He also held the Academy record for jumping a horse for many years. Here are two excerpts from Duty, Honor, Country:
“You can’t force him,” Ulysses S. Grant said in a level tone. “You have to lead him.”
While Rumble filled out his uniform coat, Grant was lost in his. He was slender to the point of emaciation, his frame slightly stooped, and the dress gray tunic hung loosely from his shoulders as if they were a thin hanger. He was several inches shorter than Rumble’s six feet and dwarfed by York.
Rumble shifted uneasily as Grant took a step toward the horse. “Careful, Sam.”
Grant was focused on the horse. His piercing blue eyes stared deeply into the bay’s. Grant took another step closer, within hoof range, but it was also close enough for something to pass between man and beast.
The horse twitched, began to rear, but stopped, nostrils flaring. The bay shivered, took a step back and glared at Grant. Outside the stall, Rumble remained perfectly still. Grant slipped the bit in the horse’s mouth, whispering all the time to the beast, calming, forceful, reassuring. The horse’s ears had been laid back, but now they relaxed, twitching forward to catch the young man’s soft voice.
And later, at the graduation ceremony for the class of 1843, Grant set the record:
The Master of the Horse, Sergeant Herschberger, strode out to the bar. He looked at it, at Rumble and frowned. Then the slightest trace of a smile flickered on the stern Master of the Horse’s face, gone so quickly one would wonder if had been there at all. He called out in a thunderous voice: “Cadet Grant!” The order echoed through the riding hall.
Grant, still weighing a paltry one hundred and twenty pounds, spurred York forward from the line. The contrast between the slender cadet and the massive horse would have been greater if it were not for the relaxed way Grant rode. He didn’t seem to be controlling York, but a part of the beast, the mind behind all that muscle below the saddle. Grant saluted the Superintendent with his saber, then slid it into the scabbard. As he turned to head for the far end of the hall, he winked at Rumble.
In the reviewing stands, Benny and Letitia Havens sat with Ben between them. Letitia held Abigail on her lap. Not far from them was George King, dressed in a navy uniform, the insignia of an ensign on his sleeve. His face was tanned and his ice-blue eyes held an edge to them that had not been there when he was a cadet.
Hidden at the far end of the building, near the horse doors leading to the stable, St. George stepped into the dark shadows, and folded his powerful arms across his broad chest, his clothes dusty and worn from a long, hard ride. His slouch hat was pulled down low. His black sash was wrapped around his solid waist, and a discerning observer could see the outline of his Le Mat pistol tucked inside.
Grant galloped the Chesnut bay to the far end of the hall. He spotted St. George, frowned, but focused on the task at hand. He turned the horse, paused for just the slightest of moments. He leaned forward and whispered something into York’s ear. The horse’s ears lay back and nostrils flared. Together, they began the straight run for the bar.
Man and beast accelerated across the floor, loose tanbark flying up behind, hooves thundering on the wood underneath. Grant and horse were measuring strides based on the rapidly closing distance. At the perfect spot Grant twitched the reins and York gathered himself, seeming to shrink for a second, all muscles tightening, and then bounded smoothly into the air. With inches to spare, Grant and York flew over the bar. They landed without mishap. There was a moment of stunned silence.
“Very well done, sir!” Sergeant Herschberger cried out, acknowledging that Grant had just set an Academy record. The crowd roared its approval. Herschberger turned to the rest of the class of 1843 lined up on their mounts along the wall. “Class dismissed.”
As you can see, the novel is a mixture of history and a handful of fictional characters. The ties between Grant, Rumble, George King, and others is at the heart of the story. Every little event, leads onward to greater events. As tomorrow’s post will show.
A new blog post every day leading up to the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War on April 12th and the publication of Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War, the first in my series.
Tomorrow: Why was U.S. Grant known as Unconditional Surrender Grant?