“I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.” – US Grant
With that observation in his best-selling memoir… Grant started the historical firestorm around the second-to-last battle of the Overland Campaign. Through the years and volumes documenting every facet of the war, Cold Harbor has come to symbolize the carnage and suffering endured by the fighting men. Writers have elevated the battle to the conclusive example of obsolete tactics brutishly utilized during an ill-conceived campaign. Images of doomed soldiers pinning name tags to their uniforms and ranks of men mowed down in place haunt students of the Civil War. But does the Battle of Cold Harbor truly measure up to the perception of needless slaughter?
The reputed butcher…
Battlefield historian Gordon Rhea… takes this and other misconceptions to task in his multi-volume study of the Overland campaign. The facts simply do not support the popular reputation of June 3, 1864 being a day of unspeakable slaughter. Grant’s forces suffered between 5,500-6,000 casualties- making it only the 5th bloodiest day of that Summer. Every day of the Wilderness battle saw more casualties- Spotsylvania stands as one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Rhea smartly points out that there were bloodier days in the two years preceding the Overland Campaign. What happened to our Remembrance?
The truth stays in the trenches
The Summer of relentless combat… that marked the Overland Campaign took a drastic toll on the Army of the Potomac. The soldiers remembering June 3, 1864 were tired and weary of combat- particularly massed frontal assaults against entrenched Confederates. “Fog of War” is a concept bordering on cliche, but clearly, the judgement of many of the battle’s participants was clouded. Grant’s own recollection of the day only solidified the misapprehensions and flawed narrative.
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Chernow, Ron, Grant, Penguin Press; 1st edition (October 10, 2017)
A hefty, yet easily digestible biography continues the author’s attempts at reimagining supposedly misunderstood figures. The actual result is consensus history masquerading as newly discovered insight.
The success of his biography of Alexander Hamilton… and the subsequent musical it inspired, brought about unprecedented anticipation for his latest work. Chernow has tapped into the millennial generation’s need for easily digestible, episodic history. His style is to illustrate personal relationships, conflicts, and controversies and explain how the collective memory has misunderstood the stories. This is best illustrated as he discusses Grant’s well documented drinking problem- never really that drunk, always alert, and kept in line by his dutiful wife, Julia. Chernow’s gift is his effortless storytelling blended with an authoritative tone. Trouble is, this analysis is not revelatory, and has been well covered in the work of previous historians.
Chernow combs through and pieces together observations from previous Grant scholarship… and artfully weaves it into his own narrative. His assertion that Grant’s reputation as a poor general is undeserved was well covered in Bruce Catton’s three volume study from 1960. Brooks D. Simpson’s 1991 evaluation of the Grant presidency put to rest the many accusations of incompetence and corruption and established Grant’s indispensable role in Reconstruction; points that Chernow meticulously recounts in the final one third of his 1,074 page study.
Reviewers have already deemed this biography as “definitive”… despite the fact that Chernow breaks little, if any new ground. Chernow wants you to believe that Grant has been widely misunderstood and underappreciated. The casual history reader, unfamiliar with previous Grant scholarship, is best served by Chernow’s efforts.` The popularity of his previous work all but guarantees his place on the bestseller list.
Memorial Day by the numbers:
- The roots of Memorial Day can be traced to Athens and the Funeral Oration of Pericles– honor those who have fallen, follow their example of citizenship
- The commemoration was originally made by the Grand Army of the Republic as Decoration Day- flags were to be placed on all the graves of fallen Union soldiers
- The first Decoration Day was celebrated by 27 states in 1868
- By 1890, every state in the Union observed the holiday in some way… it was not a Federal holiday until 1971
- The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922.
Robert E. Lee chose General John B. Gordon… to officially surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to the Union on April 12, 1865. Gordon was an amateur soldier who proved to be the consummate warrior. Through the course of the conflict Gordon was badly wounded seven times, with five minnie balls hitting him at the battle of Antietam in 1862. Lee often praised Gordon’s actions in battle, “characterized by splendid audacity.”
True citizen soldier
US Grant selected General Joshua L. Chamberlain… to accept the Confederate surrender. Chamberlain was a college professor (of rhetoric) who enlisted in the 20th Maine Vols. He served with distinction from Fredericksburg to Petersburg, winning the Medal of Honor for his defense of Little Round Top during the Gettysburg campaign. Chamberlain was wounded six times (nearly dying at Petersburg in 1864) and cited for bravery four times during his service.
Soul of a Lion
As Gordon led the Confederate army past… the Army of the Potomac, Chamberlain ordered the men to “Carry Arms”, the snap of the leather and metal signaled a marching salute. Gordon, surprised by the gesture, ordered the Confederates to respond. Chamberlain described Gordon’s performance, “At the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow, and General Gordon dropped his sword point to his toe in salutation.” Gordon truly understood the significance of the gesture, “Chamberlain called his men into line and as the Confederate soldiers marched in front of them, the veterans in blue gave a soldierly salute to those vanquished heroes—a token of respect from Americans to Americans.”
Americans to Americans
PracticallyHistorical offers the following analysis….
- The Confederate flag should never be flown over government buildings or property
- The Confederate flag should not be banned
- Monuments to Confederate leaders, political or military, should not be kept on government or public property
- Monuments dedicated to unnamed soldiers who fought for the Confederacy should be allowed on public property
- Communities have every right to determine which people are publicly memorialized
- The destruction seen in Durham is unacceptable
- The actions of the KKK and ne0-Nazi groups in Charlottesville are unacceptable
- Confederate monuments in cemeteries should be left alone
- Confederate monuments on battlefields should be left alone
- Comparing Confederate leaders to our Founders is unacceptable
- Destroying or defacing monuments to our Founders is unacceptable
- Studying Confederate history is necessary
- Confederate Civil War reenactors should not be ostracized
- Slavery caused the Civil War
- Not all Confederate soldiers fought for slavery
- Not all Union soldiers fought to free slaves
- We need to keep reading, writing, and learning…..
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James Madison Preparatory School in Tempe, Arizona Presents: