U.S. History

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Grant and Lee

On April 9, 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant of the United States Army and General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America’s Army of Northern Virginia gathered along with their officers in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. After four bloody, tragic years and several punishing months that saw General Lee’s movements shadowed at every turn by General Grant’s Army, the venerable Confederate commander realized that further resistance was futile and began the long process of healing the broken nation by surrendering his beloved Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant.

When dramatic, world-changing events in history take place, we rarely get firsthand accounts from the principals involved. Fortunately for us, Ulysses S. Grant spent the last weeks of his life putting the finishing touches on his autobiography, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (BOOKKINDLE), which spotlight many of the most important moments of the Civil War through the eyes of one of that war’s biggest heroes. Grant finished writing his book just a few days before he died in 1885, but what’s most amazing about Grant’s Memoirs is that, nearly 130 years later, they remain one of the most readable books ever written by an American President. Grant’s insight into the proceedings at Appomattox are valuable because it isn’t secondary material from a journalist, or the memories of a junior officer with opinion and prejudices that might cloud reality. Instead, the Memoirs are Grant’s remembrances of a monumental event in American History, and Grant’s honesty – for better and worse – has rarely been challenged.

In the Memoirs, Grant remembers suffering from a blinding migraine headache in the hours before his meeting with General Lee as representatives attempted to set conditions for the meeting between the two generals. As Grant later wrote, when an officer brought a note to from Lee that confirmed the Confederate general’s interest in meeting and setting terms for surrender, “the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured.”

As Grant prepared to meet Lee at Wilmer McLean’s home, the Union commander almost certainly thought about the vast differences between him and his Confederate counterpart. Lee was 15 years older than Grant, and while they both attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, their records couldn’t have been more different. Lee wanted nothing more than to be a great career soldier, graduated 2nd in his class, and made it through four years at West Point without a single demerit. Grant had dozens of demerits, many of which came from refusing to attend church services, and graduated 21st out of 39 cadets in his class. That he graduated at all was an accomplishment in Grant’s eyes. As he later wrote, “A military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the Army even if I should be graduated.”

After the men graduated from West Point (Lee in 1829, Grant in 1843), they embarked on military careers that took them to very different places, but on April 9, 1865, General Grant was thinking about the first time he had actually met General Lee. Their paths had crossed in the Mexican War (1846-1848) when they served together for some time under General Winfield Scott. Later in life, Grant was particularly outspoken about the injustice of the Mexican War, but he fought bravely during his time in Mexico under General Scott and, especially, under General Zachary Taylor. Grant and Lee were both decorated for their service in Mexico, along with many fellow junior soldiers whose names would become famous in the North and South during the Civil War. In his Memoirs, Grant wrote about his memories of his earlier meeting with Robert E. Lee, but doubted Lee would remember him:

“I had known General Lee in the old army, and had served with him in the Mexican War; but did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me; while I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the chief of staff of General Scott in the Mexican War.”

Ulysses S. Grant wouldn’t make it easy for General Lee to recognize him, either. One of the only positives to come out of the Mexican War for Ulysses S. Grant was his admiration of Zachary Taylor, who was Grant’s commanding general for most of the war. Taylor – later the 12th President – was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” and remembered fondly by his soldiers for his casual, comfortable manner. General Taylor was a sloppy dresser who often wore an odd mix of military dress and civilian clothing, loved to shade his face a large sun hat, and was unorthodox in almost every manner. While Grant may not have been a good student at West Point, he had no problem picking up on the lessons he learned from General Taylor. Robert E. Lee was always impeccably dressed, much like his Mexican War commander, General Winfield Scott. In fact, Grant’s comparison of Scott and Taylor would just as easily work with Lee and Grant:

“I had now been in battle with two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform, but dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was very much given to sit his horse side-ways – with both feet on one side – particularly on the battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute their chief as he passed. On these occasions he wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, sabre and spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his staff – engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared – followed, also in uniform and in prescribed order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the view that they should be a history of what followed…But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Both were pleasant to serve under – Taylor was pleasant to serve with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history.”

