Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

Military History Ulysses S. Grant
by
Brooks D. Simpson

Introduction

Ulysses S. Grant’s reputation as both a general and as a president has experienced its ups and downs. During his lifetime, the savior of the Union came under heavy criticism as an unimaginative battlefield tactician and mediocre strategist who owed his victory to superior resources that he mindlessly applied to wear down his opponent, at a great cost in lives. Others, however, praised him for his determination, perseverance, and skill, but it would not be until the 20th century that military historians began to reemphasize his brilliance as a strategist and operational planner. More recently, studies have expanded their treatment to offer positive views of Grant’s handling of civil-military relations, his understanding of war aims, and his grasp of the relationship between military means and policy ends, making him the classic Clausewitizan warrior. At the same time, more detailed studies have called into question the image of a plodding butcher, pointing out that much of that impression rests upon a rather selective, incomplete, and uninformed assessment of the Overland Campaign of 1864. Although Grant still has his critics, most military historians today acknowledge his skill and intelligence, ranking him as one of the very best commanders in American history. Grant’s reputation as president took longer to recover after it dipped deeply at the beginning of the 20th century. Portrayed as naïve, bumbling, and gullible, Grant came under particularly heavy criticism for his support of Reconstruction at a time when mainstream scholars had dismissed that process as corrupt and fundamentally flawed in its aspirations to preserve and protect black civil and political rights. Eventually, historians came to understand Reconstruction in a new light, as a gallant if flawed effort to realize the promise of a new birth of freedom. Unfortunately, this let to Grant being criticized for not doing enough to achieve that goal. Only when historians began to realize the limits of the possible, due to institutional and political constraints as well as the persistence of racism throughout the postwar United States, did Grant’s presidency come under a more fundamental reassessment. Scholars now show more appreciation for his political skills and suggest that the portrayal of his two terms as riddled by corruption is overblown and misleading. They are more inclined to offer a sympathetic assessment of his presidency, credit his good intentions, and stress that there was only so much he could have achieved under the circumstances, with a few scholars pressing for an even more upward reassessment that might strike others as overcompensation for previous unjust evaluations.

Primary Sources

Grant’s autobiography, published in two volumes in 1885 and 1886 (see Grant 1885–1886), remains essential reading for anyone who wants to understand his career. Hailed as a literary masterpiece, it offers Grant’s view of the war, including some interpretations that sparked controversy at the time and remain contested terrain for Civil War scholars. At times, careful research in primary sources causes one to reassess the accuracy of Grant’s account. Julia Grant’s memoirs, which were not published until 1975 (see Grant 1975), complement her husband’s observations and offer a more intimate understanding of the couple’s relationship, but at times her memory betrays her as well. John Simon’s thirty-one volumes of Grant’s papers (which will someday be augmented), cited under Simon 1967–2009, are essential for understanding Grant’s military career, but are somewhat less successful in covering his presidency. Porter 1897 is the most oft-quoted memoir of Grant’s generalship; it was penned by a staff officer who observed Grant from the fall of 1863 through the end of the conflict. Cadwallader 1955 offers a more controversial and contested account, largely due to Cadwallader’s interest in sensationalizing stories of Grant’s drinking and a desire to promote the reputation of Grant’s staff officer and friend, John A. Rawlins. Underutilized but tremendously revealing are the interviews given by Grant to the newspaper reporter John Russell Young (see Young 1879).

  • Cadwallader, Sylvanus. Three Years with Grant. Edited by Benjamin P. Thomas. New York: Knopf, 1955.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A controversial account because of the emphasis Cadwallader paid to Grant’s drinking and the role of Grant’s staff officer John A. Rawlins. The most famous tale concerning Grant’s drinking during the Vicksburg campaign was discredited in Brooks D. Simpson’s introduction to a 1996 reprint of this work (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press). These questionable tales detract from the value of Cadwallader’s accounts of Grant in the field.

