Ulysses S. Grant was a great Civil War general and the 18th President of the United States.   He is famous for the siege of Vicksburg, the final military battle of the American Civil War, General Robert E. Lee’s full surrender at Appomattox, and as the face on the fifty dollar bill.   Grant was also a bestselling author.  Grant wrote Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (“Memoirs”).  Sold as a set, Volume I was published in 1885 and Volume II was published in 1886.  Memoirs have never been out of print.         

Image 1: Grant July 1885

This is not the story of a retiring president and war hero comfortably writing his Memoirs in his sunset years.  This is the story of humiliation, fraud, deceit, financial ruin, deadly cancer and  posthumous victory.  This is the story of a humble man who desperately wanted to provide financial security for his family before his imminent death.        



 Aided by his good friend Samuel L. Clemens (“Clemens”) a.k.a. Mark Twain, who acted as his publisher, Grant wrote the most financially successful book of his era.  He died five months before Volume I of Memoirs was published in 1885.  Grant’s wife received the largest royalty check ever written at the time as proceeds of Memoirs.              


                                 Image 2      

Because Grant and Clemens were contemporary American heroes, every aspect of Memoirs was covered in the press.  There was gossip, back biting and a number of lawsuits resulting from the creation of Memoirs. Biographers of Grant and Clemens usually include a chapter in their books about Memoirs.  However, it does not appear that anyone has written the history of Memoirs.  This blog may be the beginning of that book.  This is an abbreviated study of the history of Memoirs.  It includes the stories of the author, the publisher, the book sellers, and the provenance of my first edition copy of Memoirs.  Additionally, a physical study of Memoirs will be presented using my copy of Memoirs.  Many of the details about the physical creation of Memoirs can be gleaned from the volumes.   Contemporaneous advertising and sales materials describing Memoirs have been preserved and are valuable resources.        

The history of Memoirs begins at the end of Grant’s life.  Grant died in July 1885.  The story of Memoirs opens 14 months earlier, in May 1884.