Grant by Jean Edward Smith

Genre: Biography
Subject: Ulysses S. Grant
Setting: USA
Main Characters: U.S. Grant, William Sherman, Robert E. Lee
Series: no
Dates Read: May 1 - May 23
Number of pages: 628 + 72 of footnotes
Off the Shelf (pre-2012)? Source?: no, Public Library
Category for 12 in 12 challenge: History Class

Ulysses Grant is more frequently remembered as the Union General who defeated Robert E. Lee in the American Civil War than as a two term President after that war. But the two are so inter-related - Grant's popularity because of his military success lead to his election and his position as the Commander-in-Chief in later years protected the legacy of the Union victory.

Ulysses Simpson Grant neé Hiram Ulysses Grant was the son of a tanner. He attended West Point at the same time as William Tecumseh Sherman, George Thomas, Rosencrans, and Ewell who all served under him in later years as well as James Longstreet who he would fight against. In his early Army career during the Mexican-American War, Grant learned his style of command - sensible discipline, calmness in the face of adversity, and orders in the fewest well-chosen words. Grant also saw the value of a well-planned attack including preparations related to management of supplies as well as manpower. They were lessons he repeated call upon in future years.

When the Civil War broke out, Grant was no longer in the military but volunteer to prepare a regiment using his quartermaster skills of the Mexican War. He was eventually given command of the Illinois volunteers. His command style and training showed his understanding of the difference between regular soldiers and volunteers and achieved the best results.

His first successes were on the Western Front, capturing Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Nashville, then becoming Commander of the Army of The Tennessee went on to the battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg. "Vicksburg was Grant's great victory in the West and the turning point of the war, but as one historian noted, the triumph at Chattanooga proclaimed his military genius."

Recognizing his abilities as a leader, Lincoln brought him east to assume command of the Army of the Potomac and take the battle to defeat Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Been named General in Chief, Grant had no "army" that he specifically commanded. His was to issue commands to the other Generals. This caused issues at several battles. While fighting to gain Petersburg, "the fault was not in Grant's plan, but in faulty execution. Corps Commanders were sluggish, orders executed late, halfheartedly, reinterpreted, or not done at all."

The battles that followed were bloody and costly. The toll in dead and wounded at the battles of Cold Harbor and the Wilderness had Northerners wondering of Grant should be replaced, but Lincoln wouldn't budge and on April 9, 1865 the war ended for all intents and purposes with Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Grant went to Washington where after Lincoln's assassination, he worked with President Johnson on Reconstruction. Johnson wanted to try Lee for treason, Grant balked stating "I will never consent to his arrest. I will resign the command of the army rather than execute any order to arrest Lee or any of his commanders so long as they obey the law." He felt that the terms of the surrender needed to be honored and would not be a party to prosecuting any of the officers in the Confederate Army as long as they follow the terms their parole. Johnson realizing Grant's popularity with the people, backed down.

The surrender terms at Appomattox were thought by many to be too lenient. However, Grant was following Lincoln's directions "with malice toward none, with charity for all" so his generosity to the Confederates started the healing process - "Appomattox was Grant's finest hour, his determination to protect those who surrendered there, ranks a close second."

Grant was a brilliant commander but had his flaws as well. Since feelings were that he would be the next President, many tried to ingratiate themselves with him. After the war, he accepted houses in Galena, Ohio and Philadelphia as gifts from a grateful nation as well as a testimonial check for $105,000.

Because President Johnson was not happy about the expectations of Grant's future, Grant lost the support of the Commander-in-chief and frequently had to travel a fine line between the President's favor and that of Congress to get Reconstruction progressing.

Grant's diplomacy was demonstrated in the areas of management of the Southern states, British relations due to the suit for damages caused by the Confederate's Alabama damages, and French occupation in Mexico. He also showed the same ability to choose capable "lieutenants" when creating his cabinet.

As a President, not only did he have to continue with the Reconstructive process, deal with the rising of the Ku Klux Klan, protect the rights of the freed slaves, and prevent an economic collapse on the Gold Market but he did it all honorably.

Perhaps not being a politician was beneficial because when he vetoed the Inflation Bill, his party believed that he had killed their chances in the next election. What his veto showed was that he was opposed to unredeemable paper currency. He took the necessary steps to stabilize the currency and save the nation's credit.

Grant's last crisis came with the election of his successor. Because of the Reconstructive process still ongoing, three states election results were in contention. It was necessary to pass legislation to create a committee of fifteen to determine which elector votes would be counted. The committee consisted (at Grant's suggestion) of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 5 Justices from the Supreme Court (they did make a decision on a presidential election prior to 2000). With the committee's decisions, Rutherford Hayes was elected by 1 vote over Governor Tilden. Thus, Grant was instrumental in calming another Constitutional crisis.

The last years of his life were not easy. He was involved in a Wall Street debacle which wiped out his entire fortune, and was only saved by the offer of Mark Twain to publish his memoirs. Fighting throat cancer, he completed the task only a few days before his death. His funeral was a major event attended by not only those he had commanded but also those he had fought against. The nation grieved for the man who had led the Union to victory.


I read [Adams] by David McCullough and this book ranks right up there with it.
I rarely give a book a ★★★★★ rating but this book was so well-written and so informative, you could see that it was thoroughly researched. Granted, the content is very heavy, but the manner that the information is dispersed, makes it a very easy read that holds your interest even if you know the outcome.

This is definitely the Grant book for you to read. What a fascinating man - so humble and yet calm and responsible.

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