cover of book
 

America’s Hardscrabble General: Ulysses S. Grant, from Farm Boy to Shiloh
by Jack Hurst
Southern Illinois University Press, 2022
Paper: 978-0-8093-3879-5 | Cloth: 978-0-8093-3885-6 | eISBN: 978-0-8093-3880-1
Library of Congress Classification E672
Dewey Decimal Classification 973.82092

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | REVIEWS | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
How Grant’s humble beginnings shaped his unique military genius

Renowned for his skill, courage, and indomitability during the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant is considered a model for outstanding American generalship. However, unlike most of his fellow officers, Grant came from humble Midwestern beginnings and experienced a number of professional failures before rising to military prominence.
 
Grant grew up on a farm on the Ohio frontier and reluctantly attended West Point, where he finished in the middle of his class. In his early army career, he was often underestimated by his peers despite valiant service. After the Mexican War Grant’s “Hardscrabble” farm outside St. Louis failed, and when he decided to rejoin the U.S. army, he was given the unenviable command of a rowdy volunteer regiment, the 21st Illinois. 
 
How did Grant—an average student, failed farmer, and common man—turn the 21st Illinois into a showcase regiment and become a successful general? In this engaging analysis, Jack Hurst argues that Grant’s military brilliance stemmed not from his West Point education but rather from his roots in America’s lower middle class and its commonsense values. His upbringing in the antebellum rural Midwest undergirded his military skill and helped him develop an innate humility, sense of justice, and ability to focus, leading him to form close relationships with his men. 
 
Through a detailed account of Grant’s early years, from boyhood through the Battle of Shiloh, Hurst explores how Grant’s modest start and experiences in the Mexican War prefigured his greatest military triumphs. Ultimately Grant abandoned the traditional military practice of his time, which relied upon maneuver, and instead focused on fighting. His strategy to always move forward, win or lose, turned even his losses into essential elements of victory and characterized the aggressive, relentless approach that would ultimately win the Civil War and save the Union. 
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