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Wednesday, July 12, 2017
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Ulysses S Grant - Book Review And Comment

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Posted (edited)

Having just finished the book Grant by Ron Chernow, this seems like a good time to make some comments. First, my family did not fight on his side in the Civil War; we refer to our side as the guys who came in second. 

His name was Hiram Ulysses Grant and a member of Congress made a mistake on his application to West Point - the book does not say if Ulysses S Grant actually ever officially changed his name. President Grant was quoted as saying that his middle initial was S and he did not know what it meant. 

The book details how he was a successful cadet at West Point after having NOT wanted to go, but he was very at home riding horses and he was a natural at math. For a while he wanted to be a math professor at West Point. His Army career was not great, he spent a lot of time as a logistician and did see combat in Mexico (where he met Robert E Lee). After the Mexican War he floundered, finally resigning while he was unhappily stationed on the U.S. West Coast. That part of the country is now considered a great place to live but he was away from his family on a forgotten post. His civilian career was disappointing. He was rescued by the outbreak of hostilities of the Civil War and rejoined the Army. He rose rapidly through the ranks. 

Today many criticize him as a guy who was good with sieges, not a maneuvering combat commander. The book disagrees with that even though it talks about his victories, many of which were seiges such as Vicksburg. In open combat such as Shiloh he often did not do well. He has been criticized as being a General who benefited from having great resources, greater than his adversaries. The book also disagrees with that though it talks about many times when exactly that was the case. He does sound like he was very gracious in victory and that helped him begin to put the Union back together. 

General Grant served in an Army that composed mostly of draftees and people that were not often happy to be in the Army and in combat. Yet he was described as being very familiar with the ordinary soldier, very casually dressed most of the time. In my service in the US Air Force, with exclusively volunteers that were far better educated than his forces, that familiarity would not have been wise. So that part of the book does NOT sound realistic to me. 

The book talks about his part in Reconstruction and the time when President Andrew Jackson was impeached (but not removed from office). Also two Presidential terms. General Grant and then President Grant kept the Union together during a turbulent time but certainly made many poor choices in appointments. 

I would conclude that he was a person who functioned best at war, made the right decisions based on his circumstances. He was fortunate that he was given a powerful force. He won the crucial battles and that is what counts. He was not as comfortable at peace but there at least he did enough to allow the Union to come back together. 

Edited by CharlesHouston
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