Tag Archives: Ulysses Grant

Did Grant’s Soldiers Cheer His Advance on Spotsylvania?

(April 15, 2019) One of the inspirational stories that Ulysses Grant’s hagiographers tell concerns the aftermath of the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. Although soundly defeated in his first match against Robert E. Lee, legend has it that his troops reflexively cheered him when they realized he was leading the Army of the Potomac on a march toward Lee’s right flank after the battle instead of retreating as former Union commanders typically did after losing to Lee. Biographer Ron Chernow describes it this way on pages 385-86 of his biography:

As the long column of Union soldiers began to stir that night, they found themselves suddenly wheeling around, not to the north [in retreat] but to the south, and realizing with a flush of exhilaration that Grant was going on the offensive, leading them back into battle against Lee! . . . In spontaneous joy, soldiers expressed their fond opinions of Grant with cheers so loud they resounded through the woods, leading Confederate to fear attack.

Chernow’s account relies primarily upon secondary sources except for Horace Porter’s Campaigning With Grant. (Porter was a military aide and later a private secretary for President Grant.) Unfortunately for Grant fans, in his Grant Under Fire author Joesph Rose has disclosed a number of instances when Porter falsified records in order to portray his chief in a more favorable light. Last month Rose added the article below at his website after discovering yet another suspicious Porter recollection.

James M. McPherson, in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of U.S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs, noted how Horace Porter served on Grant’s staff from the Wilderness to Appomattox. McPherson concluded that, Porter’s “own version of those events, entitled Campaigning with Grant, is next in value only to Grant’s memoirs as a firsthand account of command decisions in that campaign.” Porter in his own preface maintained that, “While serving as a personal aid to the general-in-chief the author early acquired the habit of making careful and elaborate notes of everything of interest which came under his observation, and these reminiscences are simply a transcript of memoranda jotted down at the time.”

The implication that he actually transcribed these supposed notes is ridiculous. Among his unbelievable renderings, Porter remembered verbatim a pair of four-sentence comments and then a speech lasting more than two pages, during a six-mile horseback ride with the General. But what apparently proves the comprehensiveness of Porter’s fabrications, however, is his letter on April Fool’s Day of 1868, an excerpt of which is in the Wyoming State Archives’ Bender Collection. In it, Porter acknowledged that “I kept no notes in the field ….”

Readers may continue Rose’s article at his website here. A discussion of the dubious cheering after the Battle of the Wilderness is in the comments section.

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency: Chapter 2 “The New Normal”

(March 20, 2019) Provided below is Chapter 2 of my new book U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency. This online version excludes all footnotes and contains only one illustration. Readers may buy the entire book at Amazon in either the paperback or Kindle format. The paperback price is $19.95 and the Kindle price is $4.95. You may buy signed copies by emailing me: phil_leigh@me.com. See all of my books at My Amazon Author Page.

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

Chapter 2: New Normal

ROBERT E. LEE SURRENDERED ON Palm Sunday 1865. President Lincoln was shot on Good Friday and died on Easter. After Lincoln’s death no American was more popular than Ulysses S. Grant, although that wasn’t his real name. It was actually Hiram Ulysses Grant, but the true name did not match the admissions roster when the seventeen- year-old arrived at West Point on July 1, 1839. Rather than return home he acquiesced to the Ulysses S. Grant name that appeared on the list of incoming plebes. Classmates often called him Sam because the U. S. initials on the class roll suggested the simpler, nickname: Sam as in Uncle Sam. Nonetheless, the man with multiple names would enjoy unrivaled popularity for most of his remaining twenty-one years after earning a promotion to Lieutenant General in 1864. His reputation among historians, however, would fluctuate.

