‘Soldier of Destiny’: A Detailed View of Grant as an Evolving Soul
On April 11, 1854, under a cloud of suspicion, Captain Ulysses S. Grant resigned his commission in the U.S. Army. Already saddled with debt, the Mexican War hero had no real prospects for supporting his family and his future appeared anything but promising.
Yet, a scant 10 years later, Grant had risen from relative obscurity to the senior most command of the service he had left in near-disgrace. His highly improbable ascendancy to General of the Army was testament to his boldness as a military leader and his incredible luck in surviving recriminations for missteps—as well as narrowly avoiding death in combat.
John Reeves’ Soldier of Destiny examines Grant’s life during that formative decade leading to his promotion in 1864 to lieutenant general, a rank held previously only by George Washington. In those 10 years, he emerged from oblivion ready to face a new arc of history.
This thoroughly researched and detailed book offers keen insight into Grant as an evolving soul attempting to navigate the trials and tribulations of life. It also dispels some of the myths of the future Union general as a wholly unsuited businessman and unstable drunk.
While Grant certainly had failures in the commercial sector, he excelled as a farmer and manager of his father-in-law’s Missouri plantation—complete with slaves. In regard to alcoholism, Reeves offers a balanced view of Grant’s vice, depicting him as a binge drinker who remained sober for long periods.
On the issue of slavery, the book paints Grant as a man of his time. Though he grew up in an abolitionist family, Grant at first was ambivalent of that peculiar institution. In fact, he had decidedly racist views of African Americans—not untypical for his day. By 1863, however, Grant realized “colored troops” were indispensable to the Union cause and even claimed, “They will make good soldiers.”
Of course, it is on the battlefield that the general distinguished himself. Reeves writes with flair about Grant’s boldness and risky decisions at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga—and how he remained calm while circumstances crumbled around him. His intuitiveness in combat enabled him to make courageous choices while other commanders tended to waver and wane.
Nowhere more apparent is that aspect of Grant’s personality than in the apocryphal story of when an aide asked him if he was sure of a decision. The general answered, “No, I am not, but in war anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong, we shall soon find out, and can do the other thing. But not to decide wastes both time and money, and may ruin everything.”
Soldier of Destiny is a masterful account of the decisive Grant and how he remained resilient while “lost in the wilderness,” only to emerge as a sword of deliverance at the moment his country needed him most.
Soldier of Destiny
Slavery, Secession and the Redemption of Ulysses S. Grant
By John Reeves, Pegasus Books, 2023