“If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox”

Grant-Lee

I recently reread humorist James Thurber’s classic piece, “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox.”  The blog of the Library of America (LOA) has posted it here.  It was originally published in the New Yorker in 1930 and got a second life thirty years later in A Thurber Carnival.

Here is some context from the LOA blog:

At the end of 1930 Scribner’s Magazine began publishing what would prove to be a short-lived series of “alternative history” pieces. The first installment, in the November issue, was “If Booth Had Missed Lincoln.” This was followed by a contribution from none other than Winston Churchill, who turned the concept on its head. It was bafflingly titled “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg”—but, as we all know, Lee didn’t win the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead, Churchill’s essay purported to be written by a historian in a world in which Lee had won not only the battle but also the entire war. This fictional historian, in turn, speculates what might have happened if Lee had not won the battle. This type of dizzying zaniness brought out the parodist in Thurber, who published “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” in The New Yorker in December. The next month Scribner’s published a third essay (“If Napoleon Had Escaped to America”) before bring the series to an end. All three pieces were soon forgotten, but Thurber’s parody became one of his most famous and beloved works. 

Three decades later “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” enjoyed a second life when it was included in the hit revue A Thurber Carnival. Virtually every review proclaimed it as one of the show’s highlights. During an interview, a reporter admitted to Thurber that “the Grant skit” was one of her favorite parts of the show. Thurber responded, “A woman said to me, ‘I don’t like the bastardization of history,’ That woman didn’t know the point of the thing and she didn’t know history. And I don’t like my humor to be called mild and gentle.” 

Read the 4-page piece here.  It is worth your time.

Ron Chernow’s Latest Biography

GrantHe became famous by writing the book on which the smash-hit musical “Hamilton” was based.  Now Ron Chernow‘s latest book is a biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  The Washington Post has the story covered.  Here is a taste of Karen Heller’s piece:

Ron Chernow’s timing is exquisite, even if it took six years and 25,000 index cards to get to this moment.

As Americans debate the continued reverence for Confederate general Robert E. Lee in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, the biographer of Hamilton — the “Hamilton” who inspired the theatrical juggernaut — delivers his latest brick of a book, “Grant” (publishing Oct. 10), to help rescue the Union commander and 18th president from the ash heap of history.

Ulysses S. Grant, you may recall, won the Civil War. He was the military architect who triumphed on multiple battlefields and vanquished Lee in Virginia after six other Union generals failed.

Yet after the South’s defeat, “Lee was puffed up to almost godlike proportions, not only as a great general, but as a perfect Christian gentleman, this noble and exemplary figure and an aristocratic example,” says Chernow, 68, sitting in his sun-splashed kitchen on the top floor of the 19th-century Brooklyn Heights brownstone where he rents two stories. “The glorification of Lee and the denigration of Grant are two sides of the same coin. We’ve created our own mythology of what happened.”

Read the entire piece here.

How Did U.S. Grant Deal With Violent White Supremacists?

Grant

In the wake of the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan emerged as a secretive society committed to the overthrow of the racial integration policies of Radical Reconstruction.  They burned African-American homes, lynched some blacks and murdered others in their attempt to restore power to the white supremacist Democratic Party in the South.

In response to the rise of the Klan, Congress passed a series of Enforcement Acts designed to “enforce” the 15th Amendment.  One of these acts was known as the Ku Klux Klan Act (1871).  It gave the President power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to arrest members of the Klan.  Grant eventually used this law to prosecute the Klan and strengthen the Republican Party’s presence in the post-Civil War South.

Here is a part of U.S. Grant’s December 4, 1871 message to Congress:

There has been imposed upon the executive branch of the Government the execution of the act of Congress approved April 20, 1871, and commonly known as the Kuklux law, in a portion of the State of South Carolina. The necessity of the course pursued will be demonstrated by the report of the Committee to Investigate Southern Outrages. Under the provisions of the above act I issued a proclamation calling the attention of the people of the United States to the same, and declaring my reluctance to exercise any of the extraordinary powers thereby conferred upon me, except in case of imperative necessity, but making known my purpose to exercise such powers whenever it should become necessary to do so for the purpose of securing to all citizens of the United States the peaceful enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution and the laws.

After the passage of this law information was received from time to time that combinations of the character referred to in this law existed and were powerful in many parts of the Southern States, particularly in certain counties in the State of South Carolina.

Careful investigation was made, and it was ascertained that in nine counties of that State such combinations were active and powerful, embracing a sufficient portion of the citizens to control the local authority, and having, among other things, the object of depriving the emancipated class of the substantial benefits of freedom and of preventing the free political action of those citizens who did not sympathize with their own views. Among their operations were frequent scourgings and occasional assassinations, generally perpetrated at night by disguised persons, the victims in almost all cases being citizens of different political sentiments from their own or freed persons who had shown a disposition to claim equal rights with other citizens. Thousands of inoffensive and well disposed citizens were the sufferers by this lawless violence,

Thereupon, on the 12th of October, 1871, a proclamation was issued, in terms of the law, calling upon the members of those combinations to disperse within five days and to deliver to the marshal or military officers of the United States all arms, ammunition, uniforms, disguises, and other means and implements used by them for carrying out their unlawful purposes.

This warning not having been heeded, on the 17th of October another proclamation was issued, suspending the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus in nine counties in that State.

Direction was given that within the counties so designated persons supposed, upon creditable information, to be members of such unlawful combinations should be arrested by the military forces of the United States and delivered to the marshal, to be dealt with according to law. In two of said counties, York and Spartanburg, many arrests have been made. At the last account the number of persons thus arrested was 168. Several hundred, whose criminality was ascertained to be of an inferior degree, were released for the present. These have generally made confessions of their guilt.

Great caution has been exercised in making these arrests, and, notwithstanding the large number, it is believed that no innocent person is now in custody. The prisoners will be held for regular trial in the judicial tribunals of the United States.

As soon as it appeared that the authorities of the United States were about to take vigorous measures to enforce the law, many persons absconded, and there is good ground for supposing that all of such persons have violated the law. A full report of what has been done under this law will be submitted to Congress by the Attorney-General.

Thanks to Rich Kidd for reminding me of this important source.

Mini-Review of Jonathan Sarna, "When General Grant Expelled the Jews"

Today Books & Culture is running my mini-review of an excellent book: Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews.  Here is a taste:

On December 17, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War and only weeks before Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Orders No. 11. The order expelled Jews “as a class” from the territory of the Department of Tennessee, a region under Grant’s command that included Mississippi, western Tennessee, and parts of Kentucky and Illinois. Grant had been informed that some Jews were running a black market in Southern cotton and he wanted to put a stop to this violation of wartime trade regulations. (Both Jews and non-Jews were involved in this illegal trade. Rather than targeting the individual Jews and non-Jews who were leading the ring, Grant went after Jews “as a class”).

Read the rest here.