Grant avoided the Ford’s Theater assassination in Washington—for which he may have also been a target—because Julia insisted that the couple decline Lincoln’s invitation to join the presidential couple at the performance of Our American Cousin. Julia disliked Mrs. Lincoln. Officially Grant declined the invitation by explaining that Mrs. Grant was anxious to return to their children in Burlington, New Jersey, which was near Philadelphia. The couple no longer depended upon Jesse’s charity for a home. Grant’s military rank paid enough salary to enable an independent and comfortable living. He and Julia would strive ever after to sustain, or improve, the family’s economic and social status as their “new normal.” Public adulation soon resulted in gifts that only intensified the couple’s appetite for more possessions and honorariums.

A month following Lincoln’s assassination, wealthy Philadelphians gave Grant’s family a grand home at 2009 Chestnut Street. It included closets full of snowy linen and dining tables set with fine silver. Grant planned to commute to Washington, but the five-hour train ride quickly rendered the plan impracticable. As a result, he temporarily accepted an offer from Henry Halleck, who was his predecessor as Army General-in-Chief, to use Halleck’s Georgetown Heights home. Still wanting a Washington residence of his own, in October he purchased a four-story structure for $30,000. A future brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, actually bought the home and gave Grant title in exchange for a note to pay Corbin $30,000 over ten years.

Four months later former Major General Daniel Butterfield led a subscription for Grant among rich New Yorkers that resulted in a purse of $105,000, which was equivalent to about $1.7 million in 2018.  Grant first used the money to repay his debt to Corbin. He then invested $55,000 in government bonds and took the last $20,000 in cash. Bostonians similarly gave him a personal library valued at $75,000. While living in Halleck’s home during the summer of 1865 he also accepted a $16,000 gift home back in Galena, Illinois. Four years later Butterfield and Corbin would teach Grant that there is no such thing as a free home.

Early in 1866 Horace Greeley’sNew York Tribune humorously wrote, “Since Richmond’s capitulation the stern soldier [Grant] spent his days . . .  in conjugating the transitive verb to receive, in all its moods and tenses, but always in the first person singular . . . ” Soon thereafter the Georgetown Courier continued in form by adding that Grant had conjugated the verb for a total of $175,000, which biographer Hesseltine concluded was “obviously too low.”

Grant learned by telegram around midnight on Good Friday 1865 while waiting at an intermediate Philadelphia stop to switch trains for Burlington, that Lincoln had been shot and was dying. After escorting Julia to Burlington, he complied with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s summons to Washington.

Washington, D. C. in 1866

Many leaders in the capital city wrongly supposed that the assassination was a high-level Confederate conspiracy. Initially the same suspicions infected Grant. He ordered the Union commander in occupied Richmond to arrest an official Confederate peace negotiator—Rebel armies were still in the field beyond Virginia—and all “paroled [Confederate] officers.” When the Richmond commander reminded Grant that such an order would include Lee and others surrendered at Appomattox presently living in Richmond, Grant rescinded the order. He also soon thereafter concluded that there had been no Confederate conspiracy.

The new President was Tennessee’s Andrew Johnson, the only senator from a Confederate state to remain Union-loyal during the Civil War. As a reward he became Lincoln’s vice-presidential running mate in the 1864 election and was inaugurated as VP only six weeks before Lincoln was killed. Although Johnson was a former slaveholder, he was born into poverty and disliked Southern aristocrats.

Immediately after Lincoln’s death, his disdain for the antebellum gentry provoked Johnson to make comments that implied he would align with the Radical wing of the Republican Party—a wing that wanted strict and vindictive Reconstruction terms, beyond those intended by Lincoln.  For example, he wrote Indiana’s Governor Oliver Morton, “Treason must be made odious . . . traitors must be punished . . . [and] their social power destroyed. I say as to the [Southern] leaders, punishment. I say leniency . . . and amnesty to the thousands they have misled. . . ” The day after Lincoln died, Johnson told Michigan Senator Zack Chandler, “Treason must be made infamous and traitors must be impoverished.” Continue reading

Preface to U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

(March 9, 2019) Provided below is the Preface to my new book U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency. This online version excludes all footnotes and contains only one illustration. Readers may buy the entire book at Amazon in either the paperback or Kindle format. The paperback price is $19.95 and the Kindle price is $4.95. You may buy signed copies by emailing me: phil_leigh@me.com.

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

“If I don’t see things your way, well, why should I?” —— Will Rogers

Preface

ULYSSES GRANT’S PRESIDENCY deserves a fresh analysis because modern historians and biographers have lifted him too high. Initially, their rehabilitation of his previously mixed reputation concentrated on his military performance during the Civil War, but more lately it has included his presidency. In 1948, for example, Grant ranked near the bottom at twenty-eighth out of thirty presidents. But a 2017 survey ranked him in the middle of the pack at twenty-second out of forty-one.

The ranking improvement reflects two factors. First is an increasing focus on his civil rights policies on behalf of blacks, if not other minorities. Historians who came of age during, or after, the 1960s civil rights movement tend to concentrate on the racial aspects of Reconstruction. In a 2018 interview, for example, Ron Chernow proclaimed Grant to be “the single most important president in terms of civil rights between Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson . . .” Second is a tendency among modern historians to minimize the corruption that plagued his presidency as well as an inclination to dismiss suspicions that he may have been personally culpable.

Regarding the first point, today’s historians too often fail to critically evaluate Grant’s motives for supporting black civil rights, particularly voting rights. His policy is commonly portrayed as a noble stand for racial equality. They fail to adequately examine evidence that his prime motive may have been to gain the political power that a routinely obedient voting bloc could provide to Republican candidates. Consider, for example, that only a minority of America’s whites voted for Grant when he was first elected President in 1868, despite his popularity as a war hero. His 300,000 popular vote majority resulted from winning about 90% of the votes among the mostly illiterate ex-slaves.

More importantly, President Grant may have limited his voting rights support to blacks simply because they composed the solitary minority group that could be politically significant. He did nothing for smaller racial minorities such as Indians, Chinese Americans and other immigrant groups. In fact, at the end of the Civil War Grant opposed black suffrage, even for those who were Union veterans. His move toward black suffrage over the next three years paralleled his increasing intimacy with Radical Republicans and fully solidified with his nomination for President on the Republican ticket in May 1868.

Similarly, Indians generally could not vote during Grant’s Administration. Moreover, in 1875-76 he secretly provoked a war with tribes in the Northern Great Plaines. He wanted to give white men access to dubious gold deposits in the Black Hills in order to help America’s economy recover from the depression that followed the Panic of 1873. Although the war is best known for Custer’s Last Stand, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled a century later that it was illegal and awarded over $100 million in damages to tribal descendants.

Chinese Americans were also generally denied the opportunity to become citizens and vote.  Not until 1943 would they be eligible to become naturalized citizens. Even though they never numbered more than ten percent of California’s population, they represented about two-thirds of the state’s lynch victims between 1849 and 1902. In fact, the biggest lynching in American history took place in Los Angeles during Grant’s first presidential term in 1871. The nineteen victims were Chinese Americans.

Since the Fourteenth Amendment only granted citizenship to persons born in America, Grant signed the 1870 Naturalization Act in order to enable blacks born elsewhere to become citizens. But the act deliberately excluded Chinese Americans and other “non-whites.” In 1875 he signed the Page Act that sharply restricted entry into America of Chinese women at a time when 96% of Chinese Americans were male and interracial marriage was rare.  That effectively blocked the Fourteenth Amendment’s birthright citizenship for Asian Americans. The 1875 Civil Rights Act also failed to include Chinese Americans. In Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Jean Paelzer explained the effect of such restrictions and omissions: “The Civil Rights Act and the Page Act of 1875 . . . removed the right of Chinese immigrants to ever become citizens and banned the immigration of most Chinese women.”

