Few historical figures stand up well to close scrutiny. Ulysses Grant made a name for himself in the army during the Mexican War, but wrote of that war in his memoirs: "I was bitterly opposed to the measure ... and to this day, regard the war which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." He later opined that the American civil war was divine retribution for American aggression against Mexico. He resigned from the army in California in 1854, and returned to his family in St. Louis. (He was an officer in the 4th U. S. Infantry Regiment, as he had been before the war; the 4th was based at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.) He tried his hand at farming, at which he did not do well. He worked his fields with slaves borrowed from his wife's family.
His memoirs are interesting, often for a naïve candor. He had a habit of wandering around on battlefields, or of being absent from his command. As a part of Zachary Taylor's army in the disputed ground between Texas and Mexico at the beginning of that war, he freely relates wandering away from his command at the battle of Palo Alto in May, 1846. He said that he learned his profession from Taylor and Winfield Scott, and developed moral courage during that war. At the battle of Belmont in November, 1861, he wandered away from his little army, until he encountered mounted rebels in a cornfield, and hurried back to the landing on the Mississippi, just in time, as the transports and gunboats were about to depart. John A. Logan and his 31st Illinois Regiment of United States Volunteer Infantry saved Grant's butt at Belmont. Logan would not let his men into the Confederate camp, which other troops were looting. When the rebels rallied and counter-attacked, Logan's regiment held them off, preventing a complete rout.
Later, at Fort Donelson, while "Sam" Grant was upriver having a few drinks with the gunboat officers, Gideon Pillow attacked the right wing of his troops. McClernand's division was on the point of breaking (once again Logan's 31st Illinois stood steady as the other regiments in the brigade began to unravel.) McClernand called on Lew Wallace (eventual author of Ben Hur), but Wallace was unwilling to move, and he sent an officer to Grant's headquarters, which is why we know that Grant was having a few drinks upriver with Admiral Foote. Wallace eventually moved, absent Grant's approval, and Pillow's attack was stopped.
At the battle of Shiloh, Grant was absent when Albert Sydney Johnston's rebels slammed hard into the rather disjointed line of U.S. troops. (He had had a fall when his horse slipped in mud, and the horse rolled on him. I have no doubt it was a painful injury, and Grant went off to have a few drinks with Admiral Foote.) His commanders were pretty much on their own, after that. Benjamin Prentiss' 6th division was soon routed, but Prentiss fell back with one regiment in good order, and took command of the troops of William Wallace and Stephen Hurlbut in a sunken road in a peach orchard. The rebels remembered it as "the hornet's nest." Fortunately for Grant's army, which had lost cohesion and command control by mid-morning, Braxton Bragg (a Confederate general who probably killed more rebel troops than any other southern general, apart from Robert Lee) launched his brigades at the U.S. troops one at a time--one brigade at a time attacking two divisions. So far, so good for Johnson. Johnston sent his personal surgeon to look after the enemy's wounded in the peach orchard, and then was hit behind the knee by a spent musket ball. With no surgeon present, he bled to death of a minor wound. That left Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard in command, perhaps the most incompetent general officer in Confederate Services (at least since John Floyd had surrendered Fort Donelson to Grant, while a disgusted Nathan Forrest and his cavalry had ridden away through the gap Pillow had punched in Grant's lines). Beauregard decided they had done enough for one day and simply issued no orders. Overnight, Lew Wallace arrived from farther upriver, and most of Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio was ferried over the river. With more than 20,000 fresh troops, the rebels were driven away the next day.
Lew Wallace had marched to the sound of the guns in the morning, and would have crossed the Owl Creek bridge right into the rear of Johnston's army. Grant's staff officer told him he was to use the river road. Wallace pointed out that on the restricted road in the forest, it would take hours to reverse his division. Grant's aide insisted, so that's what a disgusted Wallace did. That was why he did not reach Pittsburgh Landing until well after dark.