While Robert E. Lee was not insufferable like Winfield Scott, he was still, even after several brutal weeks of fighting, dressed in a way that would have led any outside observer to believe he was receiving the surrender on that day. The messages that Grant and Lee had exchanged that day had resulted in a meeting quicker than Grant had expected, so the Union general was wearing his usual battlefield dress as he prepared to meet the dashing General Lee. In his Memoirs, Grant acknowledges feeling a bit self-conscious about his “rough garb”. “I was without a sword,” Grant remembered, “as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with (only) the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was.” If the war had been decided with a fashion contest between Grant and Lee, we’d all be singing “Dixie”. According to Grant:

“General Lee was dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and was wearing a sword of considerable value, very likely the sword which had been presented by the State of Virginia; at all events, it was an entirely different sword from the one that would ordinarily be worn in the field. In my rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of lieutenant-general, I must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form.”

Upon entering McLean’s home, Grant and Lee shook hands and the officers who accompanied the two generals were silent. Grant, who had been elated earlier to meet with Lee and bring the war to a close, found himself feeling “sad and depressed”. “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.” Grant had so much respect for Lee that simply meeting him face-to-face in such a moment left the Union general nervous. As they sat in the silent and still parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home, Grant tried to break the ice by mentioning their previous service – on the same side – in Mexico. To Grant’s surprise, Lee remembered him well:

“We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years’ difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting.”

General Lee didn’t forget, however. Lee steered the conversation back towards the terms of his army’s surrender. Grant’s initials “U.S.” had gained him the nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant throughout the war, but the truth was that he didn’t have a template for the conditions required of his vanquished opponents. Grant was aware of President Abraham Lincoln’s hope for a smooth reconciliation as the country began healing in the wake of the Civil War. With this in mind and his deep respect for General Lee’s leadership, Grant set terms so generous that Lee was surprised. Lee’s soldiers would have their names recorded, surrender any weapons that were supplied by the Confederate government, and take an oath to not take up arms against the United States. After doing that, they would be free to return to their homes peacefully and without threat of prosecution for insurrection or treason. When Lee mentioned that most of the horses in his army were the personal property of the soldiers who rode them, Grant allowed soldiers to take any horses or personal belongings back home with them. Grant even allowed the defeated Confederate soldiers keep their sidearms. When General Lee saw the generous terms set forth by General Grant, he was astonished. With emotion, he thanked Grant for his generosity, telling the Union commander, “This will have a very happy effect on my army.”

With the surrender signed, General Lee mentioned to Grant that many of his soldiers had gone without food except for dried corn for several days and were in bad shape. Grant immediately authorized enough food to feed 25,000 men and gave orders to a nearby quartermaster to provide Lee’s army with as much food as they needed for their return to their homes. After exiting the McLean home, Lee climbed on to his beloved horse, Traveller, and observers noted that Lee, for the first time anyone could remember, looked as if he was having a hard time controlling his emotions. Grant was preparing to mount his horse, Cincinnati, when the two generals locked eyes once more. In a show of deep respect, Grant removed his hat and saluted Lee – and every Union soldier in proximity followed their commander’s example. Lee raised his hat and saluted Grant and rode off.

Shortly after Grant and Lee parted ways, the news of Lee’s surrender began to spread throughout the Union encampments. Union soldiers began cheering and firing salutes while their defeated Confederate opponents were well within earshot. Grant immediately ordered an end to the celebration. “The Confederates were now our prisoners,” wrote Grant, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

The next day, General Lee sent a brief, but eloquent, order to his Army of Northern Virginia in which he acknowledged that they had “been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources” and that he was “determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen”. Lee’s order informed the men of their freedom to return to their homes, and closed by thanking his soldiers for their service and bidding them “an affectionate farewell.” Before Grant returned to Washington, D.C. on April 10th for a meeting with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the Union commander stopped by where Lee’s army had set up camp. Grant and Lee sat atop their horses between the lines of their respective armies and talked for nearly an hour, both generals expressing their hope that the Confederate armies still in the field in pockets of the South would follow Lee’s lead so the nation could begin the difficult work of healing. Within a few hours, they were on their way home, heading in opposite directions, Grant to the North and Lee to the South.

