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Twenty years after Appomattox, the Civil War’s greatest general fought his last campaign against death and time. Stricken by cancer as his family faced financial ruin, Ulysses S. Grant wrote his Personal Memoirs to secure their future, and in doing so won for himself a unique place in American letters. Acclaimed by readers as diverse as Mark Twain, Matthew Arnold, Gertrude Twenty years after Appomattox, the Civil War’s greatest general fought his last campaign against death and time. Stricken by cancer as his family faced financial ruin, Ulysses S. Grant wrote his Personal Memoirs to secure their future, and in doing so won for himself a unique place in American letters. Acclaimed by readers as diverse as Mark Twain, Matthew Arnold, Gertrude Stein, and Edmund Wilson, the Personal Memoirs demonstrates the intelligence, intense determination, and laconic modesty that made Grant the Union’s foremost commander. This Library of America volume also includes 174 letters written by Grant from 1839 to 1865. Many of them are to his wife, Julia, and offer an intimate view of their affectionate and enduring marriage; others, addressed to fellow generals, government officials, and his congressional patron Elihu B. Washburne, provide a fascinating contemporary perspective on the events that would later figure in the Memoirs. Grant’s autobiography is devoted almost entirely to his life as a soldier: his years at West Point, his service in the peacetime army, and his education in war during conflicts foreign and domestic. Grant considered the Mexican War “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation” and thought that the Civil War was our punishment for it; but his retrospective disapproval did not prevent him from becoming enchanted by Mexico or from learning about his own capacity for leadership amid the confusion and carnage of battle. His account of the Civil War combines a lucid treatment of its political causes and its military actions, along with the story of his own growing strength as a commander. At the end of an inconsequential advance in Missouri in 1861 he realized that his opponent “had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him.” Fort Donelson and Shiloh taught him to seize the initiative, while his success in living off the land during the Vicksburg campaign inspired William T. Sherman to undertake his marches through the interior of the South. By 1864 Grant knew that the rebellion could be suppressed only by maintaining relentless pressure against its armies and methodically destroying its resources. As the Union’s final general-in-chief, he acted with the resolve that had eluded his predecessors, directing battles whose drawn-out ferocity had no precedent in Western warfare. His narrative of the war’s final year culminates in his meeting with Lee at Appomattox, a scene of quiet pride, sadness, and humanity. Grant’s writing is spare, telling, and quick, superbly evocative of the imperatives of decision, motion, and action that govern those who try to shape the course of war. Grant wrote about the most destructive war in American history with a clarity and directness unequaled in our literature.


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Twenty years after Appomattox, the Civil War’s greatest general fought his last campaign against death and time. Stricken by cancer as his family faced financial ruin, Ulysses S. Grant wrote his Personal Memoirs to secure their future, and in doing so won for himself a unique place in American letters. Acclaimed by readers as diverse as Mark Twain, Matthew Arnold, Gertrude Twenty years after Appomattox, the Civil War’s greatest general fought his last campaign against death and time. Stricken by cancer as his family faced financial ruin, Ulysses S. Grant wrote his Personal Memoirs to secure their future, and in doing so won for himself a unique place in American letters. Acclaimed by readers as diverse as Mark Twain, Matthew Arnold, Gertrude Stein, and Edmund Wilson, the Personal Memoirs demonstrates the intelligence, intense determination, and laconic modesty that made Grant the Union’s foremost commander. This Library of America volume also includes 174 letters written by Grant from 1839 to 1865. Many of them are to his wife, Julia, and offer an intimate view of their affectionate and enduring marriage; others, addressed to fellow generals, government officials, and his congressional patron Elihu B. Washburne, provide a fascinating contemporary perspective on the events that would later figure in the Memoirs. Grant’s autobiography is devoted almost entirely to his life as a soldier: his years at West Point, his service in the peacetime army, and his education in war during conflicts foreign and domestic. Grant considered the Mexican War “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation” and thought that the Civil War was our punishment for it; but his retrospective disapproval did not prevent him from becoming enchanted by Mexico or from learning about his own capacity for leadership amid the confusion and carnage of battle. His account of the Civil War combines a lucid treatment of its political causes and its military actions, along with the story of his own growing strength as a commander. At the end of an inconsequential advance in Missouri in 1861 he realized that his opponent “had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him.” Fort Donelson and Shiloh taught him to seize the initiative, while his success in living off the land during the Vicksburg campaign inspired William T. Sherman to undertake his marches through the interior of the South. By 1864 Grant knew that the rebellion could be suppressed only by maintaining relentless pressure against its armies and methodically destroying its resources. As the Union’s final general-in-chief, he acted with the resolve that had eluded his predecessors, directing battles whose drawn-out ferocity had no precedent in Western warfare. His narrative of the war’s final year culminates in his meeting with Lee at Appomattox, a scene of quiet pride, sadness, and humanity. Grant’s writing is spare, telling, and quick, superbly evocative of the imperatives of decision, motion, and action that govern those who try to shape the course of war. Grant wrote about the most destructive war in American history with a clarity and directness unequaled in our literature.

