These Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, written as simply and straight forwardly as his battles were fought, couched in the most unpretentious phrase, with never a touch of grandiosity or attitudinizing, familiar, homely, even common in style, is a great piece of literature, because great literature is nothing more nor less than the clear expression of minds that have something great in them . . .
- William Dean Howells, author of Silas Lapham and known as "The Dean of American Letters"
Grant's book is memoir not history which needs to be kept in mind when reading it. It is his version of the events as he wanted them, and himself, to be remembered. Read as history, one needs to be cautious and cross reference with other materials before judging its accuracy. Another aspect to keep in mind is that Grant was very ill and in great pain during much of the writing and historians have been able to correlate those portions of the memoirs with the periods when he was experiencing the most pain and most heavily medicated. The result is that some portions of the book, for instance sections describing parts of the Chattanooga and Overland campaigns, can feel rushed and shorn of detail while others like Grant's account of the Mexican war are more leisurely, full and descriptive.
Chris Mackowski's book alerted THC to something he was not aware of - the specific wording of the book's dedication. As Mackowksi describes it:
On May 23 , Grant decided to pay them the highest honor he could think of. "These volumes are dedicated to the American soldier and sailor" he wrote in his manuscript. Fred [his son], perplexed when he saw the addition, suggested his father specify "soldiers of the North."While THC certainly enjoys the campaign narrative what he finds himself reading and rereading again over time over the portions where Grant spends some time to reveal himself and his views of matters. It is there that his prose shines and the clarity of his writing is revealed.
"It is a great deal better that it should be dedicated as it is", Grant assured him. "The troops engaged on both sides are yet living. As it is the dedication is to those we fought against as well as those we fought with. It may serve a purpose in restoring harmony."
What follows are some excerpts to give you a feel for the book (with apologies for the formatting inconsistencies):
On The Mexican War
Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was
consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed
to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.
The occupation, separation and annexation [of Texas] were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which
slave states might be formed for the American Union. Even if the annexation itself could be justified, the manner in which the subsequent war
was forced upon Mexico cannot. The fact is, annexationists wanted more territory than
they could possibly lay any claim to, as part of the new acquisition. Texas, as an
independent State, never had exercised jurisdiction over the territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande.
It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that after conquering Mexico, and
while practically holding the country in our possession, so that we could have
retained the whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round sum for the
additional territory taken; more than it was worth, or was likely to be, to Mexico.
To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by
other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war.
Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.
Under Spanish rule Mexico was prohibited from producing anything that the
mother-country could supply. This rule excluded the cultivation of the grape,
olive and many other articles to which the soil and climate were well adapted.
The country was governed for "revenue only;" and tobacco, which cannot be raised
in Spain, but is indigenous to Mexico,offered a fine instrumentality for securing this
prime object of government. The native population had been in the habit of using
"the weed" from a period, back of any recorded history of this continent. Bad habits
--if not restrained by law or public opinion--spread more rapidly and universally
than good ones, and the Spanish colonists adopted the use of tobacco almost as
generally as the natives.
The war had begun. . . There were no possible means of obtaining news from the garrison, and information
from outside could not be otherwise than unfavorable. What General Taylor's feelings
were during this suspense I do not know; but for myself, a young second-lieutenant
who had never heard a hostile gun before, I felt sorry that I had enlisted. A great
many men, when they smell battle afar off, chafe to get into the fray. When they say so themselves they generally fail to convince their hearers that they are as anxious as
they would like to make believe, and as they approach danger they become more
subdued. This rule is not universal, for I have known a few men who were always
aching for a fight when there was no enemy near, who were as good as their word
when the battle did come. But the number of such men is small.
The Mexicans have shown a patriotism which it would be well if we would imitate in
part, but with more regard to truth. They celebrate the anniversaries of Chapultepec
and Molino del Rey as of very great victories. The anniversaries are recognized as
national holidays. At these two battles, while the United States troops were victorious,
it was at very great sacrifice of life compared with what the Mexicans suffered. The
Mexicans, as on many other occasions, stood up as well as any troops ever did.
The trouble seemed to be the lack of experience among the officers, which led them
after a certain time to simply quit, without being particularly whipped, but because
they had fought enough.
On General Zachary Taylor (a clear role model for Grant)
If he had thought that he was sent to perform an impossibility with the means given him,
he would probably have informed the authorities of his opinion and left them to
determine what should be done. If the judgment was against him he would have gone
on and done the best he could with the means at hand without parading his grievance
before the public. No soldier could face either danger or responsibility more calmly than he.
These are qualities more rarely found than genius or physical courage. General Taylor never made any great show or parade, either of uniform or retinue.
In dress he was possibly too plain, rarely wearing anything in the field to indicate his rank,
or even that he was an officer; but he was known to every soldier in his army, and was
respected by all.
I had now been in battle with the two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign
land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform,
but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was
operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which
they followed. He was very much given to sit his horse side-ways--with both feet on
one side--particularly on the battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these
particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he
inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected.
