Interview: Joseph A. Rose, “Grant Under Fire”

11 10 2015

Author photo - Don Rose cropped B&WJoseph A. Rose is the author of Grant Under Fire: An Expose of Generalship and Character in the American Civil War. I previewed the book here. Mr. Rose took some time to answer some questions about the book below.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JAR: Growing up, I read anything non-fiction, up to and including the 1960 World Book Encyclopedia. Our house contained a goodly number of books, and my father’s collection was rich in military history. These works, especially the West Point Atlas of American Wars, simultaneously begat a love of maps (I preferred that atlas to the pictorial maps in American Heritage’s fat The Civil War, showing little soldiers running around). One of the first books I read on warfare was The Great Siege by Ernle Bradford, with its map of Malta’s convoluted Grand Harbor. At the State University of New York at Albany, I earned sufficient credits for a minor in history, as part of a bachelor’s degree in geography, but cobbled together an urban studies minor, instead. A joint Cornell University/Baruch College program awarded me a Master of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? Who/what were your early influences?

JAR: My interests in military history—and history, in general—have always been wide-ranging, but no early influences really stand out. I had no favorite generals or battles and read for information and not just a well-told narrative. But after returning from a year-long, cross-country trip—with requisite stops at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Chattanooga—I joined a Yahoo discussion group on the western theatre of the American Civil War.

BR: Why the interest in Grant, in particular?

JAR: I had no interest in him at first. While debating the Civil War online, however, two topics engendered particularly fierce debates: General Grant’s surprise and activities at the Battle of Shiloh and his intentions of ascending Missionary Ridge, along with other events in the Battle of Chattanooga. No matter the number and reliability of the primary sources I advanced, which substantiated a rather negative view of Grant, his defenders denied almost anything and everything. Most refused to entertain the possibility that Grant made mistakes beyond the most inarguable, accused me of being a “Lost Causer,” and even asked, “Why do you hate Grant?”

These arguments caused me to delve more deeply into the library stacks, the Official Records, the internet’s myriad resources, and various manuscript collections. It became apparent early on that Ulysses S. Grant’s own writings—biased, inaccurate, and sometimes untruthful—have been overly influential. Civil War history should no longer be founded upon his Personal Memoirs. After a while, with a ton of research already compiled, writing a book became the obvious next step.

BR: What makes your study stand out? There have been over the years and recently works critical of Grant – what does your book contribute to the literature on Grant that has not already been contributed?

JAR: Grant Under Fire overturns 150 years of what is, frankly, bad history, which has basically followed Grant’s Memoirs and the biographies of his friends, staff, and supporters. Writers such as Adam Badeau, Albert D. Richardson, and John Emerson praised Grant without end. Until lately, Civil War historiography rarely strayed from this path. Recent books by Frank Varney, David Moore, and Diane Monroe Smith, however, have made a good start, along with William McFeely’s Grant and a few much older works, in rectifying some of the mythology surrounding the General.

But there’s so much that has never before been investigated or analyzed, and never anything published that is nearly as comprehensive as Grant Under Fire. In controversy after controversy after controversy, this book offers a fresh take, more information, and—quite often—a vastly different conclusion than that reached by the General’s prior biographers. Negative but highly germane evidence, if uncovered by these writers, was somehow omitted, while Grant’s manifold blunders were ignored, minimized, or excused. Along with reevaluating Grant’s generalship, I lay bare innumerable flaws in the historiography, such as Bruce Catton’s about-face on several issues after taking over Lloyd Lewis’ biography.

BR: Grant Under Fire is a doorstop at 621 pages of narrative alone. Can you summarize your thesis, and maybe give a few supporting examples?

JAR: The examples could go on nearly without end. My book has a number of major themes: Grant’s tactical inability, favoritism and hatreds, indolence and negligence, exploitation of military politics, mistreatment of Black soldiers and civilians, and marked unreliability as a chronicler of the conflict (his Memoirs do not deserve their vaunted reputation), as well as numerous minor ones: his alcoholism, luck, corruption, injustice to fellow officers, and failure to credit essential supporters (e.g., Elihu Washburne, John Rawlins, and Charles Dana). A chapter on the post-war period demonstrates that he didn’t change his stripes. His defects were just easier to see.

