A New Look at Grant

Frank P. Varney, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, California, Savas and Beatty, 2013

A critical examination of Grant’s memoirs and their effects on the historical record. 

 

Professor Frank Varney’s first book is a bold effort to right historical wrongs…. and the wrongs were perpetrated by none other than US Grant.   Varney proposes a three volume examination of the inconsistencies, mistakes, and outright lies found in Grant’s widely utilized memoirs.  Volume one takes Grant (and his historical defenders) to task for ruining the reputation of Major General William S. Rosecrans.  Varney carefully dissects both the historical record and the secondary sources which were deeply influenced by Grant’s account.

“The well of data about Rosecrans has been so tainted that many historians… are simply not motivated to look beyond the traditionally relied-upon sources- the writings of Grant prominent among them.”   Varney sums up how Grant’s memoirs have affected Civil War historiography.  Researchers simply assume Grant was right- they fail to verify with lesser known primary sources; what source could be more valuable than the man credited as the Union victor?  Varney’s research is extensive and provides key insights to the Grant/Rosecrans feud.  At the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, Grant was miles from the fighting- his battle reports change over time- and his memoir bears little resemblance to the Official Records.  Historians like Steven Woodworth and T. Harry Williams  have been complicit in propagating Grant’s distorted account and Varney cites key examples of his peers failing to carry-out the most basic research methodology.

Far from a redemptive piece about Rosecrans… Varney acknowledges the flaws in the man.  But, the evidence of tampering and distortion are too extensive to be ignored by the historical community.  Rosecrans had his flaws, but Grant’s accounts of the war have forever tarnished a General with widely accepted military skill.  Grant didn’t care for his subordinate and Varney skillfully shows how he took credit for victories, exaggerated his own actions, and distorted (even lied) about the performance of others.  Rosecrans was the victim of a concerted effort led by Grant- and historians have failed to give a balanced account of this chapter in Civil War history.  Hopefully, Professor Varney’s future volumes will be as detailed and insightful as this first edition.

The recent Grant renaissance should be reconsidered. 

Remarkable Restraint

Abraham Lincoln could have curried much political favor in the West had he ordered the executions of 303 Dakota Sioux – Instead, he reviewed each case.

Despite the crushing defeat at Second Bull Run, the horrific carnage of Antietam, and the political fallout of issuing the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln still listened to the facts of the 303 condemned to hang in the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.

abraham_lincoln_by_george_peter_alexander_healy

Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the defendants.  Nearly 800 white settlers had been slaughtered in the uprising, and the public demanded retribution.  Lincoln was not going to allow these murders to go unpunished, but he was determined to use his pardoning power judiciously.

General John Pope encouraged his Commander-in-Chief to order all 303 hangings, sighting the popularity of such a decision on the Minnesota frontier.  Lincoln famously responded,

“I could not hang men for votes…”

 

 

 

Facts in Five

abraham_lincoln_o-77_matte_collodion_print

Lincoln and Military Justice Edition:

  • Lincoln was petitioned with over 1,600 military justice cases
  • 343 military pardons were issued during his time in office
  • Three time offenders, rapists, and traitors were shown no mercy
  • Lincoln’s liberal pardoning policy was unpopular with his Generals
  • Though disliked by his Generals, Lincoln’s use of military clemency was popular in the ranks and with public opinion

“I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator, and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but, withal, a great mercy.”

History Wishes for the New Year

Practical historical advice everyone can use-

  • More Civil War discussion- less monument destruction
  • PBS rebroadcasts Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” nationally
  • Congress authorizes one quarter of the total for Trump’s wall to be used for historic preservation
  • Ed Bearss is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Americans rediscover the greatness of George Washington
  • The House of Representatives resists the temptation of impeachment
  • Congress seriously considers repealing the 17th amendment
  • The President’s new Chief of Staff takes his phone away
  • Freedom of speech returns to college campuses
  • Profit incentive removed from public education
  • More nonprofit charter schools
  • Proper historical debate and appropriate public discourse
  • Ending all talk of removing the Founders from the National Mall
  • Finish the Eisenhower memorial
  • Build a monument to Frederick Douglass in Washington DC

Drink Like a Founder

If you seek a historically acceptable wine… for this holiday season, consider Madeira.  The fortified wine is produced in the island group of the same name.  Madeira is fortified with another spirit, typically rum.  The fortification process dates to the 16th century where it prevented spoilage over long ocean voyages.  Tinta Negra Mole grapes are used to produce a pale red wine in a variety of strengths.  Rainwater is  dry served at room temperature making a fine dinner choice.  Malmsey is a heavy, sweet option best served chilled with dessert.  Remember that the fortifying spirit provides an extra ‘bite.’