30 review for Memoirs and Selected Letters

  1. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I came to Grant's memoirs, not because of its military history (though I am a fan of that sort of thing), but because both Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway were fans of Grant's work. I have only read the first volume, which takes the reader up to the fall of Vicksburg. What a trudge! Actually, up to Shiloh, I was rating the Memoirs much higher. Grant (or Twain for him) could write some really clean, uncluttered prose. His sharp eye for telling (and economical) detail certainly must have been I came to Grant's memoirs, not because of its military history (though I am a fan of that sort of thing), but because both Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway were fans of Grant's work. I have only read the first volume, which takes the reader up to the fall of Vicksburg. What a trudge! Actually, up to Shiloh, I was rating the Memoirs much higher. Grant (or Twain for him) could write some really clean, uncluttered prose. His sharp eye for telling (and economical) detail certainly must have been attractive to Hemingway. My favorite portions were the times where Grant wasn't recounting military events (though the war with Mexico is stunningly told stuff). Grant's descriptions of visiting a Mexican cave, or San Francisco during the Gold Rush (each of these segments represent only a few pages), stand out a crystal clear portraits, where eye and pen achieve perfect balance. One aspect of Memoirs that surprised me is that they are hardly as egoless as many have portrayed them. Grant does indeed come across as a humble, straightforward guy, but then again, he almost never dwells on himself in any deep way. You do see flashes when he discusses his politics -- and his dislike for the "rebellion." You can't help but admire his passion and devotion to his country. But he's also quite capable of snark, and he does get his digs in at those he feels were incompetent or a drag to the cause. You also sense a thin skin.This sensitivity really jumps out at you when he discusses Shiloh. Essentially he got caught with his pants down, as the Confederates launched a berserker attack that almost swamped the Union troops. Grant tries to wave this off, insisting that the battle was never in any real doubt. He then disparages the Confederate General, Albert Johnson, as being overrated and vacillating. I tend to agree with him on the first point, but his loss along with his coordinating eye, certainly damaged the Confederate chances on the first day. Grant also insists (in a contradictory way) that Shiloh was "the severest battle fought at the West during the war, and but few in the East equalled it for hard, determined fighting." Shiloh was a wild affair, fought by two undisciplined and green armies. But there are a number of more savage (and bloodier) battles yet to come. Even a casual reader of Civil War history knows this. Grant's statement simply makes no sense, and its especially damning to an author known for his objective eye. Also odd was Grant's carping about how the Confederates in general low balled the number of troops engaged, as well at the casualties suffered (Grant insists that twice the number of Confederates died than has been reported). As far as I can tell, history records that the Union lost slightly more men than the Confederates. But the Union also won the battle, so why the hyper sensitivity? At this point, I started noticing Grant's fixation on the numbers. How this plays out over the course of both volumes, I can only guess (from what I understand, he was no fan of Lee). But I'm left with the impression that the specter of "Grant the butcher" (of his own men) haunted the general. What follows, other than some smaller battles and maneuvering, is the Vicksburg campaign. I've read Shelby Foote's take on the campaign, and in his capable hands it's nearly impossible to follow. Grant's take is no better. You would need detailed maps of the day to make any sense of what Grant is (no doubt accurately) describing. Here's a taste: "The 9th, McPherson moved to a point within a few miles of Utica; McClernand and Sherman remained where they were. On the 10th McPherson moved to Utica, Sherman to Big Sandy; McClernand was still at Big Sandy. The 11th, McClernand was at Five Mile Creek; Sherman at Auburn; McPherson five miles advanced from Utica. May 12, McClernand was at Fourteen Mile Creek; McPherson at Raymond after a battle." Man, that's some numbing stuff, and hardly memorable literature. The point, I gather, is the slow strangulation of Vicksburg. It is this "battle" that stands as Grant's great achievement. But it seems, at least in part, an engineer's achievement. The terrain, a swampy impossibility, was the main opponent. Grant successfully coordinated a complicated land and water campaign, against a smaller sized opponent who got little help -- other than a piecemeal kind -- from other Confederate forces. Grant would indeed save the Union, but it would be on Virginia's bloody soil. A brutal campaign where numbers and time mattered, and not battle field finesse. One gets the sense that Grant resented that interpretation. Bitterly.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bob Mayer

    In conjunction with Grant's memoir, this is a must read for anyone interested not only in the Civil War, but the mindset of one of our greatest generals. At West Point we studied many generals and my own personal area of interest has always been the Civil War. I've walked most of the battlefields, wrote the Staff Walk for Gettysburg for the JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, and also wrote a trilogy of novels about two West Pointers going from 1842 into the Civil War Grant's best two subjec In conjunction with Grant's memoir, this is a must read for anyone interested not only in the Civil War, but the mindset of one of our greatest generals. At West Point we studied many generals and my own personal area of interest has always been the Civil War. I've walked most of the battlefields, wrote the Staff Walk for Gettysburg for the JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, and also wrote a trilogy of novels about two West Pointers going from 1842 into the Civil War Grant's best two subjects at West Point were math and art, which is a strange combination. He was also a horse whisperer. I think his unique brain, which is shown in these letters, was the key to his unique leadership and calmness. I feel Grant has been greatly under-rated as a General.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    These memoirs, completed while Grant was dying of throat cancer, and published with the help of Mark Twain, succeeded in two ways: in the short term they sold quite well and earned enough money to ensure Grant's surviving family would not fall into poverty, and for the long term they now provide a firsthand account of the Mexican-American War (invasión estadounidense de México) and the American Civil War (War Between the States). Grant writes well, with an economy of style which is perhaps eviden These memoirs, completed while Grant was dying of throat cancer, and published with the help of Mark Twain, succeeded in two ways: in the short term they sold quite well and earned enough money to ensure Grant's surviving family would not fall into poverty, and for the long term they now provide a firsthand account of the Mexican-American War (invasión estadounidense de México) and the American Civil War (War Between the States). Grant writes well, with an economy of style which is perhaps evidence of an attitude towards prose as a means of transport or a method of delivery and not an art. The passages are direct, and cleanly composed with humility, empathy, and subtle wit — like one of those chairs you buy from a rural craftsman that will still be around long after the hands that made it and the ass that first rode it are in the grave. It's a kind of trap, to be one of the fortunate who stand at the ground zero of cataclysmic change. From such a vantage one may acquire great power because the lever of history tilts in your favor. However, one may become deluded by this apparent command of the flux, and identify them self as the source of worldly change — as an agent of fate or the god who commands. To magnify ones ego to such ridiculous proportion is an error. Others pass through the maelstrom changed in a different way: they leave with a respect for the limits of human grace, and a respect for those who manage to cultivate this grace to its limit despite the cruel engines that drive this world — and all of us in it — along its required course. While reading this people would ask me what mention Grant made of his drinking problem. Like most of his personal life, very little, almost none. Someone else asked me who wrote them. Grant did. While taking my order at a café a young tattooed woman exclaimed that she had just herself finished reading them, and deemed them "lovely"; and so truly they (and she) were.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Franco Paz

