Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America

Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America

by Mark Perry


$16.20 $18.00 Save 10% Current price is $16.2, Original price is $18. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, August 29


In the spring of 1884 Ulysses S. Grant heeded the advice of Mark Twain and finally agreed to write his memoirs. Little did Grant or Twain realize that this seemingly straightforward decision would profoundly alter not only both their lives but the course of American literature. Over the next fifteen months, as the two men became close friends and intimate collaborators, Grant raced against the spread of cancer to compose a triumphant account of his life and times—while Twain struggled to complete and publish his greatest novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.In this deeply moving and meticulously researched book, veteran writer Mark Perry reconstructs the heady months when Grant and Twain inspired and cajoled each other to create two quintessentially American masterpieces.

In a bold and colorful narrative, Perry recounts the early careers of these two giants, traces their quest for fame and elusive fortunes, and then follows the series of events that brought them together as friends. The reason Grant let Twain talk him into writing his memoirs was simple: He was bankrupt and needed the money. Twain promised Grant princely returns in exchange for the right to edit and publish the book—and though the writer’s own finances were tottering, he kept his word to the general and his family.

Mortally ill and battling debts, magazine editors, and a constant crush of reporters, Grant fought bravely to get the story of his life and his Civil War victories down on paper. Twain, meanwhile, staked all his hopes, both financial and literary, on the tale of a ragged boy and a runaway slave that he had been unable to finish for decades. As Perry delves into the story of the men’s deepening friendship and mutual influence, he arrives at the startling discovery of the true model for the character of Huckleberry Finn.

With a cast of fascinating characters, including General William T. Sherman, William Dean Howells, William Henry Vanderbilt, and Abraham Lincoln, Perry’s narrative takes in the whole sweep of a glittering, unscrupulous age. A story of friendship and history, inspiration and desperation, genius and ruin, Grant and Twain captures a pivotal moment in the lives of two towering Americans and the age they epitomized.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812966138
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/10/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 268,755
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

MARK PERRY, writer, reporter, and foreign policy analyst, has published articles in dozens of magazines and newspapers, including The Nation, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, and New York Newsday. His critically acclaimed books include Four Stars: The Inside Story of the Forty-Year Battle Between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s Civilian Leaders; Eclipse: The Last Days of the CIA; Fire in Zion: The Israeli-Palestinian Search for Peace; and Lift Up Thy Voice: The Grimke Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders. Perry lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt


“a man with fire”

Ulysses S. Grant never understood how to handle money. That was not true of his father, Jesse, who understood it so well that he became a successful and affluent businessman. A tanner by trade, Jesse Grant came to the Ohio country and opened a business in Point Pleasant, a small trading town on the Ohio River. Tanning is a dirty and bloody business, but it’s honorable and ancient: The apostle Paul was a tanner, a fact undoubtedly pointed out repeatedly by Jesse’s devout and dour Methodist wife, Hannah. Hannah Simpson was a strong-willed Pennsylvania woman who believed that work could save souls and who told people (apparently with some repetition) that she wanted to live “unspotted from the world.” People noted that she meant what she said. Hannah worked from sunrise to sunset, like her husband, Jesse, whose face was pockmarked by tannic acid but whose biceps were as hard as iron cannon—the result of throwing ungainly pickled hides out to dry.

Ulysses was Jesse and Hannah’s first child, born with the name Hiram Ulysses Grant in a single-room clapboard shack at Point Pleasant on April 27, 1822. Jesse worked hard for his new family, and eight months later the shack was replaced by a two-room house at Georgetown, twenty-five miles to the east. The move reflected Jesse Grant’s rising status and unerring business sense. Georgetown was not only on a major highway leading from Pittsburgh west into the rich farmlands of Illinois and Wisconsin, it was also in the middle of one of Ohio’s most expansive oak forests; oak bark, when mixed with water, makes tannic acid, the potion that produces tanned hides. Within five years, Jesse Grant had transformed his business from a small one-man operation into a burgeoning enterprise employing five workers and dozens of returning satisfied customers. With his profits Jesse acquired fifty acres of prime forest land, two small farms, and a two-story brick house. The house was sparsely furnished, as Hannah insisted, and over the next years she gave birth to five more children, two boys and three girls: Simpson, Clara, Virginia, Orvil, and Mary.