Grant’s biographers often credit him with victory at Fort Henry—where Foote won the battle—and refuse to recognize that Buell deserves much if not most of the acclaim for Shiloh (Grant falsely asserted that he took overall command). And Grant appropriated the tribute for opening the Cracker Line at Chattanooga. Only the bravery and intelligence of the men and subordinate officers turned his foolish orders (to charge to the base of Missionary Ridge and stop) into an unexpected and glorious triumph, after which he stole their laurels. The Overland and Petersburg campaigns revealed a commander who could not stop attacking, no matter how strong the enemy’s defenses or how worn-out his own men were. Much of Grant’s advance on Vicksburg was highly commendable, but his previous bungling for months in the Delta’s swamps and his assaults on the city detracted from even that campaign.

People who might complain that the book is one-sided should keep in mind the subtitle: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War. It would be like saying that Woodward and Bernstein weren’t open-minded about Nixon. My investigative efforts are an antidote to the poison of Grant hagiography. The existing biographies are almost always both one-sided and inaccurate, although they may look unbiased.

Grant Under Fire should also help redeem the reputations of many unfairly criticized victims of Grant, whose biographers seemingly love to berate officers such as John McClernand and William Rosecrans, whom the General detested. They unreasonably slag George Thomas and even censure Robert E. Lee, in comparison with their hero. Grant’s failure to quickly forward a flag of truce after Cold Harbor became an opportunity for some biographers to blame Lee for letting the federal wounded suffer and die between the lines. My analysis reveals who was responsible … Ulysses S. Grant.

BR: What were the major stumbling blocks along the way to completing the book?

JAR: The inability to see more manuscripts scattered at repositories around the country. I still need to visit the Wyoming Archives to see letters of Grant’s staffer, John Rawlins, in the Bender Collection. I had to use secondhand accounts of the Hamlin Garland papers at U.S.C., although I don’t completely trust writers to correctly characterize what they cite.

BR: What surprised you in the process of writing it?

JAR: Several items: A certain level of inaccuracy in contemporary accounts and in the participants’ autobiographies, for example, was anticipated. But the extent of fallacious logic and argument and fact, not only in the Grant biographies but in standard histories, was astounding. Several authors used “proportional losses” as an indicator of generalship, when all that does is automatically reward the leader of the larger force. It’s mathematically wrong, yet no one seems to object.

Then there were omissions of readily available material (e.g., in the Official Records.) Apparently frustrated by a delay, Grant ordered the attack at the Crater when the mine hadn’t exploded (OR 40:1:47). To quote from Grant Under Fire, “But sending men atop four tons of gunpowder liable to ignite at any moment bespoke Grant’s reckless disregard of human life, and they came close to being hoist on his extremely large petard.” Shouldn’t such a startling fact be in every general biography of Grant and in every detailed account of the Crater? Furthermore, the General then unrealistically wanted Burnside to “forward intrenching tools and hold all his men had gained.”

Certain authors even practiced a literary jujitsu, turning negative characteristics into positives. Grant’s lack of detailed directions in orders to assault became an unwillingness to micromanage his subordinates. Giving friends undeserved acclaim was magnanimity. Unmilitary, unofficial dealings with Representative Washburne were celebrated as an ability to use politics. His authorizing a huge expenditure without bothering to look into it displayed his decisiveness.

BR: Can you briefly discuss your research and writing process?

JAR: Unfortunately, I multi-tasked and went off on tangents. Instead of sticking with a single line of pursuit, I constantly jumped from one issue to the next as the threads of research kept leading to new material. Had this been attempted before computers became available, confusion would have reigned. But I duly entered the information into one of many multi-tabbed spreadsheets, and this allowed me to compile numerous accounts on each aspect of an issue. So, when the time came to write it up, I could compare and analyze multiple perspectives to obtain a more accurate picture, as opposed to those writers who depended upon a single source (all too often Grant’s Memoirs, something similar, or a secondary account). A fine example might be the Union soldiers’ feelings on leaving the Wilderness. Typically, the view comes from Horace Porter’s idolizing Campaigning with Grant or Frank Wilkeson’s Recollections of a Private Soldier. William Marvel, however, determined that Wilkeson’s battery wasn’t even in the battle. By way of contrast, I examined well over one hundred sources, and Porter’s “triumphal procession” was actually a tedious, vexatious, exhausting, and silent march, according to most participants, particularly those who recorded it at the time.

