158 of 163 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2000
I have never been much of a Civil War fan, but after reading "The Killer Angels" by Shaara, a historical fiction about Gettysburg, I was interested in following up with some non-fiction about the most important event in US History. This book kept me turning the pages from end to end. Despite its bulk (some 618 pages) I simply couldn't put the book down, as Grant's matter-of-fact description of the events that surrounded him was completely engrossing.
Grant was not an extraordinary man or brilliant tactician, his soldiers did not have the same obsession with him that the South held for Lee, he simply saw the war for what it was, a campaign against a rebellion. He looked at the entire war in its entirety, from battlefront to battlefront, and he repeatedly used that to his advantage. Many times he makes reference to deploying troops to no clear end other than to occupy an enemies flank, this often as a junior with no authority over the battle as a whole. Grant was a man of action, who realized he had to take a step in order to walk a mile. He took the battle to the enemy, divised clear and necessary steps which were needed to win the war as a whole. He was a general who did not just see the war as independent sets of battles, but saw those battles as a means to ending the Civil War.
One of my favorite parts of the text was watching the scope of Grant's vision widen. Starting with his actions in the Mexican American War his vision is very limited: he sees only the immediate battle, and his descriptions focus on minutiae reflecting his low rank. His vision escalates with his rank, until the end of the book, with the surrender of Lee, he sees and describes the entire army, and battles that would have once taken chapters to described are now dismissed in single sentences.
My one disappointment with the book was that it ended with the surrender of Lee at Appomatox. I would have liked to learn more about his actions after the war, and especially learned more about his presidency. I wish that there were similar autobiographies by other presidents, and certainly feel that this one elevated my expectations of all other autobiographies!
"It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service." - Grant (page 368)
"All he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance." - Grant on Lincoln (page 370)
"Wars product many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true." - Grant (page 577)
"To maintain peace in the future it is necessary to be prepared for war." - Grant (page 614)
"The war begot a spirit of independence and enterprise. The feeling now is, that a youth must cut loose from his old surroundings to enable him to get up in the world." - Grant (page 616)
152 of 159 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2005
Don't get me wrong, this is an incredible Memoir, but the edition that you want is the one by the Library of America. Yes you will pay a little more, but you will get a better quality edition, and you will get 200 pages of letters written by Grant, including letters sent to Lincoln and Halleck. These letters give you an even better insight of Grant the general/husband /person.
If there is anyway at all possible that you can spend the extra $9 I recommend doing it. If you are on a shoe string budget then buy this edition. It is a 5 star memoir, even without the letters.
I have a full review at the other edition, but I will say that I cannot recommend Grant's memoirs enough. It really is an awesome book.
83 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
More than the descriptions of the great battles, which were of such great scale that they were beyond my ability to grasp, I was most impressed with the courage and intelligence of the man, who wrote these memoirs while dying of a painful cancer. His assessments of the generals on both sides, many of whom he knew intimately from the Mexican war, are priceless. I think the one I like best was of General Warren -- "His difficulty was constitutional and beyond his control. He was an officer of superior ability, quick perceptions, and the personal courage to accomplish anything that could be done with a small command."
General Grant also never lost the ability to make fun of himself (a lost art among today's leaders?), recalling being mocked by a stablehand who had seen him prancing in his uniform shortly after being commissioned. Perhaps that is why in his prime Grant so often wore a simple private's shirt with his proper insignia of rank.
The anecdotes from his conversations with President Lincoln are unforgettable. So are stories from the war with Mexico, when long-range Mexican cannonballs came into his lines at such shallow angles that his men could open ranks to avoid the bounding projectiles. The language of the day - "reducing" the enemy "works" with great "execution" -- adds to the enjoyment and reminds the reader of today's "collateral damage" military jargon.
Grant, great lover of a good cigar, comments on his observations from the war with Mexico that people smoked tobacco more when it was an expensive item they they did later when the price was much cheaper.
Where are such men today? Probably still out there waiting for the next great challenge to bring them forward. General Grant comments that "Those who wait to be selected, rather than those who seek, can be expected to provide the most efficient service."
80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
A must read for all Civil War buffs and those even remotely interested in history. The 600+ pages in this book (both volume I and II are included together) articulately spell out the military career of one of the United States' greatest generals. Grant's Memoirs are well-written, thoughtful, insightful, and offer more than a glimpse into the mind of U.S. Grant.
Volume I opens with a heartfelt preface where Grant explains how his diminishing health pushed him to complete this work and "asking no favor but hoping (his remarks) will meet the approval of the reader." They most definitely do. Following the preface, the reader is given a (very) short review of his early childhood, life at West Point, and early Army life. The next one hundred pages are dedicated to the Mexican War followed by his resignation from the military and civilian life in Illinois. The remainder of Volume I and all of Volume II extensively deal with the War Between the States.