Just five years after coming to Ohio, Jesse Grant was a success. He not only owned a profitable tanning business, he was one of Georgetown’s most important citizens. He ran for office (as an abolitionist), participated in town meetings, and was a regular and outspoken contributor to the town newspaper, the Castigator. He designed and built the town jail and even started another business, opening a carriage service to western Ohio and points south. But Jesse was not well liked: He argued heatedly with Georgetown’s pro-southern elite (who were enriched by the region’s slave-dependent tobacco-trading industry), became a “Clay man” (and voted repeatedly for Henry Clay, that most eloquent of voices for the Union), shouted down his opponents at town meetings, and regularly and vocally proselytized for the Whig Party. As his employees were busy slinging hides, Jesse Grant stood in front of his store and argued about slavery. Jesse hated slavery: Before he came to Ohio, he was an apprentice tanner in Kentucky but left the state because, as he said proudly, it was poisoned by “the slavocracy.” It was his obsession with slavery and his sour personality that made Jesse disliked: His first son once commented that in that part of Ohio, antiabolitionist sentiment was so strong that Jefferson Davis might have been elected president.

That Jesse Grant could see the coming conflict was certain. He was ahead of his time. Though the nation was not yet divided by the slave question, the first cracks in the foundation of the Union were beginning to show. In the year that Ulysses S. Grant was born, Denmark Vesey was put on trial and executed in Charleston for plotting a slave uprising. Two years before, Henry Clay—then a rising young politician from the same Kentucky that Jesse abhorred—authored the Missouri Compromise, which saved the Union. The debate over slavery deepened in 1828, when Ulysses was just six, when John Quincy Adams signed the “Tariff of Abominations,” which favored the business interests of the North and the West over those of the South. South Carolina threatened secession. Two years later, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina debated the question of slavery on the Senate floor. The compromises and debates of the 1820s carried over into the next decade. In 1831, Nat Turner launched a bloody and unsuccessful slave rebellion in Virginia. In the years that followed, new “slave laws” were enacted throughout the South, and the trickle of African Americans that traversed the underground railroad, many of them through Ohio, became a torrent.

Jesse Grant was proud of his son Ulysses and showed him off to anyone who came into his store. The boy was strong and smart and understood more about horses than anyone Jesse knew. Horses came to Ulysses like money to Jesse. Throughout his life, Grant had an affinity for horses and could gentle the wildest in any herd. His gift with horses was obvious from an early age. When his mother was warned that her three-year-old son was crawling in the yard beneath horses’ hooves, she dismissed the danger. He will take care of himself, she said, and went back to her washing. Ulysses Grant found in horses a silent trust and compassion that was nonexistent at home. His mother never kissed or hugged him (“Well, Ulysses, you’ve become quite a great man, haven’t you,” she said coldly after his return from the war—and then went back to her work), and his father, while bragging about his son’s strength and spirit, rarely showed any affection. Jesse was self-made, pugnacious, outspoken, and hardworking, and he expected his son to be the same, so he demanded that Ulysses help in the shop at a very early age. Ulysses abhorred the backbreaking work and the animal blood, but he did it. At the age of fifteen, after his father suggested that he might follow him in the business, Ulysses told him he never would. “I’ll work at it though, if you wish me to, until I am twenty-one. But you may depend on it, I’ll never work a day longer at it after that,” he said.

Grant’s personality was formed in opposition to his father. Where Jesse was outgoing and outspoken, Ulysses was shy and contained. He grew up to be a man of few words, though those few, when spoken, were well chosen. His beliefs were held deeply, like his father’s, but his aversion to argument was developed at a very young age. While he served two terms as president, he was arguably the least political of any of our presidents, and while he enjoyed those most common of pleasures, smoking cigars and reading, he was nearly an ascetic. He bore the casual hooting and indiscreet bullyings of childhood, most of them the result of his father’s outspoken (and often obnoxious) personality, without complaint, as he would later bear the privations of soldiering. He was as fearless in battle as he was beneath the hooves of those horses in his mother’s yard, and several times during the Civil War he would look up, surprised, to see his staff scattering before the onslaught of an artillery barrage.

