Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition

Harvard's Belknap Press imprint is publishing what looks to be something every one of us should run out and get. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition (October 2017) is edited by Grant Library executive director John F. Marszalek along with David S. Nolen and Louie P. Gallo.

Of course, Grant's Memoirs has been in print forever in some form or another, but this "is the first comprehensively annotated edition of Grant’s memoirs, fully representing the great military leader’s thoughts on his life and times through the end of the Civil War and his invaluable perspective on battlefield decision making. An introduction contextualizes Grant’s life and significance, and lucid editorial commentary allows the president’s voice and narrative to shine through. With annotations compiled by the editors of the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s Presidential Library, this definitive edition enriches our understanding of the antebellum era, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. Grant provides insight into how rigorously these events tested America’s democratic institutions and the cohesion of its social order."

It's almost hard to believe it took this long for a project such as this to come to fruition. I certainly hope to review it on the site. On a side note, a small group of recent Civil War authors have been harshly critical (some even disdainful) of Memoirs and how historians have used it. Whatever one thinks of their motivations and the quality of their objections, it will be interesting to see how deep the editors are willing to go when it comes to addressing critical concerns over Grant's memory of events and his treatment of Civil War army colleagues.

12 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 29, 2017

    I am surprised you encouraged everyone to buy a copy without haven seen one yet.

    The editors of this are part of the Old Grant Guard, and my betting suspicion is that they will simply reinforce all the falsehoods contained in Grant's "Memoirs" without so much as a tip the hat to all the good original spade work performed by the likes of Joseph Rose ("Grant Under Fire") and Frank Varney ("Grant and the Rewriting of History").

    I will keep my wallet in my pocket until I find out.

    --tps

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    1. With respect, it seems your concerns were addressed in the last paragraph. Then again, you haven't seen it either so aren't you guilty of the same crime?

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    2. AnonymousJuly 31, 2017

      Well, first it's not a crime. :)

      Next, the last paragraph doesn't mesh with the first sentence. To be consistent, the mini-review notice should have made NO recommendation based upon the last paragraph until we find out what the book includes or does not.

      Finally, I fail to see any inconsistency in my position. I am waiting to find out--as my last sentence said very clearly. And, I know the editors pretty well, and their usual positions on such things.

      --Ted

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    3. You're reading a lot of strange things into what is merely a Book News announcement.

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  2. As long ago as 1954, Bruce Catton wrote about omissions and lapses of memory in Grant's Memoirs, so I find the assertions by certain modern authors frankly rather curious, if not a little disingenuous. Given the circumstances of their composition, plus the fact that the author was just as human as the rest of us, no one should be shocked or surprised. I'm very much looking forward to this new edition.

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    1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2017

      Jim, I think you also said you were not going to read the books. Not sure whether you did.

      The fact Catton pointed something out is like saying CBS broadcast something years about issue X, and virtually no others have since then, and yet no one should now talk about it.

      And no one is arguing that he wasn't human or made mistakes, so that is a strawman argument. Their arguments are mostly what Grant knew and did at that time, and then wrote about later--and how they are often demonstrably very different.

      --tps

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    2. Catton was hardly a solo voice, Ted. I just finished Cozzens on Chattanooga, for example (publ. mid-90s, I think), and he was *very* critical there about precisely those issues you mention. I'm fairly familiar with the Grant literature, and I don't know of anyone who would consider the Memoirs as historical gospel. I know I don't. My point is that I have yet to hear of something new in any recent scholarship on this point.

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    3. Jim

      I am not the Grant scholar on the level of Rose or Varney, and have forwarded this to them for their reading pleasure. I do know, however, they have have dug much more deeply on this subject and have added a lot of new questions and scholarship on the subject.

      The issue to me is whether the general reading public takes it as gospel or something approaching it. I argue they do. And many historians had no idea (or didn't give a damn) that so many things we have come to rely upon as "gospel" when followed back come from a single source: Grant.

      I have exhausted my Grant scholarship, and will let them speak, should they care to do so.

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  3. Note to the most recent poster. Anonymous comments are not allowed. Feel free to resubmit with your full name attached.

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  4. Grant's Memoirs are probably the most influential work of Civil War history (outside of such collections as the ORs). Unlike other autobiographies, however, they are very often accepted as the truth, even without corroboration from or in spite of other primary sources. Their importance can hardly be overstated.

    One of the editors of the Complete Annotated Edition of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (Louis Gallo) would go no further than to admit that "There are indeed some superficial errors in Grant’s memoirs." Gallo had supposedly read Grant Under Fire by this point, so he should have known better. Actually, the Memoirs are riddled with gross misjudgments and errors. Just Grant's continued argument that he wasn't surprised at Shiloh (without stating that explicitly) shows that he was unwilling to tell the truth.

    But there are many more errors that are not in the common histories, but which are detailed in Grant Under Fire. Sometimes, they are harder to see, such as (concerning the battle of Chattanooga): "General Dodge had the work assigned him finished within forty days after receiving his orders"; "The plan of battle was for Sherman to attack the enemy's right flank . . . and thus force him either to weaken his lines elsewhere or lose his connection with his base"; Hooker's "problem was to get from Lookout Valley to Chattanooga Valley in the most expeditious way possible; cross the latter valley rapidly to Rossville, south of Bragg's line on Missionary Ridge, form line there across the ridge facing north, with his right flank extended to Chickamauga Valley east of the ridge, thus threatening the enemy's rear on that flank and compelling him to reinforce this also"; "I determined, therefore, to do on the 23d, with the Army of the Cumberland, what had been intended to be done on the 24th"; and "Baird's division was accordingly sent from the right of Orchard Knob . . . Bragg at once commenced massing in the same direction. This was what I wanted."

    I doubt that all of these misstatements are in Catton or Cozzens.

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  5. It's important to keep in mind that books such as those by Varney and Rose have an agenda. They are biased against Grant because they are biased for other generals, such as Thomas and Rosecrans. Reviews and online discussions have identified many errors and questionable interpretations in these books.

    The poster above mentions the "Old Grant Guard." And it is true that this anti-Grant bias from advocates of the Army of the Cumberland is indeed "old." Authors like Piatt and Boynton had the same agenda in the 1800's.

    Hopefully the editors of this new annotated edition incorporate the most accurate of the Grant scholarship, rather than the most opinionated.

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  6. Alright, I think we've reached the end of the line on this and are just rehashing what's already been said on other discussion venues. I am going to close the comments thread now.

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