Mar

12

 What keeps me obsessing about Grant and his times is that there is so much real information (diaries, letters, memoirs) from the people who were there that the newspaper versions of what happened do not become the final word. One can, with very little effort, get to the truth of things and safely ignore (or accept) the opinions of the New York Times because they are - in either case - anything but "all the news". What is also fascinating is to observe how official opinion does its best to squash all contrary ideas. The internet truly is as much of a revolution as Gutenberg's infernal machine because it gives the means for circulation of all ideas - official and unofficial. Even 10 years ago that was not the case; you were a complete crank if you challenged the academic orthodoxy, and there was literally no point in going to conferences or meetings because all the documentary evidence in the world would not stand up against "what everybody knows". Of course, Grant was a drunk, a business failure, an anti-Semite, a corrupt politician, etc. etc. The Adams boys said he was, and they should know - they went to Harvard. "True, but lots of us went to Harvard, including Al Gore; what does that have to do with the facts or the truthfulness of the sources."

 All of this is a veiled pitch for people to buy Timothy B. Smith's books. His work on Shiloh - This Great Battlefield of Shiloh: History, Memory, and the Establishment of a Civil War National Military Park - is the best book written about how a civil war battlefield now tells the story not of what happened but of what people wanted "everybody to know". Grant wrote that "the Battle of Shiloh has been perhaps less understood, or, to state the case more accurately, more persistently misunderstood, than any other engagement" in the Civil War. He would not have been surprised to be told that the park reflects that persistent misunderstanding. Smith's book is a wonderful history of how that came about.

P.S. Smith has a new book coming out on the Battle of Corinth and has already written one about Champion Hill. He has also written one about the Chickamauga Memorial - the first Civil War National Military Park. Buy them all.


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