When I was at Grant’s Tomb this past Friday a few of the rangers and I got into an interesting discussion about the Grant historiography. Grant is similar to Dwight Eisenhower in that his reputation waxes and wanes in relation to the country’s mood and circumstances. Of course this is true for all presidents and political figures, but seems especially so with these men who both rose to prominence as military figures and then went on to twice capture the White House. The nadir for Grant was the 1920s and 1930s in the wake of the Great War. Comparisons between Spotsylvania Courthouse and Verdun inevitably highlighted the impression of Grant the Butcher. This was also the high tide for Jim Crow and the mythology of the Lost Cause. In this milieu it was inevitable that Grant would be found lacking in comparison to the dashing Robert E. Lee.
I had to work this past Sunday and while in the library I pulled David Blight’s Race and Reunion off the shelf for a small project I am working on. I have not read Blight’s influential work in many years but intend to re-read it this summer. Earlier this evening, after arriving home soaked to the bone after getting caught in the downpour, I checked out Professor Blight’s website where, as it turns out, he has a new article about Grant in The New York Review of Books. Blight gives Ron Chernow’s new Grant biography a favorable review and also has high praise for the new edition of Grant’s Memoirs edited by John F. Marszalek and others. I was pleased to see Blight mention Ronald C. White’s American Ulysses, which I read last summer, and also highlight the important works by Brooks Simpson on the general and eighteenth president.
(image/Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)