With determined digging, I’ve found so many brand new or relatively unknown accounts and, in the process, overthrown other widely accepted stories. I’m amazed that more authors haven’t found or used Grant’s unsubmitted report in the Library of Congress, which confirmed that he occupied Paducah under orders. The same goes for General Stephen Hurlbut’s published letter to his wife after Shiloh, helping to confirm the Memoirs’ exaggeration (“I was continuously engaged in passing from one part of the field to another, giving directions to division commanders” at Shiloh). Grant intended to have George Thomas’ men ascend Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga on November 25, 1863, according to Sylvanus Cadwallader’s posthumous book, Three Years with Grant. Yet, this reporter’s evidently unknown Chicago Times article, written that very evening, maintained the exact opposite.

My book could not have been written without the internet. So many resources are now available online, particularly newspapers of the period, scholarly and magazine articles, government records, maps, dissertations, and even manuscripts (I am particularly happy when transcripts are provided). I’ve downloaded thousands of books in the public domain, including hundreds of the “regimentals.” For more current works, Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and Google books permitted limited searching.

BR: What archival sources did you use, both brick and mortar and digital?

JAR: I used everything that I could. New York City has a wealth of resources, and having friends and family in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington helped immensely. The $1 fares offered by Megabus kept my costs down. A two-month trip across country featured stops at the Lincoln and Grant libraries, other repositories, and many battlefields. Those interested can see the bibliography on the book’s website (along with the introductory chapter and index) at:

BR: How long did it take? How did you know you were done?

JAR: Altogether, it took roughly twelve years, and for almost half of that period, it was a full-time pursuit.

And I’m still not done. Although the book has been printed, the research continues. Friends told me that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” meaning that I had done enough and it was time to publish. I finally did so, but good is sometimes not good enough. There are so many resources still untapped, that I get a kick out of those who say—even about Grant Under Fire—that a book is “exhaustively researched.”

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JAR: It’s gotten great commendations from everyone (except a certain “CANNIBAL” on Amazon: “This book is probably the worst book on Grant ever written. The author seizes every opportunity to twist the facts to suit his purposes.” When this was written, the book was almost unavailable; I’m pretty sure that the reviewer hadn’t read it. Cannibal’s three other Civil War reviews—including Tim Smith’s Shiloh—were also one-star, but were typed in all caps, and I wish the same had been done for my book to reveal the nuttiness). Before Grant Under Fire was published, eight noted Civil War authors had read parts or the whole of the book, and their blurbs praised it, especially for the research. Midwest Book Review stated: “Impressively researched, Grant Under Fire is an iconoclastic but exceptionally well documented contribution to our clearer and more in-depth understanding of the role Grant played in the American Civil War.” A very large number of other review requests are still outstanding, as those in journals, especially, take a long time to appear.

I did introduce the book on one Civil War website where Grant’s supporters seemed rather resistant to new information and perspectives. In that respect, it will be a tough sell; almost everybody, it seems, loves a hero. But I’m not at all astonished that people admire the General, as hundreds of biographies have lauded him with little reservation since before the war even ended. Surprisingly, the sales in Europe have been higher than I would have imagined. Maybe they are not as emotionally involved as some readers on this side of the Atlantic.

BR: What’s next for you?

JAR: As part of the marketing campaign, I am scheduling speaking engagements on a 2016-17 cross-country tour. My research projects are all related to the Civil War and/or Ulysses S. Grant. I’ve learned so much throughout this whole process and hope to put it to use. I am currently editing two Civil War manuscripts and expect to be helping other authors publish their work, be it history, inspirational, or fiction.

You can find out more at Mr. Rose’s website here.

