While I am here, I want to share with you two really great books that I think you would enjoy as I did. I hope to find some time to grind out the full-length reviews that these titles deserve, but here are two quick recommendations.
Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence (BOOK•KINDLE)
By Joseph J. Ellis (Available on June 4, 2013)
There are a handful of American authors in the 21st Century who can take some of the most familiar events and figures in our nation’s history and make them feel new and exciting and present. Joseph J. Ellis is one of them. He has already written classic, award-winning books such as Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (BOOK•KINDLE), American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (BOOK•KINDLE), His Excellency: George Washington (BOOK•KINDLE), and First Family: Abigail and John Adams (BOOK•KINDLE), among others. In Revolutionary Summer, Ellis tells the story of the dramatic summer of 1776 and it should be on your reading list for the summer of 2013.
A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War (BOOK•KINDLE)
By Thomas Fleming (Available on May 15, 2013)
Historian Thomas Fleming is so prolific that there isn’t a page in A Disease in the Public Mind listing all of his books — he’s written more than fifty of them. Like Ellis, many of Fleming’s books focus on the American Revolution era, including his best and best-known work, Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America (BOOK•KINDLE), which remains high on the list of my all-time favorites. A Disease in the Public Mind investigates not the cause, but the causes of the Civil War, in both the North and South, with Fleming’s gift for writing serious history at the pace of a novel.
I raced through both of these titles and highly recommend picking them up when they are released. And while there is never a shortage of good books out there to read, right now seems to be a particularly fortunate time for our history buffs as we’ve had some fantastic new releases in 2013 so far and some great titles on the horizon for the remainder of the years.
I sure have been getting a lot of questions lately that could easily be answered via Google or Wikipedia. Since I am a kind, helpful gentleman, I’ll answer it, though.
Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War — elected as provisional President for the first year by the provisional Confederate Congress. In November 1861, the people of the Confederacy elected Davis as their President. He ran unopposed and carried the electoral votes of all 11 Confederate states. The Confederate Presidency, like the Confederate Constitution, was largely modeled after the U.S. version. In the Confederacy, however, the President was limited to one, six-year term, so if the Confederacy had survived, Davis’s Presidency would have ended in February 1868.
As the war came to a close in April 1865, Davis and his family joined other top rebels and fled south, hoping to get out of the country instead of facing arrest and possible treason charges, which could have resulted in his execution. President Lincoln and General Grant actually hoped that Davis would make it out of the country so that the nation could work on healing rather than punishing Southern leaders. Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson had no sympathy for Davis or top Confederate officials.
Some Confederate leaders did escape to Cuba, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, but Davis was captured by federal troops in May 1865 and imprisoned in harsh conditions in Virginia for two years as federal authorities decided what to do with him. He was charged with treason, but many were calling for his release, including Northern leaders and even abolitionists who had violently opposed Davis and the Southern slave states. Many of them helped contribute to a $100,000 bond which secured Davis’s release. Charges were eventually dropped and Davis lived until 1889.
Awesome, I’m glad to hear that! I’m fortunate enough to get a ton of great books to review for AND Magazine, so I love being able to share my thoughts and make recommendations for my fellow history fans.
Everyone is welcome to connect with me on Goodreads, as well. Since I don’t always have the time to write a full-scale review on all of the books that I read, I’m going to try to remember to at least use Goodreads to post a short review (or a star rating at the very least!). I’m training myself to go to Goodreads daily so that I am consistent about it, but you’ll have to be patient with me because, as anyone who follows me on Facebook and (especially) Twitter knows, I tend to go through phases.
You made a solid choice with The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (BOOK•KINDLE). I think it was one of the best books of the year, and that’s no surprise since H.W. Brands always delivers. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s the best book written about Grant other than the one that General Grant wrote about himself.
