by Henry Lane Hull
When I was a college student my professor of government was James D. Atkinson, who was a great military history enthusiast. He had been a German prisoner of war and was fiercely patriotic. He served for many years as the president of the American Military Institute, a society of military historians. He was quite persuasive and insisted that I not only join the A.M.I., but also become a contributing editor to the group’s journal, “Military Affairs.”
In that role I came to know the members of the board of directors, one of whom was Major General U.S. Grant, III. The general and I became good friends. He was one of the most complete gentlemen I ever have met. He encouraged me in my studies and was extraordinarily gracious to everyone he met. He had graduated sixth in his class from West Point in 1903; the first in the class that year was Douglas MacArthur.
Through another professor I came to meet the general’s sister, the Princess Cantacuzene, the last child to be born in The White House, while her grandfather, U. S. Grant, was president. She had married a Russian prince and had fled back to America after the Russian Revolution. She had lost her vision in her 70s and miraculously it partially returned shortly before she turned 90. When I commented on her recovery to the general, he replied that although she could see again, she still could not do crocheting. The princess was an important historian in her own right, writing three volumes of first-person accounts of the Russian Revolution.
I have been thinking of the general and the princess in recent months with the publication of a new biography of President Grant by Ron Chernow, which followed Jean Edward Smith’s 2001 epic study, Grant. Shortly before he died General U.S. Grant, III, wrote a biography of his grandfather that was a first step in reconsidering his historical merit and significance. Since that time the process of Grant’s historical rehabilitation has been proceeding apace, with him assuming his place as a magnanimous military victor and as a President who stood for equality after the Civil War, one who tried to bring peace in victory.
General Grant, III, was confident that one day his grandfather would be treated more accurately by historians. The first place to begin any study of Grant is to consult his Memoirs, the two-volume account of his wartime military operations. They were the first presidential memoirs and remain the best yet written. He wrote them while dying of throat cancer as a means of providing income for his family. He was a master of the English language, both with respect to his military orders and his memoirs.
After his own illustrious military career, General Grant, III, retired from the Army in 1946, and spent the rest of his life using his engineering background to advance environmental causes and to promote the causes of historical societies and commemorations. He lived quietly in rural New York, coming to Washington for the many meetings he attended and to see his sister.
A few months before he died General Grant, III, invited me to go to dinner with him at the Army-Navy Club in Washington. I had a paper due and politely declined, to which he replied that we would have dinner another night. That was the last time I saw him. His biography of his grandfather received good reviews and his obituaries heralded him for his scholarship and humanitarianism. He carried on his family tradition with honor and dignity.