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U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (Civil War America) Paperback – August 1, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
How does national memory determine national heroes? Waugh, a UCLA history professor, probes the subject in an engaging study of the making of Ulysses S. Grant's reputation. At the time of his death in 1885, he was perceived as on a level with George Washington by former Unionists and Confederates alike. His memoirs were a bestseller. His image combined the honorable soldier and the generous victor: a heroic war leader who believed in the ideal of national reconciliation in both regional and racial contexts. Even Grant's flaws were part of his greatness, linking him to his countrymen in a distinctively American fashion. That image began to change as lost cause romanticism nurtured reinterpreting the Civil War as not merely tragic but arguably unnecessary. The eclipse of this approach has restored Grant's reputation as a general. Now his presidency is the target of criticism: corrupt, ineffective and above all incomplete in terms of the racial issue. Waugh convincingly interprets Grant as symboliz[ing] both the hopes and the lost dreams of the Civil War. But while that war remains our defining—and dividing—event, Grant's image, Waugh says, will remain ambiguous. 69 illus., 3 maps. (Nov. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Brilliant and unsettling. . . . Part biography, part military history, part social chronicle charting the rise and fall of Grant's reputation, U.S. Grant is a sobering reminder of the vicissitudes of fame. . . . Waugh's well-researched and vibrantly written book . . . restores luster to a lost American hero.--The Chicago Tribune
A well-written and thoroughly researched examination of Ulysses S. Grant's place in public memory. . . . Waugh's enthusiasm for her subject is evident, resulting in an informative and richly detailed study. . . . An invaluable addition to the studies of our eighteenth president.--Southwestern Historical Quarterly
An engaging study of the making of Ulysses S. Grant's reputation. . . . Waugh convincingly interprets Grant as 'symboliz[ing] both the hopes and the lost dreams' of the Civil War.--Publishers Weekly
Throughout, Waugh's narrative is a sensitive and humane account that reveals the strength of combining biography and history, where the depth available in the former compellingly illuminates the larger trends and issues that define the latter.--Civil War Book Review
A fine book. General readers will find it engaging and enjoyable, and historians interested in the memory of the Civil War will find it essential.--The North Carolina Historical Review
As impressively distilled a brief for Grant as one is likely to find.--The Journal of American History
Elegant and wonderfully illustrated book. . . .Waugh's immersion in the literature of Civil War memory is considerable; she does not reinvent this historiography but rather pushes it into new territory with her subject. . . .Waugh's contribution is significant. She has fused the discussion of historical memory to biography and military history." --The Journal of Southern History
Exceptionally thoughtful and valuable. . . . [Written in] clear prose that is readily accessible to the serious general reader. . . . [A] fine study.--Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
The best kind of history: it is a search for truth, and one that deserves the widest possible readership.--Army History
Brings to vivid life a highly contentious political landscape. . . . A readable, worthwhile book which will be interesting to anyone with a desire to learn more about the process of historical memory--and about a forgotten man who deserves to be remembered.--The Journal of Military History
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The entire nation mourned Grant at his funeral in thousands of memorial services across the country yet it took 5 years for his mausoleum to begin construction. Its location in New York City was wildly controversial since it would not just be his final resting place but a national memorial to the great man. It was thought that a national memorial should be in the nation’s capital. It would take 7 more years for the mausoleum to be completed and over a million people attended the massive parade and dedication ceremony. Yet only 90,000 people contributed money to the construction of the memorial and most of those were New Yorkers. Ms Waugh explores all of this in detail and how, by the second decade of the 20th century, US Grant had faded in public memory and his esteem had fallen dramatically.
But this book is about much more than that. It covers his childhood, education at West Point, military career before the Civil War, his movement into civilian life, military career during the Civil War, his post war activities, his time as president, the often overlooked struggle for reconstruction and the writing of his classic autobiography. It examines the many myths surrounding him such as: Was he a drunk? Was he a failure at everything he did in civilian life before the war? Was he a butcher who threw away lives needlessly during the Civil War? Was he a corrupt president? The author covers all of this and does it in a very readable and entertaining way.
It is remarkable to me how poorly Ulysses Grant had been viewed by historians in the 20th century and that continues into the 21st century. In the Siena Institute ranking he moved from 35 in the 2002 survey to 26 in 2010. Still too low in my estimation but it shows that current historians, political scientists and presidential historians are being influenced by modern scholarship. However, in 2010 they listed Polk, Jackson, Cleveland, Van Buren and Arthur above him. That is way too high for those presidents and Grant should be rated much higher. Of all the surveys that are done to rate presidents Siena seems to survey the most credible sources but I still feel those sources are incorrect in their evaluations of many of the presidents. When historians are not focusing on Grant and reconstruction they overlook the tremendous effort Grant put into attempting to secure true freedom and unobstructed suffrage for the freedmen. This quote from Joseph Ellis’ “His Excellency George Washington” struck me. When discussing the extraordinary difficulty Washington faced when he first entered office Ellis writes, “Looking back over two hundred years of the American presidency, it seems safe to say that no one entered the office with more personal prestige than Washington, and only two presidents- Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt- faced comparable crises.” Well that overlooks the enormous personal prestige Grant enjoyed as the savior of the Union and the crises of reconstruction. I am so glad that Joan Waugh covers both of those topics in some detail.
Ulysses S Grant is in my top ten list of presidents and I think Professor Waugh does an excellent job of illustrating why that should be so. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Ulysses S Grant.
Waugh is working against some powerful modern myths. "Gone With the Wind" features happy slaves, debonair aristocrats, and gentle people of refinement thrown into the brutality of war by those evil Union scum. The book, the movie, and popular culture all latched on to the notion of an ideal world made brutal through the "war of Northern aggression." One major target of this re-imagining of the Civil War was U.S. Grant. The general that conquered the South had to be diminished and demonized, and Waugh shows, in splendid fashion, how this process unfolded. Robert E. Lee, who lost all battles fought outside of his native Virginia, was lionized as the perfect general; Grant, who won in every theater of the war, was cast as a drunken bumbler that was lucky to have numbers on his side.
Very readable yet scholarly, "U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth" is exactly what the title suggests: an examination of a major American figure in life, death and myth. Highly recommended.