In May 1884 Ulysses S. Grant’s life changed dramatically when a Ponzi scheme run by two of his partners in the Wall Street brokerage firm Grant & Ward collapsed harming many investors including the Grant family, which was left destitute. While he had previously demurred when asked by Mark Twain to write his memoirs, needing money, Grant agreed to write four articles about the war for The Century Magazine. Enjoying the experience Grant set out to write his memoirs. Although he had been offered a contract by The Century, Grant eventually contracted to publish his memoirs with Twain’s publishing company, Charles Webster & Co. That summer Grant experienced growing throat discomfort. Seeing his doctor sometime in mid-October, he learned he had throat cancer. He continued to write while his former military secretary Adam Badeau and his son Fred supported him with research, fact checking and editing. Grant suffered bouts of despondency and an almost total collapse of his health in March 1885. While friends and colleagues did what they could to secure his financial position, Adam Badeau attempted to blackmail Grant, trying to obtain more money for his work in exchange for quelling rumors that he, Badeau, was the actual author of Grant’s memoirs. Grant fired Badeau. Grant continued to write his memoirs through the spring of 1885. In mid-June doctors relocated Grant from midtown Manhattan to a mountaintop resort north of Albany, the Balmoral Hotel located atop Mount. McGregor hoping that the milder climate would ease his discomfort and prolong his life. Many visitors made the trek up the mountain to pay their last respects to the dying. “I am sure I will never leave Mt. McGregor alive,” he confessed to his wife Julia. “I pray God however that [I] may be spared to complete the necessary work upon my book.” Finally, on July 20, 1885—after eleven months, two volumes, 1,231 pages, and 291,000 words—Grant finished. “[H]e put aside his pencil and said there was nothing more to do,” Mark Twain recounted. On the morning of Thursday, July 23, 1885, doctors told family members to gather around Grant’s bedside. He opened his eyes, looked at his family and appeared to fall into a gentle sleep, dying at 8:08 a.m. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant appeared in two volumes, the first of which came out in December 1885. Grant dedicated his memoirs to “the American soldier and sailor”—both Northern and Southern. “The troops engaged on both sides are yet living,” Grant explained to his son Fred, who questioned the dedication. “As it is the dedication is to those we fought against as well as those we fought with. It may serve a purpose in restoring harmony.” In its first two years alone, his Memoirs earned $450,000 in royalties, and since its initial publication, the book has never been out of print.
General U.S. Grant writing his memoirs, Mount McGregor, June 27th, 1885.
Photograph Courtesy of: The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division under the digital ID cph.3a10251
On an early March afternoon in 1882, novelist Mark Twain paid a visit to the Wall Street office of his old friend, Ulysses S. Grant. The former president had retired to a quiet business life, but he still had political connections. In tow was another of Twain’s great friends, the literary critic William Dean Howells, who was hoping to enlist Grant’s aid on a small political matter.
Over a lunch of baked beans, bacon, and coffee, the three men quickly took care of business, and the remaining conversation centered on personal matters. Twain, ever fascinated by Grant’s stories, tossed a suggestion on the table: Grant should write some of those stories down in a memoir.
Grant demurred. He had no interest in revisiting his past. Anything he had to say had already been included in a three-volume Military History of Ulysses S. Grant written by his former aide, Brigadier General Adam Badeau, with Grant’s full cooperation. “It is all in Badeau,” Grant told another would-be literary suitor, putting a preemptory end to all memoir discussions. 
“[Grant] had no confidence in his ability to write well,” Twain later explained, “whereas I and everybody else in the world excepting himself are aware that he possesses an admirable literary gift and style.” Grant’s insights were also unique. “[W]hat another man might tell about General Grant was nothing, while what General Grant should tell about himself with his own pen was a totally different thing,” 
But in May 1884, circumstances in Grant’s life changed dramatically, forcing him to reconsider his decision. On Sunday, May 4, one of Grant’s business partners showed up on the front stoop of his Manhattan townhouse with bad news; their investment firm, Grant & Ward, faced financial trouble. Could Grant come up with $150,000, he asked, to keep the company solvent until the banks opened on Monday?
The partner, 30-year-old Ferdinand Ward, was known as “the Young Napoleon of Wall Street” because of his financial genius; his investors earned returns as high as 40 percent.  “I had the greatest confidence in him and I consider him to be a very able man,” said another of the firm’s partners, Grant’s second-oldest son, Ulysses S., Jr., also known as “Buck.” 
