Ron Chernow’s Biography of US Grant is caught up in the fight over Confederate statues

Historians in the News
tags: Civil War, Confederacy, Confederate Monuments, Ron Chernow, US Grant



Virginia, the home of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, has four statues on public lands celebrating patriots of the American Revolution and seven honoring heroes of World War II. There are 136 commemorating leaders of the Confederacy.

More than a few politicians say this honors the state's heritage. And there's plenty of lingering nostalgia for the Confederacy, Exhibit A being President Donald Trump's sympathetic words for rowdy white supremacists and neo-Nazis who showed up last summer in Charlottesville, to protest the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee.

The Confederate monuments are outgrowths of the “Lost Cause,” a campaign begun after the Civil War by a Southern general, Jubal Early, and Jefferson Davis, who had been Confederate president. They argued that the Southern cause was mainly a noble defense of the principle of states' rights, not a battle to preserve slavery.

The mythmaking included an idealized portrait of Confederate generals, especially Lee, who were painted as better military men and far better people than their Northern counterparts. A special target of this propaganda campaign was Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general who defeated Lee and later served two terms as president, championing equal rights for black citizens.

Confederate apologists, helped by some 19th-century historians, depicted Grant as a military butcher, a chronic drunk and a corrupt and failed president.

It's a lie, and one that makes Ron Chernow's voluminous biography, “Grant,” all the more important, especially in the context of a contemporary neo-Confederate revival on the political right. ...

Read entire article at WSJ


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