Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (The American Civil War)

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9780914427674: Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (The American Civil War)

Grant was sick and broke when he began work on his Memoirs. Driven by financial worries and a desire to provide for his wife, he wrote diligently during a year of deteriorating health. He vowed he would finish the work before he died. One week after its completion, he lay dead at the age of 63.

Publication of the Memoirs came at a time when the public was being treated to a spate of wartime reminiscences, many of them defensive in nature, seeking to refight battles or attack old enemies. Grant's penetrating and stately work reveals a nobility of spirit and an innate grasp of the important fact, which he rarely displayed in private life. He writes in his preface that he took up the task "with a sincere desire to avoid doing injustice to anyone, whether on the National or the Confederate side."

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Review:

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

Review:

In 1862, a prominent Republican visited President Lincoln and called General Ulysses S. Grant an incompetent drunk who created unnecessary political problems. Lincoln, frustrated with all his generals but this one, famously replied: "I can't spare this man; he fights." Indeed, Lincoln had gone through a series of unheroic generals before settling on Grant to lead the Union's Army of the Potomac. Grant's success at marshaling the industrial might of the North eventually pounded the South into submission. This memoir, finished as its author was dying of throat cancer in 1885, is widely admired for its clear and straightforward prose. The volume was an enormously popular hit upon publication (by Mark Twain, no less), and today Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant ranks among the finest pieces of military autobiography ever written.

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