U.S. Grant, Artistic Genius…

Avatar

CK MacLeod

WordPresser: Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001.

Related Post Roulette

70 Responses

  1. Avatar gregiank
    Ignored
    says:

    It seems like the harsh view of Grant as a general is old fashioned and to a great degree driven by Lee worship. Grant’s victory in the Vicksburg campaign is, i believe, very highly regarded. Grant’s unfortunate end ( poverty due to bad investments) contributed to a dim view of him which is wrong in many ways. As a prez Grant pushed Reconstruction ( a good thing, a very good thing) and prosecuted the KKK. He supported voting and civil rights for freed slaves during his admin.

    As somewhat of side note, people seem to like the saying that the winners write the history. That has to be up there in the top three quotes that are either just plain wrong or badly simplistic. Many of what were to become common place views about the CW were pushed by southern sympathizers to elevate the south to support the end of Reconstruction, bolster jim crow, downplay that whole slavery thing and to try to explain away the loss of the CW as something other then being completely whipped by a superior force. Of course you could say, as others have, the south lost the CW but won the peace.Report

  2. Avatar Richard Hershberger
    Ignored
    says:

    And here I thought you were going to observe that Grant’s memoirs are unusually good…

    The later stages of the American Civil War more closely resemble World War I than they do anything Napoleanic. The Seige of Petersburg is the most obvious example of this. We don’t think of WWI and think “great generals!” rightly or wrongly. (Mostly rightly, but not entirely.) Grant indirectly gets tarred as well.Report

  3. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    That is interesting. My view of Grant was less from the old theory that he was a butcher than from the stuff I read in the 90s which basically said there were no world class military minds in that war (or perhaps in U.S. history). Clearly the study of the war has moved on from me.

    I did know that the use of trains to quickly move troops within a theater, the coordination of large campaigns (Sherman’s March to the Sea and Grant’s various campaigns and sieges in Virginia; the “hammer and anvil” strategy), and the diversionary tactics used in Vicksburg were influential in subsequent European conflicts, but I didn’t know the extent to which that was now attributed to Grant (I seem to recall Sherman getting more credit).Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      I grew up taught that Grant was a good general and a bad president. So the only movement I’ve seen on Grant is that he’s gone from a “bad president” to “maybe a good president, all things considered.”Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      Grant gets credit for Vicksburg, Sherman was his subordinate. If you read Grant’s memoirs, Sherman clearly was the most reliably competent of his subordinates, but Grant was The Guy. Sherman, of course, gets credit for the March to the Sea, and this was pure genius, contra the suggestion that US history has none. (George Washington should not be dismissed, but more on the level where strategy and politics meet. A great tactician he was not.)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Richard Hershberger
        Ignored
        says:

        Right, I remember reading that if there has been a military genius in the U.S., it was Sherman (with some talk of Patton).

        I need to reread Grant’s memoirs.

        Also, you should get on Twitter with us 😉Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          Longstreet, actually. Well ahead of his time, and his genius went pretty well unrecognizedReport

        • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          Victor Davis Hanson has earned much, and IMO much-deserved, criticism for his polemical writing over the last decade or so, but his argument for the genius of Sherman and Patton (and for the classical Greek general Epamonidas) as authors of “democratic marches” was I think wonderfully well-developed: The Soul of Battle.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
            Ignored
            says:

            Right. Lefty though I am, that was once of the sources I meant in mentioning Patton.

