'Grant' Tells the Story 'the Least Known of Our Most Important' U.S. Figures

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Casey Crawford/History

Brilliant general and U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant was always a hero in our house — my great-great-grandfather Thomas Sherwood served under him in the Civil War. As part of the Union Army, they fought Gen. Robert E. Lee's rebel Confederates in several bloody conflicts, including the horrific 1864 Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia; this cinematically stunning documentary brought their experience home to me. Grant depicts the clash with such gut-wrenching realism, I shed tears not just for the thousands of men who died but also for the determined leader.

"Grant is probably the least known of our most important [American] figures," executive producer Dave Sirulnick says. "He's not on Mount Rushmore. But his resilience, drive, focus, forethought, care, and leadership shaped our nation."

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To tell Grant's story (airing three consecutive nights starting on Memorial Day), producers drew primarily from his memoirs. During hardscrabble years growing up in Ohio, Grant — the son of a tanner — was nicknamed "Useless" by the other kids. He went on to West Point and shone in the Mexican-American War, only to face poverty and obscurity afterward. He was 42 when Lee surrendered to him, securing victory for the Union. In 1868, he was elected the 18th president and oversaw the Reconstruction.

Grant's dramatic sequences run longer than in most docs and feel more real thanks to the intense, cigar-chomping performance of Justin Salinger (above). "We wanted people to really feel who Grant was and make an emotional connection," Sirulnick says.

Grant History Miniseries

(Joe Alblas/History)

Meanwhile, location shoots at actual battlefields — Shiloh, Tennessee, for example — and images from the Library of Congress and the National Archives lend authenticity. Historical context comes from interviews with Grant biographer Ron Chernow, retired U.S. Army general David Petraeus, and other well-chosen experts.

Thanks to Grant, the Union my ancestor fought for still stands. Says Sirulnick, "Grant represents the best of the United States: meritocracy, democracy, better together than apart."

Grant, Miniseries Premiere, Monday, May 25, 9/8c, History