Book Review: Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses Grant, Volume Two

Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses Grant, Volume Two, by Ulysses Grant

It is highly noteworthy that while the first volume of his memoirs [1] covered his family history and early life, the second volume ends at the end of the Civil War. It is hard to know if this was planned, or merely that Grant just ran out of time [2] to write about Reconstruction in more detail than his few comments towards the end of this volume. Compared to the first volume, the second volume is a bit less organized, especially given that there is a somewhat undigested and very large appendix that partially recapitulates the contents of the rest of the volume while containing additional comments about the Trans-Mississippi front that didn’t make it into the main text, as well as a set of very thoughtful endnotes that give due praise and gracious comments to Lew Wallace and George Thomas, two generals widely seen as being shortchanged in Grant’s memoirs (Thomas is unfairly considered as being too slow, for example).

Like the first volume, this particular book is a worthwhile achievement of the highest order when it comes to the writing of memoirs. Grant shows a straightforward and honest view of constitutional law, is gracious towards most of his fellow officers (including those who, like Hunter, Butler, and Burnside, were not particularly qualified for high command but were loyal officers nonetheless), and includes plenty of anecdotes of great historical incident, including the greatest story about Braxton Bragg ever, where he has an episode of multiple personality and denies a personal request from himself in one of his other guises. For the anecdotes alone, including about Alexander Stephens, as well as its usually insightful commentary about other generals, this volume is worth the read.

In terms of its content, this book focuses on the last part of the Civil War, from Chattanooga to the war’s aftermath. It includes commentary on Grant’s overall leadership and desire to coordinate armies, his approval of Lincoln (who in turn greatly trusted him), his ability to trust some subordinates (like Sherman and Sheridan) while he did not trust others as well, and even some comments on geopolitics, such as the nature of European militaries and some harsh comments on Napoleon III. By and large, Grant is modest and gracious, seeks to correct historical wrongs and is happy to give credit to officers, including fairly obscure ones, like General Terry (the conqueror of Fort Fisher) and not take it all for himself. This memoir basically helps show others how to do it, and if I ever write a memoir, or read more of them, this is the standard to judge them by.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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