia before following orders and reversing course toward the capital.
While remarking how the defeated southern states pushed back against emancipation by instituting onerous “Black codes” against those newly freed, the program’s visuals included a newspaper clipping concerning the “Indiana Black Code.” Although exposing the blatant discrimination Blacks faced in the North, these Indiana strictures dated from the 1840s and 1850s, had little or nothing to do with the subject matter at hand, and could hardly be charged to southern intransigence. Rawlins questioned Sheridan’s description of the Louisiana Mechanics Building massacre, although contradicted by Grant.
The show pronounced Grant’s absolute commitment to reconstruction and to justice for Black and White alike. During his two administrations, President Grant certainly acted on the right side of the fight for Black civil rights. An argument can be made, however, that the efforts of Grant and the Republican party to secure voting rights for Blacks developed in large part to augment their own political power and not just to philanthropically guarantee rights for all regardless of race or religion. Evidence for their unconcern for universal civil rights came from Grant’s wartime Orders No. 11—forcing the removal of all Jews, solely due to their religion, from extensive portions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, in a misguided effort to constrain cotton speculation during the war—arguably the most egregious act of official anti-Semitism on United States soil; from the Republican party’s hesitancy in supporting Black suffrage in northern states; from Grant’s opposition to Black suffrage prior to his nomination (particularly in the District of Columbia); from Grant’s inaction when the army massacred Native Americans at Sand Creek, the Washita River, and the Bend of the Marias; from Grant’s silence following the 1871 anti-Chinese riot in Los Angeles (an atrocity with probably the most lynching victims in the country’s history); from the looting of the Freedman’s Bank by Grant’s political friends, without any remonstrance by Grant; and from Grant’s and the White Republican party’s willingness to sell out their southern Black colleagues in exchange for putting Rutherford B. Hayes into the Executive Mansion. Not only did some Republicans admit their political motives, but the documentary divulged how Grant did the same. Contrary to an assertion in the script elsewhere, Grant did abandon Reconstruction before the end of his presidency with his desertion of Mississippi’s Blacks in 1875, in order to support the northern Republicans, as mentioned by one talking head.
In large part, this documentary absolved one of the most corrupt presidential administrations in United States history. Supposedly, government expansion due to the Civil War increased the opportunities for dishonesty. Grant’s administration was merely “remembered” for corruption and it was only a “notion” that it was corrupt. Grant, in this view, remained pure and without deceit, although some of his appointees did prove to be crooked. Correctly acknowledging Orville Babcock’s involvement in the whiskey ring, the script assumed that Grant’s loyalty—admittedly strong—led him to testify for Babcock. Grant was merely gullible here. Actually, the President’s own spy learned the truth and tried to inform him of Babcock’s guilt, but Grant didn’t want to hear it. This show went on to ignore almost every other episode of wrongdoing, although Grant’s presidency was saturated with corruption.
Grant’s alleged “goodwill” toward the Native American population purportedly “did not pan out.” In reality, he supported such exterminationist-minded individuals as William Sherman, Phil Sheridan, and Grenville Dodge; pocket-vetoed a bill preventing the wanton destruction of the bison herds; and misappropriated lands of the Blackfeet, Salish, and Nez Perce. Worst of all, President Grant abrogated the Treaty of Fort Laramie to grab the Native Americans’ sacred Black Hills and then started a winter war against the vulnerable tribes to seal the steal. Looking back, the Court of Claims “remarked upon President Grant’s duplicity … and the pattern of duress practiced by the Government”and concluded that a “more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealing will never, in all probability, be found in our history.”
Throughout, this documentary extolled Grant’s integrity. Out of office, the former president joined his son as a partner in the Wall Street firm of Grant & Ward, although the blanket statement that principal members received allowances of $3000 per month was only partially true. After Grant & Ward collapsed, Grant was not worth just $80. Although he had lost the principal invested, he apparently paid off no liabilities outside of the family—beyond a $150,000 loan from William H. Vanderbilt—and he and Julia still retained significant assets. Ferdinand Ward calculated that Grant had profited over $100,000 despite the bankruptcy. Left unexplored, both the younger and elder Grant had shrugged off their fiduciary responsibilities, content to collect huge returns from later investors in a disgraceful Ponzi scheme. Likewise, the script observed how Grant “committed” to the Century company for publication of his Personal Memoirs: “I can’t go back on my word.” After renouncing his agreement and taking Mark Twain’s more lucrative proposal, however, Grant was credited with being “the soul of honor,” because he informed the Century of his reneging.
Many more omissions and mistakes tarnished this miniseries; the maps utilized were similarly sub-standard. Of course, six hours of video, minus commercials, could hardly present a comprehensive picture of Grant’s life, but the script displayed little balance. As usual, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan epitomized heroic leadership. The admirable work of other Union commanders, such as David G. Farragut, George G. Meade and George H. Thomas, and the indispensable support of such men as John Rawlins, Charles Dana, and Elihu Washburne were minimized or omitted. One of Grant’s worst characteristics, seemingly unmentioned by the script, revealed itself in his personal relationships. If he liked someone, they could do almost anything they wanted, and Grant was sure to ladle out the accolades. The many objects of his hatred, on the other hand, were refused opportunity and promotion or even lost their positions. Grant would disparage those he detested, often times to the point of falsehood.
If the talented Leonardo DiCaprio goes ahead with a full-length movie on Ulysses S. Grant, he would be wise to eschew the content of this documentary and adhere more closely to history.