Watching this on the heels of Washington, it took me a few moments to switch gears. The action takes place about a hundred years later and Grant (played by UK-born Justin Salinger) is a bit grittier than America’s first president.
So it was a bit of an adjustment but once in the right headspace to appreciate this, Grant proved to be an excellent follow-up to Washington.
When a show really works for me, as Washington did, I begin to wonder about the theory of reincarnation because some of the everyday scenes seem so damn familiar. I remember this! I often think. But then my critical faculties kick in and I consider other possible reasons for the apparent familiarity.*
With the storyline taking place about a hundred years before my birth, I suddenly realized that these guys were actually not so distant, historically speaking. We had some antique war memorabilia passed on through the family that I remember gazing at as a kid, thinking how long ago it all seemed. But as an adult, the years condense and what once seemed faraway now appears quite a bit closer. A hundred years is really nothing.
During the American Civil War, in which Grant fights, Union commanders even had electronic telegrams to instantaneously communicate their position and tactics across hundreds of miles.
Downright modern. Basically, they had text-based email.
Another thing that struck me was how Grant initially was a quiet person who felt more at ease with horses than people. This contributed to his outstanding horsemanship which was another great asset for him and the Union cause. His life had many ups and downs but Grant truly found himself in battle. His military tactics are described by historians as “brilliant.” Indeed, some say he was the first modern general.
No sane person likes killing and violence but the Union forces felt justified in their cause. The Confederates to the south believed it was their God-given right to hold, exploit, abuse, torture and kill slaves. The Union, on the other hand, were opposed to slavery. So countless people – African Americans – were already suffering and dying before the war.
Few situations are uncomplicated and there were other reasons for civil war breaking out. But the fact that Grant actually gave African Americans weapons to fight as soldiers, something that the Confederates could not wrap their heads around, just goes to show how ahead of the game he was.
Grant was also magnanimous in victory, allowing defeated Confederates to return home instead of killing or imprisoning them. And he was actively concerned with African and Indigenous Americans’ quality of life. These and other factors contributed to Grant becoming incredibly popular in his day. The Big Three in US pop culture at that time were Washington, Lincoln, and Grant.
For various reasons, Grant has become less of a household name today. But watch this effective and informed series and you will have a hard time forgetting who Grant was and what he did.
In a word, superb.
*Three alternatives to reincarnation are (1) demonic deception (2) sensing the presence of someone who has passed (3) rethinking spacetime as an interactive whole.