(April 30, 2018) In contrast to the wave of recent Ulysses Grant hagiographies, a couple of nearly ostracized voices have been disclosing how the general’s false statements and mistaken recollections (if not outright lies) have shaped the currently popular but erroneous perspectives of Grant. Dr. Frank Varney of Dickinson State University has written two books that correct Grant’s military record. The first, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, was released five years ago. The second, tentatively titled The Men Grant Didn’t Like, will be published later this year.
[To support this website buy my books at My Amazon Author Page]
In anticipation of his second title, I invited Dr. Varney to provide the post below listing prominent examples of Grant’s false statements and erroneous recollections.
* * *
Philip recently asked me to list a few of Ulysses S. Grant’s most glaring misstatements. It’s actually hard to keep the list short, but I’ll do my best.
One. Grant said that at the Battle of Belmont he launched an attack—which was supposed to be a reconnaissance in force—because Union General W.H. L. Wallace and his men were in danger. Supposedly a surprise Confederate troop movement had left Wallace’s command in a tough spot. Grant’s attacking force, which was initially successful, ultimately itself became in danger of being cut off and only narrowly escaped. But the need for Grant’s attack was moot because Wallace denied that his men were ever in any danger. Moreover, Confederate reports in the Official Records bear Wallace out: there was no Rebel threat to Wallace as Grant described.
Two. Also pertaining to Belmont, Grant told a great story about how, when he realized that one of his units failed to retreat with the rest of his command, he single-handedly went in search of them, led them to the rescuing transports, and was the last man aboard. According to his account he rode his horse up a single, narrow plank to the cheers of his men. Sadly, no other account of the episode exists but his, in spite of the fact that there were, or should have been, thousands of witnesses.
Three. As commanding general at the Battle of Shiloh Grant stoutly denied that he was surprised the Rebel attack that opened the battle, when everyone else in his army except General William T. Sherman agreed that he was taken by surprise. Since Sherman had only the day before the attack told Grant that no action was in the offing, his defense of Grant has an obvious motive. Consider also that when the attack began Grant was at breakfast, eight miles away. Logically, if he had known an attack was coming, he would have been with his army.
Four. Grant said that the Battle of Shiloh was very nearly lost because General Benjamin Prentiss caused a break in the Union defense line and allowed his command to be cut off and captured; and that General Lew Wallace took the wrong road and arrived too late to be of use on the first day of the two-day battle. Neither of those statements is true, when looked at dispassionately rather than taking Grant at his word.
Five. Grant said that General William S. Rosecrans disobeyed orders at the Battle of Iuka and allowed the defending Confederates to escape. In fact, Rosecrans notified Grant of a necessary change in the Rosecrans-column attack plans, and Grant’s first report agreed that Rosecrans had taken the proper steps.
Six. Grant falsely claimed that Rosecrans had failed to pursue the retreating enemy at both the battles of Iuka and Corinth. In fact, Rosecrans did pursue in both cases—until recalled by Grant.
Seven. Grant stated that he had no choice but to relieve Rosecrans after the Battle of Chickamauga because of a telegram he received from military observer Charles Dana indicating that Rosecrans was on the verge of abandoning Chattanooga. There is ample evidence that this charge was untrue. Dana denied ever having sent the telegram, and Grant never produced it in spite of repeated demands that he do so.
Eight. Grant claimed that General Joseph Hooker continually attempted to detach troops from General Sherman’s army in Georgia in order to enable Hooker to conduct independent campaigns. There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate this. Even Grant-ally Sherman never claimed it happened. Sherman did, however, claim that Union General John Schofield had complained that Hooker tried to give him orders, but Schofield flatly denied Sherman’s claim.
Nine. Grant insisted that General George H. Thomas was slow. Sadly, too many historians have repeated and ever after accepted the charge as valid. However, a look at the reports of the officers who commanded Thomas—Generals Don Carlos Buell, Rosecrans, even Sherman—never complained that Thomas was slow. In fact, Thomas was an admirable general whose reputation was damaged by Grant’s tendency to damn him with faint praise.
Ten. Grant claimed that he regretted General Phil Sheridan’s removal of General G. K. Warren in the closing days of the war, after a victory. If the regret was genuine, Grant—as general in chief of the army—certainly had ample opportunity to correct the problem. But he failed to do so. Consequently, it took nearly two decades before a court of inquiry was held that exonerated Warren. During the inquiry, and in interviews and articles during the interim, Grant did his best to damage Warren, blaming him for things in retrospect that Grant had not blamed Warren for at the time, most notably the debacle of the Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg. In fact, my research leads to the inescapable conclusion that Sheridan relieved Warren at Grant’s behest.
Although Grant was a fine general he had a strong tendency to ignore facts in order to embellish his own reputation. In doing so he did great harm to the careers and reputations of others. My first book, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, addresses issues three through seven in the above list. The final three are addressed in my second book, which is currently being prepared for publication. It is tentatively titled The Men Grant Didn’t Like, but that may change.
Book one sold out in hardcover and is being reprinted in paperback to be shipped next month. The film rights have been optioned, as well. Book two should be available later this year. The issues above are examined at much greater length, and in much greater detail, in those books.