Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (volume I)


By Ulysses S. Grant

cover image of Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (volume I)

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In this new annotated edition the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant are contextualized with footnotes and maps for the exploration of the modern reader.

After finishing his second term in office in 1877, Grant and his wife Julia took a trip around the world which left him short on money. Nearly 60 years old, the ex-president looked for something to engage his time. He ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1880, but lost to James Garfield. The next year, Grant moved to New York City to go into business with his son, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., and a young investor, Ferdinand Ward. The firm of Grant & Ward did well at first, bolstered by Ward's skills and Grant's name. But Grant was largely disengaged from the company's business, often signing papers without reading them. This proved disastrous, as Ward had used the firm as a Ponzi scheme. Grant & Ward failed in May 1884, leaving Grant penniless.

That fall, the former president was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Facing his mortality, Grant struck a publishing deal with his friend Mark Twain and began working on his memoirs, hoping they would provide for his family after his death. Grant suffered greatly in his final year. He was in constant pain from his illness and sometimes had the feeling he was choking. Despite his condition, he wrote at a furious pace, sometimes finishing 25 to 50 pages a day. In June 1885, as the cancer spread through his body, the family moved to Mount MacGregor, New York, to make Grant more comfortable. Propped up on chairs, and too weak to walk, Grant worked to finish the book. Friends, admirers and even a few former Confederate opponents made their way to Mount MacGregor to pay their respects. Grant finished the manuscript on July 18; he died five days later.

On release, the book received universal critical praise. Twain compared the Memoirs to Julius Caesar's Commentaries. Matthew Arnold praised Grant and his book in an 1886 essay. Gertrude Stein also admired the book, saying she could not think of Grant without weeping. The Memoirs quickly became a best seller. The Grant family, who received 75% of the net royalties (after expenses), made approximately $450,000 (greater than $10 million in 2009 dollars) from the book.

The Memoirs are divided into two volumes. The autobiography has been highly regarded by the general public, military historians and literary critics. Positive attention is often directed toward Grant's prose, which has been praised for its conciseness and clarity—a sharp contrast from contemporary Civil War memoirs, which tended to reflect the Victorian fondness for elaborate (and sometimes overblown) language. He portrayed himself in the persona of the honorable Western hero, whose strength lies in his honesty and straightforwardness. He candidly depicts his battles against both the external Confederates and his internal Army foes.

Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (volume I)