While Ward contributed his financial wizardry to the firm, Grant contributed the tremendous prestige of his name. “I am willing that Mr. Ward should derive what profit he can for the firm that the use of my name and influence may bring,” Grant once said.  A fourth partner, James Fish, president of the Marine Bank, lent his own financial reputation to the firm as one of the great lions of Wall Street.
Grant quickly secured a $150,000 loan from his friend, William Henry Vanderbilt, reportedly the richest man in America. The loan would keep the firm afloat until Ward could get things sorted out with the banks when they reopened on Monday.
Unbeknownst to either of the Grants, Ward had been using the firm to run an elaborate Ponzi scheme—collecting money from investors that he would then use to pay off earlier investors while pocketing a large percentage of the money for himself.
Despite Vanderbilt’s check, Ward’s house of cards collapsed just two days later, on Tuesday, May 6. It would take several days for investigators to uncover the scale of Ward’s fraud; with Fish’s help, he had fleeced investors out of nearly $16.8 million. Among the victims were the entire Grant family.  Aside from $80 stuffed in Grant’s pocket and another $130 his wife, Julia, had stashed in a cookie jar, the swindle had left the Grants destitute. “Imagine the shock to us, who thought we were independently wealthy!” Julia later said. 
The collapse of Grant & Ward and the bankruptcy of its most famous partner made national news. Friends offered help, but Grant, too proud to accept charity, refused. Several others stepped up with “loans,” which Grant felt better about accepting—fully intending to repay each one. The first such loan came from Charles Wood of Lansingburgh, New York. “[M]y share due for services ending about April 1865,” Wood wrote.  Such generosity bought Grant and his family enough time for them to sell a number of properties they owned, thus securing enough resources to stay afloat.
As word of Grant’s financial misfortune spread, the editors of The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine decided the time might be right to approach Grant about doing some writing. The Century had approached Grant once already but, like other literary suitors, had been rebuffed. Editors wondered now whether Grant, with his finances in shambles, might reconsider. They even employed Adam Badeau to help enlist Grant’s participation.
Grant agreed, and associate editor Robert Underwood Johnson met with Grant to finalize details: The Century would pay $500 each for articles on Shiloh, Vicksburg, the Wilderness, and Chattanooga.  Grant accepted. “[H]e gave me the impression of a wounded lion . . .” Johnson later recounted of his visit. “I left him with a deep impression of his dignified sorrow, his courage, and his greatness.” 
Grant’s first draft read like a dry official report, but under additional guidance from Johnson, subsequent drafts improved dramatically. “[N]o one ever had an apter pupil,” Johnson later wrote.  Grant sought additional help from Badeau. As the writing continued, and eventually took on a life of its own, Badeau moved into the Grants’ townhouse so he could be on hand to assist.
The more Grant wrote, the more he loved writing. “He got out of the writing not only diversion from his troubles but the happiness of finding that he could do something new,” Johnson observed. “He said to me once: ‘Why, I am positively enjoying the work. I am keeping at it every day and night, and Sundays.’” 
In fact, Grant was well practiced with the pen—a realization he would eventually come to after months of work. “I have to say that for the last twenty-four years I have been very much employed in writing,” he later confessed.
As a soldier I wrote my own orders, plans of battle, instructions and reports. They were not edited, nor was assistance rendered. As president, I wrote every official document, I believe, usual for presidents to write, bearing my name. All these have been published and widely circulated. The public has become accustomed to my style of writing. They know that it is not even an attempt to imitate either a literary or classical style; that it is just what it is and nothing else. If I succeed in telling my story so that others can see as I do what I attempt to show, I will be satisfied. The reader must also be satisfied, for he knows from the beginning what to expect. 
And so the work progressed. As Julia recalled, “All that summer was spent by my dear husband in hard work: writing, writing, writing for bread.” 
By the end of summer, Grant realized he was onto something larger. “I do not think I care to write any more articles, for publication, than I have already agreed to write for the Century,” he informed Johnson.  Instead, he set his sights on a far more ambitious project. “I intend . . . now that I have commensed (sic) to it, to go on and finish all my connection with the war of the rebellion whether I publish it or not,” Grant wrote a friend. “If it pleases me when completed I probably will publish it.” 