    American Anti-hero: Ulysses S. Grant. A review of his memoirs. The story of America’s first anti-hero ended as it began, in poverty. At the tail end of his life, however, Ulysses S. Grant possessed something that he did not have before: one of the most intriguing life stories in American history. To the men of his own time, Ulysses S. Grant was the most famous, celebrated and respected American of his generation. Crowds of people swarmed the streets to cheer for him wherever he went. During his American Anti-hero: Ulysses S. Grant. A review of his memoirs. The story of America’s first anti-hero ended as it began, in poverty. At the tail end of his life, however, Ulysses S. Grant possessed something that he did not have before: one of the most intriguing life stories in American history. To the men of his own time, Ulysses S. Grant was the most famous, celebrated and respected American of his generation. Crowds of people swarmed the streets to cheer for him wherever he went. During his world tour, twenty thousand working Englishmen went out into the streets to cheer for the General of Freedom, the one who had single handedly defeated the armies of slavery and set free thousands of men, women and children. However, Grant’s legacy has in time become the most tarnished, with Americans often believing him to be a drunkard, an ill-kept shadow of a president that is nothing more than a blemish on the nation’s resume of leaders. His book proves that this he was not, and that it was not merely doggedness and persistence that allowed him to be the hero of the Civil War and savior of the Union, but also his towering intellect and genius strategic sense. This book is not merely his story, but a relevant account of the most tumultuous time in American history, coming from the man who played the most pivotal role in it, a man whose legacy has perhaps unjustly been tarnished by time. As in almost every memoir, the early chapters of Grant’s autobiography make for some of the most interesting reading. The entire first chapter is dedicated to recounting Grant’s ancestry, and it is interesting to note that he places great importance in how “American” his family is. Most of the family descriptions pertain to his father’s side of the family, as his mother’s family did not keep records of ancestry. True to his military background, his book covers little more than his military years, with the narrative ending shortly after the surrender of General Lee’s army. Also interesting to note is that Grant never wanted to attend the academy at West Point, as he deemed the academics “too demanding” and “he could not bear the idea of failing”. Grant opposed the Mexican War, only partaking in it because of his duty as a recent West Point graduate; he regarded it “among the most unjust ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker one”. Moreover, he maintains that the American Civil War was an outgrowth of the Mexican War, more specifically the annexation of more southern states and the spread of slavery that this action represented. He goes as far as to deem the Mexican war a “transgression” in the part of the United States, and calling the Civil War “fair punishment” that the United States deserved. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is Grant’s ability to write about the War’s most important men in such a personal way. It is good that he is seemingly very objective, and that for every fault he finds in a rival he can also find virtue. As might be expected, he has many words for both Lincoln and Sherman, and his glowing review of Sherman’s virtues on and off the battlefield has made me want to pick up Sherman’s memoirs as well. Even though his words for Lincoln and Sherman are interesting and illuminating (after all, readers do not often get primary sources as relevant as those that Grant offers), it is his words for the war’s lesser known, but perhaps equally important, military men that makes this book stand out. Grant’s sketches of his comrades are concise and they offer more insight into the men’s personality than perhaps many full-length autobiographies could. Of President Taylor, a General at the time, he says: “No soldier could face either danger or responsibility more calmly than he. These are qualities more rarely found than genius or physical courage.” And on his mentor from West Point, General C.F Smith, he said: “His death was a severe loss to our western army. His personal courage was unquestioned, his judgment and professional acquirements were unsurpassed, and he had the confidence of those he commanded as well as those over him”. In my opinion, it is moments in the book like these; where Grant’s beautifully spare writing makes the men, whom we previously only knew from battle plans and history textbooks, take life and become real to the reader that makes this book, in my opinion, far and away the best autobiography I have ever read. Although primarily a beautiful narrative of a man’s rise from obscurity into military heroism, Grant’s Memoirs is arguably the most essential book for someone who is seeking to be a student of the Civil War. His insight, coupled with his towering intellect, strategic sense and spare, concise writing make this book an unparalleled read. The book’s relevance, however, does not come from its aesthetic qualities. It comes from having been written by the most celebrated, respected American of his generation, a true military genius who was there when the events depicted happened, and he tells us what he saw exactly how he saw it. Sometimes genius can’t be explained, and sometimes the reader doesn’t understand some of the nuances of the battles, but we are not expected to do so. Grant is the genius; the reader is merely along for the ride. Grant was picked by Lincoln as his General because he was a fighter. He was not prone to heroics, but neither was he prone to cowardice. He confined himself to saying as little as possible in front of his men, and he was known for not speaking unless he had something to say. In his Memoirs, he found his voice and a story worth telling, and he told it the only way he knew how: in a concise, precise manner that left nothing out yet did not embellish, a Magnus Opus of the military genre that takes us on a tour de force through his life and to the farthest corners of his mind.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Duffy Pratt

