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. 

Franklin on Chess

Almost Chosen People


Benjamin Franklin had ceaseless energy to match his brilliant mind.  In 1779 while our ambassador to France, and involved in ceaseless negotiations to make sure that the new found alliance did not founder, he found time to write a brief monograph on chess, perhaps his favorite game:

The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.

1. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action; for it is continually occuring to the player, ‘If I move this piece, what will be the advantages or disadvantages of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it…

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Mary Pickersgill and the Star Spangled Banner

Presidential History Blog

Most people today know the story, true or legend or both, of Betsy Ross.

The Original Flag

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The legendary Betsy Ross

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The original design

In 1776 (or thereabouts) it is said that George Washington himself, or a small delegation from Congress, approached seamstress Betsy Ross of Philadelphia to design and make the flag, which she did. That may be debatable, but her house still stands in Philly, and visitors are always welcome.

Fast Forward Nearly 40 years

By 1812, the USA had rooted and grown. As new states were admitted, the flag had been adjusted accordingly: Fifteen stripes and fifteen stars. But the addition made the flag design unwieldy, and while the original thirteen stripes would remain, only new stars would be added. But that had not been in effect by the War of 1812.

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The unwieldy 15 stars and stripes

Also by 1812, Baltimore, MD had become the third…

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Kennedy and Cuba- A Lingering Trouble

JFK addressed the National Security Council following the Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy appears less than optimistic about the future of the Caribbean

Notes on Remarks by President Kennedy before the National Security Council Tuesday, January 22, 1963

I will start by reviewing areas of policy which will be before us in the coming months and indicate the general attitude which I have toward them and to emphasize where we might put our emphasis in the next few months.

The responsibilities of the United States are worldwide and the U.S. is the only country which is recognizing its wide responsibilities. We are part of NATO, SEATO, etc. and support other pacts even though we are not a part of them. Other nations are not doing their share.

Would like to say a word first about Cuba.

The indications are that the importance of timing is of paramount importance in reaching judgments–both by the USSR and the US. Our big problem is to protect our interests and prevent a nuclear war. It was a very close thing whether we would engage in a quarantine or an air strike. In looking back, it was really that it presented us with an immediate crisis and the USSR had to make their judgment and come to a decision to act in twelve hours. In looking back over that four or five day period, we all changed our views somewhat, or at least appreciated the advantages and disadvantages of alternate courses of action. That is what we should do in any other struggle with the Soviet Union–and I believe we will be in one in the future. We should have sufficient time to consider the alternatives. You could see that the Russians had a good deal of debate in a 48 hour period. If they had only to act in an hour or two, their actions would have been spasmodic and might have resulted in nuclear war. It is important that we have time to study their reaction. We should continue our policy even though we do not get Europe to go along with us.

The time will probably come when we will have to act again on Cuba. Cuba might be our response in some future situation–the same way the Russians have used Berlin. We may decide that Cuba might be a more satisfactory response than a nuclear response. We must be ready–although this might not come. We should be prepared to move on Cuba if it should be in our national interest. The planning by the US, by the Military, in the direction of our effort should be advanced always keeping Cuba in mind in the coming months and to be ready to move with all possible speed. We can use Cuba to limit their actions just as they have had Berlin to limit our actions.

[Here follows discussion of other subjects.]

Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC Meetings, 1963, No. 508, 1/22/63. No classification marking. A note at the top of the memorandum indicated it was drafted by a “CIA Reporter.” McGeorge Bundy prepared a briefing memorandum, January 21, for the President for this meeting. (Ibid.) The portion of Bundy’s memorandum on Cuba is in the Supplement.

Chancellorsville By the Numbers

Chancellorsville is often called Lee’s “perfect battle”… facing the longest odds, using the boldest tactics, and winning the ultimate triumph- but a closer examination of the battle’s casualty statistics reveal a very different picture.  Far from perfect, Lee’s victory over Hooker was a costly, bloody gamble with marginal payoff.


Twice dividing his outnumbered force before a superior foe… and executing a bold flanking maneuver clouds the true cost of the battle.  Hooker’s inaction is far more striking than Lee’s tactical decisions.  By surrendering the initiative to Lee, Hooker allowed his opponent tactical discretion, thus making the flank attack possible.  Union reinforcements nullified Confederate gains on May 2.  Hooker’s refusal to counterattack with those additional troops only accentuated the modest Confederate gains.