    Find this resource:

  • Grant, Julia Dent. The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant. Edited by John Y. Simon. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A chatty, warm, spirited look at the Grants, revealing Julia Grant’s rather romanticized view of slavery.

    Find this resource:

  • Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant. 2 vols. New York: Charles L. Webster, 1885–1886.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Often praised for its literary quality and judged to be the best memoir produced by an American president, Grant’s account of his life through 1865 nevertheless must be understood as his version of events. Reprinted multiple times, with the edition prepared by The Library of America (New York, 1990) including selected letters from Grant.

    Find this resource:

  • Porter, Horace. Campaigning with Grant. New York: Century, 1897.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally a series of articles penned in anticipation of the dedication of Grant’s Tomb in New York City in 1897, Porter’s recollections offer a favorable view of their subject, concentrating on the last year of military operations. Reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 2000.

    Find this resource:

  • Simon, John Y., eds. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant. 31 vols. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967–2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aside from a few small books, most of Grant’s public and private papers were scattered in archives and repositories across the nation. Simon and his team of editors brought together Grant’s papers in a fine example of the art and science of documentary editing, providing an essential resource for anyone conducting research on Grant and his times.

    Find this resource:

  • Young, John Russell. Around the World with General Grant. 2 vols. New York: American News, 1879.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These volumes are part travelogue and part oral history, but this is an essential source for anyone who wants to know Grant’s candid reflections on a number of issues in his military and political career. An abridged edition, edited by Michael Fellman, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2002.

    Find this resource:

Biographies

Amazingly, although Grant was once the subject of a score of short one-volume biographical accounts, there are only a few full-scale biographical treatments, with three substantial single-volume studies appearing over the last thirty years, as well as several shorter studies and two multivolume studies. Lewis 19 0 takes Grant up to the beginning of the Civil War, while Catton 1960 and Catton 1968 carry the story through the war. Simpson 2000 covers the same ground as these volumes, with a second volume covering Grant’s last two decades in preparation. These endeavors look favorably upon Grant’s skills as a general, with Simpson paying more attention to Grant’s views on policy and politics, especially the issues of slavery and emancipation. McFeely 1981 offers a contrasting view of Grant, one largely skeptical of Grant’s views on race relations and critical of his military skills; once popular, this biography has fallen into some disfavor. Smith 2001 offers a straightforward synthesis of the available literature and contains the fullest treatment to date of Grant’s presidency in a biography. More concise but still very insightful is Bunting 2004, which offers a favorable view of its subject as a political figure as well as a military man. Waugh 2009 presents a concise synthesis biography and explores the evolution of Grant’s reputation through the early 20th century.

  • Bunting, Josiah, III. Ulysses S. Grant. New York: Times Books, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An outstanding concise biography that makes good use of current scholarship to offer the best introductory treatment of Grant’s life currently available.

    Find this resource:

  • Catton, Bruce. Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This examination of Grant’s military career covers the period between the beginning of the conflict and the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863, interweaving biographical insights with an account of the evolution of a military commander.

    Find this resource:

  • Catton, Bruce. Grant Takes Command. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Catton’s second volume takes Grant from the Chattanooga campaign through the end of the war at Appomattox; it is more carefully and fully researched than its predecessor.

    Find this resource:

  • Lewis, Lloyd. Captain Sam Grant. Boston: Little, Brown, 1950.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A colorful and absorbing account of Grant’s pre–Civil War career, cut short by the author’s untimely death in 1949. Still the best examination of Grant’s experiences at West Point and in the Mexican-American War.

    Find this resource:

  • McFeely, William S. Grant: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This Pulitzer Prize–winning study reflected mainstream historiography and embodied then-popular attitudes about war and the struggle for black equality. Although now not held in the high regard it once was, McFeely’s account is still worth reading and contains useful insights, but it falls short as a study of a military commander.

    Find this resource:

  • Simpson, Brooks D. Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822–1865. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first of a two-volume biographical study, this volume takes Grant through the end of the Civil War, incorporating recent scholarship on the military history of the war as well as offering extended treatments of Grant’s art of command, political awareness, and attitudes toward race, politics, and policy.