    Perhaps the best memoir I've read. The writing is clean, graceful, blunt, and lucid. While reading it, I kept thinking that the North may have won the war because Grant was such a good writer. What I mean is that the clarity of his prose shines through so brightly, and it does the same even in his orders during the war. Of course, it is not enough for orders to be clear, they must also be effective. But if the orders are sloppy, it doesn't much matter what was intended in the first place. I wish Perhaps the best memoir I've read. The writing is clean, graceful, blunt, and lucid. While reading it, I kept thinking that the North may have won the war because Grant was such a good writer. What I mean is that the clarity of his prose shines through so brightly, and it does the same even in his orders during the war. Of course, it is not enough for orders to be clear, they must also be effective. But if the orders are sloppy, it doesn't much matter what was intended in the first place. I wish I had come across this book thirty years ago, so that I could have studied it as an example of simple, concise and powerful writing. At the same time, this is one of the least personal of memoirs that I have read. The material covered is basically Grant the soldier and general. There is a short preamble about his family and roots, and a passing nod to his wife. Otherwise, this book covers his time at West Point, in the Mexican War, and then in the Civil War. Thankfully, for me at least, those are all good enough subjects. From its contents, the main thing I took away from this book is how little a general thinks about fighting itself. Instead, thoughts go towards troop disposition, morale, and above all, supplies. The details of fighting, I'm led to believe, rests with the lower commanders. As a result, the commanding generals almost necessarily think of their units as pieces, and to a certain extent stop thinking of them as men. I think this habit of thinking simply goes with the territory, and I also think it probably makes possible the incredibly horrible decisions that the generals must make. Grant struck me as being considerably more humble than I would have thought possible in a general. His praise for Sherman seems unbounded, and Sheridan gets only slightly less effusive treatment. For the most part, he does not brag about his own accomplishments. Rather, he is quick to give credit to his underlings, but always in a way that seems fair and well considered. The one person to whom Grant seems incapable of being generous is Lee. For years, I'm sure Grant lived at least partly aware of the conventional wisdom that Lee was the unparalleled genius, while Grant was a drunken butcher who had the advantage of far superior numbers. He debunks the numbers. At several points, he notes how Lee must have been deceived. He rarely gives Lee credit for any fine military move. And there is one anecdote that seems to make Lee seem like an unfeeling bastard. After a particularly bloody fight, the no-man's land was filled with wounded from both sides, and the camps could hear their pitiful screaming and moaning. Grant wrote Lee proposing a temporary truce to allow both sides to collect their wounded and dead. Lee haggled over the terms of the truce for a few days. In the meantime, the wounded basically all bled out, and by the time they had arrived at terms, both sides could only go out to collect their dead. He didn't say it, but this anecdote clearly raises the question: Who was the heartless butcher? The book is packed with very detailed descriptions of campaigns and troop movements. For me, there were too many. I'm sure these are invaluable to students of history. And I completely understand why they are there. But for my purposes, the detail was a bit excessive (and this is my failing, not the book's). My Library of America edition also has perhaps the most useless maps. They might just as well have put a map of the U.S. at every one of these pages, and it would have been just as much help. I highly recommend this book if you have any interest in the Civil War, or American History, or even if you just want to see the difference between the clarity of thinking at that time and what passes for thought among politicians today.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chris Anderson

    With all the (rightful) excitement surrounding Chernow’s new biography of US Grant (many of you on here have marked it as “reading” or “to read”) I just want to give a thumbs up to the Library of America edition of Grant’s memoirs and letters. I first came to this book because Ta-Nahesi Coates couldn’t stop raving about it on Twitter (going so far as to change his Twitter profile pic to one of Grant for a while). While much of what is in here will be covered in the Chernow book, it was my exposu With all the (rightful) excitement surrounding Chernow’s new biography of US Grant (many of you on here have marked it as “reading” or “to read”) I just want to give a thumbs up to the Library of America edition of Grant’s memoirs and letters. I first came to this book because Ta-Nahesi Coates couldn’t stop raving about it on Twitter (going so far as to change his Twitter profile pic to one of Grant for a while). While much of what is in here will be covered in the Chernow book, it was my exposure to Grant’s prose style that really stuck with me; there is a simplicity, directness, and moral courage (esp w/r/t slavery) in this book that really shines through. I’ve never been much of a military history reader but this book made things like supply lines, foraging, and provisions seem not only interesting but showed how vital they are to success on a battlefield). Anyway, the LOA volume is probably a steep first step if you’re just casually interested in this topic, but much of it is online in the public domain, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough, even if just as a skim to accompany the new biography.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Some people are war/history buffs. I have never been one of them. That said, this book was completely fascinating from start to finish. Grant could write-- I mean really write. People are not exaggerating when they say this is one of the best autobiographies ever written. My only wish was that there was even more-- perhaps a third volume to cover his term in the presidency. My favorite quote, if only because it is so keenly true: "Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nat Some people are war/history buffs. I have never been one of them. That said, this book was completely fascinating from start to finish. Grant could write-- I mean really write. People are not exaggerating when they say this is one of the best autobiographies ever written. My only wish was that there was even more-- perhaps a third volume to cover his term in the presidency. My favorite quote, if only because it is so keenly true: "Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupied no enviable place in life or history." (Volume 1, page 68)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Buckleez

    Ulysses S. Grant is perhaps the most misunderstood and under-rated President in US history. He was a courageous and determined military leader, a firm believer in civil rights and Reconstruction, and a humble and loving family man. He wrote "Memoirs" while he was dying of cancer finishing the book three days before his death. With his elegant prose, he tells the story of his life - his struggles with poverty and failure, his rise to Lieutenant General in the US Army (a rank held previously only Ulysses S. Grant is perhaps the most misunderstood and under-rated President in US history. He was a courageous and determined military leader, a firm believer in civil rights and Reconstruction, and a humble and loving family man. He wrote "Memoirs" while he was dying of cancer finishing the book three days before his death. With his elegant prose, he tells the story of his life - his struggles with poverty and failure, his rise to Lieutenant General in the US Army (a rank held previously only by George Washington), and his two terms as President of the United States. This is not a book written by a ghost writer or dictated and heavily edited; it is a book written with pen and paper by a man racing against death so that he could provide for his soon-to-be-widow and his children. I have read "Memoirs" twice and each time I am astounded by the moving prose and the courage of this simple man.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bronwyn Echols

    One of the best books I have ever read, by one of the most important figures of the United States's second century and a man of deep integrity, humanity, and perception. Wonderfully written, a joy to read, and a privilege to have come to know a little bit about Grant through his writings. One of the best books I have ever read, by one of the most important figures of the United States's second century and a man of deep integrity, humanity, and perception. Wonderfully written, a joy to read, and a privilege to have come to know a little bit about Grant through his writings.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marty Reeder

    For some reason, I had this unexplainable Ulysses S. Grant craving. I think that part of it came from teaching American history, and when I reached the Reconstruction (in my mind, thinking it would be the most boooooring section ... I mean, come on, who can top the drama of a CIVIL WAR?!) I found that the scant sections on his participation as President fascinating. Then I heard from someone else, possibly NPR, mention that his memoirs were probably the only Presidential memoirs worth reading. W For some reason, I had this unexplainable Ulysses S. Grant craving. I think that part of it came from teaching American history, and when I reached the Reconstruction (in my mind, thinking it would be the most boooooring section ... I mean, come on, who can top the drama of a CIVIL WAR?!) I found that the scant sections on his participation as President fascinating. Then I heard from someone else, possibly NPR, mention that his memoirs were probably the only Presidential memoirs worth reading. Well, when I got my Kindle and found that they were free ... what else could I do? The big surprise? His memoirs don't even address his presidential years AT ALL. It is simply Grant from kid to Grant as the eventual victor of the Civil War. ... and then, that's it. Truth be told, even as a teacher of history I have neglected to be a passionate aficionado of Civil War history. I've avoided it. I think it was so broad in scope and so trammeled by other historians that I simply didn't have the ambition to step into a serious study of it. And so, now I'm reading a two volume book that pretty much details every event from this war I had so carefully avoided for so long ... not what I had planned. And yet ... this is by far the best way for any aspiring Civil War historian to get started on the Civil War. Instead of trying to swallow the monster events, people, and places that all encapsulate a nationwide war, you get the war from the point of view of one, single soldier. And, conveniently enough, this soldier participates in many of the most significant portions of the war, particularly towards the end. Ulysses, also, turns out to be a relatively humble guy ... well, no general can be truly considered "humble" and of course most autobiographies are tainted by the reputation someone would hope to have, but still. Ulysses is no eloquent author, yet he is still one that you trust. His assessments are simple, meticulously justified, and--whether you agree with them or not--they at least make sense. Besides that, Grant really knew how to put you in the moment. When he finally corners Lee and is able to extract a surrender, and then weeks later someone else hunts down Jefferson Davis, I felt as if I had been experiencing these things in the moment: I took a huge sigh of relief. I had to stop reading temporarily and swallow in the news. The fact that these events coincided with the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden only did more to increase my sense of understanding for the emotional impact of the events of that time. (Not that Lee or Davis were equals to Bin Laden, but the idea of a long, fought era of history being drawn to a close would be difficult to not compare.) Now that I'm done, my only regret is that I didn't get to read more about what followed. I wanted to hear about Grant's presidency from Grant himself, but if I must, I suppose that I can look to others to fill in that remaining craving.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joel

    It took me 12 years to read this book. It's dense. But I kept coming back to it and I'm glad. Gives context, military history, a feeling for the times, and views of the war not gotten from movies. If you choose to read it, make time and way. It took me 12 years to read this book. It's dense. But I kept coming back to it and I'm glad. Gives context, military history, a feeling for the times, and views of the war not gotten from movies. If you choose to read it, make time and way.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dad

    This reminds me of Churchill's History of WWII: yeah, somebody's gotta actually shoot at the other people but 90% of winning is having all the stuff you need, where you need it, when you need it there. (With Churchill it was merchant ships, with Grant it was wagons, trains, and mules.) Apparently, courage combined with foresight kicks ass. I finished it. One of the more curious things was that, he is, at the same time, not afraid to name names of generals that were passive or incompetent, and goe This reminds me of Churchill's History of WWII: yeah, somebody's gotta actually shoot at the other people but 90% of winning is having all the stuff you need, where you need it, when you need it there. (With Churchill it was merchant ships, with Grant it was wagons, trains, and mules.) Apparently, courage combined with foresight kicks ass. I finished it. One of the more curious things was that, he is, at the same time, not afraid to name names of generals that were passive or incompetent, and goes out of his way to say that, in many cases, these were inalterable components of their character and that, in other respects, for other missions, they were sound, intelligent and honorable men. Grant predicts rather well the tragedy of "reconstruction" and opines, as many historians have since, Boothe assassinated the best friend the South would have had when the war was over. His racial views, were, to put a kind face on it, advanced for the age in which he lived. One last cool thing. Apparently "factories" is a contraction. The original word was "manufactories." (as in "when we entered the town we burned every manufactory capable of being a military aid").

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vlad

    This is a very-well written book with some fascinating commentary on life and war during a turbulent time in our country's history. However, the vast majority of this book is an extremely detailed account of each and every battles in which Grant either fought or was otherwise associated. Grant goes to great length to describe the geography and layout of the battle (often including maps) and presents his thoughts on the risks and advantages of each scenario. Grant also recounts exactly how many s This is a very-well written book with some fascinating commentary on life and war during a turbulent time in our country's history. However, the vast majority of this book is an extremely detailed account of each and every battles in which Grant either fought or was otherwise associated. Grant goes to great length to describe the geography and layout of the battle (often including maps) and presents his thoughts on the risks and advantages of each scenario. Grant also recounts exactly how many soldiers he sent in each direction and why (as well the names of all commanding and other senior officers involved ) and the results of the battle down to the number of casualties for both sides. If you're a fan of military history, then this is a must read. For somebody with a more casual interest, however, there is just too much detail about battles to wade through to get to the other material. The non-battle related material is so good though as to almost make everything worth it. Few other people were so well placed as to deliver first-hand accounts and opinions on Lincoln, Sherman, Lee, Meade and many other notable people.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Grant's Memoirs were on my 'to read' shelf for about a decade, so I'm glad to finally get to it. As a lover of history, I found Grant's account of the Civil War is invaluable. As a lover of literature, I found it well written, engrossing, and deserving of the praise that has been heaped upon it. There are some slower moments, and I was a little lost at times (an edition with a map would have helped and it took me a while to get used to military terms and descriptions of troop movements). At the Grant's Memoirs were on my 'to read' shelf for about a decade, so I'm glad to finally get to it. As a lover of history, I found Grant's account of the Civil War is invaluable. As a lover of literature, I found it well written, engrossing, and deserving of the praise that has been heaped upon it. There are some slower moments, and I was a little lost at times (an edition with a map would have helped and it took me a while to get used to military terms and descriptions of troop movements). At the time of writing, the southern re-write of Grant's legacy was already under way, and Grant refutes much of the criticism against him very well, but only as it related to his prosecution of the war. I would have gladly kept reading if only he had lived long enough to include his presidency in a third volume.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Hemingway said that all modern American literature began with Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn." I suppose he hadn't read Grant's "Memoirs." Here is the clean, clear prose of a well-directed intelligence. The intelligence that won the Civil War. And the story of how he did it. Eyewitnesses say that Grant in his field tent would begin to write orders for battle, penning page after page, allowing each to fall to the tent floor until he was finished. Then he'd gather up the sheets and, without second Hemingway said that all modern American literature began with Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn." I suppose he hadn't read Grant's "Memoirs." Here is the clean, clear prose of a well-directed intelligence. The intelligence that won the Civil War. And the story of how he did it. Eyewitnesses say that Grant in his field tent would begin to write orders for battle, penning page after page, allowing each to fall to the tent floor until he was finished. Then he'd gather up the sheets and, without second thoughts or revisions, hand them to his aides to carry to his subordinate generals. He knew what he wanted to do and he knew how to say it. And the generals who read his orders understood what they must do. Read this book and you will understand Grant, and why it was Grant and no other general who could end the Civil War.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    Rightly considered one of the great works of American literature. One can't help but fall in love with the man, respect the soldier as a leader of men and admire the general as a great tactician and strategist. After getting to know the man better, it makes the tragedy, in retrospect, of his presidency even more poignant. Rightly considered one of the great works of American literature. One can't help but fall in love with the man, respect the soldier as a leader of men and admire the general as a great tactician and strategist. After getting to know the man better, it makes the tragedy, in retrospect, of his presidency even more poignant.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mick

    EXCELLENT

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jarred

    From studying Grant, one would not expect his memoirs to be so beautifully written especially considering that he was dying while writing them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Hughes

    Written while he was dying of throat cancer AND trying to restore his fame's lost fortune. You think YOU have pressure? Written while he was dying of throat cancer AND trying to restore his fame's lost fortune. You think YOU have pressure?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Evil Shelley

    The minutes battle descriptions were tedious, but I recognize the importance of his memoir to national history. The letters at the end were more enjoyable. Also, he was really good looking!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Collins

    I came to this work with great enthusiasm; I once went on a Civil War kick, a few years ago, while living in Tokyo, and spent countless hours wandering around Tokyo while listening to Professor David W. Blight's essential and superb course at Yale, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877. Once you start taking an interest in the Civil War, it’s hard to ignore the reputation for Ulysses Grant’s memoirs. Thus, I had wanted to read it for years, and now and again I would encounter a superb I came to this work with great enthusiasm; I once went on a Civil War kick, a few years ago, while living in Tokyo, and spent countless hours wandering around Tokyo while listening to Professor David W. Blight's essential and superb course at Yale, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877. Once you start taking an interest in the Civil War, it’s hard to ignore the reputation for Ulysses Grant’s memoirs. Thus, I had wanted to read it for years, and now and again I would encounter a superb quotation from the work, which would increase my interest, to wit: “The framers were wise in their generation and wanted to do the very best possible to secure their own liberty and independence, and that also of their descendants to the latest days. It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies. At the time of the framing of our constitution the only physical forces that had been subdued and made to serve man and do his labor, were the currents in the streams and in the air we breathe. Rude machinery, propelled by water power, had been invented; sails to propel ships upon the waters had been set to catch the passing breeze—but the application of steam to propel vessels against both wind and current, and machinery to do all manner of work had not been thought of. The instantaneous transmission of messages around the world by means of electricity would probably at that day have been attributed to witchcraft or a league with the Devil. Immaterial circumstances had changed as greatly as material ones. We could not and ought not to be rigidly bound by the rules laid down under circumstances so different for emergencies so utterly unanticipated. The fathers themselves would have been the first to declare that their prerogatives were not irrevocable.” So perhaps my enthusiasm for this work set me up for being underwhelmed by it. What I wanted was more reflections like the quotation above; what I got was details about battles, and many, many anecdotes about rainy roads and bad conditions for traveling by horse*. For someone who is looking for first hand accounts of the Civil War, it’s probably a perfect work; same too if want insights into the thinking of the military leadership of the North; but if you’re seeking more reflection, you may be dissatisfied. My review seems to go against all received wisdom about the brilliance of this work, and thus my review may well be worth ignoring. (3.5/5) * Chapter XXIV. “The night was one of impenetrable darkness, with rain pouring down in torrents; nothing was visible to the eye except as revealed by the frequent flashes of lightning. Under these circumstances I had to trust to the horse, without guidance, to keep the road.” Chapter XXV. “After the rain of the night before and the frequent and heavy rains for some days previous, the roads were almost impassable.” Chapter XXXII. “This long, dreary and, for heavy and continuous rains and high water, unprecedented winter was one of great hardship to all engaged about Vicksburg.” Chapter XL. “From here we took horses and made our way by Jasper and over Waldron’s Ridge to Chattanooga. There had been much rain, and the roads were almost impassable from mud, knee-deep in places, and from wash-outs on the mountain sides.” Chapter XLVII. “The country back to the James River is cut up with many streams, generally narrow, deep, and difficult to cross except where bridged. The region is heavily timbered, and the roads narrow, and very bad after the least rain.” Chapter LIII. “The night was dark, it rained heavily, and the road was difficult, so that it was midnight when he reached the point where he was to halt.”

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robin Banks

    I now know what the Halls of the Montezumas are. Besides this, I got a better sense of Grant, and why fought as he did: He'd been a supply man, and part owner of a dry good store. He worked with the navy, as other commanders did not, and he made sure his troops were there and well supplied. To him, the need to burn southern farms is obvious. Also, to him the need to attack was obvious: if you ran away, you'd lost. These are humble observations, but from his perspective they are impactful. Proble I now know what the Halls of the Montezumas are. Besides this, I got a better sense of Grant, and why fought as he did: He'd been a supply man, and part owner of a dry good store. He worked with the navy, as other commanders did not, and he made sure his troops were there and well supplied. To him, the need to burn southern farms is obvious. Also, to him the need to attack was obvious: if you ran away, you'd lost. These are humble observations, but from his perspective they are impactful. Problems / weaknesses: He believes the civil war to have been illegal from the northern and southern side, whatever that means. Also, Reconstruction is not dealt with well, including his dealings with Andrew Johnson, or how he thought the South should be governed, or his harsh dealing with businesspeople (Jews) who he thought were profiting. Nor is his smoking or drinking dealt with. He claims he didn't smoke, but clearly he did, and that seems to have been the cause of the cancer that killed him. It's nice to see his respect (friendship?) for officers of the other side, but I wish I could understand it better. He seems to have believed that both he and they were professionals fighting an illegal war.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    The most interesting parts of Grant's memoirs are the beginning parts. He discusses his participation in the Mexican-American war, in which he served as a lieutenant, and describes the character of the commanders, the overall politics and strategy, and the experience of the soldiers in that conflict. After the start of the Civil War, he give eye-witness accounts of the confusion of organizing the army, the battle of Shiloh, the Vicksburg campaign, and in the assault on Chattanooga. As his story The most interesting parts of Grant's memoirs are the beginning parts. He discusses his participation in the Mexican-American war, in which he served as a lieutenant, and describes the character of the commanders, the overall politics and strategy, and the experience of the soldiers in that conflict. After the start of the Civil War, he give eye-witness accounts of the confusion of organizing the army, the battle of Shiloh, the Vicksburg campaign, and in the assault on Chattanooga. As his story progresses, however, his view becomes more remote from the events, and he begins to convey more numbers and after action reports even for events he had not witnessed. After Grant was named lieutenant general and removed himself from direct command, his memoirs read like an annotated version of a Civil War textbook. He defends himself from accusations, renders his judgment of commanders and campaigns, but he largely just describes events as reflected in official reports as he received them. He does not discuss his time as president. This is a useful and enjoyable book. It was written with the help of Mark Twain and the language is simple and descriptive.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeni

    This one took me a long time to read because I was not prepared for the amount of detail about every battle. It does get tedious at times because, as any good Civil War buff knows, there were a shit ton of battles. And the fighting in the west always was a bit less of a focus than the eastern theater, so my knowledge only really extended to Shiloh and Vicksburg. The chapter about Lee's surrender however was one of the best things I've ever read. (Yeah, I'm not marking spoilers for this because if This one took me a long time to read because I was not prepared for the amount of detail about every battle. It does get tedious at times because, as any good Civil War buff knows, there were a shit ton of battles. And the fighting in the west always was a bit less of a focus than the eastern theater, so my knowledge only really extended to Shiloh and Vicksburg. The chapter about Lee's surrender however was one of the best things I've ever read. (Yeah, I'm not marking spoilers for this because if you don't know how the American Civil War went, this isn't a book for you.) Grant's a good writer, and with Mark Twain editing, it's no wonder these are considered the best Presidential memoirs. That chapter alone made me bump it up a star. I kind of wish they went into his presidency, if just a little, but I get that the Civil War was this book's selling point. And sold it, he did.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dave N

    Reading through civil war-era history, a constant refrain can be found praising Grant's memoirs as the pinnacle of wartime diaries. The story goes that Mark Twain himself bought the rights from Grant after his original publisher had low-balled him on his contract, and this when the former President was deathly ill and with very little money with which to settle his affairs (this was in the years before presidential or military pensions). The result is a more than competent exercise in introspect Reading through civil war-era history, a constant refrain can be found praising Grant's memoirs as the pinnacle of wartime diaries. The story goes that Mark Twain himself bought the rights from Grant after his original publisher had low-balled him on his contract, and this when the former President was deathly ill and with very little money with which to settle his affairs (this was in the years before presidential or military pensions). The result is a more than competent exercise in introspection from one of the US's least understood presidents. Admittedly, he gives himself the benefit of the doubt at times, and, too, he allows himself to revise his previous views to better align with history, but overall this is a fairly sober, if dry, account of his personal life through the end of the war. My biggest gripe is that the maps provided are basically useless. Grant will spend pages referring to a road or a river that was indispensable in some operation or another, and this detailed description will be followed by a map so convoluted and overly detailed that it takes the reader 10+ minutes to parse what he's seeing enough to realize that the before-mentioned feature isn't marked off on the map at all. This was a nearly universal failure throughout the book. Needless to say, I recommend reading a separate book on Grant and on the Civil War (and possibly the Mexican-American war and the run-up to the Civil War as well) before reading these memoirs, though they may hold value to the reader in simply reading Grant's even-tempered prose.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William A.

    Grant wrote his memoirs while dying of throat cancer. He did it to provide for his wife. Grant had his doubts about the project but his friend, Mark Twain persuaded him. Turned out Mark Twain was right! The book was a huge best seller! I read Ron C. White's biography of Grant recently then, even though I had read it before, got the General's memoir off the shelf again. It was well worth it because you get a sense of the author's thinking during key campaigns of the civil war. You also learn that Grant wrote his memoirs while dying of throat cancer. He did it to provide for his wife. Grant had his doubts about the project but his friend, Mark Twain persuaded him. Turned out Mark Twain was right! The book was a huge best seller! I read Ron C. White's biography of Grant recently then, even though I had read it before, got the General's memoir off the shelf again. It was well worth it because you get a sense of the author's thinking during key campaigns of the civil war. You also learn that while Grant was a warmhearted, generous unassuming man, he could also be petty from time-to-time especially when discussing Robert E. Lee!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    The version I read is not in the Goodreads database. I'll add it later. I had already listened to the memoir. I was just reading this for the selected letters, which I had read in a review made this volume especially good. The letters are good. A few issues such as cowardice in the face of the enemy, camp followers, and plundering are subjects of letters but brushed over or never mentioned in the memoir. The letters would have been better if the editors had added a single line of introduction to ea The version I read is not in the Goodreads database. I'll add it later. I had already listened to the memoir. I was just reading this for the selected letters, which I had read in a review made this volume especially good. The letters are good. A few issues such as cowardice in the face of the enemy, camp followers, and plundering are subjects of letters but brushed over or never mentioned in the memoir. The letters would have been better if the editors had added a single line of introduction to each, setting the time/place and the corresponding page number from the memoir.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Fred Leland

    I spent the 6 weeks reading this book which was originally published in 1865. The book was the best book of memoirs I have ever read. The personal, professional and military life of U.S. Grant written by him. The historical aspects of the battles and interaction between Grant, his men and his adversaries like Robert E. Lee are just fascinating. The book is written so well it brings to life those times through the eyes of Grant. I highly recommend this book as a must read leadership book as the l I spent the 6 weeks reading this book which was originally published in 1865. The book was the best book of memoirs I have ever read. The personal, professional and military life of U.S. Grant written by him. The historical aspects of the battles and interaction between Grant, his men and his adversaries like Robert E. Lee are just fascinating. The book is written so well it brings to life those times through the eyes of Grant. I highly recommend this book as a must read leadership book as the lessons of those time are as critical today as they were then.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    I’ve had a lovely copy of this book for years and finally tackled it. Worth the effort The best parts are not about the battles but of Grant’s reflections on the people and places and reports of those events. And he also comments on the more recent world view of the events as he is writing. Grant comments on the 1880’s view of the war, the lost cause and Grant as the butcher. His writings here are priceless. And here in the 2010’s his views have re-emerged as the prevailing view of the historical I’ve had a lovely copy of this book for years and finally tackled it. Worth the effort The best parts are not about the battles but of Grant’s reflections on the people and places and reports of those events. And he also comments on the more recent world view of the events as he is writing. Grant comments on the 1880’s view of the war, the lost cause and Grant as the butcher. His writings here are priceless. And here in the 2010’s his views have re-emerged as the prevailing view of the historical record.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Benton

    The General’s clear and concise text provides a moment by moment account of the Civil War. He makes it easy to get inside his decision making process for the various campaigns. Assessments of other military leaders is surprisingly candid. This edition includes a helpful selection of letters from the same time frame covered in the memoirs and difficult to read notes to his doctor during his final days. His pain is unimaginable. Inclusion of the other primary documents further ends the nasty rumor The General’s clear and concise text provides a moment by moment account of the Civil War. He makes it easy to get inside his decision making process for the various campaigns. Assessments of other military leaders is surprisingly candid. This edition includes a helpful selection of letters from the same time frame covered in the memoirs and difficult to read notes to his doctor during his final days. His pain is unimaginable. Inclusion of the other primary documents further ends the nasty rumors that Grant had not written the memoirs as all share the same direct and declarative voice.

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