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Grant showed it is possible for an ordinary person to achieve greatness

Ned Jilton II • May 1, 2019 at 10:00 PM

Last Thursday, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point unveiled a statue of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States and academy graduate of the Class of 1843.

The 7 1/2-foot bronze statue on a 4 1/2-foot granite base is the first since the Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower statue in 1983 to be positioned in the vicinity of the Plain and joins such notables as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George S. Patton and George Washington.

Some people might not like to hear this, but I actually like Gen. Grant. I’m not saying he is the best general, but I like him just the same.

I like him because, one, he’s middle class, and I think we can all identify with him. And two, he would never give up. He always kept trying.

As a civilian, Grant worked several jobs in an effort to support his family.

He worked as a farmer for a few years and then became, among other things, a horse trainer, a bill collector and even a peddler of wood from a cart before working at his father’s tannery, Grant & Perkins, in Galena, Illinois, selling harnesses, saddles and leather goods while purchasing hides from farmers in the area.

I dare say that most people reading this have worked for more than one employer over the years for one reason or another. The Kingsport Times News is the fifth newspaper I have worked for in my lifetime.

I still have the pink slip from when I was fired from a photography position at the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. I have thought of having it framed and hanging it up with my photography awards from the Associated Press, Tennessee Press Association and Society of Professional Journalists that I have won at the Times News.

To be fair to the JC Press, I was a college freshman at the time, it was my first daily newspaper job and I made a ton of stupid mistakes.

Getting back to Gen. Grant.

Grant was a hard worker. As a West Point graduate, Grant was an officer. But that never stopped him from breaking a sweat and getting his hands dirty to help his men get the job done.

During the Mexican War, he jumped into the water with his men to clear an obstacle blocking ships. He rode through gunfire to deliver information and bring supplies to his men. At the Battle of Chapultepec, Grant and his men dragged a howitzer into a church steeple to bombard nearby Mexican troops.

One of the things I like best about Grant is the man always kept trying.

You might find this hard to believe, but Grant was turned down when he first volunteered at the start of the Civil War. He continued to volunteer until he was accepted and became U.S. Grant, mustering officer.

During the war, Grant didn’t take Vicksburg on his first try.

He tried several times, marching from Tennessee only to have his supply lines and bases destroyed by Confederate cavalry. He tried flooding swamps and creeks and attacking with gun boats. He even tried to cut a canal and bypass Vicksburg altogether.

None of it worked but he kept trying. Finally, he marched his army down the west side of the Mississippi River, crossed over below Vicksburg, and successfully attacked from the south.

I always thought it a fun fact that in the two big Union victories of 1863, Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Northern army attacked from the south.

Later in the war when Grant came east and faced Robert E. Lee for the first time, he suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of the Wilderness. But, unlike all the generals before him, Grant refused to retreat and kept trying. He kept trying all the way to victory in the war and election to the office of president of the United States.

Even when Grant was facing throat cancer late in life, he refused to give up and continued working on his personal memoirs to ensure an income for his family after his death.

He died only days after he finished the book, which went on to be a bestseller.

West Point Professor and Head of the Department of History Col. Ty Seidule said, “Ulysses S. Grant embodied the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country. As a soldier, he led an army that emancipated four million people, ended slavery and saved the United States of America. The Grant statue will inspire generations of cadets to become leaders of principle and integrity for the nation.”

To me, Gen. Grant is an example of how any one of us — an ordinary, everyday middle class person — with hard work and a determination to keep trying can achieve greatness.

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@ timesnews.net .

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