Monday, October 01, 2012

The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant

In my studies of biography, including autobiography, I have often noticed praise for The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. The reluctant-to-write former general and president wrote this autobiography late in life to get his family out of debt. It had been on the edge of my mind to read it for years before I finally checked it out this summer. Even then, I renewed it twice before I read a word. Its size is intimidating. Noticing that it is split into two volumes, I resolved to read just volume one before the looming deadline to return it to the library.

Thankfully, I discovered that Grant was as good an author as promised. His style was unadorned by any grand statements or flowery language, unlike some nineteenth century texts. He had a good story of importance to American readers and told it well. He did go into a bit more detail than I wanted in describing some battles, but this is precisely what will interest some other readers. I most enjoyed reading about the every day lives of soldiers in both the U.S.-Mexican War and the Civil War.

Grant's account of the War with Mexico is particularly interesting because he served alongside many men who would later be leaders of the Confederate forces. He even went mountain climbing with them during the quiet spells during the campaign to take Mexico City. Most of them had been at West Point together. His account referenced events of the next war, as he assessed the leadership qualities of these comrades.

I enjoy reading about places, and Grant granted me a view of early Texas which I enjoyed, my being a student who enjoyed a year of Texas history in junior high school. I also found descriptions of pre-Civil War Missouri very interesting - I visited some of the places when I worked in Columbia.

Volume one of the memoirs reports his military life through the conquest of Vicksburg in 1863. Volume two tells his story through the end of the Civil War. He does not write about his presidency in his memoirs. I read from The Library of America volume Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters, which also adds a Grant chronology and the text of notes that Grant wrote to the doctor who nursed him through his final illness.

Grant, Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters. Library of America, 1990. 1199p. ISBN 0940450585.


Robert said...

Nice review, Rick. I read this over about a one year period some time ago when I was going through my Civil War History time in life. I agree with you about his style but at times I felt some of the facts were twisted just a bit to show himself in a better light. I do think I'll get another copy of this and re-read it now that I have around 20 other books relating to that same time frame. Well done and keep reading!

ricklibrarian said...

Robert, you are right about self-bias, but I expected that. I don't think he is blatant about it. He at one point reports a regret of his role in sending many to their deaths, but then he moves on. He did not blame himself.

I will now have to make time for volume two.