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U.S. Grant's Steely Bronze
The general was 13 years younger than Lincoln, and much shorter, but they were linked. Both had come from the West. Both had known what it was like to be short of cash. The general didn't come from a log cabin. His birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, had been covered in planks, but it had only two rooms, and they were rough.
In 1858, three years before Fort Sumter, you might have found the Union's future general in chief shivering in the slush on a corner in St. Louis peddling firewood to passersby. He'd split the logs himself.
He dressed shabbily. He didn't put on airs. He stank of cigar smoke. One wartime comrade called him "plain as an old shoe." Grant wasn't your usual general. He didn't strut, he shambled, and he didn't march in time. (He was tone-deaf and didn't know marching music, and knew only two tunes, he said: "One was 'Yankee Doodle.' The other wasn't.")
Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy's commander, was a slave-owning patrician who spoke in terms of chivalry. He indulged in courtly graces and wore silk sashes with tassels. Grant was Eisenhower to Lee's MacArthur. He used plainness as a weapon.
At Appomattox, Lee wore a burnished sword and embroidered gauntlets. Beside that splendid presence, Grant, thought Col. Amos Webster, "looked like a fly on a shoulder of beef." He hadn't changed for days. Grant was wearing "a government-issue flannel shirt with trousers tucked into muddy boots, no side arms, not even spurs." His clothes were plain. So were his terms. He demanded unconditional surrender, and that's what he got.
Grant came straight at you. He didn't much care for occupying rail junctions, ports or fortified redoubts. He went out and killed armies.
"The art of war is simple enough," he wrote. "Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can; and keep moving on."
You sense him in his statue. Shrady's Grant -- like Daniel Chester French's marble Lincoln at the far end of the Mall -- feels uncannily inhabited. It's got someone in it. His ruthlessness is palpable. He is the last enemy you'd ever want to see.
Cincinnati, his huge charger, stood 17 1/2 hands high. He was fast, too -- Cincinnati got his speed from his sire, Lexington, who'd been the fastest four-miler in the country (7.195 minutes). "Grant," writes Jean Edward Smith, his distinguished biographer, "rarely permitted anyone to ride the horse, the exception being Lincoln, whom Grant considered an excellent horseman, and who rode Cincinnati whenever he visited the front."
The horse on the Mall is listening, ears pricked, nostrils flared. His bronze is a portrait, too.
Grant was a kind of a horse whisperer. "If I can mount a horse," he said, "I can ride him."
In 1843, at West Point, astride York, an intractable chestnut-sorrel animal, Grant set a high jump record that lasted 25 years.