In this audiobook, the reader is superb; the presentation has perfect cadence and expression, and a lengthy book, that could have become tedious, because of the excessive detail, is instead, incredibly interesting and engaging. The author’s use of language, with his ideal choice of words and his understanding of the information, is completely engrossing. This book is a remarkable feat of detailed research and organization. Grant becomes totally real and human.
Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, he was later called U. S. Grant because of a clerical error that was made when he attended West Point. After attempting unsuccessfully to revert to his real name, he acquiesced and accepted it, but insisted on using his middle name, Hiram, as well. He was good at soldiering until he was brought up on charges of excessive drinking, forcing him to resign rather than have the charges on his record. He then tried his hand at farming and at managing his father-in-law’s assets, but the forces of nature, the confluence of political events beyond his control, and his own inability to make sound decisions, sometimes being too naïve, or too soft a touch, caused him to fail at everything else but working in the service of his country.
As a soldier, he was influential in many battles. He was sent far and wide, corresponding with his sweetheart Julia, for several years before they could marry. Often stationed in places he could not bring his wife and children, he was lonely and missed them desperately. His wife was stoic, bearing children without his presence and raising them without his help, while often expressing support for his efforts. Because he was not able to accumulate a fortune, large enough to allow him to leave the service, he remained.
Grant was so devoted to the preservation of the Union, that he rarely returned home and only saw his second child for the first time after more than two years. At that time, his fortunes deteriorated, and after the birth of two more children and an inability to earn a living and make a success out of his life, he finally asked his disappointed father for help. He was allowed to enter into the business of two of his brothers. He was, actually, finally, good at something, other than soldiering. When asked to go back into the militia, he initially refused. At the time, Lincoln was President, and war was imminent because of the secession of the South. Eventually he entered the regular army, rather than the militia. A soft-spoken, humble man with no remarkable accomplishments until he was a soldier, he had a hand in all of the major events of the century in which he lived and worked. His achievements during the Civil War showed a remarkable grasp of military skill and judgment. Eventually, he was made head of all the armies and finally of the War Department, as part of President Johnson's cabinet after Lincoln’s assassination.
Grant often disagreed with Johnson, and for the sake of the Union, although a reluctant candidate, he ran against him and won. His run for the Presidency was an act of duty rather than desire. He was unique in that he was propelled mainly by his interest in the preservation of the Union and not by personal, political ambition. He did not want the losses and accomplishments of the Civil War to be rescinded by a President who sought to remove the power of the Congress and reverse the gains achieved for the country, which were accomplished through great hardship, the loss of thousands and thousands of lives, coupled with thousands and thousands of casualties. He was motivated by the desire to make sure that those sacrifices should not have been in vain.
Equal opportunity for all was the foundation of his Presidency. In many parts of the South, the Confederacy, although vanquished, was not willing to give up its lifestyle. The Ku Klux Klan was allowed to run rampant, committing completely unjust acts of brutality and murder without penalty. Were it not for Grant’s intervention, sending in the army, they would have continued without check. He worked untiringly for people of color and Native American Indians. I was surprised to learn that Grant, a Republican, was so preoccupied with abolishing slavery. He spearheaded the effort to give equal rights to freed slaves and fair treatment to the American Indian. It was the Democrats who were largely against these practices. Without the Republicans, that equality and freedom might never have been granted, and the fight against slavery might not have succeeded.
I was also surprised to learn that during his career, despite his interest in equal rights for all, he singled out the Jews for punishment because of their control of cotton sales. These sales greatly enhanced the South’s ability to fight on and engage the North in battle. Grant made some pretty controversial anti-Semitic statements and issued some pretty anti-Semitic directives, some of which were reversed by Lincoln because they condemned a whole class of people. These people were even fighting for the cause of the Union. They were rulings that were not just against the peddlers, that he found irritating, because they controlled the cotton sales which funded the South. Although his purpose was motivated by the need to cut the South's capability to supply itself, so he could defeat them at Vicksburg, he later, when running for the presidency, disavowed the statements and apologized for making them. His behavior ever after was always to increase the rights of others and to support fair treatment for all, so I have to assume the stress of the war affected his sound judgment and was not representative of who he was or what he believed, as he so claimed.
All of the battles that General Grant was engaged in throughout his career are described and Grant’s enormous successes and failures are detailed. The man who could not please his father or gain success in private life, was incredibly capable as a soldier, plain-speaking, open-minded, evenhanded and honest, he goes on to become the highest ranking officer in the service of his country and a two-term President of the United States. When he dies, prematurely from Cancer, he is revered and viewed in state for days. His final resting place is Grant's tomb, a place of honor, in New York.