Wow, I don’t really know how many books I have that focus on the Civil War or that era. If I were forced to make a guess, I’d say that I probably have about 90 or 100 books on the Civil War. Most of them focus on specific aspects of the Civil War or the crises that led to the war or the important individuals and events. Few of the books try to tell the complete history of the war and that’s good because it really can’t be done in one volume. So, if you were to dig through my Civil War library, you’d find a lot of biographies of people like William Tecumseh Sherman and Jefferson Davis, as well as books like William J. Cooper’s recent released We Have the War Upon Is: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 (BOOK•KINDLE) which takes a detailed look at the country from Lincoln’s election to the firing on Fort Sumter as President Buchanan’s lame duck administration does nothing while states begin to secede from the Union.
I don’t think they get redundant at all. Sure, you’ll cover some common ground, but each writer tells the stories in a different way, spotlight different people or events, and bring the history to us in their own voice. I actually prefer to read several books on the same subject because it really drives home the history, breaks through any potential biases or inconsistencies of individual authors, and helps complete the story.
I never think of common history that I read from different authors as redundancies. It’s more like a validation of the information. I truly believe that you can always get more out of a story, whether it’s through research that reveals new information, or the perspective of the writer, or just the way that something is written. Just as an example, if an editor asked me to write a different story every day for a week but that I had to detail Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in the story as the centerpiece each day, I could easily do it by shifting the narrative or approaching the details a little differently or with a totally different voice. That’s how I look at multiple books about a common subject.
I thought it was awesome. I’ll be giving it a full review sometime soon in AND Magazine, but you’re right about a lack of biographies on Seward, especially in-depth biographies of the magnitude of Walter Stahr’s Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man (BOOK•KINDLE).
The title is no exaggeration, either. Seward was an extremely important figure in American history in the 19th century because Lincoln truly did count on his counsel and rely on his diplomatic skills to keep foreign countries from undermining the war effort by recognizing the Confederate government. Without Seward in the State Department and Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War, Lincoln would have had a far more difficult time with the non-military affairs of his day-to-day government. Stahr also tells Seward’s story prior to the Civil War. Because of his role in Lincoln’s Cabinet, Seward’s earlier life and career tend to be overshadowed, but Seward had played a big role in American life for three decades prior to the war and had come very close to winning the Republican nomination for President in 1856 and 1860.
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
Hardcover. 718 pp.
October 2, 2012. Doubleday.
There is a phrase that critics — both book critics and movie critics, but mostly book critics — use so frequently in their reviews that it’s almost funny to come across it now. When a critic comes across an epic story or film, they love to describe it as a “sweeping, magisterial” work. Seriously, take a second to go right now to do a focused Google search in quotes of “sweeping, magisterial” — every single result that the search returns for several pages is either a book review or a film review! The phrase is so overused that it’s almost become a parody, like the voice-over actor who uses his deep baritone at the beginning of a movie trailer to intone, “In a world where…”. When I started reviewing books regularly, I decided I that I wanted to be careful to never use the “sweeping, magisterial” phrase as a crutch in my reviews, and I don’t think I have. Yet, I wouldn’t be honest to my readers if I didn’t admit that, as I sat down to write the review for H.W. Brands’s new book, The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (Doubleday, October 2, 2012), the first adjectives that came to my mind were “sweeping” and “magisterial”. And for that, I put the blame squarely on H.W. Brands and this comprehensive, supremely readable new biography about the quiet and unassuming General who stood nine inches shorter than Abraham Lincoln but was just as much of a giant of the dangerous and trying times that they lived in.
H.W. Brands, one of our finest historians, is no stranger to epic, penetrating biographies of American icons who are pillars of our nation’s historical architecture. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Benjamin Franklin, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (BOOK•KINDLE), as well as his biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Traitor To His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (BOOK•KINDLE), Brands has also brought us other great works such as American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 (BOOK•KINDLE), Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (BOOK•KINDLE), The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream (BOOK•KINDLE), and TR: The Last Romantic to name just a few. By no means is that Brands’ full bibliography, either. Despite the fact that each of his books are meticulously researched, masterfully structured, and elegantly written, Brands is also astonishingly prolific, especially considering the depth and breadth of each of his books.