As for the dubious ethics within Grant’s Administration there were at least ten incidents of malfeasance connected to it during his eight-year presidency. The sheer number and frequency that repeatedly signified Grant’s association with men of questionable character may also hint at his own potential culpability. Consider, for example, the President’s conduct during the Whisky Ring Scandal, which involved tax evasion and bribery in the distilled spirits industry, which was the top source of domestic federal tax revenue.

 

President Grant’s Private Secretary: Orville Babcock

Ultimately the treasury’s investigation led to the threshold of the presidency when Grant’s personal secretary, Orville Babcock, was indicted as a leading Ring conspirator. Grant responded by first trying to move the trial to a friendly military court since Babcock was also an army officer. But a justice department prosecutor blocked the move by noting that it would violate procedural rules against removing evidence from the court of jurisdiction. Second, he hired a spy to infiltrate the prosecutor’s office, but the mole eventually sided with the prosecution. Third, he fired an assistant prosecutor whose comments during a jury summation offended Grant personally. Fourth, he forbade prosecutors to plea bargain with low-level conspirators as a means to convict high-level participants. Along with other evidence, Grant’s obstructions were so suspicious that the treasury department’s chief clerk wrote a future Supreme Court justice two days before Babcock’s trial, “What has hurt [Treasury Secretary] Bristow worst of all & most disheartened him is the final conviction that Grant himself is in the Ring and knows all about [it.]”

Grant also used a law commonly associated with protecting black civil rights in the South to police voter registrations in big Northern cities where growing immigrant populations were strengthening the Democratic Party. When the wife of Attorney General George Williams accused Grant of using secret service funds to benefit Republican candidates in New York City, the President explained that the money was spent in compliance with the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Acts to supervise voter registrations.

Grant was also an eager recipient of valuable gifts which he reciprocated with patronage appointments. Between 1865 and 1869 inclusive, donors bought—or gave him enough money to buy—a total of four homes. One each in Galena, Illinois, Philadelphia, Washington City and Long Branch, New Jersey.

One of the seven donors of the 27-room Long Branch “cottage” was Thomas Murphy who was a notorious supplier of shoddy merchandise to the Union army during the Civil War. Grant later appointed Murphy as customs collector for the Port of New York where the treasury collected three-fourths of America’s tariffs. It was the most lucrative patronage assignment available in the federal government.

Similarly, Grant assigned General Daniel Butterfield to New York’s sub-treasury office in exchange for raising a fund enabling General William T. Sherman to buy Grant’s Washington home at a price that was more than double the price Grant paid only three years earlier. Soon after his appointment, Butterfield took a bribe to join Jay Gould’s attempted corner of the gold market in September 1869.

Historians specializing in the Civil War and Reconstruction era are sometimes too easily persuaded by Grant’s words, while ignoring his contradictory actions. But, as J. P. Morgan once remarked, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” Morgan was implying that the good reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the real self-serving one. For example, Grant justified restricting the immigration of Chinese women by implying that he wanted to avoid forcing them into prostitution. In his 1875 annual presidential message he wrote, “few . . . are brought to our shores to pursue honorable or useful occupations.”  But Chinese American history specialist Jean Paelzer concludes that the true purpose of the act was “to force thousands of men to return to China” since only four percent of Asian Americans in 1875 were women.

Similarly, Grant initially adopted a benevolent attitude toward Indians. In his first annual message in December 1869 he announced that he had put Quakers in charge of several reservations because the sect had long coexisted peaceably with Indians: “From the foundation of the Government to the present, management of the . . . Indians . . . has been a subject of embarrassment and . . . attended with continuous robberies, murders, and wars.  I do not hold . . . the conduct of the whites . . . blameless . . . [and] have attempted a new [Quaker managed] policy . . . with fair results so far . . . which I hope will be [a] great success.” Yet, his professions of good feelings proved false when he launched the Centennial War in the North Plaines noted earlier.

