on July 14, 2003
Grant here gives a consistently interesting account of his role in many of the major campaigns of the Civil War. His prose is clear and his accounts of battles and strategies quite readable, even to those without particular expertise in military history. He sticks to the story, making few attempts to even scores with his numerous critics in the Army or the press.
One thing that should be noted is that these 'personal memoirs' are in many ways remarkably impersonal. There is only a quite brief account of Grant's youth, and his wife, to whom he was apparently quite devoted, is barely mentioned. Grant tells the story of his career as an officer with increasing levels of responsibility, but says little about himself. Also, the memoirs end with the assassination of Lincoln, and do not at all discuss his presidency.
The edition I read was lacking in maps, which was a serious drawback, however it was a different edition than the one discussed here. Because so much of the book focuses on the tactics of specific campaigns, a good set of maps is a very valuable addition, and would be advisable to check for in any edition you consider reading or buying.
on August 11, 2001
A must read for all Civil War buffs and those even remotely interested in history. The 600+ pages in this book (both volume I and II are included together) articulately spell out the military career of one of the United States' greatest generals. Grant's Memoirs are well-written, thoughtful, insightful, and offer more than a glimpse into the mind of U.S. Grant.
Volume I opens with a heartfelt preface where Grant explains how his diminishing health pushed him to complete this work and "asking no favor but hoping (his remarks) will meet the approval of the reader." They most definitely do. Following the preface, the reader is given a (very) short review of his early childhood, life at West Point, and early Army life. The next one hundred pages are dedicated to the Mexican War followed by his resignation from the military and civilian life in Illinois. The remainder of Volume I and all of Volume II extensively deal with the War Between the States.
I found Volume I (written before Grant realized he was critically ill) to be rich in detail of the various military campaigns (perhaps too detailed) and his ascension through the military ranks, but it is somewhat lacking in personal observations and insights. It even drags at times--but stick with it. The patient reader will not be dissapointed. Volume II hurls the reader into the conflict, reads rapidly, and is rife with Grant's personal observations and insights.
This second volume picks up where the first left off--following Vicksburg to the campaigns in Tennessee to the Battle of the Wilderness to Sherman's March to the Sea to the Battle of Franklin right up to Appomattox and all the events of April and May 1865. These campaigns are told from the commanding general's perspective with great overview and detail. However, what really makes Volume II (and this volume is much more fast paced than the first) special are all the personal observations and insightful (rarely negative and always humble) comments about those Grant served with and against. Grant is thoughtful and displays much about himself as this great book draws to a close. An eloquently written, detailed, first-person account of the Civil War that offers much to those who read it.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
on February 25, 2001
Civl War afficianados will be fascinated by Grant's detailed discussion of battles. The general reader will find value in the discovery of General Grant's personality. He doesn't boast of his attributes, but the fact that he succeeded as commander of the army of the Patomac where others dithered and failed -- even unusually able and intelligent men -- must make one wonder why, and the answer is revealed in the pages of this book. His discussion of the qualities of various generals is also valuable. Those of us who occupy competative professions will necessarilly find useful the discussion of the qualities of perserverence and courage it takes to successfully prosecute any difficult endeavor -- whether it is a battle for national unity, a jury trial, or even a sales campaign. Lest one think the answer is simply self-confidence, one must pause before Grant's humility and his revealed trepedation at the prospect of high command. Grant is also frank about his dread of his first military engagement of the Civil War, but he learned a valuable lesson when his enemy, who knew he was coming, melted away before he arrived to engage him. Grant learned that his enemy feared him as much as he feared his enemy, and this tempered his fright in future engagements. A person can be better for reading this book and absorbing its lessons, not to say that the book is at all preachy.
on December 5, 2000
I have never been much of a Civil War fan, but after reading "The Killer Angels" by Shaara, a historical fiction about Gettysburg, I was interested in following up with some non-fiction about the most important event in US History. This book kept me turning the pages from end to end. Despite its bulk (some 618 pages) I simply couldn't put the book down, as Grant's matter-of-fact description of the events that surrounded him was completely engrossing.