Everyone involved knew the sales potential of such a memoir. “Do you really think anyone would be interested in a book by me?” Grant asked the editors of The Century, somewhat coyly.  After more conversation, they soon came to an understanding that The Century would handle the book’s publication.
Mark Twain, in town for business, heard of the ongoing negotiations. He, too, recognized the sales potential. “[H]ere was a book that was morally bound to sell several hundred thousand copies in its first year of publication,” he knew.  Nor had Twain forgotten his earlier attempt to get Grant to write his memoirs—so he stopped by Grant’s to see what he might discover.
“Sit down and keep quiet until I sign a contract,” Grant told his friend, inviting Twain to take a seat as Grant studied a written offer from The Century.
“Don’t sign it,” Twain said, asking Grant’s son, Fred, to read it aloud to him first. Twain reminded them that he’d had “a long and painful experience in book making and publishing,” so his advice on the contract might be useful. 
The three of them began discussing alternatives to The Century’s offer. Grant, at first, didn’t budge, feeling as though he owed the book to The Century because they had approached him first. “In that case,” Twain replied, “I’m to be the publisher because I came to you first.” 
This gave Grant pause. Finally, he agreed to consider Twain’s offer. For nearly three months, Grant sought the opinion of several trusted confidents—none of whom had any stake in the venture whatsoever—and finally concluded that Twain, indeed, offered the best deal. Twain’s publishing company, Charles Webster & Co., would give Grant 75 percent of the net returns and assign all the rights to Julia as a way to protect those proceeds from Grant’s creditors.
The months of negotiations, and the months of writing, suggest an upswing in Grant’s fortunes. However, other events simmering in the background since early June began to force their way to the forefront. “It was during this sad summer,” Julia later said, “that the fatal malady first made its appearance.” 
Spotting “a plate of delicious peaches on the table,” Grant helped himself, Julia recalled. “[T]hen he started up as if in great pain and exclaimed: ‘Oh my, I think something has stung me from that peach.’ He walked up and down the room . . . and rinsed his throat again and again. He was in great pain and said water hurt like fire.” 
For weeks, Grant brushed off the discomfort, which nagged at him. Instead, he focused on his writing. “I work about four hours a day, six days a week, on my book,” Grant wrote to his former subordinate, William T. Sherman, in mid-October. “My [first] idea was that it would be a volume of from four to five hundred pages. But it looks now as if it will be two volumes of nearly that number of pages each.” 
Around that time, Grant finally sought an appointment with his doctor—who was so alarmed by what he saw that he immediately sought additional opinions. The unanimous diagnosis: throat cancer. “General, the disease is serious,” one of the doctors told him. Privately, another offered a far grimmer pronouncement, “General Grant is doomed.” 
Through the rest of the fall and into the winter, Grant soldiered on—at first not even telling his family about the diagnosis. He would write, then pass the pages on to Badeau and Fred, who would fact-check. Periodically, bouts of depression brought writing to a standstill, though, and flare-ups of pain likewise stopped work. “He had no care to write, not even to talk; he made little physical effort, and often sat for hours propped up in his chair, with his hands clasped, looking at the blank wall before him, silent, contemplating the future; not alarmed, but solemn, at the prospect of pain and disease, and only death at the end.” 
Each time, Grant rallied. He survived a nearly crippling bout of despondency in December; a stressful deposition against Ward and Fish in March; and an almost total collapse of his health in late March. “All this while, the public interest was painful,” Badeau reported. “So much of it penetrated into that house under the shadow of Death, that it seemed to us within as if the whole world was partaking of our sorrow.” 
However, April brought with it a series of public commemorations in April that buoyed him even more: the twentieth anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Easter, his birthday. Thousands of letters and cards streamed in. “Down in my heart,” Julia later wrote, “I could not believe that God in his wisdom and mercy would take this great, wise, good man from us, to whom he was so necessary and so beloved. It could not be, and I surely thought he would recover.” 
Grant’s friends and admirers also did what they could to secure his financial situation. Sherman tried to raise money from several wealthy benefactors, although Grant called off the effort as soon as he got wind of it. Showman P.T. Barnum offered to send an exhibit of Grant’s personal effects on a round-the-country tour to raise money, but Grant demurred because he worried the artifacts belonged to creditors. Vanderbilt tried to forgive the loan he’d made to Grant, but Grant refused, going so far as to take Vanderbilt to court to force Vanderbilt to enforce the loan.