Wallace protested later to Henry Halleck, the the senior office in the United States Army. Grant never forgave him. He nursed grudges throughout his life. In 1864, when Jubal Early was advancing on Washington, Lew Wallace rounded up what few troops were available, and stopped Early at the Monocacy River south of Frederick, Maryland. As a result, troops ferried up from the Richmond siege in time to stop Early's attack on Washington. If there was anything more unforgivable to Grant than complaining to his superior officer, it was saving his butt, a second time.
After Shiloh, Henry Halleck arrived in Tennessee, took Grant in tow, and then combined the Army of the Ohio with Grant's army. Basically, Grant had to watch as others did his job. George Thomas, a native of Virginia who had remained loyal to this oath, commanded a division in the Army of the Ohio. He had won the first significant Federal victory at Mill Springs, Kentucky on January 18, 1862. Halleck now gave him four of Grant's division, and sicced him on Beauregard at Corinth, Mississippi. Halleck's army of more than 120,000 men was the largest field army in the history of the United States to that point--and in fact, larger than Grant's field army at the beginning of the overland campaign. Grant could hardly complain about (or to) Halleck, so he complained about Thomas "having the slows," a complaint he would repeat again and again.
In 1863, in the battle of Chickamauga, the bloodiest battle of the war, after Gettysburg, Rosecrans lost his nerve, and he lost command control. Longstreet's corps from Lee's army had been sent west, and managed to attack into a gap in the Federal line caused by Rosecrans' loss of his grip on the course of the battle. Thomas held a position on a horseshoe ridge, and the rest of Rosecrans' army, with Rosecrans riding out ahead of everyone else, were able to retreat to Chattanooga. For that, Thomas was called "the Rock of Chickamauga." Grant eventually came to Chattanooga to take command. When Grant told Thomas to take Orchard Knob (were Thomas would later set up his grand battery), Thomas sent Woods' division, the first division to break in the battle of Chickamauga. In full dress uniform, with the divisional band playing behind them, they swept the rebels away like a minor annoyance. Thomas had endured the siege of Chattanooga with them, ate the same rations they did, and was up every morning to make sure they worked or drilled, and that they had everything they needed. Just about every man in the Army of the Cumberland would happily have died for Thomas--Grant, not so much.
At the triple battle of Lookout Mountain, Tunnel Hill and Missionary Ridge, Thomas had his artillery in a grand battery, with forward observers connect by telegraph to the battery (an innovation which the rest of the world did not adopt for fifty more years). When Bragg sent a counter attack against Hooker's troops on Lookout Mountain, Thomas' artillery drove them off without any help from Hooker's troops. Then, when Sherman got into trouble at tunnel hill, and Clerburne's rebel division threatened to drive Sherman's troops into the Tennessee River, Thomas' artillery, guided by forward observers using semaphore flags, stopped Cleburne cold. Then Grant ordered Thomas to advance his troops to the first line of rifle pits on Missionary Ridge. Thomas, barely on speaking terms with Grant, simply gave the order, without commenting on the stupidity of the order. Thomas' brigade and regimental commanders, trained to a high degree of efficiency, and unwilling to stay at the bottom of the ridge under rebel artillery fire, finally advanced up the ridge. A furious Grant demanded to know who had given that order. Thomas replied that he had not, and rode away. Thomas' troops advanced to the top of the ridge, and turning left and right, rolled up Bragg's army. Only Cleburne managed to retreat in good order. This was the opening of the campaign against Atlanta, and, sadly for the United States, Bragg's career was over (he had always done so much to forward the cause of his enemy).
Grant stripped Thomas' army of horses and mules, and when Sherman asked why Thomas' troops were having trouble keeping up, Grant replied that "Thomas has the slows again." Sherman soon learned the truth, waited for Thomas, and shared his transport with him. Thomas played a small but important part in the Atlanta campaign. Bragg had been replaced by Joe Johnston, the best general Jefferson Davis had; Davis despised him. Johnston conducted a brilliant retreat to Atlanta, but Davis wasn't impressed, and replaced him with John Bell Hood. After Lee and Bragg, Hood killed more Confederates than any other commander.