When a group of African Americans visited the White House to congratulate him for winning reelection in 1872, Grant told them what they wanted to hear: “I wish that everyman in the United States would stand in all respects alike.” But, to Grant, “everyman” did not include Indians and Chinese Americans, among other non-black minorities.

Since Grant sometimes contradicted himself, his true intent must be deduced from his actions, not his words. Yet most modern biographers too-readily accept the statements that reflect upon him favorably and ignore the contradictory ones. Charles Calhoun does so when suggesting that Grant supported labor over capital in the 1877 railroad strike during the first year of successor Rutherford Hayes’s presidency. While complaining that the press had been overly critical of his use of federal troops in the South, Calhoun cites Grant as complaining, “Now [during the 1877 railroad strike], however, there is no hesitation about exhausting the whole power of the government to suppress a strike on the slightest intimation that danger threatens.”

But in an August 27, 1877 letter to brother-in-law Abel Corbin Grant displayed a hard, and contradictory, stance toward labor. He wrote, “My judgment is that [the strike] should have been put down with a strong hand and so summarily as to prevent a like occurrence for a generation.”

Finally, even though Grant’s fundamental interest in black civil rights may have reflected the power of the group’s voting bloc more than the morality of racial equality, it ultimately failed to be enough to sustain his support. The moment-of-truth came during the autumn 1875 elections in Mississippi and Ohio.

Mississippi carpetbag governor Adelbert Ames twice asked Grant for federal troops to police the polls on Election Day but was turned down. It would be another forty years before former Republican Mississippi Congressman John Lynch, who was born into slavery, revealed that Grant confessed to him in November 1875 that Ohio politicians convinced the President that Mississippi intervention would likely cause Republicans to lose Ohio. Basically, Grant traded a Republican victory in Mississippi for a bigger one in Ohio. Thereafter, the Republican Party steadily lost interest in Southern blacks.

Understanding Grant’s roller-coaster reputation begins with a study of contrasts. In a mere seven years he rose from obscurity to the presidency, only to generally skid downward from his inauguration day to the end of his second term.

 

My New Book: U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency

(March 7, 2019) Earlier today my newest book, U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency was released and is now available at Amazon. The paperback is $19.95 and the Kindle is $4.95. There are 230 pages, thirty-one illustrations, 250 footnotes and a bibliography.

The book examines the eighteenth president free from the hagiographic bias that has dominated Grant biographies during the past thirty years.

Given his acclaim for having won the Civil War, no leader was better positioned to reunite the country “with malice toward none and charity for all” as the earlier martyred wartime President Abraham Lincoln intended. Unfortunately, Grant put his own and Republican Party interests ahead of the country’s needs. Although he benefitted personally from eight years in the White House, his Administration was rife with corruption while his Reconstruction policies left the South impoverished and burdened with racial unrest for more than a century.

Those wanting to buy a signed copy should email me at phil_leigh(AT)me.com. The price is $19.95 plus $3.50 shipping in the USA.

Did Ulysses Grant Own and Rent Slaves?

(January 19, 2019) Even among the most Grant-partial historians there’s no denying that Ulysses Grant and his wife owned slaves prior to the Civil War. In fact, “Ulysses Grant” is the correct answer to a crafty American history trivia question that asks: “Can you name the last slaveholding President?”

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As growing political correctness causes our culture to increasingly condemn historical figures connected with slavery, Grant supporters are scrambling for explanations to exempt him from denunciation. Foremost among these are his role in defeating the Confederacy and his (suspect) advocacy for minority civil rights during his presidency. But Grant fans also try to explain away his pre-war participation in the slave economy. Here are the facts:

When Grant married Julia Dent in 1848 he wedded into a slave owning family whose patriarch was Frederick Dent. In 1850 Dent owned about thirty slaves including eighteen on his White Haven farm near St. Louis. After resigning from the pre-Civil War army, Grant moved to the St. Louis area to earn a living as a private citizen in 1854. His first attempt was at farming during which he used a number of the Dent slaves to fell trees, plant crops and build a house for his family.

