Introduction – Best Books on Ulysses S Grant
Ulysses S. Grant is one of the most controversial figures of the American Civil War, American history, and military history and in this article, we look at the best books on Ulysses S. Grant.
Biography of Grant
Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, OH. His family moved to Georgetown, OH, when Grant was about 11 months old. Ulysses’ father, Jesse, was a tanner and an ardent abolitionist. Young Grant hated the tanning business as he had an affinity for animals and horses.
His father then secured him an appointment to West Point. It was there that a clerical error resulted in his name being switched to Ulysses S. Grant. Grant graduated in the middle of his West Point class. The most notable event of his time at the academy was his breaking the high jump record with a horse.
The West Point graduate then served in the Mexican-American War. After the war, Grant returned home and married Julia Dent Grant from St. Louis. Grant met Julia through his West Point roommate: Fred Dent. Grant then took a variety of posts in thea army until he resigned due to rumors of his drinking.
Grant then struggled for years working a variety of different jobs, including farming and real estate. None of these jobs brought Grant any success. Grant would not see success until the Civil War broke out in April, 1861.
Ulysses S. Grant secured a commission as a general of volunteers from Galena, Illinois. General Grant gained his fame when he led his Union armies to victory during battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the Battle of Shiloh, and the Vicksburg campaign opening the Mississippi River to the Union during the Civil War.
Grant then was given command of the western theater of the war for the Union and saved the Union army from destruction at Chattanooga, TN.
Grant Versus Robert E. Lee
Grant was then brought east by President Abraham Lincoln and promoted to lieutenant general. He then began his Overland Campaign (featuring battles such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg) and faced off against Robert E. Lee. He eventually defeated Robert E. Lee and accepted his surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.
After the Civil War, Grant stepped into politics. During his political career, he ran as a member of the Republican party and was elected president in 1868. Grant went on to serve two terms in office. His presidency was marked with scandal, however, Grant was involved in none of it. While scandal was present, Grant also accomplished many great things while in office. He was able to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan. Grant was also able to prevent a major financial crisis and settled the Alabama Claims, avoiding war with Britain.
After his time in office, Grant, the hero of the Civil War, traveled the world with his wife Julia. He was then diagnosed with throat cancer, likely caused by his habit of smoking cigars.
Grant then set out on the last fight of his life: writing Grant’s memoirs. Grant lost all his money after an investment went wrong. Grant did not want to leave Julia destitute, so he decided to publish his memoirs, famously looking at his life and the Civil War.
Grant finished volume two just before his death. Grant’s memoirs achieve great success and left Julia and his family cared for.
Over the years since the Civil War, Grant has been vilified, particularly by those who believe in the “lost cause.”
This traditional view of the general/president has been reexamined in recent years as historians have sought to learn who Grant was. This reevaluation has led to a new understanding of Grant, his time as a general, and his presidency.
Dr. Curt Fields
We sat down with the leading Grant living historian in the world, Dr. Curt Fields, and asked him what are his top books on the famous Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant. No one knows the general better than Dr. Fields except Ulysses himself.
So, if you want to know who Grant was, and if he was a butcher and a drunk or an American hero and a great man who showed moral courage throughout his life, these books are must-reads.
American Ulysses – Ronald White
Why you want to read American Ulysses by Ronald C. White:
According to the New York Times, “White delineates Grant’s virtues better than any author before, and they outweighed his flaws. By the end, readers will see how fortunate the nation was that Grant went into the world — to save the Union, to lead it, and, on his deathbed, to write one of the finest memoirs in all of the American letters.” White also focuses on Grant’s relationship with President Lincoln (2016). Ron White does a fantastic job undoing the damage done to Grant’s reputation by the “lost cause” and gives a fair look at the life of Ulysses. This is a great book.
Purchase Ronald C. White’s book here: https://amzn.to/3SZsGYk
Grant – Jean Edward Smith
Why you want to read Grant by Jean Edward Smith:
According to The New York Times, “Grant’s considerable accomplishments and virtues are never quite enough to remove the stain that his time in the White House has left upon him. In ”Grant,” Jean Edward Smith, a political scientist at Marshall University and biographer of John Marshall, takes on this large and misshapen reputation, and argues that the 18th president was not only a great general and a great writer but a decent chief executive as well.” (2021)
Purchase Jean Edward Smith’s book here here: https://amzn.to/3sQKeeD
Grant – Ron Chernow
Why you want to read Grant by Ron Chernow:
Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, “‘Grant’ is yet another book (like last year’s ‘American Ulysses,’ by Ronald C. White) that means to correct what used to be the conventional wisdom about Grant: that he was an inspired commander, an adequate president, a dull companion and a roaring drunk. The inspired commander idea still works for Chernow, but he argues strongly against the rest. In a book that is very much of its time, he puts Grant’s attitudes toward racism, anti-Semitism, political corruption, and alcoholism front and center, while also homing in on every battle Grant ever fought.” (2017) This book also seeks to reanalyze Ulysses while still diving into his many flaws.
Purchase Ron Chernow’s book here: https://amzn.to/3DsWiaR
The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant – Charles W. Calhoun
Why you want to read The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant by Charles W. Calhoun:
According to the University Press of Kansas, “Most biographers focus on Grant’s military career, giving less attention to the significant and complex questions that marked his presidential terms. These concerns, the issues of politics and governance, are at the core of this book.” (The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, 2017) Dr. Fields said that he views this book as a continuation of U.S. Grant’s memoirs that he was unable to finish due to throat cancer (Personal communication, April 18, 2022).
Purchase Charles W. Calhoun’s bookhere: https://amzn.to/3zy9CK3
The Annotated Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
Why you want to read The Annotated Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant:
According to Dr. Fields, “…it’s fundamental. It’s bedrock… the folks at the… Grant Presidential Library has identified every person, place or thing, or event that Grant mentions in the memoirs. If you’re a Grant fan, you’ve got to have that book… if you want to learn Grant, that’s from Grant’s mouth virtually. You got where to get started.” The memoirs were written by Grant just before his death and were published by Mark Twain. Grant had previously stated that he would never write anything for publication but began writing for Century magazine to make money for his family after he fell into financial troubles (Personal communication, April 18, 2022).
Regardless of your views on the military leader, Grant’s life and Grant’s presidency are well worth studying.
Purchase Grant’s personal memoirs here: https://amzn.to/3SVjS5P
Works Cited – Best Books on Ulysses S Grant:
Maslin, J. (2017, October 10). In Ron Chernow’s ‘grant,’ an American Giant’s makeover continues. The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/books/review-grant-biography-ron-chernow.html
The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-2484-3.html
The New York Times. (2016, October 19). Ulysses S. Grant: New biography of ‘A nobody from nowhere. The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/books/review/american-ulysses-ronald-c-white.html
The New York Times. (2001, April 22). Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb. The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2022, from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/01/04/22/reviews/010422.22brookht.html