The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses Simpson Grant are an American classic. In them Grant, the most able General of the Civil War, tells the story of his life and experiences, covering his birth, early youth, military training at West Point, his involvement as a Lieutenant in the Mexican War of 1847–48, and of course, his role in the Civil War of 1861–65, during which he rose to become the supreme commander of the Northern forces. After the Mexican War, Grant had left military service and became, essentially, an unsuccessful shopkeeper. Re-enlisting at the start of the Civil War, he rose to his ultimate position entirely on his own merits, showing himself to be a skilled strategist and a master of logistics.
What distinguishes Grant’s Personal Memoirs, and makes them a clear candidate for being considered a part of American literature, is the high quality and interest of the writing, for which Grant clearly had a talent. Though he goes into an extremely high level of detail about the military movements and struggles of the Civil War, the book is full of interest, and in parts is as gripping as a novel.
Obviously, Grant tells only his own part of the story and from the perspective of the ultimately successful forces; but his humanity shows through in the respect he offers to those on the other side, and in his acknowledgement of their sufferings, despite his clear condemnation of their cause of preserving slavery. He is generous in awarding due credit to others on his own side, and where blame is due tempering it with his understanding of that person’s character, background and circumstances.
After the war, Grant served two terms as President of the United States between 1869–77, but his Memoirs do not deal with this period. He began writing the book on his retirement, and completed it only after suffering from severe illness and not long before his death from throat cancer. The first edition was published in two volumes by Mark Twain in 1885.