Although not one of Grant’s the above photo is of a Missouri slave in 1858.

Following the death of his wife, Frederick Dent moved into the town of St. Louis in 1857 and rented 450 acres of White Haven to Grant. In 1858 Grant wrote his sister, “I have now three negro men, two hired by the year and one of Mr. Dent’s, which, with my own help, I think, will enable me to do my farming pretty well.”

At some point during Grant’s time at White Haven he purchased a slave named William Jones from his father in law. Later Grant gave up on farming and in the spring of 1859 moved the family into St. Louis where four slaves that had been given to Julia by her father served him. The next year Grant gave up on St. Louis altogether and moved his family to Galena, Illinois where he worked in one of his father’s tannery shops.

The year before the move to Galena in 1860, Grant emancipated William Jones, “for divers[e] good and valuable considerations.” Although “good and valuable considerations” is a legal expression that can include money among other factors, every Grant biography I’ve read assumes that Jones did not even partially purchase his freedom but was instead given it.

Beyond the above facts many Grant supporters excuse his connections to slavery with at least three mitigating points.

One. They emphasize that Grant emancipated William Jones whereas he could have sold him for perhaps $700. Grant, they argue, would never sell slaves.

But other evidence suggests that he might. One example is Hamlin Garland’s “Grant’s Life in Missouri” article from Volume 8 (November 1896 – April 1897) of McClure’s magazine. Garland summarized the recollections of St. Louis newspaper owner George Fishback:

All of Captain Grant’s associations and (apparent) sympathies at that time [1854-1860], says Mr. Fishback, were pro-slavery in character. . . .  He said: “I know something of the leather business, and I think I can do better up in Galena with my brothers.” He then asked me if I would buy or hire one of his house servants. She was an excellent woman, he said, and had been in the family some time, but as she was a slave he could not take her North . . .  He at last turned them over to John F. Long in security for a small indebtedness, and the slaves finally fell back into the possession of Colonel [Frederick] Dent.

Two. In a recent online forum discussion Grant supporters insisted that the two “hired” blacks mentioned in Grant’s letter to his younger sister were paid by Grant for their work. The forum participants mostly relied upon Ron Chernow’s recent hagiography as evidence. Without citing a source, Chernow wrote that “Grant hired two black men” to work for him at White Haven.

The forum members—and perhaps Chernow—were apparently unaware that surplus slave labor was commonly “hired out” by slaveholders. When so informed one replied that Grant was too high principled to ever “rent human beings.” Yet it is more likely than not that the two blacks were slaves, which means that Grant paid their owners, although he might have added supplemental payments to the workers directly.

First, slave rental agreements typically used language such as “hired out” as Grant did in his letter to his sister. Additionally, the letter states that the two men were hired out for a year, which was a time period consistent with field hands who were slaves.

Second, when contemplating a move to one of his dad’s Kentucky businesses late in 1859, Ulysses was undeniably disposed to rent one of Julia’s slaves if his dad did not want him to take the boy to Kentucky. Specifically in a letter to his dad he wrote: “I can leave him [the slave] here  [St. Louis] and get about three dollars per month for the boy, and more as he gets older.”

Third, in “Slavery at White Haven” the National Park Service U. S. Grant National Historic Site concludes, “Grant and his family benefitted from the labors of more than William Jones, however, including numerous enslaved people owned by Colonel Dent and others hired from local slaveholders.”

Fourth, according to Eric Swanger’s “Grant and His Single Slave”:  “In 1857, Grant took over management of the Dent plantation, and now had all of the slaves under [his] authority. Because most of the slaves were not field hands, two additional slaves had to be rented from their nearby owners.”

Three. Contrary to popular plantation imagery, Grant worked alongside the field hands he supervised. While that was true, it was not exceptional. Most any slaveholder throughout the South that worked only three field hands labored alongside them.

