Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Last night I spent an hour or so in the West San Fernando Valley listening to a talk about the ancestry and early career of Ulysses S. Grant. The Civil Warriors Roundtable - a group that meets monthly, hosted Civil War reenactor and Grant enthusiast Douglas Wagenaar.

It was an interesting evening - but I think I left more confused than informed. The confusion did not come about because of the information presented. In fact - much of the talk on Grant's military career in the War with Mexico was straight forward - factual...chronilogical - and not at all analytical. Nothing to be confused about.

I was wondering about the first part of his talk. He spent a good portion of his allotted time attacking historians for their take on Grant's paternal ancestry - and  academic claims that none had fought in the Revolutionary War. He also seemed hell bent on proving that Grant's ancestors were involved in the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s. For what reason I have no idea.

[caption id="attachment_560" align="alignleft" width="174" caption="Douglas Wagenaar missed a great opportunity to get a glimpse at the early military career of U.S. Grant"][/caption]

The problem was twofold. First, and most important - he based his conclusions on maybes and could haves. There was some stuff going on here and there and some of Grant's ancestors were in the vicininty...ect - pure coincedence.  He had no documentary evidence whatsoever. Second,  he seems to have a bone to pick with academics and the Pulitzer Prize that went hand in hand with his admiration for the Grant family. He was personally offended by historians who challenged unsubstantiated Grant ancestral stories - reducing historians to condescending bullies. This is not generally a good starting point when trying to present an argument. I mean...I know we all have some sort of biases - but really???

This was potentially a great topic where an opportunity was lost to get a glimpse at Grant's military and personal character - to see how he developed into the general he did. Wagenaar's talk was really a collection of well-known anecdotes and disparate claims based on flimsy suppositions and tenuous connections. Oh well - they can't all be winners.

I am speaking to this group next month on Union veterans and reconciliation - can't wait!! The Civil Warriors Roundtable is a good group of folks who ask thoughtful questions...and I am excited to speak with them :)



1 comment:

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Harris, Keith Harris. Keith Harris said: Civil Warriors Roundtable February 9, 2011 – Debriefing [...]