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.

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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

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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.”

December 31, 1862: Battle of Stones River Begins

Almost Chosen People

“Non nobis Domine! non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.”

General William S. Rosecrans at the end of his report on the battle of Stones River, attributing the Union victory to God.

An unjustly obscure battle of the Civil War began 150 years ago today:  Stones River.  Based on the number of combatants involved, it was the bloodiest battle fought in an extremely bloody War.  The two armies involved, the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee, were struggling for control of middle Tennessee.  If the Confederate Army of Tennessee could be chased out of middle Tennessee, then Union control of Nashville was secure, and it could be used as a springboard for the conquest of southeastern Tennessee and the eventual invasion of Georgia.  If the Union Army of the Cumberland could be defeated, then Nashville might fall, and the Confederate heartland be secured from invasion.  The stakes were…

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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

Victory or Death

Emerging Revolutionary War Era

1leutze Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.  Washington had crossed the Delaware River on the night of December 25 to attack Trenton. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Early on the morning of December 26, 1776, George Washington and his 2,400 man army went running into the Hessian occupied village of Trenton, New Jersey.  It was snowing hard that morning and the one American soldier recalled that “we advanced, and although there was not more than one bayonet to five men, orders were given to ‘Charge bayonets and rush on!’ And rush on we did.”

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I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (the story behind the song) — Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Author Adrienne Morris

 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men! And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men! Then from each […]

via I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (the story behind the song) — Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Author Adrienne Morris