Personal memoirs

by Caleb Carr (Editor)

Paper Book, 1999




New York : Modern Library, 1999.


Among the autobiographies of generals and presidents, the Personal Memoirs of U.U. Grant ranks with the greatest. It is even more impressive in light of the circumstances in which it was created: Faced with terminal cancer, virtual bankruptcy, and a family he would leave without means of support, he took the advice of his publisher, mark Twain, and went to work. He completed the manuscript in eleven months-and died a week later, on July 23, 1885. Frank and unpretentious, Grant's memoirs tell the story of his boyhood in Ohio, his graduation from West Point, and the military campaigns in the West and Mexico that ended with his disgraceful resignation and a return to Illinois, where he ran the family store. Soon, however, began the rebellion that broke the Union and recast Grant's fortune, transforming him into the leader of the victorious Union armies in the War Between the States and giving him the perspective to describe intimately the capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, the bloody Wilderness campaign, and Appomattox. Here is Grant the tactician, the alcoholic, the plain and tough professional soldier, the ideal commander-but most of all here is Grant the writer as he assesses himself and the events that forged his character, as well as that of the nation.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member datrappert
Fascinating from beginning to end - particularly Grant's blunt observations on the abilities of his opponents. The only time he seems to pull punches is when referring to Robert E. Lee. Reading between the lines, he doesn't seem to respect Robert E. Lee's generalship all that much, but perhaps he had some admiration for Lee as a man that held him back. This book also does an amazing job of showing the combination of brutality and civility that characterized the war. Grant could walk alone on a hilltop in plan sight and within firing range of Confederate sentries, but they wouldn't fire. After battles with hundreds of men dead and hundreds more wounded, the captured Confederate officers were treated more like honored house guests. What a waste of humanity the civil war was. And how ignorant we are to celebrate it in this country as some sort of bright shining moment. It is the darkest chapter in our history and should be treated with shame.… (more)
LibraryThing member wildbill
This is an excellent book about the Civil War written by one of the major figures of the war. The book provides a candid, truthful look at the people and events of the war from an intelligent man with personal knowledge of what he wrote about. I will qualify truthful by saying that U. S. Grant was a very confident general and that confidence is reflected at times in his estimation of casualties and the strength of his enemy. In his own mind Grant never came close to losing a battle. That honest vanity is an example of Grant's candor with the reader. His vanity is limited to the accomplishments of the troops under his command. His description of receiving his lieutenant-general's commission is one of the shortest I have ever read.
Grant's writing is very direct with little hyperbole. His intelligence and direct attitude combine to produce a narrative that is focused and has great depth. He gives the reader ample detail for a full understanding of what happened and then moves on. I keep thinking of the Dragnet approach " Just the facts mam." His descriptions of the battles and campaigns he was involved with are told as he saw them in crisp, clear language.
Grant begins his story with a chapter titled "Ancestry, Birth, Boyhood". The table of contents give a short description of the material in each chapter which makes a useful reference. His narration of the events of the Civil War begins after the first 150 pages. In the first chapter on the war he makes a personal observation that I found very interesting. He was going into battle for the first time as a commander and he was nervous. His anxiety was relieved when he saw the enemy soldiers straggling into town and he realized that both sides get scared. He carried that observation with him and never mentioned any nervousness about combat again. If you are familiar with the events of Grant's career you will learn what happened from his point of view. Someone reading about the Civil War for the first time will get an excellent primer on some of the events of the war. His narration is limited to his campaigns until the time he became commanding general. After that time his description includes all of the operations of the Union Army.
There are many battlefield maps, often drawn by Army engineers, some of which are topographical. I found the facsimiles of the communications between Grant and General Buckner at Fort Donelson where Grant acquired his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant fascinating. Many of the orders Grant sent or received are reproduced in the text. I recognized items in the book which are quoted often in other accounts of Grant and the war. Grant's judgment that the Mexican war was "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker nation" appears often in other books about that war and Grant. A famous anecdote that appears in the book comes from a conversation that Grant had with Lincoln during 1864. Grant told Lincoln that by advancing all the Union troops they would force the enemy to keep detachments to hold them back, or else lay his own territory open for invasion. Lincoln's famous reply was, " Oh yes, I see that. As we say out West, if a man can't skin he must hold a leg while somebody else does. I have read that many times in books about Lincoln and the Civil War.
There are other details that I had not seen anywhere else. In the beginning of Grant's discussion of the Overland campaign he provides a three page explanation of the Union's improved quartermaster system. The Union army had wagons that were dedicated to each unit for each kind of supplies. The wagons were marked so that when they went to the supply depot they would be quickly filled and sent back to their unit. Grant's knowledge of all of the details of his command promoted efficiency which that was noticed by his soldiers. I have read that Grant referred to the conduct of the war as "the business". That attitude comes across in his book. In addition to the text there is Grant's report to the Secretary of War on the operations of the army under his command in a 60 page appendix.
Grant's description of Lee's surrender is extremely moving. He describes himself dressed in a soldier's blouse with the shoulder straps of his rank as he usually was dressed in the field. Lee presented in a fine new uniform, a man of great dignity with an impassible face. Grant felt no excitement or joy in the downfall of a foe who had fought long and hard for a cause he believed in. Even though Grant considered the cause, slavery, one of the worst for which a people had ever fought. He lapsed into conversation with Lee and then was reminded of their purpose. When Grant put his pen to paper to write the surrender terms he only knew what was in his mind and wished to express it clearly. After the terms were written and agreed upon Lee mentioned that in the Confederate army soldiers often owned their own horses. Grant acknowledged that they would need them to put in a crop before winter and he would instruct his officers that any man claiming ownership of a horse or mule would be allowed to take it with him. Lee then mentioned that his men needed food and Grant said he would "certainly" provide rations for them. They then separated and returned to their own lines. Grant's men had started a one hundred gun salute for the surrender and he ordered it stopped. "The Confederates were now our prisoners and we did not want to exult over their downfall."
This book is considered by many, myself included, as one of the best books to come out of the Civil War. I think of it as a very good book which happens to be about the war. Grant mentions in his preface that while writing the second volume he learned he was dying. With the same determination he had shown all of his life he lived just long enough to finish it. Grant had been swindled out of all his money just prior to beginning writing the book. After his death his family received over $400,000.00 from the sales of the book. In reading this book I grew to love and respect the U.S. Grant I came to know. At the end of this edition are some notes he wrote to his doctor. In the last note written shortly before his death is a quote I will always remember for what it says about the human condition. " The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be; to do; or to suffer. I signify all three."
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LibraryThing member bjellis
Crystal clear prose, concise and precise. This is an on-the-ground view of American history moving from the Mexican wars through the Civil War and beyond. I neglected to read this for a long time, thinking it was simply a military history, but it is so much more. I come back to it again and again for the lessons in syntax and clarity, the sweeping view of history, and (surprise!) some of the best lessons about leadership I've ever read. Grant's descriptions of his dilemmas and attitude and perceptions apply to personal self-knowledge, project management, leadership of every sort.… (more)
LibraryThing member antiquary
I read this from my university library years ago (after long being aware of it) and found it as good as it was said to be, which is very good indeed. It is straightforward and unpretentious and very solid. For me, the parts on Grant's early life and the Mexican War are as interesting as the fanous Civil War chapters.
LibraryThing member texasstorm
There are several sections that are great, such as the account of Grant's meeting Lee at Appomattox. I also like Grant's assessment of the USA's motives in the war with Mexico. Unfortunately, personal anecdotes are rather few and far between. The rather straightforward listing of battles and flanking movements gets a little monotonous. That said, I did read both volumes and feel like I learned quite a bit. The North was really fortunate to have Grant (and Sherman) in the right place at the right time. Lincoln certainly appreciated them too.… (more)
LibraryThing member sanjuanslim
the book has no index !!! would not recommend it to anyone. such a famous book for the "publisher" to be so cheap as to leave this improtant part out. shame on you!! Would not have orderd it if i had known this about it.
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Well written and enlightening. A suprisingly easy read.
LibraryThing member Lyndatrue
I'd like to like this interesting book, but the style is just too much to take. Maybe I'll come back to it.
LibraryThing member Gnosis58
The complete personal memoirs of the 18th President of the United States and chief Union General during the American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant. Volume I begins with a brief introduction of Grant’s ancestry and boyhood and ends with Vicksburg.
Volume II begins with Chattanooga and ends with the Grand Review in Washington D.C. at the end of the Civil War.

Memoirs are a military history of the Mexican-American War and the Civil War from Grant’s perspective as a West Point graduate and military officer.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5497. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, by Ulysses S. Grant (read 4 Sep 2017) I have intended to read this work for over 20 years and finally have done so. It is full of interesting material, including an account of Grant's life before he went to West Point and quite a detailed account of his time in the Mexican War and a brief account of his time out of the Army when he was a clerk in Galena. When the Civil War broke out Grant returned to the Army and by ability rather than political pull advanced in position. One gets the idea that he was indeed an able officer--I know, he wrote the book--but the fact of his successes cannot be denied. Some of the account of military action is deathly dull but the account of much and of Grant's opinions is full of interest. The book does not cover anything of Grant's life after 1865, though he does mention that he was president. I for one am glad he was on the right side in 1861 and stood by his country and opposed the people who were trying to destroy the nation and preserve slavery, He is unequivocal in saying that slavery was the cause of he Civil War and is not fooled by the claim that the South was resisting aggression. The South wanted slavey to be secure and feared that slavery would be restricted by Lincoln. There can be no doubt about that.… (more)
LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Excellent and so readable



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