WILLIAM A. BLAIR
The Battle for Historical Memory
Ulysses S. Grant fought Confederates twice in his life: once to save the Union and a second time to salvage his military reputation. In the former battle, Grant directed the Federal armies; in the latter, he commanded pencil and paper to compose his Personal Memoirs. He left behind a document richly praised over the past century for its fairness and style. Mark Twain exalted it as the best military memoir since Caesar Commentaries. Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, and critic Edmund Wilson also extolled the prose and its creator. More recently, scholars John Keegan and James M. McPherson have reminded us about the historical treasures that the volumes contain. Although Grant's prose deserves credit for its understatement and military commentary, the tragic circumstances surrounding the composition of the memoirs and the spare style have masked the author's biases, which were similar to those of his opponents in the battle of memoirs. 1
The campaign by architects of the Lost Cause to write the southern version of the war shaped the Union leader's reminiscences in noticeable ways. When Grant wrote in 1885, former Confederates had spent the better part of fifteen years portraying him as a man of limited intelligence and as a general inferior to Robert E. Lee. Although using restraint, Grant engaged in a literary contest with these critics, attempting to show why he deserved to be remembered as more than a hammerer who had bludgeoned his foe into submission. In doing
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Publication information: Book title: The Spotsylvania Campaign:Military Campaigns of the Civil War. Contributors: Gary W. Gallagher - Editor. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 223.