Book Review: The Union Forever: Lincoln, Grant, and the Civil War


by John Y. Simon, edited by Glenn W. LaFantasie

Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Pp. xiv, 312. Notes., biblio., index. $40.00. ISBN: 0813134447

Reflections on the Civil War by the editor of the U.S. Grant Papers.

John Y. Simon (1933-2008), the tireless editor of the Ulysses S. Grant papers, completed 31 volumes from 1967 until shortly before his death.  In the process of doing that, he wrote literally hundreds of essays, commentaries, and reviews on various aspects of Grant’s life and career, the Civil War, Lincoln and many other notables, as well as on the problems of editing and documentary preservation, and on historical memory.  Fifteen of Simon’s essays touching upon Lincoln and Grant have been collected in this volume by Prof. LaFantasie (Western Kentucky).  LaFantasie’s introduction and a foreword by Harold Holzer and Frank J. Williams help clarify Simon’s valuable contributions to the history of the Civil War.

The essays are divided into three parts.  The first group is focused on Lincoln.  The essays address his relationships with his father and with Anne Rutledge, the Sumter crisis, his evolving views on emancipation, his interactions with general Henry Halleck, his response to the military crisis of 1864, and his personal views on a variety of other subjects. 

The second section is focused on with Grant.  Essays in this section include on the changing views of his military abilities, long subject to often invidious comparison by those anxious to polish the image of Robert E. Lee.  Others address Grant’s unique personality, particularly so given the flamboyance of many generals of the times.  We also get interesting looks into his unusually strong marital life, his relationship with Representative Elihu Washburne, the curious “Jewish Order”, and his generalship.

The final section has two essays on the interactions between Lincoln and Grant; one covering the evolving military crisis in Kentucky in 1861, when both man were relatively new at their trade, and did not yet know each other’s abilities, and the second on the emergence of the “Unconditional Surrender” policy in 1865, which was rather appropriate to the personalities of both. 

The Union Forever will be rewarding reading for anyone with an interest in the Civil War, and of particular value to specialists in Lincoln, Grant, and civil military relations

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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