Click here to read reviewer Br. Benet Exton's take on Ulysses S. Grant: The Soldier & the Man.
Edward G. Longacre has written extensively about the Civil War and received the prestigious Fletcher Pratt Award for Civil War writing for The Cavalry at Gettysburg. In this studious account of the public and private life of Ulysses S. Grant, he examines one of the most complex military men in our country’s history.
When his father obtained an appointment for his son at West Point (largely due to the fact that it provided a free education), the teenaged Ulysses declared, “I won’t go.” He wrote, “The military life had no charms for me.” The young man had thus far distinguished himself mainly as a “horse-whisperer,” showing a remarkable aptitude for taming and training: “Jesse Grant saw that he could get a great deal of hard work out of his oldest son as long as a horse was involved.” That ability proved handy at West Point, yet Grant famously resigned from the Army, burdened by “his weakness for liquor combined with his inability to control his urges even when confronting the gravest of consequences.”
But Grant, who had done well at West Point, had little luck with civilian enterprises and took up the military calling again when the tide of war began to swell. There, in the pressing necessity of a terrible conflict, Grant rose quickly despite what many people took for a lack of intelligence in the man. In fact he was blunt, stubborn and easily bored. One historian observed, “There was no humbug about this man, and a vast amount of common sense.”
Grant flirted with total disgrace. Known as “Unconditional Surrender” Grant to an adoring public after the capture of Fort Donelson, he was nearly brought to arrest and ruin by a jealous and spiteful departmental commander. Grant’s drinking problem has bled through the pages of history to a legendary degree. Longacre looks at this propensity frankly. Grant had a tendency to illness and gloom and was given to heavy alcohol binges. His “insobriety and unreliability” made him a target for an angry press when Grant’s Union armies were nearly routed at the battle of Shiloh and Yankee casualties were high. Grant later fell off a spirited horse in a public incident that was also presumed to be the result of drinking, in a man who was noted for his horsemanship. Longacre suggests that Grant did not do well when separated from his wife, Julia, and that loneliness may have brought on his drinking bouts. Indeed, Grant corresponded copiously with Julia from the very beginning of their courtship and relied on their communication.
Much of this book details the bloody battles in which Grant campaigned, up until the conquest of Richmond. It ends with his triumphant meeting with President Lincoln, who had enormous confidence in Grant and had appointed him to lead the
Western army, on Market Street in Richmond. Longacre describes it as a friendly encounter between “the two men who had done more than anyone else to end this war.”