    Find this resource:

  • Smith, Jean Edward. Grant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This useful volume brings together much work on Grant, although it fails to break new ground. Smith avows his desire to rehabilitate Grant, leading to a rather generous evaluation of the man and his career.

    Find this resource:

  • Waugh, Joan. U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part synthesis biography, part discussion of the early evolution of Grant’s place in national memory, Waugh offers an interpretation of the development of Grant’s image throughout the early years of the 20th century.

    Find this resource:

Civil War Generalship

In addition to biographical studies that discuss Grant as a general, several studies specifically focus on his generalship. Badeau 1868–1881 represents something of an authorized history, for Grant reviewed draft chapters and offered comments. Scholars often neglect this still-valuable resource, overlooking the extent to which Porter and others relied on Badeau. Fuller 1929 and Fuller 1933 offer a positive evaluation of Grant’s generalship in the wake of World War I, citing him as a modern general, sometimes in explicit contrast to Lee. Williams 1949–1959 focuses on Grant’s evolution as a commander through Vicksburg in what remains an overwhelmingly positive assessment, especially when compared to Williams’s disparaging treatment of George B. McClellan. Keegan 1987 offers an understanding of Grant’s command style that, while favorable, is based largely on the early years of the war; Keegan thus fails to take into account how Grant’s military skills grew as he faced new challenges in the latter part of the conflict. Ballard 2005 focuses on those evolutionary years, and is somewhat more critical, giving due attention to Grant’s mistakes and shortcomings. The more recent sustained negative assessment of Grant as a general is to be found in Buell 1997, where Buell is at pains to denigrate Grant in order to celebrate his personal favorite, General George H. Thomas. More often, Grant’s supposed shortcomings as a general are simply asserted rather than proven by writers, who simply rehash century-old narratives without bringing anything fresh or new to their analysis. Thus, unlike Lee, there are no sustained critical or negative treatments of Grant’s generalship, although that fact should not be mistaken to mean that no such criticisms exist.

  • Badeau, Adam. Military History of Ulysses S. Grant. 3 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1868–1881.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study by one of Grant’s officers remains valuable and offers insights into how Grant viewed his military career. One often detects a defensiveness that suggests that even at this early date the quality of Grant’s generalship was a contested subject.

    Find this resource:

  • Ballard, Michael B. U. S. Grant: The Making of a General, 1861–1863. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A balanced study of Grant’s rise to prominence in the Western Theater.

    Find this resource:

  • Buell, Thomas B. The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War. New York: Crown, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A harsh treatment of Grant as a less-than-capable, fumbling commander, framed in large part by Buell’s admiration of other generals.

    Find this resource:

  • Fuller, John Frederick Charles. The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1929.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A pioneering study, Fuller’s volume offered a positive assessment of Grant as the first modern general whose skills anticipated those required for success in the 20th century. A highly influential study.

    Find this resource:

  • Fuller, John Frederick Charles. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1933.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comparative study of the war’s two most famous commanders, finding Grant to be superior to Lee.

    Find this resource:

  • Keegan, John. The Mask of Command. New York: Viking, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes an insightful if flawed chapter on Grant that treats him in a largely positive fashion.

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, Kenneth P. Lincoln Finds a General: A Military Study of the Civil War. 5 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1949–1959.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this study of Union generalship from 1861 to 1863, Volume 3 covers Grant’s actions from the beginning of the war through Shiloh and its aftermath, while Volume 4 explores Iuka, Corinth, and the Vicksburg campaign. Williams thinks highly of Grant’s generalship.

