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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 49

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This is the grave of Ulysses S. Grant.

2016-05-28-15-27-41

Ulysses S. Grant was a failure at basically everything in life up to the Civil War, rose out of obscurity and disgrace to lead the nation in the crushing of treason in defense of slavery (although Grant himself had married into a slaveholding family), became the nation’s most popular individual, served as an entirely mediocre president who was in awe of the wealthy and a sucker for the schemes of Jay Cooke that helped plunge the nation into the Panic of 1873, became a unfortunately vilified president by those who hated Reconstruction, and, in recent years, has become a wildly overrated president by those who want to reject the Dunning school of history. Ulysses S. Grant was a great general, a man with a decent but not great record on civil rights as president (he openly lamented the 15th Amendment by the end of his presidency), and has been batted around like a tennis ball by detractors and defenders. Ulysses S. Grant also liked whiskey.

Ulysses S. Grant is buried at the General Grant National Memorial, New York, New York.

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  • Eli Rabett

    and is the answer to the eternal question: Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      “General Grant and Mrs. Grant” is the preferred answer of pedants IIRC.

      • wjts

        Actually, the preferred answer is “no one”, as the sarcophagi are both above ground.

        • Dilan Esper

          Correct, which makes Erik’s post slightly inaccurate.

        • Does anyone know if there’s dirt inside the sacrophagi (and/or the enclosed coffins)?

          • wjts

            It’s Grant’s Tomb, not Dracula’s.

            • Bill Murray

              but Grant did suck the life from the Confederacy

              • weirdnoise

                If only…

                • DocAmazing

                  It does seem kinda undead.

                • Bill Murray

                  It does seem kinda undead.

                  that is what happens when vampires suck lifeblood

              • cpinva

                “but Grant did suck the life from the Confederacy”

                if Sherman had had his way, there’d have been no gentlemanly surrender at Appomattox. His preferred ending of the war was to totally crush the Confederacy, it’s military and civilian branches, and hanging a few of the more egregious traitors from the nearest tree. probably not Lee and his staff though, they were all old buds from West Point. it’s one thing to blow a man into a thousand pieces, with cannon fire, quite another to unceremoniously hang him, with his hands tied behind his back. just wouldn’t do at all.

                interestingly, towards the end of WWI, Gen. Pershing had the same feeling about the Germans. he feared that, without crushing the German Military into nothingness, and totally destroying the civilian leadership that helped start the war, they’d do the same thing again, in a generation’s time.

                both Generals Sherman & Pershing were correct in their assessments of their respective situations.

                • Matt McKeon

                  Sherman did not subscribe to the “hang the Rebs” theory. He was reprimanded for the generous terms he offered CSA Gen. Johnson when he surrendered. In his letters to Confederate generals he vowed to be relentless in making war, but promised to share his “last cracker” with his former enemies as soon as they stopped resisting the government.

                • Downpuppy

                  Whatever else you can say about Sherman, he was a handsome man

                • rea

                  Sherman, handsome? He bore a strong resemblance to Lazarus

                • weirdnoise

                  Whatever else you can say about Sherman, he was a handsome man

                  A mere boy.

                • Schadenboner

                  Well, sure, now…

  • Eli Rabett

    Also Mark Twain really really liked Grant

    • mikeSchilling

      But did not ghostwrite his memoirs, despite rumors to the contrary. Though if people can mistake your writing for Twain’s, you’re pretty damned good at that too.

      • Blanche Davidian

        I got the Library of America edition of Grant’s autobiography ten or fifteen years ago and was fascinated by it. An excellent recounting of his own life. And knowing that many people thought Twain ghosted it, I recall only one time I thought the voice of the writer was not Grant’s. That was in the opening of the second volume, which had a ‘literary’ quality not evidenced in the first volume. But after that section, it seemed to settle back into what I had assumed was Grant’s ‘voice.’ But it’s really a very good read.

        • John Keegan’s The Mask of Command has a good section on Grant’s talent for writing clear, succinct orders, which was by no means true of all generals then or now. I daresay the voice of the Autobiography is the same Grant.

          • Keaaukane

            “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.”

            For example of an unclear order.

            • bender

              I heard somewhere that at least one of the service academies has a class in order writing. The students compete to find ways to misconstrue the order. That would be a fun class.

            • Bill Murray

              or “Tell general Ewell to take the hill if at all practicable.”

      • Bruce Vail

        Grant’s ghostwriter was a man named Adam Badeau:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Badeau

  • sleepyirv

    Ulysses S. Grant also liked whiskey.

    And that’s enough for me.

  • Denverite

    I have an abiding fondness for Grant, for some reason.

    • Vance Maverick

      Echoing Davis below:

      Time that is intolerant
      Of the brave and innocent,
      And indifferent in a week
      To a beautiful physique,

      Worships language and forgives
      Everyone by whom it lives,
      Pardons cowardice, conceit,
      Lays its honors at their feet.

      Time that with this strange excuse
      Pardoned Kipling and his views,
      And will pardon Paul Claudel,
      Pardons him for writing well.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Seriously, what’s not to like? He liked cigars, whisky, and killing Confederates. Why he didn’t win the Congressional Medal of Honor and was declared Best President of the Century* is beyond me.

      *How many rebels did Lincoln kill???

      • Warren Terra

        I don’t think that’s how the Congressional Medal of Honor is used.

        Nor should it be. For one thing, if you could get it for being a politically important and at least plausibly successful high-ranking commander, can you imagine all the people who’ have gotten it, some transparently for partisan advantage? Half the George W Bush administration would be wearing one …

        • cpinva

          “Half the George W Bush administration would be wearing one …”

          on a positive note, if you consider the histories of most of the people who’ve been awarded the CMOH, the majority of the Bush administration officials would be getting them posthumously. so, there is that.

      • cpinva

        “*How many rebels did Lincoln kill???”

        since he was the CIC at the time, all of them. not directly mind you. as good a president as he was, even he had his limitations.

        during the war, Grant’s Nickname was “Bloody Grant” and, depending on who you were talking to, “Butcher Grant”. appellations given because of the high number of casualties sustained, by both sides, during his time in overall command of the Union Army. of course, if you take into account the fact that, as the war went on, munitions became more lethal, but the commanders and their officers, of both armies, failed to make any changes in the way they sent their men into battle, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. they were still fighting the Napoleonic Wars, while using modern weaponry.

        medicine hadn’t caught up with the level/type of carnage either. if you were wounded, you stood as good, or better, chance of dying from aid you received afterwards.