Grant was not an extraordinary man or brilliant tactician, his soldiers did not have the same obsession with him that the South held for Lee, he simply saw the war for what it was, a campaign against a rebellion. He looked at the entire war in its entirety, from battlefront to battlefront, and he repeatedly used that to his advantage. Many times he makes reference to deploying troops to no clear end other than to occupy an enemies flank, this often as a junior with no authority over the battle as a whole. Grant was a man of action, who realized he had to take a step in order to walk a mile. He took the battle to the enemy, divised clear and necessary steps which were needed to win the war as a whole. He was a general who did not just see the war as independent sets of battles, but saw those battles as a means to ending the Civil War.
One of my favorite parts of the text was watching the scope of Grant's vision widen. Starting with his actions in the Mexican American War his vision is very limited: he sees only the immediate battle, and his descriptions focus on minutiae reflecting his low rank. His vision escalates with his rank, until the end of the book, with the surrender of Lee, he sees and describes the entire army, and battles that would have once taken chapters to described are now dismissed in single sentences.
My one disappointment with the book was that it ended with the surrender of Lee at Appomatox. I would have liked to learn more about his actions after the war, and especially learned more about his presidency. I wish that there were similar autobiographies by other presidents, and certainly feel that this one elevated my expectations of all other autobiographies!
"It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service." - Grant (page 368)
"All he wanted or had ever wanted was some one who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance needed, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance." - Grant on Lincoln (page 370)
"Wars product many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true." - Grant (page 577)
"To maintain peace in the future it is necessary to be prepared for war." - Grant (page 614)
"The war begot a spirit of independence and enterprise. The feeling now is, that a youth must cut loose from his old surroundings to enable him to get up in the world." - Grant (page 616)
on October 9, 2000
Grant's memoirs are a must-read for any serious student of the Civil War. While praise is heaped upon Confederate generals such as Lee and Jackson, Grant's legacy has always been a little more uncertain. His reputation has been associated with allegations of drunkenness, and with an apparent unflinching ability to send men to their slaughter which this book helps to dispel.
Lincoln loved Grant, as he was the first Union commander who seemed willing to fight it out with Lee's army, and who enjoyed any consistent success. When one considers Grant's predecessors at the helm of the Union army, one can understand Lincoln's enthusiasm. You had McClellan, who never read an exaggerated report of the enemy size he didn't believe; "Fighting Joe Hooker", flanked and embarrassed at Chancellorsville; Burnside, who foolishly sent wave after wave of Union soldiers across the Rappahanock to attack an impregnable stone wall at Fredericksburg; and Pope, who was soundly beaten at Manassas. Meanwhile, Grant caught Abe's attention with his successful siege of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863, as Meade was beating Lee at Gettysburg.
Reading Grant's Memoirs is a fascinating experience, as the war, at least that part of it involving Grant, comes to life in the hands of a thoughtful commentator. Grant was obviously there, and he shares informative communications with his inferior officers (such as Sherman) and with the President. Grant sent many men to their doom to be sure, (the Wilderness campaign comes to mind as being especially bloody and ineffective), but overall you get the sense that Grant was respected by his men, who were happy to be marching forward and not backwards after a battle. He restored a sense of pride and accomplishment that was sorely lacking in the Union rank and file. He gave cogent reasons in his memoirs for the actions undertaken, sometimes admitting mistakes in humble fashion, and sometimes explaining why a siege would accomplish the same overall goal without unnecessary bloodshed.
My only regret is that Grant didn't live long enough to write a companion memoir about his presidency, which was clearly outside the scope of this book. Readers who have gotten this far in the Amazon review process are no doubt aware that a broke Grant, stricken with painful throat cancer, wrote out his Memoirs of the Civil War right up until the end of his life to provide financially for his family, finishing the book days before he died. We should all be grateful that he was able to preserve these pages for prosperity, they are truly a model of military memoirs that I consider an extremely rewarding reading experience. When one considers the circumstances in which Grant composed this work, the end result is nothing short of miraculous.
on July 17, 2000
Almost without funds Ulysses S. Grant was aware that on his death from throat cancer his family would find themselves in a serious financial crisis - thus developed the impetus for putting pen to paper to write his Personal Memoirs. Shortly before his death he completed his memoirs and it is to our benefit that he was able to finish the task.
I read Personal Memoirs with a fascination that was at times bordering on obsession. The book held me from first page to last, this due to the power of the words and the images that they painted. Grant writes with both eloquence and simplicity on his subject matter. He is clear and concise when other memoirs often flit about without a clear focus.
For this reader as a non American who has not been raised with a Civil War bias - and I accept that not all US citizens will have such a bias - Personal Memoirs is refreshing in it's lack of romanticism - here is a man who 'tells it like it is!' Grant it would seem felt that he had nothing to prove with his Memoirs, thus what he wrote is a no frills, honest account devoid of moralising and self-adoration.
When communicating with the Confederate General who held Fort Donelson there was no ambiguity in Grants words "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." It is this direct approach which Grant was able to convey with such clarity within his memoirs. It is this that is so compelling about Personal Memoirs and indeed in itself gives us an insight into Grant the man
Grant ends his introduction to Personal Memoirs by commenting "With these remarks I present these volumes to the public, asking no favor but hoping they will meet the approval of the reader." This book met my approval on every count and I recommend it to you highly.
on March 3, 2000
There's a natural tendency when reading a presidential autobiography to compare the subject to the current leader. In this case it is hard to believe that Grant and Clinton belong to the same species.
Ulysses S. Grant embodied valor and probity on and off the battlefield. Bill Clinton has achieved historical profligacy in and out of his trousers. Modern day illuminati may scoff in disbelief at Grant's non-boastful statement that he never used profanity, but that is consistent with the integrity that guided his actions. Clinton will long be remembered for perpetuating the most obscene activities unimaginable within the confines of the Oval Office.
While one dodged the draft, spent the war in England, and regularly lead protests against his the country, the other spent years demonstrating patriotic fortitude by fighting in an even more controversial and divisive war. Leading the Union army to victory in the Civil War, Grant stands as one as one of the most salient figures who prevented the United States from being permanently splintered. It's easy to wonder what he would think of today's widespread push for group rights that pose nearly as serious threat to the nation's cohesion. He commanded a willing army of magnanimous soldiers in a bloody war to bring the races together and now major efforts are underway to split them apart by rampant multicultural separatism a century later.
Grant constantly displayed a steadfast devotion to his family just as Clinton repeated betrays his. The general saw his wife and children as often as he could during the war, and it was his desire to be reunited with his children who were then in New Jersey that kept him from accompanying Abraham Lincoln to the theater on that fateful night. Once during the war when his oldest son was fighting a life-threatening illness, he obtained permission to pay a visit but could not relinquish command of the military. Dedicated to both his duties as soldier and father (two areas where Clinton has proved less than stellar), he went to St. Louis and maintained control of the army via messengers and the telegraph.
If for no other reason, this book warrants a read because it bears witness to a once-in-a-lifetime moment in history: Grant's first meeting with Lincoln. This momentous occasion was shared by the author's eldest son shortly after his recovery form the nearly fatal ailment.
There are two major aspects of General Grant's life missing. His victory over alcoholism is not mentioned nor even alluded to. In the late 1800's this affliction was probably not widely viewed as a disease. Rather it was seen as a weakness of character. Grant most likely was ashamed of this deficiency and did not want to be seen either as immoral or a victim-another far cry of the current "it's not my fault that I can't keep my pants on" attitude of the present commander in chief. The second lacuna is his presidency. The book ends shortly after the war and throughout only passing references are made to his tenure in the highest office in the land. Grant knew he was dying when he wrote this work-it was his effort to provide for his widow (the deviation from Clintontonism here goes without saying), and the millions in royalties it earned fulfilled this final goal admirably. Perhaps cancer prevented the second volume which no doubt would have done justice his presidency. Still, this work is enough to explicitly contrast his differences from Clinton. The war record proves that Grant was a somewhat underrated president and a most extraordinary man; now we are stuck with a grossly overrated president who could not be underrated as a man.
on January 7, 2000
Grant thought the war with Mexico was deceitful aggression, but he served America honorably. With Sherman's help he came to understand what the Civil war was about and how it had to be conducted - with unflinching brutality. Grant, a deeply humble and honest person, was intellectually superior to Lincoln. He and Sherman stand head and shoulders above Clausewitz. Grant wanted freed blacks to become dignified, self-supporting citizens and he set in motion a successful program to accomplish that. His compassionate wisdom was ignored and we are still a divided, rancorous and unjust nation as a result.
Other nations later paid a terrible price for ignoring Grant's dogged defense of the Union; at Appomatox Lee had almost nothing to surrender since most southern soldiers had deserted. That's what war had become - not tactical brilliance but grinding down the opponents' will. Carnage. Petersburg pointed the way to the stalemate on the Marne; Shiloh reads like the Battle of the Bulge. If European leaders had learned from Grant there would be no disastrous Versailles to reinvigorate German will.
Grant's personal reflections should be the basic American schoolbook. Well, maybe the maps could be improved. And the diary of General Pemberton's lady companion might be overlooked.
on December 9, 1999
That U.S. Grant is telling one of history's great tragic and glorious stories as the key actor would make this book a fine piece in its own right. He has a gift for story telling that renders his Personal Memoirs compelling and engrossing. One of the best books I have read. It is remarkable from several levels. First, it is undeniably great history. The story of our Civil War is moving enough to leave a tremendous impression upon the reader in Grant's hands. Second, this book is a great study in management. Grant succeeded where scores failed at similar command levels throughout the Civil War. He did due to his: knowledge and focus on his mission; his ability to conceive plans that served his mission; his ability to have alternatives that stayed the course; his ability to learn from mistakes and experience; his calm in the face of stress and chaos; his decisiveness and his willingness to take reasonable risks.
This book surprised me by being an excellent management study. The lessons which are easy to take away from the book are aplicable to anyone who is faced with mission definition and achievement. It should be must reading in MBA programs.
Grant's lack of ego is surprising when compared to other Civil War figures and high achievers who have reflected on their lives and actions. By not only focusing on things that went right for Grant, the book has a tremendous credibility borne of real life trial and error, frustration, lessons learned and later employed.
A great book.
on December 2, 1999
No less an eminent man of letters than Mark Twain called Ulysses S. Grant's "Personal Memoirs" "the best [memoirs] of any General's than Caesars." Having now read this outstanding work along with those of Julius Caesar, William T. Sherman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Colin Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, I must agree with Mark Twain's assessment. For sheer honesty, humility, and simple but powerful language, U.S. Grant's memoirs are without peer.
Grant allows the reader to go along with him and live once again his experiences during the Mexican War and American Civil War. He interjects his own judgments and opinions sparingly, yet always honestly. Where he feels he made mistakes, he admits them freely, and his criticisms of his colleagues is always tempered by an obvious attitude of professionalism. The fact that Grant wrote a memoir of such eloquence while dying from cancer makes it all the more powerful a book.
I found this modern library edition especially outstanding. The introductory notes by Caleb Carr and Geoffrey Perret, while brief, are extremely informative. Maps and etchings from the original 1885 Charles Webster & Co. edition are included, as is General Grant's report to Secretary of War Stanton on Civil War operations during 1864-65. This appendix makes fantastic reading by itself!
I highly recommend this outstanding edition to all Civil War and military history enthusiasts. It is simply the best military memoir I've ever read.