Cover image for That fateful lightning : a novel of Ulysses S. Grant
That fateful lightning : a novel of Ulysses S. Grant
Parry, Richard.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
355 pages ; 25 cm
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In a village outside Saratoga Springs, New York, a weakened man sits with pen in hand, looking back at a life dominated by failure: as a farmer, a businessman, a politician--everything but as a soldier. Racked by cancer, Ulysses S. Grant is entering his final months, facing the prospect of leaving his beloved wife penniless. Now he begins one last campaign--to bring to life the only thing of value he still commands: his memoirs. In the weeks and days that follow, Grant tells a story of war and peace, of friends and enemies, and of a man born for one singular purpose--to lead an army into battle, and to lead it to victory. In this extraordinary novel, Richard Parry takes us on a powerful journey through the Civil War as seen through the shrewd, unwavering eyes of its most enigmatic and least understood protagonist. For as Grant wages a duel against death itself, and his friends and family gather around him, he reveals with stunning clarity his vision of the war: at once a tragedy and a challenge, a nightmare and a puzzle, an epic of carefully laid strategies and counter-strategies as well as a strokes of inexplicable, decisive chance. Within these pages we meet such powerful historical figures as Mark Twain, the book publisher trying desperately to rescue Grant from poverty in the last year of his life; William Tecumseh Sherman, brilliant and dynamic, but also unsure and sorely in need of Grant's nurturing in war and life; and General Robert E. Lee, whose differences from Grant vividly illustrate the cultural and social divide at the core of the Civil War. A rich, vivid, and action-packed addition to our nation's literature of the Civil War, That Fateful Lightning is a powerful portrait of a uniquely American hero, a simple but misunderstood man who felt truly at peace only amid the horror and chaos of war.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ehrlich and Parry offer drastically different fictional revisions of General Grant's famous memoirs. Ehrlich reacts to Grant's real eloquence by having him speak more freely and colloquially, and by tossing in some bizarre fictions. At various times, this Grant trips on peyote mushrooms, parries a proposition from Mary Lincoln, and--the topper--with the connivance of his father, appropriates another man's name to become Ulysses S. Grant (he was born Hiram Grant). Only the last of these innovations has any function in the story, by preventing the impostor Grant from gaining a third presidential term. Where Ehrlich is content to simply embellish the facts of Grant's life and military career, his novel entertains well, as in scenes of Grant's bouts with the bottle and of his friendship with a profane William T. Sherman. Such assets make the innovations seem merely odd distractions from an otherwise enjoyable historical diversion. Parry takes fewer liberties. Hewing to the omniscient third person, Parry has Grant reviewing Lee's surrender, his own Vicksburg campaign, and his disgust with certain generals in tandem with scenes concerning his predicament during the writing. We see the bankrupt Grant giving his war memorabilia to a Vanderbilt as collateral for a debt and Grant's frequent visits to doctors concerning his throat cancer, visits that are filled with medical details made authoritative by Parry's own M.D. credentials. Grant's family attends to his meals and comfort, and Mark Twain stops by to check on the writing. Those visitors flitting through his room somehow spark in Grant a memory of old battles and foes. Lacking surprises, Parry's is a conventional but stolid portrayal of Grant's "last campaign." --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ulysses S. Grant was a complex, enigmatic figure whose flaws and foibles provide a wealth of material for biographers and novelists alike, but Parry smoothes over the rough edges in this glowing fictional portrait by focusing exclusively on Grant's achievements during the Civil War. The construction is simple: as the novel opens, Grant is diagnosed with throat cancer, and the assiduously researched narrative follows the general's struggle to finish his memoirs before the disease takes his life. Encouraged by enthusiastic publisher Mark Twain (the eminent author's publishing venture later went bankrupt), Grant begins his text with detailed accounts of the pivotal battles at Shiloh and Vicksburg, illuminating the innovative decisions that led to victory. Parry nicely delineates the various generals Grant fought with and against, particularly William Tecumseh Sherman and Robert E. Lee, balancing these portraits with brief glimpses into the lives of ordinary soldiers and of Grant's long-suffering wife, Julia. Though he explores the political situations that made Grant's often-misunderstood decisions so agonizing, Parry examines the general's battles with the bottle only sparingly, most notably during a drinking binge when his colleagues cover for him and thus save his career. The narrative takes on some urgency in the closing chapters as Parry draws touching parallels between the final siege in the Wilderness that opened the door to Richmond, and Grant's race against time to finish the book before cancer brings his life to a close. The author's obvious affection for his subject gives this novel an overly sympathetic bias, but that affection also allows him to illuminate Grant's elusive human side. 5-city author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

From a wealthy friend's front porch near Saratoga Springs, NY, a dying U.S. Grant looks back on a life of failure as a farmer, businessman, and politician: only in war did he succeed. Parry (The Wolf's Pack) depicts his subject's inspiring race to complete his memoirs and thereby save his family from financial ruin. As Grant writes, his mind flashes back to his service during the Mexican War; his forced resignation from the army (for drinking); his lean years (1857-58) as a woodcutter in Galena; his rise to the command of the Army of the Tennessee following Fort Sumter; his tactical brilliance at Shiloh and Vicksburg; and, finally, his triumph at Appomattox Court House. Parry skims over his subject's two controversial presidential terms. Interspersed throughout the narrative are truly evocative scenes, including editor Mark Twain's incredible offer of 70 percent royalties to Grant for his memoirs and Col. John Rawlin's monumental struggle to keep Grant sober on the battlefield. Parry somewhat overstates Grant's sense of divine mission while understating his alarming tendency to battlefield overconfidence. His narrative occasionally surrenders to saccharine melodrama, especially in Grant's deathbed scene, where Lee emerges from a blinding light. Still, Parry's novel successfully captures the essence of a dying hero's struggle with the grim realities of life. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.--John Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