            By the way, I’ve been writing a couple posts on philosophers (Sartre, Witt.), which has reminded me that I owe you something on reaching for/away from God. I’ll do Lacan/Zizek/Nietzsche/Me next. You might be the only one who reads it, though.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to CK MacLeod
            Ignored
            says:

            Hanson’s early books on hoplite warfare are excellent. Things went south when he decided that modern Western civilization is just like Greek civilization of the 5th century BC, and modern Islam just like the Persian. Much stupidity ensued.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Richard Hershberger
              Ignored
              says:

              Hanson really, really wanted the invasion of Iraq to be another “democratic march.” In some ways it was, or almost was, and our revulsion at the outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom – as more Sicilian Expedition than Epamonidas in Laconia – tends to overwhelm any recollection of the attractiveness of the concept.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to CK MacLeod
                Ignored
                says:

                The outcome was entirely predictable. And widely predicted. I’ll grant that some people went into it with honorable intentions, but we ought not be surprised at how it came out.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Richard Hershberger
                Ignored
                says:

                For all our glorious clarity in hindsight, the fact remains that the leading voices of pessimism ca. ’02-’03 were still living down their own forcefully asserted mistaken predictions regarding proximate apparently similar situations: Plenty of such to go around on all sides from the beginnings of history and, I will confidently predict, until the end of time.Report

      • I admit, the siege of Vicksburg, and really everything in the West, is a giant mystery to me. I can tell you all sorts of crazy stuff about the East, but the West is just this vague thing that kind of happened when all the major fighting was going on.

        That’s incredibly wrong, of course, and I’ve always known that – the strategic importance of Union control of the Mississippi can’t be understated. But because I’m an Easterner and first became invested in the CW through a visit to Gettysburg, it never had any immediacy to me.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Mark Thompson
          Ignored
          says:

          A surprise amphibious landing, one of the largest-scale diversionary feints in history at the time, and such a thorough defeat that the citizens of Vicksburg didn’t officially celebrate the 4th of July until the late 20th century? Plus the role of the press in military affairs, the emergence of Grant, and essentially the realization that the Confederacy was doomed? You gotta read about it, man!Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
            Ignored
            says:

            I’ve read it argued, in addition to all of that, that Vicksburg was strategically the single most important operation of the war, in comparison with which Gettysburg was just a show, and the March to the Sea almost an afterthought: Kind of the Stalingrad of the Civil War, except less well-remembered.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to CK MacLeod
              Ignored
              says:

              I’ve read this as well. In, I’m pretty sure, a book that then went on to describe Gettysburg in painstaking detail while reducing the Vicksburg campaign to a few paragraphs.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to CK MacLeod
              Ignored
              says:

              I visited the Vicksburg battlefield and a few years ago. The impression i got there was the Vicksburg was very much the biggest nail in the CSA coffin. Once Grant won there the south was doomed. Also that Grant’s maneuvers were brilliant and still studied as an example of a well run campaign.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to CK MacLeod
              Ignored
              says:

              Regarding Gettysburg as a sideshow, it depends on what you think the best possible outcome was for Lee. His idea was to roll up the Army of the Potomac in detail as it was still strung out marching north to catch up to him. This was a good idea. Suppose he had succeeded. This is an easy alternative history to accomplish. Turning the Union left at Little Round Top is the obvious way, but having the various corps of the Army of the Potomac move a little slower can also do the trick. The key is that you have to prevent Meade from establishing the Pipe Creek line, as had been his original intention.

              So then what? We aren’t looking at the total destruction of the Army of the Potomac, but it would be falling back in disarray. Could Lee had made a lightning strike and taken Washington? I doubt it, what with the city being fortified and garrisoned, but we are playing the game of everything going right for Lee.

              Then what? Lee is sitting in the White House, with the federal government decamped. Does the Union throw in the towel at this point? Maybe. It’s hard to say. And that is the question that counts. If you think the Union would call it quits, then the invasion of Pennsylvania (or, as they called it there, the Emergency of 1863) matters a great deal. If you think the Union would keep going, then it is a sideshow.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Richard Hershberger
                Ignored
                says:

                Richard Hershberger: but we are playing the game of everything going right for Lee.

