Monthly Archives: September 2015

Turning Point on Grant

After a half century of increasingly favorable portrayals by Civil War historians and biographers, Joseph Rose’s Grant Under Fire challenges the presently dominant viewpoint of Ulysses Grant in three ways. His book could be a turning point about the future assessments of Grant.

First, he reveals incidents when Grant falsified battlefield reports and other documents to further his own interests. Sometimes the general deliberately impugned the reputations of men he thought to be rivals. Regrettably, even when writing his memoirs in the final months of his life he often would praise victims indirectly without conceding that he had wronged them.


Second, he analyzes Grant’s accomplishments from perspectives seldom considered by the general’s admirers. For example, most historians minimize the role of the Union Navy in the victories at Fort Donelson and Vicksburg. Even the commonly belittled Major General John Pope – routed at Second Bull Run – forced the Confederates to surrender at Island Number 10 under similar circumstances. Similarly, Grant gave no credit to his often-disparaged rival, Major General John McClernand, for the latter’s victory at Arkansas Post where he captured 5,000 rebels with the aid of the Union Navy.

Third, Rose shows that the pattern of dubious conduct continued after the war. The author documents numerous corruption scandals during Grant’s presidency that are increasingly minimized, excused, or ignored by Grant biographers.

After a decade of research, Rose’s work underscores the maxim: “People will remember the quality of your work long after they have forgotten how quickly you finished it.” However, the book is not for the uninitiated. It will be most appreciated by readers with prior Civil War knowledge.

Frank Varney’s, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, is a comparable book with a narrower focus.

Motivations for Emancipation Proclamation

September 14, 2015

Today, Discerning History published my following Emancipation Proclamation essay.

Was the Emancipation Proclamation Trying to Incite a Slave Rebellion?

Such an uprising would almost certainly have compelled Confederate soldiers to desert in order to go home to protect their families. Even if they were members of the nearly 70% of families in the Confederate states that did not own slaves such a rebellion could trigger a race war. The danger was a particularly sensitive point in states like South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi where slaves represented over half, or nearly half, of the population. The Confederacy would have little chance of surviving a widespread servile insurrection that would require it to fight both the slaves and the Union armies.

Although there were few prior American slave rebellions, Nat Turner’s 1831 Virginia uprising confirmed they could be merciless racial conflicts. During their brief summer rampage Turner’s rebels killed nearly every White they encountered. A total of about sixty were massacred, mostly women and children.

Lincoln and his Cabinet

One near-victim was George Thomas who was spared because he fled his home to hide in the woods with his mother and sisters. Thomas later became a famous Union general credited with saving an entire army at the battle of Chickamauga. Out of 7,000 Blacks in the region, Turner was only able to recruit about sixty followers. There were even reports that some masters gave weapons to their wards and that the armed slaves helped put-down the insurrection.

Some slave rebellions elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere involved more extensive genocide. One example was on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo where a multi-year revolt culminated in the formation of the Free Haitian Republic in 1804. Although most Whites left by that time, the 5,000 or so who remained were systematically massacred. Some women who took Black husbands or lovers were spared.

Continued at the Discerning History website:(including all documenting footnotes.)

My Civil War books:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated.

President Carter’s Victory

“Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.”

— Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana.

President Carter’s Victory

Today I received a postal letter from former President Jimmy Carter explaining that the Georgia Historical Society finally honored his request to remove an erroneous historical marker from the grounds of the Carter Center.

Last November the Society commemorated Sherman’s Burning of Atlanta with a historical marker falsely stating that Sherman’s army limited destruction to the city’s business and industrial districts and excluded residential dwellings. Although Sherman did not order the destruction of residences he did little to stop the rampaging soldiers who disobeyed his orders and burned a great many homes.


I wrote the Society’s executive director last November to point out the error in the marker. He never responded. Next, I wrote President Carter and was delighted to learn that he knew the truth and requested that the Society either correct or remove the marker.

I am thankful for President Carter’s persistence, especially considering his illness. Like too many Sesquicentennial Era historians, the executive director of the Georgia Historical Society is attempting to replace one mythology with another, when all that should be provided is the truth.

Last November I wrote an article for the New York Times describing the facts of Atlanta’s destruction.