Several coffee-table format books are available with the usual photos and illustrations of Grant, and many of these books also have a few images that are hard to find elsewhere. But McFeely’s 2004 Ulysses S. Grant: An Album stands out for its approach, starting not with battle but with slavery.
The beginning of the book ably uses images to put the context of Grant’s wartime battles in the context of slavery, starting with a portrait of a Black Union trooper and going on to to show slave pens in Richmond, the deck of a navy ship covered in sailors both white and Black, the useless canal near Vicksburg dug by Black workers and three Democratic political posters denouncing the Fifteenth Amendment and putting the blame for it on Grant.
The second chapter on the Grant family focuses on Julia and starts with an intriguing sentence: “Julia Grant needs rescuing.” He then continues to explain:
She was in many ways a silly woman, more unsure of herself than she would admit. I suspect that she gave her husband some bad advice when he was president. She was the devoted helpmate of her illustrious husband, but not in the obsequious wya that the phrase suggests. Julia was more than that; the whole woman was of a very different dimension. We have been looking in the wrong corners to find Julia at her best. She had strengths to match her faults.”
This sets the stage for an evenhanded look at Julia as a daughter of the slaveholding gentry of Missouri who aspired to southern gentility, wasn’t ready to give up her family’s slaves, but supported the husband she called Ulyss because the two were deeply in love.
Subsequent chapters explore the evolution of images of Grant during his career, changes in warfare during his career, several of the many houses in which the peripatetic family lived (the White House was where they lived the longest), the family’s trip abroad (with a great illustration of Grant sitting down with Otto von Bismarck) and Grant’s late life, death, and internment in the massive Grant Monument in New York City.
The writing is as good as the pictures in this album, and since the pictures are some of the best I’ve seen of Grant, that’s saying something.