Salon.com recently published an article on its site called “How the ‘Lost Cause’ Poisoned Our History Books.” Strangely enough, despite its title, the article does very little to explain how the “Lost Cause” impacted history books and fails to give any examples to support the claims in its title. Instead, the entire piece lauds Ulysses. S. Grant, recognised by most historians as one of the worst and most corrupt US presidents. Joan Waugh, the author and UCLA history professor who wrote the article, does not focus primarily on Grant’s military career, declining to compare him in the martial arts to Southern military men such as Lee and Jackson. Rather, she focuses almost entirely on his post-war political career. Despite Grant’s short-comings as a military man (he was infamously known as a “butcher” for callously sending thousands of his men to their death, knowing that he had far superior numbers to the Confederates), he surely shown brighter in the role of a conqueror than he did as a politician. Of late, pro-Union sources have attempted to provide cover for Grant’s reputation as a drunk. But despite the best efforts of the court historians, the negative image of Grant and his habits persists. Waugh does briefly acknowledge Grant’s reputation:
Charges of alcoholism, incompetence and a brutal indifference to death dogged him throughout his career, and affected his reputation after the war as well. Grant did make mistakes. He was caught unprepared for Confederate attacks at Shiloh, and in a deeply regretted order, banned Jews from trading cotton.
The Grant Administration has long been recognised by historians, Northern and Southern, as highly corrupt. An especially dark spot on the administration was its ethnic cleansing of the Plains Indians nations, which Waugh doesn’t address. The Union’s campaign of genocide was hardly a secret though, as it was a matter of Federal policy:
The US Army was having quite a time controlling the Indians and Gen. Phillip Sheridan convinced President Grant that the only solution to the Indian problem was the continuation of what in part had caused it: the destruction of the bison. Instead of signing a bill to stop the slaughter, President Grant vetoed it. Gen. Sheridan praised the buffalo hunters by saying: “These men have done in the last two years…more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last 30 years. They are destroying the Indian’s commissary… and an army losing it base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but, for the sake of lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy.
The Union’s position was that “Lasting peace” required the Indians’ eradication. General William T. Sherman summed up this position in words that sound eerily similar to those written by the Nazis a couple generations later about the Slavic nations and other supposedly racially-inferior people of Eastern Europe:
The more Indians we can kill this year the fewer we will need to kill the next, because the more I see of the Indians the more convinced I become that they must either all be killed or be maintained as a species of pauper. Their attempts at civilization is ridiculous.
In fact, this same attitude was displayed towards Southern civilians during the Union’s conquest of the South, as can be seen from communications between Sherman and Grant during the war. No distinction between combatants and non-combatants was made. The Union’s goal was to destroy the Southern population by depriving the people (soldiers, farmers, woman, children and slaves alike) of food:
I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay and farming implements; over 70 mills filled with flour and wheat, and have driven in front of the Army over 4,000 head of stock and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep. Tomorrow I will continue the destruction down to Fisher’s Mill. When this is completed, the Valley from Winchester to Staunton, 92 miles, will have but little in it for man or beast (from an October 7, 1864 report to General Grant from General Sheridan).
Despite the evidence against him, Joan Waugh argues that Grant should not be remembered negatively. “He was a tremendously important figure who has been treated unfairly,” she says. Meg Sullivan writes about Waugh’s revisionist attempts for the UCLA Newsroom:
At the time of his death in 1885, Ulysses S. Grant was easily the most famous man in the United States — if not the world — and his funeral attracted the largest crowd up to that time, as 1.5 million mourners poured onto the streets of New York City.Yet, if Americans today remember this Civil War [sic] general and two-term U.S. president, they tend to think of a drunken, cigar-smoking military butcher who lacked integrity when he moved into the White House.But if one UCLA historian has her way, Grant will rise again. In a new book that combines a biography of Grant with an assessment of his legacy, Joan Waugh argues that the mastermind behind the Union victory and a driving force behind Reconstruction deserves to be remembered with as much reverence and gratitude as Abraham Lincoln.
