Review of “Ulysses S. Grant” by Josiah Bunting

Originally posted on My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies:

Ulysses S. Grant” is Josiah Bunting’s 2004 biography of the eighteenth U.S. president. Bunting is an author, retired officer in the US Army and has served in a variety of academic and leadership capacities at West Point, the Naval War College, Princeton and VMI. His novel “The Lionheads” was one of Time Magazine’s “Ten Best Novels of 1973.”

As a member of The American Presidents Series, readers expect a concise, punchy, straightforward biography from Bunting, and he delivers precisely that. In a no-nonsense style stretching little more than one-hundred-fifty pages, Grant’s entire life is reviewed, analyzed and defended.

Beyond simply providing the reader with a fast, extremely comprehensible reading experience, Bunting often injects his own unique observations on Grant’s life. And although he often refers to the opinions of other well-known Grant biographers, he frequently provides his own interesting perspective on matters.

Relative to lengthier, more comprehensive biographies…

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“The Very Essence of Nightmare”—The Battle of Plymouth, NC, and the Destruction of the CSS Albemarle, pt. IV

Originally posted on Emerging Civil War:

General Henry Wessels, pictured in 1863.  (National Archives)

General Henry Wessels, pictured in 1863. (National Archives)

We are pleased to welcome back guest author Sam Smith
part four of a series

By daybreak on April 20, with a couple of signal shots from the Albermarle, Confederate infantry rushed forward toward the forts defending Plymouth. The Union defenders opened fire as soon as the Confederates were in range. Lieutenant Wright led his men in what he called “one of the grandest charges of the war.” The Confederates were torn by grape, canister, and musketry as they ran through the open fields in front of the Union forts. Corporal Council was killed by shell fragments, true to his presentiment.[i]

The fighting swept into the streets of Plymouth, and a “most terrific street fight” erupted as the Union soldiers tried to check the Confederate onslaught. Outnumbered by more than four to one, they could not kill quickly enough to stop the Rebels. Soon enough…

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Weekly History News Roundup

Richard III died an agonizing deathbone scan reveals the King died in battle.


Scottish independence vote fails… leader of independence movement resigns


Ancient hair stylists were in demand… Egyptian mummy discovered with intricate hair extensions


Flood destroys Civil Rights documentslack of proper archiving blamed for loss at FBI records center


US Senate secret rules revealed… 380 page handbook made public for the first time


No freedom for you, laddie

No freedom for you, laddie

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Crisis in Command

During the battle of Antietam… George McClellan was concerned with prudence.  He was managing his resources carefully that day, he would not allow his army to fail.  His insistence on preventing the Army of the Potomac from being defeated cost it the chance at decisive victory.   McClellan claimed in his report of the battle that his army was outnumbered and overcame great odds to achieve a minor tactical victory.  A closer examination of the facts reveals McClellan was presented with three separate chances to strike a decisive blow against Lee between 6am- 1pm on September 17.

An indelible mark upon the battle

  • A tactical reserve?  McClellan kept the V & VI Corps of the army on the East side of the Antietam all day.  The addition of one division from either Corps could have had a devastating impact on Lee’s army, especially his weakened center and southern wing.
  • Foolish odds- Most historians now agree that McClellan withheld such a  significant portion of his army because of fear.  He feared being outnumbered (Lee was actually outnumbered 2-1).  He feared a massive Confederate counterattack routing his forces.  He feared defeat….
  • Fighting blindly- Also massed in the Union rear was nearly all of McClellan’s cavalry force.  The mounted wing was vital to Civil War armies for gathering intelligence.  The troops sent against Lee were moving blindly through the country side with nearly no tactical guidance.  Cavalry could have located fords on the Antietam easily.
  • A guiding hand?  McClellan never crossed the Antietam that day and had little trust in any of the commanders he sent into combat.  The Union assaults lacked a firm hand to direct the many massed assaults.  This allowed Lee (never far from the fighting) to coordinate his reinforcements.  Union headquarters was nearly three miles from the fighting.  McClellan’s lack of timely information and failure to grasp key tactical situations cost the Union a decisive victory.

