ECW is pleased to welcome back our friend, Dr. Curt Fields. Curt is nationally known for his acclaimed portrayal of Ulysses S. Grant. This week, he reflects on some of the highlights of his career thus far. (part six of seven)
Part Six: West Point
The invitation to speak at West Point in January 2019 was certainly a highlight in the portrayal of General Grant. They wanted me to speak to the Social Studies Dept. as the kick-off for their ‘Semester of Grant’ to culminate with the dedication of the statue of Grant on the Plain at the Academy in April close to his birthday.
While there, I was asked to address the students at their dinner meal. It is the only time they are all in one place (4,000 of them) as they are required to eat their evening meal together. So, I was taken to a raised platform overlooking the dining hall on what they call “the poop deck.” That is where, I was told, that visiting dignitaries sit when visiting the Academy, and it is where General Douglas MacArthur delivered his “Old Soldiers never Die” speech.
The cadets did not know that General Grant was going to be there that Friday evening. In the spirit of the occasion, they introduced special guest General Ulysses S. Grant. When I stepped to the microphone, many of the cadets began cheering. I said, “I am General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant. West Point class of ’43… 1843! and it is good to be back!” All of them stood and began cheering “Grant! Grant! Grant!” and stomping on the floor and pounding on the tables. I, finally, had to raise my arms and ask for silence, which they immediately did. I talked for a few minutes and took my leave of them. They again cheered for quite a while.
I note this experience because, of course, it is a high point in my career of portraying Grant but, more so, to point out that they were NOT cheering for me. They didn’t know, and still don’t know, who I am. They were cheering for General Grant, not me. It emphasizes how important historic figures are in our national story and our collective mind. It is not, and cannot be, about ego or self-aggrandizement! The totality of choosing to portray an historical figure is how we as Living Historians lift up those people for all to see, come to know, and remember.
My Grant perspective after speaking at West Point was what an impressive and revered image he projects across the years and across the campus of the United States Military Academy.
(All photos taken by Major Stephen Taylor, Aide-de-Camp for the General during his visit)
Tomorrow, to wrap up our series, Curt will offer a few final thoughts on being Grant now and then—and the responsibility that goes with it.
For more on Curt’s work, check out the ECW Podcast/YouTube video with Curt, or read about the “Fridays with Grant” series sponsored by the Civil War Roundtable Congress. And, of course, you can find Curt on the web on the web at generalgrantbyhimself.com.