Thursday, June 29, 2017

Not Likely to Find the Likes of These Folks Down South

They say "history is written by the victors", but that doesn't seem to apply to the American Civil War. If you go down south, in practically every city, town, hamlet, you name it, in any municipality that can claim 100 souls or more it seems, you will find monuments to the leaders of a lost cause. Good luck on the other hand, finding tributes to the sixteenth and eighteenth presidents of the United States. Of course the reverse is true north of the Mason Dixon Line.

The issue of Confederate monuments has gotten a lot of press recently as the city of New Orleans removed four of their century old monuments. Gone from the Crescent City are likenesses of Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, and one monument to a white supremacist attack on an integrated police force.

Frankly, for this Yankee anyway, it's a little disconcerting to travel down South and see these tributes to a cause that I find indefensible. I can only imagine how African American people feel about them. Until about twenty years ago, it hadn't occurred to me that the feeling was mutual for visitors here, up from the South.

My friend in New York relayed the story of giving a tour of Central Park to a group of cadets from the Citadel Military Academy of South Carolina, led by the Commandant of the school. When they came upon the massive Augustus Saint-Gaudens monument to General William Tecumseh Sherman in Grand Army Plaza in the southeast corner of the park, the Commandant expressed indignance. Looking up at the statue of Sherman on horseback, led by a female allegorical figure on foot, the Commandant said to my friend: "there's a Yankee for you, riding while the lady walks." It wasn't the affront to chivalry that really offended that Southern gentleman. Sherman is most famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view), for leading the Savannah Campaign, which left a trail of death and destruction between the cities of Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia between November and December of 1864. The campaign known popularly as "Sherman's March to the Sea" destroyed not only military targets, but infrastructure, industry, and civilian property, in a scorched earth policy designed to completely paralyse and demoralize the Confederate war effort and its citizens. It was a humiliation that has not been forgotten to this day, and of all the Union political and military leaders, in the minds of most Southerners, there is a special place in hell reserved for William Tecumseh Sherman.

As I mentioned in my piece last month about New Orleans and its statues, there is a slippery slope when it comes to removing monuments that are offensive to some people, namely, where will it end? As we just saw, the New York statue of General Sherman is highly objectionable to many Southerners. Should it  be removed?

What about Chicago's Civil War statues? These are some of our most treasured historical and architectural landmarks, memorializing men whose actions saved the Union and forever put to rest, in this nation anyway, the shameful institution of slavery. But in the process, these men also wrought considerable pain and destruction to a good many Americans.

The men memorialized by major public works of art in Chicago, all had significant ties to Illinois. Here's part of their story and their Chicago monuments:

John A. Logan
General John Logan Memorial, Grant Park, 1897
Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Alexander Proctor

One of Chicago's greatest works of public sculpture is the equestrian statue of Politician/General John A. Logan in Grant Park. The statue, dedicated in 1897, sits atop a prominent mound in the middle of a half-mile lawn corridor, making General Logan and his horse the focal point of the southwestern quadrant of the park. The sculpture is the work of two artists, Alexander Phimister Proctor who is responsible for the horse, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens who created the likeness of the General. The mound and pedestal are the work of architect Stanford White.

Judging from his provenance, you wouldn't assume John A. Logan would have become both a hero in the cause for the Union, and an advocate for civil rights. Hailing from Southern Illinois where sentiments were likely to fall on the side of the Confederacy, before the Civil War, Logan was a Douglas Democrat, not at all sympathetic to the cause of abolition. As a state senator, he fought for, and won legislation banning free African Americans from settling in the State of Illinois. He also actively upheld the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which compelled northern "free" states to send captured slaves back to their masters. Like Steven Douglas, Logan was hesitant to support taking up arms against the Confederacy after several southern states seceded from the Union. Logan remained resolute, even after the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter. S.C. on April 12, 1861. Unlike Douglas, who believed that Americans had one of two choices, either to be a patriot in the service of the country, or a traitor, Logan was still on the fence, preferring negotiation to taking up arms against fellow Americans, many of whom were friends and acquaintances.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Logan slowly and painfully adopted the position that negotiation was not working and the rebellion needed to be forcibly put down. While still a US Congressman from the state of Illinois, Logan entered the army in the rank of colonel. where he organized the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment which served under his command. Despite being derided by professional soldiers such as General Sherman who had a deep founded mistrust of politicians, Logan served with distinction serving in the Western Theater under Ulysses S. Grant, in the Battle of Belmont and at Fort Donelson, where he received nearly fatal wounds.
Stanford White's mound was originally intended to be the final resting place
of General John A. Logan. Instead is is buried in Washington DC.
After that ordeal, Logan resigned his congressional seat and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Logan's military fortunes advanced along with those of Grant as the war continued on, eventually rising to the rank of major general. During the War, Logan made a 180 degree ideological shift. He broke with his fellow Democrats who advocated a cessation of hostilities and peace with the Confederacy by allowing the Southern States to break with the Union, thereby preserving the institution of slavery, and a fractured country. Logan while still a Democrat in name only, put all his efforts in campaigning throughout his home state for the re-election bid of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln carried Illinois in that election, even the southern portion of the state, in no small measure because of the help of John Logan.

