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.