I have finally taken the advice of many persons to read Grant’s memoirs. I downloaded it as a librivox audiobook, for which I am extremely grateful. The narrator, Jim Clevenger, performs the role of Grant with such perfection that one imagines that Grant himself is reading his memoirs to us. As an older gentleman with a deep voice which contains a slight drawl, he gives a perfect impression of an old soldier telling the story of his life. The only fault I can perceive in his delivery is that he emphasizes certain words too much–even obnoxiously on rare occasion.
Grant wrote his memoirs for two reasons: 1) to earn some money–much needed due to the poverty into which he had fallen; and 2) to set the record straight about the “War for the Preservation of the Union.” He sticks to the facts. Toward someone who is so thoroughly grounded in the actual state of affairs, the reader is rather sucked into believing in the correctness of his opinions. In particular, when he speaks about the fact that the South was actually more benefited from the war than the North, I could not help but believe that the freeing of the slaves and elevation of the poor whites (the natural result of all labor becoming worthy of payment) helped the South. On the other hand, I somewhat doubted Grant’s opinion that the Texas Revolution and Mexican War were solely fought to expand slave territory. But, I must confess my recollection as to the causes of this war to be rather hazy.
At any rate, Grant takes us through his life with great accuracy and a wonderful sense of humor. His wit and lucid prose make for easy listening. (Remember that I am listening to an audiobook) Grant’s style is surprisingly modern–so much so that his writing is more reminiscent of the 1920’s than 1880’s, which follows a remark made by a good friend of mine. He told me that modern prose style owes much to Grant. His writing is less classically influenced, which diverges greatly from other Civil War writers whom I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Also, he tends to have a rather sour view of war, as one would expect of the Lost Generation writers.
One sees that Grant wished to exonerate himself of two charges. Grant has oft been viewed as callous in risking the lives of his men. On the contrary, his losses in the Western theater of operations were less than those of the Confederates most of the time. He also writes of occasions where he was unwilling to risk his men, especially important because, in the West, the Confederates usually matched and on occasion outnumbered the Union soldiers. Grant also mentions the extreme care he had in ensuring that the property of civilians, except those articles which might be of use to the Confederates, went undamaged. This attitude greatly differs from the rampant destruction of property one reads of in Sherman’s March to the Sea. Even in the beginning of Grant’s 1864 campaign against Richmond, I see no occasion where Grant deserves to be called a butcher.
One of the greatest pleasures of reading Grant;s memoirs is the portraits he paints of the various generals in the struggle. With the exception of those who joined the military on the onset of the Civil War, Grant served with many of the generals, both North and South, prior to the War and understood their personalities, which he often took advantage of during the conflict between the states. In particular, I love reading his portraits of Longstreet, Lee, Bragg, Mosby, Sherman and Sheridan. I also take great pleasure in hearing of the trouble caused to Grant by a favorite general of mine: Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Grant himself impresses the reader as a humble, honest, courageous, forgiving, and modest individual. He has no problem calling certain people cowards if the evidence leads one to have no doubt of this deficiency. On the other hand, he is more than willing to give inexperienced commanders a second chance to atone for their failures or to find excuses for the failures of his comrades. On certain occasions, such as when General Rosecrans, a subordinate, reprimanded Grant by letter for Grant’s decision to assume direct command of Rosecrans’ division, Grant swallows his pride for the good of the Army. Though, Grant did eventually relieve Rosecrans of command for his disobeying a standard order.
Anyone who wishes to thoroughly understand the Civil War, especially the sentiments of the North, must read this work. History is made alive by Grant’s pen, and one is introduced to the mind of a great man.