With The Man Who Saved the Union, Brands examines the life of the enigmatic Ulysses S. Grant, a man whose importance to the preservation of the nation through the Civil War is equal to Abraham Lincoln’s and who came from similarly obscure roots and faced personal failures and depressions much like Lincoln did prior to his election as President. What is most extraordinary about Ulysses S. Grant seems to be how very ordinary he was. No one ever expected much out of Grant and despite graduating from West Point and serving ably in the Mexican War, Grant didn’t do much during his first 40 years to prove those doubters wrong. Some missteps with alcohol while Grant was stationed thousands of miles from his family in lonely military outposts in California and Oregon following the Mexican War ended a military career that had become stagnant anyway. Reunited with his family, life for Grant remained difficult and frustrating as business failures and bad luck kept him drifting from one job to another before finally forcing him to seek work with his father’s tannery and leather goods business — the last place the squeamish, animal-loving Grant wanted to end up at.
The outbreak of the Civil War provided Grant with an opportunity to reenlist in the U.S. Army and The Man Who Saved the Union follows him as he helps organize militia in Illinois and then quickly rises from colonel to brigadier general. While the Union Army struggled in the East and President Lincoln frustratingly sought a commander who would actually fight in that theater of the war, Grant’s tenacious fighting and singular focus on victory gave the Union much-needed successes in the West. Brands recounts Grant’s leadership and vividly describes the battles that helped the Union gain control of the Mississippi River and resulted in Lincoln — and the entire nation — taking notice of the quiet, cigar-smoking general who actually fought, unlike the commanders in the East that Lincoln constantly prodded and poked and eventually fired.
By the beginning of 1864, Grant was a national hero and in recognition of his successes, abilities, and the Union’s need for his continued leadership, President Lincoln appointed him lieutenant general. The man who couldn’t hold on to a job a few years earlier was now sharing the highest military rank given to that point in American history with George Washington. Grant was given command of the entire Union Army and took personal charge of the underachieving Army of the Potomac in the East while one of Grant’s best friends, General William Tecumseh Sherman, took over in the West. Sherman is one of the highlights of The Man Who Saved the Union because of his passion, his candor, and his fascinating character, and his personal friendship and professional partnership with Grant is one of the important aspects of the Civil War. Fortunately for us, Brands spotlights their relationship and lets the two generals help carry their story through their letters to each other, reports to the War Department, and their respective autobiographies, which are two of the finest books written by major American historical figures.
In many ways, 1864 is the toughest year of the Civil War and Brands puts the reader in the middle of the brutal Wilderness campaign where Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee threw tens of thousands of soldiers at one another in some of the bloodiest battles in history. At the same time, Lincoln is seeking a reelection that is not only uncertain but, at times, seems unlikely. The Man Who Saved the Union reveals how Grant shot down calls for him to run for President against Lincoln and how Union victories in the late-summer and fall helped swing the election to Lincoln.
The war comes to a close in April 1865 and Brands does a great job with the dramatic surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox. Less than a week later, Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became President. With the Civil War ending, The Man Who Saved the Union shifts into the second half of Ulysses S. Grant’s public career. Now that Grant has saved the Union, he decides that he must do whatever is necessary to help preserve it. Still the commanding general of the United States military, Grant was now overseeing soldiers flung throughout the nation — at frontier outposts battling Native Americans and occupying the former Confederate states of the South in order to protect newly-freed slaves, install loyal officials in state and local governments, ensure the rule of law, and complete Reconstruction. With Lincoln dead and Johnson in the White House, Radical Republicans battled the new President over the details of Reconstruction and Grant was often caught in the middle. As a subordinate, Grant refused to disobey or disrespect his commander-in-chief publicly, but privately, he disliked Johnson and was fed up with the President. Brands does perhaps the best job that I’ve read in describing the tension between Johnson and his Cabinet, as well as Johnson and Grant, and then the final break between President Johnson and General Grant.