This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed.
On these occasions he wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, sabre and spurs.
His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his staff--engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared--followed, also in uniform and in prescribed
order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the view that they
should be a history of what followed. In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals contrasted quite as strongly
as in their other characteristics. General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a
style peculiarly his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself,
often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking
about without the least embarrassment. Taylor was not a conversationalist, but on paper
he could put his meaning so plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how
to express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words, but would not sacrifice
meaning to the construction of high-sounding sentences. But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and
upright in all their dealings. Both were pleasant to serve under--Taylor was pleasant to
serve with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own.
His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would
read in history.
On Fearing the Enemy (his first command during the Civil War in 1861)
The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there and the
marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My
heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much
afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken
before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt
more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as
I had his. The lesson was valuable.
On The Relationship Between Grant & Lincoln
August 1, 1864, 11.30 A.M.
MAJOR-GENERAL HALLECK, Washington D. C.
I am sending General Sheridan for temporary duty whilst the enemy is being expelled from the border. Unless General Hunter is in the field in person, I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also. Once started up the valley they ought to be followed until we get possession of the Virginia Central Railroad. If General Hunter is in the field, give Sheridan direct command of the 6th corps and cavalry division. All the cavalry, I presume, will reach Washington in the course of to-morrow.
U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General.
The President in some way or other got to see this dispatch of mine directing certain instructions to be given to the commanders in the field, operating against Early, and sent me the following very characteristic dispatch:
OFFICE U. S. MILITARY TELEGRAPH, WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D. C.,
August 3, 1864.
August 3, 1864.
Cypher. 6 P.M.,
LT. GENERAL GRANT, City Point, Va.
I have seen your despatch in which you say, "I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field, with instructions to put himself south of the enemy, and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes, let our troops go also." This, I think, is exactly right, as to how our forces should move. But please look over the despatches you may have received from here, even since you made that order, and discover, if you can, that there is any idea in the head of any one here, of "putting our army south of the enemy," or of "following him to the death" in any direction. I repeat to you it will neither be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day, and hour, and force it.
I replied to this that "I would start in two hours for Washington," and soon got off, going directly to the Monocacy without stopping at Washington on my way. I found General Hunter's army encamped there, scattered over the fields along the banks of the Monocacy, with many hundreds of cars and locomotives, belonging to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which he had taken the precaution to bring back and collect at that point. I asked the general where the enemy was. He replied that he did not know. He said the fact was, that he was so embarrassed with orders from Washington moving him first to the right and then to the left that he had lost all trace of the enemy.
I then told the general that I would find out where the enemy was, and at once ordered steam got up and trains made up, giving directions to push for Halltown, some four miles above Harper's Ferry, in the Shenandoah Valley. The cavalry and the wagon trains were to march, but all the troops that could be transported by the cars were to go in that way. I knew that the valley was of such importance to the enemy that, no matter how much he was scattered at that time, he would in a very short time be found in front of our troops moving south . . .I then wrote out General Hunter's instructions.
It would be impossible for me to describe the feeling that overcame me at the news of these assassinations, more especially the assassination of the President. I knew his goodness of heart, his generosity, his yielding disposition, his desire to have everybody happy, and above all his desire to see all the people of the United States enter again upon the full privileges of citizenship with equality among all. I knew also the feeling that Mr. Johnson had expressed in speeches and conversation against the Southern people, and I feared that his course towards them would be such as to repel, and make them unwilling citizens; and if they became such they would remain so for a long while. I felt that reconstruction had been set back, no telling how far.
On The Causes of the Civil War
The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be
attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among
some politicians that "A state half slave and half free cannot exist." All must become
slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have
come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.
Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed; and in a country like ours where the larger portion of it was free territory inhabited by an intelligent and well-to-do population, the people would naturally have but little sympathy with demands upon them for its protection. Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution. They were enabled to maintain this control long after the States where slavery existed had ceased to have the controlling power, through the assistance they received from odd men here and there throughout the Northern States. They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the prerogatives and independence of the Northern States by enacting such laws as the Fugitive Slave Law. By this law every Northern man was obliged, when properly summoned, to turn out and help apprehend the runaway slave of a Southern man. Northern marshals became slave-catchers, and Northern courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution.
This was a degradation which the North would not permit any longer than until they could get the power to expunge such laws from the statute books. Prior to the time of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had no particular quarrel with slavery, so long as they were not forced to have it themselves. But they were not willing to play the role of police for the South in the protection of this particular institution.
I would not have the anniversaries of our victories celebrated, nor those of our defeats
made fast days and spent in humiliation and prayer; but I would like to see truthful
history written. Such history will do full credit to the courage, endurance and soldierly
ability of the American citizen, no matter what section of the country he hailed from, or in what ranks he fought. The justice of the cause which in the end prevailed, will,
I doubt not, come to be acknowledged by every citizen of the land, in time. For the
present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there
will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed
to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which
acknowledged the right of property in man.