I found Volume I (written before Grant realized he was critically ill) to be rich in detail of the various military campaigns (perhaps too detailed) and his ascension through the military ranks, but it is somewhat lacking in personal observations and insights. It even drags at times--but stick with it. The patient reader will not be dissapointed. Volume II hurls the reader into the conflict, reads rapidly, and is rife with Grant's personal observations and insights.
This second volume picks up where the first left off--following Vicksburg to the campaigns in Tennessee to the Battle of the Wilderness to Sherman's March to the Sea to the Battle of Franklin right up to Appomattox and all the events of April and May 1865. These campaigns are told from the commanding general's perspective with great overview and detail. However, what really makes Volume II (and this volume is much more fast paced than the first) special are all the personal observations and insightful (rarely negative and always humble) comments about those Grant served with and against. Grant is thoughtful and displays much about himself as this great book draws to a close. An eloquently written, detailed, first-person account of the Civil War that offers much to those who read it.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2003
General Grant wrote this book while dying of throat cancer. He had been swindled by a dishonest Wall Street Broker and his trophies and possessions were stripped from him to satisfy the demands of his debtors. Bankrupt, suffering from a terminal illness and never passing a moment without acute pain, he produced this magnificent monument to his greatness. Those who denigrate Grant as a drunkard, butcher, bumbling President need to read this book in order to correct these errant assumptions. It is impossible to read this book and not realize that Grant was an inordinately intelligent man and one hell of a writer.
Grant's Memoirs are a deserved classic in American literature and considered the greatest military Memoirs ever penned, exceeding Caesar's Commentaries. Grant wrote as he lived: with clear, concise statements, unembellished with trivialities or frivolities. The only "criticism" the reader might have is that Grant bent over backwards not to wound the feelings of people in the book. He takes swipes at Joe Hooker and Jeff Davis, but what he left unsaid would have been far more interesting. A compelling and logical reason why Grant was so spare in his comments was because he was involved in a race with death. He didn't know how long he could live and therefore, "cut to the chase."
Grant's assessments of Lincoln, Sherman, Sheridan and other military leaders are brilliant and engrossing. His style, like the man himself, was inimitable and couldn't be copied. In everyday life, Grant was a very funny man, who liked to listen to jokes and tell them himself. His sense of the absurd was acute. It's no accident that he loved Mark Twain and the two hitched together very well. Twain and Grant shared a similar sense of humor, and Grant's witicisms in the Memoirs are frequent, unexpected and welcome. There are portions where you will literally laugh out loud.
Though Grant's Memoirs were written 113 years ago, they remain fresh, vibrant and an intensely good read. I have read them in! their entirity 30 times in my life and I never weary of the style and language that Grant employed. He was a military genius to be sure, but he was also a writer of supreme gifts, and these gifts shine through on every page of this testament to his greatness. All Americans should read this book and realize what we owe to Grant: he preserved the union with his decisive brilliance. A truly oustanding book.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2000
Grant's memoirs are a must-read for any serious student of the Civil War. While praise is heaped upon Confederate generals such as Lee and Jackson, Grant's legacy has always been a little more uncertain. His reputation has been associated with allegations of drunkenness, and with an apparent unflinching ability to send men to their slaughter which this book helps to dispel.
Lincoln loved Grant, as he was the first Union commander who seemed willing to fight it out with Lee's army, and who enjoyed any consistent success. When one considers Grant's predecessors at the helm of the Union army, one can understand Lincoln's enthusiasm. You had McClellan, who never read an exaggerated report of the enemy size he didn't believe; "Fighting Joe Hooker", flanked and embarrassed at Chancellorsville; Burnside, who foolishly sent wave after wave of Union soldiers across the Rappahanock to attack an impregnable stone wall at Fredericksburg; and Pope, who was soundly beaten at Manassas. Meanwhile, Grant caught Abe's attention with his successful siege of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863, as Meade was beating Lee at Gettysburg.
Reading Grant's Memoirs is a fascinating experience, as the war, at least that part of it involving Grant, comes to life in the hands of a thoughtful commentator. Grant was obviously there, and he shares informative communications with his inferior officers (such as Sherman) and with the President. Grant sent many men to their doom to be sure, (the Wilderness campaign comes to mind as being especially bloody and ineffective), but overall you get the sense that Grant was respected by his men, who were happy to be marching forward and not backwards after a battle. He restored a sense of pride and accomplishment that was sorely lacking in the Union rank and file. He gave cogent reasons in his memoirs for the actions undertaken, sometimes admitting mistakes in humble fashion, and sometimes explaining why a siege would accomplish the same overall goal without unnecessary bloodshed.