All of this might have come from his mother, Hannah Simpson, except that unlike her, he was never devout and viewed religion as he might have looked at cannonballs—a curious nuisance that caused more fear than harm and simply had to be tolerated. That he was intelligent was never in doubt, but he lacked scholarly brilliance. He mastered mathematics, as a child, simply by working at it. He worked diligently, but without remarkable insight. That perhaps was Grant’s most sterling quality. While not the tallest, or strongest, or brightest, or even the most insightful of men or generals, Grant brought a singular concentration to everything he did. When he failed, he would pick himself up and start again. As a child and later as a soldier, he was undeterred, unfazed, and unafraid. This might well have come from working in his father’s business, with older and stronger men, or perhaps from those he met on the road—as he drove his father’s hides to Cincinnati or farther south or west. His only truly unique and eccentric quality was his inability to turn back, to literally retrace his steps. If lost, he plunged on rather than retrace where he had been, and he sometimes went miles out of his way rather than return along a well-worn road. He commented on this himself, often, and admitted that it was an obsessive quirk that he simply could not correct. That oddity defined his life: He would set out to do something and would not stop until he got it done—and he would go someplace and get there.

If Jesse and Hannah were unaffectionate, they still placed great hope in their oldest son. His mother insisted that he receive a better education than his playmates, and while Ulysses was in his teens, Jesse told him that he would be expected to go to college, a privilege reserved for only the most well-educated, and affluent, children. Jesse made enough money to enroll his son in a number of private schools, including a “village school” run by Thomas White, a strict disciplinarian who gave his students a book, a desk, and little else. White expected his pupils to teach themselves, emphasizing the point by keeping at hand a switch made of hard cane bundled together. At the insistence of his parents, Grant next attended a private school in Maysville, Kentucky. He left home for Maysville at the age of thirteen and lived there with an aunt. He attended school during the day and studied at night. One year later, he was enrolled by his father at a private academy in Ripley, on the Ohio River, where the academic work was more difficult than any he had ever had. “They taught me that a noun was the name of a person, place or thing so often that I came to believe it,” he later said.

Jesse Grant’s son had big ideas. From the moment he began to lead his father’s buckboards out of Georgetown, Grant dreamed of becoming a river trader. He admired the well-dressed men striding onto the steamboats of Cincinnati, bound for those exotic river towns of St. Louis, Natchez, and New Orleans. He also thought of becoming a farmer, though this was far less romantic. But farming was a thing he could do, and it didn’t involve dipping his hands in animal blood. And that was good enough for him. It was not good enough for Jesse, however, or for Hannah, who had definite opinions about what their son could become. Downriver traders, Jesse thought, were thoroughly disreputable. Being one would not likely bring honor to the Grant family, and as for being a farmer, well, anyone could be a farmer—and most people were. The Grants, as Jesse would say, were not most people. In 1838, Jesse wrote to Ohio senator Thomas Morris about Ulysses, asking that Morris appoint his son to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Morris replied that he did not then have an appointment to give, but that Congressman Thomas Hamer did, if Jesse was willing to write to him.

It was an audacious request. Jesse had not thought of sending his son to West Point until his wife had suggested it, and she did so only after hearing that a neighbor’s son had failed the entrance examination. More important, Hamer and Jesse Grant were political enemies. While Jesse had campaigned for Hamer when Hamer ran for a seat in Ohio’s legislature, the two had had a bitter argument over President Andrew Jackson’s fiscal policies and had not spoken since. But Jesse swallowed his pride and wrote to Hamer, hoping that his former friend would remember how close they had once been. Hamer received Jesse’s letter on the last day of his term and immediately filled out the application for Grant’s admission. The application was to have lifelong ramifications for Grant: Struggling to remember the boy’s full name, Hamer appointed him to West Point as Ulysses S. Grant, using his mother’s maiden name as his middle initial. He then wrote to Jesse, burying the bitter feud: “I received your letter and have asked for the appointment of your son which will doubtless be made. Why didn’t you apply to me sooner?”

But being appointed to West Point was one thing, passing the entrance examination was another. The people of Georgetown, many of them offended by Jesse Grant’s presumption, believed that his son would never attend. “I’m astonished Hamer did not appoint someone with intellect enough to do credit to our district,” one of the townsmen told Jesse. Ulysses knew none of this and protested the appointment when he heard of it. He told his father that he thought he would not go. But, as he later recounted, “My father said he thought I would, and I thought so too, if he did.” Grant passed the entrance exam and, vowing secretly that he would never like West Point and that he would never be a soldier (no matter what his father thought), left for New York on May 15, 1839. He arrived, a little more than one week later, on the bluffs above the Hudson, to see his name posted with those of the others of the class of 1843.


