Grant biographies


Hamlin Garland’s unusual activities

Going through the Hamlin Garland papers at USC today, I noticed some unusual activities of this Grant biographer from the turn of the century. At places, his notes had been obviously censored, with two sections being obviously cut out. Elsewhere, he contradicted or disbelieved his interviewees (most notably in James H. Wilson’s case), yet he said not a word when Grant’s family and supporters made outrageously incorrect claims. Worse, in […]


The unreliability of Horace Porter’s Campaigning with Grant 4 comments

In Grant Under Fire, I demonstrated how Horace Porter—Ulysses S. Grant’s staffer, friend, and biographer—could not be trusted for a true history of the General in the Overland campaign. Porter’s reverential Campaigning with Grant contained innumerable, implausible justifications and apologies for his chief. It parrots many of the inaccuracies from Grant’s Personal Memoirs. Porter offered a verbatim, 199-word speech by Grant on how he decided to cross the Rapidan downstream […]


Waiting for (Don Carlos) Godot: a tragicomedy in two acts 4 comments

Of the myriad blunders that needed to be excused or covered up concerning the Battle of Shiloh, one of the most notorious was Ulysses S. Grant’s absence from his army. Maintaining headquarters from approximately March 17th to the start of the battle on April 6th in a mansion at Savannah, Tennessee—ten miles downriver and on the opposite bank from his army at Pittsburg Landing—General Grant took a steamboat up to […]


Ulysses S. Grant hagiographies

Ethan Rafuse recently commented about “those who have pushed Grant scholarship to the point where history becomes hagiography.” Now, I have just run across Russell Bonds’ review of H.W. Brands’ “The Man Who Saved the Union.” In it, Bonds noted how the publication of William S. McFeely’s “Grant: A Biography” “sparked a flurry of responses trending toward hagiography. More than a dozen biographies, ‘dual biographies’ and studies of Grant have […]


Errors in U.S. Grant Biographies (Part One: Missionary Ridge) 2 comments

Although the standard version of Ulysses S. Grant’s war-time history portrays him to be a military genius and a reliable chronicler of the American Civil War, his biographers have exaggerated, distorted, or omitted certain, salient facts. One of the most stark examples of this practice is from the Chattanooga campaign, which featured many of the most famous Union generals: Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, George H. Thomas, Joseph Hooker, […]


U.S. Grant’s overconfidence turned into a positive virtue 4 comments

An article in the current (online) New Yorker, “Why the leadership industry rules,” Joshua Rothman discusses the concept of a leader. He refers, at one point, to the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, in which Grant tells a story of himself as a recently commissioned colonel in the Union’s volunteer army. Approaching the presumed location of an enemy camp, Grant related how, “‘My heart kept getting higher and higher, […]


America’s Civil War (March 2016): Review of “Grant Under Fire”

Dr. Ethan Rafuse, in his review from the March 2016 edition of America’s Civil War, offers a good description of Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War. It “offers a strident, contrarian take on the union commander, ” he noted, and ”Rose’s book will surely be welcomed by admirers of other Union generals.” In what appears to be a commendation of the research […]


Grant on crutches at Shiloh? 2 comments

Although it is a rather common assertion in many biographies of Grant and in battle histories of Shiloh, there seems to be little reliable evidence that the General was using crutches when he boarded Tigress at Savannah on April 6th and debarked to ride around the battlefield. This may be one of the stories which had their genesis in his Personal Memoirs (“As it was, my ankle was very much […]


Bruce Catton’s reliability, Ulysses Grant, and the Battle of Chattanooga 6 comments

Although Bruce Catton’s books are far better than many others written about the American Civil War, they cannot be said to be free from substantial mistakes. Starting at the bottom of page 295 in the 1956 edition of This Hallowed Ground, Catton outlined General Ulysses Grant’s plan for the battle at Chattanooga: “Grant proposed to hit the two ends of the Confederate line at once. Hooker would strike at Lookout […]


Did General Joe Hooker disrespect Ulysses S. Grant? 2 comments

Yesterday, I helped confirm one of the many smaller points that Grant Under Fire makes. General Joe Hooker is often criticized for trying it on with his superior, Ulysses S. Grant, on November 21, 1863 at Stevenson, Ala., while the latter was on his way to Chattanooga, Tenn. When Hooker sent a staff officer and wagon to take Grant from the railroad station to Hooker’s headquarters, Grant responded: “If Gen. […]


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 […]


Grant “Won” the Battle of Shiloh?

Just as Ulysses S. Grant is credited with “winning” the American Civil War, he usually receives the acclaim for Shiloh. A multitude of facts demonstrate why this is wrong. Simply awarding praise to the commanding officer in any engagement would mean that Buell, with his independent army, deserves half (or even more, as Grant was in charge during the losing battle on April 6th). This still completely ignores how they […]


Grant’s first “victory”?

Almost universally, Ulysses S. Grant, his biographers, and his other supporters make the claim, when they describe the incident, that he took Paducah, Kentucky, despite the absence of orders from his superior officer, General John Frémont. Grant was quite clear about this in his Personal Memoirs: “Not having received an answer to my first dispatch, I again telegraphed to department headquarters that I should start for Paducah that night unless […]


An alcoholic Ulysses S. Grant resigns his commission

Many modern authors attempt to make a case for General Grant’s sobriety. But, in a general minimization of Grant’s drinking, William C. Davis’ new book, Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee—The War They Fought, The Peace They Forged, goes so far as to deny the accounts that he abused alcohol or was forced out of the pre-war army, while serving on the Pacific coast in the […]


Albert D. Richardson’s problematic biography of Ulysses S. Grant 1 comment

Albert Deane Richardson’s biography, A Personal History of Ulysses S. Grant, originally published in 1868, provided numerous familiar anecdotes about a great and good Grant. The book was republished in 1885 with certain corrections. A scenario in the 1868 edition (pp. 253-54) started with Sherman chasing away the Rebels at Shiloh with some well-aimed artillery: ‘That’s the last of them,’ said Grant. ‘They will not make another stand.’ Then he […]