A photo of Grant’s aide Rawlins and his family, posted on Sean McLachlan’s Civil War Horror blog, struck me as being remarkably similar to this, of Grant and Julia and little Jesse. The wife is posed somewhat demurely or self-effacingly within the dwelling (not that Julia could be convincingly demure), with the children outside near daddy. (And look at the cute clothes on Jesse!)
If he had lived, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw would certainly have been the most handsome Civil War general, for his beautiful face and his gallant heart.
Une belle laide, literally “a beautiful ugly,” is not a phrase you would think to apply to a Civil War general….
Une belle laide, literally “a beautiful ugly,” is a French phrase describing a woman whose attraction cannot be located in conventional beauty or grace. It is not a phrase you would think to apply to a Civil War general. But I think it is apt for General William T. Sherman.
Sherman’s physique is stringy. The complexion is rough, the eyes assymetrical, the dome-like brow is fringed with lifeless hair.
It is a face you can’t forget.
You can’t help looking at it again and again, studying it, trying to read it: this portrait of a man who’s ready to fight, a man burdened with the need to prove himself, the face of a psyche that is “eat-up.”
The tightened face, and the pulled in shoulders, likely also reflect the anguish of asthma. (The malady is so troubling that David McCullough searched hard for sufferers willing to discuss it because “even talking about it can be painful to them.”) Sherman got through it in a time that offered no retreat to the filtered comforts of air conditioning, when treatment was hit or miss, in air constantly saturated with dust and pollen and smoke and animal dander. Every breath was a battle.
It was the man’s portrait, more than history, that urged me to read his biography: how could a man so obviously unbalanced be so successful? He looks far more interesting than the conventional beau.
I finished Stanley P. Hirshson’s The White Tecumseh with mixed feelings. Sherman’s cruelty to civilians, his bafflingly inconsistent racism, his self-centered ambition, and his punitive attitude toward Southerners disgusted me. On the other hand, his convictions, his determination to rise above early failure, his nonstop diligence, the way he drove through depression, his fierce loyalty, and his physical fortitude impressed me deeply.
Picture via Library of Congess / biographical info from The White Tecumseh: A Biography of General William T. Sherman, by Stanley P Hirshson (on Goodreads) / quote from David McCullough: Mornings on Horseback (about Theodore Roosevelt & his family; on Goodreads).
This year’s winner: U.S. Grant, in this picture. The hat, the frock coat and vest, his expression, the pose–everything. But had he lived to be general, another man would have been Most Handsome, really.
Photograph by Mathew Brady, collection of the National Portrait Gallery / via PBS US Grant: Warrior
Runners-up for Most Handsome Civil War General
And the Ugliest Civil War General
Ginger was used in nineteenth-century medicine to treat everything from scurvy to cholera to impotence to lead poisoning. And, as in TR Hummer’s poem “Whitman’s Pantry,” as a digestion aid.
Dried beans in a muslin sack, tied shut with greasy string.
An ounce of ginger root to brew digestif,
Procured on physician’s advice from an “Oriental” grocer
at remarkable expense, desiccated now almost
(Please continue to read Whitman’s Pantry | Kenyon Review Journal)
According to the 1880 Cyclopaedia of practical receipts and collateral information in the arts, “Ginger is an aromatic stimulant and stomachic, very useful for flatulence and spasms of the stomach and bowels, and in loss of appetite and dyspepsia, arising from debility, or occurring in old and gouty subjects.”
Whitman (or more likely his pharmacist) might have brewed up something like “Brama elixir–Genuine Asiatic Stomach Bitter.” The recipe: “Cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, of each 15 grammes; galangal, ginger, zedoary, pepper, of each 30 grammes; wormwood oil, 15 drops; 90 per cent. spirit, 830 grammes; water, 330 grammes; digest and filter.” (Galangal is “blue ginger”; zedoary is an unrelated root that tastes similar to ginger.)
Cyclopaedia, by Arnold James Cooley, via google books
Photo via whitmanarchive.org