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Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
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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

The American Civil War from the point of view of one of the most important generals. Ulysses S. Grant was the commander of the Union force during the American Civil War. Later he was twice elected president twice. This book was written shortly before he died with the help of Mark Twain. The book was a best seller of the day.

Customer Reviews:

  • A Class Act
    I concur with the really good reader reviews above. I will add that what makes Grant's prose so engaging is that it is simple, unadorned, not self flattering, not pompous. It isn't pedantic, dull or uncertain either. In a word, it is Grant. It's probably the best way that you will get to know him. It is the portrait most often attempted by his supporters and the exact opposite of the portrait painted by his detractors. So, Grant presents himself and he is authentic.

    You cannot help admiring Grant for his strengths and endearing qualities, his military accomplishments and his everyman characteristics. If you take his version together with what may be valid criticisms from those less admiring, then you get a pretty well rounded view of Grant. You won't find anything in his autobiography that conflicts with that totality.

    Grant only covers his Civil War in this memoir, not his Presidency. He was in the last stages of a fatal throat cancer and trying to provide for his family. He had that clarity of a man writing to tell the truth about himself. No need to lie or hide. But that's also the reason that we don't hear about some of his grievances, disputes, recollections and characterizations of his contemporaries. We could have learned a lot from that but Grant is very forgiving and like a gentleman - he just won't tell....more info
  • Inspirational
    Nobody knows Ulysses S. Grant better than Ulysses S. Grant himself. Why bother reading numerous biographies of him when you can actually look inside his mind and learn of his thoughts, his feelings,and his concerns. Witness the incredible journey he made in his life: from an ill-paid shop clerk to the commander-in-chief of the Union Army, and to the 18th President of the United States. Grant was a man who never lost hope, who set his goals up in the sky and built a ladder to reach them. His memoirs are not only an account of the times he lived in, but also a reflection of his powerful character and his venerable spirit....more info
  • Grant
    I think this is the only real account you can get of the civil war. It's...Great! ...more info
  • Simplicity of character is sometimes the highest form
    Grant finished this lengthy memoir on the eve of his death from throat cancer. Impoverished at the time, the ex-President made his wife rich from the proceeds. Simple, straightforward, earnest narrative, sometimes ironic, sometimes colorful, always unpretentious. Inevitably self-justifying, but candid nonetheless.

    The most memorable anecdote describes his first action in the 1861-65 war. Although he was a combat veteran of the Mexican War fourteen years earlier, he was scared, almost frozen, as he led his men against the enemy position. When he arrived, the enemy had evacuated. "The reb commander was as scared as I was. It was a lesson that served me well for the next four years."

    Excellent general's-eye descriptions of the battles for Fort Donaldson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Cold Harbor. His proudest contribution to the Union victory seems to be his strategy of "coordinated attack". He believed the early rebel success was due to the fragmentation of the National fources, which allowed the outmanned rebels to concentrate on one fragment at a time.

    Grant is full of forthright and fascinating judgments: he revered Lincoln and Sherman, detested Hallek, disliked Stanton but respected him.

    Civil war buff? Don't neglect this. ...more info
  • When man and moment met.
    The book is for the most part wonderful. I was left with a clear understanding of how Grant got to his zenith in the Civil War, but I was left wondering what insights he had into his failed Presidency. As the book was finished 20 years after the war, this seems a curious oversight. It is, of course, an autobiography, so it is necessarily an unobjective view of things. Nonetheless, one message is clear: Grant was truly a man who met with a moment, but who clearly might easily have spent his life as an anonymous merchant in Ohio or as a mathematics instructor at West Point. Once assuming command of the Union Army, he was an efficient leader, but perhaps not a brilliant tactician. What he brought to the table was tenacity, a will to fight, something his predecessors lacked. He latched onto Lee and never let go, understanding that attrition would favor the wealthier and more populous Union. The result was victory, but at an awful toll. Grant's memoirs paints a picture of an honest, unassuming and sometimes sentimental man who was designed for this one mission. The rest of his life was unspectacular, and further reading into his Presidency reveals he had rather poor judgment in politics, but those who cherish this Union owe him a debt of eternal gratitude....more info
  • America's Greatest General was a Wonderful Human Being
    As I read this book, which includes both volumes of General Grant's memoirs, I couldn't help but wonder how many thousands of people had read it before me over the past 120 some odd years and if they, too, came away as impressed with the general as I have been. And I couldn't help but wonder if they also came to see the general, not as the narrow caricature which has come down to us - as a failure in business, a cigar chewing drunk, a man who willingly led his men to slaughter, and a corrupt president - but as an intelligent, thoughtful, honest, humane, and brilliant leader whose primary failing seems to be that he found it almost impossible to speak ill of his fellow man.

    I learned more about American history by reading this book than I ever learned in school while, at the same time, learning it from a man who was actually helping to create that history before, during, and after the Civil War. In the process, I learned, for the first time, why America is considered by many to be an imperialist nation and why so many Mexicans feel that Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California should legitimately be part of Mexico. I also learned that unscrupulous and conniving politicians are nothing new to the American political scene and that even way back then many leaders, both military and political, placed their fortunes above the call of duty, honor, and country as many do now.

    I have often heard the question asked: "If you could have dinner with any historical figure, living or dead, who would it be?" Before reading this book, I would never have considered Ulysses S. Grant to be that person. Now, I'm not sure he wouldn't be very close to the top of my list. What an interesting man - very human, down to Earth, thoughtful, tolerant, and humble - yet brilliant. Based on my reading of his memoirs, he was simply the kind of man you'd like to have as your best friend, and if you had to fight a war he's the man you'd want to have to plan your strategy.

    I found this book to be interesting throughout, but I particularly enjoyed the early part of volume one, that part leading up to the time at which Grant first became a general, and the final chapter of volume two in which the general summed it all up. Those early chapters show Grant as the man he truly was, and that final chapter is an absolute must read.

    Bottom line: Any serious student of the Civil War must read this book, and anyone having the slightest interest in American history would certainly be wise to read it.
    ...more info
  • Compelling from start to end
    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....more info

  • Now That's A President
    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....more info

  • Superb! Simply the best military memoir I've read.
    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....more info

  • the greatness within a seemingly unremarkable man
    Although Grant doesn't blow his own horn, a close reading of his campaign accounts supports the "revisionist" view that far from being a butcher of men and Lee's inferior, Grant's victories (other than Shiloh) were tactical in nature, not brute force charges. (OK, there was Cold Harbor, but that was one mistake in a year-long campaign to destroy the South before the North lost its will to fight. Time was not on Grant's side.) Furthermore, Lee, Jackson, Johnson, et. al. always had the easier side of the equation, playing defense and disrupting the North's long lines of supply and communication.

    This is also an interesting study on how an apparently unremarkable person find greatness within himself when he is in his element, and how a great general can fail as a president because the leadership roles are quite different.

    There is a dry wit in much of Grant's writing which makes it a fun read even if you don't care for the details of his capture of Vicksburg and his eventual destruction of the South's Eastern armies. Grant does not shy away from describing the slogging nature of the war or his mastery of maneuver warfare....more info
  • A Great Story Meets A Great Writer
    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....more info

  • Remarkable Memoirs
    This has long been regarded as one of the better memoirs to come out of the post-Civil War period and I can see why. Grant seemed convinced that the course he was on, and more importantly, the course the Union was on, would lead to eventual victory. Grant wrote his memoirs in the hope of providing some financial security for his wife and family upon the event of his death, which came very soon after finishing his memoirs. This is a refreshingly honest, fair, and generally unpretentious account detailing his own role in this pivotal event in American history.

    We get a brief glimpse into his early years, his time as a student at West Point, his military service in the Mexican American War and the most well-known period of Grant's life, his service in the Union army during the Civil War. I found the early part of the book to be very illuminating as I did not know that much about his life before the Civil War. He could be very self-effacing, could admit weaknesses, in other words he just seems to come across as plain spoken and honest about himself. Throughout the book he utters what I considered to be very insightful and thoughtful comments. For example, he admitted the reputation attached to Lee by the Northern press and other Union commanders, but he realized that Lee was still human. He also relates his first encounter as a commander in the Union army as he's about to face the enemy and finds that the enemy was just as frightened as he was. Grant's attitudes toward the earlier war with Mexico and the Southerners' attachment to their cause also offer revealing sentiments.

    I'm not going to describe every campaign Grant was involved in, but you will encounter Grant in the western theatre first, with notable successes achieved at Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and etc., up to his appointment as Lieutenant General and head of all U.S. armies in the field. The nearly epic battles fought between Lee and Grant in Virginia from the spring of 1864 up through Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865 are obviously covered, though we also get information on Sherman's movements in Georgia and the Carolinas and other important sections where the war was being waged. I think it's fair to say there is a certain amount of spin or a sort of expectations game being displayed in Grant's memoirs, for example, how the Union armies usually always inflicted heavier casualties on the Confederates, how the North, despite its superiority in numbers, actually had many disadvantages and etc. Some of his points are very valid, but there can also be no doubt that his victories in Virginia came at very heavy costs in terms of Union casualties.

