30 Great Books about Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee

Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were the titans of the Civil War. They were the faces of the North and South. They were also complex, brilliant and inspirational figures who helped define American history. After the long and brutal war Grant went on to become president of the U.S., and Lee became president of a college. Both men are admired and respected though they represent opposing sides in a war that gave birth to modern America.

1. Grant Moves South

Bruce Catton

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bruce Catton brings to life commander Ulysses S. Grant, whose bold tactics and relentless dedication to the Union ultimately ensured a Northern victory in the nation’s bloodiest conflict.

While a succession of Union generals were losing battles and sacrificing troops due to ego, egregious errors, and incompetence, an unassuming Federal Army commander was excelling in the Western theater of operations. Though unskilled in military power politics and disregarded by his peers, Colonel Grant, commander of the Twenty-First Illinois Volunteer Infantry, proved to be an unstoppable force. He won victory after victory at Belmont, Fort Henry, and Fort Donelson. His bold maneuvers at Vicksburg cost the Confederacy its invaluable lifeline: the Mississippi River. Destiny and President Lincoln had even loftier plans for Grant, placing the future of an entire nation in the hands of the North’s most valuable military leader.

Catton’s extraordinary history offers readers an look at probably the most innovative Civil War battlefield strategist, unmatched by even the South’s legendary Robert E. Lee.

2. Grant Takes Command

Bruce Catton

This volume of Catton’s acclaimed Civil War history of General Ulysses S. Grant begins in the summer of 1863. After Grant’s bold and decisive triumph over the Confederate Army at Vicksburg. President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to the head of the Army of the Potomac. The newly named general was virtually unknown to the nation and to the Union’s military high command, but he proved himself over the remaining months of the War. Grant’s strategic brilliance and tenacity crushed the Confederacy in the battles of the Overland Campaign in Virginia and the Siege of Petersburg.

In the spring of 1865, Grant forced Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Although tragedy struck only days later when Lincoln was assassinated, Grant’s military triumphs would ensure that the president’s principles of unity and freedom would endure.

In Grant Takes Command, Catton offers readers an in-depth portrait of an extraordinary warrior and military strategist whose brilliant battlefield leadership saved an endangered Union.

3. Lee: A Biography

Clifford Dowdey

General Robert E. Lee had never led troops in combat until suddenly given command of a demoralized, hodgepodge force. In a detailed study of Lee’s growth in the mastery of the techniques of war, Dowdey shows his early mistakes, the nature of his seemingly intuitive powers, the limitations imposed by his personal character and physical decline, and his on the men with whom he created a legendary army. Dowdey argues that after the fighting was over Lee made his most significant and neglected achievement. As a symbol of the defeated people, he rose above all hostilities and, in the wreckage of his own fortunes, advocated rebuilding a New South. He set the example with his progressive program in education.

In tracing Lee’s reluctant involvement in the sectional conflict, Dowdey shows that Lee was essentially a peacemaker who did not believe in war as a resolution.

4. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee

Michael Korda

Bestselling biographer Michael Korda brings to life one of America’s greatest and most iconic heroes. Korda paints a vivid and admiring portrait of Robert E. Lee as a general and a devoted family man who, though he disliked slavery and was not in favor of secession, turned down command of the Union army in 1861 because he could not “draw his sword” against his own children, his neighbors, and his beloved Virginia. Robert E. Lee was surely America’s preeminent military leader, as calm, dignified, and commanding a presence in defeat as he was in victory. Korda covers in detail all of Lee’s battles and traces the making of a great man’s reputation on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, positioning him as the symbolic martyr-hero of the Southern Cause.

5. Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee–The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged

William C. Davis

A dual biography of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, and a fresh approach to the always compelling subject of these two iconic leaders. Davis shows how they fashioned a distinctly American war and a lasting peace that changed the nation.

6. The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History

Jonathan Horn

The author looks at Robert E. Lee, the brilliant soldier bound by marriage to George Washington’s family but turned by war against Washington’s crowning achievement, the Union.

On the eve of the Civil War, one soldier embodied the legacy of George Washington and the hopes of leaders across a divided land. Both North and South sought Lee’s service for high command. Lee could choose only one.

