Grant Under Fire offers a much-needed corrective to over a century and a half of inaccurate histories and biased biographies. The history of the Civil War has been founded upon, to a great extent, the writings of Ulysses S. Grant. He and his supporters have advanced, in many respects, a caricature. Except for the supposedly superior Sherman and Sheridan et al., the General was forced to deal with a cadre of feeble, back-biting army subordinates; his drinking was highly exaggerated by the haters; he made few mistakes on the battlefield; he managed political affairs in the same way that he deftly maneuvered his armies; and his reputation was unfairly sullied by Lost Causers, who disliked his efforts for civil rights.
Grant’s vaunted Personal Memoirs, in particular, are often used as the starting point—and ending point—in resolving the conflict’s controversies. But much of what he wrote was clearly wrong. A close analysis demonstrates that he repeatedly, but artfully, distorted what happened on and off the battlefield.
Justice is due those individuals whom Grant unfairly ignored or censured. Four men who were indispensable to his success—Elihu B. Washburne, John A. Rawlins, Charles A. Dana, and Henry W. Halleck—should be recognized for their vast influence, whatever their other failings might have been. Ulysses’ personal and professional enemies fared even worse. The Memoirs twisted the facts to their detriment. In the same vein, Grant heartily extolled his friends, no matter how poorly they performed.
Although this work focuses on his military activities, large segments concern Grant’s decidedly flawed character and his abysmal, two-term administration. Few of his biographers, William McFeely and William Woodward excepted, dared to markedly criticize Grant as a man. And despite the glossing-over of his presidential blundering by many biographers, this book details his indolence, favoritism, and corruption. Little-known incidents involving the mistreatment of Native Americans, his involvement in the gold-corner, and the whole safe-burglary scandal are likewise revealed.
This thorough exposé on the unreliability of the Personal Memoirs, Grant biographies, and certain Civil War histories should compel readers to recast many of their opinions of the General, of particular battles, and of the Civil War as a whole.
Apart from its unique content, Grant Under Fire offers exceptional value for the money: it’s packed with information, with little wasted space. The 621 pages of text are supplemented by 37 maps and 105 pages of endnotes in a hardcover, Smyth-sewn binding. The chapter and sub-chapter names in the text headers, the page ranges in the endnote headers, and the comprehensive index should help orient the reader. The first chapter, bibliography, index, and a list of errata, revisions, and suggested additions can be viewed elsewhere on this website.