This time he gets a warm reception from an audience of Fringe Festival theatergoers, who also have a role in this one-act marvel of living history. As members of the audience, we are cast as the alumni of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Grant, portrayed by storyteller “Country Joe” Rosier, is giving a speech for the 40th reunion of the class of 1843. He shakes hands with the “officers” as he makes his way to the stage to tell us about his early life, his military career and his relationship with General Robert E. Lee.
Rosier presents Grant as an unpretentious, self-made man. He is straightforward and often stabs his forefinger forward in the air to make a point.
He describes growing up the son of a tanner, starting to ride at age six, buying his first horse at age 10, hitching it up and selling lumber, and being told by his father that he had to go to West Point. He talks about meeting and marrying Julia Dent, who loved to ride horses and to read books, as did he. He recalls being introduced to Lee in a mess tent in the Mexican War, but when he came to surrender, Lee did not remember him because he was just a quartermaster at the time.
Rosier’s story takes off when he describes how he wanted to get back into military service after a stint of odd jobs and failed ventures. Unsuccessful, he simply began training volunteers for the mustering Union Army. But he still didn’t get an appointment. Then someone told him that an officer had given up on a group of rowdy volunteers. “I went down there and told them that I was their colonel and to go to their tents” (forefinger stab).
He trained them up and they marched into Paduka, Kentucky, where he declared it part of the Union. Easy peasy, we alumni are thinking to ourselves. It was at Shiloh, he said, that he realized the opponent was not going to back down so easily.
“In 1864 I was appointed general of all troops,” says Rosier. Location-by-location he explains how they drew a skein around the South until they got to Cold Harbor, where he knew things were going to falter.
“You have to make decisions putting men into the loss of life. It’s very difficult. That’s the problem with being a general,” he told us.
He does not stab his finger here, nor does he stab it as he describes Lee’s surrender. Grant’s men wanted to shout and applaud, but he wouldn’t allow it. Rosier spreads his arms, palms down, as if to say “quiet down.” Then he salutes Lee, and his men, some of them from that original group of rowdies, follow suit.
DC Theater Arts salutes Rosier, who is going to have to do more than a hand motion to get audiences in this 150th anniversary of the Civil War to stand down.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Reflections of General Robert E. Lee and An Evening with General Ulysses S. Grant plays through July 26, 2013 at Caos on F – 923 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, visit the show’s Capital Fringe page.
Read Yvonne French’s review of Reflections of General Robert E. Lee and An Evening with General Ulysses S. Grant – Part 1: General Robert E. Lee.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Sesquicentennial – The Civil War Remembered’ by “Country Joe” Rosier.