Grant was in Washington by then, and Hood marched south, hoping to draw Sherman off. Sherman, however, stripped Thomas of all but two of his divisions, and said that he would "make Georgia howl," and began his march to the sea. Thomas retired to Nashville. Hood marched through Alabama, crossed the Tennessee River and the Duck River south of Nashville, and launched an attack on Federal troops at Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville. Hood managed to kill quite a few Confederates in that one. Thomas had already requested reinforcements, and they began to arrive. Hood sorta kinda laid siege to Nashville, but Thomas was busy, rounding up horses and mules to mount his infantry. Hood attempted to interfere, but had only minor success--Federal gunboats on the Cumberland River actually managed to recapture the transports (with horses, mules and fodder) which the rebels had taken. Thomas, a meticulous planner, now laid out his operation to his subordinate officers. A typical mid-South ice storm struck on December 8, 1864, and Grant complained to Lincoln that Thomas had the slows again. He sent orders to John A. Logan, in Louisville, to proceed to Nashville to relieve Thomas. Logan couldn't move because of the ice storm, though, and Lincoln's telegrapher did not sent the message to Thomas that he was relieved. Thomas cerainly would have obeyed the order. The storm ended on December 12, and the ice melted over the next few days. On December 15, Thomas launched his attack. As always, Thomas' delays allowed the preparations which now came down on Hood's army like an avalanche. The pursuit of Hood's army lasted until December 18th, when it was called off because they had outrun their supplies. Hood's army had all but ceased to exist. Fewer than 10,000 survived and they crossed the mountains to join Joe Johnston who was facing Sherman. Quite a few of them deserted on the march over the mountains.
Of course, Grant could not forgive success by someone he despised. As with Lew Wallace, George Thomas was a pariah in Grant's eyes.
Grant had been a drunkard (he admits as much in his memoirs)--Lincoln told Halleck to find out what he drank, and to send a case to all of his other army commanders. Grant had employed slaves, and as I've already mentioned, considered the civil war to be God's judgment on the United States for the Mexican War--he never acknowledged that the war was about slavery. Don't even get me started about his presidency. Nevertheless, he was the right man at the right time when Lincoln needed him. It's just a pity that Thomas did not get the job. Thomas would have made an absolute monkey out of Lee.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. is much easier. He became a Republican in 1881, and remained a Republican until 1912, when he created a Progressive Party, and ran for president. However, that only served to give the election fo Woodrow Wilson, just about the most vile president we've ever had.
Roosevelt became president in September, 1901, about a month before his 42nd birthday, making him the youngest president we've ever had, He and Henry Cabot Lodge were radical Republicans, progressives. William Howard Taft was Roosevelt's protégé, but after Roosevelt stepped aside at the end of his second term, and Taft became president, Roosevelt came to see Taft as a traitor to progressive politics. That's why he ran in 1912. Roosevelt had a good chance of being elected, until he was shot. He survived, of course, but his support eroded, and it went to Wilson rather than Taft. That was a big mistake. Wilson won about 42% of the vote, but buried Roosevelt and Taft in the Electoral College.
Norris Cuney, the first black chair of the Republican Party--in Texas, in his case--coined the term "Lily Whites." That's Lily, as in Protestants, and Whites, as in white supremacists. Cuney's election as Republican Party chairman in Texas actually lead to a serious backlash, and the Lily Whites got more organized. Woodrow Wilson was an unabashed Lilly White. When Roosevelt was Civil Service commissioner in the Harrison administration, 1889-1893, and then for two more years under Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Roosevelt was a reformer, and among other serious reforms, he desegregated the civil service. In 1913, after Wilson was inaugurated, a delegation of white women working in civil service went to Wilson to complain being obliged to work in the same offices as black women. Wilson immediately segregated the civil service by executive order. When the United States entered the Great War in Europe, Wilson tried to prevent black soldiers for serving in combat. But the French were glad enough to get them, and they served with distinction with the French. When they returned from France, race riots broke out, and blacks were beaten, lynched, burned out--including many decorated combat veterans. It was called, by them, the Red Summer of 1919.
