SCV and SUV Reunite at Grant’s Tomb

Dr. Michael Kogan, a member of Archibald Gracie Camp #985, the New York City Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, gives a few brief remarks at the annual Grant’s Tomb Commemoration, hosted by New York’s Sons of Union Veterans on Palm Sunday, April 17th, 2011.  The speech is a wonderful example of the continued hold of sectional reconciliation on our popular memory of the war.  The only problem is that it is unlikely that General Grant would have approved of such language.  Toward the end of his remarks Kogan applauds Grant for his terms of surrender at Appomattox, but the SCV would do well to remind itself of what he thought of the Confederate cause.  Grant offers a very succinct reflection on it in his memoir:

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.”

For Grant the war was not simply a battle between brave soldiers and shared values.  I have little doubt that if given the opportunity to do so Grant would remind Kogan and the New York chapter of the SCV that there was a right side and a wrong side in the Civil War.

16 comments… add one

  • Scott Manning Apr 23, 2011

    Kevin, I understand your points, but are you saying that Kogan should have approached his speech differently? If so, what would you like to have heard him say? Although Kogan claimed the cause of his ancestors was honorable, he never claimed that Grant felt that way.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 24, 2011

      I am not making any claim about how Kogan should have approached his speech. I am simply pointing out that it’s a speech that Grant would probably not have been comfortable with. You say that nothing in Kogan’s speech implies how Grant felt, but there they are in Grant’s tomb.

  • Bob Huddleston Apr 24, 2011

    I agree that USG would have disapproved of Kogan’s remarks. But I suspect that when the Tomb was constructed in the 1890s the speech could very well have been given.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 24, 2011

      You may be right. I will have to take a look at Joan Waugh’s book.

  • Keith Apr 25, 2011

    I finished Waugh’s book this weekend and would have to say that Grant definitely would not have approved. He did believe in reconciliation, but not at any price and certainly not on Confederate terms. Grant adamantly believed one side was right and the other wrong in the conflict.

  • Patrick Apr 25, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this–it was really a great event, and all of us in the SCV’s New York City Camp were humbled by the gracious hospitality of the Sons of Union Veterans, as our Camp has been every year we’ve attended the annual event since the Tomb’s dedication.

    Your argument is an interesting one, and I think it’s certainly debatable what Grant would have thought. Kogan’s main point was:

    “Your ancestors in blue fought to restore and preserve their beloved Union and that is an honorable cause. Our ancestors in gray fought that the flag of their fledgling Southern Nation might fly among the banners of the world and that is an honorable cause. But today, 150 years later, it is not the causes that bring us together; it is the honor.”

    I imagine Grant wouldn’t have objected. He was, like so many, a vehement defender of the reputation of the Southern Soldier, though not the cause for which he fought, and I think Kogan was more or less saying the same.

    But who can rightly say? His views, like most in the North, seemed to have changed from fighting for no purpose other than preservation of the union during the War, to afterward adopting the narrative that it had all along been to wipe out the institution of slavery. His memoirs seem difficult to reconcile with quotes from the War (Such as the well known “If I thought this war would free the negro I would put my sword in its scabbard and go home.”).

    • Andy Hall Apr 25, 2011

      Patrick, do you have a source for that last Grant quote? I’ve found it several places on the web, but they all seem to trace back to a book published at the turn of the century, long after Grant’s death, called The Unwritten South. (Subtitle: “Relics of Hidden Truth After Forty Years.”) Unfortunately, the author just tosses out the quote without explaining where it comes from, or the context in which it was said, or where he got it. I agree that this quote is difficult to reconcile with his later writings, which makes it all the more important to know the background to it.

    • Bob Pollock Apr 25, 2011

      “His memoirs seem difficult to reconcile with quotes from the War (Such as the well known “If I thought this war would free the negro I would put my sword in its scabbard and go home.”).”

      Grant never said this, and if you read what he actually did say, it’s not that “difficult to reconcile.”

      • Kevin Levin Apr 25, 2011

        Bob and Andy,

        Thanks for chiming in on this one.

        • Patrick Apr 25, 2011

          Please pardon the undocumented reference!

          But perhaps the following, from his memoir’s conclusion documents the same idea of his views on the causes of the War changing:

          The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United Status will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that “A state half slave and half free cannot exist.” All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.