        • btfjd

          Grant conducted his operations with relatively low casualties before the campaign in Northern Virginia in the summer of 1864. The theater of operations was bounded by the Appalachians on one side and Chesapeake Bay on the other, leaving little room for mobile warfare, and was cut up by rivers running East/West, which served as defensive lines. He was up against Lee, a superb tactician, whose army knew the territory intimately. He was forced to operate offensively against the entrenched Army of Northern Virgina, and offense normally suffers more casualties than defense.

          So yes, his casualties were high. But so were Lee’s. In fact, throughout the Civil War, Lee always had a higher percentage of casualties than Grant. Grant may have made the mistake of a frontal assault at Cold Harbor, which he says in his memoirs was a mistake he regretted ever after, but it was no worse a mistake than Pickett’s Charge.

      • Colin Day

        All of the vampiric ones.

    • The Lorax

      He out put down the terrorist clansmen. And saved the Union.

  • Davis X. Machina

    Author of Grant’s Autobiography….

    Generally, the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.

    (on the Mexican War) Would that we could all write like that. Le style, c’est le homme même.)

    • busker type

      Yeah… Was the author of one really good book.

      • Where is the author of Grant’s Autobiography buried?

        • mikeSchilling

          Some people would say in Elmira, but it’s not true.

        • Vance Maverick

          Alternates:

          Who is the subject of Grant’s Autobiography?
          Who is the author of Grant’s Autobiography?

          (I’ve heard someone on the Web express doubts about the latter, but as far as I could tell this was an exaggerated memory of Mark Twain’s facilitation.)

    • osceola

      He considered the Civil War a direct consequence of the Mexican War. It was the conquest of territory to strengthen the Slave Power. He also resigned his commission after the Mexican War.

      • Colin Day

        Not immediately after the war. He stayed in the army until 1854.

        This

    • LeeEsq

      I’m, I thought this sentiment and the exact wording was attributed to Lincoln and not Grant.

      • Morat

        They’re in Grant’s Memoirs, chapter 3. Definitely worth a read.

        He went on to write:

        The occupation, separation and annexation were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.

        and:

        The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

  • Just to be an annoying pedant, I have to point out that Grant’s sarcophagus is clearly above ground thus he technically isn’t buried there.

    • Schadenboner

      LGM, I am dissapoint. It took us until the 8th post. Slipping! Sad!

    • Thlayli

      The sarcophagus is above the floor of the room, yes, however the room is below street level. Erik was at street level when he took the picture. So….

      • Warren Terra

        “Buried” is not about altitude. It’s about being covered in soil.

    • Denverite

      Actually, what is the right answer? I’ve heard “no one, Grant and Julia are entombed,” “Grant,” and “Grant and his wife.”

      • Warren Terra

        Surely her name, rather than “his wife”? Leaving aside the whole question about whether she deserves respect as an individual rather than an appurtenance, the vow was presumably some version of “till death do us part”. Though as he predeceased her, “Grant’s widow” might escape that particular pedantic objection.

      • bender

        “General and Mrs. Grant.” “President and Mrs. Grant.”

        • DocAmazing

          Ooooh, Mr. Grant!

          • N__B

            You’ve got spunk.

  • CrunchyFrog

    Ulysses S. Grant was a great general

    So growing up I was told that Grant was a mediocre general who won only because he had far more troops and didn’t mind winning a war of attrition. Of course, the person who told me this was my hard right racist stepfather who displayed southern civil war memorabilia all over the house, so he may have been a tad bit biased. Is there any truth at all to that viewpoint?

    • piratedan

      well… considering that outside Sherman, the vast majority of the other senior officers in the Union armies were being consistently outclassed by their opponents by their use of cavalry and interior lines, I would say no… Apologies to General Meade notwithstanding.

      If you look at the laundry list of gentlemen who Jackson, Lee, Bauregard et al danced around and defeated “superior” union armies despite the imbalance of forces, I’d have to say that you’re properly assessing the bias that your stepfather holds.

      • Bill Murray

        I would rate George Thomas pretty highly.

        • giovanni da procida

          Seconded. The Rock of Chickamauga, the Sledge of Nashville. Won battles, destroyed Conferderate armies. After the war, supported Reconstruction both in word and deed. His refusal to write memoirs, and burning of his papers (as well as his relatively early death) probably contributed to the lack of public recognition of his talents today.

          I’m a bit of a Thomas partisan, obviously.

    • dmsilev

      Point him to a history of the Vicksburg campaign and then ask that question again.

      • CrunchyFrog

        Hmmm … his family is from Mississippi ….

      • Murc

        Point him to a history of the Vicksburg campaign and then ask that question again.

        This.

        Here’s the thing about Lee and a number of the other more successful southern generals. Were they militarily quite skilled? Of course they were.

        But.

        A lot of what they were doing was risky as shit and contrary to recommended military practice. Stuff like dividing your army, fancy flanking maneuvers, offensive movement that required coordination between wildly separated forces that could not communicate with each other in a timely fashion… you just didn’t do that in the mid-19th century if you had any other choice. It was high-risk, high-reward stuff that they were only constantly doing because they had fewer men and resources and so those risks were necessary to achieve victory.

        Grant was perfectly capable of doing all the stuff that Lee did, as the Vicksburg campaign shows; dividing his army under skilled subordinates and moving it aggressively through enemy territory to outfox them and ultimately accomplish his goals.

        It’s just he very rarely did that. Why? Because he didn’t have to! He almost always had a huge army and much better supply than his southern counterparts, so why on earth would he take big risks? His job was to win, not to look flashy. Lee had to look flashy in order to win, the end result of which was he looked more skilled than Grant when all he really was was more desperate.

        The best display of this dichotomy is during Grant’s march to Richmond. Just about every major engagement he had with Lee was either tactically inconclusive or, in the case of Cold Harbor, an actual strategic blunder.