    Find this resource:

Command Studies

One may also find evaluations of Grant’s generalship in books that examine Civil War military leadership, strategy, and command relationships as a whole. These volumes often set Grant’s strategic thinking in broader context; they also address Grant’s ability to work with civil superiors as well as military subordinates. Hattaway and Jones 1983 gives Grant high marks as a strategist and underscores his appreciation of logistics. In terms of Grant’s relationships with superiors as well as subordinates, Glatthaar 1994 and McPherson 2008 offer the most balanced accounts, while Williams 1952 and Simon 1994 go too far in according Lincoln the superior position on his relations with Grant. Williams 1962 presents a more positive assessment of Grant as a commander. Woodworth 2001 and Woodworth 2008 present a series of essays on Grant’s relationships with various subordinates. The essays are of uneven quality, with some failing to address how Grant worked well with some generals and not with others, preferring to offer simple summaries or interpretations based upon an incomplete consideration of the extant historiography.

  • Glatthaar, Joseph T. Partners in Command: The Relationship between Leaders in the Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrates Grant’s ability to work with civil superiors (Lincoln), military subordinates (Sherman), and naval commanders (David D. Porter) as essential to his success as a general.

    Find this resource:

  • Hattaway, Herman, and Archer Jones. How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizing the importance of logistics, Hattaway and Jones stress how Grant’s strategy struck at enemy resources as much as Confederate armies.

    Find this resource:

  • McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. New York: Penguin, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of how Lincoln waged war, with McPherson resembling T. Harry Williams in his treatment of Grant, although availing himself of recent scholarship to update the view that as great as Grant might have been, he still bowed to Lincoln when it came to several choices.

    Find this resource:

  • Simon, John Y. “Grant, Lincoln, and Unconditional Surrender.” In Lincoln’s Generals. Edited by Gabor S. Boritt, 163–198. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Extremely pro-Lincoln in approach, relegating Grant to a decidedly secondary and subordinate role in the relationship between president and general that exceeds even Williams 1952. Renders Grant as unsure of himself and needing presidential prodding.

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, T. Harry. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Knopf, 1952.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Williams argues that Lincoln enjoyed the upper hand in his relationship with Grant and was a superior strategist who displayed a better understanding of matters military than did any of his generals, including Grant.

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, T. Harry. “Ulysses Simpson Grant.” In McClellan, Sherman, and Grant. By T. Harry Williams, 70–110. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1962.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This short essay marks something of a reassessment of Grant for Williams, who offers a more positive treatment of a more confident and competent Grant than found in his 1952 book.

    Find this resource:

  • Woodworth, Steven E., ed. Grant’s Lieutenants: From Cairo to Vicksburg. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Several of these essays offer much of value in examining the relationship between Grant and several key subordinates, while others remain superficial overviews.

    Find this resource:

  • Woodworth, Steven E., ed. Grant’s Lieutenants: From Chattanooga to Appomattox. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Much like its predecessor, this volume contains essays of varying quality, some better grounded in more thorough research than others.

    Find this resource:

Battles and Campaigns, 1861–1862

In 1861 and 1862, Grant emerged as a military leader who enjoyed his share of successes and setbacks. Conger 1931 provides a simple if somewhat dated introduction to Grant’s emergence during the first twelve months of the war, while Hughes 1991 presents a rather detailed account of Grant’s first major battle at Belmont, Missouri, in which Grant enjoyed early success before scrambling to save his command from disaster. Engle 2001 presents Grant’s operations in early 1862 in a broader context and serves as a useful introduction to events in the Western Theater through the end of May. Cooling 1987 sets Grant’s campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson in a broader context, yet provides the most detailed and helpful rendering of the operation that made Grant famous. For Shiloh, Sword 1974 offers a detailed study of the battle, while Daniel 1997 presents an account of the entire campaign, including the political setting in which the battle took place. Cozzens 1997 treats Grant critically in what remains the best and most useful treatment of two understudied battles.