Preview – Joseph A. Rose: “Grant Under Fire”

10 10 2015

PrintIronically, this preview of Joseph A. Rose’s Grant Under Fire: An Expose of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War, will be brief. I say ironically because this one weighs in at 621 pp of narrative, with another 105 pp of notes and 38 pp of bibliography. That is to say, it’s a big honking book. Dust jacket blurbs include William Glenn Robertson, Wiley Sword, John Horn, Lawrence Lee Hewitt, and Gordon Rhea, among others. Most of the maps are by Hal Jespersen, or are based on maps by him. Other than maps and tables, though, there are no illustrations in the book, so what you get for the most part are words. Lots and lots of them.

This book is about Grant’s generalship, and so we go from his birth to the Civil War in ten pages, and the postwar is covered in about 40 pages. So it appears that, despite the length of the book, the author has not been distracted too much (I’ve seen lengthy tomes ostensibly focused on specific actions, units, or individuals, which spend dozens of pages on Lincoln’s election, secession, and the outbreak of war, for instance.)

As the author points out, Grant Under Fire is an expose, so it will feel distinctly one-sided. That’s the nature of the beast, after all. You can find more information at the author’s website here. And I’ve completed an interview with Mr. Rose which I’ll post shortly.

Think of this as a tease.

Stay tuned – this should be interesting. At least, I hope so!

Press Release

Previews: Three from Savas Beatie

13 09 2015

Over the past few weeks I’ve received three new titles from Savas Beatie. Here are the vitals:

51waXUoJnjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon’s Journal and the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865is the journal of Dr. Francis Marion Robertson, a surgeon who fled with the Confederate garrison in Charleston, SC, ahead of William T. Sherman’s army as it moved north. The journal has been edited and annotated by the author’s great-great-grandson Thomas Heard Robertson, Jr., who traveled extensively to research the places mentioned in the journal. The book offers a unique look into the final few months of the war.  141 pp and 3 appendices.

51tcoY0UUaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Grant’s Last Battle: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, is a part of the Emerging Civil War series. (Interestingly, this slim [163 pp] volume is resting atop a gargantuan volume also examining the story behind Grant’s memoirs – I’ll be interviewing its author Joseph A. Rose soon.) Chris Mackowski provides a narrative on the production and publication of the memoirs in 127 pages, which is followed by five appendices by authors including Pat Tintle, Kathleen L. Thompson, Edward Alexander, Richard Frederick, and Jim McWilliams.

robertsonThe First Battle for Petersburg: The Attack and Defense of the Cockade City, June 9, 1864, is a new, revised, and expanded edition of William Glenn Robertson’s 1989 H. E. Howard Virginia Civil War Battles effort The Petersburg Campaign: The Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, June 9, 1864. The title is self-explanatory. This revised and expanded edition includes new, crisp Hal Jesperson maps, and new casualties analysis made possible by electronic versions of data sources not available a quarter-century ago. 147 pp and 4 appendices.

Interview: Diane Monroe Smith, “Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign”

