Campaigning with Grant (Annotated)

by Horace Porter

Paperback, 2016

Call number

973.7 POR



Independently published (2016), 409 pages


Includes Civil War Map and Illustrations Pack - 224 battle plans, campaign maps and detailed analyses of actions spanning the entire period of hostilities. In 1863 Horace Porter, then a captain, met Ulysses S. Grant as Grant commenced the campaign that would break the Confederate siege at Chattanooga. After a brief stint in Washington, Porter rejoined Grant, who was now in command of all Union forces, and served with him as a staff aide from April 1864 until the end of the war. He accompanied Grant into battle in the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg campaigns and was present at Lee's surrender at McLean's house. Throughout the war he kept extensive notes that capture Grant's conversations as well as his own observations of military life. Porter was at Appomattox as a brevet brigadier general, and this work, written from notes taken in the field, is his eyewitness account of the great struggle between Lee and Grant that led to the defeat of the Confederacy. As a close-up observer of Grant in the field, Porter was also able to draw a finely detailed, fully realized portrait of this American military hero-his daily acts, his personal traits and habits, and the motives that inspired him in important crises rendered in the language that Grant used at the time. Porter intended to bring readers into such intimate contact with the Union commander that they could know him as well as those who served by his side. He acquits himself admirably in this undertaking, giving us a moving human document and a remarkable perspective on a crucial chapter of American history. We also hear of Grant's dealings with Lincoln, of the close relationship between Sherman and Grant, and of Lee's noble bearing at his surrender. This is a stirring account that brings to life our country's most memorable conflict.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
This is a well (if somewhat formally) written memoir of Horace Porter, who was an aide-de-camp to Ulysses S. Grant from early 1864 to the end of the Civil War. Porter participated in all of Grant's campaigns and battles, from that of the Wilderness to Lee's surrender at Appomatox; Porter was present during the meeting of lee and Grant for the surrender. It's an eye-witness account, from the point of view of command headquarters, of the crucial last 15 months of the war. Porter gives many details of camp life with Grant--his sensitivities, fondness for animals (including the famous story of having a teamster tied to a tree for 6 hours as punishment for abusing a horse), his love of his family, his lack of egotism (rare in the Army of the Potomac), his military thinking and more. For these reasons, it is a valuable record; the writing style makes it an easy read.

The one real weakness of the memoirs in terms of historical accuracy, as pointed out in the Introduction, is the extensive quoting of Grant and others. Porter kept extensive and careful notes, but it seems questionable that he did so, for example, on horseback. Yet several times, he quotes Grant and conversations with Grant that took place on horseback or in the field under conditions that were too active to allow Porter to stop and record conversations! But even if not precisely accurate, they do give the flavor of the way Grant thought and talked. The same is true of those conversation and quotes attributed to Lincoln, although in this case it may be assumed that Porter would have had ample time to record the conversations either as they occured or right afterward.

Porter's descriptions of Lincoln are touching; his memoirs describe Lincoln as other saw him at the time as well--a man burdened by responsibility and sadness, but with a shrewd judgement of people and situations. Clearly, Porter revered Lincoln and portrays Grant and other officers as having tremendous esteem and personal affection for the President. So did the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac; Porter describes (as did others) the enthusiasm with which the rank and file greeted Lincoln on every occasion.

Porter minimized Grant's reverses and defeats; reading his account of the Battle of the Wilderness, you would think it was a Union victory. His defence of Grant's disastrous assault at Cold Harbor is nothing short of patheticly feeble, that of someone grasping at straws to save the reputation of an idolized commander who made a disastrous mistake.

Shortcomings aside, these memoirs are valuable and interesting for the portrayal of Grant as a human being, as well as a detailed and fascinating account of the day-to-day life of Grant and his staff in the field.
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