What Ulysses S. Grant would tell Trump about Robert E. Lee

Another look at the current magnifying glass on Lee, this one citing the quote I most often go to when discussing the topic.

I do have one bone to pick with the author, though – Grant’s actions do indicate that he had an abolitionist streak. His father in law was a wealthy slaveowner, and gifted Grant and Julia a slave when they married. At his lowest point, when he was broke and unable to make ends meet, he manumitted the slave, when an adult male would have brought in enough money on the open market to make Grant’s money woes disappear. Yet another facet with which to compare and contrast Lee’s mistreatment of Arlington’s slave population!

We already have a better way to look at Robert E. Lee. Not an angry way, but a just one.

In his memoir, Ulysses S. Grant, a general greater than Lee, described his feelings upon meeting Lee in April 1865 at Appomattox, as Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia. Grant wrote, “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

In one sentence, Grant manages to distinguish between Lee’s qualities as a general and the terrible cause — the destruction of the United States for the benefit of slavery — to which Lee put his talents.

Source: What Ulysses S. Grant would tell Trump about Robert E. Lee – The Washington Post

The Grant Presidential Library

I’m not quite sure how the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library ended up in Mississippi, but it’s being managed by John Marszalek, author of some wonderful Civil War biographies. The collection comprises official papers, diaries, photographs, and correspondence. If you’re a Grant scholar or even just a Grant enthusiast, it’s worth a digital visit.

Source: Mississippi State University Libraries Digital Collections

American Ulysses

There’s a new Grant biography for us all to enjoy. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant is here reviewed very favourably by the Chicago Tribune. Given the fuss and fury of this year’s election campaign, it might be nice to spend 850 pages immersed in the company of a genuinely nice man. (Though the chapters dealing with corrupt and predatory businessmen might be a jarring reminder of our current situation.)

No presidential biography can avoid serving as a comment on its own time. In this regard, White’s book is an invaluable gift. The Grant he finds is, in every regard, the antithesis of what has come to be viewed as the modern politician — humble, modest, self-made; known as “the quiet man,” he spoke little, but thoughtfully and judiciously (he also wrote his own memoirs, of which Gore Vidal stated, “the author is a man of first-rate intelligence. … His book is a classic.”) He was fair, altruistic, loyal (sometimes to a fault and at his own expense), honest, decent, and deeply honorable. He was magnanimous in victory, concerned for the welfare of his country and his fellow citizens, open-minded, curious about the world and others. He fought against the nascent Ku Klux Klan, and for fair dealing with Native Americans, causing Frederick Douglass to conclude, “To him more than any other man the Negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy. … He was accessible to all men. … The black soldier was welcome in his tent, and the freedman in his house.”

Source: ‘American Ulysses’ tries to set the record straight on the Civil War general – Chicago Tribune


I’ve been busy with an art project lately, so haven’t been updating, which is bad timing given we’re into the home stretch of the sesquicentennial. I’ve taken a few minutes to put my art aside and post someone else’s: Here’s a copy of my favourite Appomattox painting, by Tom Lovell. While still not 100% authentic, it’s beautifully painted and shows the two heroes at their separate tables. Lee looking solemn as Taylor dispassionately supervises the paperwork, and Grant leaning over intently. It’s a great scene, and wonderfully emotive. The closest we’ll get to time travel is through the brushstrokes of artists like this.

The Peacemakers

It’s the 150th anniversary of the River Queen conference, which – of all the great events and happenings from 1860-1865, is the one I most wish I could witness. Sherman in all his glory reunites with his elevated friend Grant. Sherman also meets Lincoln the reelected for the first time in 4 years, after getting off on the wrong foot back at the war’s outset, and finds himself captivated. The men lay out amongst themselves a tentative plan for a humane and thoughtful Reconstruction. That rainbow in the background of the famous painting belied what actually happened, but to me, this was the brief shining moment of the Civil War.

The Peacemakers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Peacemakers – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

That Obnoxious Order

The first link on this page leads to Jonathan Sarna’s lecture “That Obnoxious Order”, a 30 minute lecture on Grant’s anti-Jewish order. Sarna’s speaking style is entertaining, and his research is intriguing: He suggests Jesse Grant, the general’s annoying father, might have been a driving impetus to Ulysses’ actions.

Center for Jewish Studies – Download free content from University of Wisconsin-Madison on iTunes.

America’s Worst Anti-Jewish Action

The same author from yesterday’s article wrote earlier about Grant’s infamous anti-Jewish order from 1862.  Sad to see the words of some of the greatest heroes laid bare with anti-semitism.

A few months earlier, on August 11, General William Tecumseh Sherman had warned in a letter to the adjutant general of the Union Army that “the country will swarm with dishonest Jews” if continued trade in cotton were encouraged. And Grant also issued orders in November 1862 banning travel in general, by “the Israelites especially,” because they were “such an intolerable nuisance,” and railroad conductors were told that “no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad.”

As a result of Grant’s expulsion order, Jewish families were forced out of their homes in Paducah, Kentucky, and Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi – and a few were sent to prison. When some Jewish victims protested to President Lincoln, Attorney General Edward Bates advised the president that he was indifferent to such objections.

Lincoln rescinded Grant’s odious order, but not before Jewish families in the area had been humiliated, terrified, and jailed, and some stripped of their possessions.

via The Jewish Press » » Shame of the Yankees – America’s Worst Anti-Jewish Action.

Thurber’s Grant

A fun short piece by James Thurber from the “If It Had Happened Otherwise” series.  Well seeing Rawlins wasn’t mentioned. I doubt he would’ve stood for any of this.

The morning of the ninth of April, 1865, dawned beautifully. General Meade was up with the first streaks of crimson in the sky. General Hooker and General Burnside were up and had breakfasted, by a quarter after eight. The day continued beautiful. It drew on. toward eleven o’clock. General Ulysses S. Grant was still not up. He was asleep in his famous old navy hammock, swung high above the floor of his headquarters’ bedroom. Headquarters was distressingly disarranged: papers were strewn on the floor; confidential notes from spies scurried here and there in the breeze from an open window; the dregs of an overturned bottle of wine flowed pinkly across an important military map.

via http://02dddd4.netsolhost.com/poetry/Grant.shtml

‘The Man Who Saved the Union’

There’s a new Grant biography out, and this review makes it sound like a worthwhile read. Personally, I’m not sure I need another biography, his memoirs are well written and informative enough to provide me with most of the details of his life worth knowing. I did, though, love this summary of the Grant’s Tomb quandary: How did he end up buried in New York, and in a crappy part of town, at that?

That his tomb is there in the first place is typical of Grant’s poor judgment about matters off the battlefield. If it had been placed in Washington, it would be a gleaming national tourist attraction, perhaps placed close to the Lincoln or the Jefferson memorial, where he belongs, but the president and Mrs. Grant did not care for Washington, D.C. Galena, Ill., was eager to have Grant’s tomb, but the Grants did not think Galena was the right place to bury America’s most successful general and did not look back with pleasure on the years during which Grant, having resigned from the Army and failed at several professions, worked as clerk in his father’s harness store in Galena wrapping parcels and was ridiculed as the town drunk. Grant rejected West Point, his alma mater, because regulations precluded Mrs. Grant from being buried beside him when her time came, and since Grant was never happy when separated from Julia (he did not drink when they were together), he was unwilling to be separated from her in death. They chose New York City instead, and with the mournful lack of judgment that afflicted Grant whenever real estate or money were concerned, they made the mistake of believing that the Upper West Side was the coming neighborhood and with its view over the Hudson was sure to be the most elegant part of the city, the equivalent of Paris’s 16eme arrondisement or London’s Belgravia, not imagining that they were consigning their remains to a part of New York that would become famous for gang warfare and drug dealing, where no sensible person goes out for a walk at night.

via ‘The Man Who Saved the Union’ by H.W. Brands: The Forgotten General Grant – The Daily Beast.

Grant’s Jewish Order

More favourite figures behaving in regrettable ways! It’s like a deeply unpleasant theme week…

There’s little to glean here for anyone who knows the story already, but due to the quick cancellation of the order, the fact that Grant once tried to expel the entire Jewish population of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. In truth, the article leaves out almost all the details of the story, while presenting others that go unexplained or unexplored, including this tidbit:

When asked what first sparked his interest in Grant’s orders, Sarna recalls the story that makes up the book’s introduction. As a young professor, he was asked to deliver a talk at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. As the talk coincided with the 120th anniversary of General Orders No. 11, Sarna thought it was fitting to speak on the man who later became the 18th U.S. president.

While delivering the lecture, Sarna made what he thought was a grave factual error—that is, until a member of the audience who was a descendant of the very man about whom Sarna was speaking rose to his feet and confirmed Sarna’s suggestion.

“It was deeply memorable,” Sarna recalls, “having a descendent of this family essentially confirm that their ancestor had been involved in a kind of secret deal with Grant’s father Jesse. Certainly that was memorable and stuck in my mind as a subject that deserved further research.”

It does, however, seem to be in support of a book, to be released on March 13th, that promises a more thorough investigation.

I’ve always found the order a tarnish on Grant’s reputation. Disappointing, especially when one considers that he was very open-minded and supportive of the black troops in his army.