Battles and Campaigns, 1863

The year 1863 proved pivotal to Grant’s military career. At its start he was still licking his wounds after the failure of his first attempt to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, the previous month, and he was well aware that if success was not soon forthcoming, he risked losing his command. Twelve months later, he was the Union’s foremost general, having taken Vicksburg in July and directing the defeat of another Confederate army at Chattanooga. Ballard 2004 offers a complete single-volume treatment of the campaign, although those readers looking for a more succinct treatment should turn first to Shea and Winschel 2003. Smith 2004 offers another take on the campaign, focusing on the Union triumph at Champion Hill as being one of the critical moments of the war. Sword 1995 and especially Cozzens 1994 offer less positive assessments of Grant’s performance at Chattanooga, suggesting that he had less to do with the battle’s outcome than people credited him with at the time.

Battles and Campaigns, 1864–1865

Many assessments of Grant’s generalship focus on the Overland Campaign of 1864, in which he battled Robert E. Lee for some six weeks of near-continuous fighting before laying siege to Richmond and Petersburg. The image of Grant as a plodder and a butcher rests upon a critical assessment of this operation at the expense of a fuller understanding of Grant’s entire record as a commander over four years. More recently, scholars have come to appreciate Grant’s operational skills, notably Gordon C. Rhea, whose works together offer a detailed look at the Overland Campaign (see Rhea 1994, Rhea 1997, Rhea 2000, and Rhea 2002). Grimsley 2002 provides a solid and insightful introduction to those battles. Among older studies, Burne 1939 presents a critical but not overwhelmingly negative assessment of Grant’s performance, and unlike other military historians, Burne takes a larger view of Grant’s performance as general in chief, a subject that Simpson 2000 (cited under Biographies) and Hattaway and Jones 1983 (cited under Command Studies) also address at length. At present, the operations around Petersburg and in the Shenandoah Valley lack a focused treatment that ties them together as part of a struggle from the spring of 1864 through the winter of 1865. Greene 2008 describes how Union forces finally took Petersburg, while Marvel 2002 covers the pursuit of the fleeing Confederates, ending with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865.

  • Burne, Alfred H. Lee, Grant, and Sherman: A Study on Leadership in the 1864–65 Campaign. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Burne sees the campaigns in the East and West as related, and highlights Lee’s skill as well as Sherman’s realization of Grant’s strategic concept. A useful counter to Fuller 1929 and Fuller 1933 (both cited under Civil War Generalship).

    Find this resource:

  • Greene, A. Wilson. The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion. 2d ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The best account available of how the Confederate defenses finally crumbled in 1865, opening the way for the occupation of Richmond.

    Find this resource:

  • Grimsley, Mark. And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May–June 1864. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An ideal introduction to the campaign that stresses the impact of continuous combat upon the operations of both armies.

    Find this resource:

  • Marvel, William. Lee’s Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Intent on shredding certain myths about this final campaign, Marvel restores our appreciation for Grant’s skilled pursuit and ultimate triumph over his greatest adversary.

    Find this resource:

  • Rhea, Gordon C. The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5–6, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    More critical of Grant’s generalship than in the later volumes (Rhea 1997, Rhea 2000, and Rhea 2002), Rhea nevertheless captures the confusion of the first clash between Grant and Lee.

    Find this resource:

  • Rhea, Gordon C. The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7–12, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reveals Grant to have pressed hard for something to happen, with a willingness to experiment and maneuver as he probed for a weak spot in Lee’s defenses. However, the Army of the Potomac did not always respond well to Grant’s touch, and at times he may have been too hasty and expected too much as the fighting continued nonstop.

    Find this resource:

  • Rhea, Gordon C. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–24, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes Grant’s commitment to flanking Lee, his attempts to force a battle out in the open, and his ability to escape near-disaster along the North Anna, when it looked as if Lee was in an ideal position to deliver a devastating blow that never came.

    Find this resource:

  • Rhea, Gordon C. Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26–June 3, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rhea dismisses accounts of the assault of 3 June 1864 that claim that Grant lost seven thousand men in an hour (or less), reminding readers that George G. Meade exercised operational control that day. Although Cold Harbor was a serious setback, it pales beside far more costly and equally futile assaults, including Confederate efforts at Malvern Hill, Gettysburg, and Franklin.

