ULYSSES UNDERGROUND: A Book Review

Ulysses Underground: The Unexplored Roots of U.S. Grant and the Underground Railroad, by G.L. Corum

If anyone wants to know anything – even the most minute detail about the abolitionist movement and/or the Underground Railroad, particularly as it applies to Southern Ohio & Indiana, let them look no further than G.L. Corum, who knows practically everything, and tells it all in ULYSSES UNDERGROUND: The Unexplored Roots of U.S. Grant and the Underground Railroad.

The author has accumulated a rare body of knowledge about the people, the relationships, the places, and the events of about a half-century preceding the Civil War.

Corum is an engaging writer, and has managed to breathe some life into many of these long-dead and very serious persons. Granted (no pun intended) some of the people and their “stories” are a little tedious, many of them are truly fascinating. While “Ulysses Underground” is geared to a very specific audience, in Corum’s hands, the interested reader will be well pleased.

The Underground Railroad Movement

Practically from the start of the USA (as a USA), there was strong objection to slavery, and as the country grew both in size and in population, that abhorrence strengthened. With southern Ohio and Indiana abutting Kentucky with its large slave population, it became a natural route for the Underground Railroad, the term coined to describe a secret network of safe-houses and related help for those who chose to escape servitude and flee north to freedom. It was a perilous journey, not only for those who fled, but for those who gave aid.

Corum is by now probably deeply and ethereally connected with dozens of such lost-to-history persons who risked their own lives and safety to assist the runaways. The author’s research has uncovered minuscule leaves on minuscule twigs of minuscule branches of saplings. This is in no way is meant to trivialize sincere and dedicated knowledge. Someone must be the “keeper of the flame,” and a capable volunteer came forward.

G.L. Corum is a good and solid writer, and one might even detect a wry sense of humor from time to time. As a fair marketing strategist, the author knows that without a major connection (i.e. General Ulysses S. Grant) there would be little chance at readership. This is the latest popular trend.  Many historians are doing it lately; using gossamer filaments to tie minutiae to a famous person in order to achieve popular recognition for intrepid scholarship.

The Grant Connection. Or Maybe Not So Much.

Ulysses S. Grant was born in 1822 in Point Pleasant, a little town in southern Ohio. His parents, the bombastic Jesse and the silent Hannah, were both, if not card-carrying abolitionists, certainly ardently anti-slavery, acquainted with many of its leading proponents. This is an absolute fact.

But herein lies the problem: linking this “underground railroad” theme to Ulysses S. Grant.  One can grow up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and even have Yogi’s autograph – and still not play baseball, or like it – or even be a Yankee fan. The ties to Grant are thin and often circumstantial.

F’r instance.  Author Corum makes a effort to tie Ulysses to active involvement with the abolitionist movement via a letter he wrote as General Grant to a childhood friend, in which he asked to be remembered to a particular lady – an old neighbor from the old neighborhood.   The author’s research turned up considerable evidence of the woman’s anti-slavery support and activity, but this does not tie Grant to anything resembling a real connection to the Underground Railroad movement, and in fact, it is more plausible that Ulysses-the-child remembered the woman as a nice lady who left cookies on her porch.

Ulysses Grant’s own anti-slavery sentiments (and he was definitely against slavery) did not preclude him from marrying into a slave-holding family. The senior Grants were not keen on Julia, but Grant was far more concerned about how his beloved wife felt about them. Julia’s father gave her two slaves as a wedding present, and Grant never demurred, although as time went on the Union-Secessionist conversations with his also-bombastic father-in-law became uncomfortable.

Then too, Ulysses Grant became the Great General, and President of the United States, and arguably the most famous man in the world during his time. If he had any strong Underground Railroad connections, it would have been uncovered then – and certainly by now.

What Works:

G.L. Corum is a passionate historian and a better-than-somewhat writer. There is also an intelligent mind at work. The author’s sincere efforts to make Grant’s infinitesimal small step into a giant leap is a stretch, but it does provide first-rate title interest.

But the part that does work, and that does work very well, is the excellent scholarship and research into that period of time in that particular section of the country, on a subject of considerable and worthy interest.  A fine and laudable effort!

Historical societies and library associations will be well pleased to engage G.L. Corum for their programs. Scholars and scholars-to-be will find the book full of excellent information.  It may be a limited audience, but hey! A “keeper of the flame” is nothing to sneeze at.

ULYSSES UNDERGROUND: The Unexplored Roots of U.S. Grant and the Underground Railroad

By G.L. Corum

RivetingHistory

ISBN-13: 978-0996206419

 

 

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About Feather Schwartz Foster

Feather Schwartz Foster is an author-historian who has made more than 500 appearances discussing presidential history. She teaches adult education at the Christopher Wren Association (affiliated with William and; Mary College), and adult Education programs at Christopher Newport University. She has been a guest on the C-SPAN "First Ladies" program. She has written five books.
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One Response to ULYSSES UNDERGROUND: A Book Review

  1. R Pace says:

    I suggest you take a closer look at the Grant connection. As a local, I understand the geography and terrain, as well as the potential significance of the relationship between Grant and Mrs. Vandyke. She is not an old neighbor from the old neighborhood. It is 22 miles from his home (and tannery) in Georgetown to Mrs. Vandyke’s home in West Union. Grant would have been unlikely to cross paths with Mrs. Vandyke during his schoolboy days, unless his parents sent him on some errand.
    If by ‘old neighborhood’ you mean Ulysses’ birthplace, that location is 46 miles distant. Mrs. Vandyke and Ulysses were never neighbors. It’s more likely their relationship had to do with the documented antislavery activities of the Vandyke family, than anything social. R. Pace

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