It was then, and still is, a tradition at West Point that en- tering plebes receive a nickname. The West Point of Grant’s era is famous for such names. William Tecumseh Sherman (one class ahead of Grant) became “Cump,” while William Rosecrans (a devoted Catholic, gifted mathematician, and average general) became “Rosie.” Winfield Scott Hancock (who was named for the old general, and who repelled Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg) became “Win.” All of that is predictable, but how do you explain James Longstreet, who was known ever after as “Pete,” or George Pickett (a Virginian appointed by a then little-known congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln), who was so dandified that he had no nickname at all (and who graduated dead last in his class), or Lewis Armistead, who became “Lo”—for “Lothario”—and who died in the charge that Pickett commanded? As Hiram Ulysses Grant became Ulysses Simpson Grant, so Ulysses Simpson Grant now became U. S. Grant or, more simply, “Sam.” No protests that he (Hiram, or Ulysses, or even U. S. Grant) would ever issue would change that name. Among his closest friends, from his plebe year forward, Ulysses S. Grant was “Sam” Grant, and so he would forever remain.

Grant entered West Point as the smallest cadet in his class. He stood barely five feet one, and he weighed just 117 pounds. He was issued a uniform that, in using language his father would understand, he described as being “as tight to my skin as bark to a tree.” It would have been easy to underestimate Grant. He struggled with his studies, but he rarely broke the academy rules, and he seemed to get along well with the upperclass officers. His class of seventy-seven comprised mostly boys from the South and the Northeast, with only a scattering of midwesterners. Grant endured his plebe year and stood aside when others protested, or openly rebelled, or were expelled for fighting or complaining. In that first year he never once received a demerit for disobedience or disrespect, a rarity among cadets in any age. He was well liked, but years later (when it would have been in people’s interest to regale listeners with stories of the famous cadet Ulysses S. “Sam” Grant), he was not well remembered. Pickett, Rosecrans, Longstreet, Sherman, and even future Confederate general Jubal Early (called “my bad old man” during the war by Robert E. Lee were legends at West Point. Grant was a plodding enigma.

Grant finished his first year near the bottom of his class, but he had come further than anyone dared imagine. While the people of Georgetown, Kentucky, might well have protested Grant’s appointment, no one could argue with his ability to concentrate, to apply himself single-mindedly to his weaknesses and master them. All the while, amid the sometimes vicious physical hazing and challenges of West Point mathematics, Grant read the newspapers, carefully following the congressional bill aimed at closing the academy. The legislation was authored by those who thought the military academy an institution for the education of the effete and unmanly, a “breeding ground for snobbery and a waste of money.” This would have shocked those who saw Grant, a slightly bow-legged rustic from the backcountry of Ohio with a shy streak. Grant hoped the bill would pass and that West Point would be closed. All he wanted to do his first year, as he later remembered, was go back to Ohio to become a farmer or, better yet, one of those worldly traders on a Mississippi steamboat.

This fantasy aside, by the end of his first year as a cadet, Grant was beginning to like West Point. When General Winfield Scott came to visit, Grant was impressed, writing effusively about the medal-bedecked American hero, and imagined himself in his place, reviewing the Corps of Cadets. While he found the constant drill and discipline “very wearisome and uninteresting,” he discovered that he had a facility for mathematics, which was often the one course most likely to lead cadets to failure. Longstreet struggled with the academy’s mathematics course (the primary reason he graduated so low in his class) and swallowed his considerable pride long enough to agree to after-hours tutoring from William Rosecrans. Grant did not need help (it is unlikely he would have asked for it if he had), and by the end of his first year he was mastering the course and rising through the class ranks. “The subject was so easy to me as to come almost by intuition,” he later remembered. As a result of his strong academic standing, Grant could now and then take some time to reflect on his surround- ings and the history that filled the Hudson Valley, whose river shone from his room. “I do love the place,” he wrote in one letter home. “It seems as though I could live here forever if my friends would only come too.” Ulysses S. Grant was not his father; he was lonely, but he wasn’t shunned. Rather, his natural shyness meant that he had trouble making close friends, so he spent much of his free time reading novels from the academy library—an eclectic mix of James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Walter Scott.

Grant survived his first year and entered his second year at the midpoint of his class. He excelled at mathematics and he discovered art. His talent in this came as the result of his instruction in technical drafting, a requirement in the engineering-focused academy where cadets were expected to know the minute details of constructing and maintaining battlements. Grant loved drafting and converted that love into drawings and watercolors. He was an adept artist with a keen eye. He struggled in French, but he made it through the course as best he could, knowing that his scores in math would keep him near the middle of his class. By the end of his second year, it was apparent to everyone at West Point that while Grant did not stand out in any single subject, he was a solid cadet with an adept mind. He was also an exceptional horseman; he may well have been the best horseman to have ever graduated from West Point. His talent with horses became apparent his sophomore year, and his reputation grew, so that by the time he was an upperclassman, he would be called on repeatedly to show his skills. He held the West Point high-jumping record for twenty-five years. His classmates would later recall how Grant so mastered horses that it seemed as if “man and beast had been welded together.”

