Review of Geoffrey Perret’s Ulysses S. Grant: Solider and President

Ulysses S Grant was actually named Hiram Ulysses Grant and only a mistake by his congressman who wrote on the paperwork to the US War Department, “Ulysses S. Grant” caused the eighteenth President of the United States to have a permanent name change.

Who was “Sam Grant” as he came to be called? According to biographer Geoffrey Perret, he was a shy person, a deep thinker, an outstanding horseman and the man who Abraham Lincoln called, “a general!”

Starting with his birth and a short history of his ancestors, Perret takes the reader through Grant’s life while providing, both contemporary to Grant’s time and historical to this day, an on-going commentary on who Grant was as a person.

I found this book to be very helpful on following points for re-educating me in some important points to American History. 1. That while the early Confederate command was packed with effective leadership the Union command’s most experienced leaders remained in the west and thus took longer to develop into a fighting force. 2. That the nation Grant fought for and then later led as President had entered a new phase of life as an increasingly industrialized nation far, as Perret suggests, from the Jeffersonian-agrarian ideal that Grant had in his mind. 3. Grant’s around the world trip, the first President (really former President) to do so. 4. Julia Grant’s success as first lady and as one of many post-Civil war first ladies to fix up the White House as a home and not just a government office.

The Civil War era is treated in great detail, focusing on Grant’s decision making process, his command abilities and weakness, and a portrait of the men who he commanded and was commanded by.

Now having just recent read Hans L Trefousse’s bio of Andrew Johnson,

Perret summarizes that period of Grant’s life in a manner which gives an appropriate perspective to the Johnson and Grant relationship but fails to provide more of Grant’s views on it.

As for his Presidency, Perret again highlights the highs and lows of Grant’s administration; the gold scandal and the Indian issue to name two. But again, Perret points out something that both historians and armchair politicos have taken note of with subsequent military leaders moving into politics – can they make the transition from military to political leadership? Perret shows that Grant, while a person of integrity as far as can be substantiated, held a romanticized view of America that he eventually had to temper with the reality of the political system that was changing in a four short years since the Civil War to one that we recognized today.

Published in 1997 by Random House, Perret’s account of Grant is honest, respectful, and well researched. In presenting his work, Perret draws on the deep well of Grant study by admirers, objective historians, and detractors to write this book.


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