                Why would we want to play that game? God might have shown his favor for the cause of the Confederacy by raining down gigantic hailstones on the Union positions, but didn’t. To say that victory for Lee would have depended on “everything going right,” an extreme rarity in human events, is to say the same thing stated, if possibly overstated, in the premise, that Gettysburg was in itself arguably less decisive than Vicksburg. It may seem another version of retrospective fallacy to say that the Union was pre-destined to win, and finds its Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln, but the advantage of this view is not just that it conforms to the facts as they have come down to us, but that they suit the characters of the respective causes, with Lee fighting for and embodying a cause itself being fought into the past or representing values and modes of life in the process of vanishing into the past by historical necessity. If Lee had been a Russian Communist operational artist he might have better understood the requirements for active defense in the new epoch, and therefore have directed his army differently, or perhaps have sued for peace at an earlier time, but, if Lee had been able to absorb the “progressive” message of the times, he would not have been the man who chose Virginia over the Union coming into being.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
                Ignored
                says:

                The other alternative is Lee wins at Gettysburg, hangs out in PA and Maryland for a while, Lincoln loses in 1864, and a peace more positive for the South is established (reunification, but with slavery intact and perhaps expanded or ready to be expanded, say).Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                I understand you’re using “positive for the South” in a special sense here, but we don’t really know, of course, what the reaction of the Union must have been to such a setback: We impose a peculiar logic on imaginary subsequent events. We can just as reasonably, or in my view more reasonably given the course of events as we know them and the forces that also organize them for us conceptually, suppose that courageous Unionists would have, as the old wisdom puts it, discovered the resources of a desperate situation.” If not Chamberlain and his swinging gate (namesake, I have just discovered, for a line of gate openers?), then some other heroic and magnificent military exploit, of the next day or the day after, might have saved or seemed to have saved the Union at some other fulcrum of all of human history (and provided cockeyed inspiration for naming some other product line…).Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, certainly. I’m mostly playing an intellectual game, recognizing that we’re talking about grue.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                “hangs out in PA and Maryland for a while, Lincoln loses in 1864”

                “A while” covers a lot or a little. Sticking around for the 1864 election wasn’t in the cards. The problem Lee has is that even with a major victory at Gettysburg or its equivalent, a new Union army is going to spring up pretty quickly. This is why lurid fantasies about marching on Philadelphia or New York City are merely fantasies. In the real world this would be suicidal, and Lee was too smart not to know it. He might have taken Harrisburg, but he wouldn’t go much further. Heading toward Pittsburgh was even more out of the question. So he could vacation in beautiful central Pennsylvania, but not forever. There was plenty of food, but you can’t live off the land for ammunition. Furthermore, his line of retreat is not without weaknesses. Hooker had wanted to head for Harper’s Ferry to cut off Lee’s rear, before he was fired and Meade given the job, the job being to defend Washington and Baltimore.

                So the clock is running. This was the flaw with the strategy of invading Pennsylvania. If he couldn’t take some place important–more important than Harrisburg–then the best he could hope for was to putz around for a couple of months then go home. This had the advantage of eating someone else’s food while he did it, but military glory it would not be. He needed a major victory in a field battle, followed up by taking Baltimore or Washington. Gettysburg could have gone either way. It is the follow-up I question.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Richard Hershberger
                Ignored
                says:

                If we’re talking long shots, one possibility if Lee is victorious at Gettysburg is to take his army on a march to the Bay, using confederate sympathizers in Maryland (esp as he gets closer to Baltimore) to aid him with logistics and intelligence. If he’s able to get to Annapolis he might be able to install a pro-confederate government ad hoc government that probably wouldn’t be viable politically, but would interfere with some of the USA’s own logistical lines into the Virginia theaters.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Richard Hershberger
        Ignored
        says:

        Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln (McPherson makes a very strong argument for Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief) probably need to be viewed together as architects of the Union military victory, which, given the changed nature of war in the industrial age, had to be a “total” victory, meaning a victory of “total warfare,” also pointing to the 20th Century “total state” or “warfare state” and an alteration in the concept of “military strategy.”