Johnson had no chance of being elected President in his own right in 1868 and Brands notes that it was clear to everyone in the country that Ulysses S. Grant would be the next President. It’s interesting to read about Grant’s shift from a military man to a political leader in The Man Who Saved the Union, and Grant’s eight years as President are frequently overlooked. For decades Grant has been considered one of the worst Presidents in American history, but in recent years, that opinion has somewhat softened, particularly due to Grant’s progressive civil rights stance, which resulted in Grant signing the only civil rights legislation until 1957. Brands examines the Grant Administration in great detail and touches upon the scandals which tainted Grant’s Presidency despite no wrongdoing on the President’s part. While Grant certainly was a far better soldier than politician, Brands makes a solid case through his research that his record as President may deserve a closer look by historians.
In retirement, Grant and his wife, Julia, take a long-needed and well-deserved vacation that turned into a trip around the world which lasted over two years. Returning to the U.S., Grant nearly won the 1880 Republican Presidential nomination at a wild Republican National Convention before James Garfield was eventually nominated. In his final years, Grant looked to earn some money so that his family could live comfortably, but the bad luck in business that tormented him during the years prior to the Civil War returned. A crooked financial partner bilked Grant out of nearly every cent the general owned. Brands reveals the lengths that the aging American hero went to in order to find a way to provide for his family and details Grant’s dramatic final act of heroism. After Mark Twain worked out a lucrative deal for Grant to write his autobiography, Grant races to finish the book even though he is dying from throat cancer. Grant’s health rapidly deteriorates, but he continues to write, focused on the goal of finishing the book before his death so that his family would be able to live without financial worries. In July 1885, Grant — weighing less than 100 pounds and no longer able to speak — finished the book and it remains perhaps the best autobiography ever written by a former President (although it doesn’t cover his political career). A week after finishing the book, Grant died in New York and the country — North and South, Blue and Gray, Union and Confederate — turned out to mourn The Man Who Saved the Union.
There is a major difference between a “historian” and a “writer”, unless your name is H.W. Brands. The Man Who Saved the Union is a magnificent book that once again leaves me wondering how Brands is so thorough and prolific. The book also leaves me with a better understanding of Ulysses S. Grant. Americans know what Grant did and they see his face on the $50 bill, but this book truly helps reveal who Grant was and how this unlikely hero, bruised by failure and tested by disappointment, focused, fought, and became the savior of the Union.
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands is available now from Doubleday. You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle. H.W. Brands has written numerous best-selling books and has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is currently the Dickson Allen Anderson Professor of History at the University of Texas in Austin. His website is www.hwbrands.com and he is on Twitter @hwbrands.
No, I’ve been slacking on my writing. I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to actually writing my reviews.
The reading is going just fine. Last night, I finished H.W. Brands’ new book The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (BOOK•KINDLE), which will be released on October 2nd. Today, I started Burton I. Kaufman’s The Post-Presidency from Washington to Clinton, which hits stores on November 11th. The Brands book is a must-read, especially if you’re a fan of the Civil War-era or General Grant. I’m enjoying the Kaufman book so far, as I suspected I would, considering its from the University Press of Kansas — one of the best (and most prolific) publishers of books about Presidents and all aspects Presidential history from people, politics, and elections to focused studies of specific Presidential policies and/or Administrations.
March 4, 1865
All dreaded it
All sought to avert it
Both parties deprecated war
One would make war
Rather than let the nation survive
One would accept war
Rather than let it perish
And the war came
Neither party anticipated
That the cause of the conflict might cease
With or even before
The conflict itself should cease
Both read the same Bible
Pray to the same God
His aid against the other
It may seem strange
That any men should dare to ask
A just God’s assistance
In wringing their bread from the sweat
Of other men’s faces
Let us judge not
That we be not judged
Woe unto the world because of offenses!
For it must needs be that offenses come
Woe to that man by whom the offense cometh
American slavery is one of the offenses
Which must needs come
Fondly do we hope
Fervently do we pray
That this mighty scourge of war
May speedily pass away
If two hundred fifty years of unrequited toil
Shall be sunk
Until every drop of blood drawn with the lash
Shall be paid
By another drawn with the sword
It must be said:
The judgments are true and righteous
With malice toward none
With charity for all
With firmness in the right
As God gives us to see the right
Let us strive
Finish the work we are in
Let us strive
Bind up the nation’s wounds
Let us strive
Care for him who born the battle
For his widow
For his orphan
Let us strive to do all
Let us strive to achieve
Let us cherish
A just and lasting peace
Among ourselves and with all nations.
ULYSSES S. GRANT
18th President of the United States (1869-1877)
Full Name: Ulysses Simpson Grant (Born: Hiram Ulysses Grant)
Born: April 27, 1822, Point Pleasant, Ohio
Term: March 4, 1869-March 4, 1877
Political Party: Republican
Vice Presidents: Schuyler Colfax; Henry Wilson
Died: July 23, 1885, Mount McGregor, New York
Buried: Grant’s Tomb, General Grant National Memorial, New York City, New York
Ulysses S. Grant has long occupied space near the bottom of most rankings of Presidents, but in recent years he is one of those leaders who seems to be inching his way up the ladder as historians begin to view his Presidency differently. Grant will never be considered a great, or probably even a good President. His portrait is on the $50 bill because of what he did during the Civil War, not what he did in the White House. President Grant was a victim of the corruption that infected Washington during his Administration; in no way was he complicit other than perhaps being too loyal or too trustworthy with people who never hesitated to take advantage of the great General’s generosity. The United States at the time of Grant’s Inauguration was by no means United. The Civil War had only ended four years earlier and the country had struggled since Appomattox with Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and a painful Reconstruction. Where Grant shines in retrospect is Civil Rights. When historians look at instances where Presidents used the power of their office to the fullest, they usually stop at Lincoln during the Civil War, specifically with his suspension of habeas corpus. Many tend to overlook the fact that Grant also suspended habeas corpus as President in his effort (largely successful) to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant protected the rights of African-Americans, especially those recently emancipated and living free in the South. Not only did the Grant Administration shepherd the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, but they also used the power of the Presidency and the military to enforce Civil Rights laws and ensure voting rights for blacks. President Grant was the last President to sign major Civil Rights legislation until another great American General-turned-President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1957.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: 28 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: 30 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 30 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 37 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 34 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 33 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 29 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 29 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 23 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 26 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 29 of 40
Happy 190th Birthday to Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States and the victorious commanding General of the Union Army during the Civil War. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. When Grant was appointed to West Point, he found out that the Ohio Congressman who had helped him get into the United States Military Academy gave the name “Ulysses Simpson Grant” (Simpson was Grant’s mother’s maiden name) instead of “Hiram Ulysses Grant”. Since Grant thought the initials “U.S.G.” would look a lot better than “H.U.G.” on his equipment, he kept the name, although most of his close friends called him “Sam”.
Had PETA been around in the 19th Century, General Grant might have been their poster boy. Grant loved animals, especially horses. His father owned a tannery, and that may have been the reason that Grant hated the sight of animal blood (rare steak literally made him sick to his stomach), despised hunting, and wouldn’t eat chicken or turkey or “anything that went on two legs”.
In 1864, Grant’s love for animals was clearly displayed to his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel Horace Porter, who also served as personal secretary to President Grant in the White House. Grant and a few of his staff officers were riding between camps in Virginia when they saw a man beating his horse in the face and head. General Grant immediately jumped off of his own horse, grabbed the man, and started choking him. Before leaving, Grant ordered that the man be tied to a fence, where he remained for the next six hours. Porter said it was the only time he personally recalled Grant losing his temper during the Civil War.