Monday, December 19, 2016

A Civil War General's Powerful Words to His Wife

Men, this is for us.  Ladies, you are welcome to read on if you like, but I have an an inspiration and an observation for my brothers.

I'm reading American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White Jr.  In it I am finding some powerful insights into the life of this giant of America's past.

As Grant continued to win victory after victory in the Civil War, his fame began to spread.  Not only did his troops admire him, he was widely admired among civilians in the North.  After pivotal victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, he was promoted to Lieutenant General, the second American to have held the highest (at that time) rank in the military.  The first was George Washington.

Julia Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant
Grant's affection for his wife Julia was deep and life-long, and fame took its toll on them both.  White paints one vignette of this:

"While in St. Louis {after Grant's promotion to Lt. General}, Julia, self-conscious now that her husband had become so famous, decided she needed to do something about her appearance. Long concerned by her strabismus, often referred to as cross-eyed, she would not face the camera when someone wanted to take her photograph. 

She turned to Dr. Charles A. Pope, dean of the St. Louis Medical College. Pope told her it was too late to perform an operation on her eyes. Devastated, she confessed to her husband her intention and disappointment. 

Ulysses, startled, replied, “What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?” 

“Why, you are getting to be such a great man and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain.” 

Ulysses drew her to him and said, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them.""

Brothers, whether we are married or single, there are important women in our lives: wives, daughters, sisters, girl friends, and others.  If our relationships with them are good, our words have great impact.  Grant's words telegraphed that he really, really saw her.....that his gaze reached into her soul, and that he saw the real beauty in her, not just surface beauty.  We can do that, too.

Grant's simple words to his beloved must have been powerfully important to her self image in those days.....days that were to become much more public for a country girl from the American mid-West.

We can do the same for the women that are around us.  We can focus on the gold that is within and when opportunities arise for honest praise, we can tell them about the gold we see.  It's easy to see imperfections and shortcomings.  Anyone can do that.  It is the work of the Kingdom, however, to see gold in others, and to help them see it in themselves.

Not only did Grant do this for his bride, but he did it even for his subordinates.  Most of his men loved and admired Grant, both because he was ending the war with superior skill, and because he treated them with respect and honor.  He even treated vanquished foes with honor.  This tells me that if the commander of all the armies of the Union can treat others with respect and honor, it's something that we can do as well.......first in our relationships with our families, and then with others around us.

Finally.....just an observation: we 21st century Americans are inundated with information about the personalities around us, more so than ever before.  It is a blessing and a problem.  It is a blessing to have access to so much information.  It's also a problem because men and women of earlier generations have much to say if we will only listen.....and sometimes it's hard to hear them with all the insistent voices of today.

With the telegraph, Civil War era Americans had better and more timely information than generations before.  Even then, however, literate Americans had a broad knowledge of the words  of the earlier giants of America and Europe, and even of Classical antiquity.  I wonder if these 19th century Americans were better educated than we.

As I have focused my attention on this Grant biography, I am reminded again of the richness of America's past and the giants that walked our land yesterday....giants whose words I want to hear to help me understand today and plan for tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Julia Grant never let herself be photographed with eyes looking at the camera, as her cross-eyed vision would be apparent, the author of the biography writes. I looked at a selection of her photos, and sure enough, few are face forward....most are like this one. But Grant knew his girl, and did not let the superficiality of eyes deter him from who she really was.