Robert E. Lee died in 1870, and despite the cause that most people think he fought for (Lee abhorred slavery; the State of Virginia came before the Union in Lee’s mind), the Confederacy’s commanding general has largely become an American hero throughout the entire country. Maybe it was due to Lee’s support of the abolition of slavery or maybe it is because Lee is considered an American ideal of an honest and honorable warrior with quiet strength, but somehow Lee has made it to the Pantheon of American leaders that Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson will likely never reach. In the last five years of his life, General Lee served as the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia – a school that was renamed Washington and Lee University after Lee’s death.

Grant lived until 1885, but his later life was a bit more star-crossed than Lee’s. Grant turned down a request to accompany President Lincoln to the theater less than a week after Appomattox. Lincoln was killed that night. Grant feuded with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, after the Civil War, and sought the Presidency himself in 1868. Grant served two terms as President (1869-1877), and his Administration was riddled with corruption, although Grant himself was not personally corrupt. Grant’s reputation as President has begun to improve over the past few years due to his work on the only meaningful Civil Rights legislation passed until the mid-20th Century. After his Presidency, Grant went on a 2-year-long world tour with his wife and was greeted around the world by adoring fans interested in seeing an American President who also happened to be the hero of the Civil War. In 1880, Grant sought an unprecedented third term as President, but narrowly lost the Republican nomination to James Garfield. Sadly, Grant’s finances were liquidated by crooked financial partners in the 1880’s and he was forced to sell historic artifacts from his Civil War service in order to survive. In 1884, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer, and became determined to make money for his wife’s benefit in case of his death. Mark Twain signed a deal with Grant to write his Memoirs, and Grant finished the book just a few days before his death in July 1885. Grant’s book was a critical and commercial success, and left his wife with financial stability.

We have so much information on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee that we can piece together nearly every aspect of their lives, and often in their own words. Few Americans have affected the lives of so many people while also having such an influence on one another. There are hundreds of books about Grant, Lee, the Civil War, and dozens of combinations of subjects featuring those two great military leaders and their times. What most people don’t know is that Appomattox wasn’t the last time Grant and Lee saw each other.

On May 1, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant welcomed the president of Washington College, Robert E. Lee, to the White House. Lee had considered inviting President-elect Grant to visit Washington College before Grant was inaugurated, but Lee didn’t want to make a request that his busy former adversary felt obligated to accept. After Grant was inaugurated in March 1869, he learned of Lee’s interest in visiting with him, and the President invited Lee to the White House. Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to what was said between President Grant and General Lee. They two men only spent about 15 minutes together, and one observer suggested that there was a bit of sadness when the two men saw each other. Perhaps it was because of what they put each other through five years earlier, but perhaps it was the fact that the two former generals were older and in much different places.

What’s remarkable about the short meeting is that Robert E. Lee may have been the only American in history to visit the White House after being stripped of his citizenship. A bill to restore General Lee’s American citizenship was passed by Congress in 1975 – 110 years after the Civil War ended – and President Gerald Ford signed off on the restoration of Lee’s citizenship in a ceremony at Arlington House, the home that Lee lived in before it was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War and turned into a National Cemetery.

After just fifteen minutes on May 1, 1869, President Grant and General Lee once again parted ways. We don’t know what they said or how they felt or what they thought as they parted. The two men who had been such a huge part of each other’s lives would never see each other again. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Grant and Lee could come together at all after chasing each other throughout the country and killing thousands of Americans while trying to destroy each other. It’s a tribute to the two men that they were living in a country still needing time to heal, and they stepped forward – leading the way just like they did while waging war – to model for Americans how to wage peace.

anonymous asked:

What do you make of Secretary Clinton's the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu? Are they friends?

They have a much better relationship than Obama and Netanyahu do, but that’s not saying much because Obama and Netanyahu despise each other. I mean, they don’t even pretend to like each other when they are forced to come together.