          I suppose though, this is slightly off topic of the point of whether he would or would not have agreed with Dr. Kogan’s statements. Whether he decided the South had a bad cause initially or only after the fact wouldn’t change that.

          • Bob Pollock Apr 25, 2011

            Patrick,
            This quote from Grant’s Memoirs does not indicate that Grant’s views on the causes of the war changed. He is only saying that he thought (‘hoped’ might be a better word) the country would be able to continue to exist with some slave states and some free. He hoped that compromises would continue to be found so that war would not come. But, of course, it did. On April 19, 1861, he wrote a letter to his slaveholding father-in-law in which he said this:

            “I know it is hard for men to apparently work with the Republican party but now all party distinctions should be lost sight of and evry true patriot be for maintaining the integrity of the glorious old Stars & Stripes, the Constitution and the Union…No impartial man can conceal from himself the fact that in all these troubles the South have been the aggressors and the Administration has stood purely on the defensive, more on the defensive than she would dared to have done but for her consiousness of strength and the certainty of right prevailing in the end. The news to-day is that Virginia has gone out of the Union. But for the influance she will have on the other border slave states this is not much to be regreted. Her position, or rather that of Eastern Virginia, has been more reprehensible from the begining than that of South Carolina. She shoul[d] be made to bear a heavy portion of the burthen of the War for her guilt. – In all this I can but see the doom of Slavery. The North do not want, nor will they want, to interfere with the institution. But they will refuse for all time to give it protection unless the South shall return soon to their allegiance, and then too this disturbance will give such an impetus to the production of their staple, cotton, in other parts of the world that they can never recover the controll of the market again for that commodity. This will reduce the value of negroes so much that they will never be worth fighting over again.”

            I would say this is about as clear as Grant could be. The root cause of the war was slavery, just as Grant would later say in his Memoirs. The desire to extend and protect Slavery led to secession, the breaking up of the government. The North, and Grant, responded. The Union to them, was a more than sufficient cause to kill and die for. Grant was prescient enough to see that the longer the war went on, the more likely it was that the root, slavery, would be eliminated.

            • Kevin Levin Apr 25, 2011

              Thanks for taking the time to respond, Bob.

            • Margaret D. Blough Apr 26, 2011

              Wow! Grant really called that one right. It’s an even more remarkable letter when one considers that it was written to his father-in-law.

          • Andy Hall Apr 26, 2011

            Just to be clear, Patrick, the problem is not just that the first Grant quote is undocumented, but that it’s also entirely out of character with his other writings and expressed views, which (quite rightly) call it into question. It’s like the supposed quote from Robert E. Lee about black Confederates — it just doesn’t ring true to the time or the supposed source.

  • Patrick Apr 26, 2011

    Andy, sorry to be taking this rather far afield from what was a great initial post, but I became intrigued by the idea of sourcing this quote that I’ve always heard bandied about and never questioned.

    The earliest source I can find is “Facts and falsehoods concerning the war on the South, 1861-1865″ by Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, published in 1904.

    It reads, on page 219:

    When General Grant was Colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Infantry he expressed himself plainly on the negro question:

    “The sole object of this war,” said Grant, “is to restore the Union. Should I become convinced it has any other object, or that the Government designs using its soldiers to execute the wishes of the Abolitionists, I pledge you my honor as a man and a soldier I would resign my commission and carry my sword to the other side.”

    –Democratic Speaker’s Handbook, p. 33

    Reprints of The Democratic Speaker’s Handbook seem to be available for purchase online, but the only information I can find at a glance is a number of individuals suggesting that the book was printed merely as a bit of political propaganda against Grant in 1868. I can’t find any evidence of this myself, but don’t doubt it. At any rate, I thought I might share the source I’d managed to dig up on an oft-quoted and unsourced statement.

    Again, apologies for steering the comments away from a fine post.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 26, 2011

      Patrick–

      The quote has been questioned often, in large part because Grant didn’t say it. I understand that in certain circles people may not question the quote (and may not want to question it, for their own reasons), but I’ve seen this broken down several times over the years.

      Grant’s position on the war and slavery has been thoroughly explored in scholarship now some twenty years old.

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