Format Hardcover
Publication Date 12/05/23
ISBN 9781639365272
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 352

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Soldier of Destiny

Slavery, Secession, and the Redemption of Ulysses S. Grant

John Reeves

Presenting an original, thought-provoking look at Ulysses S. Grant, Soldier of Destiny evokes the life of the general through his conflicted connection to slavery, allowing readers a clearer understanding of this great American.

Captain Ulysses S. Grant, an obscure army officer who was expelled for alcohol abuse in 1854, rose to become general-in-chief of the United States Army in 1864. What accounts for this astonishing turn-around during this extraordinary decade? Was it destiny? Or was he just an ordinary man, opportunistically benefiting from the turmoil of the Civil War to advance to the highest military rank?

Soldier of Destiny reveals that Grant always possessed the latent abilities of a skilled commander—and he was able to develop these skills out West without the overwhelming pressure faced by more senior commanders in the Eastern theater at the beginning of the Civil War. Grant was a true Westerner himself and it was his experience in the West—before and during the Civil War—that was central to his rise.

From 1861 to 1864, Grant went from being ambivalent about slavery to becoming one of the leading individuals responsible for emancipating the slaves. Before the war, he lived in a pro-slavery community near St. Louis, where there were very few outright abolitionists. During the war, he gradually realized that Emancipation was the only possible outcome of the war that would be consistent with America’s founding values and future prosperity. Soldier of Destiny tells the story of Grant’s connection to slavery in far more detail than has been done in previous biographies.

Grant’s life story is an almost inconceivable tale of redemption within the context of his fraught relationships with his antislavery father and his slaveholding wife. This narrative explores the poverty, inequality, and extraordinary vitality of the American West during a crucial time in our nation’s history. Writers on Grant have tended to overlook his St. Louis years (1854-1860), even though they are essential for understanding his later triumphs.

Walt Whitman described Grant as “a common trader, money-maker, tanner, farmer of Illinois—general for the republic, in its terrific struggle with itself, in the war of attempted secession. Nothing heroic, as the authorities put it—and yet the greatest hero. The gods, the destinies, seem to have concentrated upon him.”

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Endorsements & Reviews

Praise for A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

"An expert account of a particularly horrific Civil War battle." Kirkus Reviews
“An exciting, well-written account of the first clash between Grant and Lee.” HistoryNet
"Reeves delivers an exhaustive and riveting account of the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness." Publishers Weekly
"Reeves shows that battles can reveal heroism not through victories but at a basic level of survival. He has produced an evocative account of the human costs of the Civil War." Library Journal
"It is a riveting read that brings a human element to a battle where humanity was lost amid the undergrowth and fires of the Wilderness.” Emerging Civil War
"Through the years, my various readings of the Civil War never showed the horror that John Reeves lays bare in his new volume." The Virginia Gazette
“Reeves focuses on the personal experiences of the participants, both high and low, their thoughts, hardships, heroics, and personal experiences. It is unlike any book I have seen on the battle.” American Civil War Round Table
“With an absorbing narrative style, John Reeves hauntingly evokes the human drama of one of the Civil War's most horrific battles... Relating the story of this first clash between Lee and Grant from the perspective of both generals and foot soldiers, this is popular military history at its best.” Brian Matthew Jordan, Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War
“John Reeves offers us an intimate portrait of the great Battle of the Wilderness that focuses on people—their thoughts, hardships, heroics, and personal experiences—that is unlike any book previously published on the battle. His narrative is lively, scrupulously-researched, and filled with a pathos that is rare among writers of Civil War military history.” Christian B. Keller, PhD, author of The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy
“John Reeves illuminates the Battle of the Wilderness from fresh perspectives. His story personalizes the controversial and much-resented substitution policy in an especially compelling way.” Stephen Cushman, Professor of English at the University of Virgina, and author of Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle