Gen. Ulysses S. Grant escaped his tomb this week.
Or so it seemed to 280 people who came to the Bluffton High School auditorium Wednesday to see actor Larry Clowers portray the American hero.
Grant's contributions have long been underappreciated in these parts, but the bearded, 5-foot-8 "general" received a standing ovation following his presentation at the Lowcountry Civil War Roundtable. One man even brought him a cigar.
Clowers portrayed the quiet, stern icon of the $50 bill in a very human way.
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Grant was the oldest son of the richest man in town, but had no interest in assuming his father's tannery business. It was too bloody.
Grant was well-educated for the Ohio frontier. But his mother never hugged and kissed him. And his Abolitionist father refused to attend his wedding to Julia Dent because she was the daughter of a Missouri slave owner.
From the age of 5, Grant turned to horses for comfort and excitement. By 7, he was breaking horses. At 12, he owned a moving business.
"We are all here tonight because of a quart of milk," Clowers said.
Young Grant was sent to get milk from a neighbor, only to find the family in anguish because the firstborn had just flunked out of West Point. Grant's father then pursued a spot at the U.S. Military Academy for Ulysses. He barely got in, and finished 21st in a class of 39. Later, he would weep when fellow cadet Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was killed in the Civil War.
Grant experienced reversals in business and estrangement from family. He was slandered. He suffered physically. Even his wife, whom he called the brightest star in his universe, sometimes referred to him as "Useless."
But at age 39, he found out what he could do best -- be a general. The man who hated the sight of blood and never fired a shot found himself in charge of tens of thousands of troops only two and half years after his days as a clerk.
When President Abraham Lincoln put him in charge of the entire Union Army, 13 months before Appomattox, Grant was told the whole world was watching him. If he failed, not only would a country be lost, but so would the grand idea that people could govern themselves.
Lincoln told Grant the idea that must prevail is that power lies in the vote, not the sword. The South should not take by violence what it could not get in the ballot box.
But in preparing for Appomattox, Lincoln told the general that he should let the defeated Confederates up easy.
In crafting the simple but controversial terms of surrender for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Grant is said to have recalled the first book he ever read, "The Life and Times of George Washington." In the surrender, all of Lee's men were paroled, meaning they could not be tried for treason. And they could keep their private horses, sidearms and baggage, meaning they could get on with restoring the nation.
Ulysses S. Grant loved the South, Clowers said. He toured the South by rail shortly after the war to report on its condition, and was warmly received. In eight years in the White House, Grant tried to see the equality his hero Lincoln pursued take root down South. It was not to be.
But as the real Ulysses S. Grant rests beside Julia in a grand tomb in Manhattan, he still lies on the right side of history.
It's time we let him up easy.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.