Two Letters

Executive Mansion

Washington, April 30, 1864

Lieutenant General Grant.

Not expecting to see you again before the Spring Campaign opens, I wish to express, in this way, my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.

And now with a brave Army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln


Headquarters Armies of the United States

Culpepper C. H. Va. May 1st 1864

The President,

Your very kind letter of yesterday is just received. The confidence you express for the future, and satisfaction with the past, in my Military administration is acknowledged with pride. It will be my earnest endeavor that you, and the country, shall not be disappointed.

From my first entrance into the volunteer service of the country, to the present day, I have never had cause of complaint, have never expressed or implied a complaint, against the Administration, or the Sec. of War, for throwing any embarassment in the way of my vigerously prossecuting what appeared to me my duty. Indeed since the promotion which placed me in command of all the Armies, and in view of the great responsibility, and importance of success, I have been astonished at the readiness with which every thin asked for has been yielded without even an explaination being asked. Should my success be less than I desire, and expect, the least I can say is, the fault is not with you.

Very truly

your obt. svt.

U. S. Grant

Lt. Gen.

April 30, 1863

Some 150 years ago this week two Union armies crossed two rivers. In one case the army stayed across the river; in the other case it recrossed the river within a week. Therein lies a tale worth remembering.

We’re going to hear a great deal about what happened at Chancellorsville 150 years ago this week. Sometimes termed “Lee’s greatest victory,” it was a perfect example of what the Army of Northern Virginia could do under the right circumstances. Of course, it helped that the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Joseph Hooker, failed to live up to expectations (including his own), and that several subordinates fell short. The daring Confederate victory came at serious cost, however: some 13,000 casualties (more than the Union lost at Fredericksburg the previous December), including the loss of Thomas J. Jackson, who fell a victim to “friendly” fire on the evening of May 2 and died eight days later. Moreover, Lee’s men were spared even more losses when a planned Confederate attack on May 6 discovered that Hooker had withdrawn overnight. Had an assault taken place, the Confederates might have encountered a foe ready to do serious damage, much as the Army of the Potomac would ponder the same what-ifs just over two months later. Continue reading

Corporate Sponsorship of Monuments: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Why didn’t I think of this before?

Given the insufficient public funding devoted to many or our nation’s Civil War battlefields, the NPS has often turned to the private sector for assistance. Perhaps the most significant result of a private/public partnership (at least to the inexperienced eye) is the new visitors center at Gettysburg, but other private entities have stepped up in support of battlefield preservation, and they are key players in that process.

Still, the need for money continues. Here (on the eye of the opening of the Stanley Cup playoffs), I’m reminded of how on television every piece of a sporting event is sponsored by one company or another. So-and-so brings you this power play; such-and-such presents the opening faceoff; a really bad men’s store presents Don Cherry. The boards and the ice are plastered with adds, and technology even projects virtual ads on the television screen at each end (to say nothing of the rotating illuminated ads on the boards).

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The Not-So-Good Doctor: A Cautionary Tale

It is one of the favorite memes of certain folks to focus on “academic historians” and to ruminate on their qualities, motives, effectiveness, and so on. In contrast, it is one of the arguments of this blog that it’s not the credentials or the identity of the historian that counts, but the quality of the work that matters. There are good academically-trained historians, and there are those whose academic training seems to have gone to waste, because they are not good historians.

In support of that notion, I present the case of one professionally-trained historian. I’ll call this person “the good doctor.” The good doctor is a native of the South, attended undergraduate and graduate school in the South, and taught at a school in the upper South. He currently resides in the South.

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Removing a Monument

One of the issues involved with battlefield restoration is that in fact it calls for a series of compromises. It would be very hard to restore a battlefield to its pre-battle condition, for example, because you would have to remove a lot of things, including park roads, towers, paths, and monuments. It’s difficult to restore a battlefield to its appearance at the time of the battle as well, because the battle itself changes the terrain on which it is fought. For example, I’m sure those of you who have visited Little Round Top have noted the stone fences that cross the military crest near the summit. Should those be removed? After all, they weren’t there at the time of the battle. And then there’s the monuments as well as the early efforts to ease the experience of visitors to the field, which sometimes went to excess (I’m thinking here of the loops up at Little Round Top and the Bloody Angle at Gettysburg, the latter of which is still easily visible due to the different shading of the grass there).

Let’s switch the Sickles proposal around. You are empowered to authorize the removal of a monument on NPS land on a Civil War battlefield. You must choose one. Which one do you remove, and why?

The Great Man of History … An Implied Counterfactual

Grant 1868Today is Ulysses S. Grant’s birthday. As H. W. Brands would have it, he was the man who saved the Union. Perhaps he was. Perhaps, in fact, he was indispensable to the suppression of the southern rebellion, which in turn was secured in part through the destruction of slavery. In other words, he’s kinda a big deal.

In the last several decades (some would say starting in earnest in 1991), historians have taken a new look at the life and times of the hero of Appomattox and the eighteenth president of the United Sates. Grant continues to get high marks as a general, but I’d add that since the 1980s we have a better and fuller understanding of what made him a successful American commander. Other historians have reassessed his presidency, with some arguing that he was not only a capable president but indeed a very good one (an estimate that I think goes too far). In fact during the past ten years we have seen book after book come out repeating basically the same message established by 2001, to the point that this swelling chorus of phase has become a little too familiar as several biographers assert that their task is to rehabilitate Grant. I don’t happen to think that’s a biographer’s task, and in such claims there’s a little too much of the first person singular, but to each his or her own. Continue reading

Does Dan Sickles Deserve a Statue at Gettysburg?

This coming Monday, one of my students will present his case for the erection of a statue at Gettysburg to Daniel E. Sickles, who commanded the Third Corps of the Army of the Potomac at that battle until he was seriously wounded on July 2. Here is a chance for all of you to weigh in on that question (poll to follow). After all, not every Gettysburg commander commemorated with a statue at Gettysburg proved to be a success there (hello, Francis Barlow). Where would you place said statue?