This extensively researched book follows Robert E. Lee through married life, military glory, and misfortune. The story that emerges is more complicated, more tragic, and more illuminating than the familiar tale. More complicated because the unresolved question of slavery—the driver of disunion—was among the personal legacies that Lee inherited from Washington. More tragic because the Civil War destroyed the people and places connecting Robert E. Lee to Washington in agonizing and astonishing ways. More illuminating because the battle for George Washington’s legacy shaped the nation that America is today. As Washington was the man who would not be king, Lee was the man who would not be Washington.

7. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant: All Volumes

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was one of America’s greatest generals and later U.S. President. In the 1880’s, when he learned he had terminal cancer, Grant decided to write his personal memoirs to help provide for his family when he was gone. Mark Twain published the memoirs which sold very well, and provided Grant’s family with almost $500,000.
Grant’s memoirs are considered to be the best of the Civil War and one of the best personal memoirs ever written. The memoirs give a comprehensive description of the actions of both sides of the fighting.

This version includes a table of contents and the original illustrations from the book.

8. The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

H.W. Brands

Ulysses S. Grant led the Union to victory in the Civil War. Years later, he was elected president to unite the country, In this biography, Grant emerges as a heroic figure who was fearlessly on the side of right. He was a beloved commander in the field. He worked to protect the rights of freedmen in the South. Brands calls Ulyssess Grant the last presidential defender of black civil rights for nearly a century. He was an enormously popular president whose memoirs were a huge bestseller; yet within decades of his death his reputation was in tatters. Brands now reconsiders Grant’s legacy and provides a compelling and intimate portrait of a man who saved the Union on the battlefield and consolidated that victory as a resolute and principled political leader.

9. Grant

Jean Edward Smith

As the Union’s general in chief, Ulysses S. Grant revolutionized modern warfare. As president, he brought stability to the country after years of war and upheaval. He tried to carry out the policies of Abraham Lincoln, who he admired, and, for the most part succeeded. Yet today, Grant is remembered as a brilliant general but a failed president.
In this biography, Smith reconciles these conflicting assessments of Grant’s life. He argues that Ulysses S. Grant guided the nation through the post-Civil War era, overseeing Reconstruction of the South and enforcing the freedoms of new African-American citizens. His aura of stability and integrity enabled President Grant to override a growing sectionalism and to navigate critical national crises.

Grant’s memoirs are still regarded by historians as perhaps the finest military memoirs ever written. His funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan closed the city, and behind his pallbearers, who included both Confederate and Union generals, marched thousands of veterans from both sides of the war.

10. Ulysses S. Grant: A Biography

Augustus Thomas

In this comprehensive biography, the author details Ulysses S. Grant’s life from West Point to his second stint in the Army where he earned a reputation as a strategist and aggressive commander. We see Grant’s victories, Lincoln promoting him to lieutenant-general and Commanding General of the U.S. Army and Grant’s defeat of Robert E. Lee’s forces.
Elected president in 1868 and reelected in 1872, Grant stabilized the nation during the Reconstruction period, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, and enforced civil and voting rights laws using the army and the Department of Justice. Throughout his presidency Grant was faced with charges of corruption in executive agencies, including congressional investigations of two cabinet secretaries.
In foreign policy, Ulysses Grant sought to increase American trade and influence, while remaining at peace with the world. His administration successfully resolved the Alabama Claims by the Treaty of Washington with Great Britain, ending wartime tensions. In trade policy, Grant’s administration implemented a gold standard and sought to strengthen the dollar.

11. Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier & President

Geoffrey Perret

In this acclaimed biography of Ulysses S. Grant traces the life of the Civil War general and 18th president of the United States and assesses his major accomplishments.

12. Who Was Ulysses S. Grant?

Megan Stine

Ulysses S. Grant certainly does not have the typical war hero “back story.” Although a graduate of West Point, he never wanted to be a soldier and was terrified when he first saw battle. However, during the Civil War, after many Northern generals failed to deliver decisive victories, U.S. Grant rose to what the times required. He took command of Union forces, helped bring the war to an end in 1865, and went on to serve two terms as president.

13. Who Was Robert E. Lee?

Bonnie Bader

Robert E. Lee seemed destined for greatness. His father was a Revolutionary War hero and at West Point he graduated second in his class. In 1861, when the Southern states seceded from the Union, Lee was offered the opportunity to command the Union forces. However, even though he was against the war, his loyalty to his home state of Virginia wouldn’t let him fight for the North. Despite the South’s ultimate defeat, General Robert E. Lee remains one of the United States’ true military heroes.

