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The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition (edition 2017)
by Ulysses S. Grant (Author)
The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition by Ulysses S. Grant
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It is always a pleasure to review a scholarly book that has been cleaned up, polished, annotated, fully introduced and otherwise dressed up for consumption. I have seen several references to these memoirs across my research into American publishing and authorship, but have not explored it closely. The clarity and guided research inside is apparent from the informative description of the book: “Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, sold door-to-door by former Union soldiers, were once as ubiquitous in American households as the Bible.” I did not know that soldiers assisted Grant with selling this collection; I have mentioned it in my research as one of the few profitable books Mark Twain published with his own publishing venture; learning why it sold so much better than his other projects explains a good deal, and this was not something Twain or others I reviewed while writing about Twain’s publishing mentioned. Thus, I’ve had a revelation before opening the interior of the book. It is curious that the cover then goes on to mention Twain as an admirer without specifying he was this book’s first publisher; this would ordinarily be misleading, but few people think of Twain as a publisher, so perhaps Harvard’s editors were not thinking of this when they polished this: “Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, and Edmund Wilson hailed them as great literature, and countless presidents, including Clinton and George W. Bush, credit Grant with influencing their own writing.” It is likely that Twain had a heavy hand in editing these memoirs, and this is the reason for their literary quality; also not mentioned, but curious. Twain’s name does not appear in the Index. “Yet a judiciously annotated edition of these memoirs has never been produced until now.” It is absolutely necessary to annotate a memoir by a historical figure such as Grant because without such notes most of his references are too dated for modern readers to gather his implied meanings. The narrative covers events “through the end of the Civil War” including the pre-war years and the war with Mexico “and offering his invaluable perspective on battlefield decision making.” These annotations are especially trustworthy as they have been “compiled by the editors of the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s Presidential Library”.
The “Preface” opens with a propagandistic lauding of Grant is a giant among generals; but when this aggrandizement is done well, as it is here, reading such applause inspires readers to proceed further inside the book rather than being appalled by such nationalistic rhetoric. This explanation of significance is just brief enough to catch interest, and then the editors explain that the Association previously released a thirty-two-volume version of these memoirs back in 1962; thus this is their attempt to edit a classic they previously released in its raw form (xv). The “Introduction” begins by pointing out that prior to this memoir or to the end of Grant’s life, he was “unknown as a writer”, only showing his writing ability in army letters, but being “a hard-driving general… of few words”. To me this suggests that Twain must have had a ghostwriting influence over the general to push this project to fruition, but the editors do not draw this conclusion. They do mention Twain in this context, saying that Grant had replied to Twain’s solicitation by insisting “he could not write”, but still this does not suggest co-authorship… (xvii). Curiously, they then report that the first article Grant sent to Century when he needed cash after he fell victim to a Ponzi scheme proved that “he could not write” so that the “magazine’s editors were shocked at how bad the submitted article was”. We are to believe that while Grant’s writing did not improve much from editorial comments, after he suffered additional problems with his health including developing throat cancer, he suddenly birthed a muse and became a brilliant writer capable of penning volumes of brilliant prose… (xix). I am working on a de-attribution project for Defoe texts at the moment, so I am fixating on wanting to test this memoir against signed war letters and the like from Grant and other books by Twain, but I’ll ignore these urges, as I would need digitized copies of these to proceed, and this would take me on a research byway. Just one more thought on this occurs to me, “Grant” notes in his “Preface” that he was assisted with by “my eldest son, F. D. Grant” and “his brothers, to verify from the records every statement of fact given” (4). Thus, another potential authorial signature is F. D. Grant’s who might have taken the evidence he found in the records and expanded it into narrations, whereas the older Grant preferred stating the bare facts in his war reports and other brisk correspondences.
These memoirs are a Bildungsroman, commencing with Grant’s ancestry, birth and boyhood before moving on to the events that Grant is best known for. The descriptions throughout are highly precise, nothing exact places Grant visited and what he did there. It is a bit strange that Grant writes: “A military life had no charms for me”, finding more interest in his studies (21). This seems counter-characteristic for a war general, who wrote little until apparently being on his deathbed. Putting aside these ponderings, nearly every page is rich with curious historical and cultural descriptions that are of interest to scholars and students of this period. For example, Grant describes how during military preparations, his troop was involved in “securing mules, and getting them broken to harness”; he gives precise details on how these animals were purchased, lassoed, and trained to behave during marches (51). These types of details indicate a knowledgeable author capable of specific and engaging descriptions. A wide variety of topics is covered throughout, like a note on hiring musicians when funds were so short that they had trouble covering the cost of the troops’ food (124). Grant includes a few official correspondences in places where these were available in his collection (296). Those interested in military procedures and strategies, there are numerous painstaking notes on these, such as: “To give additional protection sand bags, bullet-proof, were placed along the tops of the parapets far enough apart to make loop-holes for musketry…” (372). When Grant was refusing to write these memoirs he was saying that the campaigns’ history was already covered by an earlier historian that he gave interviews to; I wonder if this earlier account shares some similarity with this elongated version. I also wonder if some of the research must have come from books on military history and strategies as it is difficult to imagine an ailing deathbed-bound general writing this hyper-polished, brilliantly-researched historical study. Most readers are not likely to have these doubts, and should just benefit from the wealth of information and adventures presented. This is a great read for fun or education for anybody from high school students with some time to read in the summer, to the top researchers of Civil War history searching for primary evidence for this and other covered conflicts. This is a flawless collection of history and philosophy, and a joy to keep on the shelf in case I return to researching this subject.
President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was one of the most esteemed individuals of the nineteenth century. His two-volume memoirs, sold door-to-door by former Union soldiers, have never gone out of print and were once as ubiquitous in American households as the Bible. Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Matthew Arnold, Henry James, and Edmund Wilson hailed these works as great literature, and presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both credit Grant with influencing their own writing. Yet a judiciously annotated clarifying edition of these memoirs has never been produced until now. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant is the first comprehensively annotated edition of Grant's memoirs, fully representing the great military leader's thoughts on his life and times through the end of the Civil War and his invaluable perspective on battlefield decision making. An introduction contextualizes Grant's life and significance, and lucid editorial commentary allows the president's voice and narrative to shine through. Compiled by the editors in the Ulysses S. Grant Association's Presidential Library, these selections enrich our understanding of the antebellum era, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. Grant provides insight into how rigorously these events tested America's democratic institutions and the cohesion of its social order. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant preserves and extends a work of profound political, historical, and literary significance and serves as the gateway for modern readers of all backgrounds to an American classic.--
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)973.8History and Geography North America United States 1865-1901
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While THE MEMOIRS OF ULYSSES GRANT, with its heavy emphasis on detailed military strategy and troop movements,
might not strike most people as a read-through, for me, a 1960s Peace Marcher, it oddly and definitely was.
Editor John Kirk weaves in his own summaries of some of the repetitive parts and illuminates the reading with maps,
photographs, and on-site drawings. Grant's phenomenal memory, lucid writing style, forceful opinions, and even humor
make the volume dramatic reading. It would have been good to include more.
Sure wish that he had chosen a presidential cabinet with the quality of his commanding officers W.T. Sherman (except for the Nez Perce),
Philip Sheridan, and David Glasgow Farragut.
Clarification of why Grant betrayed Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce would be welcome.
That it was a white man's war is obvious, yet not because African American men did not want to join and fight.
With brave soldiers like the 1st U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, "Black troops formed a significant part of Grant's army in 1864." ( )