Joyce Lagow's Reviews > Campaigning with Grant

Campaigning with Grant by Horace Porter
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Apr 20, 10

bookshelves: memoirs

This is a well (if somewhat formally) written memoir of Horace Porter, who was an aide-de-camp to Ulysses S. Grant from early 1864 to the end of the Civil War. Porter participated in all of Grant's campaigns and battles, from that of the Wilderness to Lee's surrender at Appomatox; Porter was present during the meeting of lee and Grant for the surrender. It's an eye-witness account, from the point of view of command headquarters, of the crucial last 15 months of the war. Porter gives many details of camp life with Grant--his sensitivities, fondness for animals (including the famous story of having a teamster tied to a tree for 6 hours as punishment for abusing a horse), his love of his family, his lack of egotism (rare in the Army of the Potomac), his military thinking and more. For these reasons, it is a valuable record; the writing style makes it an easy read.[return][return]The one real weakness of the memoirs in terms of historical accuracy, as pointed out in the Introduction, is the extensive quoting of Grant and others. Porter kept extensive and careful notes, but it seems questionable that he did so, for example, on horseback. Yet several times, he quotes Grant and conversations with Grant that took place on horseback or in the field under conditions that were too active to allow Porter to stop and record conversations! But even if not precisely accurate, they do give the flavor of the way Grant thought and talked. The same is true of those conversation and quotes attributed to Lincoln, although in this case it may be assumed that Porter would have had ample time to record the conversations either as they occured or right afterward.[return][return]Porter's descriptions of Lincoln are touching; his memoirs describe Lincoln as other saw him at the time as well--a man burdened by responsibility and sadness, but with a shrewd judgement of people and situations. Clearly, Porter revered Lincoln and portrays Grant and other officers as having tremendous esteem and personal affection for the President. So did the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac; Porter describes (as did others) the enthusiasm with which the rank and file greeted Lincoln on every occasion.[return][return]Porter minimized Grant's reverses and defeats; reading his account of the Battle of the Wilderness, you would think it was a Union victory. His defence of Grant's disastrous assault at Cold Harbor is nothing short of patheticly feeble, that of someone grasping at straws to save the reputation of an idolized commander who made a disastrous mistake.[return][return]Shortcomings aside, these memoirs are valuable and interesting for the portrayal of Grant as a human being, as well as a detailed and fascinating account of the day-to-day life of Grant and his staff in the field.
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