14. Robert E. Lee: A Biography

Emory M. Thomas

The life of Robert E. Lee is a story not of defeat but of triumph—triumph in clearing his family name, triumph in marrying properly, triumph over the mighty Mississippi in his work as an engineer, and triumph over all other military men to become the towering figure who commanded the Confederate army in the American Civil War. But late in life Lee confessed that he “was always wanting something.”

In this probing and personal biography, Emory Thomas reveals more than the man himself did. Robert E. Lee has been, and continues to be, a symbol and hero in the American story. But in life, Thomas writes, Lee was both more and less than his legend.

The New York Review of Books called this “The best and most balanced of the Lee biographies.”

15. Lee: The Last Years

Charles Bracelen Flood

Robert E. Lee only lived five years after his surrender at Appomattox, These years were the forgotten chapter of an extraordinary life. They became his finest hours, when he did more than any other American to heal the wounds between North and South. Flood draws on new research to create an intensely human story that T. H. White called “wonderful, tragic, and powerful . . . story for which we have been waiting over a century.”

16. Lee

Douglas Southall Freeman

Douglas Southall Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Robert E. Lee was first published in 1935. This reissue of Richard Harwell’s abridgment chronicles all the major highlights of the general’s military career, from his stunning accomplishments in the Mexican War to the humbling surrender at Appomattox.

More than just a military leader, Robert E. Lee embodied all the conflicts of his time. The son of a Revolutionary War hero and related by marriage to George Washington, he was the product of young America’s elite. When Abraham Lincoln offered him command of the United States Army, however, he choose to lead the confederate ranks, convinced that his first loyalty lay with his native Virginia. Although a member of the planter class, he felt that slavery was “a moral and political evil.” Aloof and somber, he nevertheless continually inspired his men by his deep concern for their personal welfare.

17. Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision

H.W. Crocker III

Robert E. Lee was heralded by Winston Churchill as “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived.” He inspired an out-manned, out-gunned army to achieve greatness on the battlefield. He was a brilliant strategist and a man of unyielding courage who, in the face of insurmountable odds, nearly changed the course of history.

Crocker shows us the keys to Lee’s greatness as a man and a leader. His standards for personal excellence was second to none. His leadership was founded on the highest moral principles and his character was sound. Crocker details how Lee built a rag-tag bunch of men into one of the most impressive fighting forces in history. He also shows us Lee the businessman who inherited the debt-ridden Arlington plantation and streamlined its operations, the teacher who took a backwater college and made it into a prestigious university, and the motivator who inspired those he led to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

18. Lee: A Life of Virtue

John Perry

Traitor. Divider. Defender of slavery. This damning portrayal of Robert E. Lee has persisted through 150 years of history books. And yet it has no basis in fact.
In the spirit of bold restoration, Lee: A Life of Virtue reveals the true Robert E. Lee—passionate patriot, caring son, devoted husband, doting father, loyal Virginian, and devout Christian.
Weaving forgotten facts and revelations (Lee considered slavery a moral outrage) with striking personal details (for years he carried his weakened mother to and from her carriage), biographer John Perry crafts a compelling treatment of the virtuous warrior who endured withering opposition and sacrificed all to stand for Constitutional freedoms.

19. Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee, Jr.

recollections-and-letters-of-general-robert-e-lee-books-about-ulysses-grant-and-robert-leeRobert Edward “Rob” Lee, Jr. was Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s youngest song. He became a soldier during the Civil War, and later was a planter, businessman, and author.

Rob Lee was born and raised at Arlington House across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. He attended boarding schools during much of the 1850s. Unlike his father and two older brothers, Rob never served in the U.S. Army. In 1860, he enrolled at the University of Virginia. Later, he lived and farmed Romancoke Plantation on the north bank of the Pamunkey River which he inherited from his maternal grandfather George Washington Parke Custis.

Rob also became a writer, gathering his memories of his family and life. This first-hand account provides a valuable source of information on day-to-day life at Arlington House during his youth, and includes many items of interest regarding his father’s entire life.