        As much as we might wish to defer to Kim’s no doubt impressive expertise over that of JFC Fuller and James B Schneider, the latter two make a persuasive case for Grant in particular, for having conceived in detail the concrete requirements for active “strangulation” of the South. As Frederick the Great had demonstrated most famously, a disciplined defender benefiting from secure interior lines of communication on his own territory could hold out against and eventually defeat overwhelmingly materially superior forces, so long as he preserved his main force and capability to wage war. The American colonies had given a different variant of the same general concept. As Schneider lays out in further technical detail, the advantage had shifted even further to the defense by the middle of the 19th Century, other things being equal: There was no reason to presume in 1861 that the South couldn’t hold out indefinitely against any merely passive dependence on Northern material preponderance.

        Schneider quotes Grant’s description of his campaign plan, provided to the Secretary of War. After first encapsulating the advantages exploitable by the South in a defensive struggle, Grant goes on:

        I therefore determined, first, to use the greatest number of troops practicable against the armed forces of the enemy, preventing him from using the same force at different seasons against first one then another of our armies, and the possibility of repose for refitting and producing necessary supplies for carrying on resistance; second, to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources until, by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission.

        Sherman’s “deep operation… into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as [possible]” was very much a part of this plan, though the precise character of the March to the Sea, an almost incredibly bold and as well as vastly misunderstood operation, could not have been determined ahead of time.

        As for WWI, the similarities between the “meat-grinder” battles of the later Civil War and the vast and pointless slaughter along relatively static lines are one point of comparison, but part of the problem is that 50 years later not all of the lessons of the Civil War had been fully absorbed by all or most. Even today, we still tend to revert to classical ideas of generalship, the same ones that tend to favor Lee. After reading Schneider’s book, I see the difference between industrial age “operational art” and classical war, war “as we knew it” for thousands of years, underlying the tragicomical ironies evoked in Norman Stone’s “short history” of World War I. It wasn’t until late in the war that the generals, beginning with, ironically (as ever), a general for one of the losing and otherwise least well-handled armies, re-discovered that the key or a key to “distributed campaigning” was denying the enemy freedom of movement, not necessarily or immediately destroying the enemy’s forces, or even in proceeding to exploit a given (apparent) breakthrough to the maximum extent and as quickly as possible.

        The way this plays into “world history” directly is that in the study of the kind of operational art exemplified by Grant’s victorious strategy, as combined with nearer-term wartime experience, much of it quite bad, the Russian military theorists (who coined the term “operational art”) drew stark conclusions: In short that the Soviet Union could not as it then existed or on its immediate post-revolutionary course sustain and prevail in a modern war. In a narrow sense Stalin’s re-organization of the Soviet state as a “total state,” or in Schneider’s terms a “warfare state,” was therefore theoretically completely correct, and the effects have been central to the great events and course of world history from then until now, and necessarily not just in military affairs, but “totally.”Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod
          Ignored
          says:

          Well, now I gotta read this book.

          It’s interesting that the Race to the Sea looks a lot more like traditional military maneuvering than the, I assume in some ways more advanced March to the Sea 50 years earlier.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris
            Ignored
            says:

            Chris:
            Well, now I gotta read this book.

            It’s interesting that the Race to the Sea looks a lot more like traditional military maneuvering than the, I assume in some ways more advanced March to the Sea 50 years earlier.

            Race to the Sea and March to the Sea somewhat opposites.

            Schneider’s book was recommended to me a year or two ago by a young defense intellectual when I used the term “warfare state.” I’d had in mind a very different book, but still a nice complement to Schneider’s, on the Roosevelt-Marshall state, by James Sparrow: Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government. Throw in a little Schmitt, a little Polanyi, and I think you have just about everything important that people don’t want to know or admit about the last 100 years. Errr – maybe that’s just a little much, but anyway Schneider’s book ended up being much more intellectually adventurous than I had expected. I’d thought it was going to be a factoidal grind through the history of the Stalin Era, but instead it was something like the history of the last 150 years abstracted via military theory by brilliant Russian soldier-intellectuals about whom I had known next to nothing.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to CK MacLeod
          Ignored
          says:

          Don’t defer to me, defer to the researcher I know who’s done work on the civil war.
          And runs combat simulations with the military.