    Grant offers opinions on the quality of the soldiers and officers, both North and South. He also demonstrates throughout his memoirs his rather magnanimous feelings toward his opponents, the rights of Southern citizens and their property (i.e., showing restraint in terms of looting and wanton destruction of private property and etc.). Some of this, I'm sure, was an attempt to improve his own image, but no doubt, there had to be some truth in his sentiments expressed. The maps included in this volume are very detailed, but often difficult to read. As a military narrative of the movements, battles and strategies of the Union armies, this is a must read....more info
  • American peace process
    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....more info

  • Compelling, Humble and Well-Written
    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....more info

  • U S Grant Personal Memoirs
    Written by the dying hand of one of the chosen men of his time. For any scholar of Grant, Civil War or Military History, these readings are a must. Grant's military genius was without equal. Had his superiors, early on, had his keen foresight, the Civil War could have ended a year or two earlier. Another great read is "Grant" by Jean Smith....more info
  • If you only read one book on the Union war effort, read this one
    This is the amazing memoir by U.S. Grant, who rose from obscurity at the outbreak of the war to be the Union's brightest military light. It is slightly apologetic in tone, but much less so than it could have been, considering the degree of scrutiny Grant's command decisions had endured. Among his few regrets are the assaults upon Vicksburg and Cold Harbor.

    One telling anecdote comes from his early life, when he went to buy a colt from a Mr. Ralston. Upon arrival he tells Ralston, "Papa says I may offer you twenty dollars for the colt, but if you won't take that, I am to offer twenty-two and a half, and if you won't take that, to give you twenty-five." As the child is father to the man, so is the horse trader father to the general.
    ...more info
  • The BEST book ever written in history!
    An incredible book by an incredible man. I have never read a greater, grander book in my life. He wrote it when he was dying, yet you'd never know it from the words in the book. The greatest reading experience in my life, bar none. Read this book to understand this beautiful man!...more info
  • Better appreciation of a great American
    This book really provides incredible insight into Grant and what made him a great general. In a plainspoken & straightforward manner he gives a recount of his role in the war and his military philosophy (attack). Unlike a modern autobiography we get nothing personal or confessional (not necessarily a bad thing). Any mention of drinking, or his dismal presidency are omitted and his family gets only a paragraph or two; which is fine because no one is interested in Grant's parenting or presidenting tips....more info
  • average
    I was unaware that this book only covered information through the Civil War. I am quite aware of his war service,but not very knowledgeable of his life after the war. ...more info
  • Clear Vision of an Executive
    I didn't become engrossed in the Civil War until I visited the Grant/Lee exhibit at the New York Historical Society this summer. There I first saw Grant's Personal Memoirs book displayed. It is an unbelievable, first-hand interpretation of war, leadership, and politics. I'm amazed at Grant's personal relationships with the southern generals, many that he knew from West Point and later fought against. One of my favorite quotes in the book, "The natural disposition of most people is to clothe a commander of a large army whom they do not know, with almost superhuman abilities. A large part of the National army, for instance, and most of the press of the country, clothed General Lee with just such qualities, but I had known him personally, and knew that he was mortal; and it was just as well that I felt this." page 116. Grant starts his book with the Mexican War where he gained experience fighting battles which eventually proves to serve him well in the Civil War. He provides his opinion of the war, southern politics and his feelings towards other generals. I love when he evaluates the actions and performances of generals on both sides just like a business executive would of employees and superiors. For example, Grant was almost arrested for not following orders of the commanding General Halleck. This reminds me of office politics we face during our business lives. Grant clearly lets the reader know his displeasure with Halleck whom he eventually outranks. He lets you know which generals were soldiers and which were not up to the task of fighting. Like Jim Collins in the book Good to Great, Grant tells you about effective generals that were humble. Of General Taylor he writes, ...he never made any great show or parade, either in uniform or retinue...he was known to every soldier in his army, and was respected by all." page 63. Of General Howard from the south, "It occured to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him...From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy...I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. This lesson was valuable." page 149. Grant humbly lets the reader know how he was able to win battles, get promoted, and end the war. Basically, most generals on both sides were hesitant to attack where Grant attacked any chance he got. Page 35, "One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished." President Lincoln eventually recognizes these qualities in Grant and makes in the top general of all the Union armies. Grant had a clear vision and plan and executed it quickly once he had the power to do it. You may be wondering why I gave it a 4 rather than a 5. Sometimes Grant gets into way too much detail about different things where the story and chapter drags on. But if you are patient, you will get by all of this and appreciate the intimacy and first hand experience of one of the most effective generals in US history....more info
  • Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
    Very detailed and complete rendition of the chronology of his personal life as well as his military life. I learned details of both aspects of this era in history....more info
  • Grant on Grant: The Most Impartial View of U.S. Grant
    It is surprising that the most balanced and impartial view of U.S. Grant should be written by Grant himself. His style of writing is clear and sparse, recounting fact as fact and without lengthy editorializing. A must read for any civil war buff or serious historian....more info