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America’s Hardscrabble General

America’s Hardscrabble General

Ulysses S. Grant, from Farm Boy to Shiloh

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Jack Hurst


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
244 pages, 6 x 9, 19 illustrations

World of Ulysses S. Grant


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About the 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. 


Jack Hurst is a Civil War historian and retired newspaperman. He is the author of four books, most recently Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War and Born to Battle: Grant and Forrest—Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. Jack, who served as an army journalist, wrote for the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Nashville Tennessean


“Jack Hurst writes brilliantly, with a bold, energetic style that is highly engaging. His analysis is thought-provoking and enlightening. Readers will enjoy this book and come away from it with deeper understandings of Grant, the Civil War, nineteenth-century America, and military history.”—Steven E. Woodworth, coeditor of The Shiloh Campaign
“In this new, unorthodox biography of Grant, Jack Hurst explores Grant’s origins and early military service to uncover what separated Grant’s generalship from that of so many of his peers, positing that it was Grant’s experience as a ‘common man’ in the antebellum United States that created his no-nonsense, practical approach to warfare. Amid a raft of recent Grant biographies, Hurst’s take on Grant raises points well worth considering.”—David A. Powell, author of The Impulse of Victory: Ulysses S. Grant at Chattanooga

“In Hardscrabble General, [Hurst] provides a fine portrait of a leader who never sought wealth or notoriety, who cared much more for the men he commanded and the nation that had educated him than he did for the headlines he made. A man whose life lessons taught him the humility with which he approached his job and the clarity of purpose needed to see a thing through to its conclusion. To win.”—Chris Scott, Chapter 16

“Nothing ever came easy to Ulysses S. Grant. From a childhood dominated by an irascible, overbearing father and an equally reticent mother [to] experiencing all the horrors and devastation of war at the ripe young age of twenty-four to the humiliation in front of an increasingly conscious and critical public eye as he desperately tried to support his family, a humbled Grant understood the meaning of true deprivation. . . . Yet rather than let these circumstances defeat him, Grant endured these hardships, learned valuable life lessons from them, and, combined with his formative background, used these lessons to his advantage to become the greatest and most successful battle commander in American military history. So argues Jack Hurst in his compelling and highly engaging America’s Hardscrabble General, Ulysses S. Grant: From Farm Boy to Shiloh.”—Richard G. Mannion, Civil War Book Review

“Hurst contrasts Grant with other Civil War generals, both North and South, and finds that his protagonist shines by comparison, not just in his accomplishments, but in his character. Hurst finds that some officers of a supposed better class than Grant lacked his persistence in achieving goals or his community with the common soldier.”—Russell K. Brown, The Journal of America’s Military Past