          A disciplined South could have stood with McClellan as general. But there wasn’t a disciplined South, and so even if they could have won the war, they’d have lost the peace. Fractitious South.

          “There was no reason to presume in 1861 that the South couldn’t hold out indefinitely against any merely passive dependence on Northern material preponderance.”

          … yes, there was, actually (in the grain receipts, if my memory serves me well — if the South itself wouldn’t supply its own military with food…). Not that the north had the intelligence, of course. Actionable, Truthful Intelligence was a rare prize in the Civil War.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim
            Ignored
            says:

            What was “fractitious” about the South?Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
              Ignored
              says:

              Every bit of it. Working together wasn’t in the Lords and Ladies that were Cavaliers, and of the portion of the south that wasn’t Cavalier, most of it didn’t want to be fighting in the first place. St. Louis was Union, and the hill country wasn’t much better (when they speak of the War that pitted brother against brother, it’s the Scotch-Irish they’re speaking of).

              Hell, the crazy as a loon South Carolinians needed to push the rest of the South into war — at just the right moment, or the saner heads (most of the rest of the South) would have prevailed.

              There’s a certain thing to be said about nationalism, and that’s a degree of selflessness — the German in the Rhineland gives food to the German in Prussia, and spares no thought to being repaid in arms rather than in food. For a Georgian to send food to a Virginian was a different matter.

              The South was run by persons noble, and like any enterprise run by them, was prone to paranoia (and sadism). It was also prone to mismanagement, and the other states in the south would have been unwilling to bail out a failing state. The North, on the other hand… eager indeed to pick up the south piecemeal. By 1900, at the latest, the Confederacy dies, even if it had won the Civil War.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, no.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                I’d offer to pull the research, but first I’d have to figure out the name it’s under. Science fiction writer pursuing the Civil War for the anniversary. I’m told there was a conference.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                The South often had trouble coordinating on the field, because their leadership structure was messier, Shiloh being the classic example (Confederates snatching defeat from the jaws of victory via miscommunication and lack of experience and coordination), but at the army level there was coordination and working together. The obvious example is Lee’s surrender resulting in the remaining armies surrendering, despite Davis’ objections.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m talking supply lines and hoarding Chris, not military command structure, but logistical. And I’m using it to pull apart the myth of the united south, moreso than even arguing that the logistics would have doomed the south (which they would have, if the North had enough heart to keep the war going until the south dropped dead of exhaustion).Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Kim
                Ignored
                says:

                @kim
                St. Louis was Union, and the hill country wasn’t much better (when they speak of the War that pitted brother against brother, it’s the Scotch-Irish they’re speaking of).

                Yup. Parts of Appalachia also ended up particularly split, because very few people had slaves…and yet the area was desperately poor, so plenty of soldiers signed up.

                I live near a county called ‘Union County’ which people claim is because it attempted to leave Georgia when Georgia left the Union…which is not actually true, but it *is* one of the few places in the South to have a war memorial to fallen *Union* soldiers.

                Hell, the crazy as a loon South Carolinians needed to push the rest of the South into war — at just the right moment, or the saner heads (most of the rest of the South) would have prevailed.

                Yeah.

                It’s an interesting hypothetical what would have happened had the CSA states just chosen to *ignore* the US, instead of South Carolina setting up a situation where they knew Union forces would have no choice but to shoot at them.

                The thing was, slavery was unsustainable internationally. It was already making the US into an international pariah, and the CSA would have had essentially no one willing to *start* trade with it, at least not without some interesting strings attached.

                The Civil War probably only shorted the CSA’s lifespan by 3/4ths…I can’t see it actually lasting even two decades.

                Although, with the aforementioned strings, I can see individual states ducking out and allying themselves to, for example, England or France, instead of rejoining the US.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                David,
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dade_County,_Georgia
                Seems one county actually did seceed. Scotch-Irish, ya?

                Not only did the hill country not really have slaves, they were more abolitionist than you’d expect (more on the lines of fuck the slaves and fuck the slaveowners)Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Chris
              Ignored
              says:

              Well, for one thing, thanks to manpower shortages, the leadership of the South passed a law allowing currently-owned slaves to join the army! Of their own volition.

              And there was basically no way those guys were going to go back to being slaves again. You can’t give slaves guns and train them to fight, and then ask them politely to return to the plantation. (1)

              And merely doing this was unconstitutional under the CSA’s constitution, in a dozen ways, the most obvious being it was a law ‘impairing the right of property in negro slaves’. (Seriously, if you were to make a comparison between the US and CSA constitution, something like 75% of the changes are explicitly saying the CSA government couldn’t do *exactly* what it did.)

              This happened in mid-March of 1965, though, and the war ended less than a month later, so I don’t know if it ever ended up in court.

              If the war *hadn’t* ended, however, who knows what would have happened as repercussions to that?

              1) This, incidentally, gives rise to the idiotic claim that the south had black soldiers fighting for it. I’m sure there were maybe a dozen actual freemen doing that, you can always find some percentage of weird people. But in reality it was a few hundred slaves at the very end, who thought war was better than slavery…or just figured out those idiot white people were going to give them a gun, train them to fight, and possibly send them into non-slave states. Gee, I wonder what their motives could have been?Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                “This, incidentally, gives rise to the idiotic claim that the south had black soldiers fighting for it.”

                My understanding is that the apologists also find examples in diaries and like of blacks with combat units. These are interpreted as being soldiers, when actually they were servants, and most likely not there voluntarily in the least.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to CK MacLeod
          Ignored
          says:

          “Even today, we still tend to revert to classical ideas of generalship, the same ones that tend to favor Lee.”

          … um, who’s we? Are you talking Historians, or something? You certainly aren’t talking West Point.Report

      • Avatar Guy in reply to Richard Hershberger
        Ignored
        says:

        The way I was taught Washington in high school, he was incapable of winning a battle, unless it was desperately necessary that he do so, in which case he was unstoppable.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Guy
          Ignored
          says:

          How many set-piece battles did he win? Yorktown, but with a lot of French assistance and prodding. Trenton and Princeton were nice pieces of work, but more raiding and running than real battles. Most of his other battles were successful mostly in that most of his army escaped. His genius was to realize that winning set-piece battles wasn’t the point. This has been a hard idea to internalize since at least the days of Fabius Maximus.Report

  4. Avatar Kim
    Ignored
    says:

    Grant had an easy, uninspired task — the grinding down of the South by slow strangulation.
    Virtually anyone could have done the task of beating Lee, as Lee had to have victory after victory to even hold the south together (Hence the push into Pennsylvania).

    West Point doesn’t need to teach about Grant, because he had such a good deck to play with (why teach easy games?). Time was the fractious South’s enemy, even moreso than the North.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    As a Northerner, I grew up with Grant as a good general but a bad President. Sherman was also seen as a good general.Report

  6. Avatar Jesse Ewiak
    Ignored
    says:

    Grant’s probably the best President in the period from Lincoln being shot to McKinley being shot. That’s not saying much, but he’s probably in my top ten to fifteen.Report

  7. Avatar KatherineMW
    Ignored
    says:

    Most of what I’ve read about the Civil War shows Grant as an extremely effective, daring, and skilled commander in the West, and as a good general overall in the later part of the war; he worked well with his subordinates Sherman and Sheridan. When he got into a trench-warfare slugging match with Lee, his strongest talents (which he demonstrated in the West, where he had room to maneuver) couldn’t be exercised. The big battles in northern Virginia pinned down most of what remained of the Confederate army, which was effective in giving Sherman and others Union commanders a relatively free hand to deal with the states further south, but Coal Harbour, Petersburg, etc. were definite failures.

    He’s far underrated as a president.Report

  8. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    greginak: The losers always remember and have a history.

    yes, but my reasoning for Lee elevation and Grant de-elevation is as follows.

    1) Grant’s presidency was rather personally disastrous for Grant’s reputation and for the political fortunes of the Republican party. Sure, Hayes ‘won’ but after losing the popular vote, and then only because of a deal that gave the South a hundred years of solitude.

    2) One notable exceptions to that hundred years was Wilson’s election, who combined the worst aspects of East Coast academic wankery with Southern revanchism. But for a long time he was considered a ‘great’ or at least important President so the historical narrative became ‘ok, Lincoln was pretty good, but he died, and then there was a half century of Republican sell-outs of The People to Big Business until the Progressives came along and Fixed Everything’. So Grant’s reputation is further diminished by the association with (admitted lackluster) Presidencies of the era where the GOP earned its Grand Old Party nickname.

    3) So, in the zero-sum world of historical narrative, the Civil war becomes a battle of Lee vs Grant. Since Grant is a diminished figure by the time living memory has passed, Lee gets elevated – even in suburban *northern* high school histories of the mid to late 20th century.

    it’s only now – and I mean now, within the past few years, well after even the book CK MacLeod launched his post with – that in the revision of the revision, Grant is finally getting his due.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      Grant devaluation is fine. It’s the beating of an Old (dead) Warhorse that I object to.
      Dirty bastards can’t accept that they could be outfought, so they must have been betrayed.

      Sounds a bit like the germans after wwi, eh?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        The Lost Cause narrative isn’t a betrayal narrative.* “Grant the Butcher” always gave the South an out, through an almost Marxist implicit claim on historical inevitability that Northern resources in men and material could just overrun the South despite the best efforts of Southern political and military leadership. And it sticks because it’s somewhat true, but not completely true.

        *though, of course, there’s a strong case to be made that the Southern yeoman *was* betrayed by the political leadership of the South. His interests were never really align with the slave owning aristocracy, and it was this artistocracy’s push for independence (and then inept leadership) that brought much direct pain and suffering onto that socioeconomic class.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      A possible additional problem for Grant in the history books is that the present-day representatives of, more or less, his side, or the winning side, are generally uncomfortable with military matters. Leading progressive intellectuals, even merely self-consciously “liberal” ones, are on average much less likely to take an active interest in dusting off the monuments to their great dead white military males. They have other fish to fry. In addition to hewing to their preferred (often self-contradictory) Civil War/Emancipation narratives, which are to stress the roles of African-Americans in liberating themselves, even where not over-stressing charges against Lincoln for his remnant racialisms, left-liberal intellectuals like to imagine that the New Deal solved the Depression, and that the Civil Rights and New Social movements deserve sole credit for Civil Rights and social advances. Even the remaining Marxists are not typically the bloodthirsty ones, and, though either type might have imbibed Marx’s own preference for the Union side as the progressive side, they would not have been especially inclined to do what the liberals weren’t even bothering to do. The left wants to believe in and exclusively celebrate every and any other source or enabler of progress other than militarism, nationalism, and war that can be found or imagined. The Sparrow book is very useful for undermining this prejudice and underlining the debt that left-liberalism owes to “war socialism.” The abandonment of Woodrow Wilson and willing adoption of the “he was a lousy warmongering racist” line follows a somewhat similar pattern to the abandonment of Grant. Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      @kolohe A big part of the Grant devaluation was about Reconstruction. Grant pushed it; he walloped the KKK and pushed for rights for Freedmen. After the Reconstruction era the southern narrative of carpetbaggers invading the south and uppity blacks going after the white women and the south being degraded was elevated. The CW was redefined as two honorable armies of brothers fighting with blacks and slavery being expunged. The Fed’s stopped Reconstruction letting the white south push blacks down again. Everybody ( read whites and elites) were tired of war and didn’t want to have to keep futzing with the south. Redefining Grant was part of eliminating blacks, slavery and Reconstrution.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *