Best biography of Ulysses S. Grant?

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Booklady

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Good luck to anyone trying to find a recommendation of good Grant biographies in all this.

Could we create a separate thread for debunking Grant, so that people can get what they think they'll get from the title of the thread?
I'm reading "American Ulysses," by Ronald White. I like it. I'm just a regular person, not an expert, researcher, or academic. It's highly readable.
 

rbasin

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as with anything else, don't limit yourself to just one book. Biographies are almost always iffy, depending on your preconceived ideas on the subject. Maybe read a book on a particular battle, then start sorting out as you go.
 
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Booklady

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So I am plugging away little by little at "American Ulysses," and last night I read this on page 300 (the chapter on Chattanooga in Oct-Nov 1863):

"With reduced tension [from supply lines opening up, bringing in some food and improving morale], Grant's aide Wilson watched a scene 'very amusing to me' at Grant's headquarters, a two-story brick house. On a rainy afternoon, Wilson listened to Generals Grant, Thomas, Smith, John Reynolds, Gordon Granger, and Thomas Wood: 'While cracking jokes and telling stories of cadet and army life, it was pleasant to hear them calling each other by their nicknames.' Reynolds called Grant 'Sam'; Grant called him 'Jo'....."

Some perhaps dumb questions (again, I have just a superficial knowledge of the Civil War):
1. John Reynolds??? Wasn't he killed in a fairly dramatic, memorable way at Gettysburg? (Was there a second John Reynolds?) If this is the Gettysburg Reynolds, this seems an odd mistake for a biographer to make. Perhaps White has just misplaced the Wilson quote into the wrong battle.

and

2. How did they get the houses that served as their headquarters? It never seems to be spelled out in the books. Did they just commandeer the homes of people where they were fighting and order the owners to get out, at gunpoint presumably?

Thanks for any clarification and instruction that might be provided.
 
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NedBaldwin

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1. Two Reynolds. Author makes boo boo by calling him John

John Fulton Reynolds - killed at Gettysburg

Joseph Jones Reynolds - served in the west


So I am plugging away little by little at "American Ulysses," and last night I read this on page 300 (the chapter on Chattanooga in Oct-Nov 1863):

"With reduced tension [from supply lines opening up, bringing in some food and improving morale], Grant's aide Wilson watched a scene 'very amusing to me' at Grant's headquarters, a two-story brick house. On a rainy afternoon, Wilson listened to Generals Grant, Thomas, Smith, John Reynolds, Gordon Granger, and Thomas Wood: 'While cracking jokes and telling stories of cadet and army life, it was pleasant to hear them calling each other by their nicknames.' Reynolds called Grant 'Sam'; Grant called him 'Jo'....."

Some perhaps dumb questions (again, I have just a superficial knowledge of the Civil War):
1. John Reynolds??? Wasn't he killed in a fairly dramatic, memorable way at Gettysburg? (Was there a second John Reynolds?) If this is the Gettysburg Reynolds, this seems an odd mistake for a biographer to make. Perhaps White has just misplaced the Wilson quote into the wrong battle.

and

2. How did they get the houses that served as their headquarters? It never seems to be spelled out in the books. Did they just commandeer the homes of people where they were fighting and order the owners to get out, at gunpoint presumably?

Thanks for any clarification and instruction that might be provided.
 

Booklady

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Great! That clears it up. Thanks so much. I actually did search for a second John Reynolds and now know what I didn't find one.
 
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AUTiger

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Have a question as I just came across the two titles, the dual biographies of Lee and Grant called Lee and Grant By Gene smith and Crucible of Command By William Davis are they considered better for a single volume than the ones on Lee By Emory Thomas and Dowdey and better than the bios on Grant By Chernow and Ronald C. White?Thanks
 

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Have a question as I just came across the two titles, the dual biographies of Lee and Grant called Lee and Grant By Gene smith and Crucible of Command By William Davis are they considered better for a single volume than the ones on Lee By Emory Thomas and Dowdey and better than the bios on Grant By Chernow and Ronald C. White?Thanks
Hoping someone will be along shortly to help with the answer to that question. They both sound like interesting books, and the focus of them seems to be on their Generalship. It may depend on what area of their lives you want to focus on so, once again, I hope someone can help provide a little more insight around the question you have asked.
 

DanSBHawk

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Have a question as I just came across the two titles, the dual biographies of Lee and Grant called Lee and Grant By Gene smith and Crucible of Command By William Davis are they considered better for a single volume than the ones on Lee By Emory Thomas and Dowdey and better than the bios on Grant By Chernow and Ronald C. White?Thanks
I enjoyed the William Davis book Crucible of Command. As I remember, I learned new things about both men and their similarities. It's a good book. I wouldn't necessarily say it's "better" than a dedicated biography though.
 
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Norm53

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My argument isn’t with you But the idea that Grant’s Memoirs are good history is false. However Grant’s memoirs are almost always recommended as a must read. Maybe as “campfire tales” to paraphrase a historian.
I agree with you that all memoirs are biasesI propose another reason for reading memoirs: To learn how a person thinks about his/her experiences at the time of his/her writing about them. The facts can be checked through other sources.
Good luck to anyone trying to find a recommendation of good Grant biographies in all this.
Could we create a separate thread for debunking Grant, so that people can get what they think they'll get from the title of the thread?
(borrowed this from Canadian, and gave it red to make it official)

You have been warned.

