If he was it was only temporary given the drastic changes to the color of his skin. This photograph was taken on Franklin Street in Richmond in 1980. My wife and I spent a few hours listening to Michael Jackson’s music on the evening of his death. It is next to impossible to deny his talent. Over the past few days I’ve caught snippets of various specials, including a number of interviews with Jackson. What stands out when not discussing music or dance is an almost childish and simplistic view of the world. I suspect that his early career left very little time for education and I assume that includes an understanding of American history. With that in mind it is easy to imagine Jackson not thinking twice about engaging the black community of Richmond in a Confederate kepi. See the story here. Thanks for the wonderful music.
The Richmond Dispatch included a great deal of commentary that referenced the presence of black soldiers in the battle to both warn its readers of possible dangers and as a means to maintain support for the war effort. By including such detail readers on the home front were made aware of the dangers that black soldiers represented and, by extension, the threats posed by their own slaves. According to one editorial, “Negroes, stimulated by whiskey, may possibly fight well so long so they fight successfully, but with the first good whipping, their courage, like that of Bob Acres, oozes out at their fingers’ ends.” The attempt to deny black manhood by assuming they were “stimulated by whiskey” to fight reinforced stereotypes while the reference to “whipping” took on a dual meaning between the battlefield and home front as a way to maintain racial control. In addition, the North’s use of black troops allowed the newspaper to draw a sharp distinction between “heartless Yankees” who brought themselves to a “barbarous device for adding horrors to the war waged against the South” and “Robert E. Lee, the soldier without reproach, and the Christian gentleman without stain and without dishonor.” Highlighting Lee’s unblemished moral character highlighted his role as the Confederacy’s best hopes for independence, but also served as a model for the rest of the white South to emulate as the introduction of black troops represented an ominous turn.
The Richmond Examiner not only acknowledged the execution of black Union soldiers, but went a step further and encouraged Mahone to continue the practice in the future:
We beg him [Mahone], hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded, and come shouting “no quarter,” shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work, which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is, until every negro has been slaughtered.—Make every salient you are called upon to defend, a Fort Pillow; butcher every negro that Grant sends against your brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.
“If Grant had a drinking problem, the answer to your question could be that he was willing to sacrifice thousands of more men due to the fact his judgment was impaired by alcohol.” – Richard Williams [scroll down for comment]
Thousands of more men compared to what exactly? Compared to someone who is best remembered as the embodiment of civilized warfare?
Robert E. Lee’s Casualties (1862-1865)
- Seven Days battles – 20,204
- Second Manassas – 9,000
- Sharpsburg – 13,000
- Chancellorsville – 13,000
- Gettysburg – 21,000
- Overland Campaign – 31,000
- Petersburg Campaign – 28,000
Ulysses S. Grant’s Casualties (1861-1865)
- Battle of Belmont – 3,100
- Forts Henry and Donelson – 2,700
- Shiloh – 13,000
- Vicksburg – 4,800
- Chattanooga – 5,800
- Overland Campaign – 38,000
- Petersburg Campaign – 42,000
Yesterday I mentioned that beliefs about Grant and alcohol typically have something to do with larger issues. Williams’s comment is a case in point. If it can be shown that Grant had a serious enough problem with alcohol it might provide evidence for another long-standing belief, which is that he needlessly sacrificed his men in battle. The image of “Grant the butcher” provides the perfect foil against Robert E. Lee who embodies the martial characteristics of the Virginia cavalier. Does anyone doubt that this is exactly who Williams had in mind in his implicit comparison. As the argument goes Lee fought a traditional war of virtuous generals and civilized tactics while Grant and Sherman ushered in a new era of warfare that anticipated the blood baths of the twentieith century.
My noting Lee’s casualty statistics should not be interpreted as an attack of any kind. I tend to agree with Gary Gallagher’s analysis of Lee as a modern general who understood the importance of offensive, but costly operations as representing the best strategy given issues related to infrastructure, manpower, and the expectation of the civilian population. Still, one might conclude that Grant’s casualty figures demonstrate that he did indeed needlessly sacrifice his men in battle. Of course, you do not have to be an alcoholic to order large numbers of young men to their deaths. You could just as easily be a Virginia gentleman.
Apparently my last post on Grant has caused some confusion over at Richard Williams’s blog. Williams interprets my language as an attempt to downplay or ignore those historians who have argued that Grant was an alcoholic or that his fondness for it hampered his leadership on the battlefield. First, let me be very clear that I have nothing at stake in this debate beyond my interest in Grant as an important historical figure. Second, I am not a Grant scholar. What I know is based on having read a number of journal/magazine articles along with a few recent biographies by William McFeely, Jean Edward Smith and especially, Brooks Simpson’s Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph and Adversity, 1822-1865, which has been acknowledged by the historical community as the best of the lot. [By the way, Joan Waugh also bases her short commentary on this issue on Simpson's work.] I’ve learned something from all of these studies. Williams cites a short essay by Edward Longacre at the History News Network as evidence of Grant’s addiction. Longacre’s characterization may be right depending on how we define our terms and how we weigh the evidence. Of course, there is always the danger of presentism in applying modern definitions and accompanying judgments one way or the other. Even with those concerns the discussion/debate ought to continue since we are dealing with an important individual in American history and how we understand and evaluate Grant’s public career matters. As for where I stand on the issue right now I will leave you with a recent post by Brooks Simpson over at Civil Warriors.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if this debate is about much larger issues. Many take on a defensive posture when it comes to certain conclusions and generalizations because they are connected to much larger assumptions about the war. Both Grant and Robert E. Lee are useful in this game. Believing that Grant was an alcoholic fits neatly into that larger image of a dirty/God-less/industrial North that stands in sharp contrast with a peaceful/agrarian South. Believing that Grant was a drunk reinforces his image as a “butcher” who achieved victory simply by massing overwhelming resources against Lee, the Army of Northern Virginia and the rest of the Confederacy rather than engaging in sophisticated and complex maneuvers. Finally, it reinforces the view that the United States army was made up of barbarians whose only goal was to pillage the good people of the South who wanted nothing more than to be left in peace.
The above image of Grant is one of my favorites from the Civil War era. A number of things come to mind when I look at it, including alcohol, but that constitutes just one fraction of my overall assessment of the man.