11 09 2013

Diane Monroe SmithThis year Diane Monroe Smith, of Holden, ME, published Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. I have to admit that I really had not heard much about this one, but a reader brought it to my attention and one thing led to another, so here’s Ms. Smith to fill us in.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DMS: My first book, Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, was published in 1999 by Thomas Publications of Gettysburg. It is a dual, whole-life biography of the Chamberlains. I know it puzzled some people why I would bother with Chamberlain’s whole life and/or his near 50 relationship with his wife, when his Civil War service is what most readers want to hear about. I confess to my own partiality to considering that part of his life, but I strongly suspect that, if one wants to know what makes a person like Chamberlain tick, one must look at the other 80 years of his life and the influence of his family and friends as well. The research I did on Fanny and Joshua led to my second book, Chamberlain at Petersburg: The Charge at Fort Hell, which is a previously unpublished, first person account of the Battle of Petersburg written by Chamberlain. My role in preparing it for publication was to set the stage by considering the 5th Corps’ and the Army of the Potomac’s role in Grant’s Overland Campaign in the weeks and months that culminated in the Battle of Petersburg. I also provided extensive annotation of Chamberlain’s account, considering other participants’ reports and testimony, and I began to find more and more seeming discrepancies in the way the 5th Corps and AoP role was interpreted by a number of commanders and historians, as opposed to what the OR (reports, correspondence & statistics) and the testimony of individuals and unit histories described. While finding Chamberlain’s account reliable, I experienced uneasiness with seemingly conflicting versions of what happened during the Overland Campaign, coupled with a emerging pattern of behavior when I considered Grant’s and “Grant’s Men’s” careers in the West and their rise to power. This led to my most recent book, Command Conflicts in Grant’s Overland Campaign: Ambition and Animosity in the Army of the Potomac. In it, I found it was essential to consider Grant’s early service in the Civil War and those of the officers he carried with him on his climb to the top of the military establishment and beyond. While I considered a sizable portion of the copious amount written by Grant biographers and authors of the Western battles, I found myself often reluctant to depend on the analysis and interpretation of others, especially those who relied almost entirely on Grant’s reports, memoirs and correspondence, or the accounts given by Grant’s inner circle to the exclusion of all others. Other warning flags go up for me about the reliability of a witness’s testimony when it varies in important details depending on who is he talking to, such as Halleck’s falsely laying blame on others, essentially lying to Grant regarding why he was removed from command after the taking of Ft. Donelson. Another flag waves when an account changes substantially over the years. In that department, I’m hard pressed to come up with a better (or perhaps I should say worse) example than Ellis Spear and his vindictive campaign to discredit Joshua Chamberlain, much of it carried on after Chamberlain’s death. Although Spear himself wrote an enthusiastic letter to the newspapers right after Gettysburg describing how Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge at Little Round Top, that didn’t stop Spear decades later from telling anyone who would listen that his colonel hadn’t ordered a charge at all– it was someone else’s idea. Nor did it seem to bother Spear that the person he credited with initiating the charge endorsed Chamberlain’s account of how it all happened. Other easily verifiable facts didn’t stop Spear from declaring that Chamberlain’s Petersburg wound wasn’t a big deal– a suggestion which a Gettysburg Discussion Group member facetiously stated had earned Spear the “Most vindictive letter award.” Scoffing at Chamberlain’s penis wound, Spear implied that Chamberlain had made much of what was after all a trifling wound. Spear himself had previously written about how terrible Chamberlain’s wound was in his endorsement in 1899 of Chamberlain’s appointment to a Customs position. But beyond Spear’s changeable laymen’s assessment, we have the medical records that record descriptions of the wound and the unsuccessful attempts to repair it. At a field hospital at Petersburg, when the surgeons couldn’t find the ball in the wide wound that went almost clear through Chamberlain’s pelvis, they decided they would probe with a ramrod to find the offending piece of lead. The gunshot wound caused permanent injury that left Chamberlain incontinent and plagued with reoccurring infections for the rest of his life, and I believe that the many surgeons over the years who tried unsuccessfully to repair the damage would beg to differ with the malicious Spear. Yet mind you, you still hear Spear much quoted as offering positive proof that Chamberlain wasn’t an honest historian!!! As it has just been announced in the news that Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor has just been found stuck in the back of a book his granddaughter donated to a church, I’m also reminded that Ellis Spear was one of the three witnesses whose testimony to Chamberlain’s actions at Little Round Top led to him being award that MoH, but that happened in the 1890s, before Spear began his campaign to discredit his old commander. Talk about stories that change over time… But to return to Command Conflicts, I wrote it because of my own uneasiness concerning too much of Grant’s and his comrades’ reports and/or memoirs that didn’t stand up very well to scrutiny. I find it unforgivable for a writer to use one and only one source to the exclusion of all others that could have and should have been considered. Nor do I find it possible to consider the fate of any commander while remaining oblivious to what political machinations were taking place within the Army or in Washington. I believe my own research journey to be somewhat similar to that of Frank Varney as he prepared his new work, General Grant and the Rewriting of History. While Frank’s work is, of course, focused on the destruction of Rosecrans’s reputation and career, and my work focuses on the Army of the Potomac, Frank and I seemingly agree that relying on one source, or the testimony of only those who have a vested interest in the war being remembered in a certain way, is, it should seem obvious, a mistake. Grant and his men would control the American military for decades after the war, and with their control over the army and American politics, it is not difficult to find examples of their insuring that their and only their version of the war was perpetuated. They have been, I feel, all too successful in allowing one, and only one version of history to be told.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War?