In March, bi-partisan supporters in Congress pushed to reinstitute Grant’s military pension, which he had forfeited to become president. By law, the legislation had to pass before the new president was sworn in at noon on Inauguration Day. Political rancor on another matter deadlocked the bill even as the hour hand neared twelve. The impasse broke, and Senate leaders moved their clock back by twenty minutes in order to give themselves enough time to approve the pension. President-elect Grover Cleveland took his oath of office twenty minutes late, and as one of the first acts of his presidency, authorized the pension to take effect.
Then came perhaps the worst personal blow of the whole up-and-down ordeal; Adam Badeau tried to blackmail Grant. Press reports erroneously suggested that Badeau, not Grant, was the principal author of the memoirs. Instead of contradicting those reports, Badeau demanded more money from Grant and, in exchange, promised to “declare as I have always done that you wrote it absolutely.”  Rather than succumb, Grant kicked Badeau out. Having been betrayed by Ferdinand Ward, the general was not about to stand for another such turn. “[M]y book would never have been finished as ‘my book’ if you had been permitted to continue in the capacity you now seem disposed to think you were in,” Grant wrote to Badeau later. “I however never regarded you in any such capacity.” 
As the spring of 1885 wore on, visitors came and went. “His mind was absorbed with the one subject of his military autobiography and a desire to be accurate in the most minute particulars,” former subordinate James Wilson wrote. “In all matters aside from his book, Grant took but a slight and passing interest.” 
But even as the writing continued, Grant’s health weakened. “The fact is that I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun,” Grant would eventually observe. “A verb is any thing that signifies to be, to do, or to suffer. I signify all three.” 
By mid-June, doctors relocated Grant from midtown Manhattan to a mountaintop resort north of Albany, the Balmoral Hotel located atop Mount McGregor. The milder climate would ease his discomfort and, they hoped, prolong his life. To preserve his strength, Grant gave up speaking and conversed through slips of paper on which he would scratch notes with a pencil.
“There is much more that I could do if I was a well man,” Grant wrote Twain on June 29. “I do not write quite as clearly as I could if well. If I could read it over myself many little matters of anecdote and incident would suggest themselves to me.” 
“I would have more hope of satisfying the expectation of the public if I could have allowed myself more time,” he wrote in the preface of his book. “Man proposes and God disposes.” 
Many more visitors made the trek up the mountain to pay their last respects to the dying hero. Among them was Charles Wood, whose first “loan” saved Grant from ruin. Grant had repaid Wood from the proceeds of his first Century article; Wood, in turn, had donated the money to charity. “I feel very thankful to you for the kindness you did me last summer,” Grant wrote in his “pencil talk.” “I am glad to say that while there is much unblushing wickedness in this world yet there is a compensating generosity and grandeur of soul.” 
Robert Underwood Johnson likewise paid a visit. “The General, fully dressed, sat on the piazza in the sun, wearing something over his head, like a skullcap, and wrapped in a plaid shawl, looking thinner than before, and with a patient, resigned expression, but not with a stricken look,” Johnson recalled. “I could hardly keep back the tears as I made my farewell to the great soldier who had saved the Union for all its people, and to the man of warm and courageous heart who had fought his last battle for those he so tenderly loved.” 
All the while, Grant “was sinking fast and suffering intensely,” one observer noted. Still he worked, still he wrote.  “I am sure I will never leave Mt. McGregor alive,” he finally confessed to Julia. “I pray God however that [I] may be spared to complete the necessary work upon my book.” 
Finally, on July 20—after eleven months, two volumes, 1,231 pages, and 291,000 words—Grant finished. “[H]e put aside his pencil and said there was nothing more to do,” Twain recounted. 
Almost immediately, the dissolution Grant had held at bay began to take hold, and over the next two days, his condition deteriorated precipitously. On the morning of Thursday, July 23, 1885, doctors roused family members to gather around Grant’s bedside. “The outer air, gently moving, swayed the curtains at an east window,” The New York Times recounted. 