But Roosevelt himself was a closet Lily White. As one of the "party of Lincoln" progressives, he worked to improve conditions for blacks. Their votes helped him in 1904, and a good case can be made that Roosevelt was the most popular Republican president we've ever had. In 1904, he polled over 56% of the vote, losing only in the southern states (surprise, surprise!). But he quietly subscribed to the "white man's burden" attitude. He publicly condemned Margaret Sanger for her birth control programs. In his view, the world needed all the white babies they could get, because of all the black, brown and yellow babies being born, who could not be relied upon to manage their own affairs. He wasn't the kind of creep Wilson was, but that doesn't excuse his attitude.
Fri 24 Apr, 2020 11:53 am
Grant's value to Lincoln was his willingness to spend tens of thousands of lives to end the war. That's what Lincoln wanted, and that's what Grant gave him. Yeah, his reputation is much better if you don't know about his presidency.
I recently read some bios of three extraordinarily gifted athletes==baseball players. Lou Gehrig seemed to be a decent human being.
Joe DiMaggio was a megaSOB. Aside from his mob connections, he was a wife beater. Not nice.
Mickey Mantle. Not a megaSOB. Just your garden variety SOB.
All three of these people had phenomenal physical abilities.
I don't know whether there's a connection between especially gifted people and being horrible people. There are a helluva lot of nongifted types who stink just as bad.
Fri 24 Apr, 2020 12:37 pm
I would think most presidents would have to have a certain level of being a jerk - think about it - you have to think very highly of yourself to run for president. Someone more humble would have a lot of convincing they would be able to be a world leader. I mean you gotta think you are better than pretty much everyone else.
It seems that Washington was a reluctant president; that he really did not think he should be president - anyone hear of anything about his reputation?
I suppose some of the Vice-Presidents may qualify for not being so full of themselves (some could be the opposite though thinking they deserved the top role) - those that became president without being elected due to the death of a president or Ford due to Nixon resigning.
I actually never paid much attention to OJ before the murders. I have the luxury of despising him without having to judge his other activities.
Fri 24 Apr, 2020 06:55 pm
Washington was certainly no saint, but he was much better than he is portrayed. His stature was such that I think historians attempt to cut him down to size. When PBS did a series on the American revolution, this historian was mocking him for showing up in Philadelphia for the Continental Congress wearing his militia uniform, and then listed all the mistakes he made in. Well, she was just displaying her ignorance. It was an accepted practice in the 18th century for military men looking for employment to show up in uniform, even at social events. Washington certainly made a host of mistakes at Great Meadows in 1754, but he was the kind of man who learned from his mistakes, and never repeated them. A lot of people make the specious claim that Washington started the Seven Years War, because of that action which began the French and Indian War. That's a crock. The French and Indian War lasted from 1754 until 1760, and it was a war between France and the English colonies, and the British army and navy. The Seven Years War began in 1756 and lasted until 1763. The Seven Years War began when Austria, Russia, Saxony and Sweden declared war on Prussia--it had nothing to do with France and Britain, who joined the general conflict in Europe later, for their own reasons. I won't go into that detail, but claiming Washington started the Seven Years War (two years before it actually began) is horsiepoop. I consider it now to have become a completely false, but popular historical myth, not unlike the myth that Robert Lee was a great general.
Apart from Washington's total lack of military experience, the thing that doomed Fort Necessity was where it was sited. A distinctly inferior French force occupied high ground near the fort, and suckered Washington into surrendering. The French wrote up a surrender document, and as Washington could not read French, it was translated for him by a Dutchman whose knowledge of French and English was very poor. Washington was told by him that in signing, he would admit to killing a French officer, so Washington signed. In fact, it referred to l'assassinat d'un envoi, the murder of a diplomat. The French used that as a pretext to declare war. The Washington of later years would have launched his troops out of Fort Necessity and up that hill. He did learn from his mistakes.
He had learned the value of the high ground from that incident. When Washington arrived in Boston in 1775, after the battle called Bunker Hill, he ran into the Committee for Public Safety--a group of New England officials dedicated for finding reasons not to fight, and wringing their hands about the British in Boston. In May of 1775, Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen had captured Fort Ticonderoga with a large supply of cannon, small arms, powder and shot. A Boston book-seller named Henry Knox, with no military experience, but having read many books on military history (his CV for employment in the Massachusetts militia), performed the incredible feat of transporting those cannon, arms and ammunition back to Boston during the winter of 1775-76.
