Fallacies concerning the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant 1 comment

Michael B. Ballard’s review of Chris Mackowski’s Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (November 2015 Civil War News Book Review), exemplifies the mind-set that my book, Grant Under Fire, so comprehensively opposes.

Grant “did not rewrite history,” Dr. Ballard maintains, “he wrote it as he understood and lived it.” The reviewer does refer to “the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the memoirs,” yet emphasizes Grant’s “truth and fairness.” “He wrote the truth as he saw it,” constantly checking “to make sure what he wrote was factual,” and “there is no evidence Grant intentionally set out to ‘get’ anyone.” Criticisms of the Memoirs came from ex-Confederates, “Lost Cause propagandists,” and Grant’s enemies. The reviewer argued that the “sources used to discredit Grant’s memoirs are just as suspect, and in some cases more so, than what Grant wrote,” and “some critics ignore evidence that contradicts their arguments.” Ballard implies, in spite of the evidence, that Dr. Frank Varney “unconvincingly accused Grant of rewriting history in order to damage the image of William Rosecrans.”

The reviewer contends that, “Historians have been accused by some of accepting Grant’s memoirs as biblical truth, but that has rarely been the case.” Actually, Grant’s autobiography is one of the most influential works by far concerning the American Civil War, and many of its declarations have been accepted without corroboration, even in the face of contradictory evidence.

Instead of Ballard’s pronouncement that, “Grant is often characterized as being the sole bad guy,” the General and his biographers unduly disparaged Henry Halleck, Don Carlos Buell, John McClernand, Lew Wallace, William Rosecrans, George Thomas, and a host of others for their supposed dislike of or envy toward Grant. But Ulysses Grant was the “hater” of the bunch, and most of the ill-feeling emanated from him.

As for their accuracy, Grant claimed, via Sherman, “that his memory of ‘acts and incidents of the war was so perfect that it was not necessary for him to refer to reports in preparing his memoirs.’” But Grant forgot such obvious facts as the presence of three of Buell’s four divisions at Shiloh, until Badeau corrected him[1].

Furthermore, Grant’s Memoirs falsely had him believing the Mexican War unjust[2]; occupying Paducah without orders[3]; receiving Sherman’s supportive messages during Fort Donelson[4]; waiting for Buell and ordering Nelson upriver before Shiloh[5]; “passing from one part of the field to another, giving directions to division commanders” at that battle[6]; blaming Prentiss for the Hornets’ Nest surrender[7]; claiming “the Army of the Ohio only arrived after the shooting stopped”[8]; giving up “all idea of saving the Union except by complete conquest”[9]; and castigating Halleck’s slow advance on Corinth[10]. These were just some of the most salient mistakes concerning events before May 1862. Such factual errors continued in profusion to the Memoirs’ end and especially targeted his enemies. Friends—Sherman and Sheridan, above all—received undeserved and untrue commendation.

Although Grant might be partially excused by blaming the passage of time or the administration of strong drugs to alleviate his sufferings from oral cancer, the blatantly one-sided tilt to his literary mistakes can only be explained by deliberate prejudice and favoritism.



[1] PUSG 31:172; Society of the Army of the Cumberland, Society of the Army of the Cumberland: Twenty-fourth Reunion 1893 (Cleveland: Robert Clarke, 1894), 61.

[2] PUSG 1:56–57, 71, 88, 122, 140; Grant, Memoirs, 1:53. Biographer John Emerson quoted from a letter, which he attributed to Grant, on how the Mexican “enterprise ought and could be accomplished,” but put forth no provenance or even an addressee for it. John W. Emerson, “Grant’s Life in the West and His Mississippi Valley Campaigns,” Midland Monthly Magazine (June 1897), 7:139–40.

[3] Ulysses S. Grant, Papers, Draft unpublished report, Series 10, Addition III, LoC, n.p.; Ulysses S. Grant, Papers, Unpublished report, Series 10, Addition III, LoC, 6–9; Grant, Memoirs, 1:264-65.

[4] OR 7:1:618, 637, 638; Grant, Memoirs, 1:315.

[5] OR 10:1:330–31; OR 10:2:50–51, 58, 67, 70, 93; PUSG 5:111, 31:213–14; N.Y. Times, April 20, 1862; Ebenezer Hannaford, The Story of a Regiment: A History of the Campaigns and Associations in the Field of the Sixth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Cincinnati: by the author, 1868), 237–38; Grant, Memoirs, 1:335 ; William Grose, The story of the marches, battles and incidents of the 36th Regiment Indiana volunteer infantry (New Castle, Ind.: Courier, 1891), 101.

[6] Reid, Ohio in the War, 1:375; Louis Elseffer to Mamie[?], February 13, 1885, Elseffer Papers, LoC; Grant, Memoirs, 1:343; Alfred T. Andreas, “The ‘Ifs and Buts’ of Shiloh,” MOLLUS, Ill. 1:121; Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1903; H. Stone, “The Battle of Shiloh,” MHSM, 7:74–75.

[7] Report of the Cincinnati Society, 38; Grant, Memoirs, 1:340, 370; Cunningham, “Shiloh,” dissertation, 413.

[8] OR 10:1:109, 328; Grant, Memoirs, 1:347; J.H. Wilson, Life of Rawlins, 90, 449.

[9] OR 46:1:11; PUSG 5:47, 102, 118, 124; Grant, Memoirs, 1:368.

[10] PUSG 5:110, 118, 123, 136; Grant, Memoirs, 1:379–81.

Share this:

One thought on “Fallacies concerning the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

  • Sam Hood

    Hemingway said, “Any life, truly told, is a novel.” That is why there are precious few great novels.

Comments are closed.