Hillary Clinton has known Netanyahu longer and worked together with him more frequently. In Hard Choices (BOOK | KINDLE), her memoirs of her time as Secretary of State, she called Netanyahu a “complicated figure,” but also noted that “Despite our policy differences, Netanyahu and I worked together as partners and friends. We argued frequently, often during phone calls that would go on for over an hour, sometimes two. But even when we disagreed, we maintained an unshakeable commitment to the alliance between our countries. I learned that Bibi would fight if he felt like he was being cornered, but if you connected with him as a friend, there was a chance you could get something done together.”

The difference is that Netanyahu respects Clinton, but I don’t think he and Obama have any respect for each other. They each think the other leader is stubborn and too cerebral, but it’s probably because they’re more alike personality-wise than they want to admit. Plus, they are too far apart on how they view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its potential resolutions. They can’t even find a middle ground to begin serious discussions because they don’t trust each other and they feel like the other person is unreasonable about their expectations. Obama and Netanyahu have completely different worldviews. Obama feels that Netanyahu’s vision is one is dangerously hawkish and unnecessarily militaristic; Netanyahu feels that Obama is naïve. Obama’s doctrine is “Don’t do stupid shit” while we found out this week that Shimon Peres took action to prevent Netanyahu from unilaterally attacking Iran a few years ago. That’s exactly the type of foreign policy that Obama has actively worked to eliminate since he was first inaugurated. 

As for Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu, the question will be how well they can work together once Hillary is President. When she was Secretary of State, she had the ability to play good cop/bad cop when it came to foreign policy. As President she’ll be the ultimate decision-maker and when she has to put her foot down or protest actions by Netanyahu’s government – as most American Presidents have had to do at some point when he’s been Prime Minister – I’m sure their relationship will change. Netanyahu is a complicated figure, and his vision for Israelis and Palestinians is still locked in to the days of the Six-Day War. It’s a different world and even Israel is a far different country than it once was, so as President, Hillary Clinton will put the United States first and Netanyahu will see that as an existential threat to the Israeli people even if it’s just because he takes it personally when people challenge the idea that he’s always right. That’s happened in Netanyahu’s relationships with leaders around the world for the past 20 years, so it’s bound to happen again. Ideally, the Israeli people will recognize its time for a new generation of leaders (as Obama outright said in his eulogy for Shimon Peres) because Netanyahu lives in a world that doesn’t have to exist the way he sees it anymore.

goodnamesweretaken  asked:

Hi, I'm looking for a good biography of Ulysses S. Grant and 'American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant' by Robert C White just popped up on my Goodreads as a suggestion. Have you read it? Would you recommend any other biographies of Grant instead?

Yes, definitely. I just recommended Ronald C. White’s American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant (BOOK | KINDLE) the other day. It’s very good. Definitely check it out when it’s released on Tuesday.

Another biography about Grant that I would recommend is The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands (BOOK | KINDLE). You can never go wrong with a book by Dr. Brands.

There’s also an interesting dual biography of Grant and Robert E. Lee released in 2014 by William C. Davis that I’d suggest: Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee – The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged (BOOK | KINDLE). 

And Grant’s own autobiography, completed days before he died in 1885, The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (BOOK | KINDLE), is the best autobiography ever written by a President, although it focuses mostly on his military career and not at all about his time in the White House.

Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman Among Finalists to be on $20 Bill

Women on 20s is pushing to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a woman, and online voting from the pool of more-than-worthy candidates has narrowed down the field to four women.

The final cut of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller were selected by more than 250,000 voters from a field of 15 famous American women.

“We believe this simple, symbolic and long-overdue change could be an important stepping stone for other initiatives promoting gender equality,” the group says on its website. “Our money does say something about us, about what we value.”

The group, which also goes by W20, is lobbying to put one of these women on the $20 bill by 2020, the 100th anniversary off the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

There are still no women on U.S. paper currency and W20 is petitioning the president and Congress to change that.

Read more here

All four of these women are amazing, and I would be perfectly happy with any one of the choices except for Eleanor Roosevelt, who is a HERO of mine so I don’t say this lightly.

With all three other choices, we get racial representation and “normalization, not ‘diversity’” as Shonda Rhimes put it. Adding a white woman to the money mix reinforces white superiority and “white as normal, color as ‘other’” even while it STARTS to address male superiority and “male as normal, female and non-conforming as ‘other’.

