Soldier of Destiny: Slavery, Secession, and the Redemption of Ulysses S. Grant Review

By John Reeves
New York: Pegasus Books, 2023
ISBN 978-1-63936-527-2
Photographs. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 289. $29.95

In his third book, John Reeves weaves Ulysses S. Grant’s relationship with his father, wife, and father-in-law into an interesting biography. These relationships tell stories that make Grant a more human figure. Reeves gives readers all of Grant, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The eighteen chapters fall into four parts covering his childhood to his promotion to lieutenant general and commander of all the Union armies in March 1864. Unfortunately, Reeves does not include the last year of the Civil War or his presidency.

Each chapter follows certain parts of Grant’s military career. They focus on various aspects of a ten-year span from 1854-1864. The chapters include stories about his childhood, adult/married life, his struggles with alcohol, and his rise to military greatness during the Civil War. He was a typically rebellious eldest son who constantly struggled to obtain his father’s approval. He was a loving husband and devoted father to his children. He was an alcoholic, which at times impaired his ability to perform his military duties. He was a good soldier and leader of men. Grant was also an excellent strategist and tactician. He took risky gambles in battle, however, but his faith in his abilities enabled him to achieve key victories.

Grant’s wife, Julia, was also a key figure influencing and guiding him. The two people Grant wanted to please the most during his life were his father and Julia. Grant’s drinking problems stemmed from loneliness when he was away from his family, assigned to an isolated Army post; the alcoholic tendencies stopped when Julia and his children were nearby. Grant’s father was an abolitionist and successful in business. Julia and her father owned slaves. Reeves does an excellent job showing how Grant managed this situation throughout his marriage.

Reeves provides insight into Grant’s business and political acumen. Grant tried working for his father in the tannery business. Grant was thin-skinned and hurt by the comments or actions of key political figures. Reeves provides letters and correspondence within this work to give readers a better picture of the situation.

Soldier of Destiny is comprehensive, concise, and well-organized, and readers will find it an easy and enjoyable read. It is an engaging story about the type of man General Grant was, though it unfortunately does not depict his major command and presidency. It serves well as a model for how to write a biography.

Colonel Richard J. Blumberg, USA-Ret.
Spring, Texas