Should statues of Grant be among those destroyed because of their connection to slavery?

Sources: Slavery at White Haven, National Park Service; Ronald C. White, American Ulysses, 128;  Ulysses Grant, Letters of Ulysses Grant to His Father and Younger Sister7, 11-12;  Eric Swanger, General Grant and His Single Slave; Hamlin Garland, “Grant’s Life in Missouri,” McClure’s Magazine, Volume 8, 520; Ron Chernow, Grant, 101

The Washington Post March of Infamy

(November 25, 2018) Yesterday The Washington Post published an Op-Ed by former General Stanley McChrystal in which he boasted of removing a long-displayed Robert E. Lee painting from his home to “send it on its way to a local landfill for burial.” It is but one of perhaps a dozen Post articles during the last three years disparaging Lee, Confederate monuments and Southern heritage. All condemn Lee and the Confederate soldier because in fighting to defend their homes from invaders they were also supporting a country seeking to preserve slavery.

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To such critics it is immaterial that seventy percent of Southern families did not own slaves and that Lee opposed secession.  Four months before his native Virginia joined the Confederacy he wrote son Custis: “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than dissolution of the Union. . . I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor [to preserve it.]”

The Washington Post’s March of Infamy against Southerners plays the Trump cards of slavery and racism as if they were the only two evils in the World’s history. In truth, however, the great majority of 1860 American voters did not oppose slavery in the states where it was legal. Moreover, racism was common in both the North and South.  Even President Lincoln admitted in his first inaugural, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Eighteen months later when speaking about the problems of integration to a group of free blacks he urged them to leave America and concluded, “It is best for both [races], therefore, to be separated.”

A better way to evaluate Robert E. Lee is to compare his conduct to standards applicable to both his time and ours. In that context, consider how favorably he compares to Ulysses Grant who committed transgressions that are repugnant not only by modern standards but also by those of his time. Lee, for example, usually slept in a tent as opposed to commandeering the home of a nearby resident as was General Grant’s custom.

When his army suffered a surprise attack at Shiloh, Grant had his headquarters ten miles distant in an appropriated Southern mansion. Although saved from defeat by reinforcements from a second Union army, Grant refused to give them any credit for the ultimate victory. Afterward he declined to pursue the defeated Confederates by claiming that their 40,000-man army actually totaled 100,000. He also lied by falsely reporting that the Rebel attack had not surprised him. He blamed subordinate Generals Lew Wallace and Benjamin Prentiss for his army’s poor performance on the first day of the two-day battle.

In contrast, less than three months after taking command of the applicable Confederate army in June 1862, Lee’s outnumbered force carried the war in the east from the doorstep of the Confederate capital at Richmond to the front porch of the Union capital at Washington. Additionally, unlike Grant who blamed others for his failures, Lee took responsibility for his most notorious defeat at Gettysburg and offered his resignation to President Jefferson Davis.

Grant’s timeless—as opposed to era-specific—immorality even sank to inhumanity during at least two battles. First, after the futile May 22nd Union attack on Vicksburg entrenchments he left his wounded between battle lines for several days. Not until the Confederate commander suggested a truce did Grant send litter bearers to retrieve his dead and wounded. About a year later he repeated the outrage at Cold Harbor. After a failed assault his wounded troops lay between-the-lines for two days. He took no action at all until subordinate General Meade urged it. Grant delayed relief even longer by refusing to request a conventional truce although General Meade reminded him that Lee would require it.

After the war Grant led America’s most scandal-plagued presidential administration. Next, he went on a self-aggrandizing World tour before attempting to capture a then-unprecedented third presidential term. In contrast, Lee became president of a small failing college, which he rescued financially by virtue of the donations his reputation attracted. He famously promoted the Washington & Lee Honor Code with maxims such as “we have but one rule-that every student must be a gentleman” and “as a general principle you should not force young men to do their duty but let them do it voluntarily and thereby develop their characters.”

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