                                                                April 7, 1865 GENERAL:  The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the Confederate States army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.                                                 U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General GENERAL R. E. LEE                                 -----------*-----------                                                                 April 7, 1865 GENERAL:  I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.                                                         R. E. Lee, General LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT                                 ----------*------------                                                                 April 8, 1865 GENERAL: Your note of last evening, in reply to mine of same date, asking the condition on which I will accept the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, is just received. In reply, I would say, that peace being my great desire, there is but one condition I would insist upon--namely, that the men and officers surrendered shall be disqualified for taking up arms again against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged. I will meet you, or will designate officers to meet any officers you may name for the same purpose, at any point agreeable to you, for the purpose of arranging definitely the terms upon which the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia will be received.                                                 U. S. Grant, Lieutenant--General GENERAL R. E. LEE                                 -----------*-----------                                                                 April 8, 1865 GENERAL: I received, at a late hour, your note of to-day. In mine yesterday I did not intend to propose the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, but to ask the terms of your proposition. To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army; but as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desire to know whether your proposals would lead to that end. I cannot, therefore, meet you with a view to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia; but as far as your proposal may affect the Confederate States forces under my command, and tend to the restoration of peace, I should be pleased to meet you at ten a.m. tomorrow on the old stage-road to Richmond, between the picket-lines of the two armies.                                                         R. E. Lee, General LIEUTENANT-GENERAL U. S. GRANT                                 ----------*-----------                                                                 April 9, 1865 GENERAL: Your note of yesterday is received. I have no authority to treat on the subject of peace; the meeting proposed for ten a.m. to-day could lead to no good. I will state, however, general, that I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desired event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, etc.                                                 U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General GENERAL R. E. LEE -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- FARMVILLE, VIRGINIA, EIGHT MILES EAST OF APPOMATTOX COURTHOUSE, APRIL 9, 1865 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ulysses S. Grant, General-in-Chief of the Federal forces, rode slumped forward in his saddle. Avoiding the worried glances of his staff, he struggled against the headache that threatened to split his skull. Normally, Grant rode as if he and his horse were one, but not today. His faithful mount, Cincinnati, recognized the uneven pressure of his rider's legs and tossed his head nervously. Grant noted thankfully that the animal was picking its way over the battle-torn road with infinite care and with an easy gait, something his other mount, the little pony Jeff Davis, would never have done. Colonel Horace Porter, his trusted aide-de-camp, followed closely at his general's side, half expecting his leader to pitch from his saddle onto the muddy road. Porter gnawed his lower lip, and his fingers twisted his reins into endless knots while he watched Grant suffer. Since noon yesterday the headache had plagued the general. Mustard plasters to his neck and wrists did nothing to ameliorate the attack, nor did soaking his feet most of the night in hot water laced with mustard. At four in the morning Porter found Grant sitting on the sofa in the abandoned hotel in Farmville, throbbing head in hands and bare feet shuffling his boots about the floor. Porter had even suggested that his general ride in an ambulance this morning to avoid the sun as well as the jostling. But Grant refused. Plodding along with his jaw clenched, Grant reviewed the events of the last day. Despite the flurry of notes, Lee's last letter clearly showed that the Confederate general still meant to fight. Grant ground his teeth, forcing the insistent smell of the mustard plasters from his mind. Did the man not realize that his army was surrounded? Grant wondered. Lee was in a bottle with Sheridan's cavalry corking the opening. Good old Sheridan could be relied upon to hold the door shut even if Lee threw his whole army at him and he, Grant, was rushing Ord's command and the Fifth Corps to reinforce Sheridan. When they got there, the cork would be driven firmly in place with Lee's army trapped inside. What was left of it could scarcely amount to more than twenty thousand men, thirty thousand at the most. And those men were presumed to be starving. Reports saying they were boiling the leather form their bullet pouches came with each new batch of rebels who surrendered. One captured wag related that he'd eaten his shoes months ago and his Sunday-go-to-meeting hat over a year before. Was I wrong to ask for their surrender? Was I premature or hasty? Not if it puts an end to this useless slaughter. Excerpted from That Fateful Lightning: A Novel of Ulysses S. Grant by Richard Parry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.