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Personal Memoirs: Ulysses S. Grant (Modern Library War) Paperback – May 4, 1999
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Destitute and wracked by throat cancer, Ulysses S. Grant finished writing his Personal Memoirs shortly before his death in 1885. Today their clear prose stands as a model of autobiography. Civil War soldiers are often celebrated for the high literary quality of the letters they sent home from the front lines; Grant's own book is probably the best piece of writing produced by a participant in the War Between the States. Apart from Lincoln, no man deserves more credit for securing the Northern victory than Grant, and this chronicle of campaigns and battles tells how he did it. (The book also made a bundle of money for his family, which had been reeling from the failure of Grant's brokerage firm.) This is not an overview of the entire Civil War; as the North was beating the South on the third day of Gettysburg, for example, Grant was in Mississippi capturing Vicksburg. But it is a great piece of writing, one that can be appreciated even by readers with little interest in military history. --John J. Miller
"The best [memoirs] of any general's since Caesar." --Mark Twain
"A unique expression of the national character....[Grant] has conveyed the suspense which was felt by himself and his army and by all who believed in the Union cause. The reader finds himself...on edge toknow how the Civil War is coming out." --Edmund Wilson
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That is an understatement. U.S. Grant has a deceptively simple writing style which paints the world in which he lived in vivid colors. Grant describes his family background, early life, and the Mexican War in very vivid terms. Grant says very little about his presidency except he expresses some disappointment in his Administration's failure to purchase the Dominican Republic. He claims his purchase of that land would have been to remove blacks from the CONUS, but still give them a nice place to live under the protection of the American government. I found that comment extremely interesting. Apparently the goals of the American Colonization Society of the early 1800s were still around in the 1870s.
The best and most interesting part of the book is Grant's recollection of the Civil War. For those military professionals seeking to emulate his deeds, it is interesting to see what he finds concerning.
During the Civil War Grant mostly speaks of two overwhelming things:
1. Logistics: His accounts of his campaigns focus on trains, rations, ammunition, etc. more than any other detail. What is also interesting is that he organized the wagon trains for the Battle of the Wilderness so that the oxen wouldn't need their forage transported to them.
2. Personnel Actions: Grant thinks very hard about his subordinate officers. He calmly lays out his reasons for firing and hiring the various people and has an interesting read on all of them. Grant is also quite fair. Grant didn't like Prentiss, but Grant still commended Prentiss for his excellent defense at Shiloh's Hornet's Nest.
Grant defends his hard treatment of General Thomas during General Hood's attack into Nashville. It is interesting to read Grant's perspective and then go and read Thomas' perspective. One can decide who is right. Regardless, Thomas did win and Grant didn't replace him with John A. Logan. Grant also lays out his reasons for allowing Sheridan to relieve Gouverneur K. Warren.
Grant proved himself in the Civil War to be a master of internal politics & logistics. His men proved to be expert at the fighting and tactics.
Ultimately, this book is really interesting.
The story of how Grant came to write this biography after being bankrupt and then diagnosed with cancer when he is encouraged by his friend to put down in writing his recollections and thoughts. That friend was Mark Twain
Be aware that this memoir has two volumes and will take awhile to read. If you are a student of American history it will be worth it. It took me two solid weeks to read it but much of this was due to checking his comments on the Internet. Even then, I’m afraid I did skim some of the excruciating details he gave about the war. This two volume memoir was one I wanted to keep in my library and I am now pursuing getting an early hard back edition (1st Edition?), if possible.
However, the Kindle edition is very good and has a lot of informative footnotes. It is always nice to get first hand information about history, especially history as important as this one is. His thoughts about how Lincoln’s death could have changed the history of the Negro were especially significant and NOT in the way you might imagine