    Find this resource:

Postwar and Presidential Studies

Although much attention has been paid to Grant’s military career, the same is not true of his postwar career, including his presidency. Only now are scholars turning to the last twenty years of Grant’s life with the same attentiveness that they have bestowed upon his generalship during the Civil War. Aside from several of the works cited under Biographies, three studies stand out. Badeau 1887 is an extremely useful account of Grant’s final two decades, and includes correspondence in which Grant offers some revealing insights. Hesseltine 1935 was the first full scholarly assessment of Grant’s presidency, and one that should not be dismissed lightly, although several scholars have disparaged it. One of the early signs of revising our understanding of the Grant presidency, Scaturro 1998 offers a powerful brief on behalf of the eighteenth president.

  • Badeau, Adam. Grant in Peace: From Appomattox to Mount McGregor. Hartford, CT: S. S. Scranton, 1887.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An affectionate account crafted by Grant’s military secretary and official military historian, who fell out of favor with Grant during a dispute over the completion of Grant’s memoirs. Still, Badeau’s book remains useful.

    Find this resource:

  • Hesseltine, William B. Ulysses S. Grant: Politician. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1935.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Unusual in that it offers a single-volume account of Grant’s life that pays primary attention to his presidency, giving more credit to Grant’s political skills than was traditionally the case at the time of its appearance.

    Find this resource:

  • Scaturro, Frank J. President Grant Reconsidered. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Scaturro praises Grant’s policies concerning Reconstruction and civil service reform. Perhaps most notable is his defense of the administration’s monetary and economic policy, which he asserts established a firm footing for future growth and investment.

    Find this resource:

Reconstruction, 1865–1877

Grant played a major role in Reconstruction. First, during the war, he looked to adopt policies to weaken Confederate resistance, balancing the need to both coerce and conciliate the enemy, while eventually embracing emancipation as necessary to achieve a lasting victory. Second, in the postwar period as general in chief, Grant administered key components of Reconstruction policy, advised Republicans, and battled President Andrew Johnson. Finally, as president, Grant attempted to bring Reconstruction to a successful end by achieving sectional reconciliation and justice for African Americans, but he found himself unable to subdue white supremacist terrorists or revive the interest of increasingly apathetic white northerners. Simpson 1991 looks at how Grant the military man addressed the issues of reconstruction in both war and peace, highlighting his political awareness. Mantell 1973 focuses on Grant’s actions during the Johnson presidency. Gillette 1979 offers a largely negative assessment of President Grant’s Reconstruction policy, a perspective challenged in Simpson 1998 and Calhoun 2006. Lane 2008 discusses many of the challenges facing Republicans as they sought to enforce the law and protect black Americans from violence and intimidation.

  • Calhoun, Charles W. Conceiving a New Republic: The Republican Party and the Southern Question, 1869–1900. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of Republican policy, starting with the Grant presidency and emphasizing the limits under which policymakers (including Grant) operated. Calhoun credits Republicans for their persistence.

    Find this resource:

  • Gillette, William. Retreat from Reconstruction, 1869–1879. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A fairly critical examination of Grant’s performance, concluding that at times he was a skilled political tactician who nevertheless failed to pursue strategic ends.

    Find this resource:

  • Lane, Charles. The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction. New York: Henry Holt, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent introductory study to the problems in prosecuting terrorists, demonstrating the frustrations Grant encountered.

    Find this resource:

  • Mantell, Martin E. Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A dated study, but still useful, recognizing Grant’s importance during the Johnson administration and the role of the army in administering Reconstruction policy.

    Find this resource:

  • Simpson, Brooks D. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861–1868. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrating the continuity in policy concerns before and after Appomattox, this study accords Grant political insight and skill as he sought to preserve in peace what had been secured in war.

    Find this resource:

  • Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how four presidents—Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, and Hayes—addressed the challenges of Reconstruction, in Grant’s case emphasizing his limited options and constraints on policymaking.