Sullivan goes on to note Waugh’s historical love affair with Grant:
While Robert E. Lee today is remembered as courtly and gentlemanly, it is Grant’s character that shines most brightly in Waugh’s book. Over and over again, she details the magnanimous way in which the general accepted Confederate surrenders.
Waugh excuses Grant’s reputation as a butcher by highlighting the advantages of the smaller Confederate forces and the difficulties of the larger Union forces:
Most of the time, the Confederate forces were defending a smaller geographical position, which meant they could afford fewer men and resources than the forces surrounding it… The North had to win a total victory, while the South just had to wear down the Union will to fight. That is why it took the United States four terrible years to win the war. Before Grant, no other Northern military leader figured out a strategy to use those extra resources to the Union’s advantage.
Of course, the North did not have to win a “total victory,” it waged a total war (against civilians and military targets alike) of its own choosing. Also, notice the statist language of the university professor, referring to human lives as “extra resources” to be thrown away in the conquest of the South.
The professor also excuses Grant’s alcoholism and drunken behaviour, minimising it where possible and providing cover in the instances where it can not be ignored:
[H]e was suffering great loneliness at the time, stationed for two years away from his family…. Whether or not Grant was an alcoholic, it has been thoroughly documented that he drank or was drunk very rarely, and never when it mattered… Historians who have gone back and taken a fine-tooth comb to the question have all come to the same conclusion.
In short, there is no pretense of a fair and unbiased analysis in Waugh’s works. She is quite open about her goal, subjecting her students at UCLA to the sort of Grant-worship that fills her books and articles:
To this day, Grant figures prominently in her undergraduate courses on the Civil War [sic] and Reconstruction.
As is typical of court historians, Waugh is easily impressed by the pomp and hero-worship of Grant. She describes his post-presidential international speaking tour in glowing terms, obviously impressed by the historical spectacle:
Grant made a triumphal tour of the world from 1877 to 1879, hailed by millions across Europe, India, China and Japan as a military hero and leader of an emerging democratic global power.
Undoubtedly, Waugh’s primary reason for lauding Grant is the former slave-owner’s supposedly fair treatment of Blacks. In the effort to promote the former slave-owner as a champion of Black rights Waugh twists history, referring to Lincoln’s war as “the war of emancipation,” even though Lincoln had promised at the outset of the war not to disturb slavery where it already existed and even offered to amend the US Constitution to permanently protect the institution. She writes of Grant on Black empowerment:
At the end of the war, Gen. Grant stood with Republicans in making sure that Union victory was secured on northern terms, restoring the rights and privileges of citizenship to white southerners, but also protecting the rights and establishing the citizenship of the freed people. While president, Grant believed that he was carrying out Abraham Lincoln’s plan of a prosperous reunited country, in the end going further than Lincoln envisioned to ensure black civil rights.
Notice that “northern terms” had to be secured and forced on the defeated South. Even so, the “privileges of citizenship” in a Union they wanted to separate from was magnanimously bestowed upon White Southerners by Grant. And in his charitable wisdom Grant was also concerned about the right of the freed slaves. Such a man!
Finally, as is typical with today’s university professors such as Waugh, influenced as they are by the Social Justice ideology (a euphemism for Marxism), Waugh praises the supposed moral superiority of the North’s war against the South:
Although imbued with the spirit of reconciliation between the sections, Grant’s account made clear that it was the Northern cause — union and emancipation — that would forever remain the morally superior one.
Here we have it in a nut-shell: the moral superiority of foreign conquest to impose protective tariffs and centralise control over millions of unwilling subjects. Of course, Waugh doesn’t see it like this – to her the war was a moral crusade of good against evil, wisdom against ignorance, justice against injustice, freedom against slavery, etc. This is why she makes such an excellent court historian. I’m sure we can expect many more articles and books from her praising Union leaders and the conquest and Reconstruction of the South.