20. Ulysses S. Grant: The American Presidents Series: The 18th President, 1869-1877

Josiah Bunting III

ulyses-s-grant-the-american-presidents-series-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeAs a general, Ulysses S. Grant is seen as the man who turned the tide of the Civil War and accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. But his presidency is remembered as one ridden by scandals. President Ulysses S. Grant is routinely portrayed as a man out of his depth, whose trusting nature and hands-off management style opened doors to corruption. Bunting shows us that Grant came to Washington in 1869 to lead a capital and a country still bitterly divided by the civil war. His predecessor, Andrew Johnson, had been impeached and nearly driven from office, and the radical Republicans in Congress were intent on imposing harsh conditions on the Southern states before allowing them back into the Union. Grant made it his priority to forge the states into a single nation. Bunting shows that despite the troubles that characterized Grant’s terms in office, he was able to accomplish this most important task. Grant was a great military man, and a better president than he is often given credit for.

21. Lincoln and Grant: The Westerners Who Won the Civil War

Edward H. Bonekemper III

lincoln-and-grant-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeThis is the first book-length study of President Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. It explores the reasons for their successful teamwork as commander-in-chief and general-in-chief of the victorious Union forces in the Civil War.

Building on his prior studies of Grant, Lee and McClellan, Bonekemper shows how Lincoln and Grant formed one of the great teams in American history and were the primary players in the Union’s Civil War victory. This book examines their similar “Western” backgrounds, Civil War experiences on military and political battlefields, common personal traits of humility, decisiveness, clarity of communication, moral courage and perseverance. He looks at their productive working relationship in areas of national policy, military strategy, military operations and tactics, and military personnel decisions concerning manpower in the field and Union generals.

22. Ulysses S. Grant: A Victor, Not a Butcher: The Military Genius of the Man Who Won the Civil War

Edward H. Bonekemper III

Ulysses S. Grant is often accused of being a cold–hearted butcher of his troops. In this book, historian Bonekemper proves that Grant’s casualty rates actually compared favorably with those of other Civil War generals. His perseverance, decisiveness, moral courage, and political acumen place him among the greatest generals of the Civil War—indeed, of all military history. Bonekemper proves that it was no historical accident that Grant accepted the surrender of three entire Confederate armies and won the Civil War. He also silences Grant’s critics and restores Grant to the heroic reputation he deserves.

23. How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War

Edward H. Bonekemper III

This book challenges the general view that Robert E. Lee was a military genius who staved off inevitable Confederate defeat against insurmountable odds. Instead, the author contends that Lee was primarily responsible for the South’s loss in a war it could have won.

He argues that the North had the burden of conquering the South, a huge defensible area consisting of 11 states. The South only had to play for a tie and only had to wear down the northern will to win.

Instead, Robert E. Lee unnecessarily went for the win, squandered his irreplaceable troops, and weakened his army so badly that military defeat became inevitable.

Bonekemper analyzes Lee’s strategies, the battles and his leadership abilities, concluding that Lee’s final failure was continuing the hopeless and bloody slaughter after Union victory had been ensured by each of a series of events: the fall of Atlanta, the reelection of Lincoln, and the fall of Petersburg and Richmond.

24. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868

Brooks D. Simpson

let-us-have-peace-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeHistorians have traditionally drawn distinctions between Ulysses S. Grant’s military and political careers. Brooks Simpson questions such distinctions and offers a new understanding of this often enigmatic leader. He argues that during the 1860s Grant was both soldier and politician, because military and civil policy were intertwined during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. According to Simpson, Grant instinctively understood that war was ‘politics by other means.’ He also realized that civil wars presented special challenges: reconciliation, not conquest, was the Union’s ultimate goal. In peace, Grant sought to secure what had been won in war, stepping in to assume a more active role in policymaking when the intransigence of white Southerners and the obstructionist behavior of President Andrew Johnson threatened to spoil the fruits of Northern victory.

25. Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America

Mark Perry

grant-and-twain-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeIn the spring of 1884 Ulysses S. Grant took Mark Twain’s advice and  agreed to write his memoirs. Little did Grant or Twain realize that the decision would profoundly alter both their lives and the course of American literature. The two men became friends and collaborators as Grant raced against cancer to compose an account of his life and times. Meanwhile, Twain struggled to complete his greatest novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In this moving and meticulously researched book, Perry reconstructs the heady months when Grant and Twain inspired and cajoled each other to create two American masterpieces.

Mortally ill, Grant fought bravely to get the story of his life and his Civil War victories down on paper. Twain, meanwhile, staked all his hopes, both financial and literary, on the tale of a ragged boy and a runaway slave that he’d been working on years. As Perry delves into the story of the men’s deepening friendship and mutual influence, he arrives at the startling discovery of the true model for the character of Huckleberry Finn.