    Find this resource:

Domestic Policy

While Reconstruction was for many people the main issue during Grant’s political career, other important domestic issues vied for attention. The United States had to pay off the debt it had incurred during the war, decide upon an appropriate monetary policy in the wake of widespread wartime inflation, and address a number of other issues, including civil service reform and corruption. Ackerman 1988 looks at one of the more sensational instances of malfeasance, as several government officials dirtied their hands in an attempt to corner the gold market, but it is left to Summers 1993 to offer a more comprehensive and thorough examination of the corruption issue during the Grant years, suggesting that despite several dark moments, the notion of the Grant administration as scandal ridden is more than slightly overdrawn. Summers 1994 reveals that press coverage of various episodes proved to be sensationalistic, although at times some scholars have uncritically accepted those accounts at face value. Keller 1983 is the best expression of a small resurgence of interest in Grant’s policy toward Native Americans, although more work would be welcome. The same can be said of civil service reform, where Hoogenboom 1961 remains the essential work, with its realistic assessment of the politics of reform. Nugent 1967 and Unger 1964 offer extended examinations of monetary policy, with Nugent a more suitable introduction. Slap 2006 looks at the rise and fall of the Republican insurgency known as the Liberal Republican movement, and how even in the wake of electoral failure in 1872 it weakened support for Reconstruction.

  • Ackerman, Kenneth D. The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, James Gould, and Black Friday, 1869. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A lively and colorful account of the efforts of two speculators to corner the gold market, in part by using the president’s brother-in-law in a vain attempt to discover whether the government would sell gold, thus lowering the price. Ackerman implies that at least some people in the administration and the Grant family may have been more aware of what was going on than is usually assumed.

    Find this resource:

  • Hoogenboom, Ari. Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865–1883. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Still the best account of the politics of the civil service reform movement and Grant’s own efforts to balance politics and principle to achieve some reform.

    Find this resource:

  • Keller, Robert H., Jr. American Protestantism and United States Indian Policy, 1869–1882. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The best overview of what became known as Grant’s Peace Policy, outlining its intentions, achievements, and shortcomings.

    Find this resource:

  • Nugent, Walter T. K. The Money Question during Reconstruction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise overview of the course of the debate over monetary policy during the Grant administration, focusing on the demonetization of silver in 1873 and the ways in which debates over policy were framed in moral terms.

    Find this resource:

  • Slap, Andrew L. The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that in opposing Grant’s reelection, the Liberal Republican movement contributed to the collapse of Reconstruction during Grant’s second term.

    Find this resource:

  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. The Era of Good Stealings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed investigation of charges of corruption during the Grant administration, calling into question many of the claims made about Grant as president.

    Find this resource:

  • Summers, Mark Wahlgren. The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865–1878. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Recounts the role played by newspaper editors and reporters in shaping the course of Grant’s presidency, as well as the impact of such reporting upon understandings of his presidency.

    Find this resource:

  • Unger, Irwin. The Greenback Era: A Social and Political History of American Finance, 1865–1879. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the struggles over monetary policy during Grant’s administration that eventually resulted in Grant’s veto of inflationary legislation in favor of the resumption of specie payments.

    Find this resource:

Foreign Policy

At present there is not a comprehensive study of foreign policy during the Grant administration. This is all the more unusual because, on the whole, the administration’s conduct of foreign affairs was successful and foreshadowed many of the themes of late-19th-century American diplomacy, notably overseas imperialism and the Anglo-American rapprochement. Cook 1975 covers relations with Great Britain in the wake of the Civil War as the two nations addressed issues arising out of that conflict; Bradford 1980 recalls an oft-forgotten chapter in the growing friction between the United States and Spain arising out of the Cuban Revolution. Although Grant’s failed attempt to annex the Dominican Republic proved to be a pivotal point in the political fortunes of his first term, there is no modern study of that incident. For now, Nelson 1990 offers an understanding of what happened that incorporates the perspective of the Dominicans, a consideration often missing in studies of US imperial policy. The best way to comprehend foreign policy during the Grant administration is to begin with Nevins 1936, although one must take into account Nevins’s fondness for his subject. Donald 1970 offers a useful counterbalance and traces the interwoven nature of domestic and foreign policy during Grant’s first term through the eyes of a Republican opponent.

