The best books on the life of Ulysses S. Grant

Donald L. Miller Author Of Vicksburg: Grant's Campaign That Broke the Confederacy
By Donald L. Miller

The Books I Picked & Why

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

By John F. Marszalek, Ulysses S. Grant

Book cover of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Why this book?

Grant gives us his own military story in his luminous Personal Memoirs. A literary masterwork, it remains the essential work on the pre-presidential Grant, the struggling civilian, and the successful general. Not to be missed is the new, heavily anointed edition prepared by historian John E. Marszalek and his team of researchers at the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s U. S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University.

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Grant Moves South

By Bruce Catton

Book cover of Grant Moves South

Why this book?

The war’s greatest military historian takes on its greatest military figure in Bruce Catton’s spirited two-volume classic: Grant Moves South and Grant Takes Command. Written decades ago, these paired volumes remain the finest historical account of Grant’s triumphant Civil War career. In the opening volume, we meet the recently minted brigadier in September 1861 as he prepares to join his army at desolate Cairo, Illinois, having just recovered from a succession of crushing personal failures. In the concluding volume, we leave him at Petersburg Virginia in April 1865, after he demolishes R. E. Lee’s army in the climactic battle of the war. Wannabe revisionists think Catton is outdated. Don’t believe them.

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Campaigning with Grant

By Horace Porter

Book cover of Campaigning with Grant

Why this book?

Horace Porter’s Campaigning With Grant is exactly that—a close-up, “you are there” account of Grant’s titanic campaign against Lee, as seen through the eyes of one of the General-in-Chief’s most trusted military aides. Captain (later General) Porter worshipped his commander and presents him here without disabling flaws. But in flowing prose, he gives us a richly-realized portrait of the general as he commands with authority in the field, and later in the day, meets informally with his young staff—his military family— around a blazing fire in front of his headquarters at City Point, Virginia, just outside besieged Petersburg. On several occasions, Lincoln slips down by steamer from Washington to confer with Grant and joins the fireside conclaves. Seated on a low campstool, dressed all in black, he stretches out and expounds, with surprising erudition, upon military ordnance before capping the evening with hilarious tales of his Illinois youth.

Porter gives a graphic description of City Point, and that’s important. A tiny steamboat stop on the James River in 1861, it was transformed by Grant’s logistics staff into a gigantic shipping and supply center for the eastern army. Its harbor was one of the busiest on the continent, and from a cramped two-room wooden hut on a high bluff overlooking the harbor Grant directs the Union war effort—all of it, the fighting in every theater—a feat made possible by the miracle of telegraphy.

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Ulysses S. Grant; His Life and Character

By Hamlin Garland

Book cover of Ulysses S. Grant; His Life and Character

Why this book?

Published in 1898 and now largely forgotten, this book is the only oral history we have of Grant. Garland, a substantial nineteenth-century literary figure, spent two years locating and interviewing people who knew Grant—generals and privates, family and neighbors in St. Louis and Galena, Illinois. Grant was a self-enclosed man, but he opened up to those he knew and trusted. It would be impossible to write a reliable life study of him without consulting Garland’s superb biography, or reading the transcripts of his interviews, which can be found in his papers at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Memorial Library.

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U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

By Joan Waugh

Book cover of U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

Why this book?

Grant has a host of outstanding modern biographers, among them Brooks D. Simpson, Ron Chernow, and Jean Edward Smith. While not a full-scale life study, Joan's book is indispensable. A rich blend of biography and cultural history, it imaginatively integrates Grant’s military and political careers and offers a timely and provocative treatment of the man’s image and memory. A pleasure to read, it is vivid, concise, and alive with fresh thinking. If you’re approaching Grant for the first time, read his Memoirs and then pick up a copy of Waugh’s outstanding book.

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