A new edition, with thorough commentary, of the memoirs of an American Caesar—and indeed, a book long reckoned to be America’s version of The Gallic Wars.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1855) began his military career without much promise but distinguished himself in combat in the Mexican-American War, where, as he recounts, he came into contact with many of his future opponents in the Civil War. His legendary service in the Western theater of operations, and later as commander of the entire Union Army, led to his election and re-election as president, but all that did not save him from being bilked by a business partner—and thus this memoir, which none other than Mark Twain convinced him to publish to provide for his soon-to-be-widow, since Grant was already ill with cancer. As editor Samet (English/West Point; No Man's Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post–9/11 America, 2014, etc.) notes, rumors immediately emerged that Twain had ghostwritten it. In fact, Grant labored endlessly on this massive book, which, writes Samet, “is the artifact that does justice to his achievement as the leader of an army that preserved a nation and emancipated four million people.” Grant’s writing is simple and unadorned, though those who read between the lines will see that he is nothing if not politically astute. His account of the political troubles of William Tecumseh Sherman for offering the same mercies as he had to the vanquished Confederate forces is a model of understatement—though, he adds, “the feeling against Sherman died out very rapidly, and it was not many weeks before he was restored to the fullest confidence of the American people.” If anything, Samet might be criticized, gently, for being too vigorous in annotation; an early disquisition on the French and Indian War, for instance, is orders of magnitude longer than the aside of Grant’s that prompted it, and it begs to be reined in. Nonetheless, for Civil War buffs, this is a must-read.
This is the edition that serious students of the Civil War, and Grant’s role in it, will want. Indispensable.