DMS: When I was kid, it was the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War, and I couldn’t get enough of the accounts of the battles and the participants. I remember my Mom gave me a dollar (back when a dollar was a dollar) to purchase one square foot of the Gettysburg battlefield during a fund raising campaign. I was thrilled, and, of course, believed that I really owned that square foot. So Gettysburg… I want to know where my square foot is!

BR: Why the interest in the Army of the Potomac’s, and specifically its 5th Corps’, command issues under Grant?

DMS: As I mentioned above, having spent quite a few years looking at Chamberlain’s service with the 5th Corps, I spent a lot of time pursuing the 5th Corps’ experiences and record, and as with my previous books, I felt compelled to share with others what I was finding and considering. There was an awful lot that didn’t seem to be adding up… The accounts of Grant and “Grant’s Men” seemed too often to disagree with other reports and accounts, sometimes radically. Consider, for instance, Chattanooga, and the accounts of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman, and those of participants and witnesses such as Thomas and Hazen (and the delightfully sarcastic Ambrose Beirce).

BR: What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

DMS: I think that looking at the Overland Campaign from the perspective of the 5th Corps, provides a very different view, one which had not been previous explored to the degree it deserved. The 5th Corps’ records and accounts provide a challenge to a number of histories as they have been previously written, and allow a new window to open on that tumultuous campaign. Also, considering the alliances among Grant and Grant’s Men and their supporters in Washington sheds light on why some military careers were seemingly indestructible, regardless of performance, while other commanders had their reputations and careers destroyed. While it seems silly to have to point out that the war was not won either in the West or in the East, there are still many who refuse to consider the contribution of the “band box soldiers” of the Army of the Potomac. James McPherson in This Mighty Scourge, did an admirable and startling assessment and comparison of the casualties incurred in the major battles in the West and the East, and shall we say, figures don’t lie? To quote McPherson, “The war was won by hard fighting, and the Army of the Potomac did most of that fighting.  Of the ten largest battles in the war (each with combined Union and Confederate casualties of 23,000 or more), seven were fought between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.  Of the fifty Union regiments with the largest percentage of battle casualties, forty-one [were] fought in the Eastern theater.”  And regarding casualties inflicted on the enemy, McPherson states, “Of the fifty Confederate regiments with the highest percentage of combat casualties, forty were in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Or as Chamberlain once said, many criticized the Army of the Potomac for not fighting enough, but never for not dying enough. Enough said.  While I wanted to look at the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign, I felt it was also time for someone to offer up a closer look at the 5th Corps’ performance.

BR: What’s your last word on Warren, Sheridan, Meade, Grant, and all that mess?

DMS: It is inexplicable to me why Grant not only allowed Sheridan to publicly defy Meade, but rewarded Sheridan’s insubordination with an independent command. While Grant had no problem with that, he also apparently had no qualms about leaving the Army of the Potomac to move blindly without cavalry through poorly mapped enemy territory. While Sheridan did draw some of Lee’s cavalry away, Lee was not so foolish as to send all of his cavalry after Sheridan, retaining roughly half of his troopers to continue to scout and screen for the ANV. Between these horsemen and the local lads who knew every road and river ford in the area, Lee had quite an advantage. Lest I place all the blame on the Western commanders, I also came to realize that the relationship between Meade and Warren, formerly one of a trusted subordinate and advisor to the AoP commander, foundered on the bitterness that Meade harbored regarding Warren’s decision not to attack at Mine Run, and the embarrassment and anger Meade experienced because of it. While Meade declared that he agreed that Warren did the right thing in calling off a senseless attack that would achieve nothing but casualties, he was still bitterly resentful toward Warren. I believe that the situation was also aggravated by Meade’s consciousness of his enemies in Washington, and his own precarious position as AoP commander. To retain it, I believe he felt he must agree with whatever Grant said and do whatever Grant ordered, regardless of his own opinion of the wisdom of those demands. Meade’s personal correspondence gives some indication of his real opinion of Grant’s conduct of the Overland Campaign, and his anger at having Grant watching over his shoulder. But to return to the culpability of Grant and his men, there’s an unmistakable pattern, beginning in the West, and coming with them to the East, of Grant, Sheridan and Sherman making short work of anyone who got in their way on their climb up the command ladder. While Warren is an obvious case in point, you can also point to Rosecrans, George Thomas, and ultimately, George Meade himself, as commanders who got pushed aside to make way for Grant’s Men. I hope I haven’t had my last word on Warren, Sheridan, Grant and all that mess, because I want to follow Command Conflicts with a book that considers the 5th Corps’ service from the siege of Petersburg to the last days of the war.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write the book and what you learned along the way? When did you know you were “done”?

