Don't worry, you can trust me. I'm not like the others.

Banned In China

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Report

So much has been going on personally dealing with my Mother, taxes, various incompetents around me, two briefs that are due (actually past due, but I got continuances), and the second part of an eviction action, the damages part. The eviction thing was set for a hearing on money damages tomorrow, but my clients filed for bankruptcy which stays every case everywhere which involves them. The thing wasn't so much the stay, but the fact that neither my clients nor their bankruptcy attorney bothered to mention this to either me or to the court until yesterday even though the bankruptcy had been filed about a month and a half ago.

Through all this I've been reading Grant's Memoirs. Down loaded it for free from, for my ereader. I've read abridged versions of them before, but this is the first time I've read the unabridged version. It is even a little more interesting because I also got Twain's Autobiography for Xmas and it begins with a description of the publication of the Memoirs.

The abridged versions I've read cut out the parts that are the most fun, and concentrate on his versions of the battles. I'm not saying that those are not fascinating, but the discussion of the abilities of the various generals and the politics involved in the war and the early chapters about the Mexican War in particular are both fun and fascinating.

The first thing that comes out is the very dry humor of the guy. He mostly makes fun of himself. At one point stating that he joined a charge against the Mexican Army which just happened to be ordered while he was visiting the front (not a place where his orders took him) because he did not have the moral courage not to. At another point, at the beginning of the Civil War, he continued an advance because he again did not have the moral courage to stop and try to figure out what other thing he might do. This second incident was the one where he got to the location he thought the enemy was to find the enemy had fled and realized that the enemy commander was as afraid as he was. Something he said that he never forgot. There are several other points, particularly in the early parts of the book that are quite funny.

At other points he makes very clear that he completely understands that fighting a war as a democracy is much different than fighting a war as a kingdom or dictatorship. His explanation of the Vicksburg campaign and the reasons he fought it the way he did is as insightful as any I've ever seen as to what needed to be done and how this kind of war had be fought. He understood that for the Union to win the Union had to completely defeat the Confederates. The Confederates only had to keep from losing for long enough to tire out the Union and they would win. Something that Lincoln also understood, but not I think Stanton or Halleck, nor for that matter most of the other earlier commanders of the Union Armies. Grant was quite clear on this. He thought both Stanton and Halleck "timid" while he, Sherman, and Lincoln he clearly thought were not "timid."

His explanation for why he crossed the Mississippi and cut loose from his base of supplies is straight and simple. There had been a number of Union reverses, the republicans had lost the mid-terms to mostly anti war people and conscription had, of necessity, just recently been instituted in the North. His choice was to retreat to set up a secure base and then advance on Vicksburg or do as he did (against it might be stated every one's advice, even Sherman the only general, I think he didn't criticize at some point). In other words, he had to advance and win and he had to do it then.

His admiration of the American soldier was clear and I think sincere. He said that the differences between the American soldiers in the Armies he commanded and the European soldiers of his day was that the American soldiers and the Europeans could both fight like machines, but that the Americans thought and cared about and understood the cause they were fighting for.

The one sentence description of his respect for the valor of the Southern troops which also puts their cause in perspective is possibly the best I've ever seen for doing that kind of thing. The single sentence saying that never had men fought more bravely for a more unjust cause is as powerful as any I've seen in giving the common soldier all the respect he deserves for his bravery, but still pointing out how unjust was the cause for which he fought. He gives no respect to the southern cause, but a great deal to the average southern soldier.

Finally, the prose is as clear, clean, crisp and direct as any I have read anywhere. There are a fair amount of copies of his orders included in the Memoirs and they are clear and to the point. I find myself writing better after reading him (and Gore Vidal).
Now on to Keith Richards' Memoirs.


Cujo359 said...

British military historian John Keegan thinks of Grant as one of the greatest military minds ever. He heaps praise on Grant for his strategic thinking and the clarity of his written orders. The brutal nature of the Civil War, and Grant's later failure at being President (not to mention his alcoholism) tend to make us think of him as a knuckle-dragger, but if you spend any time learning about him, you realize that's not at all the case. I think that if the man had a failing, it was that he was the sort of person who only felt at home in a war. His life both before and after the war certainly suggest that.

lawguy said...

I'm not as sure as I once was about the failure of his presidency. A lot of that was because he pushed Reconstruction and that on top of beating the HERO of the south got him a bad press from the confederate sympathizers who got control of the history of this country for a century or more.