THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNION: ULYSSES GRANT IN WAR AND PEACE.
BY H.W. BRANDS
Julia Dent fell in love with Ulysses Grant, and I understand how she did. Maybe I am falling just a bit in love with him, too. As a man he was first and last a patriot and a principled one. This book is the first full biography of Grant in ten years and his biographer likes him, too. He sees the best in him, and it would appear he is resurrecting his reputation. This book is now out in paperback. It is named by Amazon as one of the best books of the year so far.
In spite of my interest in the Civil War era and the time I have spent in Galena where Grant lived and worked before the war and at times afterward, I have not read any of his previous biographies. This summer, no doubt influenced by the dust jacket of this book and my time in “Grant’s town”, I decided it was high time I did read about him.
When Grant returned to Galena after the war, prominent local Republicans presented him with the house as part of the local celebration. It is a brick house that stands on a hill overlooking the town. It remained his political and voting address during the 1868 presidential campaign and for brief periods during his presidency and retirement. The U.S. Grant Home in Galena is a state historic site.
I find the book properly analytical and clear. Reading this book is the first time in my life that I have had any interest or real understanding of the Mexican War. At so many points, the reader is likely to see with fresh perspective and feel strongly the tangled relationships of those caught up in the struggle that nearly tore apart the county. For example when Confederate General Bruckner accepted defeat at Fort Donelson, he and Grant recalled how he had loaned Grant money after Grant’s time in California before the war. Their rivalry continued, from long ago days and was freshened by this battle, as is made clear from their conversation as conveyed by the author.
The book is enjoyable, easy to read and well paced. But it is not a short read. I may have more to say about the book when I have finished. So far Grant comes across as a man of deep feeling both in battle and in his personal life. I’m learning there is much to admire about him. But, like any person, he had times in his life when he overcame hurtful episodes, depression and poor judgment. That he did overcome these is a tribute to his grit and to those who loved and championed him. I look forward to reading about his actions late in the war and as president, as well as his life after holding the land’s highest office. What was his greatest influence on history?
I am especially enjoying the parts of the book about Grant and Julia’s family life and the early Galena years. I’d like more about his devotion to Julia and his everyday life. I may well read a biography about Julia next. But first, I expect to finish this biography, and to learn more about a man who handled what history handed him as well as he handled 200 pound hides when he worked in the leather business.