DMS: You might say I’ve been looking at the 5th Corps and the Army of the Potomac since the early 90s, when I began writing the Chamberlain biography. Then my work on Chamberlain at Petersburg led me to focus on Grant’s Overland Campaign, which inspired a decided uneasiness on my part regarding what Grant was reporting at the time, as well as what he would say and write later, with all its contradictions to many other reports and accounts. A major stumbling block for me when starting this project was my notion that Grant was a well-meaning sort of fellow, though perhaps not the greatest of all possible commanders. I considered his major flaw his seeming inability to judge a person’s real character and motives. He did not, I was convinced, choose his friends wisely. But the more I read about Grant’s military career in the West, the more I began to realize a real pattern of behavior that was less than admirable. My distress increased at noticing an awful tendency for a number of historians to take Grant’s version of history as the one and only infallible record, to the exclusion of all other witnesses’ accounts and reports. I came to realize that Grant possessed a willingness to disobey orders if it suited him (Belmont), to habitually report victory no matter how dismal the real results of an action were (The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg), and to attribute the credit for successes to himself or his favorites regardless of who was really responsible for the strategy and implementation (Chattanooga and the Cracker Line). Likewise, if things did not go well, he would blame those he wanted to remove from competition with himself or his cronies (Shiloh). It was a pattern that would continue on into the Overland Campaign. If you read Grant’s reports from the Wilderness, you would think that the Army of the Potomac had experienced a considerable victory, and that the Army of Northern Virginia was on its last legs. That was far from the real case, was it not? As for knowing when I was done, I knew I had finished when the Army of the Potomac reached Petersburg, and the battle became the siege. The months that follow I feel deserve their own book, following the 5th Corps through the remainder of 1864, and through the last months and weeks of the war in 1865.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most?

DMS: The Official Records were by far my most frequently utilized source. I’m also grateful for the many works done by the historians of the Western war, which allowed me to begin my consideration of Grant’s and his men’s rise to power. Regarding the Overland Campaign, I’m particularly grateful to William Steere for his wonderful work, The Wilderness Campaign, with its great detail, many citations and well-constructed considerations. I also was very impressed by Bill Matter’s book on Spotsylvania, If It Takes All Summer. I was told by Bill, who was kind enough to discuss my research on the Overland Campaign with me, that he so admired Steere’s work (as do I), that he hoped to make his book on Spotsylvania a continuation of where Steere’s book left off. I can testify that I think, as I told Bill, that he accomplished that very well. Would that every battle I encountered had such comprehensive and even-handed treatments as Steere and Matter gave their work. Beyond that, I considered dozens and dozens of memoirs and accounts of both Federals and Rebels… anyone who would help me to put the puzzle pieces together for as accurate a picture of what happened as possible..

BR: How has the book been received so far?

DMS: While I was aware that fans of U.S. Grant would probably not be pleased with what I wrote, I am happy to say that reviewers, while taking issue with some of my conclusions, have nonetheless stated that serious students of Grant and the Overland Campaign should read my book– that it gave one plenty to think about. That’s most gratifying. Am I happy with how much promotion the book has gotten, or how many people have read the book? No, I am not. I mean to continue pursuing opportunities such as this one you’ve kindly provided for me in order to let people know that this work has something to offer by way of a different look at a period of the war which has suffered from too many works which have relied on limited, weak and unreliable sources.