  • Bradford, Richard H. The Virginius Affair. Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press, 1980.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A compact account of how the United States and Spain almost went to war over the capture of a suspect vessel, the Virginius. Grant pulled back from the possibility of hostilities once it became apparent that the vessel had no right to be flying the American flag as it smuggled contraband to Cuban rebels.

    Find this resource:

  • Cook, Adrian. The Alabama Claims: American Politics and Anglo-American Relations, 1865–1872. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This volume traces the outstanding issues in American claims against British violations of neutrality during the Civil War: Grant and Secretary of State Fish played a major role in achieving a peaceful negotiated settlement through the principle of international arbitration.

    Find this resource:

  • Donald, David H. Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man. New York: Knopf, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The biography of one of Grant’s leading political opponents during his first term is essential reading to understand the interplay of domestic and foreign policy, especially the connections between Dominican annexation and the resolution of outstanding issues with Great Britain. Donald points the way to a better understanding of Grant’s political skills.

    Find this resource:

  • Nelson, William Javier. Almost a Territory: America’s Attempt to Annex the Dominican Republic. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise review of Grant’s effort to annex the Dominican Republic, from the Dominican perspective.

    Find this resource:

  • Nevins, Allan. Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1936.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based largely on Fish’s voluminous diary, Nevins crafts a detailed study of the Grant administration as seen through the eyes of the secretary of state, although all too often he accepts Fish’s observations at face value.

    Find this resource:

Postpresidential Years

The first seven years of Grant’s postpresidential career is best covered in several available biographies, although more could be done to explore the ex-president’s travels, his failed bid for the 1880 Republican presidential nomination, and his mixed experiences as an elder statesman whose business endeavors ended in utter failure. However, the last fifteen months of Grant’s life, from the collapse of the firm Grant and Ward in May 1884 through Grant’s struggle to finish his memoirs as throat cancer overtook him, remains a tale of courage and persistence that has attracted more than its share of studies. Green 1936 is useful primarily because of its use of the personal papers of one of Grant’s physicians, Dr. John H. Douglas. Pitkin 1973 offers a well-researched overview, while Goldhurst 1975 may be better attuned to the general reader. Wilson 1962 offers a masterful assessment of Grant the writer.

  • Goldhurst, Richard. Many Are the Hearts: The Agony and Triumph of Ulysses S. Grant. New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1975.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A lively overview of how Grant faced economic catastrophe and cancer before embarking on preparing his memoirs.

    Find this resource:

  • Green, Horace. General Grant’s Last Stand: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    What at first glance appears to be a run-of-the-mill biography is enriched by Green’s access to the personal papers of Grant’s physician, Dr. John H. Douglas, which offer insight into Grant’s struggles and temperament.

    Find this resource:

  • Pitkin, Thomas M. The Captain Departs: Ulysses S. Grant’s Last Campaign. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise study of Grant’s final year, with special attention paid to Grant’s stay at Mount McGregor and funeral preparations.

    Find this resource:

  • Wilson, Edmund. “Northern Soldiers: Ulysses S. Grant.” In Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. By Edmund Wilson, 131–173. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Perhaps the most engrossing of the studies of how Grant as a literary subject and writer shaped the telling of the Civil War.

    Find this resource:

Images

Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most photographed men of his time, as well as being the subject of various paintings, prints, and political cartoons. Although there is room for a more complete study of the Grant image, two studies stand out. Frost 1966 contains a large selection of Grant photographs, as well as places of importance in his life; Barber 1985 discusses in detail several well-known images, providing essential background information.

LAST MODIFIED: 06/26/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791279-0061

back to top

Article

Up

Down