Posted as Moderator
Lucky me. Have not finished the thread yet, but I have a tentative list:

Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis and Grant Takes Command and Grant Moves South, both by Bruce Catton.
J.F.C. Fuller's The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant
Frank Scaturro's book President Grant Reconsidered
 

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On the recommendations of posters here I have just received my copy of 'Triumph Over Adversity' by Brooks D. Simpson.

I'm looking forward to reading this highly recommended biography.
 

David Moore

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On the recommendations of posters here I have just received my copy of 'Triumph Over Adversity' by Brooks D. Simpson.

I'm looking forward to reading this highly recommended biography.
Why not read it in conjunction with Rose’s book? W
I agree with you that all memoirs are biasesI propose another reason for reading memoirs: To learn how a person thinks about his/her experiences at the time of his/her writing about them. The facts can be checked through other sources.

Lucky me. Have not finished the thread yet, but I have a tentative list:

Captain Sam Grant by Lloyd Lewis and Grant Takes Command and Grant Moves South, both by Bruce Catton.
J.F.C. Fuller's The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant
Frank Scaturro's book President Grant Reconsidered
A main point of Varney’s book is how so many historians have accepted Grant’s Memoirs without criticism therefore leaving the narration made in them unchallenged and accepted as “truth” by casual readers.
 
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Norm53

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Why not read it in conjunction with Rose’s book? W

A main point of Varney’s book is how so many historians have accepted Grant’s Memoirs without criticism therefore leaving the narration made in them unchallenged and accepted as “truth” by casual readers.
Anyone who accepts a memoir as factual, or worse, promotes it as factual, is irresponsible, IMO. Churchill's monumental writings come to mind.
 

Cavalry Charger

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Why not read it in conjunction with Rose’s book?
It appears Rose's book doesn't come as highly recommended, but I have no problem reading what is worthwhile reading. I thought McFeely's book sounded interesting, going by the back cover blurb, but other recommendations made at the time caused me to reconsider. So ultimately trying to decide what to read can become a matter of confusion. Which is why a thread like this is such an asset. People have different perspectives on Grant and it makes me wonder if, in the choice, they may lean towards the impressions they already hold or want to hold. That's why I started with his memoirs, as I wanted to read his story in his words. I wanted Grant to tell me who he was, and then others can add their perspectives to that. So, Rose's would be another perspective. Whether I would be swayed by that is a matter of conjecture right now.
 

67th Tigers

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It appears Rose's book doesn't come as highly recommended,
The main reason is that Rose was a lot of primary sources that contradict the more hagiographical bent of Grant fanboys. It is pretty essential as a counter-balancing view. Of course, if your a fanboy you want to suppress awkward information...
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Well, I'm not sure what the awkward information is but I'm sure Grant had/has plenty of critics. As do all the great men in history.

Just as an aside, I don't think Grant would have been seeking 'reverence' in life or after death, though there were many people willing to give it to him as well as tear him down.

And I'm not averse to negative impressions of Grant. That only makes him human in my eyes. How truthful those impressions are would, of course, need to be tested.
 

Saphroneth

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In principle there should be no single "best" biography of anyone, unless that single biography goes to great lengths to present all the negatives and all the positives.
The more sensible approach to take is to have several biographies, including as far as possible at least one "critical" one and at least one "positive" one - both a good quality - and to then follow up to see if the greatest criticisms and the most positive points are well sourced (and that the sources say what the author claims them to!) This allows one to get a fuller sense of the person in question.

Obviously if one's "negative" biography is Rose and one's "positive" biography is 1868 Republican election literature then one doesn't learn much from this; ditto if one's "negative" source is Jubal Early and one's "positive" source is a conventional well-sourced work. But - while it takes quite a lot of effort - it's possible by using multiple biographies and following up the references to get a full picture of the man.
 

David Moore

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It appears Rose's book doesn't come as highly recommended, but I have no problem reading what is worthwhile reading. I thought McFeely's book sounded interesting, going by the back cover blurb, but other recommendations made at the time caused me to reconsider. So ultimately trying to decide what to read can become a matter of confusion. Which is why a thread like this is such an asset. People have different perspectives on Grant and it makes me wonder if, in the choice, they may lean towards the impressions they already hold or want to hold. That's why I started with his memoirs, as I wanted to read his story in his words. I wanted Grant to tell me who he was, and then others can add their perspectives to that. So, Rose's would be another perspective. Whether I would be swayed by that is a matter of conjecture right now.
Compare Grant to a modern public figure that you really wanted to know about. Would you limit yourself to that figure’s memoirs? Would you read books that were only sympathetic to him or her? Keep in mind that Grant’s memoirs were written twenty years after the war, largely from memory by a dying man The issue isn’t that they are Grant’s side of the story but that they are often cited by historians without reservation. Why care? The reputations of many important people who helped win the war are slighted or debased and therefore are forgotten by the public. They deserve better. In my opinion Rose’s book is not a “page turner” but rather something to be consulted while reading about Grant. History can be - at least- as tough and unseemly as the present. One must decide how deeply one wants to know about the past. Many read only to their comfort level.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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Most people are casual readers and will only want to read a general biography or 2. Each of us on the forum I suppose has his or her own particular areas of interest. I would think most of us "study" those areas, but it is impossible to go in depth on every topic that we find interesting.
 

David Moore

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Anyone who accepts a memoir as factual, or worse, promotes it as factual, is irresponsible, IMO. Churchill's monumental writings come to mind.
There is a quote about Churchill saying that history will treat him well because he would write it. Alas documenting the exact quote is a bit tricky.
 
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