My vote is for Harriet Tubman. Rosa Parks’ role is modern civil rights is undeniable, but Tubman has been justly compared to Moses.

Considered by many the “Moses” of her time, escaped slave Harriet Tubman became one of the country’s leading abolitionists before the Civil War. She returned to the South an estimated 19 times to rescue her family and others from bondage as a “conductor” on what was known as the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe houses leading to freedom in the North. Later, with her intimate knowledge of the geography and transportation systems of the South, she became a valuable asset to the Union army as a spy and scout. Her Herculean accomplishments were attributed to extraordinary courage, shrewdness and determination. The Quaker Thomas Garrett said of her, “If she had been a white woman, she would have been heralded as the greatest woman of her age.” (Source)

Vote here: Womenon20s.org 

Bayard Rustin Was Here
Before Martin Luther King, Jr., there was Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man fighting for equality in a society steeped in institutionalized racism and homophobia.

Despite orchestrating the 1963 March on Washington, and being personally embraced by King and his family, Rustin’s sexuality saw him relegated to the margins of history — largely forgotten and, for too long, uncelebrated. While he died long before the mainstream embrace of LGBT rights, recent social shifts have allowed for his memory to be revived. In 2013 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black is currently working on a biopic of the civil rights icon with HBO; and now, his longtime New York residence has been recommended to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  

Following the recognition of the Stonewall Inn as a historic landmark, LGBT history is finally stepping out into the light. With his home’s landmark status in the works, we look back in photos at the man who so many will meet over the years to come.


Halloween in the Victorian Era

Halloween was originally perceived as a rustic, country holiday, especially during the U.S. Victorian period, about 1840 to 1900. Overwhelmed by the fallout of industrialization, Victorians sought out a simpler time where people were more connected to the land and the natural world.

Most U.S. civic and private organizations in the first half of the 20th century hosted Halloween parties for children. It was partly an attempt to keep children busy on Halloween, so as to cut down on some of the mischief that happened at night.

Halloween in the U.S. was mainly a celebration for children until the premiere of the 1978 slasher flick Halloween, when the holiday became paired with contemporary horror.

This new association with bloody violence—and the attendant gory costumes and decorations—opened up the holiday for adults and older children to celebrate, and made it more popular.

anonymous asked:

No mention of McFeely's classic biography of Grant, for shame.

You’re right, I should have included William S. McFeely’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Grant (BOOK | KINDLE), in my list of recommended books on Ulysses S. Grant.

I’d also suggest checking out Richard Goldhurst’s Many Are the Hearts: The Agony and the Triumph of Ulysses S. Grant, which focuses on Grant’s financial challenges and failing health after leaving the White House which led to his race to write his memoirs before he died. It’s not a full biography, but it’s a riveting story.

…“Most of the rapes that northern soldiers committed were of black women,” and Murphy writes that “most states had laws stating that no crime of rape against slave women existed,” leaving them even less recourse to seek justice…..

Even if it was an upper-class white woman, who was more likely to believed, sometimes judges would dismiss it because they would feel, “Oh, [if she were really a lady] she would have been too ashamed to actually come forward.” So everything was stacked against the woman.

That’s the other thing: both the North and the South rarely thought it was rape when it was a black woman. It wasn’t until the Civil War when black women were actually able to come forward and call it rape. Before that time, even in the North, they would make it a lesser charge [for black women], if at all. I do have at least one record where a black woman was able to testify about a sexual assault in New York or someplace like that, but that was very rare. For the most part, black women’s voices went unheard…



Gender, Race, and Rape During the Civil War

Slavery, the value of chastity, and laws that favored men all made it difficult for women to find justice during the chaos of war.
Every year white people add 100 years to how long ago slavery was. I’ve heard educated white people say, ‘slavery was 400 years ago.’ No it very wasn’t. It was 140 years ago; that’s two 70-year-old ladies living and dying back to back. That’s how recently you could buy a guy.
—  Louis CK explains the necessity of historical context to Jay Leno.