Tag Archives: Ulysses S. Grant

“It Is a Sad Day Indeed For All Of Us Who Love the South”

Civil War memory is indeed a very strange landscape. Up until today I would have said that the once widely held view that slavery was benign and that the slaves themselves remained loyal throughout the war reflects its most absurd side.  However, the folks over at Richard Williams’s site have somehow managed to trump even that.

In response to a short post marking the anniversary of the surrender of the Army of Norther Virginia at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 one reader had this to say:

It is a sad day indeed for all of us who love the South.  This was followed by a response from Williams: “Yeah, me too.”

Apparently, that caught the attention of my good friend and fellow historian, Mark Snell, who posted the following in response:

Why is it sad that the killing ended? Why is it a sad day that the institution of slavery was coming to an end? Why is it sad that this date signaled the beginning of a new era, one that would make the United States the strongest and richest country in the world–with some of the ex-Confederate states in the forefront of that economy today? Can someone explain this “sense of sadness” to me?

Williams offers the following response:

That’s a legitimate question, but please don’t put words in anyone’s mouth. No one laments the end of slavery – at least not anyone I know. That’s absurd. Moreover, it was Lee who did not want to see the killing continue. Grant is the one who seemed to be willing to continue to supply an endless supply of human cannon fodder.

The sense of sadness to which I’m referring was eloquently expressed by none other than General Grant:

“My own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on receipt of Lee’s letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and so valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause.”

First, no one put words into Williams’s mouth.  Mark was simply asking how anyone in their right mind could consider it to be a sad day given that it brought slavery that much closer to being finally extinguished. More to the point, it brought the slaughter to an end.  How could it possibly be a sad day?  Even stranger is the reference to Grant as somehow wishing to continue the violence.  Williams provides no evidence whatsoever for this ridiculous claim.  I guess somehow we are to believe that Grant had an easier time ordering young men into battle and to their deaths.  Of course, the only way one could get away with such a claim is if he ignored the entire Seven Days’ Campaign, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg – to name just a few. That’s not a criticism of Lee.  After all, they were both generals trying to win battles and bring about victory.

Mark offered a follow-up to Williams’s response, but unfortunately it was rejected without explanation.  It’s difficult to understand why:

I didn’t put words in anyone’s mouth. I simply asked some very legitimate questions, and I still haven’t gotten a legitimate response to them. The only reason Lee surrendered when he did was because he had no choice. He was cut off from retreat and had no chance of linking up with Joe Johnston. Your assertion that Grant wanted to continue to supply cannon fodder is illogical: if he wanted to continue the war, he could have refused Lee’s surrender. That makes about as much sense as saying that the South had a vast unused manpower pool–all those black Confederates–that could have been employed to further prosecute the war. Grant’s feeling of depression concerning his defeated foe is quite understandable. After all, weren’t they all Americans? But to use Grant’s memoirs to validate your point tells me nothing about Mr. Simons’ remark that today ‘is a sad day indeed for all of us who love the South,’ nor does it explain your apparent agreement with it. I love the South, and I’m sure a lot of black Southerners do too, but I doubt if they see today as a ‘sad day.’

Thanks for allowing me to comment.

Well, so much for all the silly accusations about how the “liberal elite” stifle the free exchange of ideas.  For the life of me I can’t think of a better example of pure nostalgic bullshit.

They Even Got the Right Arm + Links

A Confederate Invasion?

I‘m behind in my APUS History classes which has forced me to move quickly through the Civil War.  You can imagine how frustrating that is given my interests.  Regardless, I am very particular about the language I use to describe the past and I expect my students to be attentive to such matters as well.  It matters how we refer or describe individuals and events, especially when discussing our Civil War.  I’ve already mentioned my preference for consistently referring to the United States rather than the Union or the North.

In my discussions today I noticed a couple of students looking at me funny whenever I referred to a Confederate invasion of the United States.  Of course, I was referring specifically to the Maryland Campaign of 1862 and Gettysburg Campaign the following summer.  [We could also throw in Jubal Early's little foray in 1864 in as well.]  I inquired into their strange stares and one of the students admitted that he was not used to thinking of the Confederate army as an invading army.  Not surprisingly, this same student had no difficulty coming to terms with an invasion of the South or Confederacy.  A few students embraced Lincoln’s fairly consistent belief that the southern states were in rebellion and therefore still a part of the nation, but they had no qualms with the idea of an invasion.

I guess this has everything to do with the assumption that the Confederacy was simply fighting a defensive war.  But it also goes to some of our more cherished beliefs that draw a sharp distinction between Confederate and United States armies.  For the latter, we immediately think of Grant and Sherman, who did, in fact, engage in aggressive offensives throughout the war.  On the other hand, we do have difficulty acknowledging the same aggressive tendencies in Confederate commanders.  We would rather remember them as leading a gallant defensive effort against overwhelming resources rather than as engaged in a war that would hopefully lead to independence for all slave holding states.  Invasions are carried out by generals like Grant and Sherman, not by Lee and Jackson.  I suspect that my students are dealing with this baggage.  If I had more time or if that comment had come in my elective course on the Civil War I could have utilized any number of primary and secondary sources that shed light on this subject.

If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox

Interestingly, this film was done in 1982, well before the YouTube Era.  You will have to excuse me, but for some reason I find this sort of video to be quite funny.  This one clearly reflects the persistence of the “Grant the Drunk” narrative.  A more recent video that depicts Grant with bottle can be found here.  Enjoy.

Ulysses S. Grant in Command

JustineLaiWhile looking through some “sexually explicit” images related to the Civil War I came across this interesting collection by artist, Justine Lai.  The artist is based in San Francisco.  Lai has this to say about her first Online exhibit titled, “Join or Die”:

In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.

You can find the rest of the collection here.  Of course, if you are easily offended or of Puritan descent I would refrain from clicking through and move on.  Although I don’t find this to be that interesting, I am always struck by the ways we choose to remember our collective past.  I guess it gives new meaning to the widely held belief that the public is constantly getting screwed by the government.