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Saturday, September 7, 2013

“Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” by Ulysses S. Grant, edited by E.B. Long


608 pages, Da Capo Press Inc., ISBN 13: 978-0306801723

Very late in life, destitute and sick with the cancer that ultimately killed him, U.S. Grant penned his Personal Memoirs. He focused almost exclusively on the war years, with some mention of his youth and early years in the old army. You could read this book and not notice that he had ever become President, that job must have been an afterthought and clearly not a role he relished. Like many of us, Grant was terrified of public speaking and interacting with large groups. Even as President he generally avoided such requirements, preferring to issue orders or read a brief statement. Not sure that would work these days.

Grant's humor, compassion, humility, and honesty come out in this book. Since it was the end of his life and many of his colleagues had already gone to collect their just rewards, Grant does not pull any punches in his opinions of the War Department leadership and officers and some of the politicians who crossed his path during the War. Grant was also a very modest man. When hostilities commenced in 1861 he offered his services to the local politicians, with no hard sell of his military experience and capabilities. He is also clear in that he was not a supporter of the goals when he served in the Mexican War but went along with the orders provided him.

Perhaps the experience that most grew his character were his years out of the army, when he was leading a series of failed business and farming ventures, reduced to cutting firewood for his neighbors on some days. Grant also took the opportunity here to set the story straight on some War stories that would have been good stories if only they were true. We don’t hear much about Grant's family, other than his concern when they were ill or in harm’s way, and he never mentions the thing he is best remembered for in popular tales, his drinking.

All in all, this is a fabulous book. Despite Grant's reservations about whether he could write or anyone would want to read it, this is a fascinating look at Grant, Lincoln, Lee, Davis, Sherman, Sheridan, Longstreet, and the rest. Grant was a man who knew how to lead in an authoritative style, with a real strength in knowing his own skills and shortcomings.

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