My only regret is that Grant didn't live long enough to write a companion memoir about his presidency, which was clearly outside the scope of this book. Readers who have gotten this far in the Amazon review process are no doubt aware that a broke Grant, stricken with painful throat cancer, wrote out his Memoirs of the Civil War right up until the end of his life to provide financially for his family, finishing the book days before he died. We should all be grateful that he was able to preserve these pages for prosperity, they are truly a model of military memoirs that I consider an extremely rewarding reading experience. When one considers the circumstances in which Grant composed this work, the end result is nothing short of miraculous.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2001
This is one of the best, if not the best autobigoraphy of any major military leader. This is the most insightfull view of the cival war, after all he was there. Grant writes in a clear detirmined tone, and is suprisingly modest and fair to all sides. The vast majority of the book is written about his military career. He gives one of the best acounts of the Mexican War, and a long and very descriptive account of his Cival War campains. He talks very little about his years in private life, or his years as president. He seemed to feel uncomforable out of uniform, and trusted the wrong people too much.
Very few people come across as well as Grant in their autobiographies. One of the great military leaders this country has had. As a general, much like Washington. he was only a good but not brilliant tactian. What made him great was that he simply knew how to win, and did whatever he had to win. He understood that war is not about honor, it is about winning, and sending the troops home with their goal acomplished.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
No less an eminent man of letters than Mark Twain called Ulysses S. Grant's "Personal Memoirs" "the best [memoirs] of any General's than Caesars." Having now read this outstanding work along with those of Julius Caesar, William T. Sherman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Colin Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, I must agree with Mark Twain's assessment. For sheer honesty, humility, and simple but powerful language, U.S. Grant's memoirs are without peer.
Grant allows the reader to go along with him and live once again his experiences during the Mexican War and American Civil War. He interjects his own judgments and opinions sparingly, yet always honestly. Where he feels he made mistakes, he admits them freely, and his criticisms of his colleagues is always tempered by an obvious attitude of professionalism. The fact that Grant wrote a memoir of such eloquence while dying from cancer makes it all the more powerful a book.
I found this modern library edition especially outstanding. The introductory notes by Caleb Carr and Geoffrey Perret, while brief, are extremely informative. Maps and etchings from the original 1885 Charles Webster & Co. edition are included, as is General Grant's report to Secretary of War Stanton on Civil War operations during 1864-65. This appendix makes fantastic reading by itself!
I highly recommend this outstanding edition to all Civil War and military history enthusiasts. It is simply the best military memoir I've ever read.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2002
The book is remarkable for its clarity of speech and the simplicity of its presentation, but most of all for the quality of focus of a man whose final chapter is as moving as any I have read, and written just a week before he died. I recommend that the trilogy of Grant; CAPTAIN SAM GRANT, GRANT MOVES SOUTH, and GRANT TAKES COMMAND, be read first. Then read his MEMOIRS, and follow it up with ON THE BORDER WITH CROOK. The characters in the MEMOIRS appear prominently in all the others; men known by Grant from West Point, the Mexican American War, and who served, subsequently, as officers during the Indian Wars following the Civil War. Connections such as these fascinate me. Grant's knowledge of his adversaries most of who he knew from experience was perhaps his greatest weapon. Yet, war being war, he never let let friendship interfere with his duty, which is why he became known as UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER (U.S.) GRANT. it seemed to me the more he got into his work, the better he expressed himself, and his CONCLUSION rose to the level of greatness as a writer. He seemed the perfect compliment to Abe Lincoln whose policies he hoped to carry forward.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1999
That U.S. Grant is telling one of history's great tragic and glorious stories as the key actor would make this book a fine piece in its own right. He has a gift for story telling that renders his Personal Memoirs compelling and engrossing. One of the best books I have read. It is remarkable from several levels. First, it is undeniably great history. The story of our Civil War is moving enough to leave a tremendous impression upon the reader in Grant's hands. Second, this book is a great study in management. Grant succeeded where scores failed at similar command levels throughout the Civil War. He did due to his: knowledge and focus on his mission; his ability to conceive plans that served his mission; his ability to have alternatives that stayed the course; his ability to learn from mistakes and experience; his calm in the face of stress and chaos; his decisiveness and his willingness to take reasonable risks.
This book surprised me by being an excellent management study. The lessons which are easy to take away from the book are aplicable to anyone who is faced with mission definition and achievement. It should be must reading in MBA programs.
Grant's lack of ego is surprising when compared to other Civil War figures and high achievers who have reflected on their lives and actions. By not only focusing on things that went right for Grant, the book has a tremendous credibility borne of real life trial and error, frustration, lessons learned and later employed.
A great book.