U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

Overview

At the time of his death, Ulysses S. Grant was the most famous person in America, considered by most citizens to be equal in stature to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Yet today his monuments are rarely visited, his military reputation is overshadowed by that of Robert E. Lee, and his presidency is permanently mired at the bottom of historical rankings. In U. S. Grant, Joan Waugh investigates Grant's place in public memory and the reasons behind the rise and fall of his renown, while simultaneously ...

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Overview

At the time of his death, Ulysses S. Grant was the most famous person in America, considered by most citizens to be equal in stature to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Yet today his monuments are rarely visited, his military reputation is overshadowed by that of Robert E. Lee, and his presidency is permanently mired at the bottom of historical rankings. In U. S. Grant, Joan Waugh investigates Grant's place in public memory and the reasons behind the rise and fall of his renown, while simultaneously underscoring the fluctuating memory of the Civil War itself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Waugh's love for her subject is palpable. Her story of Grant's last years of life, where he raced to complete his Memoirs before dying, is visceral.—RALPH

This is a book that should be in any serious Civil War enthusiast's collection. Ms. Waugh writes in flowing prose that makes the pages fly by. There is plenty to learn for the casual reader and more than enough material to satisfy serious scholars of Ulysses S. Grant.—This Mighty Scourge

An engaging study of the making of Ulysses S. Grant's reputation. . . . Waugh convincingly interprets Grant as 'symboliz[ing] both the hopes and the lost dreams' of the Civil War.—Publishers Weekly

Elegant and wonderfully illustrated book. . . .Waugh's immersion in the literature of Civil War memory is considerable; she does not reinvent this historiography but rather pushes it into new territory with her subject. . . .Waugh's contribution is significant. She has fused the discussion of historical memory to biography and military history." —The Journal of Southern History

An impressive study using the techniques of history and memory. . . . Deserves to be at the top of anyone's list, scholar or general reader, interested in the Grant story. . . . Highly recommended.—Choice

A well-written and thoroughly researched examination of Ulysses S. Grant's place in public memory. . . . Waugh's enthusiasm for her subject is evident, resulting in an informative and richly detailed study. . . . An invaluable addition to the studies of our eighteenth president.—Southwestern Historical Quarterly

A fine book. General readers will find it engaging and enjoyable, and historians interested in the memory of the Civil War will find it essential.—The North Carolina Historical Review

Exceptionally thoughtful and valuable. . . . [Written in] clear prose that is readily accessible to the serious general reader. . . . [A] fine study.—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Engrossing. . . . Grant's full vindication . . . still awaits. But when it comes, we will better understand our complicated history, and historians and citizens will have Joan Waugh to thank for helping to make this belated illumination possible." Sean Wilentz, The New Republic on-line review

Jonathan Yardley
…we have the question that stands at the heart of Waugh's exceptionally thoughtful and valuable book: "Why did Grant's star shine so brightly for Americans of his own day, and why has it been eclipsed so completely for Americans since at least the mid-twentieth century?" Though there can be no final, definitive answer to either part of the question, Waugh…provides intelligent, plausible suggestions. Not merely that, but at a time when too many professional historians employ unintelligible academic jargon, she writes clear prose that is readily accessible to the serious general reader.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
How does national memory determine national heroes? Waugh, a UCLA history professor, probes the subject in an engaging study of the making of Ulysses S. Grant's reputation. At the time of his death in 1885, he was perceived as on a level with George Washington by former Unionists and Confederates alike. His memoirs were a bestseller. His image combined the honorable soldier and the generous victor: a heroic war leader who believed in the ideal of national reconciliation in both regional and racial contexts. Even Grant's flaws were part of his greatness, linking him to his countrymen in a distinctively American fashion. That image began to change as lost cause romanticism nurtured reinterpreting the Civil War as not merely tragic but arguably unnecessary. The eclipse of this approach has restored Grant's reputation as a general. Now his presidency is the target of criticism: corrupt, ineffective and above all incomplete in terms of the racial issue. Waugh convincingly interprets Grant as “symboliz[ing] both the hopes and the lost dreams” of the Civil War. But while that war remains our defining—and dividing—event, Grant's image, Waugh says, will remain ambiguous. 69 illus., 3 maps. (Nov. 15)
Library Journal
Waugh (history, Univ. of California, Los Angeles) explores the gap between historical perspective and collective memory that often shifts our sense of events or of figures within political, social, and economic contexts. Drawing upon Thomas L. Connelly's groundbreaking The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society and David W. Blight's more recent acclaimed Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, she delves into the legacy of Ulysses S. Grant. Considering why, in the next century, Grant disappeared from popular memory, Waugh argues that after World War I a disillusioned population shunned the brutalities of war that Grant represented and that he was overshadowed by Robert E. Lee, who became closely identified with the Lost Cause interpretation of the war. By the early 1990s, Grant's reputation began to rise again as Lost Cause themes were dispelled and Grant's tomb was reopened to the public after a restoration. Ken Burns's award-winning Civil War documentary also showed Grant sympathetically. VERDICT This is a well-researched and scholarly work that Civil War enthusiasts will enjoy, provided they understand it's not meant to be a military or presidential biography. It would be an excellent supplementary text for graduate students and a welcome addition for academic libraries.—Gayla Koerting, Nebraska State Hist. Soc., Lincoln
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469609904
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2013
  • Series: Civil War America Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 581,680
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Waugh is professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles. She is author or coeditor of three books, including Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War.

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