Grant rose in his class during his third year, and he finally made some close friends, including future Civil War generals Samuel French (a Mississippian who fought at the Battle of Atlanta), William B. Franklin (who graduated first in Grant’s class and commanded a part of the disastrously bloody federal attack on rebel lines at the Battle of Fredericksburg), Frank Gardner (a New Yorker who married into a Louisiana family; he later commanded the attack on Grant’s lines at the Battle of Shiloh), and Frederick Dent, a Missourian and Grant’s roommate. Grant and Dent became good friends, in spite of their often bitter arguments about slavery, and Dent invited Grant to visit him and his family after they graduated. Grant’s academic standing continued to improve during his junior and senior years, but, surprisingly, his military standing deteriorated. The once shy boy from Ohio began to rebel and at one point was confined to his quarters for two weeks for disrespect. This only deepened his doubts about leading a military life, and he pledged that while he would fulfill his commitment, he would not stay in the military. Now, he said, he would quit the army and return to West Point as a professor of mathematics.

Grant welcomed the end of his time at the academy, and while his class is forever remembered for graduating the greatest leader of the Civil War (and two-time president), Grant himself later commented on the remarkable plebes who came to the academy when he was a senior. The class of 1846, which graduated four years after Grant, included among their num- ber some of the most storied of Union commanders: General George McClellan (who fought the Battle of Antietam), Jesse Reno (who died leading his men at the Battle of South Mountain), Darius Couch (a corps commander in the Union Army), Truman Seymour (taken prisoner by the Confederates during the Battle of the Wilderness), and cavalry commander George Stoneman (who laid waste to large swathes of Alabama and Georgia). The southern contingent was nearly as legendary: George Pickett, John Adams (a brigadier general at the Battle of Franklin, where he died), Dabney Maury (who was dismissed from the army in 1861 for having Confederate sympathies and went on to become the Confederacy’s greatest diplomat), Cadmus Wilcox (a division commander in Lee’s army during the Wilderness Campaign), William Gardner (a Confederate commander at Bull Run, where his leg was shattered), and a lanky Virginian by the name of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, who became “Stonewall” Jackson and nearly destroyed the Union Army at Chancellorsville—where he was fatally wounded.

But all of this was in the future. For now, Grant had to be satisfied with a simple commission in the infantry. While he graduated twenty-first in his class, an extraordinary accomplishment for an undersized and indifferently educated boy from Ohio, Grant did not stand high enough in the class ranks to be able to choose his branch of service. He would have preferred the cavalry and requested that he be assigned as an officer in the dragoons but, in 1843, was ordered to serve as a brevet second lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry, which was commanded by Richard S. Ewell, a future corps commander in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. After a short time at home (Jesse had since moved his family from Georgetown to Bethel, a short distance away), he reported for duty at Jefferson Barracks, a sprawling and dusty military reservation just outside St. Louis. He had his sights set on the future, but it was not the future that the army intended: All through these first years in uniform, he pined for a simpler life—as a professor, or farmer, or river trader.


As Grant suspected, and feared, life as a brevet second lieutenant in the U.S. Army was not appealing; army officers were poorly paid, and Grant’s duties took on a soul-killing routine of drill, paperwork, and more drill. Grant did the best he could to keep his mind focused on his work throughout the autumn of 1843, but he chafed at army regulations. Home seemed far away: The nation was at peace, and even the debate over slavery seemed to abate. If there was any solace in Grant’s assignment, it was that Jefferson Barracks was only six miles away from the home of his former West Point roommate, Frederick Dent. While Dent was then assigned elsewhere, he had told his family about Grant and had urged his former roommate to ride over to the family home, White Haven, for a visit. At first Grant did so out of politeness, but as time went on he felt more and more at home. The large Dent family was led by the imposing, gray-haired, short-tempered, and garrulous “Colonel” Frederick Dent, who had fathered four strapping and hardworking sons and four young and pretty daughters. They welcomed Grant as a member of the family. Soon Grant was visiting Colonel Dent (this was a southern conceit, for Colonel Dent was no more a colonel than, say, Jesse Grant) regularly. He was often accompanied by a friend from West Point, James “Pete” Longstreet, who was a distant relative of the Dent clan.

