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Are You a Reluctant Writer?

Military memoirs were the rage in the decades following the Civil War. Some were credible, making a helpful contribution to the history of the war, like the memoirs of William Tecumseh Sherman, James Longstreet, or Philip Sheridan. But many were self-serving vanity pieces that minimized the faults of the commander, embellished his accomplishments, and took potshots at political enemies.

Raised by his Methodist mother, Hannah Grant, to carry himself in humility, Ulysses S. Grant found many of these memoirs distasteful. So when his friend, Mark Twain, tried to convince Grant to write his memoirs for his new publishing house, Charles Webster and Company, the general rebuffed him like he did every other attempt by publishers to secure his book.

“Oh, I’m not going to write any book,” he told a Saint Louis reporter not long after leaving the White House. “There are books enough already.”

But then his investment firm, Grant & Ward, was destroyed by an unscrupulous business partner in a massive Ponzi scheme. Grant was left penniless and was forced to reconsider Twain’s offer. In addition to being nearly bankrupt, the general was also concerned with how he was viewed by the general public in the wake of the Grant & Ward swindle.

When it seemed things could not get any worse, they did. On June 2nd, 1884, Ulysses took a bite of a peach and immediately shot up from the table in tremendous pain. “Oh my,” he exclaimed, “I think something has stung me from that peach.” The pain continued and finally on October 22nd, Grant went to see a doctor.

During the examination, Grant could read the verdict in the doctor’s facial expression. “Is it cancer?” the general inquired. Sadly, the answer was yes, and the disease was incurable. Now penniless and dying of cancer, Grant immediately set out to write his memoirs in order to secure the financial future of his wife. He eventually agreed that the book would be published his friend, Mark Twain.

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