Washington had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to get the Committee for Public Safety to agree to an assault over the ice into Boston, which raised the hand wringing to new heights. However, Washington had gotten some infantry and dragoons from the Continental Congress. On the night of March 4, 1776, they dragged the cannon up Dorchester Heights, south of Boston, and commanding the harbor. They filled large, crude baskets with rocks and soil, and then poured water in them--instant field works when the water froze. The next morning, the alarmed navy told the army commanders to do something about it, or they would have to leave. The cannon on Dorchester Heights could shoot at them, but they could not elevate their guns to shoot back. The army proposed another Bunker Hill-style battle, but a winter storm delayed them for two weeks. That was a good thing for them, because the Committee for Public Safety had decided to back Washington, now that he had his own troops and a lot of cannon on the Heights. Had they attacked, it would have been a much bloodier slaughter than they had suffered at Bunker Hill. When the storm was over, the navy told the army to load their troops, because they were leaving. Washington had learned the value of the high ground from his experience at Fort Necessity. The British left, and Boston was never threatened again. March 17, 1776 was when they left, and Jespah has told me that that's a holiday there--Evacuation Day.
My sources for Washington are the biographies by James Thomas Flexner, in four volumes, and Douglas Southall Freeman, in seven volumes. I will look at Washington from 1754 to 1775 later.
Sat 25 Apr, 2020 02:35 am
After the Great Meadow debacle, Washington was basically back on the front lines as the senior active officer of the Virginia militia (the Colonel was a political appointment, and a drunkard). In the course of this duty, he accompanied Braddock on his disastrous expedition in 1755, and Forbes on his successful operation to take t Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh) in 1756. He had begun leasing Mount Vernon from the widow of his half-brother, Lawrence (who had died in 1752), but the widow moved out after remarrying. George would inherit the estate unencumbered after his sister-in-law's death in 1761. In the meantime, Washington spent 1757 and 1758 on the frontiers of Virginia and of North and South Carolina (who had no militia worth mentioning) defending against Indian attacks spurred on by the French. That would be significant later.
At the beginning of 1759, he married the widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, at the White House Plantation on the Pamunkey River, northeast of Richmond (then a village, and not the capital of Virginia). That plantation was a part of the estate of Martha's first husband, Daniel Parke Custis. This gave rise to the complex relationship which Washington had with slavery. Many men would simply have engrossed the estate for their own use--but Martha would not likely have agreed to that and it was not in George's character. The estate was to be held in trust for for her two children, John "Jacky" Parke Custis and Martha "Patsy" Parke Custis. Washington took those responsibilities very seriously. The Custis estate's slave population would eventually grow to about 300. George would not sell slaves, neither his nor those of the children's trust estates. But he also recognized both the inefficiency and the injustice of slavery. His eventual solution on his own estate was to guarantee housing, clothing and basic rations for all the slaves on his estate, and to pay the men to work the fields, and the women to spin and weave wool. He then held them to a higher and reasonable standard for their work. If they didn't care to work for a wage, they would still be fed, but have no cash. At the end of the century, anticipating his own death, he set up a pension plan for his surviving slaves, rather than have them expect manumission upon Martha's death, a situation which would might threaten her life (both of Martha's children were dead by then, and Jacky's son, George Washington Parke Custis was nearing his majority, and in possession of the extensive Custis estates). The pensions were paid well into the 1830s. The House of Burgesses in Williamsburg moved to block his plans to educate his slaves and to manumit them in the lifetime of George and Martha, with targeted legislation.
But he held the Custis estates in trust for Jacky and Patsy, and could do little more than assure that the slaves on those estates were well treated. G. W. P. Custis was born just months before Jacky's death in 1781, and George adopted him formally and legally. Patsy had died, so G. W. P. was the sole surviving Parke Custis heir. He seems to have been an indifferent master, but was not accused of cruelty. His daughter Mary married Robert Lee, who was a rather poor army officer, but when G. W. P. died in 1857, Lee parceled the estate out to his sons, and had long been managing those estates. Lee's surviving correspondence shows him to have had harsh attitudes, and to relentlessly pursue runaways. George was never known to pursue runaways, but then, few of his slaves had any reason to run away.