Madeira was a favorite of the American Founders… including John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.  A riot rattled Boston in 1768 when John Hancock’s sloop, Liberty was seized, loaded with Madeira.  John Adams would enjoy three glasses every night before bedtime.  Jefferson enjoyed Malmsey and Monticello’s wine cellars were well stocked with it.  Later in life, he preferred  lighter French wines.  Most historians agree Madeira was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.

If you raise a glass this holiday season… you can feel closer to our Founders with a glass of Madeira.

Christmas on the Mountain

Thomas Jefferson celebrated Christmas… but not with stockings and Christmas trees- modern incarnations of the season didn’t take hold in America until after the Civil War.  Jefferson’s Christmas was a time for family, friends, and as he described it, “merriment.”   Family was all important to the Sage of Monticello, and he described the day”  “the day of greatest mirth and jollity.”

800px-Monticello_after_Snow_Storm_DSC00059

He received the greatest joy from watching his grandchildren… opening gifts and playing games in Monticello.  Describing the scene to a friend, Jefferson observed his youngest grandson; “He is at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out ‘a merry christmas’ ‘(this is) a christmas gift”  His music library included  many Christmas standards including the family favorite, Adeste Fideles. 

Good friends, good food, and good conversation… marked the holiday season at Monticello.  Plenty of wine was on hand to compliment Jefferson’s holiday favorite, mince pie.  Mince at Monticello consisted of  apples, raisins, beef suet(fat), and spices.

Tearing Down to Build Up

800px-Robert_E_Lee_statue_removed_from_column_New_Orleans_19_May_2017_10

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu made national headlines for rationalizing his city’s iconoclastic fury in 2017.

“Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?”

Purdue historian Caroline Janney explains the folly of Landrieu’s grandstanding:

“Landrieu’s removal of the statues, however, does precisely what he rails against: It omits the past. Empty pedestals are just that: void of meaning all together.”

Stripping our landscape of historical images that make us uncomfortable is simply a destructive solution to the complex task of interpreting our history.  Rather than explain the past to the young girl, Landrieu would prefer she mature blissfully unaware.

 

None Braver

The charge of the Irish Brigade against the Confederate position at Marye’s Heights outside Fredericksburg is the stuff of legend.

 

     The legendary  stature of these men and their deeds is largely due to the reminiscences of their opponents.

460px-James_Longstreet

James Longstreet, whose troops occupied the stonewall position at Marye’s Heights remembered:
“The manner in which Meagher’s Irish Brigade breasted the death storm from Marie’s Heights of Fredericksburg, was the handsomest thing in the whole war. Six times in the face of a withering fire, before which whole ranks were mowed down as corn before the sickle, did the Irish Brigade run up that hill—rush to inevitable death.”

clear-the-way-1242

Robert E. Lee also praised the Irishmen:

“The gallant stand which his bold brigade made on the heights of Fredericksburg is well known. Never were men so brave. They enobled their race by their splendid gallantry on that occasion.”

Garry Owen!

The Irish Brigade crossed the Rappahannock river at Fredericksburg… a shadow of its former self.  Three months earlier, along the banks of the Antietam Creek, the Irish Brigade marched to glory with more than 2,000 men.  At Fredericksburg, the newly arrived 28th Massachusetts regiment bolstered the ranks to 1,200, but the veteran regiments had been decimated during the campaigns of 1862.

0fdd60680ddfc7f97b909dae563064be

**Don Troiani’s  “Garry Owen”  –   General Meagher salutes his troops crossing the Rapphannock

Four Union brigades were beaten back… in front of the stone wall at Marye’s Heights.  The Irish Brigade was next in the fight and started their advance at 1230pm.  The men were briefly unsettled by a muddy canal ditch in the shadow of a low ridge.  The order was given to reform and after a brief pause, bayonets were fixed.  An officer remembered those harrowing moments: “In a few minutes came the word, ‘Attention!’ and every man was upon his feet again; then ‘Fix bayonets!’ and as this was being done, the clink, clink of the cold steel sounding along the line made one’s blood run cold.”  Officers and men fell rapidly as casualties mounted  across the front of the stone wall.  Despite the harrowing losses, the brigade pushed on toward the wall, battling other Irish immigrants.  Of all the Union troops which assaulted Marye’s Heights on December 13, the Irish Brigade advanced the farthest.

clear-the-way-1242

** Don Troiani’s “Clear the Way” –  The Irish Brigade assaults Marye’s Heights

Uncommon Valor

Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain describes the horrific night of December 13th, 1862 at the base of Marye’s Heights.

Landscape

Fredericksburg, Virginia- December 14, 1862

“But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness; the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic to articulate their agony…It seemed best to bestow myself between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds, and still more chilling, the deep, many voiced moan that overspread the field.”