Grant was awed by White Haven and Colonel Dent. The plantation was set on over 950 acres of prime Missouri farmland, which was worked by a handful of slaves and supervised by the colonel and his growing sons. In the spring, Colonel Dent planted acres of corn and vegetables. Half of the corn was fed to the hogs, which were sold or slaughtered in great droves each year. There was a small herd of cattle and dozens of chickens, enough to feed the Dent family and provide a considerable extra income. When more land was needed for planting, the Dent slaves cleared out the lowlands, sold the lumber, hauled away the stumps, and put in more crops. Colonel Dent was a prodigious worker, but as a descendant of a well-known southern-sympathizing Maryland family, he was given to aristocratic sentiments. The Dents entertained often, holding dinners for their large group of nearby friends (who also owned large farms) and St. Louis merchants. White Haven was the center of a prosperous and growing Missouri community where the staid formalities of class and the customs of family were highly valued.

But Grant’s visits were more than formally polite. While he enjoyed the company of the colonel (and talked politics with him incessantly), a visit to White Haven provided a welcome break from his work at Jefferson Barracks. Grant was well liked by the Dents and he liked them, so much so, in fact, that for a time he was coming to dinner twice each week. His visits were welcome, especially by the colonel’s wife, Ellen Dent, who found favor with Grant’s clear-eyed demeanor and soft but firm political arguments (like his father, he was an abolitionist Whig, Colonel Dent a pro-southern Jacksonian Democrat). Her husband, Ellen Dent believed, had finally met his match. “That young man will be heard from some day,” she remarked. “He has a good deal in him. He’ll make his mark.” But it was soon obvious that while Grant enjoyed the society provided by the Dent family, he was increasingly turning his attention to the colonel’s oldest and favorite daughter, Julia. Julia was intelligent, refined, petite, and pretty (except for the squint in her right eye, the result of a childhood illness). They had much in common: a love of reading, an unwavering sense of personal loyalty, and, perhaps most important, an affinity and love for horses. Julia also loved to dance, which the tone-deaf Grant hated—but he did it just the same, because she wanted him to.

There is a portrait of Grant from this time in Missouri, given to us by the colonel’s youngest daughter, Emmy, who was as enamored of “my beau” as her sister Julia: “His cheeks were warm, and round, and rosy; his hair was fine and brown, very thick and wavy. His eyes were clear blue, and always full of light. His features were regular, pleasingly molded and attractive, and his figure so slender, well formed and graceful that it was like that of a young prince to my eye.” That is what Julia also saw in Grant, and after a season of traditional disinterest (including her rejection of his class ring), she began to show an interest, in spite of her father’s almost open disapproval. “You are too young and the boy is too poor,” he said. “He hasn’t anything to give you.” The two plotted on how to win her father’s confidence, with Grant telling Julia that they simply needed to be patient. Many months went by as Grant leisurely but firmly attempted to ingratiate himself into the colonel’s favor. But it was the news that his unit would be transferred out of Missouri that finally shook him into action. One evening, having been granted a special leave from his commanding officer, Grant rode through the night to White Haven to propose to Julia, fording a dangerously swollen river in the process. Julia, of course, accepted—though depressed by the thought that soon he would be gone. Overjoyed, Grant then took a train south, to Camp Salubrity, in Louisiana, to join his regiment. There was only one thing left to be done. During a furlough the next year, and despite the colonel’s opposition, Grant made his intentions known to him. He expected that he would be denied, but he was prepared to argue his case.

“Colonel Dent, I want to marry your daughter Julia,” he said.

Dent thought about this for a minute before responding: “Mr. Grant, if it were the younger girl, Nelly, you wanted, I’d say ‘yes.’ ”

“But I don’t want Nelly, I want Julia,” Grant said.

“Oh, you do, do you? Well, then, I suppose it will have to be Julia.”

Reading Group Guide

1. Ulysses S. Grant was not the only president to write his memoirs. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson wrote theirs also. Can you think of others? How do they measure up to Grant’s writing? How are they different? 

2. Only one president is generally considered a better writer than Ulysses S. Grant. In fact, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. Do you know who this is? How does his work differ from that of Grant’s work?

3. How do Grant and Twain’s views of slavery, African-Americans and the problem of racism differ? How were they the same? How do they differ from our own attitudes?

4. Ulysses S. Grant served two terms as President of the United States, yet he never once wrote about his experiences in the Oval Office. Why do you think that he focused on his war experiences?