A terrible cost

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Shut up and Sing

Since the “Star Spangled Banner” became… the national anthem in 1931, singers have done nothing but complain.  The lyrics are confusing, the notes are too difficult, the verses too long….. no one likes to sing it.  There has been a concerted effort by performers for an easier anthem, far too many “talented” people have butchered the “Banner.”   “America, the Beautiful” is most often mentioned as a replacement, or at least a substitute.  Short verses, simple melody, and benign religious lyrics make it a favorite patriotic tune for performers.   Any attempt to change our national anthem would be a travesty, and “America the Beautiful” is not fitting music for a country like ours:

Try rehearsing the song, it shouldn't hurt this much

Try rehearsing the song, it shouldn’t hurt this much

  • “America the Beautiful” is a poem by Katherine Bates- composed in 1895, Bates’s lyrics describe the Rocky mountains, specifically Pike’s Peak
  • The tune is actually a hymnal written by Samuel Ward in 1882
  • The lyrics were not put to the hymnal until 1910
  • The poem has 5 stanzas, but  performers only sing one
  • “The Star Spangled Banner” is the national anthem by an act of Congress-  “America the Beautiful” is easier to sing
  • The religious lyrics do not fit well into the construct of a national anthem

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The Perfect Song

O'er the land of the free

O’er the land of the free

The “Star Spangled Banner” is the only…. song worthy to be our national anthem.  National anthems are bland airs that do not typically inspire and rarely capture the essence of the country they represent.  Written in conflict, inspired by perseverance, the “Star Spangled Banner” stands the test of history because it truly symbolizes the spirit of our nation.  The flag survived the bombardment- our country survived the perils of war.

Critics cite the difficult vocal demands… and  lyrics inspired by war as reason to find a new national anthem.  Despite popular myth, the melody of the “Banner” is not a British drinking song and the lyrics do not condone war.  Singers are tortured by the song because too many of them try to do too much with it.  Improvisation has become a subtle form of protest amongst popular artists.  Far too many singers try to leave their mark on the song for the sake of vanity.  Francis Scott Key’s lyrics capture a defining moment in our history; a time when the American experiment was in peril, yet our determination won the day.  Yes, the lyrics were written during a war, but this republic was worth fighting for- Key’s poem effectively recounts the struggle.

Gave proof through the night

Gave proof through the night

Our national anthem stands alone… in its ability to capture the American spirit.  Disillusioned disciples of the New Left can argue against this spirit in biased college classrooms, but it only takes a few bars of the “Banner” to relegate these petty assertions to the fringe where they belong.  Perseverance, bravery, and patriotism stand as the virtues preserved by the timeless words and inspirational melody – the “Star Spangled Banner”


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Gallantly Streaming

The United States needed a national anthem…. since the War of 1812, the de facto anthem had been “My Country, Tis of Thee” – or as it is better known, “God Save the Queen” – The British national anthem.   A brief history of the “Star Spangled Banner”

  • September 17, 1814- Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry” is first published in Baltimore, MD.
  • October 19, 1814- Key’s poem is first performed in public to the tune of “Anacreon in Heaven” – the British melody Key had in mind as he penned the words
  • 1861-1865- “Star Spangled Banner” becomes one of the most popular Union songs during the Civil War
  • July 27, 1889- The US Navy orders the “Star Spangled Banner” to be played at all flag raising ceremonies
  • 1897- “The Star Spangled Banner” is first performed at a professional baseball game
  • July 4, 1915- Woodrow Wilson issues Executive Order for the “Banner” to be played at all government ceremonies
  • January, 1931- John Phillip Sousa writes President Herbert Hoover endorsing the “Banner” as the national anthem
  • March 3, 1931- Herbert Hoover signs a bill into law making the “Star Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States

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