        But after every engagement, Grant basically went “Well, what precisely is Lee going to do to me now? He can’t march on Washington, we have a whole other giant army protecting it. I just killed a whole ton of his men he can’t easily replace, while my own losses are being made good every day. My supply is excellent. Morale remains high. We’ll advance again towards Richmond, which is of course my primary goal, not making myself look good against Bobby Lee.”

        That must have made Lee so frustrated. Every other union general he’d face had always retreated back north to regroup after failing to break him. Grant wasn’t playing by the rules, dammit!

        • busker type

          Yeah… In other words: winning a war of attrition is better than losing it.

        • No Longer Middle Aged Man

          I seem to recall that Lincoln is supposed to have said, comparing Grant to some other Union generals who preferred strategerizing to Grant’s blunter use of force, “I like Grant. He fights.”

          Also, I believe Grant may have graduated at the bottom of his West Point class. He weren’t no Hannibal, but then again Hannibal lost the war and ended his days in exile.

          • Murc

            It was “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” This was during the post-Shiloh period where there was enormous pressure to remove Grant from his command.

            • No Longer Middle Aged Man

              Thanks. That sounds better.

          • wjts

            I think you might be thinking of Custer. Grant graduated 21st out of 39 according to the infallible Wikipedia.

            • No Longer Middle Aged Man

              Yeah maybe. My parents gave me [American Heritage ??] series of books (aka propaganda) about American “heroes.” They stayed politically liberal in keeping with their anti-Franco activism but they were super anxious to make certain that their kids would be identified as “American.” I read ones on both Custer and Grant (Hiram Ulysses iirc), among others. My favorite was about DeWitt Clinton and the Erie Canal.

          • The Lorax

            Grant was always competent, though not a star, from Westpoint until leaving the military.

            Lincoln spent nearly three years with generals who didn’t see the necessity of defeating ANV. They’d fight a battle and regroup for six months, letting Lee get away. I think for a while only Lincoln saw that the objective wasn’t taking Richmond, but rather was defeating Lee. Grant saw this too when he was put in charge of AoP, and would pursue Lee after a major battle.

            If McClellan had pursued Lee after the victory at Antietam, the war might have been over right then. But he let Lee retreat back south and regroup.

            • Murc

              I think for a while only Lincoln saw that the objective wasn’t taking Richmond, but rather was defeating Lee.

              Um. You have that backwards.

              The Army of Northern Virginia was actually completely irrelevant after awhile, because it had zero ability to project power into the north; indeed, NO Confederate army ever had that. (Gettysburg would have marked the limit of their penetration even if they’d won; a victory there would still have led to a retreat.)

              Furthermore, the Confederacy ceases to exist as a going concern if they lose their territory. And Lee knew that. So yes, the objective was to take Richmond, and the Army of Northern Virginia was only relevant inasmuch as it was an obstacle to that.

              Moreover, Grant did not really “pursue” Lee after major battles, except inasmuch as Lee would fall back towards Grants ultimate objective; Richmond. Indeed, a number of times Grand tried to edge around Lee and come at Richmond from another angle rather than bull through him.

              This happened in the west too. Sherman didn’t give a shit about defeating the Confederate armies; he cared about wrecking the Confederacy, and he didn’t much worry about his backfield because he knew the Confederacy had no real power to menace the north. This was proven conclusively at Nashville, when Hood decided “fuck it, I’m gonna just ignore Sherman and strike north” and still got his ass kicked because it turns out the North had sufficient armies to defend itself at the same time Sherman was wreacking havoc.

              There are times when your focus should be on the enemy army rather than their territory; the Revolutionary War was such a time, when the British were overly concerned with holding territory rather than squashing the Continental Army flat, which gave the Americans a lot of breathing room and time to make alliances and train and grow strong. But there are times when the enemy is army… not irrelevant, per se, but shouldn’t be your main focus.

              Hell, it can be argued that Grant’s entire eastern campaign was a sideshow, because it kept Lee pinned down in pointless battles that weren’t going to resolve anything while Sherman actually dismantled the Confederacy. Lee could have whipped Grant in every single fight, inflicted 50-1 casualties and driven him back on Washington… and he STILL wouldn’t have won the war, because while he was doing that Sherman would have been ripping his polity apart behind him.

              • The Lorax

                I don’t at all have that backwards. McClellan et al. thought the main objective was taking Richmond. Lincoln thought it was about defeating Lee. Grant agreed with Lincoln, and this is why you had the succession of terrible battles in late 64-65.

                Lincoln saw with Grant, that you could take Richmond and still have a war to fight, as the CSA would move its operations elsewhere and Lee would keep on fighting.

                There was a reason why most of the war was fought south of the Potomac. It wasn’t because Lee couldn’t project power north. It was because Lee had little incentive to do so. The war would continue so long as Lee and ANV survived. That meant he had to keep his army. Far better to fight on territory they knew with a sympathetic local population. Actually Lee thought he had the latter when they fought Antietam, but he was wrong. Not in that part of Maryland.

                • bender

                  The rest of you know more about this than I do, but this discounts the importance of popular and elite support for the war. AFAIK there was no point during the war when the North (shorthand for the states which did not secede) was united in agreement that the war aim should be total defeat of the Confederacy. Lincoln at one point thought he would lose his re-election to the Democrats, who were Southern sympathizers.

                  If Lee, early in the war, had taken Washington and laid waste to a couple of Northern cities, or just their ports, it might have hardened Northern public opinion against him. It might equally have strengthened support for a truce and a treaty that allowed the Confederacy to exist.

                  Someone speculated that Lee wasn’t aggressive outside Confederate territory because in his heart, he saw his task as defending his homeland, not defeating the United States.

              • The Lorax

                You’re right about Sherman, though. That entirely was about destroying the supplies to Lee. Same with the fighting in the Shenandoah with Sheridan.

              • The Lorax

                If only there were an historian around to adjudicate!

              • ddworak1

                No, Grant made it very clear to Meade (who still officially commanded the Army of the Potomac) that “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” Grant’s purpose was always to destroy Lee’s Army. It’s what Meade should have done after Gettysburg. Lee however, had to defend Richmond because that’s where the railroads bringing supplies were.

                From a diplomatic standpoint, the loss of Richmond would be disastrous, but as events quickly proved when the Army of Nothern Virginia laid down its weapons it meant the end of the war–not the capture of Richmond or of Jefferson Davis. In the end the AVN was the Confederacy.

                Every Union General typically had the same advantages as Grant and all came up short–only Grant knew how to use them or was willing to do so.

            • liberalrob

              If McClellan had pursued Lee after the victory at Antietam, the war might have been over right then. But he let Lee retreat back south and regroup.

              Both armies were pretty beat up at that point. Also, McClellan consistently felt himself outnumbered by Lee for some bizarre reason; he was happy to let Lee depart and leave him in possession of the battlefield, nominally the winner, and make preparations for the next campaign. Which for him turned out to be for President.

              • The Lorax

                The joke about Little Mac (supposedly from a low-ranking soldier) was that if McClellan had a million men he’d claim Lee had two million and ask for three.

              • (((Hogan)))

                The bizarre reason is that he was paying Allan Pinkerton to tell him he was outnumbered.

          • fledermaus

            I was also about to make a Hannibal reference, having just finished Hannibal: The Military Biography of Rome’s Greatest Enemy

        • Colin Day

          Grant once told his people that he was sick about hearing what Lee was going to do and told them to think about what they were going to do to him.

        • TopsyJane

          We’ll advance again towards Richmond, which is of course my primary goal, not making myself look good against Bobby Lee.

          And that was just as well, because he didn’t.

          • Warren Terra

            150 years of “lost cause” propaganda can’t have helped.

          • Murc

            Well, it depends on how you define “looking good.” Grant achieved his campaign objectives and prevented Lee from achieving his. That usually makes one general look good against the other.

            • busker type

              Yeah, but who even remembers the name of Grant’s horse?

              • ddworak1

                Cinicnatus or Cincinatti

                • Yeah. I always hoped that the answer was: They buried Grant with his horse.

                  Nothing against dear Mrs. Grant either, all three of them.

          • ddworak1

            Depends upon what you mean by “looking good.” I think accepting the surrender of General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia looks damn good. Not sure if my Great-great uncle was there to see it but I know he helped repel the attacks at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.

      • Bill Murray

        or the taking of Forts Henry and Donelson. Sure Gideon Pillow was one of the traitor commanders but the battle was still pretty well done by Grant

    • ZaftigAmazon

      As a neophyte Civil War buff, my take is that Grant would seize on opportunities that presented themselves. My impression is that (aside from Winfield Scott), many of the North’s early generals were too preoccupied with how things would play in the newspapers, or further their political careers. Good battlefield generals like taking risks (thinking outside the box), and Grant displayed this tendency during the Mexican war.

      • Murc

        Good battlefield generals like taking risks (thinking outside the box)

        … no. No, they don’t.

        Taking risks is something you do in the last extremity. Good battlefield generals do not generally do so. Grant was a good general because of other reasons, not his love of risk-taking. Indeed, he eschewed risk at all times.

        • CD

          Exactly.

          Much of Grant’s popularity with his troops was due to his reputation for caution.

          • The Lorax

            And his reputation for fighting and winning. Really it was that he’d pursue Lee and win or fight to a draw (which over the long run would mean a Union war victory).

        • Scott P.

          Taking risks is something you do in the last extremity. Good battlefield generals do not generally do so. Grant was a good general because of other reasons, not his love of risk-taking. Indeed, he eschewed risk at all times.

          I think we’ve discovered who Bernard Law Montgomery was reincarnated as!

        • ddworak1

          Except when he left Fort Henry and attacked Fort Donelson.

          Or when he cut loose from his supply lines, fought five battles, and enveloped Vicksburg.

          • liberalrob

            I think Grant’s main strengths were not panicking when things weren’t going well, not persisting in an obviously unsuccessful strategy, and not giving up after reverses. He wasn’t a brilliant tactician, but he didn’t need to be. He just needed to avoid any major disasters, and he did.

      • guthrie

        Thinking outside the box is not the same as taking a risk. E.g. Normandy in 1944, outside the box included everything from pluto to the floating harbours to the improvised bulldozer hedge cutter thingies attached to Sherman tanks. The aim of all of them was to reduce risk and make the battle more in the allies favour.

        • The Lorax

          Hobart’s funnies!

      • dmsilev

        Grant and Scott were the two best strategic thinkers of the Civil War. Scott’s conception of the Anaconda Plan pretty much described the overall structure of the war and Grant was the guy who turned it from a general plan into an actuality.

        Lee, for all of his battlefield skills, was never in that league for overall planning. Arguably the structure of the Confederacy meant that nobody possibly could be in a position to do grand strategy right, but, well, maybe they should have thought of that before shooting up Fort Sumpter.

        • liberalrob

          Lee’s battlefield skills were to a large extent a function of his subordinates (and the ineptitude of his opponents). Jackson was the superior tactician of the group. After his death Lee’s army never showed the same ability to overcome the superior numbers of the Union army through brilliant tactical maneuvers. Lee’s biggest asset was serving as a symbol.

          • drkrick

            I’ve seen it argued that Jackson’s greatest value to the ANV was that he could devise an executable plan from Lee’s orders, which were nowhere near as clear as Grant’s. None of Jackson’s successors could do nearly as well with them. Thank God.

    • Colin Day

      Grant’s 1864 campaighn against Lee in Virginia was not a thing of beauty, But Grant wasn’t playing for style points. Also

      Grant

      • guthrie

        Oooh, another FUller book to get. I have several already.

        • Colin Day

          Oops, sorry.

          • guthrie

            Not a problem. I don’t watch films, I read books. Fuller has an entertaining prose style.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      So growing up I was told that Grant was a mediocre general who won only because he had far more troops and didn’t mind winning a war of attrition.

      In the future (assuming your stepfather is dead by now), ask what kind of dipshits start a war with a side that can swamp them in a war of attrition and superior industrial output? I believe we won an even bigger war a century later this way, too, and few in these United States moan about that victory.

      • wjts

        I remember seeing a clip of some (Southern) NRA official talking about the history of the organization. He said something like, “Well, the NRA was started by a couple of Union generals after the War on account of how they noticed that their boys didn’t shoot as well as us Southern boys.” My thought was, “They shot well enough to whip your sorry asses.”

      • Keaaukane

        Japan?

      • bender

        “ask what kind of dipshits start a war with a side that can swamp them in a war of attrition and superior industrial output?”

        Let us hope the US government is asking that question of itself. In this century we are not going to win any major wars by superior industrial output.

        • Murc

          In this century we are not going to win any major wars by superior industrial output.

          … why not?

          The only country that can currently beat us on industrial output is China. Nobody else even comes close, and China only beats us in absolute terms; we’re dramatically more efficient than they are and have a much, MUCH bigger economy.

          Nobody else is even in the same league.

          So please, tell me why couldn’t win any hypothetical 21st century war on industrial output. I mean, hell, we even beat all of Europe combined, I think.

          • (((Hogan)))

            Assume asymmetry.

            • Murc

              How would you go about fighting a “major” war, as posited by Bender, asymmetrically?

              I mean. I suppose you have the example of Vietnam. But that was a weird-ass war in a lot of ways, not least of which were our political and operational constraints. None of those are likely to exist in any potential future conflict.

          • bender

            ” I mean, hell, we even beat all of Europe combined, I think.”

            With a minor assist from Stalin.

            That was a long time ago and the weapons were different. Also, we had a lot of domestic petroleum production and the Axis had none closer than North Africa.

            I am not talking just about asymmetric warfare. I am assuming neither side resorts to nukes.

            How many steel mills does the United States have? How many does China have?
            How fast can we get our decommissioned steel mills up and running or build new ones? How quickly can we mine the ore and do we have access to enough
            ore of high enough quality in this hemisphere? Do we have stockpiles of the other elements that go into manufacturing steel? Are we going to depend on shipping steel all the way from India?

            Our weaponry and command and control depend heavily on electronics and computers, and every new weapon system is more dependent than the last. Are the CPUs for those computers manufactured in the United States?

            How hard would it be for a nation that has satellite launching capacity but doesn’t depend heavily on satellites to launch a bunch of orbital shrapnel and take out everybody’s satellites? How many of our weapons systems, infantry tactics, navigation systems would be useless without GPS data?

            How well are our utility grids protected from sabotage and hacking? How well defended are our oil and natural gas pipelines? How about the railroad tracks that the oil and coal trains run on?

            How many cruise missiles does it take to sink an aircraft carrier? How long does it take to build a new one and all the airplanes on the deck?

            One manufacturing capacity the USA still has is small arms. So does every other nation state and non-state actor on the planet.

            This isn’t my area of expertise. Maybe the answers to some of these questions is Not A Problem. All of them?

            Moreover, from the Revolutionary War onward, the USA when faced with an enemy anywhere near its own size has a consistent record of losing for a couple of years until it gets its act together. One exception is the Great War, but in that instance both sides had fought nearly to the point of exhaustion before we got in. In the Pacific theater in WWII, it took a while to recover from Pearl Harbor.

            • Murc

              With a minor assist from Stalin.

              What the hell does Stalin have to do with current industrial capacity? I was speaking of the present day.

              Also, we had a lot of domestic petroleum production and the Axis had none closer than North Africa.

              We still have a lot of domestic petroleum production. We export oil, dude.

              Without going point by point… first of all, none of your points have anything at all to do with your OP, which is that we shouldn’t count on winning any wars due to our industrial production. Our industrial production is massive. Truly massive. “There are entire continents that don’t equal it” massive.

              Our weaponry and command and control depend heavily on electronics and computers, and every new weapon system is more dependent than the last. Are the CPUs for those computers manufactured in the United States?

              They either are or can be.

              Almost all of our important weapons systems are produced domestically, for obvious reasons.

              Your repeated questions about sabotage are baffling. We’ve never been in a serious conflict where sabotage was a huge concern and it is unlikely we ever will. And what that has to do with industrial production I don’t know.

              Similarly, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone with equivalent missile technology to ours (which is currently nobody) to sink our aircraft carriers, but what that has to do with industrial production, again, I don’t know.

              You seem to be under the impression we are hideously vulnerable. We are not. We’re an enormously powerful economic juggernaut and the greatest military power the world has ever seen. We’re not some sort of paper tiger. We’re a dysfunctional nation in many ways but when it comes to making shit and also destroying shit we have no peer.

              • bender

                Murc, I usually agree with your comments. Not this time.

                I think all the major powers have vulnerabilities. I think the greatest vulnerability of the United States is hubris.

                It’s been two entire generations since WWII, which was the war cited in the comment I was responding directly to. I think it’s fair to say we won the war against Japan, and helped win the war in Europe, but the Soviet Union took most of the casualties and put the Third Reich away. We didn’t take on all of Europe and win, we took on some of Europe with a lot of allies.

                The Korean War was a draw. Because of the geopolitical situation, I think we can set Vietnam aside. None of the wars we have fought since then involved an opponent anywhere near our size. Since the 1970s, globalization has resulted in the outsourcing of a great deal of our manufacturing capacity to Asia which is a very long supply line even if the countries are willing to sell to us. As our manufacturing has hollowed out, China’s has increased and China’s on the verge of becoming a larger economy. We don’t manufacture any number of things we take for granted until we can’t resupply them.

                We need to be realistic and not assume that we are the big gorilla who is always going to going to win if the war is symmetrical. 1989 was almost a generation ago. It’s not getting into the war that’s the danger, it’s the assumption that we can’t lose it.

              • JohnT

                US industrial production is extremely large at EUR1.6 trn p.a. gross value added, but according to Eurostat numbers it is in fact less than that of China (about EUR2.2trn) and the current EU (just under EUR2trn)

                Obviously it is true that the current US defense industry is more capable than anyone else’s, but that is not a given for ever. If, say, the US was taken over by an orange maniac, then powers like China or perhaps a European alliance could probably ramp up defense spending to match the US in many areas, especially on land. To get a sense of the latent military capabilities of advanced countries it’s worth looking at Israel. A quasi-European country of 6 million with ‘appropriate incentives’ has supported a fully functioning broad-spectrum defense industry and dangerous armed forces.

          • Colin Day

            China only beats us in absolute terms; we’re dramatically more efficient than they are and have a much, MUCH bigger economy.

            Not if one goes by purchasing power parity,

            GDP by PPP

    • The Lorax

      This is Lost Cause propaganda. Grant was as good a general as either side had in the war. Which is to say really good. Once the Confederates dug in in 65, it was going to be terribly bloody. It would have been even if Jackson or Lee were leading the Union troops.

      Things also were bloody under Grant because he saw the necessity of destroying ANV and wouldn’t retreat for months to regroup after a terrible battle. He kept coming at them.

    • btfjd

      Grant was actually an excellent general, and one who learned and profited from his experiences, good and bad. Early in the war he clearly saw the strategic importance of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and designed and carried out the campaign which resulted in taking Forts Henry and Donelson, thereby opening the water routes into the heart of the western theater of operations.

      His conduct of the Battle of Shiloh on the first day was questionable, in that he had assumed the rebels were not nearby and did not tell his men to entrench. The rebels, who were in fact very near, attacked and nearly overran Grant’s forces. But Grant’s will and spirit did not break. Sherman found him that night, and said “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day.” Grant replied, “Lick ’em tomorrow, though.” And, reinforced and reorganized, his army did in fact rout the rebels the next day.

      The Vicksburg campaign was a masterpiece, and is still taught in Army Staff colleges. Grant’s relief of Chattanooga, and consequent victory there, was classic. In short, by the time he was named General in Chief of the Union armies, Grant had shown himself to be a first-rate commander.

  • ZaftigAmazon

    Grant may have liked whiskey, but his alleged excessive drinking was likely overblown by the tabloid press of the day. He drank heavily when stationed at Ft. Humboldt, while away from his family, in a godforsaken outpost in the middle of nowhere, and having a personality conflict with his superior officer. Even then, contemporaries wrote that Grant did not allow his drinking to interfere with his duties.

    Many of Grant’s shortcomings may have been due to a belief that other people were as direct and guileless as he was.

  • AMK

    I recall reading that he sent federal troops into south carolina to shoot up the klan when the locals proved totally unwilling to even momentarily pretend to abide by the reconstruction amendments. Nobody else did that until…Eisenhower?

    • postmodulator

      And then libertarians wonder why they can’t attract African-Americans and other minorities to a platform of weak federal government. Uh, it tends to get them killed.

      • Colin Day

        Libertarians might not realize that a race neutral political ideology doesn’t help in a racist society.

        • Bill Murray

          to make a full accounting of what libertarians don’t realize, using one post per point would lead to this post having more comments than the Greenwald one

    • DocAmazing

      There are actually many points of comparison to Eisenhower. Ex-supreme commander, generally popular, overawed by the rich, place in history undergoing flux.

      • Both the subjects of tongue-bath bios by Jean Edward Smith.

        • LFC

          This little sub-theme leads me to recall that in junior high school (yes, there were junior high schools back then, not today’s middle schools) I wrote a paper comparing Grant and Eisenhower. It was not a great work of original scholarship, but junior high school papers usually aren’t. This factoid is of course of no interest to anyone, but it’s an LGM thread, which means one can write pretty much any trivial thing one wants.

          p.s. I wd be interested in thoughts on the willingness of generals to lose large numbers of their own men. Napoleon, to cite the most famous early 19th cent example, was willing to so when he thought it nec., which he often did. Civil War generals, Grant very much included, were also willing to engage in maneuvers they knew wd result in high casualties (on their own side, I mean, as well as the other), but by the time of the CW advances in technology — e.g. better rifles — meant that Napoleonic tactics had become outmoded. But it took a while, I think, for CW armies to adapt to the new technology, and I’m not sure they ever did so completely. Definitely not a mil historian, so I’m open to comment/correction/etc.

          • Ithaqua

            Actually, Grant was one of the best Civil War generals at not losing men. Grant averaged about 10.2% casualty rate, the Union overall (including Grant’s battles) was about 11.1%, Confederacy 12.2%, Lee 16.2%. (See Fuller’s book, mentioned above, for the statistics.) You have to remember, at that time and place the ability of soldiers to injure each other was at an all-time high but medical technology was still really poor. Get hit in the arm by a bullet, you stood a good chance of dying. Not much a general could do about that, except not fight at all.

          • Ithaqua

            Just looking through Fuller + Wikipedia, even Cold Harbor wasn’t as big a deal as it was later made out to be. The Union lost 1,100 men killed; Pickett’s charge alone lost the South 500 men killed and 1,500 captured.

            • The Lorax

              Grant himself really regretted Cold Harbor, as he lost a not trivial amount of men who were thrown up against dug in lines and gained very little. I suspect Grant’s own view led do the reputation Cold Harbor had.

              • LFC

                Thanks for the replies.

            • Scott P.

              Union lost around 1800 killed and 1800 captured/missing at Cold Harbor, in addition to around 9000 wounded.

        • vic rattlehead

          Any thoughts on the HW Brands bio? I have my dads old copy that I never got around to reading

      • (((Hogan)))

        Both high examples of generalship designed for a democracy. No rodomontade, no self-aggrandizement, no “warrior code” bullshit, no gold braid and fancy hat, just doing a job that needs to be done.

        • DocAmazing

          Both spent a good bit of their presidencies taking the advice of the worst possible people: Abel Corbin, Allen Dulles.

  • LeeEsq

    Hollywood should make a buddy action military movie about Grant and Sherman giving Confederates hell.

    • guthrie

      That makes me wonder, has there been a big film about/ set and involving the civil war, in the last 30 or 40 years?

      • Denverite

        I can’t tell if this is serious or not.

        If so, Glory, Cold Mountain, Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, etc.

        • Just a Rube

          Free State of Jones came out this year.

        • N__B

          Lincoln, for all its flaws.

        • guthrie

          I’m British and don’t watch films. Obviously I am well out of touch.

      • Colin Day

        Gods and Generals? (Battle of Gettysburg)

        • liberalrob

          G&G was the prequel for Gettysburg. Gettysburg was a separate film that came out first.

          You also have Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary series. Well worth marathoning through.

    • Joe_JP

      A Grant biopic would be interesting.

      • Denverite

        Agreed.

        • Joe_JP

          For now, I guess we have Grant in The Wild Wild West. [Kevin Kline in the movie … yes, I admit watching that.]

          • Denverite

            Perhaps Branaugh’s finest work.

            • N__B

              Certainly it was the giant steam-powered spider’s finest work.

            • vic rattlehead

              Branagh, and yeah, that movie really didn’t deserve him or Kline. Even still it’s one of my guilty pleasures. Loveless was a great character. With better direction, Branagh’s scenery chewing wouldn’t have felt so out of place. I think Branagh was the only actor to really “get” the movie, at least in terms of what tone to go for.

          • Colin Day

            Aside from the tension between West and Gordon, it was inferior to the TV series. At least a little too steampunk for my taste.

            • weirdnoise

              IIRC, the series itself was getting a little too steampunk right around the time I stopped watching it.

              • Colin Day

                True, but it didn’t have the spider. And how far could a coal-powered spider go?

            • liberalrob

              Steampunk has its fandom too, you know.

              • Colin Day

                Yes, but I’m not in it.

      • One that followed him through his years of failure & then gave you the sense that it was the same guy winning the Civil War would be fascinating.

      • vic rattlehead

        Jared Harris was a great Grant.

  • smott999

    I guess Shake’s the only one noticing the campaign this weekend.
    Not much going on there anyway.

  • Cheerful

    Was Grant a failure during the Mexican War? I had thought I heard that he’d done reasonably well there too. (reacting to the question of whether he was a failure at all points before the Civil War)

    • Just a Rube

      He was a fairly low-level officer. He did fine as a low level officer, and marginally distinguished himself, but no more than a bunch of other officers. Certainly, he wasn’t on the list of “officers to watch” by the end of it.

      His post-war military career ended in mild disgrace over alcoholism, and his business dealings were invariably disastrous.

      • The Lorax

        Though it’s not clear his alcohol use was any worse than anyone else’s who was stuck in winter on the Pacific coast with nothing to do. Also he was far from his family. Tough times for him then.

    • StellaB

      He was a quartermaster, but such an efficient one that the Army wanted to keep him managing supplies, troop pay, and accounting, while he wanted a combat role. That was one of his reasons for leaving the Army. Paying attention to supply lines and communicating clearly with his officers was one of his gifts as a general. He was also an early adopter of technology with an active interest in using the telegraph and the railroad in battle.

      He had only a bit more combat experience than Eisenhower (who spent zero days in combat) and that was only one day of combat before he resigned and then leading troops as a major after the Civil War started.

      • (((Hogan)))

        Eisenhower (who spent zero days in combat)

        Unless you count the Bonus Army.

    • Joe_JP

      Yeah. The “failure” part was basically after the Mexican War until he re-joined the service for the Civil War.

      • vic rattlehead

        Well, it wasn’t so much that his early military career was a “failure” so much as undistinguished. It was his interim civilian years that were extremely unsuccessful. But really I think they just suffer in comparison to his later glory. I doubt he was that much worse off than your average person at the time.

        • ddworak1

          Grant made Captain when many did not. He was considered the best horseman ever at West Point and was recognized for bravery in the Mexican War.

        • Joe_JP

          From my understanding, he struggled in the military after the Mexican War (his war service was fine — low level, but not a “failure” from what I can remember) and then didn’t do well in civilian life after he left it. His middling efforts there very well might be average as far as people of the era went. But, they weren’t much still.

  • Brett

    I can’t help but like Grant. Yeah, he got in crooked company with Post-Civil-War financial shenanigans, but so did most of the Presidents of the late 19th century. Unlike them, he actually pushed the policies that suppressed the Klan, and generally tried to undo the damage Johnson did in terms of helping the Freedmen.

    And of course he was a great general. The North had a lot of good generals, contrary to common wisdom – Grant, Sherman, Thomas, and others who were good once placed at the proper level of command. Hell, Hooker was a pretty competent general in the west once he was placed under the control of Grant.

    One of the things that fascinates me about the American Civil War was the way that it was a major “trial by fire” moment for military organization and planning. The US military was, what, 16,000 strong at the start of the war? True, it had expanded heavily during the Mexican-American War only to shrink down, but that was more than a decade prior. They turned that into an effective fighting force in the hundreds of thousands in less than five years.

    • wjts

      The North had a lot of good generals, contrary to common wisdom…

      And the South had their share of blunderers and incompetents. Bragg, Johnston (J.E.), Price, Hood, etc.

      • The Lorax

        Yeah, the view that the South had better soldiers from generals to privates is Lost Cause bullshit. Sherman, Sheridan, and Grant were as good as any three generals in the CSA army.

        • btfjd

          Both sides had their good and bad generals, but they were not evenly distributed. In the West, it was the Union “A” team–Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan–against the Confederate “B” team–Bragg, Polk, Price, Hood. Just the opposite in the East, where Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Stuart, et al. were up against McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, Butler, and their ilk.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        Joe Johnston? he seemed to be respected by both Grant and Sherman in their memoirs. He was also, if I remember correctly, the one who as an old man came to Sherman’s funeral and stood hatless in the rain because that was the way people rolled, getting sick himself and dying not long after

        … which maybe means that respect *was* misplaced…

        • wjts

          Perhaps I’m being unfair to him, but he did lose Vicksburg and didn’t do well in the run up to Atlanta.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            eh, what I think I know about Johnston was learned thirty or forty years ago and of course his ratings with historians are subject to change

          • EliHawk

            Johnston was competent, but considdered insufficiently aggressive. He lost Vicksburg insofar as he didn’t relieve Grant’s siege after he’d already gotten to the city, had 75,000+ men, and was dug in. I think Johnston had about 30,000–combined with Pembertons, that was almost parity, but it’s not easy to coordinate an action against an entrenched opponent from two sides.