5. There is some disagreement over why Grant wrote his memoirs. Some historians believe that he simply needed the money. Others say that he wanted to revisit his experiences in the war. Still others say he was influenced by his friend, General William T. Sherman. Why do you think he wrote his memoirs? What factors in his life influenced his decision?

6. Literary critics say that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was his best book — and that he never wrote anything to compare with it. Do you agree? Why do you think that Twain was never able to equal the greatness contained in Huckleberry Finn? What other later works by Twain might be considered its equal?

7. Mark Twain is considered a southern writer. He grew up in Missouri, a slave society. Yet he spent most of his life in Connecticut and some of his best work (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) deals with being a Yankee. Which was he: a southerner? a Yankee? How would he have viewed himself?

8. Women played a major role in the life of both Twain and Grant. It is doubtful that either could have finished their work without the help of their wives. How has the role of women changed since the 1880s and 1890s? Is the domestic tranquility enjoyed by both Twain and Grant necessary for great writing to emerge?

9. American writer Ernest Hemingway said that all of American literature “comes from one book — Huckleberry Finn.” What do you think that Hemingway meant? Do you agree?

10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is now viewed in some part of our country as a controversial book, primarily because Mark Twain used the “N” word to describe Jim. Some schools have even banned the book. Do you think the book should be banned? How should we think of Twain’s use of the word? Is Twain’s use of the word simply a product of his time, which we should ignore, or is it a reflection of his own feelings about African Americans?

11. There have been significant political, social, and cultural shifts in America’s treatment of minorities over the last one hundred years. Do you think Grant or Twain had anything to do with these shifts? Can you find in their work any evidence of the deep doubts over the question of race that has been the focus of so much of our recent history? What, for instance, do you think that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X, or other civil rights leaders thought of Twain’s work?

