History’s three-part docuseries Grant makes its way onto DVD this week from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. The mini-series tells the life story of Ulysses H. Grant, an extraordinary man who came from meager beginnings to rise through the ranks and ultimately become the general who led the Union army to victory in The Civil War. Much of history has been rewritten to downplay this man’s achievements or give him a bad rap as belligerent drunk, a bloody butcher, and a corrupt president. However, this documentary explores how Grant was a keen military strategist, a strong-willed man who was able to keep a level head during stressful situations, and was able to overcome many obstacles in his life just through his sheer determination. He ultimately brought an end to one of our nation’s darkest periods.
The docuseries utilizes interviews with academics, authors and military personnel, along with archival photos, reenactments, and monologues by Grant (Justin Salinger, Hanna) to bring this story to life. The reenactments are really well done, transporting the viewer back in time to the battlefield to watch this often gruesome war play out, into the room where it happens as military discussions and strategies are formed, or just see some of the struggles that Grant went through in his life. The modern-day interviews are edited together with sound effects, location footage, animated battle maps, narrations, and reenactments featuring Grant, Lincoln (Carel Nel), Robert E. Lee (Brian Heydenrych), and many other historical figures. The historians have such an animated way of recounting the specific battles and events, and this enthusiasm for the subject matter comes across in a really exciting and interesting way.
Those interviewed include: Harry Laver (Prof. of Military History, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College), Timothy B. Smith (Prof. Of History, University of Tennessee at Martin), Avery Lentz (Ranger, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park), Elizabeth D. Samet (Editor, The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant), Barton A. Meyers (Prof. of Ethics and History, Washington & Lee University), David H. Petraeus (General U.S. Army Ret.), Ron Chernow (Author, Grant), Joan Waugh (Author, U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth), Marcia Chatelain (Assoc. Prof. Of History & African American Studies, Georgetown University), Ta-Nehisi Coates (Author), Caroline E. Janney (Director, Center for Civil War History, University of Virginia), Ben Kemp (Ranger, U.S. Grant Cottage Historic Site), Gregory Hospodor (Prof. of Military History, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College), Allen C Guelzo (Princeton University), Christy Coleman (CEO, American Civil War Museum), Brian Matthew Jordan (Asst. Professor of History, Sam Houston State University), Garry Adelman (Historian, American Battlefield Trust), Doug Douds (Colonel USMC Ret. / Professor, U.S. Army War College), Timothy B. Smith (Prof. Of History, University of Tennessee at Martin), Terry Winschel (Ret. Chief Historian, Vicksburg National Military Park), Ethan Rafuse (Prof. of Military History, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College). I don’t know if all these people normally use their middle initial, or if it was just done in the overlay as an homage to U.S. Grant, but either way, I found it amusing.
Grant is not meant to be a comprehensive retelling of the American Civil War. In fact, for much of the series, it only follows Grant’s efforts in the Western Theater. It’s not until Grant is put in charge of the whole Union army that the series covers in detail what’s going on in the Eastern Theater. The series is broken into three episodes. Part 1, “Unlikely Hero”, explores Grant’s childhood, his unexpected appointment to West Point, his role in the Mexican-American War, and his marriage to Julia Dent—the daughter of a slave-owner in Missouri. After the Secession of the South, Grant is thrust back into the military, and the series follows the attack on Fort Sumpter in 1861, the attack on Fort Donelson in 1862, and the bloody battle of Shiloh. In Part 2, “Lincoln’s General”, the series follows the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Black soldiers joining the Union army. It also follows Grant’s campaigns in Chattanooga, Vicksburg, and the Battle of the Wilderness of Spotsylvania in Virginia in 1864, as he hopes to put an end to Lee’s army. The final episode, “Freedom’s Champion”, finds Grant at the Battle of Cold Harbor, where the extreme casualties earn him the nickname of “The Butcher”. But this doesn’t stop Grant, and he pushes on to ultimately bring an end to the war. Afterwards, the series covers the assassination of Lincoln, Grant’s service as the 18th president, and the Reconstruction—while dealing with a corrupt government and hate groups trying to prevent his progress. The series closes out with Grant writing his memoirs just before his death.
Overall, I found the series to be quite interesting and informative. It made me want to revisit the old Ken Burns documentary to get a more in-depth look at the Civil War as a whole. The battle discussions ended up being the most interesting for me, though some of the reenactments get a bit bloody and gory&mdah;they surely don’t sugar-coat things. The final episode felt a bit rushed compared to the previous 2 installments as it rapidly and briefly covered Grant’s entire presidency. It almost could have used a fourth episode to go into that in a bit more detail, though I guess it’s probably not as exciting to watch as the war.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has only released this series on physical media on DVD, despite it originally airing in HD on History. The picture quality is pretty decent and more than sufficient, though some of the foggy, grey battle scenes aren’t as detailed as their original HD counterpart. The audio track is also a bit of a mystery. While the series originally aired in Dolby 5.1 on History, it is presented here in Dolby 2.0. That said, my audio receiver converted it to 5.1, and the sound was excellent, with clear dialogue and the battle scenes still coming to life with the sounds of bullets everywhere. The two DVD discs comes packed in a standard-sized DVD keepcase with a swinging tray for the first disc. The release does not include any bonus material, a digital copy, or a slipcover.
- All three episodes:
Disc 1: “Unlikely Hero” (1:21:53), “Lincoln’s General” (1:26:57)
Disc 2: “Freedom’s Champion” (1:26:42)
- 480i / Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
- Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
- Subtitles: English SDH
There is no bonus material included
Grant provides an interesting look at the life of Ulysses S. Grant, particularly his efforts during the American Civil War, though it is not a comprehensive look at the war. The material is presented in an exciting way through the use of modern day interviews and well as archival photos, and reenactments with really good production value. I think it’s worth checking out for anyone with an interest in the subject matter. Though, since the DVD doesn’t include any bonus material, I’d recommend picking up the HD digital release.