Grant and Twain captures a pivotal moment in the lives of two towering Americans and the age they epitomized.

26. Whip the Rebellion: Ulysses S. Grant’s Rise to Command

George Walsh

whip-the-rebellion-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-lee“Whip the Rebellion” was Ulysses S. Grant’s watchword every day of the war. This dramatic narrative—peopled with the heroics of hundreds of officers and enlisted men, packed with first-hand accounts of battles, tactics, and civilian hardships—offers fresh insights into both the public and personal lives of Grant and his immediate circle.

Grant’s rise through the ranks is a compelling story as he conducted arduous and successful campaigns while coping with jealous superiors and disloyalty.

While Grant was an unprepossessing figure, his military genius and strength of character ultimately preserved the Union.

27. Damage Them All You Can: Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia

George Walsh

damage-them-all-you-can-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeRobert E. Lee’s strategy was “Damage them all you can.” His ragtag but ferocious army responds in one battle after another against their Northern enemies. He is ever offensive-minded, ever seeking the victory that will destroy his enemies’ will to fight. His cavalry rides on raids around the entire union army. Lee divides his own force time and again, defying military custom by bluffing one wing of the enemy while striking furiously elsewhere.

Walsh’s narrative also studies the humanity of  Robert E. Lee and his lieutenants—their nobility and their flaws, their chilling acceptance of death, their tender relations with wives and sweethearts in the midst of carnage –The dutiful Robert E. Lee, haunted by his father’s failures; stern and unbending Stonewall Jackson, cut down at the moment of his greatest triumph; stolid James Longstreet, who came to believe he was Lee’s equal as a strategist, the enigmatic George Pickett.

These men and scores of others carry the ultimately tragic story of the Army of Northern Virginia forward with heart rending force and bloody impact.

28. Grant and Lee: Victorious American and Vanquished Virginian

Edward H. Bonekemper III

grant-and-lee-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeBuilding on the detailed accounts of both generals’ major campaigns and battles, the author provides a detailed comparison of the primary military and personal traits of the Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. Bonekemper analyzes the battles to show that Grant did what the North needed to do to win the war: be aggressive, eliminate enemy armies, and do so with minimal casualties (154,000). Lee was too offensive for the undermanned Confederacy, suffered intolerable casualties (209,000), and allowed his obsession with the Commonwealth of Virginia to obscure the broader interests of the Confederacy. Also included are 18 battle maps as well as a comprehensive set of appendices that describes the casualties incurred by each army, battle by battle.

29. Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War

Charles Bracelen Flood

grant-and-sherman-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeWilliam Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant were two of the most important figures in the Civil War. They were also as close as brothers.

Both were failures before the war. Both struggled past political hurdles to join the war effort. At the Battle of Shiloh, they began their unique collaboration. Often together under fire on the war’s great battlefields, they smoked cigars as they gave orders and learned from their mistakes as well as their victories.

They shared the demands of family life and supported each other in the face of mudslinging criticism by the press and politicians. Their growing mutual admiration and trust set the stage for the crucial final year of the war. While Grant battled with Lee, Sherman marched through Georgia to Atlanta, and then continued with his epic March to the Sea.

Grant and Sherman is a a gripping portrait of two men, whose friendship, forged on the battlefield, would win the Civil War.

30. Last Chance For Victory: Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign

Scott Bowden, Bill Ward

last-chance-for-victory-books-about-ulysses-grant-robert-leeFifty thousand soldiers shed their blood at Gettysburg, causing serious misunderstandings about Robert E. Lee’s leadership. What were Lee’s choices before, during, and after the battle? What did he know that caused him to act as he did? This book addresses these issues by studying Lee’s decisions and the military intelligence he possessed when each was made. Packed with new information and original research, Last Chance for Victory draws alarming conclusions to complex issues with precision and clarity. It gives a whole different perspective to Lee and the Civil war’s bloodiest battle.

More books about Lee and Grant

Ulysses S. Grant: The Architect Of Victory In The U.S. Civil War
Lt.-Col. Robert G. Shields

Lee and His Cause, or, The Why and How of the War between the States
John Deering

Ulysses S. Grant
Owen Wister

Life of Ulysses S. Grant: His Boyhood, Campaigns, and Services, Military and Civil
William A. Crafts