Logan's 21 remaining years were spent once again in politics, but this time as a Radical Republican. He was elected to three terms in the House, then appointed U.S. Senator to fill a vacancy. By that time his ideological conversion was complete and for the rest of his life, John A. Logan, far ahead of many of his peers, was a staunch advocate for the rights of African Americans, including their right to vote, which would not be granted in some parts of the country, for nearly one hundred years.

Phillip Sheridan
General Philip Henry Sheridan Monument, Lincoln Park, 1923
Gutzon Birglum

Another major factor in the re-election of Abraham Lincoln in 1864, was a glorious military victory in the Shenandoah Valley, just spitting distance from Washington DC. In one of the most dynamic public monuments of Chicago, sculptor Gutzon Borglum depicts General Phillip Sheridan aboard his horse Rienzi, rallying his troops who were in the midst a surprise middle-of-the-night attack from Confederate forces.

"Sheridan's Ride" is the stuff of legend. Finding himself twenty miles away from his army who was in the midst of the Shenandoah Campaign, Sheridan was awakened by the sound of artillery fire. He mounted his steed and made it to the front lines so fast that, in the words of one of his staff, "the devil himself could not have kept up." When he got there, he found his army in full retreat. Up and down the lines he rode, motivating and rallying his troops, reportedly telling them, "we're going back to our camp tonight boys, I'm sleeping in my own bed or I'm sleeping in hell." By four PM that day, Sheridan had reorganized his army and mounted a counter-attack against the Confederate army who had foolishly taken a break from their pursuit of the Union soldiers in order to rest, and reap the spoils of war that the retreating soldiers had left behind. The re-invigorated Union army under the leadership of their pugnacious general fully routed the outnumbered Confederate army, regaining control of the Shenandoah Valley,

So much for the legend. The story behind the Shenandoah campaign is less appealing. Ulysses S. Grant, who by that time, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Union Army, understood that in order to win the war, it would not be enough to defeat the enemy on the battlefield, they had to destroy the enemy by eliminating its capacity to make war. This meant cutting off transportation and communication conduits, access to supplies, especially food, and demoralizing the civilian population who might assist them. The following are Grant's orders to Sheridan upon receiving his commission as commander of the Shenandoah campaign:
The people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them at all hazards...Give the enemy no rest. Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can. Carry off stock of all descriptions, and negroes, so as to prevent further planting. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.
Which is what they did. The following are the words of Civil War historian Jed Morrison:
Sheridan soon got to work. After several inconsequential skirmishes with (Confederate General) Early’s troops, he routed the rebels at the Battle of Third Winchester, and the follow-up Battle of Fishers Hill. Each of these engagements served to push Early deeper up the Valley. Then, in a short, violent campaign known to this day among Valley folk as, simply, the Burning, Sheridan led his troops on a 13-day rampage through the region, beginning on Sept. 26. The swath of destruction spanned 70 miles long and 30 wide. The men were ordered to spare homes, empty barns, the property of widows, single women and orphans, and to refrain from looting – but everything else was fair game.
Morrison's essay went easy on the Union troops. Sometimes, perhaps more often than most Yankees are willing to admit, the houses, and empty barns, the widows, single women and the orphans, were not spared the wrath of over-zealous soldiers and officers who didn't share the moral outrage about waging war on civilians of some of their peers. This was total war, and the Shenandoah Campaign would be the precursor to Sherman's March to the Sea. The devastating strategy worked, in less than a year, the Civil War would be over, at least officially. In the hearts and minds of many Southerners, it never ended.

Sheridan, the career soldier, indeed had a prolific career after the Civil War. He was sent to assemble a force along the US/Mexico border to help pressure France to give up their occupation of Mexico. He was called upon to help restore order in the Southern States during the period of Reconstruction. He was headquartered in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire and ordered buildings dynamited to help stop the spread of the conflagration. Fearing mob insurrection after the Fire, Mayor Roswell Mason called for marshal law in his devastated city. Under the objections of Illinois governor John M. Palmer, Sheridan assembled a militia of so called peacemakers, mostly green army recruits, to patrol the streets. The general consensus is that in their eagerness for action, Sheridan's militia wreaked more havoc upon Chicago than did private citizens. 

Sheridan was particularly ruthless in his dealings with Native Americans during the "Indian Wars" of the 1870s. President Grant named him head of the US Army's Department of the Missouri, the administration charged with the task of keeping the Plains Indians from straying from their ever diminishing reservations. Inspired by the scorched earth policy that he used in the Shenandoah Valley, Sheridan attacked non-complying Indians where they were most vulnerable, during winter when the people needed to protect their food supplies. Sheridan placed the blame on the suffering of women, children and the elderly brought on by these raids, on the shoulders of the leaders of their tribes for refusing to follow the rules of the treaties, forced upon them by the American government. His message to tribal leaders was clear, pragmatic, and chilling:
If you don't choose your homes now it will be too late next year,. We will build iron roads, and you cannot stop the locomotives any more than you can stop the sun or the moon.
Even white Americans were aghast by Sheridan's alleged remark that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." He went to his grave denying he said those words, but they shall forever remain a part his indelible legacy as a significant cog in our country's shameful treatment of the Native American people.

Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, Lincoln Park 1891
Louis T. Rebisso
Ulysses S. Grant

In his entry on Louis T. Rebisso's massive 1891 memorial to Ulysses S. Grant, Ira Bach in his guidebook to Chicago's Public Sculpture has this to say:
Placing a stocky man on a long-legged horse may have been an accurate portrayal but it did not produce a satisfactory work.
It seems the sculpture, like the man it pays tribute to, just doesn't get any respect. For a long time, the dope on Grant was that he was a failure at everything he did. His dad enrolled him in West Point, where he finished toward the bottom of his class. He did a stint in the Mexican War but quit the Army as soon as he could. He tried farming, that failed. Then real estate, ditto. Then he went to work at his family's tannery in Galena, Illinois, but he failed at that too. He re-entered the army after Fort Sumter and quickly found himself in command of a brigade because there were so few men with military experience in Illinois. He quickly rose through the ranks because he, a mediocre commander, was promoted over the many miserable commanders in the Union Army. The battles he won were only successful because they were battles of attrition, he simply had more men to use as cannon fodder than the other side. And of course he ordered the scorched earth policy that devastated much the South. As the 18th President of the United States, he led one of the most corrupt administrations in history. And he was a drunk to boot.

That assessment, which dominated historical thought for one hundred years is partly true. But those of us living in the age of "fake news" can understand that the real U.S. Grant has got to be more complicated than that. After all, drunken failures don't win wars and go on to become President of the United States. Attesting to the fallacy that history is written only by the winners, the above account of Grant is a piece of revisionist history created during the Reconstruction era predominantly by writers with Confederate sympathies.

It's true that Grant's rise to greatness was born out of failure. At the Battle of Shiloh, in southwestern Tennessee. Grant, who gained a reputation as a no-nonsense, tenacious leader, quickly moved up the ranks, commanding the Union Army of the Tennessee. While encamped at Pittsburgh Landing, Grant received orders from his immediate commander to remain encamped until a division of re-enforcement troops could arrive to augment the 45,000 already there. Meanwhile Grant had his green soldiers out in the open, practicing battle formations rather than digging in, preparing themselves for possible attack. That attack came on April 6, 1862, when the Confederates, under the command of P.T. Beauregard and Albert Sidney Johnston caught the Yanks off guard and overtook five divisions of Grant's army, forcing them into retreat. When the re-enforcements arrived the following morning, Grant regrouped his forces and retook the encampment, driving the Confederates back. Grant was brutally criticized for the original blunder and the tremendous casualties suffered at Shiloh which numbered around 25,000 on both sides. Unsubstantiated rumors surfaced that Grant was drunk at the time of the attack. The matter of what to do with Grant went all the way up to President Lincoln who had been frustrated with the lack of initiative among his top commanders. On Grant, Lincoln remarked, "I can't spare this man; he fights." Great returned to his command and went on lead his forces to vital strategic victories, the most significant of which were at Vicksburg and Chattanooga.

After Chattanooga, Lincoln promoted Grant to the top spot in the Union Army, answering only to the president himself. The president wanted a decisive victory, and he wanted it fast. Grant called upon his generals, Sherman, Sheridan and the rest, to finish the job by any means possible, even if it wouldn't be pretty or popular. We saw the results above.

As president, Grant oversaw the period of Reconstruction, another bone of contention in the South. His predecessor Andrew Johnson, against the wishes of Congress, at the time controlled by the Radical Republicans, trod lightly over the feelings of defeated Southerners. He vetoed any bill that came before him that granted the enfranchisement and other civil rights of freed slaves. In response, Congress passed new laws, restricting the office of president. When Johnson violated one of these laws, Republicans in the House, led by John A. Logan, filed eleven articles of impeachment against the president. Johnson hung onto his job by the slimmest of margins, one vote in the Senate.  In stark contrast, Grant supported the Enforcement Acts passed by Congress, that stipulated the federal government had the authority to step in wherever civil rights of African American people, including the right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold political office, and to receive equal protection under the law, were not upheld by the states. Needless to say, that did not sit well with the white population of the South. Adding to their resentment was the influence of Northerners who moved south after the war, some of whom gained considerable political influence, ostensibly to help along the policies of Reconstruction. Southerners saw these "carpetbaggers" as opportunists, taking advantage of their vanquished home, motivated by personal gain.

Reconstruction ended after the Democrats took over Congress and with that, many of the post-Civil War reforms in the South were swept under the rug. This was the period that gave birth to the "Cult of the Lost Cause" reviving memories of the glory days of the Confederacy. It was the time when the monuments to Confederate heroes were constructed, and when much of the negative press about Ulysses S. Grant was generated. Most significantly, it was the beginning of a particularly bleak period of misery and injustice for African American people.

Grant's legacy as president is a checkered one. The charges of corruption by members of his administration are well founded, but they never made their way up to the top. In his defense, Grant, a scrupulous and honest man, was a soldier, not a politician. As such, he made poor political decisions, trusting the wrong people to run his administration. He showed great compassion and concern for the rights of African American people in the South, but was criticized in the North for not doing enough to stem the tide of the Ku Klux Klan, and other white terrorist groups who formed after the Civil War. Despite the good intentions, in the end, Reconstruction was an unmitigated failure as far as bringing justice to African American people. His dealings with Native Americans are even more ambiguous. While publicly he professed concern about the plight of indigenous American people and pledged to make peace with them, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, he illegally violated treaties, by opening up that sacred land belonging to the Lakota people, to gold prospecting. The actions of his administration brought about the bloodiest Indian war in the West.

Grant served two full terms as president, declining to put his hat into the ring for the 1876 election. More failure lay in store as he lost most of his and his family's investments in a ponzi scheme. He spent the last years of his life trying to recoup that money by writing his memoirs which were published by Mark Twain. Grant died shortly after the memoirs were written, but the two volume set, of detailed accounts mostly of the Civil War was a tremendous success.

Ulysses S. Grant will forever be judged, not by his presidency, but in his role as commander-in-chief of the Union Army at the close of the Civil War. When he met with General Lee in the courthouse in Appomattox, VA. Grant's terms were unconditional surrender. Beyond that, Lee and his generals could have easily been charged with treason and hanged. Instead, Grant, recognizing the need for healing, allowed the defeated leaders of a lost cause to walk away from that courthouse with their dignity intact, and their swords still in their scabbards.

Grant won the war, but at a great cost. His decision to wage war against the people of the South was much like Harry Truman's decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan. It was total war, total destruction, in order to end the conflict, and all the killing, once and for all. It was a terrible decision to have to make, one that would forever demonize Grant in the eyes of most Southerners, but one that had to be made. Ulysses S. Grant, like Truman, accepted full responsibility for that call.

It had to be a lonely existence for him, living with the consequences of his decisions. I can't say that I agree with Ira Bach's assessment of Chicago's Grant Monument. Mounted aboard a passive animal, Grant and his horse sit alone, proud but not haughty, overlooking Lincoln Park and Lake Shore Drive. Horse and rider stand atop a massive Romanesque base making the monument visible from a good distance from many directions. The monument, imposing as it may seem, is quietly dignified. I can't think of a more fitting tribute to a good man who left behind a complicated legacy.

Then there's the most complicated character of them all, perhaps the most divisive president we've ever had, present company included.


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