            As to the Atlanta campaign, he handled it pretty skillfilly: Sherman kept trying to use his superior numbers to flank him through the North Georgia mountains. (Like Grant, he hoped to get his army between his opponent and the city he was defending, thus forcing him to offer battle). Instead, Johnston withdrew from the traps each time before he could be caught. And unlike Grant, Sherman didn’t offer battle each time he caught up with Johnston (except when he assaulted Johnston’s entrenched forces at Kennesaw Mountain, a mistake that cost Sherman 3 men for every 1 Johnston lost. Johnston ended up retiring in good order to Atlanta’s substantial entrenchments, and could possibly have held out until November, potentially denying a victory enough that Lincoln would lose the election. Instead, because he hadn’t done some fightin’, Davis replaced him with Hood, who came out of his entrenchments 3 times to attack Sherman, lost three times, lost thousands more of his men each time, and bloodied his army right good. Now, could Sherman have still captured Atlanta and forced Johnston to retreat by cutting off his railroads (like he did at Jonesboro)? Sure, but Johnston wouldn’t have made it so darn easy for him, and certainly wouldn’t have taken the last decent Confederate Army in the West on an idiotic invasion of Tennessee, getting it destroyed and letting Sherman tear up Georgia.

          • liberalrob

            He didn’t lose Vicksburg, Pemberton did by allowing himself to get trapped there. Johnston’s delaying action in the campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta was a brilliant example of maximizing one’s inferior resources to stymie the advance of an overwhelmingly superior foe. Johnston was easily one of the better generals the Confederacy had. He did the best he could with what he had.

    • The Lorax

      And Sheridan, of course.

      I think Grant mostly was guilty of not firmly telling the crooks to pound sand. As you say, there was a ton of financial malfeasance all over during that time. Some of it close to Grant happened to come to light and stick.

  • Matt McKeon

    Grant’s in laws were slave owners and Grant acquired a slave in 1858, probably a gift. There were several ways Grant could have profited from his possession of a human being. He could have used William Jones’s(the enslaved man’s name)labor, like Jefferson Davis did, or, leased him to another man and collected his pay, like Robert E. Lee did, or just sold him, and pocketed the cash, like Nathan Bedford Forrest did, male slaves fetching upward of $700, good money at the time.

    Instead Grant freed Jones. Guess he wasn’t much of a businessman, although the other three gentlemen mentioned had to acknowledge his superiority in another field of endeavor.

    • postmodulator

      Oh, nicely done. All three of them are roasting in Hell, and yet they still probably felt that sick burn.

  • Colin Day

    Instead Grant freed Jones.

    Grant freed millions of slaves.

  • Bruce Vail

    I read somewhere that Grant was forced to resign from the pre-Civil War army because of his drinking habits.

    I also read that his preferred brand was Old Crow, which is still produced today and available at a lot of liquor stores. I tried it recently. Terrible.

  • Bruce Vail

    The mystery of Grant’s autobiography has actually been settled for a long time.

    His ghostwriter was a man named Adam Badeau:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Badeau

    • Warren Terra

      I’m not going to say you’re wrong – I’m not well informed on this question, at all – but the Wikipedia article you link doesn’t really support your assertion. It says Badeau assisted with editing and fact-checking, and left before the book was complete.

      • Bruce Vail

        Yes, it appears there were other un-named editors involved as well. Not much doubt that Badeau was the chief ghostwriter.

        • ddworak1

          It appears? Where does this appear? Where are your sources? This must be a secret since every reputable biography I’ve read says Grant wrote and edited the manuscript using Badeau and others to look up information and find important dispatches.

          • Bruce Vail

            Well, Fred Grant said that he helped his father with the book in the final stages (when the old man was too ill to actually do any of the writing and editing). I’m presuming that the publisher had an editing staff as well.

            That the publisher would deny the use of a ghostwriter or give any credit to an editing staff is no big surprise.

            I’ll go on-line later and see if I can find the transcript of the legal proceedings where Badeau sued Julia Grant for his share of the book income. You may recall that Mrs. Grant paid Badeau a significant sum to settle the suit.

  • Richard Gadsden

    Reminds me a lot of Napoleon in Les Invalides.

  • jpgray

    Glad to see the love for his Memoirs in the comments here. One thing that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the classic, down-home, Midwestern self-deprecation. These are some of the most unpompous, ego-puncturing memoirs in military history. Maybe it’s the MT/MN in me, but I’m a sucker for stuff like this (the horse trade mentioned is another hilarious tale):

    Soon after the arrival of the suit I donned it, and put off for Cincinnati on horseback. While I was riding along a street of that city, imagining that every one was looking at me, with a feeling akin to mine when I first saw General Scott, a little urchin, bareheaded, footed, with dirty and ragged pants held up by bare a single gallows—that’s what suspenders were called then—and a shirt that had not seen a wash-tub for weeks, turned to me and cried: “Soldier! will you work? No, sir—ee; I’ll sell my shirt first!!” The horse trade and its dire consequences were recalled to mind.

    The other circumstance occurred at home. Opposite our house in Bethel stood the old stage tavern where “man and beast” found accommodation, The stable-man was rather dissipated, but possessed of some humor. On my return I found him parading the streets, and attending in the stable, barefooted, but in a pair of sky-blue nankeen pantaloons—just the color of my uniform trousers—with a strip of white cotton sheeting sewed down the outside seams in imitation of mine. The joke was a huge one in the mind of many of the people, and was much enjoyed by them; but I did not appreciate it so highly.

    • btfjd

      The story of Grant’s Memoirs is pretty well known, but still inspiring. Grant’s son went into business with Jay Ward, a noted Wall Street crook, and Grant give him all his money to invest. He lost everything. He even wound up having to sell some uniforms, swords, etc.

      So he had no money to leave his wife and family, and then got diagnosed with throat cancer. He made a deal with Mark Twain to publish his memoirs. Twain greatly admired Grant, and gave him a real sweetheart deal, allowing him to retain something like 60% of the sales. Grant approached writing the memoirs like a military campaign. He was brave, persistent, and let no obstacles stop him. He finished only days before he died. The book sold like hotcakes, and Grant’s wife made about $300,000.

      Grant was not a great President, but he was a great soldier and a great man.

  • agentX

    I remember reading in a book some time ago that while on a cruise, President Grant looked over the edge of the stern and his false teeth fell into the water. That’s my fun Grant fact for the day.

  • drkrick

    Grant was probably the last President to give a damn about Civil Rights until LBJ – Eisenhower acted in support of the authority of the Federal Courts. That alone should earn him a better rating than mediocre.

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