I'll have a little more to say on this topic.
Sat 25 Apr, 2020 03:25 am
There was a system for the tobacco trade which was still very active in Washington's lifetime. It was actually an abusive system, routinely cheating the American planters, but it was made so convenient for them that they continued the system even after the revolution. The anti-tariff attitudes of slave states in the period before the American civil war resulted from the system. The system was that factors (agents) in England would send ships to the coast to pick up the tobacco, and deliver goods ordered in the previous year. There was no oversight, and the London factors could report any price they liked for the sale of the tobacco, and any price they liked for the goods they delivered. Planters who complained usually got shoddy goods for the lower prices they paid.
Washington decided in 1759 that he would no longer participate in the system. He diversified into wheat, rye, barley and oats, and ran an extensive sheep walk, for the wool and the mutton. He also had a rope walk for which he grew his own hemp. The female slaves were paid (if they were willing to work to the supervised standard) to spin, dye and weave the wool. Washington became an enthusiastic proponent of intercolonial trade, which meant that he made many contacts in the Mid-Atlantic and New England colonies. He had the accumulated debt from Lawrence's estate to pay, and little opportunity to raise large sums, but by the time of the First Continental Congress in 1774, he had paid off the debt. Few southern planters saw things his way. Washington's exacting standards for labor (he was very critical of the poor whites he employed, too) meant that many of his slaves were discontented (as any slave would be), but the runaways were largely from the Custis dower estates. The switch from tobacco to diversified crops may have improved their general diet, but I cannot assert that with assurance. Washington long proposed a gradual reduction of slavery with a view to its eventual abolition. That was not well received in the slave states, but the respect for Washington was such that he was not publicly execrated. Compared to hypocrites like Jefferson, Washington's attempts to deal with the institution of slavery deserve some credit.
His greatest character flaw in my view was his attitude toward the aboriginals, the Indians. He had spent the years from 1754 to 1759 organizing and supervising the defense of the frontiers against their depredations. The French egged them on, and provided muskets, powder and shot, as well as brandy, which brought the less well-established members of the southeastern tribes into their ranks. Washington came to hate and execrate them. He was indifferent to the great services which the Iroquois Confederacy did for King George. During the revolution, the Iroquois tribes were split by conflicting loyalties. During the French and Indian War, the British Indian Agent, William Johnson, had been highly respected by the Iroquois, so many maintained their loyalty to the King. Others, however, were very discontented with their treatment by the British land agents, who sold off their lands to the highest bidders. William Johnson was one of the biggest abusers of the system, eventually engrossing well over 150,000 acres north of the Mohawk River. There were many neutral tribesmen in these disputes, but basically, the Mohawk river became a dividing line between those loyal to the Crown (south of the river) and those who joined their fortunes to the rebelling colonists. It became virtually a civil war within the Confederacy.
During the Saratoga campaign, Mohawk, Onandagas, Senecas and Cayugas crossed the river to fight for the British. The Oneidas and Tuscaroras were neutral or allied to the Americans. In 1779, Washington was fed up, and he sent General Sullivan into western New York to sort out the situation. Sullivan was canny enough to see the divisions, and even employed the Oneidas and Tuscaroras against the Mohawk and their allies. They went on extended raids, burning villages and slaughtering the inhabitants. Washington's correspondence shows that he thoroughly approved. There can be no doubt that Washington hated the Indians, and was indifferent to their suffering.
Sat 25 Apr, 2020 07:19 am
Grant's value to Lincoln was his willingness to spend tens of thousands of lives to end the war. That's what Lincoln wanted, and that's what Grant gave him. Yeah, his reputation is much better if you don't know about his presidency.
I did know that. The rest of his military effups were mostly news to me.
His campaign against Vicksburg was a drawn-out, slug-fest, in which he was pertinacious and unrelenting. He had some political generals whom he didn't particularly like (I don't think he liked very many men), but as long as they would fight, he kept them on. Then after Vicksburg fell, he unceremoniously dumped them.