General Grant commenced writing his book in 1884 and intended writing it all himself. I was then employed with the Interstate Commerce committee of the Senate. After he became very ill in April, 1885, he wanted me as his stenographer, but hesitated to send for me because of my position. One day I called upon him and he then told me that he needed me, but he didn't want to disappoint others who needed me in Washington. I replied that I knew no one in the Senate who would refuse to let me go if I could be of any use to him and that I would come to him immediately.
At the time I came to work with the General, in April, most of the first volume of the Memoirs was done. This was written almost entirely with his own hand, and only a few corrections were made by him, and these related to the Vicksburg campaign. Very little of the second volume had been written, though he had written some of the Wilderness campaign, in accordance with his arrangement with the Century magazine to write them four articles.
After I came he began to dictate, and he continued this as long as he was able to do so. As he went on his voice became weaker and weaker, and toward the last, I had to take my seat very close to his, and he whispered his words in my ear while I took them down in shorthand. His last dictation was on the 22nd of June, 1885.
After this he would sit with his pad on his knee near me, and would write down his ideas and sometimes doodle. He was very weak, and his hand grew more and more trembling as he neared his death. When I first began, his working hours were from 10 until 12 in the morning. Then in the afternoon, his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jesse Grant (Elizabeth) would read to him out of the books and refresh his memory, and he would sit with his notebook in hand and make notes.
The General had a good army library and knew where to find things. In the evening he would have more reading, often done by his other daughter-in-law, Ida, and when the family was away, he would sit and think and make more notes. He never dictated at night, as he was much too weak, but several of us would look through books to verify dates and little bits of fact. Sometimes Colonel Fred Grant (USG's eldest son) and I would do this together.
General Grant dictated very freely and easily. He made very few changes and never hemmed and hawed. Mr Mark Twain was shown the manuscript of the first volume during one of my dictation sessions with the General. Mr. Twain was astonished when he looked at it and said there was not one literary man in one hundred who furnished as clean a copy as Grant. The Generals sentences rarely had to be revised in any way, and it was only in the last few weeks that he did not express himself very well.
The dictation for him was painful and his voice got lower and lower as he went on. At last it was a mere whisper and then it stopped altogether. I shall never forget his joy at the completion of his book. He was so afraid in the last weeks that he couldn't finish it or revise it. In writing his book, he used a yellow manila legal pad with blue lines and he wrote with a pencil. The work tired him very much, and at the end, he was only able to scratch down his ideas. I saw at last that he had reached the end and all he could do was wait for death.
In July, 1885, we were practically at the end, and I said to Fred Grant, "I think we had better tell your father that the book is done." Colonel Fred then told him. At first he hardly realized it, then he was very happy for a short period. He told those around him that his book was finished and he wanted it all read aloud to him. The next day, however, he was not so well, and he never got to the point where we could read aloud to him the second volume. It was only a few days after this that he died.
During his last days, the General worked almost continually on his book. I saw that he was sinking fast and suffering intensely, and worked all the time to try and ease his discomfort. I was stopping at the cottage at Mt. McGregor (the cottage in the Adirondacks where USG died) and my only rest was to take a walk in the woods now and again. The General spent some of his last days with his daughter, Nellie, and he seemed to want her near him as much as possible as the end approached.
After the General's death on July 23 (1885), I hunted up all the slips of paper that the General had written upon and gave them to Colonel Fred and Mrs. Grant, except about a dozen that were written personally to me. Some of these notes relate to his book. Personally, the General was the most delightful and generous man I ever knew. He was always cautious in writing or talking, so as not to injure the feelings of anyone, and I remember many touching incidents of how he cut out sentences which he thought might hurt someone. He was hypersensitive in this regard and often imagined things might hurt someone when they might well have been left in. Had he been able and strong, he would have probably made his Memoirs comprise his whole life, but as it was, he was glad to be able to finish his military career.
It was an honor to be by the General's side during his last months. He was as great a private man as he was a General or civil leader, and was always forgiving and gentle. He was devoted to his sons, who helped him verify facts for his book, and he adored his daughter, Nellie. It was the great honor of my life to be permitted to be by his side and aid him in this work.