12. Ulysses S. Grant was once considered a poor general and a great president. Then, for a time, he was considered a great general and a poor president. Now some historians who have studied his presidency say that he was a much better political leader than we have given him credit for. What particular historical or political trends might have caused these changes in judgment? Do you believe that historians are influenced in their judgments by their own times?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Carl_in_Richland More than 1 year ago
By the end of ‘Grant and Twain’, most readers will be almost misty eyed from the story of the last months of the life of Ulysses S. Grant. The narrative leading up to this sad event paint a picture of a compassionate, honest and straight-forward man, with enough details of the suffering his went through so that at the end, one feels as though a good friend has recently died. But author Mark Perry makes clear that Grant was not perfect; he had no eye for finances and was almost naïve in his dealings with people off the battlefield. It was largely through the prodding and intervention of Mark Twain that the General was able to secure a contract that not only guaranteed publication of his memoirs, but provided financial resources to pay off his many debts and assure that his family would be provided for after his passing. The historical narrative of the history of these two famous Americans is fascinating stuff. But perhaps the most inspiring part of the book is the story of how Grant completed his memoirs while slowly dying of untreatable throat cancer. He could hardly swallow, had trouble breathing and would be racked by spasms of painful coughing that left him exhausted. His doctors expected him to die on at least one occasion but he recovered and carried on with his memoirs. And all the while he showed respect, concern and consideration for those around him. An example of his sensitivity to his family was tolerating, for the sake of his wife, the presence of an obnoxious but popular preacher, explaining to his children “I do not care how much praying goes on if it makes your mother feel better.” Mark Twain was less tolerant and more scathing in his assessment of this individual than was Grant. Readers can also be assured that the many stories about and the abundant quotations from Twain are both relevant and characteristically Twain. That is, they are insightful, biting and frequently humorous. Twain’s role in this narrative is one of a supporter of U.S. Grant, with his support being about 80 percent altruistic. He also had a monetary interest in the memoirs through publication rights on which he took a huge financial gamble. At least part of his support, too, came through their common abhorrence of slavery, something Twain apparently did not come to fully to appreciate until well into adulthood but which became an important motivation for him to complete the second half of his American classic, ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, written at the same time Grant was struggling through his memoirs. ‘Grant and Twain’ is not only a historical narrative of two great Americans, it’s also a great read. I strongly recommend it to anybody interested in American history, in American literature, or in learning what it takes to persevere under truly horrific circumstances (Grant’s cancer).
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a great fan of the literature of Mark Twain. I also find U.S. Grant one of the more interesting characters in American history. But I was left cold by this book, which has too little research and way too many mistakes to warrant it as anything but a sort of bare bones, basic intro to the subject. It's apparent that the author did minimal research before tackling the project and it sure shows. Dates, places and people are wrong and this happens so often it gets a little wearisome. There are better biographies of both men and you'd be well-advised to check those out.
coffeeandtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I did not know Grant and Twain had a friendship and a business agreement. I am now reading Grant's memoirs (available online for free) as a result of this book. I find both of these lives remarkable. Twain remains one of my favorite people to admire. I will now add Grant to my list of people whom I most admire.
HistReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Embarrassingly, I admit I knew about as much of General Grant as the typical person: he was a president after serving as a general in the Civil War. Similarly, like most, I had more familiarity with the contrarian, Mark Twain. I closed the back cover on this book with a profound respect for both men and their accomplishments.Mark Perry has created a dual biography which mostly focuses on the time in which Twain encourages General Grant to document his memoirs. Perry provides a comprehensive history of both men in their formative years as well as their burgeoning years when they amassed exploits to make them notable. Like other dual biographies have illustrated, these two men have many coincidences in their lives that are uncanny. Grant and Twain is layered with so many different levels, I felt more knowledgeable with more than both men's lives. Mr. Perry wove the influence numerous occurrences had on the events of Grant and Twain. Mark Perry delves into a little "inside baseball" with the tumultuous world of publishing, both periodical and book; as an author, he likely understands what both men went through as they wrote momentous books; he shows that even in the late nineteenth century, the journalists who camped outside General Grant's apartment and the newspapers they reported for were sometimes just as representative of the news business's underbelly. Mr. Perry also authoritatively discusses the impact race, racism and the end of slavery had on the men and their era; Grant always an abolitionist, Twain matured as he removed himself from his Southern roots.Again, this book is less of a biographical account of either man, but provides enough "background" preparation to allow the reader to understand how respectable this pair was. As Mr. Perry shares in the prologue, this book is less about each man individually, and more about their personal afflictions and a fifteen month business agreement which turned to a friendship.
PointedPundit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Human Look at HistoryI loved this book. Too many histories become footnote festooned tomes that talk of eras, movements and trends. Gone is any sense that history represents the interaction of individuals.In this highly readable book, Mark Perry protrays a friendship between one of American cultural giants and its military greats: Mark Twain and U. S. Grant. He explores how each man dealt with the American they experienced and how they interacted to impact each other's greatest work. Grant had a keen eye for detail and loved to relate unique wartime incidents. Twain, as most acknowledge, was an accomplished storyteller. Both had a rich reservoir of unique tales to tell.For Grant, a story¿s soul resided in its basic truth and humor. For Twain, it lay in the detail ¿ its nuance, mystery and unexpected outcome. Grant loved to tell stories and told them well. Twain toured the country telling stories, the taller the tale, the better.Together, they inspired the other¿s greatest masterpiece. Inspired by Twain and suffering from cancer, Grant worked against his disease¿s deadline to complete his memoirs. While working with Grant, Twain conceived of the ending to Huckleberry Finn.The book misses greatness by the inclusion of several errors. Georgetown is not in Kentucky. The street on which Twain lived in Buffalo, N. Y. was Delaware Avenue. The name of the town in upstate New York was Geneseo. While individually each of these errors is probably not major; together they detract from the story¿s credibility. A reader deserves accuracy from an accomplished historian and his editors.Despite these lapses, I enjoyed the book. It has a cast of fascinating characters: Gen. William T. Sherman, William Dean Howells and Karl Gerhardt, to name a few. It is a moving story of history, friendship, inspiration, failure and success. In doing so, it depicts the age in which they lived.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never would have dreamed that Grant & Twain new each other. Fascinating and well-written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book, I will now have to read Grant's personal memoirs.
duchenf More than 1 year ago
I appreciated the insights into the characters of both Grant and Twain. I came away with much more of an appreciation of Grant, especially a huge admiration of his courage and tenacity. I shed tears when he died. Twain was even more complicated than I remembered. I recommended this book to a friend and she let me know she is really enjoying it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never knew about their business connections and friendship. I never knew about Grant's later years...this book connected both for me in a most interesting read. Now I know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
shinari More than 1 year ago
I started this book out of curiosity, and found that I couldn't put it down. It is a well written, and blunt presentation of both men. I loved finding and learning all of the nooks and crannies of the friendship between these 2 great men. Don't believe those 1 and 2 star people. This was a REALLY great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book included too much unneccesarry information that you didn't need. Although the information that was included was interesting. I learned alot about U.S. Grant that I did not know before now.