Into the crevice crept a white ray from the sun. It reached across the room like a rod and lighted a picture of Lincoln over the deathbed. . . . The light on the portrait of Lincoln was still sinking; presently the General opened his eyes and glanced about him, looking into the faces of all. The glance lingered as it met the tender gaze of his companion. A startled, wavering motion at the throat, a few quiet gasps, a sigh, and the appearance of falling into a gentle sleep followed. . . . He lay without motion. At that instant the window curtain swayed back in place, shutting out the sunbeam. 
Fred Grant stopped the clock that sat on the fireplace mantel at 8:08 a.m. Ulysses S. Grant had beaten his deadline by three days.
The first of Grant’s Century articles, “The Battle of Shiloh,” eventually appeared in the magazine’s February 1885 issue, immediately boosting its circulation. “Vicksburg” appeared in the September 1885 issue, “Chattanooga” in the November 1885 issue, and “Preparing for the Wilderness Campaign” in February 1886.
The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant appeared in two volumes, the first of which came out in December. In its first two years alone, it earned $450,000 in royalties, and since its initial publication, the book has never been out of print. 
“General Grant’s book is a great, unique and unapproachable literary masterpiece,” said Twain. “There is no higher literature than these modest, simple Memoirs.” Sherman predicted the book would be the definitive account of the war—just as Grant hoped. “Other books of the war will be forgotten, mislaid, dismissed. Millions will read Grant’s Memoirs and remember them.”
Grant did not want readers to forget that the late war had been about treason against the government. However, he dedicated his memoirs to “the American soldier and sailor”—both Northern and Southern. “The troops engaged on both sides are yet living,” Grant explained to Fred, who questioned the dedication. “As it is the dedication is to those we fought against as well as those we fought with. It may serve a purpose in restoring harmony.”
This was Grant’s final vision—an extension of his famous words “Let there be peace.”  “The Confederate soldier vied with the Union soldier in sounding my praise,” he told Fred during those last weeks. “It looks as if my sickness had had something to do to bring harmony between the sections. . . . Apparently I have accomplished more while dying than it falls to the lot of most men to be able to do.” 
Mackowski, Chris. Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beattie, 2015.
Badeau, Adam. “The Last Days of General Grant,” in Grant in Peace: From Appomattox to Mt. McGregor, A Personal Memoir. Hartford, CT: S. S. Scranton, 1887.
Flood, Charles Bracelen. Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2011.
Goldhurst, Richard. Many Are the Hearts: The Agony and Triumph of Ulysses S. Grant. New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1975.
Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. 2 vols. New York: Charles L. Webster, 1885-1886.
Pitkin, Thomas. The Captain Departs: Ulysses S. Grant’s Last Campaign. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.
Perry, Mark. Grant & Twain: The Story of a Friendship that Changed America. New York: Random House, 2004.
Shrady, George F. General Grant’s Last Days. New York: Privately Published, 1908.
Simon, John Y., ed. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, vol. 31 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 2009).
Trimm, Steve. Saving Grant Cottage: How a Survivor of Andersonville, A Housewife, a Medical Missionary, An Immigrant from Japan (and Others) Saved a Precious Piece of Our History. This booklet is published by Friends of Grant Cottage and is available for sale there.
Varney, Frank. General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beattie, 2013.
Waugh, Joan. U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Ward, Geoffrey. A Disposition to be Rich: How a Small-town Pastor’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-hated Man in the United States. New York: Random House, 2012.
Friends of Grant Cottage
Grant Cottage State Historic Site is administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and operated by the Friends of Grant Cottage, a local friends group. The address is 28 Mt. McGregor Rd. Gansevoort NY 12831. The cottage is open Wednesday-Sunday 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
The Ulysses S. Grant Association
The mission of the Ulysses S. Grant Association is to conduct research into the life of Ulysses S. Grant and preserve the knowledge of his importance in American history.
The General Grant National Memorial
The General Grant National Memorial contains the tomb of Grant and his wife Julia. The Memorial is near the intersection of Riverside Drive and West 122nd Street in New York City.
The Ulysses S. Grant Homepage contains numerous articles about Grant.
The Grant Monument Association is committed to ensuring the establishment of an adequate visitor center and land transfer to the Federal government at Grant’s Tomb.
The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant is a digital archive available on-line consisting of 31 volumes of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, political cartoons and sheet music from the larger collection at Mississippi State University.
No other sources listed.