BR: What’s next for you?

DMS: I’m raring to go on the book that will follow Command Conflicts, but I’m taking time to do a work on Col. Washington Roebling’s military service. Roebling, best known as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, served as Gen. Warren’s aide and scout from Gettysburg through the last month of December, 1864. A top notch topographical engineer, he was a daring and intelligent soldier, and was delightfully outspoken. Laconic, except when he had something to say, he seemed to be not at all in awe of his commanders. For instance, when accosted by Meade on a battlefield, who was demanding to know who had put a battery in a spot Meade considered too “hot,” Roebling replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t put it there.” One can easily imagine Meade’s eyes bugging out at this flippant reply. I will definitely enjoy spending time with Washington Roebling in the coming months.

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial

7 02 2012

The setting at the foot of Capitol Hill is magnificent. Up close, the triptych in memory of U. S. Grant (the mounted sculpture of him alone is the second largest equestrian statue in the world) is massive, but set in Union Square between the Capitol and the reflecting pool it shrinks and is strangely isolated – not the impression intended by the Senate Park Commission’s 1902 plan. Sculpted by Henry Merwin Shrady and dedicated in 1922 (the same year as the Lincoln Memorial on the opposite end of the Mall), the bronze work consists of Grant and two tableaux depicting artillery and cavalry, 13 horses in all. It is recognized as the world’s preeminent equestrian sculpture.

You can spend days photographing it.

The content is stark. Not so much symbolism, as in the Meade Memorial, so not much interpretation is needed. War is men and equipment and movement. Movement, terror, and tension abound in the faces and bodies of the animals, troopers and artillerists as they move quickly, desperately, to some unnamed point. And amidst – in fact, above – all the action sits the steady, determined figure of Grant. While the movement is toward the general, his gaze is inexorably fixed on a far off, larger objective. There’s a whole lot to see, but to see all one need do is look. You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows.

For more on the story of the memorial, I once again refer you to Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, DC, by K. A. Jacob. Below are some shots I took, unfortunately in low resolution, back in June 2011. Here are a few of the longer shots – click on the thumbs for larger images:


Next, the central figure:


Now let’s take a look at the “left” group (when facing the front of the monument), the Cavalry. I can only suspect that cavalry made a more interesting artistic subject than infantry, given the minimal contribution of the former arm to the outcome of the war – there, the bait is set:


And last, the King of Battle:


A must see for anyone visiting the capital. Well worth minor pedestrian/car traffic inconvenience.

Was AL More Like GBM Than HUG?

27 01 2011

The recent flood of posts on various blogs resulting from the Lowry controversy has been fascinating.  Now there’s one out there that’s tangential but tantalizing – tangentializing?  Check out Dmitri’s riff on Crossroads’ retort to Opinionator’s opinion.  It’s a shame that Dmitri doesn’t allow comments (that’s his right, of course), but if you want to express your thoughts – recognizing they be thoughts on the post and not knee-jerk reactions to the poster and whatever you suspect his motivations to be – feel free to comment away!  I know this is supposed to be my blog, and you may think it inappropriate for me to entertain a discussion of another blogger’s post, but hell, it IS my blog and I can do whatever I want, so there.

Oh, That Ulysses!

12 01 2011

Monday evening saw the airing of U. S. Grant: Warrior on American Experience.  I was sent a copy for review, but since this is an abridgement of an earlier two-part program I couldn’t make time for it.  Regardless, I was watching a football game.  If I get a chance to view it in the coming weeks, I’ll post thoughts here.

Check out this series of videos that will give you new insight into U. S. Grant.  Hat tip to Crossroads.

There’s a fourth one (actually the third in the series) that’s hilarious, but quite ummm…ribald.  If you’re resourceful, you’ll find it.

On the third side of the coin we have this post on Beyond the Crater by guest Bryce Suderow, sure to elicit a different emotion from Grant fans.


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