The Generals' Civil War

What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today

By Stephen Cushman

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6602-0
    Published: September 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6501-6
    Published: September 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6502-3
    Published: September 2021

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In December 1885, under the watchful eye of Mark Twain, the publishing firm of Charles L. Webster and Company released the first volume of the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. With a second volume published in March 1886, Grant’s memoirs became a popular sensation. Seeking to capitalize on Grant’s success and interest in earlier reminiscences by Joseph E. Johnston, William T. Sherman, and Richard Taylor, other Civil War generals such as George B. McClellan and Philip H. Sheridan soon followed suit. Some hewed more closely to Grant’s model than others, and their points of similarity and divergence left readers increasingly fascinated with the history and meaning of the nation’s great conflict. The writings also dovetailed with a rising desire to see the full sweep of American history chronicled, as its citizens looked to the start of a new century. Professional historians engaged with the memoirs as an important foundation for this work.

In this insightful book, Stephen Cushman considers Civil War generals’ memoirs as both historical and literary works, revealing how they remain vital to understanding the interaction of memory, imagination, and the writing of American history. Cushman shows how market forces shaped the production of the memoirs and, therefore, memories of the war itself; how audiences have engaged with the works to create ideas of history that fit with time and circumstance; and what these texts tell us about current conflicts over the history and meanings of the Civil War.

About the Author

Stephen Cushman is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
For more information about Stephen Cushman, visit the Author Page.


"Cushman brings to bear his exceptional skill in textual analysis in this book that deconstructs, and even reconstructs, the methods and meanings of American Civil War memoirs...Cushman puts Mark Twain at the center of all this: publisher and promoter Twain used his marketing savvy and writing skills to help Grant (among others) shape their memoirs, to good effect...A fascinating tour de force of scholarship."--Library Journal

“We could all stand to become better readers for picking up Cushman’s quirky but marvelous The Generals’ Civil War…the reader may leave feeling uncomfortable about the hazy boundary between fiction and history. Embrace it.” –-Civil War Monitor's Best Civil War Books of 2021

“A work of high critical energy and well-honed insights, Cushman’s book will excite readers and add to their understanding of Civil War generals, their memoirs, and the intellectual ties of history and imagination.”--Steven M. Stowe, author of Keep the Days: Reading the Civil War Diaries of Southern Women

“In this brilliant book, Stephen Cushman is a perceptive scout ahead of us, spying what we’ve missed and teaching us to read the generals’ thoughts.”—Jason Phillips, author of Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Imagined the Future