General Grant and the Verdict of History: Memoir, Memory, and the Civil War

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Frank P. Varney
Pub Date:
March 2023
Hardcover, 6 x 9
19 images, 7 maps, 288 pp.
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About the Book

General Ulysses S. Grant is best remembered today as a war-winning general, and he certainly deserves credit for his efforts on behalf of the Union. But has he received too much credit at the expense of other men? Have others who fought the war with him suffered unfairly at his hands? General Grant and the Verdict of History: Memoir, Memory, and the Civil War explores these issues.

Professor Frank P. Varney examines Grant’s relationship with three noted Civil War generals: the brash and uncompromising “Fighting Joe” Hooker; George H. Thomas, the stellar commander who earned the sobriquet “Rock of Chickamauga”; and Gouverneur Kemble Warren, who served honorably and well in every major action of the Army of the Potomac before being relieved less than two weeks before Appomattox, and only after he had played a prominent part in the major Union victory at Five Forks. 

In his earlier book General Grant and the Rewriting of History, Dr. Varney studied the tempestuous relationship between Grant and Union General William S. Rosecrans. During the war, Rosecrans was considered by many of his contemporaries to be on par with Grant himself; today, he is largely forgotten. Rosecrans’s star dimmed, argues Varney, because Grant orchestrated the effort. Unbeknownst to most students of the war, Grant used his official reports, interviews with the press, and his memoirs to influence how future generations would remember the war and his part in it. Aided greatly by his two terms as president, by the clarity and eloquence of his memoirs, and in particular by the dramatic backdrop against which those memoirs were written, our historical memory has been influenced to a degree greater than many realize.

It is beyond time to return to the original sources—the letters, journals, reports, and memoirs of other witnesses and the transcripts of courts-martial— to examine Grant’s story from a fresh perspective. The results are enlightening and more than a little disturbing.

Advance Praise/Reviews

“The purpose of Frank Varney’s book is not a per se attack on Ulysses S. Grant, although the general clearly emerges as tarnished. Rather, the book is a challenge to historians who have too often accepted and uncritically repeated Grant’s own self-serving analysis of events. The book reminds historians of the complicated nature of careers, motives, and relationships.” — Larry J. Daniel, author of Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed

“Ulysses S. Grant expressed a decided distaste for fellow generals Hooker, Thomas, and Warren, although not to the level of his hatred for Rosecrans. Grant’s wartime reports and his Personal Memoirs have been all-too-effective weapons with which to unduly demean such admirable commanders. In General Grant and the Verdict of History, Dr. Varney’s second volume continues the task of the first: serving as an antidote to the exaggerations and falsehoods propagated by Ulysses S. Grant.” — Joseph A. Rose, author of Grant Under Fire: An Exposé of Generalship & Character in the American Civil War

“Dr. Varney’s continued examination of Ulysses S. Grant’s complicated relationships with many of his Civil War peers greatly deepens our understanding of that war, and how it came to be remembered. Grant is undoubtedly a complicated figure, and he shaped much of the history of that struggle. This unblinking examination of those complications and of that shaping should be devoured by all students of the Civil War. Highly recommended.” — David A. Powell, award-winning author of The Chickamauga Campaign trilogy

“At a time when Grant’s reputation continues to undergo a much-needed and much-deserved renaissance, it remains important to keep a critical eye open so that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far into adoration. Borrowing a final assessment from Joshua L. Chamberlain, Frank Varney says “We could not call [Grant] less than great,” but Varney’s willingness to look with unvarnished eyes at the documentary evidence also serves as an important reminder that Grant was not without his personal and professional jealousies. Varney invites us to better know Grant as a man, which helps us better understand Grant’s greatness.” — Chris Mackowski, editor-in-chief, Emerging Civil War

"The author does not pull his punches. Regarding Grant's various statements and actions, the author uses phrases such as 'disingenuous,' 'false legend,' 'patently untrue,' and 'pattern of deceit.' He discusses the historiography as well as the history, and points out instances in which historians should have examined Grant's writings with a more critical eye." -- Civil War News

Frank Varney earned his undergraduate degree at William Paterson University and his M.A. and Ph.D. at Cornell University. He is a recently retired Distinguished Professor of U.S. and Classical History and has been the recipient of multiple teaching awards. Dr. Varney is available to take student groups to historic sites—especially Civil War battlefields—and is a frequent speaker at Civil War roundtables, historical societies, and other interested groups. He has been the keynote speaker at several veterans’ memorial dedications and has made numerous radio and TV appearances.