Lee went into battle with just under 60,000 effectives… and suffered nearly 13,000 casualties- of which, over 10,000 were wounded or killed.  Almost a quarter of his men were gone at a time when the Confederacy was increasingly unable to replace such loss.  Comparatively, Hooker entered the battle with well over 130,000 troops, and suffered over 17,000 casualties.  But, of this number, nearly 6,000 were captured(11th Corps victims of Jackson’s attack.)  Factoring the captured, Hooker’s loss was a much smaller figure of just over 11,000.  The statistics show that Lee’s army actually took the worst of the fighting- His action, and Hooker’s inaction have permanently altered the history of the battle.  Far from the great army “cut to pieces” as remembered by Horace Greeley, Hooker’s men fought well and proved their mettle in battle

Stories in Stone: Thomas Waterman Wood

M.A. Kleen

Memorial to Thomas (1823-1903) and Minerva (1824-1889) Wood in Green Mount Cemetery at 250 State Street (U.S. Route 2) in the City of Montpelier, Washington County, Vermont, on bluffs along the north bank of the Winooski River. Thomas Waterman Wood was a prominent rural portrait and figure artist and president of the National Academy of Design.

Thomas Wood (1823-1903)

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April 30, 1863: Hooker Arrives at Chancellorsville

Almost Chosen People

Fighting Joe HookerHooker arrived at Chancellorsville on the morning of April 30.  He was in high spirits and issued this order to his army:


HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 30, 1863.

       It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.  The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a succession of splendid achievements.

       By command of Major-General Hooker:

S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant General.

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Confederacy and Freedom

For too long defenders of Confederate heritage… have associated it with freedom and individual rights for all whites. The specter of the conquering Yankee invading the homeland to oppress the yeoman and steal his acre was the rallying cry.  Policy makers in the Confederacy used this propaganda to dupe poor whites  to defend the landed gentry- a social order built on the aristocracy of chattel slavery.  Jefferson Davis and ilk had no interest in expanding opportunity for the thousands of men who volunteered for this abhorrent cause- they were cannon fodder.

Talk of opportunity and liberty were contrary to the Confederate cause… the slave owning power structure needed poor whites to stay right where they were.  The egalitarian dreams of Thomas Jefferson had no place in the CSA- and the leadership expressed it openly- The Declaration of Independence was a threat to the south.  Far from a “second American Revolution,” the American Civil War was an authoritarian power grab by an entrenched group of oligarchs.


Confederate propaganda from Georgia said it best…

“Thanks to Mr. Jefferson we have made a mistake … and pushed the love of democracy too far … vulgar democracy and licentious freedom is rapidly supplanting all the principles of constitutional ‘liberty’! When shall the American people perceive that all our difficulties arise from the absurdities of deciding that the ‘pauper’ and the ‘landholder’ are alike competent to manage the affairs of a Country, or alike entitled to vote for those who shall?”  Athens Southern Watchman 1857


Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and liberty also alienated our apostle of liberty… from these slave owning aristocrats…

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it …The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and moral undepraved by such circumstances [under slavery]. And with what desecration should the statement be loaded, who permitting one half of the citizens to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots and these into enemies, destroys the morals of one part and the amor patriae of the other.”  Notes on the State of Virginia  1782

Jefferson on Education

“We shall have our follies without doubt. Some one or more of them will always be afloat. But ours will be the follies of enthusiasm, not of bigotry … bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant.

Education & free discussion are the antidotes of both.

We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism.”

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1 August 1816

April 26, 1777: Sybil Ludington’s Ride

Almost Chosen People


The eldest of twelve children, Sybil Ludington grew up in a household of ardent patriots, her father being the commander of the local militia in Duchess County New York.  On April 26, 1777 she became, at age 16, a heroine of the Revolution when she rode forty miles to her father’s militia encampment at night on her horse Star to spread the alarm that the British were moving on Danbury Connecticut.  During her ride she successfully defended herself against a highwayman using a long stick.  She used the same stick to bang on the door of houses along the way to let the occupants know that the British were on the march,  Thanks to her, her father Colonel Henry Ludington chased after the British with 400 of his militia.  They were unable to intercept the British before their attack on Danbury, but they, along with other militia units, harassed the British as they retreated to…

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